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This month, the annotators provide a wide range of opening lines, from the Modern Defence and Scandinavian Defence to the Advanced, Two Knights and Classical variations of the Caro-Kann!
From next month onwards, Dan will take over as the sole annotator for this column, while Justin will switch over to the 1.d4 d5 2.c4 section.

Download PGN of March ’21 1 e4 ... games

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Scandinavian Defence: 3...Qd8 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 c6 [B01]

I was lucky enough to play my first over the board tournament since April last year (which Dan also played in), thanks in no small part to Australia’s proactive handling of the pandemic in 2020. In round 4, a funny thing happened - both boards 1 and board 2 began with the exact same starting moves: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd8 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 c6. In Kuybokarov, T - Dale, A (board 1), White chose the standard route 8.Be3 e6 and now the somewhat rare move 9.a3. Play then followed 9...Nbd7 10.0-0-0 Nd5?! 10...Be7 is the main move of this variation and is covered in my recently published book "1.e4! The Chess Bible", Volume One. Shameless plug but it is relevant at least! 11.Nxd5 cxd5 12.g4 12.c4! is more to the point, but it is a difficult move to make in practice if you are unaware of it. 12...Be7 13.Bd3 a6 14.Kb1 b5 15.Qe2?! White’s queen was well-placed on f3; he simply needed to continue attacking. 15...Nb6 16.h4:

Here, Black should have played 16...b4! 17.axb4 Bxb4 which would have led to a complicated fight as 18.c3 Bxc3! 19.bxc3 Na4 is dangerous.

Seeing as Kuybokarov ‘stole’ my own recommendation on the first board (right next to me), I came up with an alternative response in Tan, J - Puccini, J: 8.g4!? A tricky line to catch your opponent off guard. It is not the engine's top move and I probably still prefer 8.Be3, but I vaguely knew the move existed and guessed my opponent wouldn't be well-prepared for it - which made two of us! 8...e6 More critical is 8...Qxd4 9.Be3 Qd8. 9.g5 Nd5 10.Bd2 Not the most incisive reaction. 10.Ne4! was best. 10...Nxc3 11.Qxc3 Qd5 12.Rg1 Nd7 13.Bc4 Qe4+ 14.Kf1!:

White has an initiative as his pieces are better developed and the black queen is in a somewhat precarious spot. After gaining the upper hand from the opening, I obtained a won position into the middlegame, but let it slip into a very unclear game... and had to win the game a second time over!

Modern Defence: 3...a6 4.Be3 b5 [B06]

An unorthodox move order in the Modern 1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.Nc3 a6 4.Be3 b5?! was seen in Petrov, N - Czebe, A. As a rule of thumb, Black must instead wait until White reveals their setup before weakening the queenside. 5.h4! Nf6 6.h5! Nxh5 7.e5!:

I am sure Petrov was still in his preparation at this point. White is about to gain a significant development advantage, which Black cannot possibly avoid. 7...Ng7 7...dxe5 8.Qf3 c6 9.dxe5 looks awful for Black while 7...Bb7 is met with the aggressive 8.Rxh5! 8.Qf3 White now has four pieces developed while Black has developed only his knight (and even then, it is strongly contestable whether the knight has been developed at all!).

Modern Defence: 4.Be3 a6 5.Qd2 [B06]

The high-level encounter So, W - Nepomniachtchi, I featured a Modern Defence, which seems to be Nepo’s go-to opening in online rapid. 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 a6 5.Qd2 b5 6.0-0-0 Nd7 7.h4 h6 7...h5 has been covered extensively on our site. In my opinion, the modest alternative played by Nepo actually leads to a more vulnerable structure. 8.f3 8.e5!? is also worth considering, though in the end, I argue it is unnecessary. 8...Nb6 9.Bd3 Bb7 10.Nh3 e6 11.g4 Ne7:

Here the engines like White’s structure after 12.h5 g5 13.Kb1 For instance, 13...Nc6 14.Ne2 Qe7 15.f4 gxf4 16.Nhxf4 gives White a decisive advantage. White just continues Rhg1, Rdf1, Nh3 and plays along those two files.

Caro-Kann Defence: Two Knights Variation with 3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2 [B11]

The search for a plus for White in the line 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Qe2 Nxe4 6.Qxe4 Nd7 continues! Currently, I think the front-runner could be 9.Qf4, but this month’s game was also a strong contender. Ayats Llobera, G - Cornette, M continued 7.Bc4 Nf6 8.Ne5 e6 9.Qe2 b5 10.Bb3 Qc7 11.a4!?:

This is a concept we haven’t seen before, and it makes a decent amount of sense. Black can’t really close the queenside yet in case White castles there, but nevertheless has to do something about the hanging b5-pawn. Furthermore, in case of a future 0-0, Black certainly does want to play ...b4. Cornette found a good solution: 11...Bd6 12.d4 0-0!? and achieved stable equality.

His eventual win was thanks to some quite amazing tactical vision in a fairly boring position that perked up dramatically after a minor piece trade. Meanwhile, if White wants to prove an edge against this approach, the b5-pawn simply must be accepted.

Caro-Kann Defence: Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4.Nc3 e6 5.g4 [B12]

A line we haven’t examined in a while starts with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nc3 e6 5.g4 Bg6 6.Nge2. This variation was extremely popular around 2004 (+/- 6 years) so it is interesting to see how it responds to modern engine analysis. Black has various answers, the most common being the one seen in Vlassov, N - Faizrakhmanov, R, 6...c5 7.h4 h5 8.Nf4 Bh7 9.Nxh5 cxd4:

Also fully playable, and perhaps more practical, is 9...Nc6 (which was given the seal of approval by Vidit.) After the text, 10.Nb5 poses Black some problems, while the game’s 10.Qxd4 failed to impress, with White succumbing surprisingly easily.

Caro-Kann Defence: Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4.h4 h5, 7.b4 gambit line [B12]

The Caro-Kann games of Olga Girya are always interesting to annotate and observe, as she seems to have very solid preparation files as well as strong intuition for the resulting positions. This month, she contested the Black side of the still-fashionable 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Qa5+ line, and after 7.b4 proceeded to accept the challenge with 7...Qxb4+:

The critical continuation is 8.Nd2 e6 9.Rb1 Qe7, and here in a position rich with possibilities, White’s choice in Motylev, A - Girya, O was 10.c4. Black reacted in a strong way that had previously not occurred to me, and one which deserved to completely neutralise White’s opening idea. I have also given the alternative 10.Ne2 a fresh look.

Essentially, White is trying to get knights to f3 and g3 in this line, and if a c4-break is achievable as well then so much the better. Unfortunately, it seems there isn’t quite enough time to get all that done and so Black is maintaining equality here.

Caro-Kann Defence: Classical Variation with 7...e6 [B19]

I recently found a novelty in the line 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.Nf3 e6 8.Ne5 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Nd7, so I have taken the game Kotronias, V - Mohammad, N as an excuse to publish.

This column’s previous conclusion that 11.Qe2 is probably most promising for White remains unchanged, but this month's game continued with the known knight sacrifice 11.f4 Be7 12.Nh5 Ngf6 13.Nxg7+ Kf8 14.Nxe6+ (the new idea is 14.Qg3!?N followed by a sacrificing a pawn instead!) 14...fxe6 15.Bd2. This position used to look rather promising for White, but the correct moves have become quite well-known. Thus, with a minimum of independent problem-solving needed and despite his opponent being a noted and experienced theoretician, Black was able to apply the book recommendations and achieve a substantial advantage.

Till next time! Dan and Justin.

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