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This month, I (Justin) am covering the whole update, so I’ve shamelessly based my analyses on the project of my upcoming 1.e4 book. In particular, I provide baseline recommendations in the Nimzowitsch, Modern Defence and Scandinavian. I also look at innovative ideas on the Black side of those openings and I check in with the recent Caro-Kann debate between Dominguez and Caruana in the Clutch Chess International.

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

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The Nimzowitsch Defence 2.d4 e5 3.dxe5 [B00]

So, W - Vachier-Lagrave, M featured the quickest decisive game in the Clutch Chess Invitational (15 moves!), suggesting we probably won’t be seeing MVL’s opening choice any time soon at the elite level. The game began with 1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e5 3.dxe5 (I also offer 3.d5 as a tempting alternative, however I couldn’t bring myself to recommend it since it’s likely to transpose to 1.d4 territory). 3...Nxe5 4.Nf3 Qf6 5.Nc3 Nxf3+ 6.Qxf3. True to his style, Wesley opts for the simple solution, although 6.gxf3 is probably stronger. 6...Qxf3 7.gxf3 c6?:

MVL was concerned about a knight intrusion into b5 or d5, however, this was something he was obliged to live with. After the game continuation, it becomes impossible to develop the queenside pieces comfortably. Play followed 8.Rg1 Ne7 9.Be3 d5?! 10.exd5 Nf5?! 11.0-0-0 Be7? 12.Bf4 Bd7 13.Bh3 0-0-0 14.dxc6 bxc6 15.Rxd7. Certainly not the best advertisement for the Nimzowitsch!

The Nimzowitsch Defence 2.d4 d5 3.e5! Bf5 [B00]

Instead, the more testing defence is 2...d5 Nimzowitsch’s own preferred choice. This was played in the high-level game Anand, V - Rapport, R in 2018 which continued 3.e5! Bf5 4.c3 e6 5.Nd2 a6. This isn’t a bad move per se but probably not the best. I’ve analysed the position after 5...Nd2 quite extensively and it appears that the rare variation 5...f6 6.f4 g5!? merits serious consideration. Although I find White to be better in the end, he has to be precise to gain the upper hand. 6.f4 f6 7.Nh3!?:

Clearly an astute decision: Anand understands that ...g5 is Black’s plan, so he avoids the more natural 7.Ngf3. Now if 7...g5 there follows 8.g4! Bg6 9.exf6 and on 9...gxf4?! 10.g5! is strong. Instead, Rapport chose 7...Qd7 and eventually equalised after punishing the former World Champion for his somewhat complacent play in the middlegame.

The Scandinavian Defence: 3...Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6 [B01]

Dubov was particularly inspiring in the Lindores Abbey rapid event (which he won), coming up with a variety of offbeat variations. One of these was 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6 - see Karjakin, S - Dubov, D. There followed 6.Nb5 Qd8 and Karjakin immediately erred with 7.Bf4. Instead, I recommend 7.d5!? or 7.c4, both aiming for a strategic plus. 7...Nd5 8.Bg3 a6 9.Na3? It was this move that gave Black an initiative, and ultimately the full-point. 9.Nc3 still gives a small edge.

9...e5! 10.dxe5 Bb4+ 11.Nd2? An opening disaster for Karjakin! As the Rapport game illustrates, a few unexpected moves can cause even the strongest, most level-headed players to collapse quickly. 11.c3 would have kept the balance. 11...h5! 12.h4? Bg4 and Black was completely winning.

