[July 27, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Vadim Zvjaginsev:
Nimzo-Indian Defense, Kmoch Variation (incl. Romanovsky Variation)

[Line 174 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3]

The Kmoch Variation is one of the sharpest reactions to the Nimzo-Indian Defense and is frequently employed by many of the world’s top players. Black has a couple of ways to obtain equal chances and most of them require accurate play from both sides.

Move 4… c5 leads to positions resembling the Modern Benoni. After 5. d5 O-O 6. e4 Black has two moves of about the same strength: 6… Re8 and 6… b5, in either case with considerable complications.

The idea behind 4… O-O is to meet 5. e4 with 5… d5 6. e5 Nfd7 and further undermine White’s pawn center with c7-c5. If White opts for 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3, Black’s common choice is 6… Ne8, followed by b7-b6, Nc6-a5 and Ba6, with counterplay against the weak c4-pawn.

Line 4… d5 is probably the most popular among the players of Black. After 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. dxc5 Black has in Romanovsky Variation (8… f5) a viable alternative to the main 8… Qa5.

[Diagram: White to Move] Black’s last move was capturing the sacrificed e-pawn with Nf6xe4. How does White make use of the opponent’s poorly protected King to get more than sufficient compensation?

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[July 26, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Boris Avrukh:
Catalan Defense, Closed Variation – Main Line with 8. Bf4 Nbd7 9. Qc2 b6 10. Rd1 Ba6

[Line 234 : 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 b6 10. Rd1 Ba6]

Line 234 covers one of the main lines of the Catalan Defense. As a response to Black’s attack on the c4 pawn, White usually opts for one of the following moves 11. b3, 11. Ne5 or 11. cxd5.

By choosing 11. cxd5 cxd5 12. Ne5 White narows the possibilities for both sides, but makes things a bit easier for Black. After 12… Nxe5 13. dxe5 Ng4 some complications typically arise, as seen in the recent B. Gelfand – S. Karjakin, Jurmala (rapid) 2015 game.

After 11. Ne5 Rc8 White can go either for the calm 12. cxd5 cxd5 13. Nc6 with later Nxe7+, or he can sacrifice a pawn with 12. Nc3 Bxc4 13. Nxc4 dxc4 14. e4.

Move 11. b3 keeps the tension, and is the most frequently seen move in this position. Most often the game continues 11… Rc8 12. Nc3, where Black has a few ways to achieve good prospects, such as 12… Nh5 13. Bc1 Nhf6, 12… Qe8 13. e4 dxc4 and 12… h6 13. e4 dxc4 14. Nd2 b5.

[Diagram: Black to Move] White is a pawn up and holds a pair of strong Bishops. Yet, it’s Black’s move and with a nice Knight’s ‘dance’ Black is able to obtain a substantial edge!

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[July 25, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense – Rio Gambit Accepted (incl. Rio de Janeiro & L’Hermet Variations)

[Line 377 : 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4]

Rio de Janeiro Variation 5… Be7 is an old variation, and a pet line of Russian grandmaster Malakhov. The best reaction from White is 6. Qe2, where after 6… Nd6 7. Bxc6 bxc6 8. dxe5 Nb7 White is able to get a small edge with 9. Nc3 O-O 10. Re1.

After 5… Nd6, White has two viable alternatives to the main 6. Bxc6, i. e. L’Hermet Variation (6. dxe5) and 6. Bg5. In both cases Black has a couple of paths to equality.

The extremely popular Berlin Defense occurs after 5… Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8. White’s options include 9. h3 and 9. Rd1+. In case of the most frequently played 9. Nc3 Black’s common reactions are 9… Ke8 (Line 380), 9… Bd7 (Line 379), 9… Ne7 (Line 378), 9… Be6, 9… h6 and 9… Be7.

[Diagram: White to Move] If White recaptures the piece with exd6, Black will capture the pawn on d6 with his Bishop and vacate the f8-square for the King. What is the best way for White to continue from the diagrammed position, and gain a decisive advantage?

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[July 24, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Aleksandar Kovačević:
Sicilian Defense, Maroczy Bind with 5… Bg7 (incl. Breyer Variation)

[Line 433 : 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. c4 Bg7]

The Maroczy Bind is a flexible, yet passive, defense for Black. After the introductory moves, the game usually continues with 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Nc3 O-O 8. Be2, where Black has two possibilities: 8… d6 and 8… b6.

After 8… b6 9. O-O Bb7 9. f3 White’s spatial advantage is typically a long-term one.

The other choice 8… d6 9. O-O also does not promise Black full equality. If he goes for an early 9… Nxd4, White can react with 10. Bxd4 Bd7 11. Qd3, often followed by b2-b4 and f2-f4. Against the more frequent 9… Bd7 White has two reactions of about the same strength: one is 10. Nc2 avoiding the exchange of a pair of Knights, and the other is the old line 10. Qd2 Nxd4 11. Bxd4 Bc6 12. f3 a5 13. b3 Nd7 14. Be3.

[Diagram: Black to Move] White’s last move was b3-b4, attacking the Knight on c5. What is Black’s best reaction in the diagrammed position?

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[July 23, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Bogo-Indian Defense, Gruenfeld Variation with 4… b6

[Line 197 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+ 4. Nbd2 b6]

After 5. a3 Black is practically forced to give away the Bishop from b4 for the Knight on d2 with 5… Bxd2+, since the position after 5… Be7 6. e4 remains firmly in White’s favor.

If White takes on d2 with the Bishop (6. Bxd2), his plan is usually connected with Bg5 and e3. On the other hand Black, at some point, usually reacts with h6, g5 and Ne4, typically obtaining equal chances.

Capturing with the Queen (5. a3 Bxd2+ 6. Qxd2) leads to small but stable advantage for White – the most common plan is e2-e3, Be2, O-O and either b2-b3 or b2-b4, followed by Bb2. A model line could be: 6… Bb7 7. e3 O-O 8. Be2 d6 9. O-O Nbd7 10. b4 Ne4 11. Qc2 f5. Black here intends to create some activity on the kingside with a typical maneuver Rf6-h6(g6). Thematic reaction from White 12. d5! ought to gives him the initiative, while after 12. Bb2 Rf6 13. d5 Rh6 Black gets sufficient counterplay.

[Diagram: White to Move] Black Bishop on d5 is unprotected and by moving the Knight from d4 white Rook from d1 will immediately attack it; what is the best way for White to make use of that fact?

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[July 22, 2018] Dusted Off: Opening Survey by GM Vadim Zvjaginsev
April 2017 Revisited: The Leningrad Dutch with 7… Qe8 8. Re1 (10. Ng5!?)

After GM Daniele Vocaturo successfully followed our main line recommendation in F. Sonis – D. Vocaturo, Ortisei 2018, it seemed like a logical idea to revisit this article. While this opening line might not be the most fashionable one, some top-tier engine games have kept it theoretically relevant over the past few years. However, top level grandmaster clashes remain the most important games in this variation: B. Gelfand – P. Svidler, Jerusalem (rapid) 2014, S. Mamedyarov – A. Grischuk, Baku 2014 & E. Bacrot – V. Ivanchuk, Ashdod 2015.

[Diagram: Black to Move] White is a pawn down, but Black’s light-squared bishop is hanging, and his rook on a8 is doomed. Should Black capture on f3, or he would be better off trying something else?

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