Category : Openings

The Chebanenko Slav

Recently I published my 7th course on Chessable, after the Simplest Scandinavian, the three courses of the QGD series and the Najdorf with the Anti-Sicilians. You can see these on the right hand side under My Chessable Books. The latest course is part of Chessable’s new golden standard, the so-called Lifetime Repertoires. The opening I chose for it – the Chebanenko Slav.

Why the Chebanenko?

I always thought that if a player is to play an opening for a lifetime then this opening should be less reliant on concrete variations and more on general understanding. The Chebanenko fit this description perfectly. Black needs to understand his main plans and ideas and these are more important than the concrete variations, mostly because the concrete lines come from these main principles and ideas.

As I mention in the Introduction of the course, Black has 5 of these main development ideas:

  1. To develop the bishop from c8 outside the pawn chain before playing …e6.
  2. To fianchetto the dark-squared bishop in order not to close the h3-c8 diagonal for the light-squared bishop.
  3. To play …e6 with the idea to take on c4 and expand with …b5 and …c5 in order to develop the bishop on b7.
  4. To play …e6 with the idea to to push …c5 and develop the knight on c6, in order to put pressure on White’s centre.
  5. To play …e6 and …a5 in order to fix the b4-square when White has played a4.

Add to these the possibility to play the move …b5 that is aided by the …a6 move and you already know the basis of all the variations in the Chebanenko!

Now you understand why my choice fell on the Chebanenko. It is easy to grasp conceptually, it is solid and robust and it provides strategically rich middlegames where Black can hope to outplay his opponent.

The course has more than 25 hours of video, which I recorded in the Chessable studios in 5 days. As a curiosity, I recorded the video on the Chapter White Plays Nf3 and Nc3 in one single sitting of 6 hours and 1minute! Don’t ask how I did it.

You can take a look at the course (which is still at a big discount) here. The course also has a free version, the Short&Sweet that has more than 1 hour of video.

An aspect I was very excited about was the promotional video of the course. I got to act! The video was a very professional high-level production and I really hope all promotional chess videos in the future are made at least on this level or better.

The Chebanenko Slav is out on Chessable.


Karpov’s Ruy Lopez

Anatoly Karpov always had a classical opening repertoire. Against 1.e4 it was either 1…e5 or 1…c6, while against 1.d4 the Nimzo/QID complex or the QGD. The deviations from these choices were rare.

The Ruy Lopez is an opening Karpov played all his life. It served him tremendously until his matches with Garry Kasparov.

As I wrote in a previous post about both Kasparov’s and Short’s motivations for choosing certain openings, one may wonder why Karpov persisted with the Ruy Lopez when things stopped being favourable.

When facing Kasparov, Karpov was constantly under pressure in the games when the Ruy Lopez was played. He won just one, Game 5 of the match in 1985, and lost 4, two in each of the next two matches – the London/Leningrad in 1986 and New York/Lyon in 1990. It was not only about the losses of these games, they also turned out to be the decisive ones for Kasparov’s victory in both matches.

I had a chance to speak to one of Karpov’s seconds for the New York/Lyon match and he told me that in preparation for that match they worked very hard and prepared the Caro-Kann. Karpov worked independently on the Ruy Lopez with Portisch. He was surprised why Karpov didn’t play the Caro-Kann in the match even once.

With Kasparov’s emergence the treatment of the Ruy Lopez from the white side evolved in a more dynamic direction. I think this is the main reason why Karpov started having problems with his favourite opening. However, when playing his great rival Karpov realised that he couldn’t hope to win only with White, as Kasparov’s opening preparation rarely allowed him promising positions. Therefore he willingly entered the complications from the Zaitsev Variation in order to create winning chances with Black as well. Unfortunately for him, after that Game 5 he never managed to win a game, even though he was winning on more than one ocassion. That just wasn’t his type of game.

After the matches with Kasparov, Karpov slowly started to move away from the Ruy Lopez and switched to the Caro-Kann. In the 1990s he was playing the Caro-Kann on a regular basis.

