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Some new stuff this month. The main theme is the fianchetto of the queen's bishop, beginning with 1.c4 b6 and 1.b3. Several Hedgehog Systems follow, and a few random games of interest are included at the end.

Download PGN of June '05 Flank Openings games


English Defence

I haven't yet touched upon the English Defence with 1.c4 b6, one of the more interesting openings in modern chess:

The main lines with a big centre are covered in the Daring Defences column, e.g., 1.c4 b6 2.d4 e6 3.e4 Bb7 4.Bd3 and 4.Nc3 have the ECO code A40. But the rest of the English Defence comes under our purview, in A10. These lines are under explored, yet they are the ones I encountered most often when I played the English Defence myself.

In lower-level practice, a 'Botvinnik setup" with c4, Nc3, g3, Bg2, e4, d3, Nge2 is popular. However, Black has several effective answers. Janz - Boyle, Cork 2005, arrived at this position:

White has tried both 6.d3 and 6.f3 here but in both cases Black can play dynamically with good chances.

Franciskovic - Sargac, Rijeka 2005, illustrates a sideline of the extremely interesting 1.c4 b6 2.g3 Bb7 3.g3 Bxf3!? 4.exf3. Instead of the standard 4...c5 to contest d4, Black played 4...e6 with the idea of ...c6 and ...d5:

This ultra-solid line soon gave him a superior position, but in the end the game was drawn after good play by both sides. Check out the amazing miniature in the note to move 5.

Maslov - Nechepurenko, Nojabrsk 2005, is a ...b6 system that returns to the Symmetrical English with another Botvinnik setup for White. Neither side has much to do and when Maslov tries for too much he gets a positional disadvantage.

Larsen's Opening, 1 b3

In many ways 1.b3 is not as exciting as its counterpart 1...b6 versus the English. Black doesn't have to commit to a large center. GM Blatny uses 1.b3 quite often, but Blatny - Arencibia, Salinas 2005, shows White being quickly outplayed when White overextends by move 6!

Sometimes the g4 mania is taken too far!

Tumini - Samur, Pinamar 2005, also features the idea of ...Bd6, supporting e5 but blocking off Black's d-pawn. This defensive idea has served Black well over the past few years. Nevertheless, White wins very nicely with aggressive play. As in Blatny's game, Tumini saunters forth with g4, but the move is well-prepared and runs over the opposition.

Oddly enough Black has no reasonable answer to White's threats in the diagram position.

After 1.b3 e5 Black can also play ...d5 if White chooses a setup with c4. Gorovets - Fedorov, Minsk 2005, is typical in that White plays a Reversed Sicilian with an extra tempo and lands in trouble anyway. The first player often gets overconfident in such positions.

Gorovets used his extra tempo on b3-b4 and then failed to develop has kingside. The result was a quick and instructive win for Black.

English 1...c5

We continue with the ...b6 motif by examining four games with the Hedgehog variation of the Symmetrical English Opening. One of the oldest versions of the Hedgehog, featuring the moves ...Nc6 and ...Qb8, was played in Anand - Vallejo Pons, Linares 2005. This idea has grown rapidly in popularity over the past few years, and Anand instructively demonstrated how to maintain a small edge and nagging pressure. He then pushed too hard, fell into a lost position in the endgame, and by a sheer miracle survived to split the point. Vallejo Pons must have had nightmares about this near miss over the world's strongest active player.

The same opening idea but with a more conventional resulting position occurred in Georgiev - Markowsi, Warsaw 2001:

Here White played 17.Ng5! with the idea of Nce4 and attack, but Black played 17...h6?? and allowed an immediately winning combination (but still drew!)

Another Ng5 idea cropped up in Pantsulaia - Markus, Warsaw 2005:

This position is covered by older theory and White has the advantage that players may have forgotten it. White to move has a tactic that nets a pawn, but in fact he should get nowhere versus proper play. Unfortunately, it's the sort of thing that's better to know by heart, and Black fails to solve the problems over the board.

Agrest - Kohlweyer, Bajada de la Virgen 2005, is another Hedgehog, but this time via the move order 1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 b6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bb7 6.f3 and 7.e4. This introduces a new set of problems for the second player, although for many years Black has maintained an approximate theoretical balance. In this game Agrest demonstrates how powerful White's queenside advance can be against any but the most accurate move order:

Agrest played the simple idea of 12.a4! and Black couldn't successfully defend against 13.a5. It may be that White will increasingly turn to this plan in the future.

A slightly unconventional Symmetrical English was played in Khairallah - Bu Xiangzhi, Dubai 2005. The opening evolved into the Botvinnik system as Black (...c5, ...e5, ...Nc6, ...g6, ...Bg7). Bu Xiangzhi, who is an expert on this setup as White, demonstrates how easy it is to gain a small advantage against inaccurate play.

Réti Opening

Finally, the older man beat the younger in Korchnoi - Sutovsky, Paks 2005. A Réti system turned into something resembling a Catalan, leading to original play. Then Sutovsky sacrificed a piece unnecessarily. Perhaps he could have gotten more compensation for it, but the attack dried up and Korchnoi slowly converted his advantage. He used the English and Réti to score points, nearly racking up another first-place in International competition.


Please feel free to share any of your thoughts with me, whatever they are, suggestions, criticisms, etc. Drop me a line at the Flank Openings Forum, or subscribers can write directly to

Till next month, John