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This month we have more games from the World Cup and Russian Championship, plus some slightly older ones that I didn't fit in earlier. There were only a few good games from Corus/Wijk aan Zee for Flank Opening fans, but I'll add a couple more next time.


Download PGN of January '06 Flank Openings games

English 1...e5

The last round of Corus included the instructive game Ivanchuk - Karjakin, Wijk aan Zee 2006. Ivanchuk plays the English Four Knights using a variation long considered harmless. Karjakin responds logically but just a touch passively, skipping over one known and one suggested opportunity to force the pace. Midway through the game after a number of seemingly harmless moves the central situation stabilizes as follows:

The only problem for Black is that this is beginning to look like a classic case of "two-bishops-with-pawns-on-both-sides-of-the-board"! Ivanchuk makes it look like an easy win.

The next game is pure theory from Tomashevsky - Rublevsky, Moscow Russian Ch 2005. Rublevsky-the-super-prepared plays a new move in an old variation and equalises. It looks like Black is okay again in this line, which would simplify his task against the irritating 5.Nd5

Wang Yue-Smirin, Khanty Mansyisk 2005 is a good example of how to play one of the main ...e5/...f5 English Opening lines. White's setup is good but he can't slip up because Black's pieces are always ready to spring into action.

Whether you like to play this position as White depends upon your faith in positional ideas (he does stand slightly better) or your fear of attack!

In Vallejo Pons- L Aronian, Khanty Mansyisk (World Cup) 2005 (a battle of heavyweights), Vallejo Pons plays an odd variant of the 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 Bb4 main line that turns out worse that the normal moves.

This is not an attractive position for White after only 11 moves. But he proceeds inventively and achieves a tenuous balance. There ensues a complex battle with ups-and-downs.

I'd like to fill in my limited discussion of the Botvinnik System from a few months ago with a few games that didn't quite fit in. Sareen - Ahlers, Essent Open 2005 illustrates what happens if White manages to establish the f5/g4 structure in the Botvinnik System and Black doesn't obtain early counterplay.

Even with the counterstroke ...d5, Black is already in deep trouble. I have tried to point out some different setups for Black along the way. And check out the note with Alekseev (2632)-Mamedyarov (2674), Istanbul 2005, in which Black takes one of the oldest lines that is supposed to favour White and plays an equalising Exchange sacrifice.

M Gurevich-Anand, Corsica Masters 2005 is a confusing game between leading grandmasters. First Anand uncorks the bizarre move 3...h6!?:

Then Gurevich, without trying to exploit it, finds a way to get back to a normal variation. After White does everything that he's supposed to do in this line, he somehow gets in trouble. Finally we get a premature resignation, or loss on time, or perhaps the end of the game isn't properly recorded.

English 1...Nf6

Let's return to the Mikenas Variation one more time. Steingrimsson - Kulaots, Tallin 2006 may even put an end to a long series of games in a key variation that has been tossed back and forth for years. Of course you're never sure, but it's beginning to look as though Black is under too much pressure.

Here Steingrimsson played an innovation on move 25, perhaps even improving on a line that was already favourable for White. Unfortunately technique and/or time intervened and the players split the point. I've given a brief rundown of previous theoretical assessments of alternatives.

Symmetrical English 1...c5

Tony brought my attention to Lautier - Vachier Lagrave, Chartres 2005. In a theoretically important game Black plays a risky move and White tries to punish it by direct attack, allowing a variety of discovered checks.

Here Lautier played 15.Rhc1!?. It's a rather amazing idea and Black stays a (doomed) piece ahead for 7 moves. Who is better here? Only the computer can help us this time!

We looked last time at the Gelfand-Pantsulaia, Khanty Mansyisk 2005 World Cup match Game #3, and here (in Game #6), we find Gelfand facing one of the toughest systems in the Hedgehog. He is up to the challenge. But the opening could have resulted differently:

Here instead of the usual ...Bc7, Black came up with the dynamic sacrifice 17...Ne5!

And a final look at Gelfand - Pantsulaia, Khanty Mansyisk 2005 (game #1 this time). Once again these opponents face off in a key Anti-Benoni line. Black grabs the c-pawn and White gets nothing, although in a later game Black tried to get by with passive development.

The move 9...Bb4 looks quite as good as 9...Qb4. We've already seen 8...Qxc4 do well in this column, and the trend continues. The first player needs something new here.

Justin Horton alerted me to Tomashevsky - Morozevich Moscow (Russian Ch) 2005 which began 1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.g3 Qb6 6.Nc2 h5:

The analysis and game are very interesting, but Black got out of the opening in good shape, and Justin is generally skeptical about White's lack of development in this line. I agree. None of these early g3s are impressive and I think that White should be satisfied with 5.Nc3 instead.

Finally, a little more pure theory, from Maletin-Safin, Nishnij Tagil 2005. This Symmetrical English line versus the ...e5 line used to be thought to be promising for White (by me, for example). Now it looks completely harmless.


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