Even though Karpov never abandoned the Ruy Lopez completely, the effect of increased dynamism in the Lopez that started with the matches with Kasparov forced Karpov to change his primary opening against 1.e4 in favour of the Caro-Kann. This was a positive change and it helped him maintain his competitiveness for almost another decade.


Wrong Mentality

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I have written before about the character of openings, how different openings require different treatment. Getting into the right mentality for the opening isn’t always easy.

As a lifelong Najdorf player I have got accustomed to always seeking counterplay, with the moves being aggressive and counter-attacking. So when in 2006 I played my first Petroff, I was far from ready from it (and I am not talking about the theoretical part).

My opponent, a strong GM, was surprised by my choice and chose a sideline, for which I was prepared, and I got a great position.

Black has a great position – smooth development and no weaknesses. But this position is different from the typical Najdorf middlegames. Here calm play is required, solid moves are the norm. A move like 14…Ne7 with the idea of …Nf5 is a good idea. But I remember I was kind of at a loss here – I knew I was doing more than alright, but I didn’t know how to continue. I simply didn’t know how to think in this type of position.

What I did was to treat the position in Sicilian style! Completely wrong mentality, of course, but it was so characteristic: I thought I saw a concrete line that gave me good play. This is common in the Sicilian, but here and in similar positions it is not necessary; in fact it is often counter-productive.

Take a look at my next moves. I went for 14…Bh4. The first incursion. Even looking at it it appears so out of place… After 15 Bf3 it came 15…Bd3. The calm 15…Rb8 with …Ne7 was still OK. My bishops are now scattered around, but I had an idea…

He went 16 Bd5. The bishop is annoying here, though my idea was to continue in aggressive style with 16…Qf6. This is actually a blunder, as after 17 Nf3 my bishops are hanging loose. See how easy it is to spoil a perfectly safe position in 3 moves when your play doesn’t correspond to the requirements of the position?

My opponent didn’t play 17 Nf3, he went for 17 g3, which was also good enough. After 17…Qg6 18 Qf3 Na5 a simple comparison between the previous diagram and the next one tells the whole story. Black’s pieces are all over the board, definitely not a way to play!

This is not the way to play the Petroff! I learned my lesson the hard way.

The point of this example is to draw attention to this important, but rarely mentioned aspect of opening play – the mentality the opening requires. And also, how and if the mentality of the player is suitable for the given opening. In the example above I definitely wasn’t suited for the Petroff and that showed immediately.

It pays to think about this aspect when you think about your openings, both your current ones and also the ones you would like to take up. A careful consideration beforehand will save you a lot of effort (and suffering) afterwards.

In my case, I learned. My next outings with the Petroff and 1…e5 in general were more successful, at least when it came to my mentality and approach. Though, to be honest, I am still unsure whether I am suited for 1…e5…



A few days ago my Chessable course on the Anti-Sicilians was published.

After working on the Najdorf it was only natural to round up the whole repertoire for Black against 1 e4 with the coverage of “everything else.” Now that job is done.

While I did intend the Anti-Sicilians to be suited for the Najdorf player, some of them can be used by other Sicilian players. In fact, if you play 2…d6 then the course is 100% suitable, while in the case of 2…e6 (except for Scheveningen players, who fall into the 100% suitability) or 2…Nc6 then only part of it is and this is basically all White’s 2nd move alternatives (the Morra Gambit, Closed Sicilian, the Grand Prix, the Alapin to name the more important ones).

The main difficulty in creating the repertoire were the move orders. The Najdorf players are particularly susceptible to these. I guess that’s the price to pay for playing one of the most popular Sicilians!

To illustrate my point, after 2 Nc3 the Najdorf player is already at a crossroad. If he wants to preserve the option to transpose to a Najdorf (but this option depends only on White!) he must play 2..d6 or 2…a6. The former is the traditional Najdorf move, but it is exactly here that White has come up with a plethora of interesting and testing options. Necessity is the mother of all invention and the necessity here being a desperate need for something to play against the Najdorf!

