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Unfortunately life circumstances dictated that once again, a couple of updates will come in quick succession. They each feature one Modern/Pirc and seven Caro-Kanns, an imbalance I am keen to rectify. The chess season in Australia is restarting, which means our royal game will get pushed to the front of my priorities list again for a few months. If any of my opponents is reading this, that means there is a slightly increased chance of me playing a Modern ;)

Download PGN of February ’22 1 e4 ... games

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Pirc Defence: Classical System 6.0-0 Bg4 7.Be3 Nc6 8.d5 [B08]

In this game from the World Rapid, we get to see a good demonstration of Black’s steady plans for working towards equality in the Sicilian-esque backwaters of 1.e4 g6 2.Nc3 Bg7 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Be2:

Play continued with 5...0-0 6.0-0 Bg4, Black took on f3, and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where (if at all) White lost the opening advantage. See Babazada, K - Efimenko, Z.

Caro-Kann Defence, Two Knights Variation with 3...Bg4 and 6.Be2 [B11]

Following 1.e4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6 6.Be2 we have already discussed a lot of variations where Black captures at some point on e4 and assumes the ‘small centre’ setup, but (due to personal bias) rarely one where White played with c4/d4 pawns rather than c3/d4. The latter feels much more solid. Nevertheless, this time in Harikrishna, P - Yuffa, D we see the former setup: 6...Bc5 7.0-0 Ne7 8.Na4 Bd6 9.d4 dxe4 10.Qxe4 Nd7 11.c4!?:

Due to some semi-concrete factors (how can the d6-bishop be redeployed to make use of the weakened d4-pawn and/or d-file?) White actually seems to have a small practical plus. This manifests in terms of realistic possibilities of breaking through with d5, exchanging lots of central pawns to the benefit of the bishop-pair. Ironically, by the end of the game White was playing with a good knight against bad bishop.

Caro-Kann Defence, Two Knights Variation with 3...a6 4.d4 Bg4 [B11]

The next game was a bit of a rarity by your columnist: rather than practice what I preach with either 3...dxe4 or 3...Bg4, I decided to essay the rather offbeat variation 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 a6!? which has the point of supporting any future ...d4 break by ruling out Qa4 (+) forks. At least, if White plays the equally prophylactic 4.h3 then 4...d4 is much stronger than a move before. Thus, my opponent played 4.d4, and after 4...Bg4 5.Bd3:

A very subtle effect of this move-order is that after 5...e6 6.h3 Black is not completely obliged to take on f3, and I decided to avail myself of the extra option by retreating to h5. An absolutely chaotic game ensued where both sides had quite clear chances to win in Morris, J - Fernandez, D.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4.g4 Be4 5.f3 Bg6 6.e6 [B12]

Similarly chaotic was the game Bernadskiy, V - Sumets, A which featured the unusual variation 3.e5 Bf5 4.g4. I would especially note the position after 4...Be4 5.f3 Bg6 6.e6 Qd6 7.exf7+ Bxf7:

White decided to carve out an independent path with 8.Nh3!?, a logical and creative move, but over the course of the next 20 or so moves looked to be getting soundly punished. Then, Bernadskiy scavenged a draw from the jaws of defeat! Finally, on a non-chess note I would like to wish safety and health to our Ukrainian colleagues (including these two Grandmasters), as their homeland suffers in this terrible conflict.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4.c4 e6 5.Nc3 [B12]

Another small Advance sideline that we are seeing more frequently these days is 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.c4 e6 5.Nc3 Ne7, especially in conjunction with ...dxc4 ideas from Black. I have mentioned before how much overlap there can be with the QGA in such lines (see for instance Sedlak-Bryakin from last month), but the game Carlsen, M - Firouzja, A ended up looking more like a French by the end of the opening. The critical position in my opinion arose after 6.h3 Nd7 7.Nf3 Bg6 8.b3!?:

White has decided with their last move to end the offer of an outpost on d5, but in the process makes the dark squares feel less secure. The question is whether Black can exploit it with some thematic ...c5 and/or ...f6. Firouzja implemented the latter and achieved equality, though there were some minor roadbumps both before and after doing so.

Caro-Kann Defence, Exchange Variation with 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.c3 Bg4 6.Qb3 Qc7 7.h3 [B13]

After 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.c3 it is not unusual by any means for Black to essay 5...Bg4 immediately, and looks to become more so given recent developments in the line 6.Qb3 Qc7 7.h3:

The move chosen in Aronian, L - Firouzja, A was 7...Bd7, on which some fresh news and some instructive play in an IQP position, but recent praxis has also seen a surge of interest in 7...Bh5.

Caro-Kann Defence, Panov-Botvinnik Attack with 6.Bg5 dxc4 7.Bxc4 h6 [B13]

Another IQP encounter this month began with 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 (I was especially curious about this game since it's not too often you see a strong player get simply outclassed after essaying the Panov) and now the theoretically recommended 6.Bg5 dxc4:

In spite of Black being able to solve their opening problems with relative ease, it is also interesting to see how quickly White generated scary-looking ideas along the b1-h7 diagonal, and then how quickly Black defused the same ideas. An absolute pleasure of a thematic encounter to annotate was Ghaem Maghami, E - Jobava, B.

Caro-Kann, Korchnoi Variation with 5...exf6 6.c3 Bd6 7.Bd3 0-0 8.Qc2 Re8+ 9.Ne2 h5 10.Be3 [B15]

At first sight, the game Firat, B - David, A appears to be a highly thematic encounter for the line, with opposite-side castling and Black’s b8-knight winding up on g6. An instructive moment for me would be straight after Black played 15...a6:

White has the choice between trying some kingside strategy (the typical pushes h3, g4 etc) or focusing on the centre. The Turkish grandmaster chose the latter with 16.Rhe1, initiating a plan I hadn’t seen before in this structure which culminated in an exchange sacrifice on e6 some moves later. My feeling now is that Black has more things to be wary of in such structures.

All the best, Daniel

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