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This month, a few openings are examined, however the most notable ground of discussion was undoubtedly the Advance Variation of the Caro-Kann Defence. Both annotators somewhat stepped on each other’s toes this month, as considerable overlap was found in the 5...Ne7 line below. Contesting each other’s analysis made for some interesting discoveries which hopefully benefits the reader and contributes to the developing theory.

Download PGN of December ’19 1 e4 ... games

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Scandinavian Defence: 3...Qa5 with 5...Bf5 [B01]

Having lived in the Netherlands for most of last year, I’ve noticed how popular and indeed, how triumphant the Scandinavian is among Dutch Grandmasters. In a rapid game Van Foreest, J - Pruijssers, R, Black chose what I consider is the ‘modern interpretation’ to the Scandinavian: 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qa5 4 Bc4 Nf6 5 Nf3 Bf5. With this move order, White has the option to play 6 b4!? although this shouldn’t surprise Scandinavian players. Instead, much more common is 6 d4 e6 7 Bd2 Bb4 8 a3 Bxc3 9 Bxc3 Qb6. In previous analysis, I couldn’t find a comfortable way forward for White. This game more or less upholds my opinion that Black is doing fine here. Moreover, it illustrates that Black has very good chances of taking over the initiative if White plays inaccurately. 10 0-0 Nc6 11 a4 a5 12 b3 A common setup, but one which is rather too weak to pose problems. Now the evaluation is around = however I prefer Black’s position, which ‘plays itself’. 12...0-0-0 13 Bb2 Bg4 14 c3? How awkward!

Now comes 14...Ne5! 15 Qe2 Nxc4 16 bxc4 when White is in trouble. Black should have followed up with 16...Qa6 and 17...Bxf3.

Classical Pirc with 6...Nc6 7 d5 Nb8 [B08]

The Classical approach with an early Be2 is one of the most challenging ways to play against the Pirc and has the benefit of also being possible against the Modern. In this month’s game Black followed the example of Magnus Carlsen (among other players above 2700) in choosing to retreat the knight to b8. However, I think against a very accurate order Black has little chance of equalising. White should start with 8 Be3:

as he did in the game, but then save on h3 and play a quick Nd2. I have come up with a few ideas for Black but none is especially convincing; I think the scheme should be retired and players should shift to 7...Ne5 or a different 6th move instead. See Gadimbayli, A-Maksimovic, B for the details.

Caro-Kann Defence, Two Knights Variation 4...Nf6 5 Qe2 [B11]

As a line which doesn’t explicitly try for an opening advantage, but simply for a comfortable position which gives decent chances of a better endgame, this line might seem like a strange choice to analyse. That being said, it has considerable importance in the evolution of opening theory because the number of games in it this month indicates that White players may be tired of playing against the structure with doubled f-pawns and an early ...h5! Instead, they are choosing 5 Qe2 Nxe4 6 Qxe4:

A significant number of the games in that structure have been played by David Howell on the black side, and two of the games in the notes to our main game feature not-very-successful attempts by 2650+ English grandmaster Gawain Jones to employ the 5.Qe2 variation against him during the British Knockout Championships. It will be interesting to see where their opening battles go next. But the main game featured a perhaps even more famous player on the White side, and a different Black sixth move: Hou, Y- Iturrizaga, E.

Caro-Kann Advance Variation, Short System 3...Bf5 4 Nf3 e6 5 Be2 Ne7 6 0-0 c5 [B12]

I’ve suggested a few times now that 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 Nf3 e6 5 Be2 c5 is Black’s grittiest defence in the Advanced Caro-Kann. The line is notably sharp, however, and Black must be ready for some surprising resources. Vallejo Pons, F - Gines Esteo, P saw 6 Be3 Qb6 7 Nc3 8 0-0 Qxb2 and now the enterprising 9 g4!? This is a great surprise weapon as the ensuing positions are difficult to navigate in the absence of an engine. Still, Black is objectively OK after either 9...Bg6 which occurred in the game, or the brave 9...Bxg4!. The latter is clearly the critical response (although 9...Bg6 is likely to be popular since it has a well-established parallel in 9 Nb5). After 10 Nb5 Bxf3 11 Rb1 Bxe2 12 Qxe2 Qxa2 13 Nc7+ Kd8 14 Nxa8 cxd4 15 Bd2, Black probably needs to play Qc4! (The very natural 15...b6? runs into 16 Nxb6! exposing Black’s vulnerable king). The game continued 10 Nb5 c4 11 Rb1 Qxa2 This is arguably an inaccurate move, but it is natural. Instead 11...Qxc2 holds. 12 Nc7+ Kd8 13 Ra1 Qxc2 14 Qxc2 Bxc2 15 Nxa8 Bb4?:

