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I have to start with an apology for this update being so late. Unfortunately the fate of many professional players these days is that when they actually get around to playing a lot of chess, as I did this summer, they return home to a backlog of work. Hopefully there will be enough quality chess in this update to provide some compensation for this delay. Certainly, the central task for the author of this section is one of elimination. 1 e4 e5 remains so popular at the highest level that there are many important and interesting games which simply do not make the cut. For some tastes my focus here - the Petroff and the Spanish might appear a bit mainstream , even 'elitist'. However, I hope on closer inspection, lovers of the more off-beat will find something to appeal too. If there is a theme to this month's selection it should be 'novel solutions to well worn problems' and I think that amongst these there is much that may prove to be of enduring worth.

Download PGN of September '08 1 e4 e5 games

The Petroff [C42-43]

In the Petroff Defence, the games are at least as high level as elsewhere. Sadly though, the image this opening has of producing a high proportion of rather uninteresting draws is a good deal more justified than many caricatures. In all candour, I would have to admit that those who have been advised to avoid undue tension and excitement can probably approach the game Radjabov - Gashimov with a degree of confidence. This is not a thriller by any stretch of the imagination, but it does contain in 10...Nxd4!? an example of a move which has been strikingly neglected for no good reason that I can see:

Black's task after the main alternative 10...Bxf3 may not be that onerous, but it isn't great fun either, and the ensuing complications recently claimed Kramnik as a victim. From time to time the tacit consensus that a move is not up to the job is blown apart, often with important consequences for opening theory and I suspect that Radjabov's lack of a testing response is a sign that 10...Nxd4 may have just such an effect.

If anything I believe the 'drawish Petroff' problem has been reinforced recently by White's apparent desire to avoid the main lines. If we are looking for a metaphor for the extraordinary respect that many white players seem to feel for the Petroff at the moment, we could do worse than consider the response of one 2600+ player who recently elected to meet 2...Nf6 with 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 Bb5 Nd4 5 Nxd4 exd4 6 e5 preferring to contest one of the most notoriously drawish variations of the 4 Knights than tackle the dreaded 2...Nf6 head on! This is an extreme case of course, and yes, the main lines have in some cases become depressingly heavily investigated, but this has been mostly for good reason and many of the attempts to deviate at a very early stage look very insipid to say the least. One possible exception though is the subject of our second game Ivanchuk - Wang Yue. The revival of 3 d4 Nxe4 4 dxe5!? is one area in which Black still needs to sort out his best response:

I suspect that this will not prove to be the ending which Wang Yue chooses to defend. I also doubt that the obvious but risky 4...Bc5 will stand the test of time, but until this is conclusively proven, there is a lot of fun to be had in examining it.

The Spanish 3...Bc5 [C64]

A painful section to write this one, but I think White's treatment of the opening in Vachier - Lagrave - Wells is interesting enough that I couldn't ignore it. In general I had a mixed bag of experiences with 1 e4 e5 over the summer months and a less encouraging set of results (fortunately with White I was having a ball!). I had the feeling of a man 'between openings' experimenting rather than settling and one moral of this game could relate to playing unfamiliar lines against world class players with half-baked preparation. For all that, I am not sure that I would have considered 4 0-0 Nd4 5 Nxd4 Bxd4 6 c3 Bb6 7 d4 c6 8 Be2!? in any great detail even had I done a more thorough pre-game job:

The idea is readily understandable. White likes the look of the c4 square for his knight and therefore avoids either occupying it (8 Bc4) or moving to within 'forking distance' of it (8 Ba4). This much I understood at the board, but finding a solution is not so straightforward. The force of White's play in the game rests entirely upon one powerful blow - 17 Bg5! and some nice tactical points which flow from it, one of which I missed. If survival has come down to a matter of pure calculation, you would rather not be playing Vachier-Lagrave.

The Berlin Defence [C67]

There is nothing like the urgency to avoid the main lines here which I have pointed to in the case of the Petroff. Still, it is fair to assume that Berlin players will have a stylistic affinity for 'their' ending after 4 0-0 Nxe4 5 d4 Nd6 6 Bxc6 dxc6 7 dxe5 etc. and the search for something different may have high priority for those who (for example) like to do their tussling with queens on the board. In general, one of the strengths of the Berlin has been that early deviations tend to pay a fair price in terms of hopes for an objective advantage. I am not naive enough to suppose that this may not be the fate of 5 Qe2!? too but for the moment it is delivering on fun and complexity (if not on a clear plus) and I am not surprised to find adventurous spirits such as Nigel Short attracted to its charms. The key opening position of Short - Timman arises after 8 Qa5!:

Black has yet to settle upon a single convincing continuation, so for the time being White can still hope for an entertaining time here.

