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This month, we discuss a wide array of openings, from the Scandinavian to the Caro-Kann. Both annotators made updates to their previous analyses, which was mostly prompted by subscriber emails and ‘perennial crises’. Hopefully the new developments and re-assessments are also of use to the reader!

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

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Scandinavian Defence, 3 Nf3 [B01]

Kadric, D - Rakhmanov, A contains updated analysis for, and in response to, a ‘worried’ Scandi player, who emailed me late last year (sorry for the late response!). 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nf3 Bg4. I also make mention of 3...g6, which was my subscriber’s idea, however there are both substantive and practical problems for that variation (see my notes). 4 Be2 Nc6 5 h3. Instead, 5 d4 is the critical test. Indeed, this is the main line and the one I wanted to focus on in this update. The line continues 5...0-0-0 6 c4 Qf5 7 Be3 Bxf3 8 Bxf3 Nxd4 9 Bxd4 Qe6+ 10 Be2. I’ve previously looked at 10...Qe4, the main line. But in this update, I return to a move which Gawain Jones analysed back in 2010. Namely, 5...c5!?. That’s my recommendation for those who do not wish to memorise too many complicated variations. 5...Bxh3 6 Bxh3 Qe6+ 7 Qe2:

Now Black has either 7...Qxe2 8 Bxe2 Nd4 or 7...Nd4 as in the game. Both are roughly equal, though with regards to the former option, Black has to be content playing against the two bishops. 8 Qxe6 Nxf3+ 9 gxf3 fxe6 10 Nc3 Nh6!? with a balanced, unconventional ending.

Modern Defence, 4 Bc4 variation [B06]

The moves 1 e4 g6 2 d4 Bg7 3 Nf3 d6 4 Bc4 initiate a line very popular with players who want realistic chances of an advantage against the Modern without the memory work associated with, for instance, the Austrian Attack. Personally I quite like replying with ...e6 here, but the theoretically critical line is 4...Nf6 5 Qe2 0-0 when White has a choice of 2 main moves.

In Cernousek, L-Navara, D the experienced Czech IM opted for 6 0-0 (as compared to 6 e5, covered in the November 2019 update.) Then the question for Black is: under which circumstances can he develop his bishop to g4? I used to think he should do so immediately, but there are some move-order nuances (unsurprisingly related to the timing of h2-h3) which lead me to doubt my earlier conclusions. This is quite a dramatic game, but the bulk of the analysis is in these early notes around the 6th move, one of which features a game by system inventor Tiger Hillarp Persson.

Modern Defence, 150 Attack Tabiya [B06]

Okay, I really didn’t expect this line to make a return soon but it seems another strong grandmaster has seen fit to enter the line 1 d4 g6 2 e4 Bg7 3 Nc3 d6 4 Be3 a6 5 Qd2 b5 6 f3 Nd7 7 h4 h5 8 Nh3 Bb7 9 Ng5 e6 10 0-0-0 Ngf6 11 Kb1 with Black:

While the game Shimanov, A - Shtembuliak, E did ultimately end in a White win via a crushing kingside attack, I would argue that Black was doing fine out of the opening. Since White didn’t make any noticeable mistakes, we need to look for some deeper move-order nuances or else conclude that this line, which I and others have spent ages trying to avoid, is actually fine! The gist of my conclusion here is that if Black continues (as he did) with 11...Qe7, then White should try and take advantage of the fact that the queen can no longer get to a5. The best way to do this seems to be 12.Rg1, a marginally more useful preparatory move than the one played in the game.

Pirc Defence: 4.Be3 c6 [B07]

At the 4NCL, my teammate played a long game in the following variation: 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 Be3 c6 5 Nf3 Bg7 6 Qd2 Qa5 7 h3 Nbd7 8 Bd3 e5 9 dxe5 dxe5?! (Better was 9...Nxe5. The position arising after 10 Nxe5 dxe5 is better than that which arises after 9...dxe5, therefore, only 10 Be2 must have worried Black. Still, this is an outcome he should have welcomed).

10 0-0 Qc7 11 a4 a5 12 Bc4 0-0 13 Rfd1 and Black is in an awfully passive position. See my notes to the game Haria, R - Macklin, P.

