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Happy new year folks!
This month we finally uncover the secret behind our partnership on this column. One of us is a determined player of 1.e4 who secretly wants to refute every reply except the Berlin and the Najdorf, the other is equally determined to never play anything as mainstream as that! Accordingly, this month features... four white wins and four black wins, from a representative mix of the defences within our scope.

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

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Scandinavian Defence: 3...Qa5 with 5...Bf5 [B01]

Considering the uncompromising styles of both players, the opening in Durarbayli, V - Kovalenko, I was unsurprising: 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qa5 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nf3 Bf5. Not only is Kovalenko the world’s strongest expert on the Scandinavian Defence, but the line he adopts here is also exceedingly popular. Usually White plays 6 Bc4 here, although I do not think this is effective at all. Instead Durarbayli chose the sharp 6 Ne5 c6 7 g4!? A new move for the site. Now after 7...Be6 8 Bc4 Black is at a crossroads:

If he accepts the pawn sacrifice with 8...Nxg4, then I believe White gains an initiative with 9 Bxe6 Nxe5 10 Bb3 Ng6 11 h4. Instead, my recommendation for Black is to play the rare move 8...Nbd7! The intention is to steer the game back into orthodox Scandinavian waters, except that White has played the compromising g2-g4. Kovalenko chose the natural 8...Nxc4 9 Nxc4 Qa6? (9...Qc7 was better). After 10 Qe2 e6 11 g5! Nd5 12 Ne4 Black was obliged to enter a considerably worse ending: 12...Nd7 13 Ncd6+ and White went on to win an instructive game.

Modern Defence: 150 Attack with 5 Qd2 b5 6 f3 Nd7 7 h4 [B06]

I previously gave a lot of airtime to my own preferred method of dealing with this move order, which revolves around a quick ...h5 and ...c5, and avoiding ...Bb7. In Solomon, S - Ikeda, J Black did the exact opposite, playing ...Bb7 but not ...c5 (at least initially) and ultimately never ...h5! Specifically, after 1 e4 g6 2 d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4 Be3 a6 5 Qd2 b5 6 f3 Nd7 7 h4 h6 the game continued 8 Nh3 Bb7 9 0-0-0 e6:

Black’s plan of delaying ...c5 until development was finished paid dividends in the end. As you will see, his path to an eventual win was anything but smooth, but the opening concept was vindicated and White should either consider trying something else on move 8, or follow the game move up with a swift Nf2-d3, which is the option I recommend in the notes.

Pirc Defence: 150 Attack with 4 f3 c6 5 Be3 Bg7 [B07]

B07 is definitely part of the ‘second tier’ of ECO codes covered on this page (particular favourites are B06 and B12) but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. There are three sets of deviations I considered along the route to the critical position of the opening of Vasli, A - Pakleza, Z, which began 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 f3 c6 5 Be3 Bg7 6 Qd2 b5 7 Nge2 0-0 8 g4:

The first was 3...e5, in which quite a few new games were played this month but none had enough action to make it a main game. The second was the main theoretical move 5...b5 which I tried a few times in the last few weeks, and the third and main one is White’s best attempts to find an advantage on moves 7 and 8. The reason for talking about 5...b5 is that it contains some points about the timing of Black’s possible ...Ba6 exchange that carry over well to the main game. The main general point to be drawn from the second half of the opening here is how quickly White can run out of ideas if he can’t play Bh6 (yes, even if the h-file is open.) By move 20, the momentum was all with Black.

Caro-Kann Defence: Two Knights System with 3...Nf6 4 e5 Ne4 5 Ne2 [B11]

It is hard to think of a game which more vocally demanded inclusion into an update than Galperin, P - Rudolf, M. To start off with, I (DF) had received a subscriber question before Christmas regarding the line 1 e4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Ne4 5 Ne2 Qb6 6 d4 e6 7 Ng3:

, specifically about what happens if White recaptures on g3 with the f-pawn and plays for a quick 0-0 and Ng5.

