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It appears as though this will be my last month as Flank Openings commentator, since I'll be sliding over to the 1 e4 ... column. My successor will be Carsten Hansen, author of several high-quality books, including two on the English Opening. It happens that they have been the sources that I have both researched and cited more than any others. As readers, you are getting the best possible bargain. John

Download PGN of January '07 Flank Openings games

Symmetrical English with ...c5

It's a shame that such a great percentage of the high-level games (as well as the interesting ones) feature the Symmetrical English. Not that they aren't of interest, but it would be nice to see more games with 1...e5 or 1...Nf6. Perhaps that will change. At any rate, the games in this first section all represent variations of theoretical interest.

Before moving on to more conventional lines, reader Miguel Domingo sends two of his games with annotations in the same exciting variation of the English, 1.c4 c5 2. g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.a3 e6 6.b4 Nxb4 7.axb4 cxb4 8.d4 bxc3 9.e3 Ne7 10.Ne2 d5 11.cxd5 Nxd5 12.Ba3:

White has to be brave to enter into this variation! Miguel says: 'The games are not so interesting as a whole (many mistakes) but may be interesting from a theoretical point of view as they show two reactions by Black not seen before.' In fact, Miguel's notes are deep and revealing. It takes some good moves for Black to hang onto his pawn without White getting effective compensation. However, an innovation by Black threatens the whole concept.

Miguel continues: 'The first game is against top-GM Alekseev (2644)... After 12...Bd7 13.0-0, he played 13...Bb5 which is a novelty (which, to my knowledge, has never been suggested before) and possibly an improvement over Thiede-Heinemann 2002 (a game in which White won in a very nice manner). As I could not find any way of obtaining enough compensation for White after 13...Bb5, it seems that White cannot play 13.0-0 but must play 13.Qb3 which allows ...Qb6 in several lines.'

See my notes in this game [Domingo - Alekseev, Berlin 2006]. White should probably deviate early on.

Miguel continues: 'The second game is against FM Bachmann (2225), a GM in correspondence chess. He played 12. ... Bf8 13.Bxf8 Kxf8 14.Qb3 b6 15.e4 Nc7 16.e5 Ba6?!':

White seems to have good play after 16 e5, because 16...Ba6 is an error that allows White a tactic. See the notes in Domingo - Bachmann, 2006. 6 b4!? is still a viable move that at the least will intimidate most opponents.

The Rubinstein Variation with ...Nc7 and ...e5 is a hard nut to crack. Probably the main line with 8 d3 and Nd2-c4 is still the most promising one. Recently 8 a3 has attracted some attention:

Although in theory Black should be fine, the game Romanishin - Oleksienko, Lviv 2006 shows how Black has to react carefully to the apparently harmless move of the rook pawn. Romanishin dares Black to win an exchange and upon its refusal manages to get good play.

I will again examine a few Botvinnik Systems, since it is so popular on every level and has received a lot of attention on ChessPublishing. We'll see a win, draw, and loss for White.

In the game Gonzalez Zamora-de la Paz, Merida 2006, White grabs space early on and doesn't let go of it. A typical position:

Unfortunately, as so often, things get out of control and mutual mistakes ensue. But there are some interesting opening issues that I haven't touched upon previously.

Another Botvinnik System arises in Esen - Vovk, Lviv 2006.

This time Black has achieved his queenside break. White gets a passed a-pawn after cxb5 and a5, which Black counters with a timely ...e5. A very interesting game.

Finally, Black plays a remarkable idea in Rogulj - Jakubowski, Amplico [Rapid] 2006. He finds a way to transpose to a well-known position but in a way that prevents White's best plan:

Black has played 7...Nd7, which would normally be thought premature because in the main line 7...0-0 8 d3, his usual reorganisation is ...Ne8-c7-e6, to control the d4 square. But by that time White has played d3, Be3, and d4. In the position above, after 7...Nd7 8 d3, Black plays 8...Nf8! with the idea 9 Be3 Ne6, saving a tempo by not castling and thus preventing d4. I've never seen this idea before; it makes you wonder about an earlier d3 by White, which has its own consequences (d4 can't occur in one jump).

Black's most ambitious setup with ...c5 and ...e5 is the one in which he plays both within the first few moves; in particular, he does so in the following well-tested variation. The play usually takes on a forcing character, as seen in Vaznonis - Jakubowski, Amplico [Rapid] 2006:

Here Black avoided the usual 9...Qe7 with the pawn sacrifice 9...d6. Although there are a few interesting points, the move seems to fail. Then we have a case of the influence of the time control when everything falls apart.

For our last of this long string of Symmetrical Englishes, we have two games with the exciting gambit associated with the young Kasparov (although naturally predating him, as Carsten points out):

I've never seen a convincing way for White to gain the advantage in this line. I suspect that there's some deep and precise way to get one, but nothing that renders Black's position unplayable. At any rate, Wang Yue-Megaranto, Doha 2006 witnessed the irregular move 8...a6!?, intending ...b5 and in some cases providing a retreat for Black's bishop on a7. White got an advantage in the early middlegame, but the opening seemed satisfactory for the second player.

Sulpya - Brzeski, Warsaw 2006 continues with the traditional 8...e4, which can be associated with several ideas, the most common one being Brzeski's ...Qe7 and ...Rd8. When White proceeds a bit slowly, Black works up a strong and perhaps even winning attacking position. This pawn sacrifice in general looks perfectly good to me.

King's English with ...e5

The following type of position/pawn structure arises time and again in the English Opening and the Sicilian Defence (with colours reversed). After all these years I'm not sure if anyone knows who stands better. It's probably dynamically equal.

In Kovalyov - Cubas, Pinamar 2006, the central position stabilised and at one point Black really needed to play ...e4, because c4-c5 made use of White's larger centre.

Here's another game from Tony (Kosten, that is: our Webmaster and my boss). White should be happy to achieve this kind of position, in large part because Black's bishop on a7 is locked out of play and neither ...d5 nor ...e4 is realistic:

This comes from Kosten - Fedorchuk, Marseille 2006. Tony annotates the game, a convincing and smooth-looking victory over a 2576 player.

English with 1...Nf6

If it's my last column, there has to be a Mikenas System. In Ghaem Maghami-Moradi, Tehran 2006, the players enter into a theoretical line in which White has been slightly better. That assessment holds.

The problem is that White has more space and somewhat the better development.


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