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In this column we look at our usual set of Symmetrical Englishes, featuring two games with the Rubinstein Variation. Then we turn to the Reversed Sicilian, where in general grandmasters aren't using main lines, but the ever-popular Reversed Dragon System is an exception to that trend. Fiunally, I offer some games with 1 b3, a system for those with little time to prepare. One variation which was formerly good only for a laugh has now become a main line!
Nothing here stands out as exceptionally significant or path-breaking. Rather, we see once again that the great advantage of flank openings is their tendency to lead the play into original positions. John

Download PGN of December '06 Flank Openings games

Symmetrical English with ...c5

The basic Rubinstein position has been used for the better part of a century without its soundness ever being seriously called into doubt. Botvinnik played it on several occasions and it remains in grandmaster chess repertoires, but it's surprising that more of the very top players today haven't taken it up. The theory of the Rubinstein is slightly more worked out than most of the variations considered in this update, but not enough to be called a theoretically deep opening in any sense.

In Tomashevsky - Jakovenko, Moscow (Russian Super-Final) 2006, White tries to enforce a quick break on the queenside with b4, but Black is able to prevent it. This idea has never gained much traction and the present game won't change that. Nevertheless, a back-and-forth struggle ensues with chances for both sides.

Perhaps someone felt that Tomashevsky wasn't handling the Rubinstein well because it came up again in Tomashevsky - Khismatullin, Moscow (Russian Super-Final) 2006. This time White played a system that I like very much but I can't say that more than dynamic equality resulted:

This is fairly typical of the 8 Ne1 variation, although White had a wide choice of setups apart from this one. It took a middlegame error for Black to get the inferior position, and then White missed a few opportunities to exploit it. An interesting game throughout.

One of the older heavyweights met a youthful one in Karpov-M Carlsen, Cap d'Agde 2006, and the opening was appropriately old-fashioned.

This came from the old Symmetrical main line with 1 c4 c5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3 g6 5 Bg2 Bg7 6 0-0 0-0 7 d4 cxd4 8 Nxd4, and now 8...Ng4, a move played by a lot of grandmasters but one that I think gives White the advantage. In the diagram there are already major problems brewing for Black. Things got worse and worse, and only a very weak move by Karpov (probably in time trouble) allowed Magnus to escape.

Black uses an irregular early move order in Kovalyov - Cordova, Pinamar 2006 that has instructive drawbacks as indicated in the notes.

The problem is that White has too many ways to get a small but certain advantage. Facing this choice he does what most of us do: plays the move that most justifies his opponent's piece setup! Black still has to fight for equality, however, and the battle takes several twists before coming out even.

King's English with ...e5

We may as well look at the obligatory Reversed Dragon games before anything else. A unique middlegame arose in Pogorelov - Tiviakov, Calvia 2006:

Any time that Tiviakov plays a Dragon or Dragon Reversed, new theory is created. Here Pogorelov plays the new idea 16 f4 exf4 17 Rxf4! and slowly outplays his opponent; but, on the verge of winning, he lets Tiviakov escape into a drawn position.

The other Reversed Dragon appeared in Yakovich - Demianjuk, Salekhard 2006. This time Black plays ...Nd4 without inserting ...a5 first (as he did above). That has almost as good a reputation as the ...a5 line does:

In this standard position Black had no real problems and as the game went he should even have gotten some advantage.

White plays a harmless 3rd move, 3 e3, in Timman - Yusupov, Wolvega 2006:

It often happens when you play safely you can land in trouble. Timman's moves are fairly logical and straightforward, but slowly Yusupov uses his positional advantages to good effect and gets a winning position. Just as Black is consolidating, Timman spots an unlikely drawing combination.

Larsen's Opening 1 b3

Larsen's queenside fianchetto was obviously played well before he did so. Still, the name has stuck. 1 b3 is generally used to avoid book lines, and it tends to depart from theory early on. The drawback is that it lacks punch, but some players just want to get out of the opening with a reasonable game.

More original chess is stemming from 1 b3 e5 2 Bb2 Nc6 3 e3 Nf6 4 Bb5 Bd6!? 5 Na3!? than from any other 1.b3 line. The highest-rated players seem to be treating it as a main line, when just two years ago it was mainly a cause for mirth. The diagram shows the position after 5...Na5!?, which is aimed at discouraging Nc4 or at least neutralising its effect:

In Karayannis - Banikas, Salonica 2006, White continued with 6 Nc4!? anyway, to some extent justifying Black's knight moves. After White missed a chance to mix things up, Banikas had no problems and in fact gained the advantage because Black's centre became a real force.

Instead of 5...Na5, Black played 5...a6 in Barnaure-M Grunberg, Predeal 2006. This logical move forces White to decide between exchanging and retreat to e2. The second option may work out best for White, because exchanging led to this position:

If left alone, Black can build up for a kingside attack, probably in conjunction with ...e4 and perhaps ...h5-h4. Of course White can capture on d6, but then Black's centre pawns can expand and control key squares, as happened in the game.

Finally, Kabanov - Riazantsev, Salekhard 2006 illustrated how playing 1 b3 can cause players to let their guards down. After all, White's position is so safe!

Of course that's not really the case, even in this innocent position. Kabanov, a 2521 player, manages to lose with White in just 23 moves!


Please remember to point out and send your games to me. Drop me a line at the Flank Openings Forum, or subscribers can write directly to

Till next month, John