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This month, both annotators focus on the Caro-Kann, which seems to be the opening of choice for those looking for a complicated fight (it is certainly not ‘dull’ as it once might have been called!). Daniel also examines a theoretical debate in the Pirc Defence.

Download PGN of January ’21 1 e4 ... games

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Pirc Defence: Classical, 150 Attack with 5...a6 6.Qd2 [B08]

After the initial moves 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be3 a6 6.Qd2 we reach one of those positions that has long been a bit of a fascination for me (DF). I found one improvement that essentially debunks the idea of castling immediately here for Black, while the game continuation 6...b5 7.Bh6 0-0 8.Bd3 Nc6 9.Bxg7 Kxg7 10.e5 has been analysed a fair bit, usually concluding that White has a slight advantage:

I am tempted to go further and claim ‘+/-’ but one or two more practical tests are probably needed for that. In particular, on move 20 White snatched a hot pawn, which against best play requires a further 15(!) moves to consolidate into a slight edge, but perhaps there is an improvement at that point? The final stages of the endgame did not disappoint either, with Black retaining drawing chances in a study-like minor piece endgame with very few pawns right until the very end. See Cheparinov, I - Asis Gargatagli, H.

Caro-Kann Defence: Two Knights, Main Line with 3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2 Nxe4 6.Qxe4 [B11]

We have discussed the position after 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2 Nxe4 6.Qxe4 at some length before. I give an overview of the most recent developments before turning to an essentially new idea played in a blitz tournament last month. The value of the idea perhaps merited a more glamorous stage! In my opinion, the best continuation is 6...Nd7 7.Bc4 Nf6 8.Ne5 e6, and here White uncorked 9.Qf4!?:

The point is simply to continue with d4 and Bd3, when the combination of Black’s poor king safety (it’s probably castled short by this point) and stunted c8-bishop promises White good chances in most lines. As we will see, Black should probably play 9...b5 to cut across this plan immediately, followed by sacrificing a pawn for interesting compensation. Here it is White’s king that gets stuck in the centre, while he tries to consolidate. I have concluded that Black just about has enough dynamic compensation, but the line is one that would clearly repay further research, and an enterprising soul could do quite well out of this for White. Instead, in Bashirli, N - Lintchevski, D Black chose the obvious 9...Bd6 10.d4 Qc7, and soon stood worse.

Both annotators have so far covered 6...Nd7 in a lot of detail, however 6...Be6 is also a relatively trendy line - see Iskandarov, M - Eljanov, P. Black pre-empts the natural development of White’s light-squared bishop to c4. In doing so, he prepares ...Nd7-f6 without having to enter complications. 7.b3 There's definitely some potential in the line 7.c4!? as well. 7...Nd7 8.Bb2 Nf6:

At this point, 9.Qb4!?N seems to be the most challenging try: 9...Qc7 10.Bd3 Bd5 and now I like the positional pawn sacrifice 11.Ne5!? Instead the move 9.Qh4 was played but Black equalised easily with 9...Bf5=

Caro-Kann Defence: Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Ne7 [B12]

Tata Steel has already seen a few sharp encounters in the Caro-Kann by the youngsters. Tari, A - Firouzja, A opened with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Ne7 6.c3 Ng6 7.0-0 Nd7 8.Ne1 h5 A daring setup! It probably isn’t 100% correct, however, it led to an extremely sharp and complicated battle, which is exactly what Firouzja aimed for. 9.Be3 The typical manoeuvre 9.a4 c5 10.Na3 (to c2) gives White an advantage, as Ne3 is coming. 9...Qb6 10.b3 f6! 11.Bxh5 fxe5 12.g4 Certainly one of the critical moves, but it gives Black a strong initiative:

12...Rxh5! 13.gxh5 Nf4! Black has tremendous compensation for the exchange, as White is forced onto the defensive. The game continued 14.dxe5 Nh3+ 15.Kg2 c5 with a completely unclear position; what followed was one of the most spectacular exchange of blunders I have seen in a while!

Vachier-Lagrave, M - Firouzja, A also featured the 5...Ne7 variation, but MVL opted for the more common line 6.0-0 c5 7.c4 Nbc6 8.dxc5 (8.Na3 is equally as popular). Here the main line is 8...d4, which leads to murky positions. 8...dxc4!? was played instead and the game continued 9.Bxc4 Ng6 10.Be3 Be7:

Now I believe 11.Nc3 0-0 12.Be2! is the most accurate way to play. 12...Qb8 13.Qa4 Ngxe5 14.Rad1 Ng4 15.Bf4 etc. MVL opted for 11.Bb5 0-0 12.Bxc6 bxc6 13.Na3 which led to another intense battle.

Caro-Kann Defence: Advance Variation with 3...c5 4.Nf3 [B12]

Less common these days is the line 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 even though it is also quite a robust system and requires less move-by-move theoretical knowledge. 4.Nf3 (4.dxc5 tends to be the modern approach) 4...cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.c4 e6 7.Nc3 Bb4:

The critical test is 8.Nxc6 which I discuss in my notes to the game Harikrishna, P - Esipenko, A. After 8...bxc6, White has a few options. The main move is 9.Qa4 which leads to a roughly equal ending, but there is also the relatively unexplored 9.Bd3 as well as 9.cxd5 Qxd5 10.Qe2. Whatever the case, Harikrishna’s move 8.Be2 was perhaps the most harmless continuation!

Caro-Kann Defence: Short System with 5...c5 6.Be3 [B12]

I have recently joined the camp of people that believes White should best meet 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 c5 with 6.c3!? after which I have examined a couple of interesting continuations, including a rapid game by the world champion. In the main game Fedoseev, V - Najer, E, White tried a different and also valuable idea: 6.Be3 Qb6 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.Na4 Qa5+ 9.c3 c4 10.Nh4!? with the idea of exchanging both knights for Black’s bishops:

After that trade, Black’s play seems to revolve around, as Kasparov would have said, ‘opening the position for the knight-pair’, meaning especially the breaks ...b4 and ...f5. White should try and open the position on one side only, because otherwise the knights will prove to be extremely nimble. That was indeed the case in the game, where in an otherwise quite pleasant position White found himself faced with a knight on f5 and doubled rooks on the h-file. These factors ultimately sufficed to give Black first an attack and then perpetual check.

Caro-Kann Defence: Classical Variation with 7...e6 [B19]

The game Lintchevski, D - Shapiro, D is more or less just a class in move-order subtleties. I have summarised some of the individual points of the system with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.Nf3 e6, including two variations within the first note on 8.Ne5 (specifically, 13.Nf5 and 17.Kb1) that seem to give White a small advantage. But the game continued with 8.h5 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Nf6 11.Bd2 Nbd7:

With his last move, Black chose not to use his own subtleties associated with the 7...e6 order. (I have given a key improvement in the 11...c5 sideline.) As the game swiftly left the main theoretical channels, the remainder of the analysis is mostly schematic. There are some really interesting points to do with the timing of White’s d5 break as well as the evaluation of the possible Rubinstein-French structures. Right at the end, just as in this month’s Cheparinov game in the Modern, Black failed to make the most of his unexpected drawing chances.

Till next time! Justin and Dan.

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