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This month I've decided to take a look at a few sidelines with a lot of creative play coming from both White and Black players. Of course it doesn't always work out for the side trying new ideas and there are a few disasters in this update!

Download PGN of December '13 1 e4 ... games

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Centre Counter - 2...Qxd5 3 Nf3 [B01]

Our first game this month showcases just what can go wrong when you try and surprise a strong player with a rare line and instead find your opponent well prepared. In Vachier Lagrave-Papaioannou we see the unusual 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Be2 Nc6 5.0-0 0-0-0. The idea for Black in this line it to get a quick ...e5 in to control the centre, but Maxime Vachier Lagrave simply goes for a queenside attack and scores a comfortable victory. I already like his position after 10.b4!:

And the rest of the game is short.

Alekhine's Defence - Four Pawns Attack 9...Be7 10 d5 [B03]

We don't get to see a proper Four Pawns Attack much at GM level these days so I decided it was definitely worth covering Luther - Rozentalis. It features one of the most critical lines where after 14...Bc6 White has an important choice:

15.Qg4 is the most complicated move here, but it seems to be that Black should be fine with accurate play. I've updated some old analysis here now that computers are rather stronger! Instead Luther chooses the quieter 15.Nxc6 which might be enough for an edge, but Rozentalis stays active and by the end of the game it's Black who is pressing for the win, albeit unsuccessfully.

Alekhine's Defence - 3...Nb6 [B03]

This next game is perhaps the strangest in this month's update. Black chooses the rare 3...Nb6 in the Alekhine, and I don't think this in itself is so bad, but after 4.a4 I think 4...a5 is essential here. In Vajda - Varga Black tries to get away with 4...d5 but I simply don't like his position after 5.a5. Things quickly spiral out of control and after 13.h4!:

Black is already losing.

Alekhine's Defence - 4 Nf3 Bg4, 9 b3 [B05]

Our final Alekhine this month is almost a mainline, at least up until 8...0-0:

Here White has the choice between 9.Be3 and 9.h3 Bh5 10.Be3 and almost all games follow one of these two paths. Instead in Kosintseva,N-Ehlvest White plays the logical 9.b3. Obviously this covers c4 but as there was no immediate threat I can't help but feel like is just a slightly inferior line compared to 9.Be3 although Black still has to be careful here. Ehlvest manages to equalise and then he slowly outplays his opponent in the late middlegame and ending.

Pirc - The 150 Attack 4 Be3 [B07]

It's nice to see a regular old 150 Attack from time to time but again we see a relatively non-theoretical approach from Black. After 5.Qd2 we see 5...Qc7 for the first time. It's a very flexible move as Black is ready with ...b5 if White castles queenside (as in the game) but if not then he can also play a quick ...e5. White gets the standard break 8.e5 in but after 8...b4! Black is OK:

In Efimenko - Skoberne Black goes on to miss a good equalising chance and ends up in a losing rook and pawn endgame.

Caro-Kann Advance - 4 h4 [B12]

We've seen a lot of 4.h4 in the last few months but we've only seen the tricky 4...Qb6!? once before. Just like the previous games in this update Popov - Pantsulaia takes an early twist with 5.h5!? leading to this interesting position after 7.Nc3:

I think Black should be completely OK here but after a few mistakes White wins with an impressive kingside attack. From a theoretical point of view I like Gawain's 5.Ne2 more than 5.h5 against 4...Qb6.

Caro-Kann Advance - Short Variation [B12]

Our final two games return to more mainline territory. First in Volokitin - Vachier Lagrave we see the tricky line 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 c5 6.Be3 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Ne7 8.0-0!? Nbc6 9.Bb5 which has been scoring well for White, especially in previous updates. With 12...c5!? Black introduces an interesting pawn sacrifice that ultimately gives him a good game:

Still I think White's play could've been improved so Black is not out of the woods yet in this line. Having said that my suggestion of 9...Bg6 turns up in the notes with Black holding a comfortable draw against Grischuk so hopefully we'll see more of that in the future!

Classical 4...Bf5 Mainline, 12...Bd6 13 Kb1 [B19]

Our last game is almost completely mainline except that on move 12, instead of 12...Be7, Black chooses 12...Bd6:

However, we saw in Guseinov-Pantsulaia earlier this year that Black isn't really threatening to take on g3 so White simply plays 13.Kb1! and claims the Bishop is worse placed on d6. This certainly proves to be the case in Giri - Grischuk and White quickly builds up a clear advantage before losing the thread of the game somewhat, and in the end Giri settles for a draw.

That's all for this month - Merry Christmas and see you in 2014! Tom.

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