Worldchess’s columnist writes about some of the interesting and unusual games of the last week played in China and Europe.

Ding Liren of China, 23, and Wesley So of the United States, 22, are both in the world’s top 10, so a recent four-game match between the two of them was interesting and significant. Only one of the games was decisive – a victory by Ding in Game 3. It was not only impressive, it was theoretically important as it was in a line that has become popular recently.

Ding, Liren vs. So, Wesley
Shanghai m | Shanghai | Round 3 | 07 May 2016 | ECO: E04 | 1-0
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. g3 This has become somewhat fashionable. For many decades, the only two "real" moves were 5.Bg5 and 5.e3, but now this sort of Catalan/Semi-Slav hybrid is getting a lot of attention even at the super-GM level.
5... dxc4 The principled move, but
5... Nbd7 is also very playable.  )
6. Bg2 b5 Here too
6... Nbd7 is very playable. Here's an extremely high-level example played last year:
7. O-O b5 8. e4 Bb7 9. e5 Nd5 10. Ng5 h6 11. Nxe6 fxe6 12. Qh5+ Ke7 13. Ne4 Qe8 14. Bg5+ N5f6 15. exf6+ gxf6 16. Bxf6+ Nxf6 17. Nxf6 Qxh5 18. Nxh5 Kf7 19. a4 a6 20. axb5 axb5 21. Rxa8 Bxa8 22. Ra1 Be7 23. Nf4 Bb7 24. Ra7 Rb8 25. Be4 Kf6 26. Ng6 c5 27. Rxb7 Rxb7 28. Bxb7 Kxg6 29. dxc5 Bxc5 30. Ba6 Bd4 31. Bxb5 Bxb2 32. Bxc4 e5 33. f3 Kf6 34. Kg2 Bc1 35. Bd3 Bb2 36. Bc4 Bc1 37. Bd3 Bb2 38. Bc4 1/2-1/2 (38) Kramnik,V (2783)-Anand,V (2791) Shamkir 2015  )
7. Ne5
7. O-O Bb7 8. b3 was played in the U.S. Championship game Nakamura-Lenderman last month, and here Black should probably have tried
8... b4 rather than 8...cxb3. White more commonly chooses 8.Ne5 or 8.e4 rather than 8.b3.  )
7... a6
7... Nd5 is the most frequently played move in the database, but it has been supplanted in contemporary play by 7...a6.
8. O-O  )
8. O-O
8. Nxc6 Qb6 9. Ne5 Bb7 10. e4 However,  )
8. a4 is an interesting alternative to the text.  )
8... Bb7 9. b3 Like 7...Nd5,
9. a4 is the top move in the database, but only because of old games. Nowadays, 9.b3 is a near-universal choice.  )
9... b4
9... cxb3 10. axb3 Be7 11. Bb2 O-O is another trendy option. Here White is trying both
12. Ne4 and
...   )
10. Ne4
10. Na4 has been more common, when play generally continues
10... c3 11. Nc4 a5 12. a3 Ba6 13. axb4 axb4 14. Nc5 Bxc5 15. dxc5 , with sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn.  )
10... Nxe4 11. Bxe4 c3 12. a3 a5 13. axb4 axb4 14. Bf4 Nd7 The ever-calm computer recommends
14... f6 and 14...g5, unconcerned about the appearance of weakness around Black's king.
15. Rxa8 Bxa8 16. Nc4 g5 17. e3!? gxf4 18. Qh5+ Ke7 19. Ra1 Nd7 20. Ra7 Qb8 and now White has nothing better than to head for a perpetual:
21. Qc5+ Ke8 22. Qh5+ Ke7 23. Qc5+  )
15. Bxc6 Bxc6 16. Nxc6 Qc8 17. Rxa8 A definite improvement over Tal Baron's 17.Na5, played in a recent loss to Alexei Shirov.
17. Na5?! Be7 18. d5 O-O 19. e4? exd5 20. exd5 Bc5 21. Qd3 Nf6 22. Qc4?? Qh3 23. Qxc5 Ng4 24. Rfe1 Rfe8 25. Rxe8+ Rxe8 26. Be3 Nxh2 27. f3 Qxg3+ 28. Kh1 Nxf3 0-1 (28) Baron,T (2524)-Shirov,A (2702) Riga 2015  )
17... Qxa8 18. d5 This is a much more natural approach than Baron's. Black's position remains tenable, but he is coming under serious pressure.