Caro-Kann Defence, Two Knights Variation [B11]

Georgiadis, N - Howell, D is a minor update from last month’s Raja, H - Narayanan, S. 1 e4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nf6 5 Qe2 Nxe4 6 Qxe4 Nd7 7 Bc4 Nf6 8 Ne5 e6 9 Qe2 b5! 10 Bb3 Qc7 11 0-0 Bd6 12 d4 0-0 13 c3. Now Black’s most dynamic response is 13...c5! 14 Qxb5 a5! which was also seen this month in Jens, J - Admiraal, M. Instead, Howell opted for 13...a5 14 Re1 a4?! Which merely nudged the bishop towards the diagonal it belonged to. After 15 Bc2 c5 16 Qd3 Rd8?:

White was crushing after 17 Ng4! Nxg4 18 Qxh7 Kf8 19 Qh8+ Ke7 20 Qxg7 though he later spoiled the win.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 3...c5 [B12]

One of my perennial crises as a Caro-Kann player is deciding what to play against 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5. There is the theoretical ...Bf5, the experimental ...a6 and the game move 3...c5 which falls somewhere in the middle. My entire mindset, in fact, in Puccini, J - Fernandez, D smacked of indecision and trying to strike a non-existent middle course, while also hoping to get a position where I could outplay my lower-rated opponent. That game continued with the moves 4 dxc5 e6 5 a3 Nc6 6 Nf3 Bxc5 7 b4 Be7:

Normally Black either puts his bishop on e7 or his knight on c6, but not both. I had in mind the idea of exchanging everything on e5 and trying to play some endgame where my king or knight plugs the hole on d6, thinking that with not many pieces left the typical ‘Advance French blockade’ situation is not that worrisome. Indeed, in some of the lines that turns out to be true, notably the improvement to Black’s 9th. However, White’s best plan is to avoid clinging to the e5 or d4 squares (his lack of central pawns make this hard to do anyway), and be ready to switch over to a plan based on the c4 push once Black has committed the g8-knight. In conclusion, the line with 5...Bxc5 is more sound despite containing a more-or-less forced draw.

JT: With the above ‘crisis’ in mind, potentially interesting for my co-author is the variation 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 dxc5 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bg4 6 c3 a6!? A new move for our site, though as the reader will see, there are numerous transpositions to 6...e6. The game Pranesh, M - Stupak, K continued 7 Be3 (Note 7 Qb3!? is definitely a move to look out for) 7...Nxe5 8 Nbd2 Nf6 9 Be2:

I don’t think this is the most testing way for White to play. Instead, I show a preference for 9 h3 after which, Black can try 9...Bxf3 10 Nxf3 Nc6!? with a complicated position. Nxf3+ Instead of this, 9...Nc6! gives Black a good game. 10 Nxf3 e6 11 Qa4+ Qd7 12 Qf4! Bxf3 13 Bxf3 Be7 14 0-0 0-0 15 b4 Rfd8 16 Bd4 Qa4 17 Bd1 Qc6 At this point, White erred with the natural 18 Bc2. Then Black took over with 18...Nd7!. Instead, White should have prevented this knight sortie by means of 18 Qg3!

Caro-Kann Defence, Panov-Botvinnik Attack with 6...Be6 [B13]

It’s quite unusual for me (DF) to analyse three white wins in one month, but here goes! Okay, so the game actually began with 1 c4, but there was a fairly trivial transposition and after 1...c6 2 e4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Bg5 Be6!? we have our position of interest:

With 6 Bg5 White indicated that he has no interest in playing a Panov endgame, and indeed here he gets to dictate the flow of the game a lot more. With his choice on the 7th move White can opt for either a rather forcing double-pawn sacrifice (7 Be2!?, analysed in the notes) or a Trompowsky-like positional struggle with 7 Bxf6 exf6 8 c5, as happened in the main game Sarana, A - Basso, P. I think Black needs to start his kingside play immediately, and the tempo he spent on 8...a6?! in the game ended up looking somewhat wasted. After all, the d5-pawn is isolated and it’s very natural indeed for White to attack it with a bishop on g2/f3 and king’s knight on f4. The game evolved at glacial pace but White was up a pawn for most of it, so despite the engine not really minding Black’s position this was surely not an especially enjoyable way to spend 5 hours!

Till next time! Justin and Dan.

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