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Hi All,
This month, we adopt a unique approach. Firstly, Dan covers some decisive White wins in correspondence games (namely, in the Austrian Attack of the Pirc Defence and 4.h4 in the Advance Variation of the Caro-Kann). The advantage of analysing engine games is that we discover the ideals of opening theory, i.e. how chess ought to be played in a perfect world. The danger lies in forgetting that humans aren’t perfect. Thus, to complement Dan’s work, I played 6 training games in total against 2 International Masters (Ravi Haria and Marcus Harvey) based on Dan’s notes. To make things interesting, Black was assisted by an engine (either LeelaZero or Stockfish) in all 6 games, while White was on his own. While correspondence players convert smoothly, humans are less convincing!

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

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Pirc Defence, Austrian Attack with 5...0-0 6 Bd3 Nc6 7 e5 [B09]

After 5...0-0 6 Bd3 Nc6 7 e5 dxe5 8 fxe5 Nh5 9 Be3 Bg4 10 Be2 f6 we reach a position previously covered in Kotronias, V - Pigott, J in the February update. There I concluded that 11 d5 was a good practical try, but correspondence chess demands a different approach and indeed Black’s statistics have not been great there after 11 exf6:

Indeed, bearing in mind the statistics here it is quite a surprise to me that 11...exf6 remains so popular. With more and more analysis being done it seems reasonable to conclude that Black’s position is rather prospectless after the 12 d5 of Urban, M- Hoge, K. Rather, Black should grit his teeth, recapture with the knight and accept slightly the worse of a draw.

JT: In my training game against Haria, we started from the position after 12 d5. We were generally in agreement with Dan’s analysis, although in my opinion, Black can direct play towards a relatively agreeable Leningrad Dutch. While this may not be to everyone’s tastes, Black isn’t forced to play for a draw, therefore in OTB games, I wouldn’t rule out 11...exf6. See Haria, R - Tan, J Game 1.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 4 h4 h5 5 Bd3 [B12]

I won’t try to pretend that the position after 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 h4 h5 5 Bd3 Bxd3 6 Qxd3 e6 7 Bg5 Qb6 8 Nd2 is anything new for our column. After all, one of us played one of the most theoretically relevant games here and then the other analysed it! This analysis, therefore, builds on what was already established in Justin’s comments on Jones-Fernandez in the archives.

Saying that, this is one of the fashionable lines of the Caro-Kann, and scouring the correspondence databases yielded very interesting results that might finally tilt Black in favour of the more reliable approach with 6...Qa5+. Specifically, the game Nilsson, L- Zupe, M continued down the ‘yellow brick road’ we’ve already established: 8...c5 9 c4 Qxb2 10 Rd1 Nc6 11 Ne2!?:

White has a valid alternative in 11 Ngf3, but the game move forces Black to show some incredible accuracy just to reach a slightly worse endgame and so from a theoretical perspective I think nothing else really remains to be said for now. Except that the game, perhaps surprisingly for correspondence chess, saw Black make a major mistake within 5 more moves and lose before move 30!

JT: This line continues to be a fascination for us. Ravi’s engine Leela deviated quickly from our analyses with 11...Nge7!? and I went astray very quickly, sort of wishing I hadn’t sacrificed my whole queenside... It should be noted that this variation requires the players to take some pause very early on, therefore the time control used (15+2) may not have been the best representation. In our analysis, we discovered that 12 0-0 cxd4 13 cxd5! Nxd5 14 Nc4 Qxa2 15 Nxd4 appears promising. Nevertheless, yet another correspondence game came to our attention featuring 15...Nxd4 16 Qxd4 b6 17 Nxb6 axb6 18 Ra1 Bc5! Sacrificing the queen for what looks like a fortress. Still, Black not only has to know this, he also has to be comfortable holding it. See Tan , J - Haria, R Game 2.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 4 h4 h6 5 g4 Be4 [B12]

I also decided to update the other main line Black can choose after 4 h4 using a pair of correspondence games with opposite bishop retreats. These arise in the position after 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 h4 h6 5 g4:

Firstly, if Black wants to go back along the b1-h7 diagonal it has been shown that he really needs to throw in 5...Be4 first. In common with the Nilsson-Zupe game above, the correspondence praxis isn’t that useful in establishing the main line, but rather in re-evaluating the positions we can get from it; the game Leisebein, P- Markus, R (not the famous Serbian OTB grandmaster!) continued 6 f3 Bh7 7 e6 Qd6 8 exf7+ Kxf7 9 f4 Nf6:

Black’s position here looks suspect on general grounds due to his weakness on both the light squares and dark squares (!) but in return for this he is much better developed and has clear lines of attack against the White king. So while there might be little objective difference between the moves, I prefer Rendle’s 10 Nf3 pawn sacrifice compared to the game move of 10 Bh3, after which Black gets chances to complicate the game with 10...c5. However, he missed this chance and after less than 10 more moves he was pretty much lost.

JT: In my three games with Harvey, I played Black with the engine and we tested both 10 Bh3 and 10...c5. If there are Caro-Kann devotees who are also a little bit wild, I recommend investigating the piece sacrifice employed in Harvey, M - Tan, J. We discovered that, even if the sacrifice is objectively unsound, White has an incredibly tough time coordinating.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 4 h4 h6 5 g4 Bd7 [B12]

Alternatively, Black may play 5...Bd7 when after 6 h5 the play diverges quite dramatically according to whether Black plays an immediate ...c5 or not. I have re-invigorated the White side of 6...c5 (usually considered best for Black, and played by many 2600+ players) with a well-forgotten idea that seems to give White a small plus, and in light of the game Biedermann, T- Scheiba, M it’s not easy to see equality for Black after the apparently more sedate 6...e6 either. That game continued 7 f4 c5 8 c3 Qb6 9 Nf3 Nc6 10 Kf2:

Now White is ready, in many cases, to resolve the central tension (in typical Advance French fashion) with dxc5. What might be less obvious is that if Black castles long White is also ready to break the equilibrium with the queenside pawn sacrifice b4! and that in many cases this gives him an advantage. Matters reach a head on move 16 of the game, with Black then choosing an exchange sacrifice that ultimately didn’t give him enough play. The critical alternative is to sacrifice a piece instead, when matters are far less clear but I still like White’s position. In conclusion, as I see it now, Black has no watertight way to continue after 4...h6, and therefore the line with 4...h5 and 6...Qa5+ could be the only way to equalise against 4 h4. Doubtless the debate will be continued shortly!

JT: Haria and I started from the position after 10...f6 11 Kg2 in Dan’s notes. In our analysis, Haria mentioned that 11...g5!? was recommended by Leela. White retains an edge according to my own work, although such sharp positions may be prone to adjustments. Instead, Haria chose to follow the correspondence game with 11...0-0-0 12 dxc5 Bxc5 13 b4 only here deviating with 13...Be3. This is not mentioned by Dan for good reason. It leads to a passive ending for Black after 14 b5 Na5 15 Bxe3 Qxe3 16 Qd4. The position is so comfortable that I managed to steal half a point off the engine. See Tan, J - Haria, R.

Till next time! Justin and Dan.

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