[April 13, 2017] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Sicilian Defense, Najdorf Variation – Poisoned Pawn Variation

[Line 483 : 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6]

The Poisoned Pawn Variation is the most crticial continuation in the 6. Bg5 line of the Najdorf Variation in the Sicilian Defense. It occurs when Black takes the b2-pawn after 8. Qd2 Qxb2. The old move 9. Nb3 is considered not too promising for White, as Black gets satisfactory positions in more than one way.

The main line is 9. Rb1 Qa3, where 10. e5 remains the most ambitious choice. After 10… h6 11. Bh4 dxe5 12. fxe5 there are three options for Black of about the same strength. Heavily investigated and extremely sharp positions arise both after 12… Nfd7 13. Ne4 Qxa2 14. Rd1 Qd5 15. Qe3 Qxe5, 12… g5 13. exf6 gxh4 14. Be2 Qa5 15. O-O Nd7 and 12… Nd5 13. Nxd5 exd5 14. e6 Bxe6 15. Nxe6 fxe6.

If Black avoids capturing the pawn, and goes for 8… Nc6, White gets a small but durable edge with 9. Bxf6 gxf6 10. Nb3.

There are other possibilities for White on 8th move: 8. Qd3, which has some similarities with the 8. Qd2 line, or defending the b2-pawn by means of 8. Nb3 or 8. a3. In any case, position remains sharp and Black has more then one path to get balanced positions.

[Diagram: White to Move] M. Kolesar – V. Filipchenko, corr. 2004. White Rook on h3 is not only participating in the attack on the black King, but can also create threats to the opponent’s Queen along the 3rd rank. How can White gain a considerable advantage starting from the diagrammed position?

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[April 12, 2017] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Nimzo-Indian Defense, Rubinstein Variation – Normal Variation without 5. Bd3

[Line 189 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O without 5. Bd3]

Apart from 5. Bd3 (Line 190-194) another highly popular choice for players of White in the Rubinstein Variation is 5. Nge2, while 5. Nf3 often transposes to positions from the 5. Bd3 line, that is after White places his Bishop on d3.

Black has three satisfactory options against 5. Nge2 and they are 5… d5, 5… Re8 and 5… c6.

Move 5… d5 is the most straightforward one, preparing a retreat with the dark-squared Bishop when White attacks it with a2-a3. After the usual 6. a3, Black’s response is either 6… Be7, or 6… Bd6. In the latter case Black prevents White from playing Nf4, provoking the c4-c5 advance.

The idea of 5… Re8 is to save a tempo by moving the Bishop immediately back to f8. White can try to make use of it with 6. a3 Bf8 7. d5,which gains some extra space.

By playing 5… c6, Black plans to maneuver the Bishop from b4 to c7 and, if White allows it, intends to continue with d7-d5. An exemplary line could be 5… c6 6. a3 Ba5 7. b4 Bc7 8. e4 d5 9. e5 Ne8, typically creating counterplay with f7-f6 and a7-a5.

[Diagram: White to Move] D. Navara – K. Kulaots, Heraklio 2007. It looks like Black has efficiently stopped White from making a pawn advance on the kingside by playing 13… h5. Nonetheless, White can launch a strong attack – can you see how?

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[April 11, 2017] Updated Opening Line by Boris Avrukh:
Ruy Lopez, Closed Defense – Breyer Variation (incl. Romanishin Variation)

[Line 409 : 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Nb8 10. d4 Nbd7 11. Nbd2 Bb7 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1]

Line 409 deals with the main line of the Breyer Variation in the Ruy Lopez, that is, when White transfers his Knight from d2 to g3.

After the most common 13… Bf8 White sometimes opts for the Romanishin Variation (14. Bg5), which is a bit of a sideline. Black has a couple of ways to get comfortable positions after 14. Bg5 h6 15. Bh4, for example 15… Qc8 (planning exd4 with Nxe4) 16. dxe5 dxe5 17. N3h2 a5!? 18. Qf3 Ra6.

Move 14. Ng3 can be seen more frequently, where 14… c6 and 14… c5 do not give Black fully balanced play, and 14… g6 is considered to be the best choice. Now, move 15. b3 is the point of interest of our Line 410, 15. a4 is also a well-investigated option, while 15. Bg5 h6 16. Bd2 is an interesting alternative.

[Diagram: White to Move] Black’s poorly protected King allows White to finish the game in style. Can you see the winning plan for him?

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[April 10, 2017] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Queen’s Gambit Declined – Anti-Meran Gambit; Semi-Slav Defense Accepted – Botvinnik Variation

[Line 266 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. Bg5 without 5… h6, 5… Nbd7]

Line 266 deals with available options in the Anti-Meran Gambit, excluding 5… h6 (Lines 270-273) and 5… Nbd7 (Lines 267-269).

The Botvinnik Variation of Semi-Slav Defense (5… dxc4) is one of the sharpest opening in the modern chess opening theory and requires extremely good preparation from both sides. For those who want to avoid main lines we recommend 6. a4 Bb4 7. e4, which is a bit easier to master.

The well-known tabiya of the Botvinnik Variation arises after 5… dxc4 6. e4 b5 7. e5 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. Nxg5 hxg5 10. Bxg5. The critical position of this line occurs after 10… Nbd7 11. exf6 Bb7 12. g3 c5 13. d5 Qb6 14. Bg2 O-O-O 15. O-O b4. Both 16. Na4 and 16. Rb1 lead to highly demanding and well-investigated positions.

The alternative 10… Be7 11. exf6 Bxf6 is preferable for White, who has two paths to gaining a small edge: 12. Bxf6 Qxf6 13. g3 Bb7 14. Bg2 Na6 15. Ne4 Qe7 16. O-O and 12. Be3 Bb7 13. Qf3.

More suitable for beginners is the solid, yet passive, 5… Be7 6. e3 Nbd7. Black’s idea is to castle short and later develop the queenside with either b7-b6 and Bb7, or dxc4, b7-b5 and Bb7, with satisfactory positions.

[Diagram: White to Move] In this sharp position White’s biggest trump is the passed h-pawn, which could become dangerous especially in the endgame. Can you find the idea for White that gives him a big advantage?

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[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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