Everybody suffers when having to meet the Najdorf, even the World Champion. And it was him who came up with one of the more original ideas – after 1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 d6 he came up with 3 d4 cd 4 Qd4 Nc6 5 Qd2, followed by b3, Bb2 and 0-0-0. This line is still very much alive with no clear consensus of what Black’s best variation against it is.

Other tricky lines for Black are the Grand Prix Attack (currently with Bb5 instead of Bc4), the transposition to a Dragon via the Grand Prix (1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 d6 3 f4 Nc6 4 Nf3 g6 5 d4), the move-orders with Nc3, Nge2, g3 and then d4 when Black plays …g6, thus transposing to a Fianchetto Dragon and a few more.

Mind you, all of them are perfectly fine for Black from a theoretical perspective, which is only natural. However, when thinking about constructing a repetoire and wanting to make it easier for the students by eliminating tricky move-orders, too much theory and open Sicilians they may not be too happy with, then the choice is limited.

All of the above explains why I chose 2..Nc6 as the move to play against 2 Nc3. I was “helped” by the World Champion as in the past period he demonstrated quite a few ideas in the line 3 Nf3 e5. This further led me to create a repertoire that completely prevents a transposition to an open Sicilian, which should come as a sort of relief.

Everything else in the course was much easier to cover. The main theoretical alternative to the open Sicilian is the Moscow Variation (3 Bb5+) and here while all three Black moves are perfectly viable, I went for 3…Bd7, as the easiest one to play.

As usual with Chessable, the course comes with a free video where I give an overview of the whole repertoire in the duration of 1 hour. The total course has almost 10 hours of video. That also includes the chapter on Model Games where I analyse games that are important for the understanding of the material.

Generally I’m quite happy with the work I did on the Anti-Sicilians. It also helped me refresh my own repertoire and take a closer look at some lines that I have neglected for years (a good example is the Morra Gambit, where I came up with a very exciting idea for Black!). I like analysing openings and I like to explore them, so this type of work is something I always look forward to! I can only hope that it helps the others as it had helped me.

Break Down Anti-Sicilians is out on Chessable


Choice of Openings

I like to think about chess. All aspects of it, whether they are psychology, plans in a certain type of position, openings, endgames, ways to study.

I have written before about certain puzzling moments from chess history that I will probably never know the reason for, like why Fischer chose 1 e4 d6 2 d4 g6 in Game 17 of his match with Spassky in 1972, allowing a King’s Indian. He didn’t play a King’s Indian in the first half of the match when Spassky played 1 d4, so why did he allow it in the late phase of the match (and why did Spassky not take that opportunity)?

These opening choices in the matches have always been fascinating to me, especially when they were out of the ordinary repertoires of the players. I have always wanted to know the reasons why the players chose those openings.

While I have my own opinions on these choices, no matter how deeply-thought they may be, only the players themselves can give the complete answer. From the recent chess history, two questions have been on my mind for quite some time:

  1. Why did Nigel Short play the QGA in his match against Karpov in 1992? He never played the QGA before that and very rarely after that match.
  2. Why did Garry Kasparov think the Dragon was a good choice against Anand in 1995? Similarly, why did he think the QGA was a good choice against Kramnik in 2000?

Luckily, the protagonists of these matches are still alive and well, and even more fortunately I had a chance to meet them and ask them these questions.

A bit more than a year ago, in the VIP room of the Carlsen-Caruana match I had a chance to ask Nigel Short about his match with Karpov. There were other GMs present and they were also curious to know Nigel’s reasons.

I was expecting a reply based on deep analysis of the QGA and the positions arising from them, resulting in understanding that these do not suit Karpov’s style. However, the answer was much simpler and a lot more practical.

Nigel said that he chose the QGA because that was the only opening that did not feature in any of Karpov’s previous World Championship matches. As simple as that!

He said that Karpov probably hadn’t analysed the QGA in the same depth as the QGD (which was Short’s main opening back then) and the others that were at his disposal. This answer was illuminating of sorts, as it showed how Nigel approached one of the most important matches in his career – in a practical way, yet armed with excellent novelties in all the QGA games in that match!

