[April 24, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Sicilian Defense, Four Knights Variation (incl. Lasker-Pelikan Variation)

[Line 434 : 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6]

Lasker-Pelikan/Sveshnikov Variation is not as popular as it used to be, but according to the latest opening theory, Black can achieve rather promising positions.

To begin with, Line 434 deals with early deviations in the Lasker Variation, starting with various choices for White on move six, i.e. after 5. Nc3 e5.

By far the main move is 6. Ndb5, and after 6… d6 we arrive at the first big crossroad. For club level players we recommend 7. Nd5, and for beginners 7. a4, since they are much less demanding than the main lines.

After the main 7. Bg5 a6 8. Na3 b5 White can decide between two types of position – he can either opt for the calm 9. Nd5, followed by Bxf6, or capture on f6 immediately, where Black is obliged to take the Bishop with his pawn. Move 9. Nd5 is covered in our Lines 437-439, and the position occurring after 9. Bxf6 gxf6 10. Nd5 f5 in our Lines 435-436.

The main focus of this line is 9. Bxf6 gxf6 10. Nd5 Bg7, which was Kramnik’s pet line at the time when he used to play the Sicilian Defense. Black’s idea is to quickly trade the strong white Knight on d5 with Nc6-e7, followed by the thematic f6-f5, which is often connected with a pawn sacrifice. The main tabiya in this line is the position occurring after 11. Bd3 Ne7 12. Nxe7 Qxe7 13. O-O O-O 14. c4 f5, where great complications typically arise.

[Diagram: White to Move] White is a few pawns up, but three of his pieces are under attack. How can he deal with that and gain substantial advantage?

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[April 23, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Borki Predojević:
Slav Defense, Chebanenko Variation with 5. e3 b5 6. b3

[Line 103 : 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6 5. e3 b5 6. b3]

Chebanenko Variation of the Slav Defense has lost a lot of popularity in recent years, mainly because of the line covered here.

The most frequently played continuation is  6… Bg4, with the idea Nbd7, e7-e6 and Bd6. White typically counters it with 7. Be2 Nbd7 8. h3. If Black trades his bishop for a knight with 8… Bxf3 9. Bxf3 e6 10. O-O, White gets a stable advantage due to his bishop pair. On the other hand, after 8… Bf5 9. g4! Bg6 10. Ne5 White has the initiative.

Black’s alternatives on 6th move are 6… Bf5 and 6… g6, but in either case, White can secure an opening edge.

[Diagram: White to Move] The diagrammed position is from the key game R. Wojtaszek – V. Malakhov, Jurmala (rapid) 2013. Black needs only one tempo to fully equalize, but it’s White’s turn and it makes all the difference…

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[April 22, 2018] Trusted: Opening Survey by GM Aleksandar Kovačević
May 2017 Revisited: Sicilian Defense, Accelerated Dragon with 8… d5!? (10. Qd2)

The original article dealt with Gelfand’s recipe against 1. e4 that he tried both versus Giri and Vachier-Lagrave, and this update brings a number of theoretically relevant games that represent important contributions to our understanding of this line. For instance, while Aroshidze did manage to win twice by ignoring the initial pawn sacrifice, the most recent engine games seem to have refuted his approach quite convincingly.

[Diagram: Black to Move] The diagrammed position is the introduction to the grand finale of the current main line of this variation. White pawns appear unstoppable, so Black has to act quickly. Any last minute thoughts?

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[April 21, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Trajko Nedev:
Caro-Kann Defense, Advance Variation (incl. Tal Variation)

[Line 316 : 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 with 4. Nd2, 4. h4]

Line 316 covers two tricky lines of the Advance Variation in the Caro-Kann Defense – the aggressive Tal Variation (4. h4), and the more positional, but equally demanding 4. Nd2.

