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In this month's batch we don't have that many highly tactical struggles. Instead, positional struggles between high-level players are the rule (they seldom allow themselves to be overrun). The most common theme in the bunch is the bishop pair and its effects.


Download PGN of March '06 Flank Openings games

Symmetrical (1...c5)

We have consistently seen that 1.c4 c5 can explode into complications, just as any other opening can, if the players desire. In Steingrimsson - Varga, Scanno 2005, Black's approach shows that he's ready for action:

The key move is 8...h5!, an idea which appears in more and more English Opening games. A wild affair ensues.

Van Wely-Anand, Monte Carlo (Rapids) 2006 presents the opposite view: a technical endgame proceeding directly from theory.

We've seen this position before, also with van Wely as White. Instead of 11...Bb4+, Anand logically tries to preserve his good bishop with the move 11...Bd6. I don't think that this fully equalises either, although Anand finds a way to garner the whole point.

In the next game Black once again fails to equalise in the old Symmetrical Main Line. A typical position arises in Werle - van der Wiel, Corus Wijk aan Zee C 2006, after 13.Bb2:

Black's problem is that his only break, ...b5, almost usually favours White in these positions. Thus White can simply build up and attack at his leisure. Instead he lets Black off the hook by setting up a static pawn structure (a4/b3/c4) and thus eliminating any serious winning chances.

Popov - Efimenko, Moscow 2006 is another testimony to rapid development and the bishop pair. White builds up a nice position out of the opening and wins space. Here is the position after 12...Ng6:

Now 13.e4! was correct, when Black has no way of exploiting White's slightly loose centre. Instead, in a moment of ambition, White plays 13.h4? h5 14.Bd3 Bb7, and later Bxg6 ceding his best bishop for a pawn and an attack that never materializes. Black is soon swarming all over his position.

King's English (1...e5)

Here we get an example of bishop pair play.

Yassar Seirawan isn't playing much these days, which is a shame for English Opening aficionados. In Seirawan - Winants, Netherlands Team Ch 2006, he demonstrates the power of the two bishops, albeit in unclear complications.

Here, instead of capturing on d5, Seirawan plays 11.c5, posting bishops on b2 and d3.

English 1...Nf6

In Game 6 Mikhail Gurevich gives a convincing demonstration of the power of two bishops in a neutral pawn structure where there are no particularly disturbing factors.

This may not look like the most impressive position ever arrived, but such a setup greatly favours the owner of the bishop pair. A top player will win this for White most of the time.

Zontakh - Poobesh Anand, Moscow 2006 supplies our customary Mikenas Variation game. White may have to play a bit more ambitiously in the opening in order to get anything substantial.

We've seen this before. White has better development and active pieces but his pawn structure limits the chances for advantage. I have indicated possible improvements on earlier moves.

Reti and Other Flank Openings

Hikaru Nakamura has tens of thousands of bullet- and rapids games behind him, so it's perhaps not surprising that he plays just about everything. I like his anti-Stonewall approach in Nakamura - Friedel, San Diego 2006:

White has just played 6.h3 intending g4, an idea not unknown in the Dutch Defence. The kind of position that arises raises issues of space and the flank/centre relationship.

The variation in Matamoros Franco-Pavlovic, Reykjavik 2006 has long been considered fine for Black. When White throws in an active move, Black reacts poorly and gets a bad game. In any case the burden of proof is on him to equalise. Again the two bishops help White's cause:

In retrospect it seems as though the innocent-looking ...g6 and ...Bg7 was bad. The problem is that Black has to defend d7 and protect the c-pawn. This proves impossible without ceding other advantages to White.


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