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Hi all,
This update focuses on two lines of the Caro-Kann, the Exchange Variation and 3...Bf5 4 h4 in the Advance Variation. Other openings which feature are the Pirc and Scandinavian defences.

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

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Scandinavian Defence 3...Qa5 4 d4 c6 5 Bc4 Bf5 6 Nf3 Nf6 [B01]

2...Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qa5 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nf3 Bf5 is a dynamic way to play the Scandinavian. Rather than the typical Caro-Kann type setup, Black opts for quick piece play and pressure against the d4-pawn with ...Nb8-c6 and ...0-0-0. In the main line, he is happy to give up the bishop pair to achieve said play. Since this is what Black wants, I consider an alternative in 6 Ne5!?. However, in Nepomniatchtchi, I - Kovalenko, I White continues down the usual path with 6 Bd2 e6 7 Bc4 Bb4 8 a3 Bxc3 9 Bxc3 Qb6:

, an important tabiya for the variation.

Pirc Defence 3...c6 [B07]

In Karjakin, S - Petrosian, T I make the claim that 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 c6 is dubious. Karjakin demonstrates this with 4 f4 Qa5 5 Bd3 e5 6 Nf3 Bg4 7 Be3 Nbd7 8 0-0 Be7 9 h3 Bxf3 10 Qxf3 0-0 11 Ne2:

White’s play is straightforward while Black’s position is simply not tenable. The game continues 11...Bd8 12 c3 b5 when already 13 Ng3 is winning.

Pirc Defence 4 Be3 a6 [B07]

A much more robust Pirc was seen in Giri, A - Nepomniachtchi, I, which followed 4 Be3 a6 5 Qd2 b5 6 f3 Nbd7 7 0-0-0 Nb6:

Here, Giri was already a little short of a plan, and went for the routinely 8 g4?! This could have been met with the thematic 8...h5! In any case, Black obtained a fine position with natural moves. The game ends in his favour some 18 moves later. Instead 8 h4 is my recommendation, although I think White’s slight initiative in those lines is manageable. Play can become similar to the King’s Indian Defence.

Caro-Kann Defence, Two Knights Variation 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nf6 5 Qe2 Na6!? [B11]

As a creative player, it isn’t surprising that Rapport essayed the line 2 Nc3 d5 3 Nf3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nf6 5 Qe2 Na6!?:

In the game Ragger, M - Nisipeanu, L 7 Nc3 Qa5 8 Ne5 was played, with a complicated middlegame. Note that this game deviates from its predecessor Rapport v Vachier Lagrave which saw the harmless 8 Qe5. See my notes to the Ragger game for more details.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation 3...Bf5 4 h4 h5 5 Bd3 Bxd3 6 Qxd3 [B12]

3...Bf5 4 h4 h5 5 Bd3 Bxd3 6 Qxd3 e6 7 Bg5 Qb6 8 Nd2 is a sharp and critical position in the Caro-Kann. Jones, G - Fernandez, D saw 8...Ne7 9 Ngf3 Qa6 10 c4 Nf5>:

Now the most accurate continuation is 11 Qc3! Preventing Black from any ideas to exchange his dark-squared bishop for the knight on d2. Instead, Gawain plays the more common 11 0-0 Bb4 12 b3 and a complicated battle ensued, which saw Fernandez outplaying his higher rated opponent until he made a slip up right near the end of the game.

Instead of 6...e6, a very respectable sideline is 6...Qa5+!? as played in Sutovsky, E - Anton Guijarro, D. White can force a queenless middlegame with 7 Bd2 but this shouldn’t be problematic for Black. Instead 7 Nd2 e6 8 Ngf3 was played:

Now I recommend 8...Nh6, prioritising kingside development. 8...Qa6 is the main move, but Black’s defence is far from easy after 9 c4 Nh6 10 0-0 Nf3 11 b3 Be7 12 a4!, a dangerous pawn sacrifice from Sutovsky.

Caro-Kann Defence, Exchange Variation 3 exd5 cxd5 4 Bd3 [B13]

Since the resurgence of the London System, the Exchange Variation of the Caro-Kann 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 has also gained traction. Both Van Foreest brothers employed it in Tata Steel this week but their opponents chose two very different setups. In Van Foreest, J - Anand, V, Black opted for 4...Nf6 5 c3 Qc7. This is actually a peculiar move order. It probably makes sense to deploy the king’s knight to e2 in this instance as Black has played his cards early with his queen. Instead, White played the standard 7 Ngf3 Bf5 8 Ne5 but Black was comfortable, and went on to win from a complicated struggle.

The traditional setup is 4...Nc6 5 c3 Nf6 6 Bf4 Bg4 7 Qb3 Qd7 8 Nd2 e6 9 Ngf3 Bd6 as played in Van Foreest, L - Bareev, E. If 10 Ne5 then ...Qc7 is simply fine for Black whereas 10 Bxd6 Qxd6 11 0-0 0-0 12 Rfe1, as played in the game, is also safe for Black, provided he reacts calmly to potential attacking ideas. The simplest is probably 12...Nd7, to prevent Ne5 ideas altogether. Bareev instead chose 12...Qc7 13 Ne5 Bh5 14 f4:

At this point, he falters with 14...Bg6 (he should have continued on with his minority attack on the queenside). This allowed Van Foreest to launch a kingside onslaught immediately with 15 Bxg6 hxg6 16 Re3!

Till next time, Justin :)

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