[August 12, 2016] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
French Defense, Winawer Variation with 7. Qg4 (incl. Poisoned Pawn Variation)

[Line 346 : 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. Qg4]

The Winawer Variation with 7. Qg4 is probably the sharpest line in the entire French Defense. Black has plenty of possibilities on 7th move, but only two of them lead to more or less balanced positions – 7… O-O and the Poisoned Pawn Variation, which can occur via two different move orders: 7… Qc7 8. Qxg7 Rg8 9. Qxh7 cxd4 or 7… cxd4 8. Qxg7 Rg8 9. Qxh7 Qc7.

When Black castles, White usually continues with 8. Bd3 where Black, again, has two viable choices – the highly complicated 8… Nbc6, and the less common alternative 8… f5, which we recommend for club level players.

In the Poisoned Pawn Variation, beside the main move 10. Ne2, Black has to be well prepared for the Euwe Variation (10. Kd1), too.

As a reaction to 10. Ne2 Black can try 10… dxc3, which gives him an extra option against 11. f4 – apart from the transposition with 11… Nbc6 to the 10… Nbc6 11. f4 dxc3 line, he can also opt for 11… Bd7 12. Qd3 Nf5, with the idea to meet 13. Nxc3 with 13… Na6. For those following the main theoretical discussions, we recommend 10. Ne2 Nbc6 11. f4 dxc3 12. Qd3 Bd7 13. Nxc3 a6, with very complex double-edged positions.

[Diagram: White to Move] J. Myrene – T. Franzen, corr. 2005.  As a reaction to 22. Qf6, Black has prepared 22… Nxh6 as his response. Is there a flaw in Black’s calculation?

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[August 11, 2016] Updated Opening Line by Dragan Barlov:
Open Slav Defense, Czech Defense without 6. Ne5 (incl. Bled Attack)

[Line 106 : 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Bf5 without 6. Ne5]

The Czech Defense (5… Bf5) is considered to be the critical variation of the Open Slav. Apart from the Krause Attack (6. Ne5), which is covered in our Lines 109-111, White has another two major possibilities: the Dutch Variation (6. e3) and the Bled Attack (6. Nh4).

As reaction to the Bled Attack, Black has a few decent choices:

6… Bg4 7. h3 Bh5 8. g4 Bg6 is the most ambitious reply, often leading to dynamic positions, like in the main line: 9. Nxg6 hxg6 10. e4 e5 11. Bc4 exd4 12. e5 Bb4.

The most solid continuation is 6… e6 7. Nxf5 exf5 8. e3 Bd6 9. Bxc4 O-O. Though White has a bishop pair and better pawn structure, Black has full control of central squares.

Besides 6… Bg4 and 6… e6, Black has two more promising lines: 6… Bd7 and 6… Bc8.

The Dutch Variation is an old main line of the Open Slav. After 6. e3 e6 7. Bxc4 Bb4 8. O-O, the main line 8… Nbd7 is dealt with in our Lines 107-108, and in the focus of this line is a viable alternative 8… O-O. White usually continues with 9. Nh4 Bg4 10. f3 Bh5 11. g4 or 9. Qe2 Bg6 10. Ne5 Nbd7 11. Nxg6 hxg6, and in either case Black should equalize without big efforts.

[Diagram: White to Move] E. Bacrot – E. Bareev, Moscow 2010. If Black manages to trade the dark-squared bishops, he will get a satisfactory position. How can White refute his opponent’s plan?

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[August 10, 2016] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
King’s Indian Defence, Fianchetto without c4 (Przepiorka Variation)

[Line 079 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. g3]

This opening line mainly deals with various setups with mutual kingside fianchettoes, without variations where White plays c2-c4.

Black has three main setups here: with d7-d5 (recommended for the Grünfeld Indian Defense aficionados), d7-d6 (for the King’s Indian Defense players) or c7-c5 (for Benoni fans). That being said, the main lines go like this:

3… Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. O-O d5 6. Bf4 c6 is a rather uneventful line without serious problems for Black.

3… Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. O-O d6 6. Nc3 followed by e2-e4 is a position typical of those arising from the Pirc Defense move order. Though White has a bit more space, Black has a very flexible position and plenty of ways to achieve equality.

After 3… c5, the most promising continuation for White is transposition to Line 036 with 4. c4, since supporting the d4-pawn with 4. c3 b6 5. Bg2 Bb7 or trading his d- for the c-pawn with 4. Bg2 cxd4 5. Nxd4 or 4. dxc5 Qa5+ 5. Nc3 Bg7, would allow Black to proceed with an easy play.

[Diagram: White to Move] R. Vera Gonzalez – J. Becerra Rivero, Matanzas 1994. Black has just carelessly played Nf6-h5, expecting White Bishop’s retreat from f4. What has Black overlooked? 

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[August 09, 2016] Updated Opening Line by Borki Predojević:
Catalan Defense, Closed Variation – Main Line with 8. Bf4 Nbd7 9. Qc2

[Line 233 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. g3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 Be7 6. Bg2 O-O 7. O-O c6 8. Bf4 Nbd7 9. Qc2]

For those aiming to avoid theoretical discussions with Black pieces, we recommend 9… a5 10. Rd1 b5, hoping to seize some space on the queenside.

Black can also opt for a rather common plan with 9… Nh5 10. Bc1 Nhf6, followed by b7-b6 and Bb7, which typically gives Black a very sound position.

Another sideline is 9… Ne4, which is often followed by g7-g5 and f7-f5. Though White’s chances are slightly preferable, in our opinion Black has sufficient counterplay.

The main continuation is 9… b6 10. Rd1 Bb7, and here White has many possibilities. The usual continuation is 11. Ne5 Nh5 12. Bd2 Nhf6 13. cxd5 cxd5 14. Nc6 Bxc6 15. Qxc6 Rc8, but 11. Nc3 dxc4 12. Nd2 Nd5 13. Nxc4 Nxf4 14. gxf4 Qc7 is also perfectly playable. In both cases Black should equalize without difficulties.

[Diagram: Black to Move] C. Bauer – V. Ivanchuk, Cap d’Adge (rapid) 2012. Ivanchuk had no problems finding the surprising move, which immediately led to winning some material. Can you see what Black played in the diagrammed position?

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[August 08, 2016] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Sicilian Defense, Closed Sicilian (incl. Traditional, Chameleon, Fianchetto & Vinken Systems)

[Line 416 : 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 without 3. Nf3]

Line 416 covers the Traditional Variation (2… Nc6) of the Closed Sicilian. White has an opportunity to transpose to the Open Sicilian with 3. Nf3, but usually opts for some of the available alternatives:

The Vinken System (3. f4) is an aggressive option, where Black reacts either with 3… g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 or 3… e6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb5 Nge7, in both cases with mutual play.

The idea of the Chameleon System (3. Nge2) is to prepare the d2-d4 advance, while in case of 3… e5 White has some benefits of the placement of his knight on e2 – he can transfer it later to c3.

The most modern approach is 3. Bb5, with the idea to capture on c6, followed by f2-f4 and Nf3. After 3… Nd4 White generally responds with 4. Bc4 or, less often, with 4. Nf3.

The Fianchetto System (3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 d6) is the most classical treatment of the Closed Sicilian, and here White has a choice between 6. f4 with Nf3 and O-O, or 6. Be3 with Qd2.

[Diagram: White to Move] White has sacrificed a pawn to weaken Black’s kingside and launch the attack. What is the best way to continue?

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[August 07, 2016] Pick of the Week by GM Boris Avrukh:
Closed Catalan Defense with 7. Ne5, 9. Na3 & 11. Qd2 

It is hard to resist the temptation to cover a decisive game in the Catalan from the ongoing Sinquefield Cup, especially if the encounter was between two US top guns from the World Top 10: W. So – H. Nakamura, Saint Louis 2016. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as many recent theoretically important games are meticulously analyzed in GM Avrukh’s new article.

[Diagram: White to Move] Black is prepared to seize some serious initiative after Bb7, while his opponent’s similar attempt with Bb2 accomplishes nothing after f6. Any other ideas for White?

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