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A month in which I auditioned for a TV show, visited Northern Ireland and spent some nights in hospital. I enjoyed annotating the game Nigmatov-Bernadskiy most of all, largely due to the crossover with the Petroff (which I also play frequently!)

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

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Alekhine Defence, 3.Nc3 Nxc3 4.dxc3 d5 [B02]

While of course very much a sideline, 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.Nc3 decidedly has its points. Perhaps the most principled continuation is 3...e6, to avoid both the transpositions to slightly worse Petroff lines and the sort of attacking bind White obtained in the game. I’ve given some indication how White can approach the alternatives, while the game continued with the straightforward 3...Nxc3 4.dxc3 d5 5.Be3:

After the further 5...Nc6 6.f4 White had a very nice and spacious attacking setup, and went on to convert against a substantially higher-rated opponent in Nigmatov, O - Bernadskiy, V.

Pirc Defence, Austrian Attack with 5...0-0 6.Be3 b6 [B09]

I have never been particularly a fan of the approach 1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.f4 Nf6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be3 for White, and this game lends credence to the theory that Black can equalise relatively simply. (Along the way I explore the option of 5.Bd3 to try and cut out 5...c5.) The game answer appears convincing enough, 6...b6 7.Qd2 Bb7:

The thematic 8.Bd3 demands a bit of accuracy from Black, but is equal after best play. Maybe the game continuation 8.e5 is more demanding, though with knowledge of a timely exchange sacrifice Black seems to be solving their issues anyway. See Malinovsky, K - Rasik, V in which Black misplaced a pawn later but didn’t seem to let it particularly bother them.

Caro-Kann Defence 2.c4 d5 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.exd5 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nxd5 6.Nf3 [B10]

A particularly provocative line, but one which appears to be working, is 1.e4 c6 2.c4 d5 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.exd5 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nxd5 6.Nf3 g6!?:

White’s most obvious way to try and punish this liberty is 7.Qb3 Nb6 8.Bb5+ Bd7 9.Ne5!?, threatening mate and requiring further concessions from Black, but there is a sort of deep-seated stability in Black’s game that arises from control of the d5-square, to the extent that even a +0.5 or +1 position will tend to swing back in Black’s favour. This is indeed what happened in Miezis, N - Kuipers, S, although I contend that Black has little to fear in this line objectively either.

Caro-Kann, Two Knights Variation 3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2 Nxe4 6.Qxe4 Qd5 [B11]

This line has been overshadowed by 6...Be6 and 6...Nd7 in terms of my coverage, but my good friend of over a decade Marcus Harvey showed that the theory is by no means complete here either, essaying what seems to be a novelty in the shape of 7.Qh4 Qd6!?:

The point is to keep all Black’s ...Qg6 (-g4) ideas, without compromising the c8-bishop. So depending on White’s response, Black has the ability to play ...Qf6, ...Qg6 or indeed ...Be6 or ...Bf5. White’s best may be 8.Bc4 (the most usual place for the light-squared bishop in many lines of the ...dxe4 2 Knights) but it is nothing to write home about. As it was, in Burg, T - Harvey, M, Black’s queen wound up on g4 on move 11 anyway, equalising in the process.

Caro-Kann, Fantasy Variation with 3...Qb6 4.Nc3 dxe4 5.Bc4 [B12]

It is perhaps not the most topical anymore, but the Fantasy Variation still hides plenty of interesting areas for further research, with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3 Qb6 4.Nc3 dxe4 5.Bc4!? being one such. In this month’s game Beerdsen, T - Bluebaum, M Black wisely opted not to keep the pawn, with the thematic and Slav-like 5...Nf6 6.fxe4 e5!?:

My opinion is that both sides now showed best play with 7.dxe5 Ng4 8.Qe2 Nxe5 9.Bb3 Bg4 (otherwise the bishop gets shut in) 10.Nf3 Nbd7, and now maybe White has the better side of equality by trying 11.h3!? in place of the game’s 11.Bd2, which handed Black a bit of momentum.

Caro-Kann Defence, Short System with 5...c5 6.Be3 Qb6 [B12]

Deep into a theoretical rabbit hole (arguably the only one of the month) is the only way to describe the opening of Dvirnyy, D - Basso, P. The key position was reached after Black’s novelty 18...Ba5:

This game provides a timely reminder of the dangers of the line for Black, with the position being close to lost after only three further moves. However, while 18...Bb4 remains a more solid recommendation, the text is not entirely bad and there are positional benefits to giving back the d5-pawn rather than the b7-pawn.

Caro-Kann, Advance Variation with 3...c5 4.Nf3 cxd4 5.Qxd4 Nc6 6.Qf4 [B12]

Two games in this highly topical system this month. In the first one, Praggnanandhaa, R - Abdlrauf, E, Black opted for 6...g6 7.Nc3 Bh6 (7...d4 is probably a better order) 8.Qh4 (8.Qa4 does a better job of punishing Black) 8...d4 9.Nb5:

Neither the game continuation of 9...Bg7 nor my suggestion of 9...Bxc1 10.Rxc1 a6 makes it especially easy for White to prove an edge, so doubtless we will see more of this.

Finally, the second game Saric, I - Zelcic, R saw an instructive concept from White in the opening: 6...e6 7.Nc3 Nb4 and now 8.Qd2:

The point is that White would rather like to play a3 and Bd3 without giving up the bishop pair (understandably enough) and might also prefer the queen on e2 rather than the slightly artificial f4-square. Maybe the patient 8...a6 makes sense for Black, although there are still of course issues facing them; in the game Black clearly lost the opening battle but then turned things around at some point by virtue of the 2v0 central majority, only failing to convert at the very last moment.

Happy New Year, Daniel

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