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In this month's column I concentrate mainly on addressing a general system that is used on all levels of play. White sets up with the moves c4/Nc3/g3/Bg2/e4/Nge2, usually including d3 and 0-0 as well. This is popularly known as the "Botvinnik System". It is a particular favourite of players who want to make the same first moves without much thought and then employ a consistent and familiar set of ideas. Those on either side of the English Opening will want to know the ideas and themes involved.

Download PGN of May '05 Flank Openings games


English Opening

I'll look at this system as played by White, but it's worth nothing that White himself has to face it in several lines of the English Opening (notably 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 e5 6.0-0 Nge7 7.d3 d6 etc.), and that Black plays similarly in certain variations of the Closed Sicilian and King's Indian Attack.

The theory of these lines has never been fully worked out. They can be divided into the relevant Black responses/formations:

(a) 1...e5/King's Indian. This includes (a1) Reversed Closed Sicilians (for Black), with either ...Nc6 and ...f5, or ...Nge7 and ...f5; (a2) King's Indian without ...f5 but with ...c6 or moves other than ...Nc6; (a3) King's Indian without ...f5, but with ...Nc6 and ...Nf6.

(b) Symmetrical English formations with either (b1) ...Nf6 or (b2) ...Nge7 and ...e6.

After examining some c4/e4 games, I've presented two theoretically interesting games in main lines of the Symmetrical English.


English 1...e5

In the important Reversed Closed Sicilian variation with ...f5 (which can also arise via the Dutch Defence), both sides have many logical options and the advantage can swing back and forth so easily. Paunovich,T-Marholev, San Sebastion 2005 followed fairly normal plans for both sides, although the notes indicate that the play was not optimal. In the following position White would seem to have space and queenside pressure.

Marholev found 13...Kh8! and White was hard-pressed to even maintain equality.

In Ledger - Rendle, Cork 2005, White occupied d5 and Black arranged to kick him out:

This kind of position has been played for at least 50 years. White didn't cope with the issues very well but his lower-rated opponent let him off with an early draw.

English 1...Nf6

Black can play a King's Indian without ...f5, but with ...c6 or slower moves (other than ...Nc6 as seen above). In two recent games Motwani - Apicella, Noyon 2005, and Biocanin - Rankov, Belgrade 2005 Black played ...Be6 and ...Qd7 before committing to ...c6 or ...Nc6. The former game illustrates what happens when Black allows White to launch a pawn storm on the kingside.

It's not so easy to stop g4-g5. Black has to strike quickly in the centre.

An example of a pure KID ...c6 system is Contin - Sabia, Montecatini Terme 2005. Black proceeded with ...a6, ...c6, and ...Nbd7. The game and notes are a good illustration of both sides' ideas.

This position has occurred before. White has prevented ...b5 and Black has occupied c5. The resulting position is well-described as dynamically balanced; at any rate it's great fun!

The KID with ...Nc6 and ...Nf6 but without ...f5 is seen in Tatisic - Blesic, Belgrade 2005. The positions are double-edged but I've mainly used the game to show some standard ideas for both sides.

Another example is Prusikin - Schunk, Altenkirchen 2005, where Black played the supposedly inferior ...Nd4 and allowed White to capture. Although I'd rather be White this seems a better defence than it is reputed to be:

A position with a 'dead point' on d4 is usually held to favour White's mobile kingside pawns but any advance is difficult to achieve, since ...f5 will be available. Anyway White, a 2500+ player, didn't see much reason to try.

English Symmetrical 1...c5

Playing the Symmetrical English with ...d6 and ...e6 versus e4 and c4 has always been considered solid, although White tends to have chances if Black isn't very careful about his move order. Makarov - Zherebukh, Alushta 2005 shows White drifting as Black slowly builds up pressure on his position. A melee occurs and after complications At this point White resigns prematurely (or perhaps loses on time).

The Chinese players have been experimenting a lot with the Botvinnik setups. In both Bu Xiangzhi-Ye Jiangchuan, Jinan 2005 and Ye Jiangchuan-Wang Zili, Jinan 2005, Black employed a simple ...Nc6, ...g6, ...Bg7, ...Nf6 and ...d6 structure. In the first game Black played the moves ...Rb8 and ...a6 (to enforce ...b5), but then went astray by playing an artificial idea to create short-term threats. In the second game Wang Zili chose to proceed with the standard freeing manoeuver ...Ne8-c7-e6 and arrived at the following position:

After the key move 13.Nde2!, White's positional grip, based upon more space and preventing Black's freeing moves, was significant. Black did a good job of freeing his position and Ye Jiangchuan took some interesting chances in trying to make something of the position.

Ricardi - Lopez Silva, II Copa ENTEL Santiago 2005 features a very old and still-respected system for Black. But White plays a lesser-known move that I think casts Black's choice of opening into doubt.

Black has a terrible time responding to White's last move, 10.Rd1 - it's a useful weapon for White to know about.

Finally, our Webmaster - no, he didn't direct me towards this one, honest! The fact is that I read through all the TWIC flank opening games to assemble this column and Kosten - Webb, Nottingham 2005, caught my eye:

The game itself isn't of much interest but the variation is. Theory after 13.Nf5 isn't settled and the positions look a lot more exciting than some of the other main lines of this opening.


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