Modern Archangel [ C78]

Yet another fresh approach by White, again in a highly topical variation. After 3...a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 b5 6 Bb3 Bc5, it is now well established that White's principal strategy will involve targeting the b5 pawn. Indeed, after 7 c3 d6 8 a4 Rb8 9 d4 Bb6, something of a modern tabiya is reached. The main line is still 10 Na3 which fairly much obliges Black to sacrifice the b5 pawn, but interestingly, even though this is performing well enough, White has felt moved to search for alternatives. Tony has previously covered the interesting 10 a5!? in some detail, but it is the thematic idea of putting the queen on d3 which has been hitherto rather neglected. In the game Sutovsky - Shirov, White does not in fact focus on the b5 pawn. It is rather that the pressure on b5 is used to persuade Black to cede the centre, when the battle switches rapidly to the king-side:

It may seem odd that responding to ...h6 and ...g5 with 15 Bg3 is in fact a recently novelty of Sutovsky's. The position looks full of danger for Black, but also strange is that I can see no more than a draw for White (although if more is to be found it will be in the note on 22 Qg6+!). But again this is exciting new territory, being explored by two of the most enterprising players in modern chess.

The Open Defence [C83]

I am no specialist here, but it is interesting to see Mickey Adams - a player whose magnificent technique is ideally suited to exploiting the slight edge with which White often seems to emerge after 9 Nbd2 - switching to the much sharper territory of 9 Be3. It is also revealing that he presumably believes that in response to the temporary pawn grab which Black opts for in Adams - Timman by 9...Be7 10 c3 Nc5 11 Bc2 Nd7!? 12 Re1 Ndxe5 13 Nxe5 Nxe5 14 Bd4 f6, the immediate recovery of the pawn with 15 Bxe5 does not offer a workable plus.

Instead 15 a4, followed by his interesting novelty 16 f4!? keeps an immense amount of tension in the position. White is clearly on top after 23...Qd7? but the early stages appear to offer a rich position rather than a clear plus.

The Zaitsev Variation [C92]

I am especially enthusiastic about both of the games in this section. In recent times the Zaitsev has become dominated by White's quite understandable and practical but nonetheless less than riveting rejection of the sharpest lines in favour of the pursuit of a slight plus in the 'Sveshnikov Sicilian-type' structures which tend to arise from 10 Nbd2 Re8 11 Bc2 Bf8 12 d5 when the well-based consensus is that the position after 12...Nb8 13 Nf1 Nbd7 14 N(3)h2 represents best play. Here the thematic 14...Nc5 followed by 15...c6 has been investigated to within an inch of its life and it is here, in my view, that White's slight edge has yet to be nullified - as coverage in Chesspublishing, most recently Kamsky-Adams covered in the May update - tends to confirm. It is already here that Leko - Ivanchuk features the entirely new move 14...Rc8!?:

After a few minutes examining this, my reaction was something like 'why didn't I think of that' and indeed, why did nobody else? Its all about timing. White wishes in principle to meet an early ...c6 with dxc6 and Bg5 - the very same strengthening of control over d5 so familiar from the Sveshnikov - but may not be so keen to cede the bishop pair if ...c6 may not feature. So, Black should look for the most purposeful semi-waiting move, to which end 14...Rc8 looks a winner. Only time will tell if this logic translates into the 'real world', but I predict a good deal of interest in the coming months.

My excitement about Timofeev - Inarkiev is much more straightforward. First of all I am simply pleased that the sharpest line is still finding some takers

Secondly, it is good to see 24 Nxh6+!? from the diagram, a move which has long been touted in the literature (notably by Olivier Renet on Chesspublishing!) getting a deserved practical outing. A novelty, but quite a familiar one! On current evidence, its neglect also presents something of a mystery. Watch this space!.

Victor Mikhalevski will be here next month as I prepare a switch to the King's Indian, Peter.

Please post your Kingpawn Opening queries on the 1 e4 e5 Forum, or subscribers can write to if you have any questions.