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I wanted to see what was in vogue amongst the top players, hence you'll see lots of familiar names involved in the selected games this time. As these players are so high-profile, their games are widely available, hence their perpetual need to stay one step ahead of the opponent's preparation. The desire to find slightly unusual, perhaps a shade offbeat, but not bad, ideas is enhanced by the high number of rapidplay games in which they are involved these days. The big trend in the Queen's Gambit, for example, is to mix and match ideas from one system and splice them into another. This has led to the creation of a whole panoply of hybrid set-ups that require a blend of general experience and up-to-date know-how in order to navigate the opening successfully. Of course, a subscription to ChessPublishing helps...

Download PGN of November ’22 1 d4 d5 2 c4 games

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Main Line Slav 5.a4 e6 6.e3 c5 [D16]

The encounter Le Quang Liem - Giri, A was of theoretical significance, with 14...g6 being met by the critical reply 15.f5:

The aggressive advance of the f-pawn is certainly a way to test the opponent's resolve. However, after 15...gxf5 16.Bh6 Nfd5 Black obtains enough compensation for the exchange in the form of potential dark-squared control plus a pawn. In the game, it wasn't clear how White was going to enhance the power of his rooks, until Giri unfortunately allowed a pair to come off, after which his position proved to be clearly inferior. So although I approve of 14...g6 (maybe it's best), Black still needs to be vigilant as one error can cost one dear, as Giri found out.

Main Line Slav 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Qc7, 11...g5 12.Ne3 [D17]

In Gukesh, D - Harikrishna, P a rather well-trodden line in the Slav received a further high-level test.

The subtle 16.Kf1 makes a change from other ways of handling the monarch's future. The rook on h1 remains relatively well-placed if the pressure down the h-file continues to be relevant. However, in some cases the fact that the white rooks are not linked can be an issue, hence the need to be ready to place the king on g2 in many cases. In the actual game, after 16...Nf6 Gukesh's manoeuvre involving 17.a5 and then 18.Ra4 was notable, seeking action on the fourth rather the first rank. Is the rook well-placed here or not? Maybe. One can discuss the subtleties, but it created enough practical problems (provoking the opponent!) to earn him a full point.

Queen’s Gambit Accepted 3.e4 e5 4.Nf3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Bxd2+ 6.Qxd2 [D20]

In Duda, J - Vidit, S White's opening failed to generate anything more than equality but 7.Qxd4 remains popular:

In reply, both of 7...Qxd4 and the game move 7...Nf6 seem perfectly satisfactory for the second player, but one still needs to aim for a coherent set-up. Top GMs seems to do this naturally, but the rest of us should play through a few examples to help work out in advance the sort of piece deployment where we will feel comfortable. Vidit was outplaying his opponent for a while, but he missed an opportunity to be seriously better before going horribly astray (frustration + time trouble?) in the endgame.

QGA Classical Main line 7.Be2 [D27]

A rare loss for the World Champion (as White) occurred in Carlsen, M - Aronian, L.

Here the choice is between 11.Nxf6+ and 11.e4. Against 11.e4, I suggest 11...Nxd5 (rather than the previously played 11...Bxd5) which I believe leads to equality. In the game Carlsen chose 11.Nxf6+, but after 11...Qxf6 12.a4 b4 13.Ra2 I'm not a fan of his position. Perhaps Carlsen should have preferred 13.e4 (which was coincidentally previously played by Aronian!) but then after 13...h6 Black is fine. So it doesn't look as if there is any advantage for the first player from the diagram position. The main reasons for his defeat occurred much later, as the struggle was more or less level-pegging until move 30.