The next game was played in the online 4NCL, between my teammate Marcus Harvey and a British veteran Keith Arkell. Harvey’s opening play was based on analysis I had sent him just prior to the game. My notes were in line with the recommendations in my upcoming book: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd8. We had suspected Keith would employ this. 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 c6 8.Be3 e6 9.a3!? A rare move I devised as a way to prevent ...Bb4, which would be played in the event of castling long immediately. 9...Nbd7 10.0-0-0 Nb6 11.Kb1 Nbd5 12.Bc1 Nxc3 13.Qxc3 Be7 14.h4!?:

We had not discussed this exact position, however the idea to initiate an early kingside attack with h4 appeared a few times in my notes, and in such a position, understanding concepts is more valuable than memorising moves. Having said this, 14.Qg3 is probably more precise. The game continuation allowed a nice defensive resource 14...h5! 15 Qg3 and 15...Ne4!. Instead, Keith followed up with 15...g6?! and Harvey won a clean game by exploiting the several weaknesses in Black’s position - see Harvey, M - Arkell, K.

The Modern, Classical Variation 4.Nf3 a6 [B06]

Against the Pirc and Modern Defences, I recommend 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 which was reached in Zhang, Z - Wang, H. In my opinion (as well as Tiger’s), Black should transpose to the Pirc with 4...Nf6. Wang, however, played 4...a6 5.Be2 b5 6.0-0 Bb7 7.Re1 Nd7 8.a4 b4:

At this point, Zhang played 9.Nd5, but stronger is 9.Na2! For instance, 9...c5 10.Bc4 e6 11.c3 with a clear advantage for White. The game continued 9...Ngf6 10.Nxf6+ (10.Nxb4!) 10...exf6 (sounder was 10...Nxf6) and White was better.

Nevertheless, the players probably miss-evaluated the move 9...Bxd5! 10.exd5 Ngf6. Note that this transformation of the position would be ill-advised if White’s a-pawn were still on a2 (in which case, the queenside would be easily opened with a3).

The Modern 4.Be3 a6 5.f4 b5 [B06]

The second game I analysed in the Modern Defence was not particularly important from a theoretical standpoint, however I felt it necessary to include at least one game from the Offerspill Invitational, the only OTB (or ‘offline’, as advertised on chess24) tournament in play at the moment.

Shehzad, S - Risting, E featured 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 a6 5.f4 b5 6.Be2. A sideline which is generally harmless although it does involve a cunning trap in the event of 6...b4 7.Na4 Bb7 8.Bf3 Nf6 9.e5 Nd5 10.Bf2. Apparently, Shehzad hadn’t actually planned the trap, as when Risting played 10...0-0?? (10...Nd7! works, see my notes).

He missed the opportunity to win a whole piece with 11.c4! bxc3 12.Qb3! instead playing 11...Ne2?? and a typical Modern position ensued.

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

Finally, it could not be ignored that Dominguez and Caruana played no less than five Caro-Kann games in their Clutch Chess match. The games all started with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3. In the first two games, Caruana played the main line 6...e6 when Dominguez employed a sideline 7.Ngf3!?. This is a tricky move-order because the natural 7...Qa5+ will inevitably transpose to 6...Qa5+ which is not in everybody’s repertory. I found that 7...c5 is probably Black’s best bet if he does not wish to enter those lines, although further investigation is required.

Caruana played 7...Qb6 in the first game, however White could have obtained an advantage after 8.0-0 Qa6 9.Qd1!?. In the stem game, Caruana chose 7...Be7? but this was quickly punished by 8.c4! dxc4 9.Qxc4 Nd7 10.Qc2 c5 11.d5! exd5:

12.e6! fxe6 13.Qg6+ Kf8 14.Qxe6. This position is unsightly for Black - even more so when we consider the rapid time control. See Dominguez Perez, L - Caruana, F.

Caruana masterfully adapted to the situation in the subsequent games and did indeed enter the aforementioned 6...Qa5+ variation. After 7.Nd2 e6 8.Ngf3 he chose the move I recommended in Sutovsky, E - Anton Guijarro, D, 8...Nh6 and equalised comfortably upon 9.0-0 Nf5 10.a4 Qa6! (Their other encounters saw 10.Nb3 Qb5!). Later in the game, some serious errors were exchanged amid sharp complications, but Caruana emerged the victor, see Dominguez Perez, L - Caruana, F

Till next time! Justin.

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