Opening Trends (II): Gibraltar

by Thorsten Cmiel
2/8/2019 – The Gibraltar Masters was the first very strong open of 2019 and it might indicate which openings will be particularly popular in 2019. Thorsten Cmiel had a look which openings were "trendy" in Gibraltar and how the Grandmasters started the new year. Previously he examined the openings in the last major event of the year the World Blitz and Rapid. In focus in Part II is 1.e4, met by the Caro-Kann, Sicilian and French.

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Gibraltar: What was "trendy" after 1.e4? 

The most often played opening move at the Gibraltar Open was 1.e4 (45%). Of course, in many of these games, Black replied with 1...e5. However, the really "hot" variations were seen in the semi-open games. Here are the current trends:

Hot, hotter, Caro-Kann

As far as I can see the Caro-Kann was the most often theoretically debated opening (53 games). This opening is not only solid but its modern interpretation even offers Black good winning chances. In Gibraltar, the German players Rasmus Svane and Dennes Abel were particularly avid Caro-Kann followers.

Nakamura vs Svane

Nakamura-Svane | Photo: John Saunders


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Remarkable was the fashionable "...f7-f6" which came as a novelty in several games from Gibraltar. In the old main line Vidit's recommendation is still a good option although it did not really work in the Saric game above.

The Fashionable Caro-Kann Vol.1 and 2

The Caro Kann is a very tricky opening. Black’s play is based on controlling and fighting for key light squares. It is a line which was very fashionable in late 90s and early 2000s due to the successes of greats like Karpov, Anand, Dreev etc. Recently due to strong engines lot of key developments have been made and some new lines have been introduced, while others have been refuted altogether. I have analyzed the new trends carefully and found some new ideas for Black.


But the most popular reply (197 games) to 1.e4 is still the Sicilian (1...c5). Professionals like to play the Open Sicilian but among amateurs, sidelines are popular. Some players tried Nge2 to hinder Black from reaching his favourite set-ups or to get an improved Grand Prix Attack (as in the Gary Quillan game below). The Rossolimo is also a popular line against the Sicilian. Here, the game Navara-Grandelius was particularly interesting.


David Navara on his win over Grandelius

The Najdorf appeared in 31 games and to counter it White tried no less than eleven alternatives on move six. However, only three players were confident enough to play 6.Bg5, formerly the main move. Playing 6.Bg5 — and playing against it — requires a lot of theoretical work but still leads to interesting games. (See Sosa 0-1 Moussard below.)

The Dragon was played in three games, the Sveshnikov in nine, and in these nine games White scored a bit better (+3 -2 =4). Caruana's 7.Nd5 from the World Championship match against Carlsen was only tried by Wesley So who won a convincing game with it. In the other eight games, White played 7.Bg5.


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Wesley So follows Caruana's World Championship theory

Sicilians with 2...e6 were also popular in Gibraltar and in twelve games the Paulsen appeared on the board (as in the Melkumyan vs Bilguun above). In these games Black most often tried to reach a Hedgehog structure, occasionally giving up the bishop on c3.

The Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian

The Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian is one of the most popular and fascinating replies to 1.e4. Right from the beginning, Black is striving for active and dynamic counterplay, and this results in a double-edge struggle for the initiative. Dutch top grandmaster and six-times national champion Loek van Wely himself has played the Sveshnikov since 1998. On this DVD he comments on his latest encounters with world-class players like Shirov, Anand, Topalov and Kramnik, games which abound with combinatorial ideas and sacrifices; a feast for all fans of tactics.

French brilliancy

The game that won the brilliancy prize in Gibraltar ended in a draw. Gawain Jones played with White against Alejandro Ramirez. But in general, the French did not fare particularly well in Gibraltar.


Ramirez and Jones

Alejandro Ramirez and Gawain Jones receive their joint Best Game prize from Hon. Steven Linares, MP, Minister for Culture, Media, Youth and Sport | Photo: Niki Riga


Thorsten Cmiel is FIDE Master, lives in Cologne and Milano and works as a freelance finance journalist.


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