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It's a pleasure to return to after so many years, during my absence there have been revolutionary changes in opening theory due to engines becoming ever more powerful. On one level they have found many new ideas because of their massive calculating power, on another they are also showing how the heuristic reasoning of past generations can be flawed.
In this first update of my return, I would like to focus mainly on an example of something that past generations of human players would not want to do. It seemed to be well established that pawn majorities should be kept healthy and that the bishop pair is valuable, but some lines have appeared which contravene both these principles.

Download PGN of November ’23 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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Closed Catalan 4...Bb4+, 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 c6 9.Bf4 b6 10.Nbd2 Nh5 11.e3 [E11]

These include a new line in the Catalan Opening favoured by Anish Giri and others, namely 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. g3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 Be7 6. Bg2 O-O 7. O-O Nbd7 8. Qc2 c6 9. Bf4 b6 10. Nbd2 Nh5 11. e3!?:

and now White usually meets ...Nxf4 with exf4.

In Giri, A - Topalov, V play continued 11...Bb7 12. cxd5 exd5 13. h4! To rule out ...g7-g5:

In Matlakov, M - Niemann, H Black captured on f4 immediately, 11...Nxf4 12. exf4 Bb7 12. exd5 cxd5:

looking to generate counterplay along the c-file.

In Woodward, A - Michelle, C Black also recaptured on d5 with the c-pawn, but without first taking on f4, which allowed 13. Bc7:

The computer game Stoofvlees II a14-LCZero v0.26.0-sv-t60-4229-m saw Black first play 11...Ba6:

A clever idea, which temporarily prevents White from capturing on d5.

QGD, Exchange Variation with Nf3, Bf4 and Qc2 [D35]

I also noticed several analogous ideas in the Queen's Gambit, in which Black captures a White bishop on f4 and White takes back with the e-pawn. These are not just new moves but rather a new strategic understanding of such positions. The doubled pawns can give White's knights key squares such as an outpost of e5 and a mobile mass of kingside pawns. Meanwhile Black's bishops can struggle to become active.

Have a look at Kuzubov, Y - Sargissian, G after 9. exf4:

And Panda, S - Injac, T, also after 9. exf4:

Queen’s Gambit Declined 4...a6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4 [D37]

In Muradli, M - Timofeev, A White counter4ed Carlsen's 4...a6 with 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4, and following 6...Bd6 he tried 7. e3!? Bxf4 8. exf4:

Incidentally, I noticed another line with the same pawn structure, namely 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Bd3 d5 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Nge2 Bd6 8. O-O Re8 9. Bd2 b6 10. Nf4 Bxf4 11. exf4. This was played in So - Giri, Norway Chess Armageddon 2023, unfortunately it is a Nimzo-Indian and thus lies outside my remit.

QGA 3.e4 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.Bxc4 Bf5 [D20]

One other idea that I've included in this update is 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 Nf6 4. e5 Nd5 5.Bxc4 and now 5...Bf5!?:

Again this is a move from the computer era, in the past we would have intuitively rejected it because of the apparently strong 6.Qb3. It turns out that Black can handle this with 6...c6 because capturing on b7 is not healthy for White's queen, and after the quiet 7. Ne2 Black can play 7...Nb6 without having to worry about the bishop retreating to d3, see Suleymanli, A - Abasov, N

Till next month, Nigel

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