[July 12, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Dragan Barlov:
Slav Defense – Sidelines

[Line 071 : 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 with 3. e3, 3. Nf3]

Move 3. e3 is a rather unambitious one, since it gives Black free hands. One of the ways for Black to obtain a comfortable position is 3… Bf5 4. Nc3 e6, since after 5. Nf3 he has 5… Nd7, depriving White of a topical Nh4.

White’s most frequent choice is 3. Nf3. Apart from the main line of the Slav Defense (3… Nf6), which is covered in our Lines 086-110, Black can also try 3… dxc4, where after the usual 4. e3 he has an interesting sideline that begins with 4… Be6.

Move 3… e6 introduces the so-called triangle setup, with white Knight on f3. Variations 4. Qc2 and 4. e3 are discussed in our Line 072, whiled 4. Nc3 transposes to Line 068. Move 4. g3 is often connected with a pawn sacrifice – Black can take the pawn on c4 and protect it with b7-b5.

For positional players 4. Nbd2 seems like a reasonable option. Apart from the natural 4… Nf6 Black has an interesting alternative in 4… f5, which makes use of the fact that the Bishop from c1 can not be easily deployed to f4. After 4… f5 5. g3 Nf6 6. Bg2 Bd6 7. O-O O-O a complicated strategical battle typically occurs with chances for both sides.

[Diagram: White to Move] Moving the Knight from c3 gives Black just enough time to consolidate, so White has to play more aggressively to secure a longterm initiative…

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[July 11, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Slaviša Brenjo:
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense with 4. O-O (incl. Improved Steinitz Defense)

[Line 376 : 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O]

Line 376 covers problably the most drawish opening variation in modern chess – when after 4… Nxe4 White avoids the main lines of Berlin Defense with 5. d4 (Lines 377-380), and instead keeps symmetrical pawn structure with 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5. Though Black has a few paths to full equality, we offer the easiest way to reach it!

There is an alternative for White on 5th move in 5. Qe2, and yet again Black can smoothly obtain a comfortable position.

Besides the above mentioned variations, this also line deals with the dynamic 4… Bc5, as well as with 4… Be7 and the Improved Steinitz Defense (4… d6), but none of these give Black satisfying play.

[Diagram: White to Move] The diagrammed position occurred in a few games that Leko played with Black back in 1999, i. e. in the days when computers where not nearly as powerful as today. Nowadays it’s quite easy to determine whether the Knight sacrifice on g5 is defendable for Black or not. What’s your verdict?

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[July 10, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Sicilian Defense, Modern Variation – Moscow Variation (Canal Attack)

[Line 461 : 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Bd7]

Move 3… Bd7 is the simplest way for Black to respond to the Moscow Variation of the Sicilian Defense. Black wants to exchange a pair of Bishops, and thereby ease the development of the remaining pieces.

White has an interesting option in 4. c4, postponing the capture on d7 and offering his opponent to trade the Bishops himself on b5. Since after 4… Bxb5 5. cxb5 Nf6 6. Nc3 White typically gets more pleasant positions in view of his space advantage on the queenside, Black should avoid capturing on b5. Instead, he can continue with e. g. 4… Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. O-O Bg7 7. d4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 O-O, which should be about equal.

White usually opts for 4. Bxd7+, and now 4… Nxd7 is a good alternative to the main 4… Qxd7.

After 4… Qxd7, the main move is 5. c4 (Line 462), and 5. d4 is our recommendation for beginners. Players of White often choose 5. O-O, where after 5… Nf6 White has two moves of approximately the same strength: 6. Qe2 and 6. Re1; in either case Black has a few paths to equality.

[Diagram: White to Move] Black Queen and Knight are misplaced, and it’s a signal that White should make his attack more concrete. How can he get a winning position in just a couple of moves?

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[July 09, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Dragan Barlov:
Nimzo-Indian Defense, Rubinstein Variation with 5. Nge2

[Line 188 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 c5 5. Nge2]

The Rubinstein Variation with 5. Nge2 is the logical response to the 4… c5 line: White wants to play a2-a3, without having to play with doubled pawns after Bxc3+. Moreover, since black pawn is on c5, he can no longer return his Bishop to e7.

Move 5… b6 gives White the opportunity to obtain a promising position with 6. a3 Ba5 7. Rb1 Na6 8. Ng3.

The best reaction from Black is probably 5… cxd4 6. exd4 O-O 7. a3 Be7. White now has two main options of approximately the same strength: 8. Nf4 and 8. d5. Though Black needs to play precisely, he should be able to equalize.

[Diagram: White to Move] One of the critical positions of this opening line: White seizes the initiative with energetic play!

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[July 08, 2018] Updated Opening Article by GM Borki Predojević:
March 2018 Revisited: Italian Game, Giuoco Pianissimo with 8. a4!?

Highlights from the ninth (sic!) update of this highly fashionable opening article of great theoretical relevance include two MVL’s games from the recently finished Paris blitz event: M. Vachier Lagrave – L. Aronian, Paris (blitz) 2018 and M. Vachier Lagrave – W. So, Paris (blitz) 2018. Without any doubt, the popularity of this line remains steady among the top-level players, as the Italian Game makes frequent appearances among the world’s best.

[Diagram: Black to Move] The diagrammed position comes from B. Bok – M. Ragger, Wijk aan Zee 2017. The question is simple, but the answer might be a tricky one – can Black capture on b3?

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[July 07, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Borki Predojević:
Italian Game, Giouco Pianissimo with 5… a6 – Main Line

[Line 366 : 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. Bb3 d6 7. O-O]

Giouco Pianissimo has become an extremely popular opening in recent years, especially on the highest level. There are two basic continuations for Black on 7th move: one is an early Bishop retreat – 7… Ba7, and the other is 7… O-O.

In the second case, after the usual 8. Nbd2, the most frequent response is 8… Be6, though an alternative 8… Re8 is also perfectly fine.

The idea of 7… Ba7 is to prevent White from playing d3-d4 in an early stage of the game. Moves 8. Re1, 8. h3, 8. Be3 and 8. Nbd2 have been extensively played, but the verdict stays the same – Black has no difficulties getting even chances.

[Diagram: Black to Move] Black is exerting pressure on the kingside and the most important defending white piece is the Knight on f3. How can Black disrupt the position of that Knight and gain an advantage?

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