18... Bc5! 19. Qd3!
19. Be3! may get low marks for aesthetics, but it's a strong, logical move. Whether the bishops get exchanged or not, White's queen gets the useful d4 square. If Black trades on e3 White's structure is damaged, but this is counterbalanced by the value of the f-file (along with the queen's reaching d4).
19... Bxe3 20. fxe3 O-O 21. Qd4  )
19... O-O 20. dxe6 Qxc6 21. exd7 Rd8 22. Rd1 White is a pawn up, and both sides have strong passed pawns. Perhaps the position is objectively drawn with best play - either because Black can maintain a fortress or because he can find a way to liquidate into an ending with pawns only on the kingside - but to play mistake-free defense in a position like this is going to be very difficult.
22... Bb6 23. e4?! A natural move, and possibly part of a plan (e4-e5-e6) White will need to finish Black off down the road. Here, however, it seems to imprecise for tactical reasons.
23. h4! h6 24. h5! /+/-
24... Qe6 25. Qb5! Qxb3? 26. Rd3  )
23... h6 24. h4 Qe6! 25. Qd5
25. Qb5 Qxb3 26. Rd3 Bc5! Here we see one reason why 23.e4 wasn't the most accurate move. With the pawn back on e2, White could simply take the bishop; here, Black plays ...Qb1+ and ...Qxd3 in reply, winning on the spot.  )
25... Qg4 26. Kg2 c2 27. Rc1 Qe2? This aggressive move is an error. White is able to consolidate his kingside without losing his extra pawn, and afterwards he manages to regain a winning initiative.
27... Rxd7 28. Qb5 Qe6 29. Qxb4 Rd3 30. Rxc2 Qg4! This strong, remarkable move gives Black full equality.
...  31. Rd2 Qf3+ 32. Kh2 Rxb3 33. Qc4 Rb1 34. Qc8+ Kh7 35. Qf5+ Kg8 36. Qc8+  )
28. Rf1 Bc7 29. e5 Of course, not
29. Bxc7?? due to
29... Qxf1+ 30. Kxf1 c1=Q+ 31. Kg2 Qxc7  )
29... Qg4 30. Rc1 Rxd7 31. Qa8+ Rd8 32. Qc6 g5
32... Bb8 is somewhat better, but doesn't change the basic situation.  )
33. e6! gxf4
33... Bxf4? 34. e7 Rc8 35. e8=Q+ Rxe8 36. Qxe8+ Kg7 37. Rxc2  )
34. Qxc7 f3+
34... Rd2 35. Qxf7+ Kh8 36. Qxf4  )
35. Kh2 Rd2
35... Rd1 36. Qxf7+ Kh8 37. e7  )
36. Rxc2 Rxc2 37. exf7+! Kg7 38. Qxc2
38. Qxc2 Kxf7 39. Qh7+ gives Black a choice of a hopeless queen ending two pawns down, or an even more hopeless pawn ending after
39... Qg7 40. Qxg7+ Kxg7 41. g4  )

Coming up with new ideas in new openings is not the only way to succeed or improve. Julio Ernesto Granda Zuniga, a 49-year-old Peruvian grandmaster, has always been considered a very talented, “natural” player for his ability to outplay even elite opponents in non-standard positions. But he has recently surged to a new career high. On the strength of his crushing victory in the Llucmajor Open, where he scored 8½ out of 9, his rating on the live rating list is 2699.3. If he can pick up another rating point, he will probably become the oldest players ever to surpass the 2700 mark for the first time at such a relatively advanced age.

Here’s one of his wins from the Llucmajor Open. It isn’t really a model game, but it does show his fondness for slightly offbeat positions and his ability to handle them better than his opponents – even very strong opponents.