[On a sidenote, I didn’t ask him about the choice of the Budapest Gambit in Game 1 of that match. The next time I see him I will.]

A bit more than a week ago I was in Monaco for the European Women Rapid and Blitz tournament and during the event the first European Chess Awards ceremony took place. One of the winners was Garry Kasparov.

During the gala there was a lot of socialising and Garry was in the centre of attention all the time. I didn’t think I would get a chance to talk to him.

But suddenly, at one point later in the evening I noticed him outside of the hall posing for a selfie. I recognised my chance and approached him. He didn’t seem too happy to be bothered, but when I asked my chess-related question he sort of showed interest.

In view of the positive atmosphere of the ceremony I decided to skip the part on the Kramnik match, not to bring unpleasant memories back and I just asked about the Dragon and Anand.

Surprisingly, the answer was very similar to Short’s. Kasparov said that while checking Anand’s games he noticed that he wasn’t very comfortable playing against the Dragon and that his results there weren’t very good. Therefore he took the practical decision to prepare this opening. Again, a very practical approach!

My own take on the use of the Dragon was a bit different. I thought that since Kasparov expected Anand to limit him a-la Karpov, which he did rather successfully in the 6 Be2 lines of the Najdorf that transposed to the Scheveningen after 6…e6, just like in the first two matches with Karpov, he needed a weapon to break the grip. In the Dragon the only theoretical way for White to play for an advantage are the lines with long castle where a super-sharp battle ensues. (This is especially true for the mid-90s when the lines with 9 0-0-0 instead of the Yugoslav attack with 9 Bc4 weren’t that prominent yet. Nowadays White successfully curbs Black’s attack after 9 0-0-0 d5 10 Qe1.) Anand would be surprised and unwilling to enter the sharp territory knowing that Kasparov would be excellently prepared and this would give Kasparov a tremendous practical advantage. The match proved that my thoughts were not far from the truth, which did feel satisfying.

Kasparov also mentioned that once he got “wind” in Game 10 he decided it was time to use the secret weapon in Game 11 and the rest, as they say, is history. He turned the match around and never looked back.

It was great to talk to the legends and ask these questions. It broadens my chess understanding when discussing chess with these players who have been the best in the world ever since I started playing the game! I was happy to have my curiosity satisfied, but I still have a few more questions prepared, just waiting for the next occasion!


Opening Oddities from the World Cup 2019

One of the most exciting tournaments to watch, the World Cup in Khanty Mansysk, is well under way.

With every passing round the tension rises and as the usually say for knock-outs, the players with best nerves win. As I write this Round 3 finished and we already have players like Anish Giri, Sergey Karjakin and Hikaru Nakamura out of the tournament.

(I wouldn’t worry about Karjakin though – with the Candidates Tournament already announced to take place in Yekaterinburg, he can easily get the wild card spot.)

In this post I’d like to share some of the more original opening ideas the players have come up with. It is worth noting that especially in the shorter time controls these experiments paid out, at least out of the openings. Here they are in chronological order.

I always enjoy it when players come up with original ideas in the opening. Let’s hope they continue to do so!


Lack of Opening Ideas

The non-stop playing of the top players is taking its toll. There is no time to rest, there is no time to think things through, there is no time to invent new ideas.

The players play and it is their seconds and helpers who do the hard work of constantly coming up with new moves and lines to surprise the opponents. Some are obviously better than others, but even the best run out of ideas at some point.

It is not surprising therefore when there are so many games played with the same openings. Just sticking to what is safe ensures against big surprises, but that also leads to less excitement.

In the penultimate round of the Zagreb Grand Prix Mamedyarov employed the Scandinavian (also known as the Centre Counter) against Caruana. It was yet another tournament that wasn’t going well for Mamedyarov and it appeared as if he didn’t care. Hence, 1 e4 d5.

Black got the usual slightly inferior but extremely solid position from the opening and eventually drew the game. Players note very carefully what everybody else is playing and they probably concluded that the Scandinavian isn’t good enough for classical games, but the opening exploded in the Paris Grand Prix in both the rapid and the blitz.

