[April 09, 2017] Pick of the Week by GM Boris Avrukh:
March 2017 Revisited: Closed Catalan Defense with 7. Ne5, 9. Na3 & 11. Qd2 

After the original key game W. So – H. Nakamura, Saint Louis 2016 many theoretically relevant games followed. Among the currently most important ones for the modern opening theory is a top engine clash Brainfish 091016 – Raubfisch ME 262, Internet (blitz) 2016, but the variation also remains very “American,” as two interesting games have already been played at the ongoing US Chess Championships: A. Shabalov – A. Onischuk, Saint Louis 2017 and M. Feng – N. Paikidze, Saint Louis 2017.

[Diagram: Black to Move] This is probably an exercise for advanced players: White is threatening to play a4-a5, which wound undermine the defense of the c4-pawn, leading to a long-term advantage for White. Can you find a way to create a reasonable counterplay for Black?


[April 08, 2017] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Cambridge Springs – Pillsbury Variation (incl. Bogoljubow Variation)

[Line 269 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. Bg5 Nbd7 6. e3]

Cambridge Springs (6… Qa5) also known as the Pillsbury Variation, is not a mainstream opening, but it remains a solid option, and is occasionally employed even on the highest level. The two most frequent replies from White are 7. cxd5 and 7. Nd2.

In the first case, move 7… exd5 is an interesting sideline which we recommend for club level players. Both after 8. Bd3 Ne4 9. O-O Nxg5 10. Nxg5 Nf6 and 8. Nd2 Bd6 9. Bd3 O-O Black is doing fine. The other option 7… Nxd5 is a more common one. If White proceeds with 8. Rc1, one of the ways to achieve comfortable position is with 8… Nxc3 9. bxc3 Ba3 10. Rc2 b6 with the idea Ba6. Also, if White opts for 8. Qd2, Black is doing fine after 8… Bb4 9. Rc1 h6 10. Bh4 c5.

Bogoljubow Variation (7. Nd2 Bb4 8. Qc2) is not as popular, but can also be seen quite frequently. The critical position of this variation arises after 8… O-O 9. Be2 e5, with complications.

There have been some recent developments in a bit unorthodox 6… h6 7. Bh4 g5 8. Bg3 Nh5, where Black weakens his kingside, but gets a pair of Bishops in return.

[Diagram: White to Move] J. Romero Sanchez – W. Wolf, corr. 2007. White is exerting pressure against his opponent’s King, but black Queen seems to be doing well in defense. How should White continue and create serious problems to his opponent?

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[April 07, 2017] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Caro-Kann Defense, Panov-Botvinnik Attack (incl. Carlsbad & Czerniak Lines)

[Line 304 : 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. c4]

After the usual 4… Nf6 5. Nc3, the most frequently played move is 5… e6 (Lines 305-306), while 5… Nc6 is the other reputable option for Black.

The old move 6. Nf3 has lost in popularity in recent years since the endgame arising after 4… Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Nf3 Bg4 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Qb3 Bxf3 9. gxf3 e6 10. Qxb7 Nxd4 11. Bxb5+ Nxb5 12. Qc6+ Ke7 13. Qxb5 Qd7 14. Nxd5+ Qxd5 15. Qxd5 exd5 is generally considered to be harmless for Black.

Black has also a couple of ways to reach a promising position after 6. Bg5. Both the Carlsbad Line (6… e6) and the Czerniak Lines (6… Qa5) lead to satisfactory positions for Black, but moves 6… dxc4 and 6… Be6 have even higher reputation. The following two variations are critical in this opening line: 6… dxc4 7. Bxc4 h6 8. Bh4 Qxd4 9. Qxd4 Nxd4 10. O-O-O e5 and 6… Be6 7. Nf3 g6 8. Bxf6 exf6, in both cases with roughly equal chances.

