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There’s no headline news this month, but we have a couple of games that could easily change your mind if you like playing ‘experimental’ systems as Black. Also, for perhaps the first time, your authors chose completely different ECO codes to each other!

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

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Scandinavian Defence: Portuguese Gambit Accepted [B01]

After the opening moves 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Bg4, White has several ways to return the pawn, and most of them keep a slight edge. In Buksa, N - Gukesh, D White chose to keep it instead, with the principled 4.f3 Bf5 5.c4 e6 6.dxe6 Nc6 7.Be3:

A good summary of my conclusions would be that 6.Nc3 is clearly a better try for an advantage, but the sequence played is not completely innocuous. Especially since after the totally natural (and even recommended by previous authors!) 7...Bb4+ 8.Nc3 Qe7 Black soon found himself in hot water, and White’s play can even be improved further. Nevertheless, in the end Black’s rating advantage told, in a very tense middlegame where it wasn’t easy to improve either side’s position.

Alekhine’s Defence: Four Pawns Attack [B03]

The Four Pawns Attack in the Alekhine’s Defence has developed comprehensively on our site. This is largely as a result of the work of Gawain Jones, who seems to favour this system in his own games. 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4 dxe5 6.fxe5 Nc6 7.Be3 Bf5 8.Nc3 e6 9.Nf3 Black has various options at this juncture. There are many helpful annotations on our site already. I take the opportunity in Chandra, A - Lenderman, A to examine all the main options in detail, with some new ideas such as 15.Kh1!? in the main line (9...Be7). Instead, Lenderman chose the second most popular move 9...Bg4 which my analysis (alongside previous annotators’ analyses) shows is rather dubious. After 10.Be2 Bxf3 11.gxf3 Qh4+ 12.Bf2 Qf4 (Perhaps 12...Qh6 is better) 13.c5 Nd7:

Most players are happy with an advantage into the endgame with 14.Qd2 here. However, White is also much better, if not winning, in the middlegame: In the centre and on the queenside he is better, while he also has the two bishops in an asymmetrical position. Instead of trying to demonstrate your strategic technique into the endgame, why not go for mate? Objectively best is 14.0-0! when after 14...0-0-0 15.Qa4 f6, White is winning after 16.Bb5. See my notes to the game.

Modern Defence: 150/Austrian hybrid [B06]

Apologies for the unusual title but I don’t there’s any real name for the line 1.e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 a6 5.f4. It could transpose to some (inferior) kind of main-line Austrian Attack where White has simply committed to an early Be3, but in the game Hague, B - Fernandez, D it didn’t; after some early discussion of lines where Black’s b-pawn is traded for White’s e-pawn, I quickly move on to covering the more original content of this game. White’s intention was always to play for control of the long light-squared diagonal as soon as Black plays ...b5; accordingly, the game continued 5...b5 6.Be2 Nd7 7. e5 Nh6 8.Bf3 Rb8 9.Nge2:

At this point I reacted inaccurately with 9...Bb7?! which leaves me with some problems. Having essentially committed on moves 6 & 7 to not contesting the long diagonal (in itself a decent decision), this sudden change of approach is poorly timed. White gained the upper hand over the next 10 moves, although he then overplayed his hand and I was able to nevertheless win a good game in the spirit of the Modern. A more practically-minded approach could be 6...Bb7, followed by reinforcing the long diagonal with the queen from c8.

Pirc Defence: Austrian Attack with 5...0-0 6.Bd3 Nc6 [B09]

Continuing with the theme from last month, I have a couple more Pirc games to include from my trip to New Zealand (though only rapid this time.) While I think they’re relatively important, I’ve left them in the notes to the main game Kotronias, V - Pigott, J, where White raised doubts about just how completely Black has equalised in the line 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Bd3 Nc6 7. e5 dxe5 8.fxe5 Nh5 9.Be3 Bg4 10.Be2:

White went on to sacrifice the e5-pawn, and in the resulting position (where White tries to use his queen to poke holes on the queenside, and the rest of his pieces to attack the doubled e-pawns) the value of one tempo is surprisingly high. Both sides made some minor (though instructive) mistakes, but the game remained balanced until a mistake just after the time-control handed the Greek Grandmaster the full point. In the notes, I have an improvement in the “Onischuk variation” reply to 6.e5, as well as a few comments on White’s other recapture on move 8.