Mamedyarov played 2 more games with it – he beat Anand and lost to Dubov. He stuck to his treatment of 3 Nc3 Qa5, the same line he played in Zagreb against Caruana.

Other players tried their luck with the Scandinavian as well and they all went their own ways. Nakamura also played 2 games in it, choosing 3 Nc3 Qd6 in his loss to Caruana and draw with Giri.

It was Duda who employed it the most. Perhaps tired a bit of his trusty Petroff, he kept choosing the peculiar development after 3 Nc3 Qd8 that involed the double fianchetto. His results were great – he lost 1, won 3 and drew 1. The good thing about his opening was that he always played the same, which is very practical as it requires very little preparation.

While things worked out better than expected for Duda, I doubt the Scandinavian will catch up on the highest level. It will now be subjected to serious analysis and they will find ways how to deal with it. Surprises only last so long on that level. That is why they need a constant supply of fresh ideas.

The public had its quick rush with the Scandinavian and now we’re waiting for the next one. I wonder what it will be.


Opening Cycles

This one is from my newsletter. Enjoy it!

Nowadays chess theory develops by the minute. New ideas appear constantly and it is difficult to follow every single one of them. But sometimes it is not necessary to do so.

The openings in chess have their cycles. A characteristic cycle of an opening is that it becomes popular as a lot of new ideas and plans appear in it; people start to play it a lot and it is analysed in great depth; in these stages it is vitally important to follow all the latest developments and novelties; after a period of this process, which depends on the complexity of the opening, the main directions and variations are crystallised and it becomes easy to determine which are the most critical lines; here already the impact of the novelties is not as strong; then the main directions are explored and if the ideas are getting exhausted the opening is slowly abandoned or other, new directions appear, usually at an earlier stage.

To be aware where a certain opening is in this cycle is very important from a practical aspect. It is not very practical to start playing an opening when it is in its first stages, when it’s not clear what the main lines are and which plans are the most promising – though it is in exactly this phase that the elite players are thriving. A typical example for this is the Giuoco Piano – there are many plans and move-orders for both players: White has plans based on Bg5, Be3, the queenside expansion, the knight-transfer to f1 and then g3 or e3, the central d4-push, while Black can play with …a6 or …a5 (favoured by Ding Liren), go for …d5 or not (depending on White’s move-orders), go for …Ne7-g6 or/and …Be6. While this leaves scope for surprises and new developments for the elite, it is very confusing for the rest.

A different example is the Najdorf. This ever-green opening can never be abandoned, and is in the stage of new ideas appearing, as early as move 6, with White players trying out moves like 6 h4, 6 a3 or 6 Nb3. The reason for this is that in the traditional main lines the variations have crystallised and Black usually has a choice of a couple of reliable and straight-forward lines to choose from. For example, in the 6 Bg5 line he can either go for 6…Nbd7 or the delayed Poisoned Pawn 6…e6 7 f4 h6 8 Bh4 Qb6, championed by Vachier-Lagrave. Or in the English Attack, he can choose the lines with …h5, which are all the rage now, the sharp variations with 10…a5 (after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cd 4 Nd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Be3 e5 7 Nb3 Be7 8 f3 Be6 9 Qd2 0-0 10 0-0-0 a5) or even the complex lines after 10…Nbd7 11 g4 b5 12 g5 Nh5.

Therefore it is practical to take up an opening in these later stages, when one only needs to study the current theory, which has narrowed down thanks to the decades of “distillation.” In these stages the effect of novelties is diminished because normally they cannot drastically impact the variations, so they are mostly of a “local” character.

A similar case is the Sveshnikov Sicilian. As the last World Championship match implied, and Carlsen’s later games showed, Black is perfectly fine in the main lines after 7 Bg5, so White players are looking for alternative ideas, Caruana’s attempt of 7 Nd5 being such a case.

I understand that in order to be able to recognise these cycles a certain opening erudition is required. This however shouldn’t discourage the opening student. Speaking from personal experience, if you dedicate your efforts to a study of an opening, meaning you go back in time to the opening’s beginnings and then analyse its development over the years, you will start to recognise these changes that all openings experience.

