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Loyal subscribers have started to question whether I am in fact following the Julian calendar. Rest assured, normal service will be resumed for the March update. Here I wrap up some loose ends from the year-end/beginning events, such as the Australian Open and Tata Steel. Theoretically, I would especially draw attention to the final game of the update.

Download PGN of February ’23 1 e4 ... games

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Nimzowitsch Defence with 2.d4 d5 3.e5 [B00]

The cloud engines may be about to mix things up in the line 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.c3 e6, which we have checked before in this column. The evaluations are extremely mild (at least in the context of this column) and a number of surprising resources are available. The game Willow, J - Aravindh, C continued 5.Bd3 Nge7 6.Ne2 f6 7.f4 h5:

White went for the modest 8.b3, and spent much of the game worse but eventually made things complicated enough to overcome a 200-point deficit and nearly make a GM norm. Instead, 8.b4!? is interesting, when Black can react either with 8...a5 or the exotic 8...Kd7!? intending ...Qe8-g6.

Alekhine’s, Four Pawns Attack 5...dxe5 6.fxe5 Bf5 7.Nc3 e6 [B03]

In this month’s game Karthikeyan, M - Bernadskiy, V White opted to dispense with the usual 8.Nf3 and use the order 8.Be3 instead, which gives Black a number of nice resources. There followed 8...Bb4 9.Nf3 0-0:

Perhaps 10.a3 is the last try for an opening edge, but after 10.Be2 c5! Black equalised in nice and thematic fashion, going on to win a nice game.

Pirc Defence, 150 Attack [B06]

The game Zhalmakhanov, R - Harsha, B saw a slightly unusual order of opening moves, namely 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 a6 5.Qd2 b5 6.f3 Nf6 (normally I would expect Black to only sometimes play ...Nf6, and White to latterly respond with f3.) Here 7.Bh6 assures White of a small advantage, but they instead played for more with a plan I’ve not talked about too much in these pages. There followed 7.h4 h5 8.0-0-0 b4 9.Nce2 a5 10.Nf4:

This plan intends to recapture on h3, not with the rook or g-pawn but with the knight that started life on b1. If Black continues to wait, as they did in the game with 10...c6, the plan can be extremely successful, with the second White knight appearing on g5 quite soon (and then the usual g4 thrust, a stage which White unfortunately left out.) It is worth checking 10...Nc6 instead.

Pirc Defence, 150 Attack with delayed ...Bg7 [B07]

It is not the easiest line to classify, but I was impressed by the game Kovalev, V - Grischuk, A from the World Rapid. The game began 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f3 a6 5.Be3 b5 6.Qd2 Nbd7 7.g4 Nb6:

This is an odd marriage of the Pirc with the Tiger’s Modern, but without completing the kingside fianchetto that most would argue is an integral part of the Modern. In so doing Black eliminates most of the Bh6 type options from White, and forces them to look at concrete options involving pawn breaks, something which White was not successful in doing this time round. The game’s 8.h4 seems dubious and allows Black to achieve a very coherent setup, while 8.g5! seems to improve.

Caro-Kann Defence, Two Knights Variation with 3...Nf6 [B11]

We have elaborated at length on how 9.fxg3 ‘refutes’ the 3...Nf6 2 Knights, but in Morris, J - Tin, J a very strong player nevertheless headed into the line, only to be met with 9.hxg3 instead:

White then proceeded along very similar lines to the 9.fxg3 variation, with interesting consequences. Best after 9...cxd4 seems to be 10.Kf1!?, rather than 10.a3 which could have been met by ...Bd7. In the game, Black gradually established control, before James Morris muddied the waters in typical style to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Caro-Kann, Advance with 4.h4 h5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Qa5+ 7.b4 [B12]

Another declining of this rather topical gambit, but this time in the context of a model game for Black. In Roebers, E - Donchenko, A White chose 8.Qd1 (Kramnik also played this) and there followed 8...e6 9.c3 Qb6:

The Dutch talent picked the natural 10.Nd2?! here, allowing Black to demonstrate the main idea of the previous move, and her queenside crumbled in fairly short order.

Caro-Kann Defence, Eljanov Variation [B12]

With the release of a Chessable course on the topic by Ukrainian GM Pavel Eljanov, it seems only natural to christen the line 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Nd7 6.0-0 a5 after him. In this month’s game Ter Sahakyan, S - Donchenko, A the critical line 7.a4 f6 8.c4 was tested (I also examine 8.Nbd2 a bit) and Black met it with the very normal-looking 8...fxe5 9.dxe5 Bc5 10.Nbd2 Ne7. Here after 11.Nb3 a critical position is reached:

My analysis indicates that 11...Ba7 is strongest, however before reaching this conclusion I had personally tried 11...0-0 with less-than-ideal consequences, and the game’s 11...Bb6 is not ideal either since in one line White obtains the option of c5 with tempo.

Caro-Kann Defence, Exchange Variation with 4.Bd3 [B13]

Our final game, v.d.Doel, E - Lai, H from the Dutch championships, illustrates an interesting concept from White in the form of 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 Qc7 6.Na3!? which tries to highlight a deficiency of Black’s last move. The most principled reaction is likely to be some flavour of ...e5, and I think the most viable timing might be after 6...a6 7.Nc2 Nf6 8.h3:

Black is running some significant positional risks after the game’s rather safe-looking 8...e6, so it might be the time to spice things up a little with 8...e5. However, that lends a fair bit of validity to White’s queenside knight deployment, as we see in the analysis.

All the best, Daniel

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