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Your author ventured to western Serbia for the European Championships. Conscious of my obligations to this column, I played no fewer than four relevant games, all of which are included. Unfortunately, the most relevant idea this month was not mine: it belonged to Ameet Ghasi and is checked in the final game of this update.

Download PGN of March ’23 1 e4 ... games

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

Against the vehement protestations of my travelling companions, I ventured the line 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd8 against formidable opposition during the Serbian event. After the standard 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.h3 Bxf3 7.Qxf3 c6 we reached a critical moment:

I give some details on my intentions after the critical 8.g4, while in the game 8.Be3 was chosen, whereupon both sides continued solidly with 8...e6 9.Bd3 Nbd7 10.0-0 g6. Despite some excitement around move 20, most of the rest was uneventful in Kovalev, V - Fernandez, D.

Alekhine’s Defence, Voronezh Variation with 7.h3 [B04]

In this month’s game Valiyev, S - Fitzsimons, D we got to see another bit of Alekhine creativity: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6 cxd6 6.Nc3 g6 7.h3 (avoiding the piece sacrifice) 7...Bg7 8.Nf3 0-0 9.Be2 Nc6 10.0-0 h6!?:

Black intends to push ...e5 soon and achieve a KID-type game. This is all very well, but comes with the usual caveat that if White accepts the challenge, Black may end up being objectively worse. In the game White chose to react to ...e5 by capturing it, achieving no particular advantage in so doing.

Modern Defence with 4...c6 [B06]

The game Bosiocic, M - Fernandez, D was highly critical for the success of one of my recent tournaments, and started 1.Nf3 g6 2.e4 Bg7 3.d4 d6 4.Nc3 c6 (not a line I usually endorse, but in severe mental zugzwang almost anything can happen.) After very normal play from White and a typical e5-e6 break I found myself forced to play 14...Nf8:

White is of course significantly better, but it is worth thinking about this position both from the perspective of how you might capitalise as White, and from that of how Black can try and create practical chances (starting off by not getting mated), say after the extremely logical 15.dxc5.

Pirc Defence, Classical System with ...Nc6 [B08]

Through the slightly less usual move order 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 g6 5.h3 Bg7 6.Be3 0-0 I reached a normal Pirc position in my recent game Zlatkov, A - Fernandez, D. While in our previous coverage (Smirnov-Carlsen, Chennai 2022) White castled long, here my opponent went for the markedly less double-edged 7.Be2 a6 8.a4 b6 9.0-0:

It is an excellent question how Black can create winning chances with this symmetrical structure, and knowing that the reaction to ...e5 will be to capture it. I believe ...Bb7 was the best try, as my game choice of 9...e6!? left me vulnerable to White transforming the situation with 10.e5.

Caro-Kann Defence, Eljanov Variation [B12]

As promised last month, a further look at the topical line 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Nd7 6.0-0 a5. My opponent in Roberson, P - Fernandez, D was clearly quite up-to-date with the subtleties and rattled off several more moves from our previous analysis, 7.a4 f6 8.c4 fxe5 9.dxe5 Bc5 10.Nbd2 Ne7 11.Nb3, before I deviated with the perfectly natural 11...0-0:

I’ve never been a huge devotee of the bishop pair, and in this position Black’s knights do have access to some pretty good squares, but it seems that the chessboard is just large enough for White’s bishops to pose problems. This could have been done after 12.Nxc5 Nxc5 13.Nd4 dxc4?! 14. Bxc4 Nd5 and now 15.b3. Instead, in the game White quickly allowed quite a dangerous pawn sacrifice.

Caro-Kann, Advance with 4.h4 h5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Qa5+ 7.b4 [B12]

Hot on the heels of a model game for Black, here comes a model game for White following the less-tried acceptance of the pawn with 7...Qxb4+. Play continued 8.Nd2 e6 9.Rb1 Qe7 10.c4 Nh6 11.Ne2 (I slightly prefer 11.Ngf3) 11...Nf5 12.Ng3:

It is reasonably well known that there is a repetition available after 12...Nxh4 (though both sides can deviate and I’ve explored it a bit before.) What is not so well known is that after 12...Nxg3 White should take with the f-pawn (echoes of the 2 Knights!) or that in case of 13.Qxg3 there is an opportunity for 13...b5, with equality. See Svane, R - Gines Esteo, P.

Caro-Kann, Advance with 4.h4 h5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Qa5+ 7.Nd2 [B12]

One of the most beautiful games I have seen recently was Szabo, G - Stepanescu, N. It seemed like a beautiful, thematic demolition job by Black against an opponent 230 points higher rated, until the point where White played 15.Nf1?!:

The calm ...Nc6 keeps a large advantage for Black, but I am including this game to show some of White’s possibilities even once their centre is gone. For it continued with 15...dxc4, obliging White to sacrifice the queen to stay in the game, and eventually White won a beautiful slugfest!

Caro-Kann, Advance with 4.h4 h5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 e6 [B12]

And so for the game we’ve all been waiting for. In the famous pawn-grab line with 7.Bg5 Qb6 8. Nd2 c5 9.c4 Qxb2, a recent debate between 2 English IMs followed what appears to be best-practice theory (some additional details are given in the notes to Nilsson-Zupe in the archives) and then Quality Chess editor Andrew Greet came up with the novelty 18.Rh3!?:

It certainly seems as if this rook swing to b3/a3 should be posing Black some practical problems, but can you imagine White’s chagrin when Black came up with the ‘ridiculous’ counter 18...Rh6!? And amazingly, several hard-fought moves later it was White who found themselves with a horrendous uphill task, at first just practically, and then objectively too. See Greet, A - Ghasi, A.

All the best, Daniel

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