Granda Zuniga, Julio vs. Edouard, Romain
5th Llucmajor Open 2016 | Llucmajor ESP | Round 7.1 | 13 May 2016 | ECO: A09 | 1-0
1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 d4 3. b4
3. g3  )
3. e3  )
3... f6
3... c5  )
3... g6  )
4. Na3
4. e3  )
4. d3  )
4... e5 5. Nc2 a5
5... c5 6. bxc5 Nc6 7. d3 Bxc5 8. g3 Nge7 9. Bg2 O-O 10. Rb1 h6 11. O-O f5 12. Rb5 Qd6 13. Rxc5 Qxc5 14. Ba3 Qa5 15. Qb1 Re8 16. Qb5 Ng6 17. Qb3 Kh7 18. h4 Qc7 19. Rb1 Rb8 20. Qb5 Be6 21. e3 a6 22. Qb2 b5 23. h5 Nf8 24. cxb5 Rxb5 25. Qa1 Rxb1+ 26. Qxb1 dxe3 27. Nxe3 Rb8 28. Qc2 Rc8 29. Bxf8 Rxf8 30. d4 Qd6 31. d5 Nb4 32. Qd2 Nxd5 33. Nh4 Qb4 34. Qe2 Nxe3 35. Qxe3 Qd4 36. Qa3 Rb8 37. Qe7 Qd7 38. Qc5 Rb5 39. Qf8 Qc8 40. Qe7 Qd7 41. Qf8 Qf7 42. Ng6 Qg8 43. Qd6 Rb8 44. Qxa6 Re8 45. Nxe5 Bxa2 46. Qg6+ Kh8 47. Qxf5 Be6 48. Ng6+ 1-0 (48) Bacrot,E (2697)-Sethuraman,S (2640) Berlin 2015 (blitz)  )
5... g5 6. h3 Bg7 7. d3 Ne7 8. g3 h6 9. a4 f5 10. Ba3 O-O 11. b5 Be6 12. Bg2 Nd7 13. O-O Rf7 14. Rb1 Ng6 15. Nd2 Rb8 16. a5 Bf8 17. Qc1 f4 18. a6 bxa6 19. Bxf8 Qxf8 20. Nb4 axb5 21. Na6 Rc8 22. cxb5 Nf6 23. Qc6 Bd7 24. Qc5 g4 25. Qxf8+ Kxf8 26. h4 Bf5 27. Nc5 h5 28. Rfc1 Ne8 29. Bd5 Re7 30. Ra1 Nd6 31. Bc6 Rf7 32. Rxa7 Kg7 33. Nce4 Nxe4 34. Nxe4 Re7 35. Rc5 Kf8 36. Bb7 Rb8 37. Ba6 f3 38. exf3 gxf3 39. Raxc7 Bxe4 40. dxe4 d3 41. Rc8+ Rxc8 42. Rxc8+ Re8 43. Rc1 d2 44. Rd1 Rd8 45. b6 Ne7 46. b7 Nc6 47. Bc4 Rd4 48. Bd5 Nb8 49. Kh2 Kg7 50. g4 Kg6 51. gxh5+ Kxh5 52. Kg3 Rd3 53. Bc4 1-0 (53) Bacrot,E (2694)-Edouard,R (2634) Saint-Quentin 2015  )
6. b5 Nd7
6... Nh6 7. d3 Nf7 8. g3 Nd7 9. Bg2 Nc5 10. O-O Be7 11. Ba3 O-O 12. Nd2 Ne6 13. Bxe7 Qxe7 14. e3 Rd8 15. exd4 Nxd4 16. Nxd4 Rxd4 17. Nb3 Rd8 18. a4 Ng5 19. d4 Bh3 20. Bxb7 Bxf1 21. Qxf1 Rab8 22. Nxa5 exd4 23. Nc6 Qe4 24. Nxd8 Nf3+ 25. Kh1 Rxb7 26. Nxb7 Qxb7 27. a5 Ne1+ 28. f3 Nxf3 29. a6 Qe4 30. Qg2 1-0 (30) Ding,L (2766)-Wojtaszek,R (2727) Huaian 2016 (blitz)  )
7. d3 Nc5 8. e3 dxe3 9. Bxe3 Bd6
9... Na4! In unusual kinds of positions, the rules of thumb are sometimes suspended. Black's knight is on the rim, but it's not dim. In some lines it can go to b2, in other lines to c3. Either way, it's a bit of a nuisance to White.  )