[Diagram: Black to Move] A. Naiditsch – P. Eljanov, Sibenik 2010. Eljanov made a bad move and even lost the game in a couple of moves, though he could have obtained a decisive advantage. How can Black win the game in the diagrammed position?

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[April 06, 2017] Updated Opening Line by Trajko Nedev:
Sicilian Defense, Najdorf Variation (incl. Zagreb Variation)

[Line 478 : 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 with 6. g3, 6. f3]

Two substantially different variations are the topic of our Line 478: sharp 6. f3 often leading to the English Attack, and the strategical Zagreb Variation (6. g3).

Black can continue after 6. f3 either with 6… e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. Be3 (Line 497) or 6… e6 (Line 493), in both cases transposing to lines of the English Attack. There is also an independent line 6… Qb6, preventing White from playing Be3. White usually replies with either 7. g4 or 7. Nb3, and though this position is more sensitive to play with black pieces, Black is typically able to get a roughly equal game.

As a response to 6. g3 Black most frequently chooses one of the following options: 6… e5, 6… e6 and 6… g6. In the first case moves 7. Nb3 and 7. Nde2 are extensively investigated.

There is also nothing wrong with Black’s position after 6… e6 7. Bg2 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Be3 Qc7, where White’s plan typically involves a pawn advance on the kingside, while Black creates counterplay on the opposite side of the board.

[Diagram: Black to Move] V Anand – A. Grischuk, Mainz (rapid) 2005. Black has tactical means to get an advantage. How would you proceed?

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[April 05, 2017] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Slav Stonewall & Semi-Slav

[Line 067 : 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 without 3… Nf6]

The most frequently played move 3… Nf6 is covered in our Lines 069-070, and two common replies to 3… e6 (4. e4 and 4. Nf3) can be found in Line 068. From other options after 3… e6, move 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bf4 leads to some simplifications and we recommend it to beginners, while after 4. e3 move 4… Bd6 is most often connected with the Slav Stonewall, which occurs when Black plays f7-f5. A typical position for this variations arises after 5. Bd3 f5 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. O-O O-O, with a complex strategic battle.

The other popular line is 3… dxc4 where moves 4. e4 and 4. e3 are of about the same strength. This line is generally easier to play with White, but Black is able to equalize with accurate play.

[Diagram: White to Move] J. Timman – A. Balshan, Jerusalem 1967. White is a pawn down and his Knight is under attack. How should he continue and get an almost decisive advantage?

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[April 04, 2017] Updated Opening Line by Trajko Nedev:
Ruy Lopez, Open Variation – Bernstein Variation (incl. Karpov Gambit)

[Line 390 : 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. Nbd2]

The Bernstein Variation, covered in our Line 390, was a battlefield of important games during three World Championship matches: two matches between Karpov and Korchnoi (Baguio City 1978 and Merano 1981), and Kasparov – Anand, New York 1995.

The main choice of Black is 9… Nc5, where the usual reply is 10. c3. Black has in 10… d4 an interesting alternative to the more common 10… Be7. One of the possible replies to 10… d4 is a quiet 11. Bxe6 Nxe6 12. cxd4, and the other is the sharp Karpov Gambit (11. Ng5).

Move 10… Be7 has became highly popular among top-level players in the recent years – W. So, F. Caruana and Ding Liren play it regularly with Black pieces. The critical position arises after 10… Be7 11. Bc2 d4 12. Nb3 d3, where White can decide between an endgame 13. Nxc5 dxc2 14. Qxd8+ Rxd8 15. Nxe6 fxe6 16. Be3 Rd5, and the complex 13. Bb1 Nxb3 14. axb3 Bf5. In both cases Black has resources to get equal positions.

In case of 9… Bc5, White gets a preferable endgame with 10. Nxe4 dxe4 11. Ng5 Qxd1 12. Rxd1.

[Diagram: White to Move] The diagrammed position appeared in a couple of strong games, e.g. in P. Svidler – V. Anand, Dos Hermanas 1999, among others. How can White obtain a big advantage?

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