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Seasonal greetings and (rather early) best wishes for the new year! This month we get to see a legend in action. No, not Father Christmas with his reindeer, but something even more remarkable: Gary Kasparov championing the Modern Defence. But our first stop is the so-called Czebe Variation.

Download PGN of December '14 1 e4 ... games

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Scandinavian Czebe Variation 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 g6 6.Bc4 [B01]

A critical choice for the black bishop

This Scandinavian-Pirc hybrid system remains very popular. You can find three games analysed on this site in which Caruana has played it as Black at a Classical time control. It is also a frontline choice for Kramnik and others at Rapid and Blitz events.

In our first game Akopian plays in very direct style as White with the moves 6.Bc4 Bg7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Re1:

Now Black has to make an important choice as to whether he should play 8...Bg4 or put the bishop on the long diagonal in the sequence 8...a6, 9...b5 and 10...Bb7. You can see all the evidence by clicking on Akopian - Huang-Qian.

Scandinavian Czebe Variation 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 g6 6.g3 [B01]

White's build up halted by the black queen

This is a more positional approach than the game above. White decides to copy his opponent by putting his bishop on g2 after 6.g3 Bg7 7.Bg2:

The kingside fianchetto will put pressure on Black's queenside, more or less ruling out his plan of ...a7-a6, ...b7-b5 and ...Bb7 which he might use against 6.Bc4. White might also benefit from Bf4 driving the black queen from her active centre post. Here we'll look again at Black's interesting idea 7...Qa6!? to stop White castling in Potapov - Rakhmanov.

Alekhine's Defence 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6 cxd6 [B03]

The triumph of bizarre and ugly moves

For something different, let's take a look at 6.d5!?:

White takes away the c6 square from Black's knight, cramps his centre and prepares to answer 6...g6 with 7.Qd4 when he will have to play the ugly 7..f6 or forfeit castling with 7...Rg8. What more could you ask for from one move? Well, I recall Nimzowitsch talking about the triumph of ugly and bizarre moves in chess, and sure enough after 6...g6 7.Qd4 f6! Black is doing well:

Modern chess is concrete. The decisive factor will be the activity of Black's pieces, not whether he has a classically pretty pawn structure. For the full story check out Hrabusa - Velicka.

Alekhine's Defence 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 dxe5 5.Nxe5 c6 [B04]

All that glitters isn't gold

The solid 5...c6 is a popular move and a Blitz/Rapid play favourite of Magnus Carlsen. White has many decent move here, but I want to show you why 6.c4 isn't one of them:

Most of the time moves that look right to you once you have a feel for an opening do turn out to be decent moves. However, if ugly and bizarre moves can triumph then natural moves can equally fail. In the opening phase in particular we might say that moves either work or they don't. In this example it may look obvious to drive the black knight from its centre square and gain space, but White was soon in hot water in Nepomniachtchi - Ivancuk.

Modern Defence 150 Attack 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 a6 [B06]

The great man plays the Modern

Next up is Gary Kasparov playing an Exhibition match in Tokyo against Shogi Champion Yoshiharu Habu. It seems the rule these days that if you aren't up to date with the latest opening theory you should play the Modern or Scandinavian. Likewise 1...g6 is very popular among the world elite in Rapidplay and Blitz. Let's enjoy seeing the maestro in action in Habu - Kasparov.

Pirc Austran Attack 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Bd3 [B09]

A queen sacrifice that fails

Here a key variation is 6...Na6 7.0-0 c5 8.d5 Bg4:

Exchanging the bishop for the knight on f3 will reduce the clutter in Black's cramped pawn structure. It will also reduce the capacity of White's centre to expand with e4-e5 or in some cases with f4-f5 as the white horse won't be covering key squares. I've analysed three of the latest games in this line in Kravtsiv - Firman.

Caro-Kann Advance 3...Bf5 4.h4 [B12]

A tricky opening novelty from a rising star of chess

Here we'll examine 4...c5, which is a new move on ChessPub. Black attacks d4 and reopens the c6 square for the knight:

After 5.dxc5 he counts on regaining the pawn later with a decent game. Alas for him he meets with an interesting novelty and can't solve all the problems over the board. Anish Giri is rated 7th in the world, has a plus score against Carlsen at Classical Chess and is still only 20 years old. Now that he is playing chess full-time we can expect more opening novelties of the kind in Giri - Oleksienko.

Caro-Kann Classical 4...Bf5 mainline 7.Nf3 Nd7 8.h5 [B19]

Study rook and pawn endgames to play the Caro-Kann well

Here we'll go sailing through the calm waters of the Classical Variation with 8...Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 e6 11.Bd2 Ngf6 12.0-0-0 Be7 13.Ne4 Nxe4 14.Qxe4 Nf6 15.Qd3 and take a look at 15...c5:

It leads to a quick simplification which reminds me why the more fighting 3.e5 rules supreme in the Caro-Kann at the moment. This game also shows that you have to be proficient in rook and pawn endgames if you play the Caro-Kann- you'll get more of them than in most other openings. Enjoy some fine technique in Carlsson - Tomashevsky.

That's all for this month. I hope you enjoyed the games and picked up a couple of ideas you can try out.

All best regards for the coming year, Neil.

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