As an additional advantage, having studied an opening in such a way will often enable you to be ahead of the curve and even foresee the changes that still haven’t occurred! That is one of the rare superpowers in chess!


Is Playing 1 d4 Simple?

As with all things in life, the answer is “it depends.”

It depends on many things – how you play it, against whom you play it, which lines you play. And also there is the distinction of “simple” and “simplified.”

I made the transition from 1 e4 to 1 d4 back in 2008 when I realised that I won’t be becoming a GM soon. My rationale was since I wasn’t getting the title then I may as well study and learn something new. Creating a repertoire is never a simple task, but I knew what I wanted. I wanted safety so I immediately started with “everything g3.” With the benefit of hindsight, not a bad approach. Later on I expanded on it, but the love for the fianchetto has remained ever since.

Chessable’s author IM Christof Sielecki followed up on his Keep It Simple: 1 e4 with Keep It Simple: 1 d4. Not surprisingly, he also advocates the fianchetto against pretty much everything.

After watching the introductory video I got a general idea of all the lines he is suggesting. I very much liked his sincerity where often he would say that Black is fine in certain lines, admitting that there is no advantage in the variations he’s suggesting. And this is true, as in modern theory it is impossible to claim an advantage in any sound opening.

Christof’s “simplicity” is shown in the suggested move-order for the repertoire: 1 d4, 2 Nf3, 3 g3, 4 Bg2 and 5 0-0 against pretty much everything. But then things get complicated.

The repertoire does not shy away from entering mainstream theory and mainstream theory is anything but simple. The author recognises the danger of suggesting off-beat lines just in order to avoid theory – this is a dead-end street in the long-term – so he enters the main lines when that is the correct way to go. Good examples for this are the transpositions to the Catalan, the Fianchetto Grunfeld, the Tarrasch Defence and the Queen’s Indian.

I checked several lines that were interesting to me. I was curious to see how the repertoire compares to my notes.

In the Tarrasch Defence the proposed line is to play the main line with g3 without Nc3. I discovered that Sielecki improves on the proposed line by Aagaard and I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

In the Reversed Grunfeld lines (1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 g3 c5) he digs deep, following a forced line from many games and then considers 4 candidate moves for Black on move 14, with White having a pull in all of them.

In the Catalan you cannot avoid theory and the repertoire doesn’t intend to. The good aspect of the proposed move-order is that it avoids all the Catalan lines with early 4…dc so Black’s choices are limited to the Closed System without the subtlety of …Bb4-e7 or the Open System with 6…dc.

In the Open System the very recently played game Grischuk-Nakamura from the FIDE Grand Prix posed serious problems to Black in the line 7 Qc2 b5. Sielecki couldn’t have known of this game when he worked on the repertoire and his analysis follows an earlier game, Gelfand-Ponomariov from 2011, but stops short after 16 Nc4, limiting himself with a verbal explanation when theory goes on and Black is probably fine later on. As with all theory, it never stops evolving, and the improvement by Grischuk (16 Nd4!), who in turn was following an analysis by Avrukh, will serve well the diligent student.

In the line 7 Qc2 a6 the suggested line is 8 a4. This leads to microscopic (if any) advantages for White, but it is extremely solid so it fits well with the whole idea of the repertoire.

I was somewhat surprised that against the Grunfeld with …c6 the recommended line is 7 b3, allowing the sharp equalising try 7…dc 8 bc c5 and after 9 Bb2 Qb6 10 Qc1 (instead of the more popular 10 Qb3). This is a very concrete line requiring good memorisation, somewhat at odds with the generally slower pace of many other lines.

Against the KID the repertoire doesn’t enter the main lines but suggests 6 b3 instead. Apart from the move-order issues (as Black can play …c6 instead of …d6, toying with an idea of a transposition to a Grunfeld) this is a very practical approach – not many KID players like the sight of 6 b3 and the lines are not bad at all for White either!

The only lines where White doesn’t fianchetto his bishop are the ones where Black plays an early …c5, where the suggested plans are based on playing d5 and follow mainstream theory which guarantees White an advantage.