16 Ng5 Nh6 17 Nb6! This was surely overlooked by Black who had to limp on, a rook down. Black should play 15...Kd7! although his position remains difficult.

Caro-Kann Advance Variation, Short System 3...Bf5 4 Nf3 e6 5 Be2 Ne7 6 0-0 Ne7 [B12]

Vallejo Pons, F - Del Rio de Angelis, S was another well-played game by the Spanish number 1. This featured the other very concrete approach 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 Nf3 e6 5 Be2 Ne7 6 0-0 c5. This line has attracted a lot of attention and analysis in the past, and both annotators have added to the ongoing discussion this month. Unconvinced by the more concrete and forcing options, Vallejo opted for the ‘Bad French Advance Variation’ with 7 c3 Nec6 8 Qb3 Qc7 9 Be3. Now with 9...Nd7 Black probably underestimated White’s idea (instead 9...Be7! is fine). 10 Nh4 Be4 11 Nd2 Be7 12 Nxe4 dxe4 13 g3 Bxh4 14 gxh4.

A dynamic structure. In principle, White is happy with the asymmetrical pawn structure, which generally favours the two bishops. Black should now castle kingside, which is somewhat counter-intuitive. Del Rio de Angelis chose to castle queenside instead, which did not end well.

Preferring to challenge Black in the main lines, Harikrishna, P - Dreev, A saw 7 c4 instead. The game continued Nbc6 8 dxc5 d4 9 Qb3 Additional to this move, 9 Qa4 is also possible. This is covered by Dan in his notes to the next game. Qc8 10 Rd1 Ng6 11 Nxd4 Nxd4 12 Rxd4 Bxc5 I originally concluded that this is fine for Black. Dan’s analysis in Szabo, G - Juhasz, K however, indicates that Black still has work to do after 13 Rd1. Instead, Harikrishna chose the harmless 13 Qa4 Qc6 14 Qxc6 bxc6 15 Rd1 Nxe5=

Instead of 9...Qc8, Szabo, G- Juhasz, K saw Black choose another sideline in the form of 9 Qb3 Ng6. Dan’s conclusion is that the latter line is better than its reputation. We both agree, however, that White should maintain an edge there, after 10 Qxb7.

Having our own little discussion, we both discovered ideas which the other overlooked, so it is worthwhile weighing our analyses against one other, and drawing your own conclusions. Perhaps the most critical find was that 9...Qd7 10 Rd1 Ng6 11 Nc3 f6, Dan’s recommendation in his formidable book ‘The Modernized Caro-Kann’, appears to be flawed according to high-level engines. Thus, we are currently undecided on which line is best for Black. In all the lines we discussed, White has good chances for an edge.

In the notes I (Dan) have also tied up two loose ends from my earlier analysis: one relates to the line 8 Na3!? and the other to a subscriber question about 4 h4 h5 5 Bg5 Qb6 6 Bd3 Qxd4.

Caro-Kann Defence: 4...Bf5 5 Nc5 [B18]

This is one of those lines which reminds us that ‘+/=’ really just means ‘equal after correct defence’. In the main line 5...e5 6 Nxb7 Qb6 7 Nc5 exd4 8 Nb3:

Black chose the accurate 8...Bb4+. It is very principled to exchange these bishops before playing the almost-obligatory ...c5. Thereafter, Black faces some practical problems but the game Felgaer, R- Perez Ponsa, F gives a good idea of how to solve them. Just as Black was about to solve the last of his problems he made a serious mistake and walked into a mating attack on the kingside. Meanwhile, other 5th moves offer very good chances of equalising.

Till next time! Dan and Justin

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