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It is time for yours truly to retire from the 1.e4... column, and to this end I include no fewer than 4 games from the central B12 code.

Download PGN of February ’24 1 e4 ... games

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Alekhine’s Defence with 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 g6 5.Bc4 [B04]

This is a sequel update to Raja-Bortnyk from December 2023. The same line was tested at a higher level in the Bundesliga game Aronian, L - Kamsky, G and Black opted to vary with 9...Be6:

One thing I found remarkable was the wealth of potential equalising plans Black has if White doesn’t react with an accurate 10.Bf1 Nd7 (this is what Black was preparing) and then 11.Nf3. Instead, the relatively neutral 10.Nd2 Nd7 11.Nxd7 Qxd7 12.c3 gave Black what seem to be excellent equalising chances in case of 12...b5.

Modern Defence with 3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 [B06]

Yet another Hippo makes it onto these pages, and this time from a line where I (more or less) endorse the setup: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.Bc4 (interesting order!) 3...Bg7 4.Nf3 e6. White continued with 5.Qe2 Ne7 6.c3:

This is the first place where I consider that maybe an autopilot Hippo move was not the most accurate, preferring 6...d5 over the game continuation of 6...a6. A couple of moves later, an ‘unprovoked’ ...h6 push marks the second. See Vokhidov, S - Shtembuliak, E.

Caro-Kann Defence, Endgame Offer with 3...g6 4.e5 [B10]

Running the risk of cannibalising my other column (Anti-Sicilians) here, but what can you do when the game is this interesting? I refer to the tactical slugfest that was Morgunov, M - Donchenko, A. Black being an old hand of the Caro-Kann, it’s always interesting to follow his insights and innovations, and in this case he chose 4...c5 (I give some comments on 4...Bg7 as well) 5.c3 Nc6 (Diagram) all but transposing to the Anti-Sicilian line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.c3 d5 4.e5 Nc6 5.d4.

Of course, all White would have to do for an exact transposition is play 6.d4, but in this game he chose to delay somewhat with 6.h3 f6 7.exf6 Nxf6 and only now 8.d4. While the game approach might be a tad less critical, Black is also not totally out of the woods. White played some excellent chess in the middlegame, only to fail to put his esteemed opponent away at the critical moment.

Caro-Kann Defence, Short System with 5...c5 [B12]

Our next game is an update to Adams-Fernandez from January 2024. The game Boyer, M - Laurent Paoli, P featured the same position after White’s 7.0-0:

Pierre knows this line well from both sides and it was interesting to see him go for 7...Bg4 immediately. The critical lines arise if White responds 8.Nbd2 (my recommendation being 8...cxd4 9.cxd4 a5!?), while the game’s 8.Be3 was insightfully met by 8...cxd4 9.cxd4 Nge7 with equality. The availability of the c3-square for White’s knight is balanced out by the slight tactical weakness of the e3-bishop.

Caro-Kann Defence, Short System with 5...a5 [B12]

The latest refinement to the by-now-famous Eljanov Variation (5...Nd7 6.0-0 a5) seems to be... shunting the a-pawn forward one move earlier! No lesser player than Carlsen has ventured 5...a5 twice recently. While it’s definitely interesting to look at the lines with 6.0-0 a4 7.c4, the present game continued instead 6.a4 Nd7 (transposing back!) 7.0-0 f6 and now 8.Bf4!?:

For Black I consider three moves in some detail as equalising attempts: 8...Nh6, 8...g5 and the game continuation 8...Ne7. The second of these is maybe the most accurate; meanwhile after the third, White responded 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.Bd3 with slight pressure based on the weakness of Black’s e6-pawn. In Firouzja, A - Carlsen, M this pressure turned into a major piece incursion on e6, which in turn created problems with Black’s queenside that the ex-world champion was unable to solve without material losses.

Caro-Kann Defence, Short System with 5...Nd7 6.0-0 a5 [B12]

Another attempt at an advantage against the Eljanov system was seen in the recent game Juhasz, A - Haring, F. After the usual 7.a4 f6 White tried 8.exf6 Ngxf6 9.Nh4:

White is simply looking for the bishop pair, and there is not much Black can do about it but try and strengthen the minor pieces that remain. Nevertheless, I think after 9...Bd6 10.Nxf5 exf5 and now 11.c4!? White has very decent chances of an edge. Another line to keep an eye on!

Caro-Kann Defence, Fantasy Variation with 3...e6 4.Nc3 Bb4 [B12]

This line is known to be very ‘French-adjacent’ and after the subsequent 5.Bd2 Ne7 6.a3 Black chose to deepen the similarity further by continuing 6...Bxc3 7.Bxc3 b6 8.Qd2 0-0:

I think the prophylactic 9.Ne2 is perhaps the strongest continuation here, while the 9.Qf4 of Vitiugov, N - Nisipeanu, LD more or less gave away any chance White had of an opening edge. That said, this game did end in a White win after a lot of ups and downs, some more understandable than others!

Caro-Kann Defence, Classical Variation with 7.Nh3 [B18]

Finally, and being conscious not to leave out the Classical Variation entirely, I include another game from the Chessable Masters in the form of Bortnyk, O - Firouzja, A. White is known as a specialist of faster time controls, and the sideline starting with 9.Nfh5 (that’s a jarring chess move to have to type!) fits his style neatly:

The point is simply that Black must, barring some explosion in the centre, either play ...g6 to expel the offending knight (which the h7-bishop won’t enjoy), or play ...Nf6 twice, or else sacrifice the g7-pawn. I investigated a number of permutations of the second method, to find that White usually keeps a small lead in development. In the game Black chose the third method and probably emerged from the opening with a small disadvantage, albeit in a position that made sense from a practical perspective. Personally, I think the right move after 9...Nd7 10.Bc4 (and a few other possible 10th moves from White) is the slightly counter-intuitive ...Qe7, preparing to push ...e5 without delay.

So long and thanks for all the fish, Daniel

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