10. Nd2!?
10. d4 exd4 11. Nfxd4 would be normal, with fair chances for an edge.  )
10... Ne7
10... f5! gives Black nothing to complain about after
11. d4 or
...  exd4 12. Bxd4 Nf6 13. Be2 Ne6 14. Bb2 O-O 15. O-O a4  )
11. Ne4 The point of the previous move, of course.
11... b6 12. Qh5+ Kf8
12... Ng6 was better, with rough equality.  )
13. Be2 Bf5 14. Bxc5 Bxc5 15. Nxc5 bxc5 Both sides have compromised pawn structures, but White's better development gives him a way to fix his problems while Black's remains.
16. O-O! Qd6
16... Bxd3? 17. Rad1 e4 18. Qxc5  )
17. f4 Stage one: Get rid of Black's e-pawn.
17... exf4 18. Qf3 Kf7 19. Qxf4 Qxf4 20. Rxf4 Rhd8 21. Rd1 Rd6 22. Ne3 Be6 23. d4 And now stage two is complete: White is liquidating his backward pawn. Black likewise gets rid of one of his weak pawns as well, so although White is a little better it's nothing serious yet.
23... cxd4?!
23... Ng6 was better.
24. Bh5 Rxd4 25. Rfxd4 cxd4 26. Rxd4 Ke7 27. Bxg6 hxg6 28. Kf2  )
24. Rfxd4 Rad8 25. Rxd6 Rxd6 26. Kf2
26. Rxd6 cxd6 27. b6  )
26... f5?
26... Nc8  )
27. Rxd6 cxd6 28. Nc2
28. b6  )
28... f4?
28... Nc8  )
29. Nd4
29. Nd4 Bc8 30. Bf3 and the b-pawn runs.  )

Finally, here’s a game with something old (and also something new). The European Individual Chess Championship is underway, and after Round 7, Czech grandmaster David Navara is tied for first with Ernesto Inarkiev or Russia, each with 6/7. Navara has been in excellent form, as is evident from his impressive victory over Zurab Sturua of Georgia in Round 4. The players revisited a line of the Nimzo-Indian that has been considered dangerous for Black since the famous game between Mikhail Botvinnik and Jose Capablanca from the AVRO tournament in 1938, and this game only confirmed the general impression. Sturua tried an idea that had enjoyed some recent (relative) popularity, but Navara was ready with a strong idea that hadn’t been tested in prior games between top players and won convincingly.

Navara, David vs. Sturua, Zurab
17th European Individual Championship | chess24.com | Round 4.5 | 15 May 2016 | ECO: E49 | 1-0
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 After
4. a3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 Black typically avoids
5... d5 , letting White eliminate one of his doubled pawns and starting the plan we see in the game.  )
4... O-O
4... d5 is rarely chosen on this move, because now
5. a3! Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7. cxd5 sees White get rid of the weak c4-pawn while obtaining a dangerous majority of central pawns.
7... exd5 8. Bd3 O-O 9. Ne2 b6 was the move order of the Botvinnik-Capablanca game, reaching the position in the main game after Sturua's 9...c5.  )
5. Bd3 d5 Now it's fine.
6. cxd5 One difference is that if White tries to reach the Botvinnik-Capablanca line with
6. a3 , Black plays
6... Bxc3+ 7. bxc3 and now
7... dxc4! 8. Bxc4 c5 , reaching a very different central configuration. Black does well here.  )
6... exd5 7. Ne2 b6
7... Re8 is usual, and after
8. Bd2 keeps the bishop with a good game, e.g. with
8... Bd6  )
8. a3 Bxc3+ Heading back down the Botvinnik-Capablanca path.
8... Bd6 isn't as good as it was last move, but it's still reasonable and still safer than the text.  )
9. bxc3 c5 10. O-O Ba6 It would be a great exaggeration to call such positions losing for Black. However, it is not an exaggeration to say that they are very difficult for him to handle, as White has a powerful and straightforward plan that has been known since the very famous game given below. In one order or another White will play Ng3, f3 and - as soon as the d-pawn is secure and his pieces are as well-placed as possible - e4. Defending against this plan is very difficult, and it's for this reason that Black typically prefers to avoid this variation in the first place.
