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As OTB chess gradually makes its return, your favourite grandmaster duo decided to ditch the engine/correspondence games for a bit and also touch on some of the lesser-studied lines within our scope (especially in the Caro-Kann.) Regrettably, however, we did have to reject one game from this month which started with the adventurous 1...Na6 and 2...Nh6(!)

Download PGN of August ’20 1 e4 ... games

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Scandinavian Defence: 3...Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Bc4 [B01]

In Nayhebaver, M - Gazik, V, White transposed to a critical variation of the Scandinavian Defence with 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Bc4 Bg4 6.f3 Bd7 7.Bd2. Usually, White arrives at this position with the move 5.Bd2 first, while the move order chosen in the game allows Black to deviate with 6...Bf5. In any case, I believe this is a serious alternative to the main line 5.Nf3 and offers White an initiative in a bunch of lines. Play followed 7...Qb6 8.Nge2 e6 and now I provide analysis to the move 9.Be3 which I believe to be critical. Instead, White chose 9.0-0 which offers little. 9...Be7 10.a4 a5! 11.Be3 0-0 12.Bf2 Rd8 13.Ne4 Na6 14.Bb3?!:

At this point, Black can already take over with 14...c5! exerting pressure against White’s only central pawn and making good use of the queen on b6.

Alekhine Defence: Voronezh Variation 5...cxd6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Be3 Bg7 [B04]

A slight favourite of mine (DF) and a line which we’ve consequently seen a fair bit of here begins with 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6 cxd6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Be3 Bg7. The usual move is 8.Rc1, against which I flesh out the main line a bit further and explain how to play Black’s position. We also saw 8.Qd2 recently in this column, however in Zawadzka, J - Socko, M White decided to go with 8.Nf3!?:

This looks like a move that shouldn’t trouble Black. However, I think it can be part of quite a sophisticated idea to showcase the bishop pair, provided White doesn’t immediately follow up by playing b3. Even in the game, the bishop-pair ultimately came into its own and the game only ended when one of the bishops was trapped after well over 50 moves of fighting chess.

Caro-Kann Defence: Exchange Variation, Ne5 system [B10]

There are three points to make about this system. The first is that it’s more dangerous than it looks. The second is that Black should avoid playing it on autopilot (as he did from moves 5-9 in this month’s game.) The third is that, to get an advantage against inaccurate play, White has to be very aware of possible lines with opposite-side castling. The game Stankovic, M - Ratkovic, M began with 1.e4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Ne5 Nc6 5.d4 e6 6.Bb5 Bd7 7.Nxd7 Qxd7 8.c3 Nf6 9.0-0 Bd6 10.Nd2 and here, having exhausted most of the non-committal developing moves, Black faces a choice, chiefly between the normal kingside castling and the game move 10...Qc7:

It’s very hard to criticise a move like this, especially when the alternative is to accept an isolani and aim for dry equality using some specific move-order nuances. But after working through some of the early sidelines I show that objectively, this move doesn’t give Black what he is looking for. The game itself was a whole other kettle of fish: White allowed the f6-knight to become established on e4, traded his light-squared bishop for it and was left with a poor dark-squared bishop. A couple of further mistakes sealed his fate.

Caro-Kann Defence: Two Knights Variation 3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2 [B11]

I (DF) decided to collate all my thoughts on the line 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2 in one place. The exchange of knights is common but hardly forced; Black tried the interesting but hardly new 5...Nxe4 6.Qxe4 Be6 in this month’s game:

Meanwhile, a couple of other 6th moves have been seen in the archives, notably 6...Qd5.

It is telling that in the reasonably extensive practical tests of this move so far, most strong players have opted for 7.b3. Meanwhile, White played the relatively compliant-looking 7.Be2 Nasuta, G - Heberla, B ,which cannot be wrong...but perhaps this bishop would prefer to sit on c4 in some lines? Black played powerful and principled chess in the middlegame, but was unable to collect the full point.

