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Hi all,
In this update, we have a breadth of different variations, the two focal points being the Caro-Kann, Main Line and the Alekhine Defence Exchange Variation.

Download PGN of March ’19 1 e4 ... games

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Alekhine’s Defence, Exchange Variation 4 exd5 exd6 5 c4 Nf6 [B03]

Generally, I’d refrain from analysing non-classical time controls, however the Saint Louis Champions Showdown are clearly worthy of attention, not least because top players might dabble in less tedious openings than, say, the Petroff Defence. Hence, in Shankland, S - Rapport, R we saw a match and a rematch in the line 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 exd5 exd6 (the first slightly unusual move) 5 c4 Nf6!? (as opposed to the more typical Alekhine move 5...Nb6). Play continued 6 Nf3 Be7 7 Nc3 0-0:

Now Black tends to transpose the game into either QGA or Petroff territory, which Shankland avoids with 8 d5!? The position became strategically complicated; Rapport equalised and proceeded to take over the initiative.

Alekhine’s, Voronezh Variation 5...cxd6 6 Nc3 g6 7 Be3 Bg7 8 Rc1 0-0 9 b3 d5 [B03]

In the ChessPublishing forum, an amazing line came up which has been tried a couple times already by the same player (a 2000 player from Denmark, Ib Skovgaard who also contributed in the forum). Skovgaard starts with the main move 5...cxd6 6 Nc3 g6 7 Be3 Bg7 8 Rc1 0-0 9 b3 d5 10 c5 and now the stunning piece sacrifice, 10...Nc6!?:

After 11 cxb6 e5 there is a crossroads. 12 Nge2 exd4 13 Nxd4 Bxd4 14 Bxd4 Qh4 was played in the game, Agrest, I - Skovgaard, Ib when White’s best move is 15 Bc5!. Then the resulting position has White a piece and two pawns up, yet the engine evaluation is only giving about +1. The main consideration though, is that White’s pieces have almost no freedom of movement in the short run making it particularly tense to play in a practical game. Thus, many suggested that 12 dxe5 might be better - giving back the piece but hoping to come out with an edge. For now, I would back this approach as the ending which arises isn’t simple at all to defend for Black.

Pirc Defence, 150 Attack 5...a6 6 Bd3 [B08]

Svane, R - Flom, G saw 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Be3 a6 6 Bd3:

I don’t know exactly what to call this, although ‘very normal’ variation would seem appropriate! White develops as he’s been taught as a beginner. As far as I can see, this is quite effective for a slight edge. 6...Nc6 was played (although I also examine 6...b5?! and 6...0-0, the latter is met with attacking play). There followed 7 d5! Ne5 8 Nxe5 dxe5 9 0-0 0-0, and White has the more pleasant position.

Caro-Kann Defence: Two Knights Variation with 3...Bg4 4 h3 Bxf3 5 Qxf3 e6 6 d3 [B11]

I have so far not delved a great deal into 1 e4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 Bg4 4 h3 Bxf3. After 5 Qxf3 e6 6 d3 Nf6, White, in the game Wang Hao - Nguyen Van Huy, played 7 a3:

This is obviously aimed at preventing ...Bb4. White ideally wants to set up some sort of KIA/Reti pressure after 7...Bd6 8 g3, which I am generally positive about. While Black may try to disrupt White’s plans with 7...d4 instead, this probably won’t be much of an obstacle if White plays 8 Nb1!?. Note though, that 8 Ne2 c5 is unclear.

Caro-Kann Defence: 3...g6 hybrid [B15]

A subscriber recently suggested an idea which is becoming somewhat popular of late - mostly in rapid games. After 1 e4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 g6 4 d4 Bg7 5 h3 dxe4 6 Nxe4 Nf6 7 Nxf6, Black goes for the unbalancing approach, 7...exf6!?:

In Karthikeyan, M - Wei Yi the young Chinese star produced a model game in this system. The game continued 8 Bc4 0-0 9 0-0 a5 10 a4 Na6 11 c3 Nc7 12 Bf4 Nd5 13 Bh2 Be6 14 Nd2 f5 15 Bb3 h5!? which worked out well, although this isn’t the only plan at Black’s disposal.

Smyslov System 5 Ng5 Ngf6 6 Bd3 e6 7 N1f3 Bd6 8 Qe2 h6 9 Ne4 Nxe4 10 Qxe4 Qc7 [B17]

Now an old line which does seem to hold up still, the Karpov Variation of the Caro-Kann characterised by 4 Nxe4 Nd7 was played in the English encounter, Jones, G - Wells, P. Jones went for the critical main line 5 Ng5 Ngf6 6 Bd3 e6 7 N1f3 Bd6 8 Qe2 h6 9 0-0 Nxe4 10 Qxe4 Qc7:

11 0-0 b6 12 Qg4 Kf8 and now the sideline 13 Re1. This leads to some concrete lines, although Wells didn’t go for the critical line which was 13...Bb7 14 b3 Nf6 15 Qh3 and now 15...Bb4.

An entirely different approach was essayed in Cheparinov, I - Kozhuharov, S, with the move 11 a4!? White plays positionally and dissuades Black from deploying his light-squared bishop on the long diagonal with ...b7-b6. Black shouldn’t be any worse off after the principled 11...c5, although he shouldn’t be too relaxed else he might find himself in a positional bind.

Caro-Kann: Main Line, 5...Bf5 and 7...e6 [B19]

Finally, we return to the topical line in the Caro-Kann, 4...Bf5 5 Ng3 Bg6 6 h4 h6 7 Nf3 e6. In Andreikin, D - Howell, D, the Russian no.8 opted for 8 h5 Bh7 9 Bd3 Bxd3 10 Qxd3 Nf6 11 Bd2:

It should be noted that 11...Nbd7 transposes to 7...Nd7 territory. Therefore, Howell plays the more direct 11...c5. He had a very comfortable endgame after 12 0-0-0 Nc6 13 Bc3 Qd5! 14 dxc5 Qxd3 15 cxd3 Bxc5. Instead, 12 Ne4 is a more testing variation.

Till next month, Justin :)

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