New Opening Ideas in Bucharest – Part 2

by Joshua Doknjas
6/18/2021 – The 2021 Superbet Chess Classic concluded on June 14 and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (pictured) won with 6.0/9 (3 wins, 6 draws). FM Joshua Doknjas analyzes four games from the second half of the event, all of which contain interesting opening ideas. | Photo: Lennart Ootes (Archive)

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Breaking the Symmetry

The game between Aronian and Grischuk started out as what appeared to be a fairly quiet Semi-Tarrasch (which then transposed to a Symmetrical English) but it became very sharp after Aronian decided to open up the centre. Faced with this idea, Grischuk chose an inaccurate developing plan and found himself under serious pressure out of the opening. The middlegame was much more difficult for Black to play due to White’s active pieces and Aronian quickly built up a decisive kingside attack with all of his pieces contributing.


Mamedyarov’s …g5-g4 in the Berlin

In an important Round 7 matchup between Caruana and Mamedyarov, the latter switched from his usual Open Ruy Lopez and played the Berlin. Caruana’s play and time usage in the opening suggested that he had not expected the Berlin, or that something had gone wrong in his preparation. Then, instead of playing an equal middlegame, Mamedyarov decided to sharpen the game with …g5!? This approach worked extremely well but might have backfired if Caruana had spotted a strong counterattacking idea. After missing this opportunity, Caruana opted for a worse endgame and wasn’t able fight back.


Caruana resigns | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The Sharpest Symmetrical English

Wesley So and MVL entered one of the sharpest lines in the Symmetrical English, where White obtains quick development and some initiative while Black gets a couple positional advantages in return. MVL had some experience in this 9.h4!? line from his 2017 World Cup match with Peter Svidler, but So and MVL still reached a relatively fresh position by move 11. Unfortunately for So, MVL was well-prepared for this dangerous line, and it appeared that he never managed to create serious difficulties for his opponent. Nevertheless, the arising middlegame positions are quite rich and future games will show if it is possible to create challenging problems for Black.


Caruana’s 5…Bc5 Ruy Lopez

Starting from the 2020 Candidates tournament, Caruana has made the …Bc5 Ruy Lopez his main weapon against 1.e4. In Bucharest, he employed it through a slightly different move order, playing …Bc5 immediately on move 5. This opening choice led to two sharp games against MVL and Grischuk where the development of theory is still in its early stages. This is particularly true in his game against Grischuk, in which Caruana went for a setup with …Bg4 even though it has a much worse reputation than the alternatives. This may change however, considering that the arising middlegame positions provide opportunities to play an unbalanced, double-edged game.


Mamedyarov was the clear winner of the event, as he reached a +3 score after his wins in Rounds 5-7. In Round 5, he chose to enter an unbalanced and sharp middlegame against Lupulescu which paid off after he launched a decisive kingside attack. Then, in Round 6 he tried a small, risk-free opening idea against Aronian and capitalized on his opponent’s miscalculation.


His win in Round 7 was probably the most impressive because of his decision to create complications with 9…g5!? We saw that this idea may not have been objectively correct, but it worked remarkably well after Caruana missed his chance to counterattack.

Final standings


All games



Joshua Doknjas is a FIDE Master from Canada and the author of two books on the Sicilian Najdorf and Ruy Lopez. He enjoys teaching, following, and writing about chess. Joshua is especially interested in the role of engines during opening preparation and understanding how AI has influenced modern chess.


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