11. f3
11. Bxa6 Nxa6 12. Bb2 Qd7 13. a4 Rfe8 14. Qd3 c4 15. Qc2 Nb8 16. Rae1 Nc6 17. Ng3 Na5 18. f3 Nb3 19. e4 Qxa4 20. e5 Nd7 21. Qf2 g6 22. f4 f5 23. exf6 Nxf6 24. f5 Rxe1 25. Rxe1 Re8 26. Re6 Rxe6 27. fxe6 Kg7 28. Qf4 Qe8 29. Qe5 Qe7 30. Ba3 Qxa3 31. Nh5+ gxh5 32. Qg5+ Kf8 33. Qxf6+ Kg8 34. e7 Qc1+ 35. Kf2 Qc2+ 36. Kg3 Qd3+ 37. Kh4 Qe4+ 38. Kxh5 Qe2+ 39. Kh4 Qe4+ 40. g4 Qe1+ 41. Kh5 Under the recent influence of the computer, some players have departed from the standard template and have tried  )
11. dxc5 bxc5 12. Bxa6 Nxa6 13. c4 , with decent results.  )
11... Re8 12. Ng3 Bxd3 13. Qxd3 Nc6 14. Bb2
14. Ra2 followed by Re2 is also popular.  )
14... h5 Sometimes Black first plays
14... c4 15. Qe2 and only then continues with
15... h5 On the plus side White's queen isn't as well placed, at least at the moment, but by pushing the pawn to c4 all the pressure is taken off of White's d-pawn, meaning that it won't be endangered when e4 finally comes.  )
15. e4! Most players have preferred to keep building, e.g. with
15. Rae1 , but Navara recognizes that the immediate break works.  )
15... h4 16. Nf5 g6
16... cxd4 17. cxd4 dxe4 In the two games won by White, these pawn captures occurred in the opposite order.
18. fxe4 Rxe4 19. Nh6+ gxh6 20. Rxf6 Qxf6 21. Qxe4 Qg6 22. Qxh4 Re8 23. Qf2 Qh5 24. Rc1 Qd5 25. h3 Re4 26. Qg3+ Kh7 27. Rf1 f5 28. Rf2 Ne7 29. Kh2 h5 30. Rf4 Rxf4 31. Qxf4 Kg6 32. Bc1 Kf7 33. Qg5 1/2-1/2 (33) Sarakenidis,N (2249)-Trusewicz,J (2161) LSS email 2014  )
17. Nxh4 Black must choose whether or not to open the center; unfortunately, his position looks very unpleasant either way.
17... dxe4? 18. fxe4 Nxe4 19. Rf4 Qe7
19... Nd6 20. Rxf7! Qg5! 21. Rf3 Ne7 22. Nxg6! Nxg6 23. Rg3 Qf5 24. Rxg6+ Kh7 25. Qxf5 Nxf5 26. Rf6  )
20. Nxg6! Qg5
20... fxg6 21. Re1 is the point. Thanks to White's sac on move 20, Black can't play 21...f5 to protect the knight.  )
21. Rxe4 Rxe4 22. Qxe4 Qxg6 23. Qe2! With Black's exposed king there's no reason to trade queens; additionally, this prevents Black from activating his rook on the e-file.
23... Rd8 24. Rf1 cxd4 25. cxd4 Qe6
25... Nxd4?? 26. Bxd4 Rxd4 27. Qe8+ Kg7 28. Qe5+  )
26. Qf2 Rd5 Black cannot survive if White's bishop can join in the attack, but Black cannot maintain the blockade and simultaneously keep his king safe from White's queen and rook.
27. Re1 Qf5 28. Re8+ Kh7 29. Qh4+ Qh5 30. Qf6! Qd1+ 31. Kf2 Qc2+ 32. Ke3!
32. Kg3? Qg6+ allows Black to put up a lot of resistance, and gives him an outside chance to draw the game.  )
32... Qb3+ 33. Kf4 No more checks.
33... Rd8 34. Re3 Nice and simple. If the queen saves herself, then 35. Rh3+ and 36.R/Qh8# will ensue.

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Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.