The idea behind the Tal Variation is to disturb black light-squared Bishop with g2-g4, which delays Black’s thematic e7-e6. Black has many possibilities, like 4… Qb6, 4… a6, 4… Qc8 or 4… c5, but only 4… h6 and 4… h5 allow him to gain equal chances. After 4. h4 h5 White has to decide between two essentially different treatments of the position: to exploit the g5 weakness with 5. Bd3 Bxd3 6. Qxd3 (followed by Bg5), or to go for the more complicated 5. c4 e6 6. Nc3 Ne7 7. Bg5 Qb6 8. Qd2.

By playing 4. Nd2, immediately followed by Nb3, White wants to hamper Black’s typical breakthrough c6-c5. After 4… e6 5. Nb3 Nd7 6. Nf3 Ne7 7. Be2 Bg6 Black needs to be careful with the topical Nf5 and Be7 idea, because White can often react with g2-g4, which results in a pressure on the kingside. Anyway, with precise play, Black usually gets good prospects.

[Diagram: White to Move] E. Andreev – V. Iordachescu, Al-Ain 2013. White has somewhat better development and he needs to act fast to obtain tangible advantage. How should he continue?

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[April 20, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Borki Predojević:
Semi-Slav, Pseudo-Meran & Quiet Variation

[Line 093 : 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 without 5. Nc3]

Pseudo-Meran is a popular setup against Semi-Slav, with the general idea to avoid well-examined and forced lines of the Meran. The difference is that knight from b1 can be transferred to d2, instead of its more common destination – c3. White usually suports the c4-pawn with b2-b3, and either plays Bd3 or Be2, followed by O-O, Bb2 and Nbd2.

Black can respond with an almost symmetrical setup: Nbd7, Bd6, O-O, b7-b6 and Bb7.

Here is an illustration of how the game could proceed: 5. Bd3 Nbd7 6. b3 Bd6 7. Bb2 O-O 8. O-O b6 9. Nbd2 Bb7. White can try to seize more space with Ne5 and f2-f4, while Black’s idea is to prepare a thematic counter-attack with c6-c5.

There aren’t many forced lines in this variation, but the presence of all pieces on the board means that tough strategic battles are to be expected!

[Diagram: Black to Move] C. Voiculescu – Y. Gudzovati, corr. 2015. It looks like Black’s kingside attack got stuck, leaving him with many weaknesses. How can he continue, and secure a half point?

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[April 19, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Dragan Barlov:
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Semi-Slav Defense – Stoltz Variation (incl. Center Variation & Mikhalchishin Line)

[Line 280 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Qc2]

The Stoltz Variation (6. Qc2) is the most popular line in the Semi-Slav Defense. Among the interesting sidelines for Black, we can recommend 6… b6 7. Bd3 Bb7 8. O-O Be7, recently employed in a few games by A. Dreev. The critical game of that system is B. Adhiban – A. Dreev, Wijk aan Zee 2016, where Adhiban prepared an attractive novelty, and his opponent, after a poor reaction, quickly found himself in a difficult position.

By far the main line is 6… Bd6, and here, besides 7. Bd3 that is covered in our Lines 283-285, quiet 7. b3 (Line 282) and sharp 7. g4 (Line 281), White has several remaining options that are covered here.

After 7. Bd2 O-O 8. O-O-O Black has promising a pawn sacrifice: 8… b5 9. cxb5 Bb7.

Center Variation 7. e4 doesn’t pose real problems for Black, as after 7… dxe4 8. Nxe4 Nxe4 9. Qxe4 he has quite a few ways to equalize, e. g. the Mikhalchishin Line 9… e5.

7. Be2 O-O 8. O-O could transpose to Line 283 after 8… dxc4 9. Bxc4, though Black can also get satisfactory positions after 8… Re8 9. Rd1 Qe7.

[Diagram: White to Move] O. Sande – K. Haug, corr. 2013. White has a very good compensation for a sacrificed pawn – Black has poor coordination and weak dark squares. How can White launch a dangerous attack?

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