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

The game Raja, H - Narayanan, S saw 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2 Nxe4 6.Qxe4 Nd7!?. Ostensibly, this falls into the following positional trap: 7.Bc4 Nf6 8.Ne5 e6 9.Qe2. Black’s light-squared bishop is now stuck behind his own pawns, but Narayanan comes up with his own such positional trap to counter:

9...b5! 10.Bb3 (10.Nxc6? Qc7 11.Bxb5 a6! 12.Ba4 Bd7 13.Qc4 Nd5 wins for Black) 10...Qc7 11.d4 Bd6 12.0-0 and now after 12...a5!? Black has not just an equal position, but a dynamic one.

Caro-Kann Defence: Two Knights Variation with 7.Ng3 [B11]

After 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3, the reply 3...Nf6 is (correctly, in my opinion) under a cloud right now due to 4. e5 Ne4 5. Ne2 Qb6 6.d4 e6 7.Ng3 c5 8.Bd3. We’ve seen the line on this site as recently as last month; a subscriber contacted me after that update to express doubts about the way I suggested Black could hold if White took back with the f-pawn after 8...Nxg3:

I checked it out and after some slight subtleties on moves 16-20 it turns out White does win this opening battle, an opinion that was reinforced when I saw the analysis in an upcoming Caro-Kann book by a Grandmaster (to be published in April.) That author indicates 9.fxg3 (of which he was an early adopter as White) as his reason for preferring to recommend 3...Bg4 as an antidote. Moving on to this month, the game Munguntuul, B - Nie, X illustrates why Black has precisely nothing to fear from the recapture 9.hxg3 (in fact, Black is probably the one playing for an advantage, so it should be considered a mistake.) After completely outplaying his opponent, Black missed an improbable-looking tactical win and then went pawn-grabbing in a position where it didn’t make sense, eventually paying the ultimate price.

Caro-Kann Defence: Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 c5 [B12]

A critical variation of the Caro-Kann, Advance variation: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 c5 6.Be3 Qb6 featured in the Pro Chess League game, Robson, R - Fedoseev, V. I still believe this is an underrated variation! 7.Nc3 c4. A new move for our site. On the one hand, I’d be happy as White to face this as it keeps the game alive (c.f. the forcing, theoretical lines which you’d expect from the main move). On the other hand, this gives Black the possibility to play for a win too, which is not necessarily possible after 7..Qxb2. 8.Rb1 Qd8 9.0-0 Bb4 Now 10.Na4!? leads to positions of a different nature, while 10.a4!? anticipates the exchange on c3. Robson played the natural 10.a3 Bxc3 11.bxc3 Qd7 (11...b6 was somewhat wiser, so that Nh4 never becomes a cause for concern).

12.Nh4! Ne7 13.g4 Bg6 14.f4 Be4 15.f5 and White has an initiative. In fact, as the game shows, this is not as impressive as it looks for White. Black still has a lot of counterplay in connection to moves like ...h5.

Instead of 6...Qb6, Artemiev opted for 6...cxd4 7.Nxd4 Ne7 against Anand in Tata Steel last month. At this point, White’s two most testing moves are 8.Nd2 and 8.0-0 as played by the former World Champion. Play continues 8...Nbc6 9.Bb5 a6 10.Bxc6 bxc6 (I’ve also analysed 10...Nxc6) 11.c4 Qd7 12.Na3!?:

This rare knight move reminds me of Aronian’s creative 8.Na3!? in Aronian-Giri, London 2017. White wants to exert pressure on the c-file with his major pieces without the knight causing an obstruction. Further, White’s knight arguably belongs on c4, so why should it hastily settle on c3 instead? Play continued 12...Bg6 13.Qa4 Nf5 14.Nxf5 Bxf5 15.Rfd1 f6 16.Rac1 and White could have retained some pressure with accurate play. As it transpired, Anand allowed Artemiev to sacrifice a pawn for a great deal of counterplay against White’s queenside pawns. See my notes to the game Anand, V - Artemiev, V.

Till next month, Daniel and Justin

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