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Unfortunately life circumstances dictated that once again, a couple of updates will come in quick succession. They each feature one Modern/Pirc and seven Caro-Kanns, an imbalance I am keen to rectify. The chess season in Australia is restarting, which means our royal game will get pushed to the front of my priorities list again for a few months. If any of my opponents is reading this, that means there is a slightly increased chance of me playing a Modern ;)

Download PGN of March ’22 1 e4 ... games

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Pirc Defence with 4.h4 [B07]

I was unable to decide quite what I could name the opening of this game, but decided to just spot the salient transposition and go with that. Lortkipanidze, N - Sanikidze, T began with 1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.h4!? Nf6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Be2 h5:

Usually, when White inserts h4 and ...h5 in the Pirc/Modern complex, it is with the goal of getting a knight to g5. I was therefore quite surprised when White essayed 6.Bg5!? instead, a move which was met in (by my estimation) very commendable style by Sanikidze. Unfortunately for him, in a completely winning position he later ended up getting bamboozled and swindled out of the full point.

Caro-Kann Defence, Endgame Offer with 3...g6 4.e5 Bg7 5.d4 [B10]

The initially unassuming-looking 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.d3 continues to pose problems and I have taken this opportunity to give a refreshed theoretical overview. My opinion is still that Black should trade queens. In Safarli, E - Remizov, Y Black made natural moves in the spirit of the B00-B19 systems and yet found themselves at a considerable disadvantage after 5 further moves: 3...g6 4.e5 Bg7 5.d4 Bg4 6.Nbd2 c5 7.dxc5:

Here it seems pretty clear that the continuation 7...Nd7, though thematic and correct all over the Advance Caro, was a mistake.

Caro-Kann, Two Knights/Modern Hybrid with 3...g6 4.d4 Bg7 [B11/B15]

Depending on your viewpoint this could be classed as either B11 or B15, but in either case what is clear is that Nepomniachtchi, I - Xiong, J counted as an unqualified opening success for White. It started with 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 g6 4.d4 Bg7 5.h3!:

For good reason this modest prophylactic move has become the main line. In variations such as the game continuation 5...dxe4 6.Nxe4 Nf6 7.Bd3 [7.Nxf6+ is also possible) 7...0-0 8.0-0 Nxe4 9.Bxe4 Nd7 I actually prefer the equivalent versions where Black has managed to get in ...Bg4 and exchange on f3. Black’s position is cramped and development is slow.

Caro-Kann Defence, Two Knights Variation with 3...Bg4 4.h3 Bh5 [B11]

Building on the theme from my game last month with Morris, this month we see Black execute an arguably more daring attempt to retain the light-squared bishop: 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 Bg4 4.h3 Bh5. The line is usually considered bad, but in more places than one it is not obvious if this assessment will persist. I would pay particular attention to the position after 10.Qe2:

Here 10...Bd6 is perhaps objectively alright, while the speculative 10...Bb4!? saw Black end up with the full point after passing through a lost position. What is perhaps more curious is that the same player had won almost exactly the same game previously. See Malinovsky, K - Polak, T.

Caro-Kann Defence, Short System with 5...c5 6.Be3 Qb6 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.0-0 [B12]

Next we turn our attention to Dubov, D - Keymer, V from the recently concluded Berlin GP tournament, which followed the well-known theoretical path 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 c5 6.Be3 Qb6 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.0-0 Qxb2 9.Qe1 cxd4 10.Bxd4 Nxd4 11.Nxd4 Bb4 12.Ndb5:

The same tournament also saw a test of 12.Rb1, the other main line here. There followed 12...Ba5 13.Rb1 Qxc2 14.Rc1 Qb2 15.Na4 Bxe1 16.Nxb2 Ba5 17.Nd6+ Ke7 18.Nxb7 Bd8 19.Nxd8! and Dubov seemed to have quite good chances of an advantage already. With precision it is possible to hold a draw, but practically every successive game I annotate in this line leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth from Black’s perspective.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4.Nd2 e6 5.Nb3 [B12]

This month we take a look at no fewer than three games in this line, all with the common theme that White established an outpost on d4 early on.

The first is Dominguez, L - Harikrishna, P, also played in Berlin and saw the conventional approach 5...Nd7 6.Nf3 Qc7 7.Be2 c5, conceding that White can have a blockade on d4 and possibly also the bishop-pair. However, Black’s minor pieces are by no means badly placed in this line. The critical position perhaps arose after 14...Nf5!?:

White made the logical choice to capture, but after this Black’s grip on the e4- and e6-squares at least compensated for the problems on dark squares.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4.Nd2 e6 5.Nb3 Nd7 6.Nf3 c5 [B12]

Secondly, and fairly similarly, we have the game Rublevsky, S - Faizrakhmanov, R which saw 5...Nd7 6.Nf3 c5, offering White another blockade on d4 but seemingly no greater advantage. However, an interesting position occurred after the very next move 7.dxc5:

The bishop recapture has become all but compulsory in such positions these days, and was played in this game too (where Black eventually managed to drum up counterplay and win) but I also decided to have a look at 7...a6, which is far from unreasonable.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4.Nd2 e6 5.Nb3 a6 6. Nf3 c5 [B12]

Finally, my countryman and successor as England’s youngest GM had a go on the White side of this line in the Gibraltar ‘Battle of the Sexes’ tournament. He faced 5...a6 6. Nf3 c5, where the logical continuation was 7. Nxc5 Bxc5 8.dxc5 Qa5+ 9.c3 Qxc5, and here some real accuracy was needed to secure an advantage:

Everyone had previously rushed in immediately with the overly hasty 10.Nd4, but I prefer the game continuation of 10.Be2 from Haria, R - Houska, J.

All the best, Daniel

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