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Tom decided to devote all his time to coaching, and so we are delighted to welcome back one of our all time favourite authors, GM Neil McDonald.
This is an update with a zoological feel as it features both a lion and a hippopotamus. But we'll begin with a marvellous attack in the Alekhine Defence.

Download PGN of June '14 1 e4 ... games

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Alekhine's Defence - 4.Nf3 g6 5.Be2 [B04]

White's failed blockade leads to a flurry of sacrifices

A critical position was reached after 19 moves:

It is Black to move. Can you see a way for him to release the pent up energy in his kingside pieces?

Despite the impressive finish, as you will see I'm somewhat critical of Black's play earlier in the game in Golubov - Bortnik.

Modern Defence 4.Bc4 a6 [B06]

The Hippopotamus as played by Caruana

World class players love to play the Modern/Pirc set up in Blitz events. White doesn't have time to thoroughly analyse all the possibilities, and so can easily lose control, whereupon Black's activity comes up trumps. As this month's game illustrates, the Modern can also be a handy weapon if a top player wishes to take a less highly rated opponent out of theory at an early point. Rather than play oodles of Grunfeld theory, for example, Fabiano Caruana adopted the so-called Hippopotamus set up in the Italian Team Championships, beginning with the move order 1.Nf3 d6 2.d4 g6 3.e4 Bg7 4.Bc4 a6!?:

Black intends to gain time for the development of his bishop to b7 by hitting c4 with ...b7-b5. The game continued 5.0-0 e6 6.Re1 Ne7 7.c3 0-0 8.Bb3 Nd7 9.Nbd2 b5 10.a4 Bb7 with a fully grown Hippopotamus sitting on the board.

I've included in the notes Magnus Carlsen's win versus Kramnik in the Moscow Blitz 2012 event. Check out Georgiev - Caruana.

Modern Defence 3.Nc3 c6, 5...Qb6!? [B06]

A Moldovan Speciality

Next we investigate 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 d6 5.Be3 Qb6!?:

This is a speciality of the Moldovan Grandmaster Viorel Iordachescu. He plans to disrupt White's normal build up with 6.Qd2 and 7.0-0-0 by attacking the b2 pawn. Such a plan couldn't have come as a surprise to his formidable opponent Maxime Vachier Lagrave, who incidentally is number 10 in the Live Chess Ratings as I write. What had the French Grandmaster prepared against it? Check out Vachier Lagrave- Iordachescu.

Pirc Defence, Lion Variation - 3...Nbd7 4.f4 e5 5.Nf3 [B07]

The lion uncaged

In the archives Andrew Martin calls this variation 'the Pirc/Philidor hybrid, also known as the Lion.' It has been used with success as Black by Viktor Laznicka, a young Czech GM rated 2679. We'll begin with his sharp encounter against the newly minted English IM Peter Roberson. This went 5...exd4 6.Qxd4 c6 7.Bd2 (7.Be3 is examined below) 7...d5 8.0-0-0 Bc5 9.Qd3 0-0 10.exd5 when Laznicka came up with 10...Qc7!?:

This is an interesting attempt to revitalise Black's game. Here is Roberson - Laznicka.

The crucial test of the line is probably 4.f4 e5 5.Nf3 exd4 6.Qxd4 c6 7.Be3. Here again Black offers his pawn with 7...d5, with a critical position being reached after 8.exd5 Bc5 9.Qd3 Qe7 10.Nd4 Nb6 11.dxc6 bxc6:

If White plays 12.0-0-0 Black has the shocking riposte 12...Ba6!?:

This was given as very good for Black in an earlier update, but it leads to huge complications which overturn the verdict. Have a look at the analysis in Dastan - Laznicka.

White could instead try 12.Be2!? which is investigated in Cerveny - Umanec.

Caro-Kann Smyslov Variation 5.Ng5 [B17]

Is Black in trouble in the Smyslov Variation?

There was a very sharp encounter in the 4NCL (British Chess League) which ended in dramatic defeat for Black. Both players played in logical fashion, reaching a key position after 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 e6 7.N1f3 Bd6 8.Qe2 h6 9.Ne4 Nxe4 10.Qxe4 Qc7 11.0-0 b6 12.Qg4 Kf8 13.b3 Bb7 14.Bb2 Nf6 15.Qh3 Nd5 16.g3 Nb4 17.Be4 f5:

White is obliged to sacrifice a piece, but what is the best way? You can find analysis in Suarez - Hawkins.

Caro-Kann Classical 4...Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.Nh3 [B18]

A good alternative to learning 20 moves of mainline theory

The wing development of the knight with 6.Nh3 is unusual, but it sets Black some novel problems. After 6...e6 7.Nf4 Bd6 8.c3 Nf6 9.h4 Bxf4 10.Bxf4 h6 11.h5 Bh7:

Black has secured his kingside against the disruptive h4-h5 advance, but at the price of the bishop pair. A tough positional battle results in Mista - Iordachescu.

Caro-Kann Classical 4...Bf5 Mainline ...e6 8.Ne5 [B19]

A popular battleground is the variation 4...Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.Nf3 e6 7.h4 h6 8.Ne5 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Nd7 11.f4 Bb4+ 12.c3 Be7 13.Bd2 Ngf6 14.0-0-0:

Here 14....c5 has been (slightly) under a cloud, but this month's game seems to revitalise it. White is no less than Emil Sutovsky, but he is reduced to complete helplessness. Theis is a beautiful positional display, reminiscent of Capablanca, so don't miss Sutovsky - Eljanov.

Well that's all for now. I hope you enjoyed the update and good luck with your chess!

All the best, Neil.

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