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Hi! My main focus this month will be the Reti Opening, and especially the classical treatment of the Reti. This opening has become fairly popular in recent tournaments. In the Reti, one always has the question of move orders; we will look at another basic Reti line that emphasizes their importance. In a less technical vein, there's one of those crazy third-move deviations for White that keeps popping its head up. We then examine a couple of 'Catalan-Reti-Englishes' (without d4).

Finally, I'll continue to take a look at the extremely popular Reversed Dragon Variation, this time with White winning three games involving players mostly 2600 or above.

Download PGN of September '05 Flank Openings games


The Reti Opening

This column is entitled 'Flank Openings', and the original Reti System as played by Reti is the quintessential flank opening, since White fianchettos both bishops and refrains from advancing the e- or d-pawn to the 4th rank. The Classical Reti goes (with various move order issues that do make a difference) 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 (or, for example, 1.c4 e6 2.Nf3 d5, or 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.g3 e6, etc.) 3.b3 Nf6 (again, we have things like 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.b3 d5, etc.) 4.Bb2 c5 5.g3 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 Nc6 8 e3 (or 7...b6 8.e3 Bb7, or many other move orders emerging from the basic setup). After all that, we have:

Two things of note:

  1. In the Reti, most of the pieces stay on the board well into the middlegame, which should maximize the chances for the player who has the best ideas and plays well;
  2. the Classical Reti is often played cautiously by contemporary masters, who often seem to want to keep the draw in hand. That it needn't be so should be clear from the extensive notes, which often hark back to more double-edged ideas that were common in the 1960s and 1970s.

The main alternate type of position can arise after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.b3 (or 3.g3 Nf6 Bg2, of course) 3...Nf6 4.Bb2 0-0 5.g3 Be7 6.Bg2 b6 7.0-0 Bb7 8.e3 Nbd7, usually followed (or preceded) by ...c5. This one is popular among grandmasters:

Again things are not simple. In both systems White can gain an advantage if Black isn't careful, and at any rate double-edged play will result if the first player wants it.

From the first diagram, Neverov - Efimenko, Rivne 2005 sees 8...dxc4 9.bxc4 Qd3:

If this works, White's whole move order is inaccurate. But since that's easily the most frequently-arising Reti Variation over the past 50 years, it's good to know that White has the appropriate answers!

Black does much better in Borovikov - Moroz, Rivne 2005, which features the much-contested line 8...d4. In general White hasn't gotten much here (in fact Black even gets a small edge in this game, eventually drawn); but my notes indicate ways that I think White can make things much more interesting and dynamic. I've changed my mind here about the best setup for him, which at any rate will test the skills of the players in complex manoeuvering.

In spite of White's success, Tihanov - Smirnov, Minsk 2005 illustrates an important move order issue that arises from the immediate 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4, namely 2...d4. This won't come up if the play goes 1.c4 e6 2.Nf3 d5, or 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 d5, but the direct ...d5-d4 position arises often enough that it must be mentioned. Traditionally Black has done well after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.e3 Nc6 4.exd4 Nxd4 5.Nxd4 Qxd4:

Nevertheless, White has tried a number of methods to take advantage of the queen's position. Generally, he must do something about his own backward d-pawn and traditional games suggest that this particular order is satisfactory for Black. Tihanov succeeds as White, however, and the notes show good ideas for White in some other lines. I feel that Black must have a way to equality, but least there is still scope for original play by both sides, including ways to mix things up and get an interesting struggle. Of course, many players prefer to play 3.g3 instead and go from there. Remember that the other ways to a true Reti begin with 1.c4 followed by 2.Nf3 (or 2.g3 with Nf3 to come), or 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4.

Another game with a ...d4 idea, Lavretzkij - Amonatov, Minsk 2005 is a disaster for White, although it contains a lesson about how White shouldn't play and particularly about how not to play the Benko Gambit!

A crazy line that won't go away is 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.c5!?:

Labollita - Leitao, Buenos Aires 2005 is terribly complicated, as I've indicated in the notes. White tries a new move that seems to overreach, but Labollita eventually succeeds in defeating his opponent who is 200 rating points higher. Okay, he was lucky, but doesn't fortune favour the brave? For those looking for something truly different and apparently offering reasonable chances (albeit with some risk), here's the line!

The Reti-Catalan with Nf3, c4, g3, Bg2 versus ..d5, ...Nf6, ...e6, and now 4...dxc4!? has been bandied about for many years. Some recent games are revealing. Good news for White comes in Al Hadarani-Adly, Dubai 2005, in which Black is utterly outplayed by his lower-rated opponent. This is a classic example, with White maintaining an edge throughout. Then, sadly, he loses the thread in what looks like time pressure.

This sort of position is extremely difficult for Black because of his backward c-pawn, White's superior minor pieces, and central space issues.

Black plays a better move order in the same line Kozhuharov - Mateuta, Kavala 2005 , but still White misses his opportunity to achieve a central break which might have gained some advantage. I don't see that Black has a clear way to equality in this line

King's English 1...e5:

Suddenly White is having some success against the Dragon Reversed which has served Black so well over the past few decades. The most common move order is 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 (or 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nb6 6.Nf3 Nc6) 3...Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Nb6:

First, we see White play a new move and blow Black away in Bareev - Yakovich, Kazan 2005. Hardly due to the opening, although I think that Bareev could have kept a small advantage there.

Here Bareev played 15.Qe2, which I think is an improvement upon earlier moves since it supports Nc4.

The opening in Bauer-A Sokolov, Chartres 2005 makes you wonder whether the insertion of ...a5 and b5 prior to ...Nd4 helps Black at all. It's true that the idea of ...a4 is attractive; nevertheless, omitting even this small weakening also makes sense. Furthermore, White's favorite trick after 11...a5 12.b5 no longer works here (compare the two games), giving Black an extra option of ...Nd5. It's unclear whether White should have gotten a small edge in the opening but Black gets equality before being outplayed in a nice game by Bauer.

White comes up with a truly unique plan in Anastasian - Simonenko, Abu Dhabi 2005. He perhaps rightly feels that knights are stronger than bishops in some of these reversed Dragon positions, so he tries to give away the minor exchange.

The idea in the diagram position seems to be 10...Nd5 11.Rfc1 Nxe3 12.Qxe3 f6 13.d4!. Okay, this won't scare many players of Black away from the variation but White does achieve the imbalance he was after.


Please remember to point out and send your games to me. They're pretty consistently more interesting than those that TWIC produces. And there's always the problem that the (rare) interesting move is played by a 9-year-old who drops a rook on the next move! Drop me a line at the Flank Openings Forum, or subscribers can write directly to

Till next month, John