Caro-Kann Defence: Two Knights Variation 3...Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 Nf6 6.Be2 [B11]

The main appeal of the Two Knights must be that the line often considered to ‘equalise’ most efficiently for Black begins with ceding the bishop-pair without any further questions on move 4, i.e. 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3. Here, I think Black should prefer the main move 5...e6, as the game’s 5...Nf6 6.Be2 e6 7.0-0 Bc5 8.Rd1 saw him lose a couple of options:

Here we have previously seen the critical 8...Bd4, which after 9.Qf4 leads to a pawn sacrifice. I’ve suggested some new ideas within this note based on recent practical examples and my conclusion is that while the position is obviously tense, it’s also preferable for White. Instead in Nepomniachtchi, I - Ding, L Black ventured the essentially new 8...d4!?, which was met (correctly, in my opinion) with 9.e5 Nfd7 10.Ne4 Be7 11.Qg3, followed by a tense struggle surrounding the future of the e5-pawn. Unless Black can come up with a significant improvement, it seems that White gets an advantage by the relatively simple means of protecting his e5-pawn with a future f4.

Caro-Kann Defence: Exchange Variation 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 Nf6 6.Bf4 Bg4 7.Qb3 Qc8 [B13]

The recent Ding- Carlsen match (in the latter’s own tour) featured a mini opening debate in the Exchange Variation of the Caro-Kann. Both games began 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 Nf6 6.Bf4 Bg4 7.Qb3 Qc8 8.Nd2 e6 9.Ngf3 Be7 Note that 9...Nh5!? might be a way to avoid Kramnik’s idea executed by Ding (13.h4!?) as it appears that White will need to play h3. 10.0-0 Bh5 11.Rae1 Bg6 12.Bxg6 hxg6 13.h4!? Undoubtedly the product of deep home analysis, originally prepared by Kramnik for his game against Ivanchuk (see the archives). 13...Nh5 14.Bg5 (Their first encounter saw a single repetition first with 14.Bd2 Nf6 15.Bf4). 14...f6 15.Be3 Qc7:

In Ding, L - Carlsen, M (Game 1) Ding intuited that he should open the centre with 16.c4. It transpires that Black is fine here after 18...0-0-0!. Carlsen opted for 16...Rd8 17.cxd5 exd5 18.Nb1! Qd7 19.Nh2?! (There was nothing wrong with 19.Nc3) and now he produced a brilliant piece sacrifice 19...Kf7! Ding accepted the challenge with 20.g4? Na5 21.Qd1 Bd6 22.gxh5?? but he was lucky to escape from a lost position after 22...Rxh5 23.f4 Rxh4.

In Ding, L - Carlsen, M (Game 2), Ding’s handling of the opening was more appropriately restrained: 16.Qc2 Kf7 17.Nb3. After this move, it is Black who obtains the easier position. 17.Re2 Bd6 18.Rfe1 was better. 17...Bd6 18.Nc1 Rae8 19.Re2 Ne7 20.Nd3 Nf5. A tense position, but one which Carlsen navigated excellently. After sending his king to the queenside, he obtained a comfortable position and even began to press, yet the game ended anticlimactically when the World Champion let his flag fall... according to an interview, Carlsen failed to register that Ding had made a move - such are the unique problems of online chess!

Caro-Kann Defence: Panov-Botvinnik with 5...Nc6 [B13]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd4 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Nf3 a6!? was a new move for the site in Rostgaard, T - Grandelius, N. Avoiding the mass exchanges that arise after 6...Bg4, Black hopes to steer the game towards complications instead. 7.cxd5 A harmless continuation. 7.c5! is the thematic reply, after which, Black probably doesn’t equalise. Nevertheless, his position is perfectly playable after 7...Bg4 or 7...g6. 7...Nxd5 8.Bc4 Be6 9.Bb3 Na5 Inviting White to liquidate in the centre, this move equalises quite easily. 10.Ng5 Qd7 11.Nxe6 Qxe6+ 12.Kf1 Nxb3 13.Qxb3 Rd8 (13...0-0-0!?):

14.Nxd5? The lower rated player erroneously believed he could make a draw by exchanging a bunch of pieces. In the end, this led to an instructive example of ‘How to play against the isolani’ and the principle of two weaknesses. 14...Qxd5 15.Qxd5 Rxd5 =+

Till next time! Justin and Dan.

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