[July 15, 2018] Pick of the Week by GM Boris Avrukh:
December 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, including Brainfish 091016 – Raubfisch ME 262, Internet (blitz) 2016, which so far more or less represents the best mutual play in this line. Among the most recent additions we recommend A. Adly – N. Mohota, Reykjavik 2018 and F. Bindrich – P. Hoeglauer, Karlsruhe 2018 as the most interesting encounters in terms of their relevance for modern opening theory.

[Diagram: Black to Move] The diagrammed position comes from D. Howell – Y. Dzhumagaliev, Riyadh (rapid) 2017. White overplayed his hand, and Black had an opportunity (that he missed) to completely turn the tables. Can you find our improvement?

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[July 14, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Pirc Defense with 4. Be3, incl. Sveshnikov-Jansa & 150 Attack

[Line 298 : 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. Be3]

The so-called 150 Attack starts with 4. Be3 where White has a pretty straightforward plan in Qd2, f2-f3 and O-O-O. After Black plays Bg7, trading the dark-coloured bishops with Bh6 and launching  a kingside attack is White’s next logical step. Black usually opposes his opponent’s plan by postponing Bg7 and advancing on the queenside instead, where c7-c6 and b7-b5 are his typical moves.

After the most common 4… c6 5. Qd2 b5 White either sticks to the above mentioned aggressive plan, like in 6. f3 Bg7 7. g4, or shifts to a more positional option, such as 6. Bd3 Nbd7 7. Nf3 Bg7 8. h3 O-O 9. O-O. It is generally easier to play the arising positions as White, but Black nevertheless has sufficient resources to get even chances.

Sveshnikov-Jansa Attack (4… c6 5. h3) is another popular setup for White. Move 5… b5 is a dubious one against this plan, since after 6. e5 White gets a very strong initiative. Black usually opts for 5… Bg7 instead, where White has a choice between 6. Qd2 (which is similar to the 5. Qd2 line), and some more sharp alternatives, such as 6. f4 and 6. g4.

[Diagram: Black to Move] F. Caruana – V. Ivanchuk, Biel 2009. Ivanchuk missed the chance to get a decisive advantage. Can you see how Black could have exploited the fact that bishop on b5 was horribly misplaced?

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[July 13, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Neo-Gruenfeld Defense, Original Defense

[Line 131 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. g3 c6]

After the usual 5. O-O d5, apart from the Delayed Exchange Variation (6. cxd5), covered in our Line 132, there are other options that are popular among the top level players.

Defending the c-pawn with 6. Qb3 is often followed by pressing on d5, with Nc3 and Ne5. The game frequently continues 6… O-O 7. O-O, and now both 7… dxc4 and 7… Qb6 lead to balanced positions, while 7… a5 is an interesting alternative.

White can leave the c-pawn unprotected by playing 6. O-O, where 6… dxc4 is a viable alternative to the more common 6… O-O. White regains the pawn after 6… dxc4 7. a4 O-O 8. Na3, but Black gets an active piece play.

Modern line 6. O-O O-O 7. Nbd2 leads to a quiet game, where White’s plan is the queenside fianchetto, while Black generally counters it with Bf5, a7-a5-a4 and Ne4.

[Diagram: Black to Move] L. Polugaevsky – B. Gelfand, Reggio Emilia 1992. White’s last move was careless 16. Nd2-e4, underestimating his opponent’s reply. How should Black proceed from the diagrammed position to gain a big advantage?

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[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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