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One of the amazing things about chess is that a player can leave a piece on its starting square for a long time. Somehow he or she just never gets around to developing it. Thus in the games this month:
-a black knight stays asleep on b8 for 47 moves
-Sam Shankland as White defeats his opponent in 22 moves whilst leaving his knight sitting on g1 and his rook on h1 (for good measure shut in behind pawn on g2 and h2).
-Black’s knight and rook remain on g8 and h8 for 19 moves in a third game.
In none of these games did the ‘offender’ lose (though one came very close!) Let’s take a look at an exciting batch of games.

Download PGN of December ’17 1 e4 ... games

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Scandinavian 3...Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 c6 [B01]

Here we’ll examine 6.g3 Bf5. Black simply develops his bishop, not trying to slow down White’s initiative in the centre with 6...Bg4 which would at least pin the knight on f3. A critical position is reached after 7.Bg2 e6 8.0-0 h6:

I don’t think White chose the best plan in the illustrative game- you can see my recommendations in the analysis. After 13 moves we arrive at a key moment:

It is Black’s move. The position looks bad for him as moving the knight from f6 drops f7. Well can you see how he turned the tables? Even if this was a prepared variation it was an impressive feat of analysis by Black in Ibarra Chami, L - Gorovets, A.

Alekhine’s Defence Exchange: 5...exd6 [B03]

Instead of 5...cxd6 Black opens the e7 square to allow a quick deployment of his kingside pieces. This month we’ll take a look at 6.Nc3 Be7 7.Bd3 0-0 8.Nge2 Na6:

Black diverges from the main move 8...Nc6. He reserves the c6 square for his c-pawn in order to neutralise White's space advantage in the centre with c7-c6 and d6-d5. You can see how the game unfolded in Lomasov, S - Gordievsky, D.

Pirc Defence: System with 4.Bg5 [B07]

After 4...Bg7 5.Qd2 0-0 6.f4:

A tricky line for Black. He faces a kind of 150 Attack combined with the Austrian Attack. Of course being in danger has the upside of increased winning chances. White is taking on a lot of commitments in pushing his f-pawn and cutting off his bishop's influence on the queenside and in the centre. After 6...c6 White came up with the nuance 7.Bh4!?:

For an explanation of this unusual bishop retreat and how it affects the middlegame plans click on Palac, M - Vujakovic, B.

Another approach for Black after 4.Bg5 is to delay 4...Bg7 in favour of 4...c6 5.Qd2 b5. Now US Grandmaster Sam Shankland has preferred 6.f3, answering 6...Ndbd7 with 7.d5:

Black has to tread with care as Shankland was able to defeat the entire Black army without moving his knight from g1 or his rook from h1! The full crazy story is in Shankland, S - Ootes, L.

Pirc: Classical 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 0-0 6.0-0 [B08]

Gawain Jones, who did the 1.e4 Others updates a couple of years ago, has tried 6...e6 here when White responded aggressively with 7.e5:

A Hippopotamus-style set up is a good way to take an opponent who is well versed in the Classical Pirc out of his solid and familiar lines. Some strong players have gone very wrong very quickly as both White and Black as you can see in the analysis to Raja, H - Jones, G.

Caro-Kann Short Variation 5.Be2 Nd7 6.0-0 [B12]

Here we’ll start with 6...Bg6:

You might wonder why the bishop is better on g6 than on f5. After all, it is still vulnerable to Nh4 to snap up the bishop pair if Black plays ...Ne7. Well it is worth remembering that the position in the Short Variation is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. Black has to try to fit his pieces into just a couple of gaps in the centre. By retreating the bishop he clears f5 for his knight on g8, but it will probably go there via h6, to avoid the aforementioned Nh4. The bishop can sometimes go to h5 to restrain White's build up: Black probably wouldn't want to play Bxf3, but if the knight moves from f3 then Bxe2 would be a welcome exchange of light squared bishops. Furthermore the bishop might slip back to f7 after a future ...f7-f6 break.

See how this unfolds after 7.Nbd2 Nh6 in Semprun Martinez, F - Houska, M.

Caro-Kann Advance: Short Variation 5.Be2 c5 6.Be3 [B12]

Now 6...Qb6 is a very sharp line:

It has been heavily analysed and you will find a lot of examples with comments by GMs and IMs in the archives. You might like to first check out those games if you are new to the line. Despite the glut of theory this line hasn't been played out because it often leads to positions with a dynamism/ material imbalance which require judgement as well as pre-game preparation. That's why strong players still enter this line as White when playing to win - not just to play lots of theory and then shake hands to agree a draw.

And Black also has his chances as you can see in Inarkiev, E - Riazantsev, A.

Caro-Kann: Smyslov Variation 6.Bd3 e6 7.N1f3 Bd6 8.Qe2 h6 9.Ne4 Nxe4 10.Qxe4 [B17]

With 10...Nf6 Black rules out the tricky 10...Qc7 11.Qg4 variation. However, it invites White to put a knight on e5. A sharp continuation is 11.Qe2 Qc7 12.Bd2 b6 13.Be5 c5 14.Bb5+ Ke7 15.0-0-0:

Black trusts that his easy development and solid centre will help him to fend off any attack on his king. The conclusion seems to be that White gets serious attacking chances, but a resourceful player with good nerves will hold on as Black and may win if his opponent falters. That’s exactly what happened in Zhou, Y - Hawkins, J.

That’s all for now. I hope you had fun looking at the games and have been given some ideas. Best of luck in 2018 with your chess and other parts of your life.

Cheers, Neil.

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