Shabalov wins a sharp game in Game 1, but a detailed look reveals that it was his lower-rated opponent who was better for most of the encounter. The opening choice needs emphasizing, that is after 5 Qc2 there is no chess reason (except for a lack of knowledge?) why Shabalov didn't play the critical line:
Here the key move, that gives Black a good game, is definitely the brash 5...Qh4! as you can see in the notes. The move played in the game (5...Ne7) is far less dynamic and makes it easier for White to keep his centre steady.
Do you find playing against the 'R-b1 and b2-b3 plan' rather annoying? If so, this idea could be for you, look at the diagram:
Sergei Kasparov has developed a plan starting with 9...Nfd7!? where, by opening the bishop's diagonal, White is prevented from playing with a quick b2-b3. Black then follows-up with ...Nb6 and ...N8d7, a fairly reasonable set-up which can arise from other move orders, but in this case White's options are reduced. In Game Two, and the notes, you'll see that Black has done quite well with this sideline. Pedersen, for example, got the better of his higher-rated opponent in the featured game, although I'm not sure if he missed a win or not in the long queen endgame.
Murshed employed a number of instructive ideas, both in the opening and middlegame, to outplay and beat Rahman in Game 3. In practise, an early b2-b4 comes in several shapes and forms against the Leningrad schema, (and so Black's plan may not be appropriate in all cases) but here Black's strategy worked like a dream. I have to admit that the adoption of a Stonewall-centre in the Leningrad also confused me (playing White) in a recent game where I was also outplayed and went on to lose. There the opening wasn't the same, but there are sufficient similarities for me to consider it worthwhile to include it in the notes.
In Game Four Laurent Fressinet employed an unusual move order (I've never seen 5 g3 before!), but play transposed to the most critical line of the 'Grünfeld where White fianchettoes his light-squared bishop'. Black's task is to find the right moment to play for ...e5 and there has been a movement away from playing it on move 10 (where it is starting to look dodgy). It may just about be playable a move later (see the notes) but Matthieu Cornette prudently waited until move 14 which should have been satisfactory. However he went astray four moves later and never recovered.
My advice is that those who play these lines with Black should carefully study the slight differences in the disposition of the relative set-ups at those moments when ...e5 is in the air.
Game 5 features ...c6 and ...d5 which always has a reputation for its solidity. Anish Giri played 7 b3 and at this point Nielsen replied in the same way as a number of his high-ranking colleagues of late in taking on c4 and then reacting with ...c5, changing radically the nature of the position:
Black has been doing OK in general in this tense middlegame (or in the queenless middlegame when the ladies are exchanged) but Nielsen's 'deviation' on move 13 didn't work out. It's a mood point if this was an intended novelty, but in any case Giri found a way to win a pawn for only limited compensation. Later Nielsen missed a chance to fully equalize before going down in what smacks of a time scramble.
We start with another example of the brand new variation involving Ng1-e2-c3 in Game 6. Since Portisch introduced the idea on the 23rd of February 2010 (OK, before you write in with some obscure earlier examples, there are some very old games by much weaker players, but they clearly didn't have much of a clue when it came to a follow-up) there have been 30 games, many by GMs! The featured game this time highlights Boris Grachev who wins a smooth positional game and refutes Black's risky attempt at counterplay. In the notes, experiments with 8...Qc6 and 8...Qa5 are mentioned but I wouldn't recommend these ideas either. However the good news for Black is that Brkic has found a way to make 8...Qd8 9 Be2 c5 playable and even comfortable for Black, a discovery which may well cool down some white players' enthusiasm!
I chose to feature Game 7 as Rychagov played the ever-popular 'Be3 Exchange Variation' in an aggressive way which could be worrying if one were facing such a 'stormy' idea unprepared. Grigoriants managed to find a satisfactory way to defend, even though it involved sacrificing a pawn. If you are not convinced by this method, then perhaps you would like to investigate the idea that I've mentioned in the notes to Black's 11th move which leads to an early queen exchange and therefore no white attack!
In Game 8, Fabiano Caruana (by the way, did you know he was born in Miami, and according to Wikipedia he lives in Brooklyn?) has found a strong novelty:
Black had, almost without exception, been doing fine here but our assessments will have to take into account the bombshell 16 Qe1!!, a move that looks odd at first sight. However White bolsters g3 (indirectly) enabling h2-h3 if necessary, and also continues to defend the d4-point (indirectly) due to a fork on e2. Suddenly after Caruana's move Black's erstwhile 'active' queen and knight seem to be lacking any bite. Svidler couldn't adjust in the game and was outplayed, but there may not be an easy solution for Black. The question is: does this game bust Black's idea or can he make a move such as 16...b6 work?
In Game 9 Drozdovskij employed an interesting try that was first played by Kasimdzhanov in July 2009:
White was successful with 14 g4!? but a close look in the notes will demonstrate that if Black wriggles carefully he can escape from White's early pressure and fully equalize. In the actual game, Black made one slight slip and was never allowed to recover, so be warned, get yourself ready for the tricky g4-thrust!
Finally in Game 10 we revisit Carlsen's 10 Ng5 in the Hungarian system:
Although last January he was able to bamboozle an unprepared Dominguez, it seems that the surprise value is gone. Indeed Black has found various ways of handling the defence, a case in point being that Safarli never looked in danger in the featured game. I don't think Carlsen, or any other elite players, will be tempted to play this again. Although he gave his opponent one fleeting chance to escape later, the way Safarli built up the pressure was instructive.
Till next month, Glenn Flear