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This month’s Update features several games where White employed the thematic plan of Bc1-b2 and g2-g4, followed by a checkmating attack! We also look at theoretically important duels in a number of Réti and English lines.

Download PGN of January ’24 Flank Openings games

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Anti-Grünfeld, 1 c4 g6 2 e4 e5 3 Nf3 Bg7 4 d4 [A10]

Raja, R - Horvath, D opened with the Anti-Grünfeld move order 1 c4 g6 2 e4, which Black answered with 2...e5. Now, White’s highest scoring move in practice has been 3 d4, but 3 Nf3 is also a natural continuation. After 3...Bg7 4 d4 exd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6 6 Nc3 0-0, we reach a King’s Indian style position, but after 7 Be2 Re8 8 f3 c6 Black has not spent a tempo on...d7-d6, so can aim for an accelerated ...d7-d5 break:

Following 9 Bg5 Qb6 10 Nb3, the thematic break 10...d5 involved a pawn sacrifice, although likely a temporary one. Indeed, after 11 cxd5 cxd5 12 Bxf6 Qxf6 13 Nxd5 Qxb2 material parity was restored. In the resulting play, Black’s bishop pair was balanced by White’s strong d5-knight. Black found a way to keep pushing, however, and was eventually rewarded with a win.

Reversed Benoni 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 Nf6 4 Nf3 d4 5 0-0 Nc6 6 d3 Bc5 [A13]

We continue to track the development of the highly topical reversed Benoni line.1 c4 e6 2 g3 d5 3 Bg2 Nf6 4 Nf3 d4 5 0-0 Nc6 6 d3 Bc5. A key position arises after 7 Nbd2 0-0 8 Nb3 Be7:

Last month we look at the emerging mainline 9 e3 dxe3 10 Bxe3 Ng4, while in this month’s game Eljanov, P - Erigaisi, A, White revealed the novelty 9 h3, preventing any ...Nf6-g4 jumps. The game continued 9...e5 10 e3 a5 11 exd4 exd4, and now 12 a4!? leaves a gaping hole on the b4-square, but White wants to maintain the b3-knight’s pressure on the d4-pawn. Both sides had their chances in the resulting complex middlegame.

Neo-Catalan, 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 e6 3 g3 dxc4 4 Bg2 Nd7 5 Qa4+ [A13]

Warmedam, M - Brkic, A featured the neo-Catalan line 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 e6 3 g3 dxc4, where Black delays the developing move ...Ng8-f6. After 4 Bg2 Nd7 5 Qa4 a6 6 Qxc4 b5, the continuation 7 Qh4 Be7 8 Qe4 is a fresh idea, which we first looked at a year ago.

In the diagram position, after 11 Nb3, White appears to have clamped down on Black's thematic ...c7-c5 break. Nevertheless, Black went ahead with 11...c5! anyway! After 12 Nxc5 h5 13 b4 h4 Black was able to drum up quick kingside counterplay, following up with a piece sacrifice which ended in a perpetual check.

Nimzo-English 4 Qb3 c5 5 a3 [A17]

After 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4, White usually chooses between 4 Qc2, 4 g3, or 4 g4, but Bartel, M - Moussard, J instead saw the offbeat 4 Qb3 which was met by the logical 4...c5 5 a3 Ba5:

Bartel clearly wanted to mix things up, and while 6 g4 is not the engine’s favourite, in this game fortune favoured the brave! Later on, Black could have grabbed the loose h-pawn with 16...Qxh4, but instead 16...0-0 castled into a pawn storm, and after erring with 21...f6? Black was not able to defend against all the kingside threats.

Mikenas Attack 3...c5 4 e5 Ng8 5 d4 [A19]

Bartel, M - Tabatabaei, M, entered a modern line in the Mikenas with 1 c4 e6 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 e4 c5 4 e5 Ng8 5 d4 cxd4 6 Qxd4 Nc6 7 Qf4 d6 8 Nf3 Nh6:

Here 9 Qe4 was a new move, planning Bc1xh6. After 9...dxe5 10 Bxh6 gxh6 11 Nxe5 Qb6 12 0-0-0 Bg7 Black has shattered kingside pawns, but the g7-bishop is ready to apply pressure to White’s castled king. Over the next few moves, White lost control of the position, and Black’s attack crashed through with 20...Rxb2!

Keres System 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 Nc2 [A20]

The position after 1 c4 e5 2 g3 c6 3 Nf3 e4 4 Nd4 d5 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 Nc2 Nf6 7 Nc3 Qe5 8 Bg2 Na6 9 0-0 Be7 is an important tabiya that keeps popping up in high-level games, and we look at two examples this month.

First, Niemann, H - Adams, M continued with 10 Ne3 0-0 11 a3:

In earlier Updates, we have looked at 11...Rd8 and 11...Re8, while Adams continued with 11...Nc7, rerouting the a6-knight to the centre. Within a few moves, the players were attacking on opposite sides of the board, with White’s minority attack (12 b4, 18 b5, 19 a4 and 20 a5) being countered by 18...h5, 19...h4 and eventually 28...h3. White appeared to break through first, but eventually Black was able to draw from a position of strength.

The clash Puranik, A - Yuffa, D varied from the previous game with the move 10 Nxe4!? which is a piece sacrifice, first introduced by Jorden van Foreest in 2021. The diagram position is reached after 10...Nxe4 11 f4:

Now 11...Qe6 was played in the stem game, while 11...Qd5 was new. Black returns the knight right away, in order to clarify the central structure. After 12 d3 Bf5 13 dxe4 Bxe4 14 Qxd5 cxd5 15 Bxe4 dxe4 16 Be3 White has a slight pull due to the exposed e4-pawn, but Black should be fine with accurate play.

Symmetrical English, Rubinstein Variation 6 b3 [A34]

Gukesh, D - Volokitin, A entered the Rubinstein with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 c5 3 g3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bg2 Nc7, and now White chose the rare 6 b3, delaying Ng1-f3 and aiming for quick pressure against the c5-pawn with Bc1-b2 and Ra1-c1.

Following 6...e5 7 Bb2 Be7 8 Rc1 0-0, White continued in creative fashion with 9 Ne4 and 12 g4!? In a complex middlegame, White whipped up an initiative, and broke through to Black’s king with 19 f5, 20 g5 and 22 f6, ending in a crushing attack.

Until next month, David.

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