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We’ve plenty of 2700+ chess to enjoy this month, if unfortunately not from the London Chess Classic, where our favourite d-pawn specials were shunned. Thankfully the Champions Chess Tour Finals and Gashimov Memorial more than made up for that! Look out especially for Hikaru Nakamura embracing a key Trompowsky battleground as White, and Magnus Carlsen comfortably holding against him by avoiding it.

Download PGN of December ’23 d-Pawn Specials games

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The (Non-)Barry Attack: 3...Bg7 4 e4 d5 [A48]

After 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6 3 Nc3 Black doesn’t have to allow the Barry with 3...d5 4 Bf4. Instead, play often enters Pirc waters after 3...Bg7 4 e4, but here 4...d6 is by no means forced. There’s also 4...d5!?, as a subscriber recently asked about:

I’ve long considered this to be a reasonable surprise weapon and Black appears to be in decent enough theoretical shape against White’s various options, as we’ll see in Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son - Chigaev, M.

The Trompowsky: 2...d5 3 e3 c5 4 Bxf6 gxf6 5 Bb5+ [D00]

We’ve noted over the years both Alexander Morozevich and Richard Rapport making use of the sideline that is 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5 d5 3 e3 c5 4 Bxf6 gxf6 and then 5 Bb5+. They’ve now been joined by fellow creative player Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who has used the check to win two games just eight days apart this month. His main contribution has been to meet 5...Bd7 6 Bxd7+ Qxd7 with 7 Qh5:

The resulting rich middlegame should be OK for Black, although he was to be outplayed in Mamedyarov, S - Cheparinov, I.

The Trompowsky: 2...d5 3 e3 c5 4 Bxf6 gxf6 5 dxc5 [D00]

White’s main move after 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5 d5 3 e3 c5 4 Bxf6 gxf6 is, of course, 5 dxc5, as used on three occasions in Toronto by Hikaru Nakamura. His main idea appeared to be 5...Nc6 6 a3!? e5 7 b4 a5 8 Nd2!? axb4 9 axb4 Rxa1 10 Qxa1 Nxb4:

With the pawn back on e6, Nakamura went for 11 Qa4+ against Caruana, but here with it on e5 he preferred 11 Bb5+!? and was quickly rewarded as he obtained more than enough compensation for a pawn in Nakamura, H - Vachier-Lagrave, M, which eventually descended into something of a chaotic scrap.

The Trompowsky: 2...d5 3 e3 c5 4 Bxf6 exf6 5 Nc3 [D01]

The world no.1 didn’t play ball against Nakamura and preferred 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bg5 d5 3 e3 c5 4 Bxf6 exf6!? when 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Nge2 took play into waters usually categorised as Veresov ones. After 6...Nc6 7 g3 cxd4! White has an important choice to make:

As Carlsen had likely realised, 8 exd4!? probably doesn’t offer White any advantage, but it certainly looks like a more challenging try than the 8 Nxd4 Bb4 of Nakamura, H - Carlsen, M.

The London: 3...e6 4 e3 Bd6 5 Nbd2 [D02]

After 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Bf4 e6 4 e3 Bd6 White doesn’t have to go 5 Bg3 and with 5 Nbd2 0-0 6 Bd3!? continues to try and insist on being saddled with doubled f-pawns. They do, of course, help to supply a certain central grip, if not necessarily an advantage.

Korobov, A - Zelcic, R, saw the critical 6...Bxf4 7 exf4 Qd6 8 g3 b6 9 Qe2 a5!, insisting on ...Ba6 and seemingly thereby helping Black to obtain sufficient counter-chances.

The London: 3...c5 4 e3 Nc6 5 Nbd2 cxd4 6 exd4 Bg4 [D02]

Meeting 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Bf4 c5 4 e3 Nc6 with 5 Nbd2 remains fashionable. One pretty respectable line for Black is 5...cxd4 6 exd4 Bg4 7 c3 e6 when 8 Qb3 Bd6!? is arguably critical. Instead, 8 h3 Bxf3 9 Nxf3 Bd6 prepares to rid White of the bishop-pair:

Black’s small lead in development is actually quite handy here and he held pretty comfortably after quickly forcing through ...e5 in Vidit, SG - Radjabov, T.

The London: 3...e6 4 e3 c5 5 Nbd2 Qb6 [D02]

Likewise, these days White tends to meet 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Bf4 c5 4 e3 e6 not with 5 c3, but rather 5 Nbd2, and if 5...Qb6 6 Rb1. After 6...Bd6 there’s a fairly substantial choice though:

Grischuk has quite liked 7 Bxd6 Qxd6 8 c4 of late, 7 c3 cxd4 8 Bxd6! dxe3 9 Ba3 exd2+ 10 Qxd2 is a reasonable gambit, 7 Bg3 also far from stupid, and 7 dxc5 Qxc5 8 Bg5!? was another decent as well as new idea in Vidit, SG - Suleymanli, A.

I dare say the London will remain topical into 2024 and beyond... Until then, enjoy any festivities ahead!


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