ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
Over the last few months we have seen a number of strong grandmasters using 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 with c4 to follow. Perhaps there's a modest trend away from 1.e4, as 1.d4 is also grabbing more of the spotlight. In any case, the majority of the games in this update are Symmetrical English variations, merely reflecting the fact that many of the strongest grandmasters are using 1...c5 as their anti-English defence.

In most of the contests described below White did very well out of the opening, better than we've been seeing in the Symmetrical recently. Ivanchuk, for example, could have gone 3-0 in recent play were it not for some poor calculation in a superior position against Anand. We'll start with one of his most important wins.


Download PGN of February '06 Flank Openings games

Symmetrical (1...c5)

In a heavyweight encounter Ivanchuk-L Aronian, Morelia/Linares 2006 involving the normally drawish double fianchetto variation, Ivanchuk finds a way to keep the advantage by means of his extra space.

Here White allows his opponent to get rid of his dark-squared bishop by ...Ng4, but Aronian declines the offer. By avoiding a slight disadvantage, however, he falls into deeper trouble.

Until recently, Black's standard moves in the main line of this same double fianchetto defence have proven impossible to crack. One recent game ended in a draw in the following book position:

But in Bu Xiangzhi-Shchekachev, Moscow 2006, White manages to improve upon the dull repetition to blast through on the kingside.

Similarly, White has never been able to squeeze anything out of the opening from Ivanchuk - Anand, Wijk aan Zee 2006, 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e5 when White plays the relatively passive 5.Be2. (This is arrived at by many orders. They actually played 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 etc.). But Ivanchuk gained a real advantage and weakened Black's position. Then he grabbed what looked like a poisoned pawn, a decision that was roundly criticised afterwards as being the losing move. In fact his judgment was fine, but the execution was wrong.

Here Ivanchuk played 15.Bxa7!?, a risky move that banks on the fact that Black can't trap the bishop. He was right, but 15.Bf3 would have kept a simple and clearer advantage.

Let's turn to the supposedly more critical main line. I've used the game Cobb - Cvitan, Saint Vincent 2005 from a few months ago to survey 5.d4 cxd4 6.exd4 e4 in some detail.

If I were White I would be sure to look into the deviations before this position, several of them potentially advantageous. And at this point the new 14.Bd2!? might yield a slight advantage. After move 14 there's nothing radically new, but we'll look over the latest theory because the resulting assessment is so important. White would dearly like to get an advantage after 4.e3 lest Black's repertoire prove too simple to implement, namely, ...c5/...Nc6/ and ...e5 versus the Nf3 English. It's important to note that if White plays 1.c4 c5 2.Nf3, Black must play 2...Nc6 if he wants to get ...e5 in. Then 3.Nf3 e5 4.e3 gives us the critical position.

If White can make this system work it might answer reader Torben Klink's question regarding the ...c5, ...e5 setup: «Is this Black system really still so frustrating to counter and, if so, are there any more elegant ways around it, for example, by allowing certain move orders which might not be so satisfying for Black?» The first is an open question; his second task is more difficult, I think.

Navara - Naiditsch, Corus B 2006 features the Nimzowitsch 5.e4 line again, reaching this known position:

Naiditsch has just played 12...Bg4, quite possibly better than the previously discussed 12...Bc4+. But if Navara had followed up correctly, White would still have had some advantage.

In the last column I skipped over the game Bu Xiangzhi - Zhou Jianchao, Beijing 2005 which involved an irregular system used by several top players.

White has played for a refutation of a particular ...Ne7 Benoni offshoot. How Black reacts to the attack on his d-pawn determines the entire course of play.

In Lenik - Cvitan, Nova Gorica 2006 the players use an opening that has been neglected for many years. They arrive at a complex position with Black's lead in development compensating for the blockaded IQP:

The game develops with various lost opportunities for both sides until White demonstrates the attacking power of opposite-coloured bishops.

English 1...Nf6

For English Opening players who need something versus the Gruenfeld (without transposing into it), maybe these 5.Qa4+ ideas deserve a closer look than I'd realised. Steingrimsson - Sakalauskas, Tallin 2006 with the move 5...Nc6 follows theory straight through and White always stands better, even in the side notes covering the major alternatives. Here's the key position:

It seems that 5...Bd7 is still the most important move and I have tried to give an overview of what I consider the most important lines in the notes. They feature the somewhat less common 6.Qc2; Black may not be able to fully equalise, although he's close to doing so.

What would we do without a Mikenas Attack example? Pelletier - Bakker, Gibtelecom Masters 2006 features a line we've seen a lot of, with 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.e4 d5 4.e5 d4 5.exf6 dxc3 6.bxc3 Qxf6 7.Nf3 c5 8.Bd3 (now an 'older' line!).

I think that Black has equality in the diagram but then he mysteriously straightened out White's pawn structure, leaving Pelletier with a space and activity advantage. Somehow he missed a one-move win and then another decisive move, and arguably another! But the strong GM still exploited those factors well enough to win.

Ryan from California asks a question that I think many readers will be interested in, so I've put it in this main section instead of the mailbag: «Do you know of any chess literature at all that discusses a reversed From's Gambit out of the English (1 c4 f5 2 e4 fxe4 3 d3 exd3 4 Bxd3 Nf6 5 g4, followed by g5 and Qc2)? Is this sound?»

I don't see it in a quick look at my library, but it's a fun idea and a fairly natural one (From's Gambit Reversed with c4 in). Reversed openings with a tempo more are often harmless or worse because the side with the extra tempo has committed himself to a move that may not be ideal in a particular line of the opening. In this form of the From's Gambit, c4 is that move and I'll try to analyse it's consequences in From - like Gambit 1.c4 f5 2.e4.


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