Opening Trends (III): More Gibraltar

by Thorsten Cmiel
2/9/2019 – 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. Yesterday we looked at Black's choices after 1.e4. Now Thorsten tackles 1.d4 and 1.c4/1.Nf3 openings.

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The English, KID and London are trendy

Traditionally, the Gibraltar Masters, a ten-round Swiss tournament, is the first big open of the year. This year almost 250 players from 58 countries took part, among them 95 Grandmasters and 53 International Masters. 14 players had a rating of 2700 or more and the Elo-average of all participants was 2375, a number only a few open tournaments which will be played in 2019 will reach. The strength of the Gibraltar Masters indicates how relevant the games played in this tournament are for current opening theory. Moreover, the Gibraltar Open is played according to Sofia Rules: draws before move 30 are not allowed, a rule which increases the theoretical relevance of the games. In rounds 1 to 7, every player had the right to take a "bye" for which he or she would receive half a point without playing the round.

Numbers: Is Black the new White?

After the World Championship Match Carlsen vs Caruana in London chess players started to wonder whether it's still an advantage to play with White. After all, it's usually Black who decides which direction the opening will take. However, the results in the Gibraltar Masters clearly favour White: White won 411 games, 297 ended with a draw and Black won 292 games.

1.e4 was played in 45% of all games in the Masters. Yesterday we looked at the trendy Black responses.

1.d4 was played in about a third of all games.

1.Nf3 (12%) and 1.c4 (9%) were much less popular opening moves. In ChessBase Magazine 187 Evgeny Postny recommended a line against the English which Maxime Vachier-Lagrave likes to play. In Gibraltar, the French grandmaster had a chance to try it again. 

Kiik vs Vachier-Lagrave

Kiik vs Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: John Saunders


If you want to reach a Nimzo-Indian with Black after 1.c4 you better know what to do against the Mikenas-Flohr system. 

At the Tata Steel Tournament in Wijk aan Zee 2019 German talent Vincent Keymer, who started in the Challengers, played two interesting games with White against the Mikenas-Flohr system but got nothing tangible in the line with 5...Ne4 and in Howell-Nakamura in Gibraltar White again failed to get anything in the opening. Currently, it is White's turn to come up with something in the line.


Howell vs Nakamura

King's Indian revival?

Things are easier for King's Indian devotees. They can simply offer White to transpose into the main lines.

After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 the move 2...e6 (to reach a Nimzo-Indian) was twice as popular as the move 2...g6. However, after 2...g6 the Grünfeld and the King's Indian were about equally popular.

Dragon specialist Gawain Jones showed that "his" patterns are also relevant in the King's Indian. 

Jones (with Black) does not mind a fianchetto | Photo: John Saunders


Click or tap the second game in the list to switch

The Nimzo-Indian is considered to be more solid and more positional than the King's Indian but the results in Gibraltar favoured the latter: in 69 King's Indian games Black scored 54.3% but against the Nimzo-Indian, it was White who scored better. Here are two nice attacking games which White won.


Click or tap the second game in the list to switch

A lifetime repertoire: Play the Nimzo Indian

This DVD provides everything you need to know to be able to play one of the most classical openings with Black, the Nimzo-Indian, arising after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4. Nearly every World Championship and top tournament features the Nimzo-Indian.

The Benoni and the Benko were only rarely played in Gibraltar.

The Dutch Grandmaster Sipke Ernst unearthed an old line of the Trompowsky to quickly outplay his opponent. But the Dutch opening did not fare well in Gibraltar: White scored 8½/9!


Click or tap the second game in the list to switch

Ivan Cheparinov

Cheparinov was one of several on the losing side of a Dutch | Photo: Niki Riga

The London System

The easy-to-learn London is about five times more popular with amateurs than with professionals. Thus, if you want to avoid the London, you should take care that your next tournament has a number of professionals!

The London can transpose into a Caro-Kann. The player who had Black in the game below is one of the many talented Indian players. Last year in Gibraltar he needed to make an IM-norm to get the title and even made a GM-norm. However, against the London he still had to suffer.


Simon Williams teaches the London System

30-minute training: Learn to play the London System


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


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