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I often get the question 'What should I do about 1 c4 c6 ?' (from players of White, of course). I have done a bit in past columns, but not enough, to address what the English player is supposed to do, and whether the Slav player can happily count upon transposing to his favourite opening. So this month I'll begin with some ideas on the subject. Then we'll look at assorted topics such as the Sicilian Reversed and our usual set of the ever-popular 1...c5, which unjustifiably uses up most of the attention at the top levels these days.
In none of the games does either of the players miss mate in one, not even in time trouble!

Download PGN of November '06 Flank Openings games

Versus 1...c6

One of the most interesting ways to bypass the Slav Defence is with 1 c4 c6 2 e4, perhaps looking for a Panov Attack after 2...d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 c4, or 2...d5 3 cxd5 cxd5 4 exd5 Nf6 5 Qa4+!?, which I have discussed twice in this column, and was mentioned by Jonathan Rowson very recently.

Black in turn might want to avoid all this, and sometimes does so by 2...e5. Our first game Postny-L'Ami, Essent 2006 features the odd move 3...Qa5!?, previously examined by Nigel Davies:

This has resulted in awful positions, and for the same reason: the queen is stuck off on the side of the board at the cost of a tempo, and never seems to contribute to the action apart from being attacked losing another tempo! It certainly doesn't work in this game. Nevertheless, I think that I have found a line in which 3...Qa5 might not be such a bad move.

Van der Elburg -Van Beek, Essent 2006 went 2 e4 e5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 d4!? Bb4 5 f3:

Obviously White is making a lot of pawn moves, and Black should be able to equalise by developing rapidly and breaking in the centre.

White has had new problems trying to get anywhere by means of Nf3 formations. In Poldauf - Saltaev, Bundesliga 2006-7, I again discuss the problem 1 c4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 b3 dxc4 4 dxc4 e5!, whereas the main game goes 3 g3 Nf6 4 Bg2 dxc4 5 Qc2 Qd5!:

I'll keep the '!' on that move until I see something convincing for White.

Symmetrical English with ...c5

It makes little sense to do many updates without the Symmetrical English because we'd have to skip a lot of top-level games.

In M Gurevich-Anand, Corsica 2006 how does Anand treat the 'Pure' Symmetrical Variation versus a top-class player? The answer is: carefully!

This system is quite safe, and both sides played without serious errors throughout the game. At the end, Gurevich either tried for too much or just got confused.

Kosten - Bijaoui, Montpellier 2006 is a model for the White side of the Symmetrical Botvinnik System. Tony (a.k.a. 'The Boss') gets the position that Uhlmann used to win as Black!

There's a dry feel to this variation, but the impressive thing is that White makes no errors, and that turns it into one for the opening book.

Schebler - Mueller, Hamburg 2006 enters once more into the 5 e4 Nb4 Symmetrical line that we've grown so familiar with. At a key juncture, he goes back to a line that Hort played against Miles in the early days of the b4 sacrifice. Miles won that game, but not very convincingly.

Black's win really had nothing to do with the opening, but both sides have chances in this line.

English with 1...Nf6

White has to feel an embarrassment of riches when Black chooses to play 3...d6!?! versus the Mikenas System with 1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 e6 3 e4. The obvious retort is 4 d4, when in Timofeev-G Airapetian, St Petersburg 2006, Black played the innocent-looking 4...Nbd7:

White can play either 5 f4 or 5 Nf3 with a substantial advantage, right? Maybe not. In the end, a horrible massacre takes place and the game ends in 15 moves. But the notes may be enlightening, and the whole thing is certainly curious.

King's English with ...e5

We'll follow up on last month's question about the straight reversed Sicilian Defence (2...Nf6) and why it is that White doesn't seem to have as much fun as Black does in the real Sicilian.

In that case, Black mixed 1 c4 e5 with 2...Nf6 and 3...d5. This time in Ghaem Maghami-Hold Hernandez, Calvia 2006, we see a system with ...d6 in which Black follows the policy of playing modestly and hunting for simplification. The result is not quite what he wanted.

Finally, Boensch - Ftacnik, Graz 2006 featured an Old Indian in which White played e4 instead of d4:

If Black tries to prevent d4 by ...c5, we can get a sort of Botvinnik setup with Nf3 in. This is not necessarily bad, because the knight can always go to h4 to support f4 or perhaps play Nf5. In this game Black tries to exploit the knight position, but not too successfully.


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