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QGA/Vienna 5.Qa4+ Bd7 [D23]
The early Qa4+ in Firouzja, A - Duda, J is known from various similar openings where Black has captured on c4. In this particular case, the plan with ...Bd7, ...Na6 and ...c5 led to a middlegame which had a Grünfeld (Russian, Prins Variation) feel to it, except for the position of Black's dark-squared bishop. Duda could have obtained a good game with an early ...b5, but instead sought a combination where he was able to eliminate the important d-pawn, but unfortunately for him Firouzja was then able to use the pin down the d-file to great effect.
As to the opening, it seems that after 5...Bd7 6.Qxc4 Black has various satisfactory ways to sort out his development, which suggests that the bishop's situation on d7 is more of an asset than a burden.
QGA Classical main Line 7.Be2 [D27]
The all-Chinese affair Ding Liren - Yu Yangyi was a great squeeze from Ding Liren where Yu Yangyi was unable to even complete his development. The choice of the tricky 7.Be2!? had something to do with this:
Black has to set out his store, but the 7...Be7 8.dxc5 0-0 that was selected here doesn't feel right. After 9.b4, although the pawn was quickly recovered, White retained a space bind for the rest of the game.
So it feels that Black needs to vary as early as the seventh move. Caruana chose 7...Nbd7 in an earlier ChessPublishing-featured game against Carlsen, but I think that the logical reaction is 7...cxd4 when White can choose between 8.Nxd4 (when Black can liberate with ...e5 at some point) or 8.cxd4 with an IQP where the bishop isn't optimal on e2.
QGD Alatortsev 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bf4 [D31]
The young Polish GM played in an aggressive manner by pushing his h-pawn in Duda, J - Harikrishna, P:
Black is faced with a dichotomy, 9...Bxh4 or 9...h5, as other moves are not credible. Capturing the pawn looks a little difficult to navigate, but is playable, but the more prudent in the context of a rapid game was Harikrishna's choice to block the opposing pawn's advance. After 9...h5 came 10.Bd3 Bxd3 11.Qxd3 and now not 11...g6 (which I don't like very much), but 11...Ngf6! is the way to equality in my opinion.
QGD Blackburne 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 7.Be2 [D37]
There have been quite a few games in recent times in the QGD Blackburne Variation where White closes the centre early with 7.c5, but in Carlsen, M - Nakamura, H the World Champion opted for the second most popular 7.Be2. After a few more moves the following position occurred after the aggressive 11.Ng5:
A forward leap at such an early stage is unusual at this level, unless there is something concrete in mind. This indeed was the case after 11...b5 12.Bxe6!? with a combination that leads to White trading two active minor pieces for a rook and two pawns. This isn't usually such a great deal early on, except that here the white rooks seem to be able to get to the open files quickly enough and Carlsen obtained early pressure and never let up. For Black, apart from changing completely the choice of set-up, the way to improve is with the less-than-obvious 13...Qe8 (which allows to recapture on f8 with the bishop) as played by Andreikin in an earlier game.
Semi-Slav Moscow 7...g6 [D43]
White's set-up with Ne5 and f4, as employed in Giri, A - Vachier-Lagrave, M didn't work at all well against Black's vigorous counterplay. Indeed, although White has various options after 8.Ne5 Bg7 9.f4 0-0 they all seem to be at best double-edged once Black reacts with a quick ...c5. In the game, Giri's attempt to capture on c5 and then bolster his booty with Na4 led to him playing the rest of the game with his knight reduced to the role of a spectator.
Semi-Slav Anti-Moscow Gambit 9.Be2 Bb7 10.e5 Nh5 11.Nxg5 [D43]
In Gupta, A - Praggnanandhaa, R a sharp variation was given a good work-out and ultimately Black came out on top.
Here the main line continues 11.a4 a6 12.Ng5, but Gupta opts for the immediate 11.Ng5 which is similar, both of which steer the struggle into complications. White sacs on f7 and opens the Black king which can easily suffer from exposure if Black isn't careful. The theme of playing with ...Rh7 at an early stage is known in this and analogous positions, but has not been investigated as much as some other set-ups, so it was certainly interesting to see how this panned out. Praggnanandhaa made two novelties herein: 13...Rh7 (which however soon transposed back to a previous game) and 15...Na6 which turned out to be fine. Some experts recommend for White the version with a4, a6; included, as this cuts out any ...Na6 ideas.
Semi-Slav Anti-Moscow Gambit 9.Be2 Nbd7 10.e5 [D43]
The choice of 9...Nbd7 in Radjabov, T - Vachier Lagrave, M poses a few questions, such as to how the Frenchman intended to meet 10.d5 which is supposed to favour White. Radjabov obviously trusted his opponent and preferred instead 10.e5 Nxd5 which soon reverted back to a well-known version. Radjabov's plan of Nxd5 followed by Ne1 and f4 certainly has bite, but I think that MVL's novelty shows the right way to respond with Black:
So 14...Be7! 15.f4 0-0-0! seems to solve Black's problems.
Semi-Slav Anti-Meran 6.Qc2 a5 [D45]
Carlsen's 6...a5 in Yu Yangyi - Carlsen, M looks pausible enough, but has hardly been played. Of course, the type of positions that arise are still more-or-less familiar, with the subtle difference that at least one of the a-pawns is not on its 'normal' square. Yu Yangyi decided to meet his opponent's a-pawn advance with one of his own: 7.a4, and later placed his bishop on a2 where it was 'lurking from afar'. In the handful of games that have seen 6...a5, White has tried other moves which also retain a typical Anti-Meran character. It's perhaps too early to offer any conclusions on White's best seventh move, as the decisions come down to what sort of analogous line fits into one's repertoire and general knowledge.
The World Champion outplayed his opponent to generate a winning attack, before losing his way. Still, even later, the simplified late middlegame was still in his favour, but he underestimated 'the long march' of Yu Yangyi's king. What a swindle!
Semi-Slav 6.Be2 [D45]
In Ding Liren - Carlsen, M another Semi-Slav with the a-pawns on a4 and a5 arose:
In the diagram, we note that the pieces are on the usual sort of squares except that White has held back from committing his queen. Once Carlsen had opted for the liberating advance 11...Rc8 12.Qe2 c5 we were confronted with mutual outposts on b4 and b5, although here Carlsen didn't bother using his. In contrast, the Chinese GM happily placed his knight on b5 where it bore down on the queenside. Still, once the kingside opened up this knight turned out to be a little distant, so I'm not sure if keeping the knight 'over there' was such a great idea.
In the featured game, it looked for a while as if a 'blocked-up draw' was on the cards before everything dramatically opened up. You could criticize the fact that several errors crept into the latter phase, but I prefer to commend the two players on their fighting spirit!
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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