QGA Classical Main line 7.b3 b5 8.Be2 Bb7 9.Bb2 Nbd7 10.a4 [D27]

The diagram from Duda, J - Mamedyarov, S is at the frontier of the middlegame, but is still a known position:

It's another of these QGAs where there is no objective advantage, but plenty of practical problems to solve. There are other decent options, but Mamedyarov's 16...Bd5 looks fine, with the new move 17.Qd3!? then coming as a slight surprise, but not offering anything particularly promising. Anyway, Black soon went astray (so the novelty had the desired effect!) and then had to give up his queen for only a rook and a few tricks. Astonishingly, his position turned out to be robust with White being required to play very precisely to convert the advantage. The fact that Black won is of course notable, but Duda probably lacked the time he needed to work out the details.

QGD: 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Bb4 [D35]

In the old days, the opening sequence in Giri, A - Gukesh, D was usually dismissed as inferior, as the pin on the a5-e1 diagonal was deemed to be inadequate with the white knight able to come to e2.

However, a modern reassessment has occurred and this hybrid of the Nimzo, Ragozin and QGD seems to hold up to scrutiny. Black creates plenty of action if he doesn't mind taking a few risks. Indeed, after 9.Qc2 h5 10.f3 Nxg3 11.hxg3 Black even has a variety of acceptable moves: 11...c6, 11...Be6 (of the game), and my preference 11...Qe7, which is perhaps the most annoying for White.

Later, Giri over-pressed somewhat, missed a tactic and lost. Who hasn't this happened to?

QGD: Ragozin System: 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4 [D38]

In Abdusattorov, N - Gukesh, D Black was able to create complications early on.

In an earlier ChessPublishing game, from a couple of years ago, Magnus Carlsen chose 9.Be3 against Anish Giri. Instead, the young Uzbek star came up with a novelty 9.Ndxe4, which could be the beginning of a whole new chapter in this variation. The engine isn't impressed at first, but play becomes totally crazy very shortly afterwards. I suggest an improvement on move fifteen in the notes (15.Bg2 rather than 15.Nb5?) which seems to justify the whole approach even if it doesn't lead to any objective advantage.

QGD: 4.Bg5 dxc4 [D50]

Matters went badly wrong for Black in Postny, E - Banusz, T which does indicate that 10.Be4 can create problems:

Here I think that it's a mistake to capture on e4 (see 10...Bxe4?!) as the white knight coming to e4 represents something of a nuisance. Instead, I suggest 10...Nc6, with the idea of threatening 11...f5, to chastise the bishop on e4. This idea only works because 11.d5 Nb4! seems fine for Black.

Despite this setback, I can see 4...dxc4 gaining further adepts, as it leads to more open play than many a QGD variation, and this would suit some folk.

QGD: Cambridge Springs 7.Nd2 Bb4 [D52]

Redeploying the bishop to f4, thus yielding the following position, is an idea previously discussed by Sherbakov. Here it was tried by the Polish GM in Wojtaszek, R - Ivanchuk, V.

There have overall been more than fifty games from this position, with White scoring well, but the most recent e-mail games suggest that Black's game is reasonable enough, even if he has to face the bishop pair in an open position.

Nevertheless, I do have the feeling that it's easier for Black to go wrong. In the game, however, Ivanchuk reorganized his pieces well and only erred with the rash 20...Nxd4? when equality was at hand with 20...Qb4.

QGD: Pseudo-Moscow Variation 6...h6 7.Bh4 g5 8.Bg3 Nh5 [D51]

In Bernadskiy, V - Lupulescu, C the players reached the following position:

From the diagram, both sides can seek to avoid the repetition and here it was Black with 11...Ng7!? (instead of the routine 11...Nhf6). The knight fianchetto is odd-looking, but the bishop on e5 is facing it's exchange. In the game, double-edged play resulted, but it was noticeable that when play opened up it was Black's king that turned out to be the more exposed. So, instead of aiming to grab a pawn with 18...f6, more advisable would be 18...b5 19.Bb3 Bb7 followed by 0-0-0. No big conclusions, as there is still plenty of experimentation going on in this youthful line with ample opportunities for individual interpretation. One just needs to get past the 'battle of nerves' concerning the possibility that the opponent is happy with a quick draw.

Till next month, Glenn Flear

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