As usual, Christof is very thorough and I couldn’t really find a weak spot in the repertoire. Curiously enough, he often says that he used LeelaZero to suggest interesting ideas.

After going over the repertoire I cannot say that it is “simple” at all. It is simplified to a certain extent, but it requires a lot of study in order to absorb the whole material. If this doesn’t bother you (and it shouldn’t!) you have a very solid and high-quality material to rely on that will most likely serve you for many years to come.

Keep It Simple: 1 d4 is out on Chessable


Harikrishna’s French

Have you ever wondered how an elite chess player’s preparation looks like? If you have, now you have a chance to find out.

Chessable managed to get Pentala Harikrishna to create a repertoire for White against the French Defence. He is by far the strongest player to have a repertoire on the platform and I was curious to see what material he prepared.

As an 1 e4 player who has always played 3 Nc3 against the French in the past I was excited to find out that Harikrishna also suggests the same choice for the repertoire. My reason for more or less abandoning 3 Nc3 was that all 3 main Black defences: 3…de, 3…Bb4 and 3…Nf6 became so popular that every single one of them required a ton of work to keep updated with many viable options appearing for Black.

So what did Harikrishna come up with?

As usual the Chessable repertoire comes with a full video material, so instead of going over the variations (which I did later) I decided to watch the video. While watching I was looking at my own notes and compared the lines.

Harikrishna covers a lot of 3rd moves for Black, but these are inferior so I concentrated on the 3 main ones.

The biggest surprise for me was that against 3…Bb4 he suggested the exchange variation 4 ed. At first I was disappointed, as I couldn’t believe White can pose problems there. Still, the facts that an elite player suggests that line and that the move has already been played by other strong players were enough to convince me to give it a closer look.

Harikrishna’s concept is curious. He is trying to put pressure in a symmetrical position a-la many lines in the Petroff Defence. He does in fact revolutionise the line by not playing in the old-fashioned way with a3, forcing Bxc3 when White takes bxc3, but rather goes for the more positionally solid approach with the maneuver Nc3-e2. A useful rule of thumb he gives is that White should always put his king’s knight on an asymmetrical square from Black’s: if Black plays …Ne7 then White goes Nf3 and if Black goes …Nf6 then White plays Ne2.

After the initial scepticism I found the lines quite compelling. The main reason was the easiness to play them as White’s play is simple, straight-forward and very safe. Quite a different picture than the lines after 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bc3 6 bc and now either 6…Qa5 or 6…Ne7 when White can easily be put to the sword of the counter-attack if he messes up.

Against 3…Nf6 I saw that Harikrishna’s suggested line is 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2. I felt inner satisfaction when I saw this because I studied and prepared this line back in 2000 (!) as a back-up for my main choice of 4 Bg5. Since my analysis is rather dated, I was glad to find out many important improvements Harikrishna has discovered, perhaps the most shocking one being 12 Kd2! in one of the lines.

Against the Rubinstein 3…de he suggests the latest trend of 7 Ne5 (after 4 Ne4 Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Nf6 Nf6). I have never studied this line in depth so I took time to check it. One of the main characteristics of the course comes to the fore here – Harikrishna doesn’t shy away from showing his own preparation and novelties. For example, after 7 Ne5 Nd7 he analyses the move 8 Be2, a novelty on move 8! Both Karjakin and Dominguez have played 8 Bf4 against Meier, but Harikrishna goes for the endgame and gives deep analysis of his new idea. He could have saved this idea for an important game, but instead he chose to share it with the Chessable students. I found this very sincere.

As with any elite player, the analysis is deep and thorough, all carefully checked with an engine. Another example is his own admission that he forgot his preparation in the game against Rapport from March this year and then he proceeds to show an improvement and an important novelty on move 10 in one of the lines.

I found the video pleasant to watch as Harikrishna’s voice is calm and his exposition is measured. I invested several hours in watching him explain his lines against the French and I feel I came out of it equipped with new lines to try against this opening. For me, that is a lot.

Harikrishna’s French Toast is out on Chessable.

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