Not being able to give an adequate answer on the spot, I promised to look at it and then noticed the present game, which not only deals with the line (seemingly, in the only acceptable way!) but also includes a hefty dose of drama in the late middlegame, of which I’ve barely even scraped the surface.

Caro-Kann Defence: Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4 h4 h5 [B12]

As fresh as a game gets, Dubov, D - Artemiev, V was taken from round 6 of the Tata Steel Masters. The young player on the Black side is not known for his theoretical knowledge. In the tournament so far, he has been somewhat punished for this shortcoming. The game opened with 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 h4 h5 5 c4 e6 6 Nc3 Be7 -an unorthodox line. 7 cxd5 cxd5 8 Bd3 Bxd3 9 Qxd3. Now, contrary to previous analysis on this site, I believe Black should go for the daring 9...Bxh4!? as risky as it is. Instead, Artemiev played the routinely 9...Nc6 10 Nf3 Nh6:

11.Bxh6! Of course, you must remove this knight otherwise it fixes its position on f5. 11...Rxh6 12 Rc1 Kf8 13 g3 g6 14 0-0 with a stable advantage to White.

Rising star Alireza Firouzja also challenged Artemiev’s Caro-Kann a few rounds prior to the Dubov game. There, Artemiev chose the main line 6...Ne7. The game continued 7 Nge2 Nd7 8 Ng3 Bg6 9 Bg5 Qb6 10 Rc1 dxc4:

In my notes, I also update my analysis on 10...f6, which recently featured in a Grandmaster game, and I investigate the daring move 10...Qxb2!?. The latter looks like a concrete way to equality, however the lines are immeasurably complicated and without preparation, I doubt many players would navigate their way to a draw with Black (so do check my notes!). After 11 Bxc4 Black played the erroneous 11...Nf5? which led to an unplayable position after 12 0-0 Be7 13 Nxf5 Bxf5 14 Bxe7 Kxe7 15 Qd2. See my notes to the game Firouzja, A - Artemiev, V.

Caro-Kann Defence: Fantasy Variation 3 f3 e5!? [B12]

It’s not often you see a game between two 2400+ rated players that ends in a 15-move win for Black. Such was the case in Di Nicolantonio, L - Loiseau, Q and to end the game in 15 moves, you have to extract maximal value from every single one of them. Certainly after 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 f3 e5!? there could be no doubt about Black’s intentions:

There are many respectable ways of meeting the Fantasy Variation and I’ve taken the opportunity to update my analysis of 3...dxe4 with a recent game before proceeding to the continuation played by Loiseau. Much though I wish 3.f3 could be refuted in this fashion, accurate play by White suffices to (more or less) consolidate the extra pawn. Saying that, in the game White made only three seemingly minor mistakes and then found himself lost. Definitely a useful (counter-)surprise weapon to have in your back pocket.

Caro-Kann Defence: Exchange Variation 4 Bd3 Nc6 5 c3 [B13]

Finally, an equally untheoretical battle ensued in Nabaty, T - Fedoseev, V. In that game, White met the Caro-Kann with one of the more popular sidelines, the Exchange Variation. 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 Bd3 Nc6 5 c3. Now Black chose the move 5...e6. At first glance, this is a passive approach. However, played the right way, the system could serve as a good fighting weapon. 6 Bf4 Bd6 7 Bxd6 Qxd6. Now if White plays the orthodox 8 Nf3 then Black is advised to play 8...Nge7! followed by ...f6. Instead, Nabaty chose 8 Qg4!? g6 (8...Kf8!?)

9 Qg3 Qxg3 10 hxg3. Swapping queens in this manner is an idea inspired by the 6 Qf3 variation of the Sicilian Taimanov. In this case, Black seemingly solved his opening problems with 10...Nf6 11 f3 e5. Nevertheless, Nabaty illustrated that an equal ending is not necessarily a trivial draw. A couple inaccuracies from his opponent led to a tangible advantage, followed by a clear advantage, and finally, a smooth escalation towards victory.

Till next month, Daniel and Justin

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