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This month, I chose games with a rating average well over 2600, in compensation for my slightly lower-rated selections in April. In addition to one nice game from the Candidates, other strong events were the Polish Championships and the New In Chess Classic. Most of the Black wins were by Polish players.

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

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Pirc Defence: Gurgenidze System [B06]

A small part of every Pirc/Modern player is keen to find out exactly how many pawn moves they (we?) can get away with, without ending up suffering for the rest of the game. The Gurgenidze setup is perhaps the epitome of this. In Christiansen, J - Carlsen, M, the world champion decided to play with the move-order quite early on against his compatriot, and opted for the flexible 1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.Nc3 c6:

When comparing Pirc/ Modern lines where Black plays ...c6 early on, this is perhaps one of the more correct ones. White can obtain a normal English Attack, but nothing too much more than that. The more flexible 3.Be3 would discourage ...c6 more strongly, but that move is counterproductive in some Austrian lines. In the game, White went for an Austrian approach as well with 4.f4, but with Black prepared to counterattack in the centre with 4...d5 this was perhaps unwise. There followed 5.e5 h5 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Be2 e6, when Black had completely equalised and was ready to demonstrate some typical plans to play for a win. Inspired play by the younger man led to the salvaging of a half-point.

Pirc Defence: Austrian Attack with 5...0-0 6.Bd3 Na6 7.0-0 c5 8.d5 [B09]

In this month’s annotations there feature two losses by Polish GM Kacper Piorun, in both cases after demonstrating decent opening preparation that perhaps merited a better outcome. The opening moves of Piorun, K - Markowski, T were 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Bd3 Na6 7.0-0 c5 8.d5 Bg4:

The main line here is 9.Bc4, when my new analysis indicates that the risky ...e6 may actually be playable. Meanwhile, the insertion of 9.Kh1 Rb8 before 10.Bc4 made a subsequent ...e6 rather less plausible, and it could be that Black should play down a ‘likely draw but not equal’ line with ...b5, in place of the game’s natural 10...Nc7. Later in the game White developed a nice kingside attack, before a slightly careless execution led to the collapse of his pawn front there.

Caro-Kann Defence: 2.Nf3 d5 3.d3 [B10]

Following 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.d3 dxe4 4.dxe4 Qxd1+ 5.Kxd1, my view for a while has been that Black is struggling a bit. I decided to look at concrete equalising attempts in the context of this month’s game Khanin, S - Dragun, K, where Black essayed a plan of simply pushing the g-pawn, starting with 5...Nf6 6.Nbd2 Rg8!?:

My conclusion is that the equally concrete 7.Bd3 (eyeing up the h7-pawn) might have spoiled Black’s fun a little bit, but not enough to make the line unplayable. As Black, I might prefer 6...g6 in a practical encounter, exploiting the one noticeable drawback of White’s Nbd2 (which is that ...Bh6 is thereby permitted.) The rest of the game was strategically very interesting, with Black taking on doubled e-pawns that proved more of a strength than a weakness.

Caro-Kann Defence: Advance Variation with 4.Nd2 e6 5.Nb3 c5 [B12]

It is amazing to say, but after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nd2 e6 5.Nb3 we may soon need to consider 5...c5 as an inaccuracy (and award ‘?!’). Much more common is 5...Nd7. In Alekseenko,K - Sjugirov, S the recent Candidates participant demonstrated some cutting-edge preparation in his next event (the Russian Team Championship), starting with: 6.Bb5+:

After a sequence of more-or-less forced moves, we reached a middlegame with opposite-coloured bishops, and one which held tremendous dangers for Black even after the queens come off. Indeed, the more the engines look at this line, the more they like it for White.

Caro-Kann Defence: Advance Variation with 3...Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.c4 [B12]

There are lines in the Caro-Kann where dynamism is inevitable and all-consuming and where one or both sides need heavy memory work to play in critical fashion. For me, any kind of variation where White gives up the d5-square forever doesn’t really make it into this category. This month’s game begins with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.c4 e6 6.Nc3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 Nd7 and here White chose the slightly less common 8.Nf3:

By some sort of analogy to the Gurgenidze system, it seems intuitive enough that Black’s best move should be 8...Bg4, after which equality seems assured. Instead the game Jones, G - Karjakin, S continued 8...Nb6 9.Bd3 and only now 9...Bg4, which also had the effect of limiting White’s capacity for dynamic play. The subsequent efforts of the English grandmaster to create some mess didn’t really work out (though not for lack of trying) and reminded me of the fate of Sisyphus in ancient Greek mythology, forever doomed to roll a boulder up a hill.

Caro-Kann Defence: Fantasy Variation with 3...dxe4 4.fxe4 e5 5.Nf3 Bg4 [B12]

Building on last month’s game Kuybokarov-Fernandez, I now offer you a cautionary tale of what can happen if Black doesn’t remember the move-order in the main line of the Fantasy. Alekseenko had a couple of slip-ups with Black in the Candidates, but perhaps none more memorable than Vachier Lagrave, M - Alekseenko, K. The game began 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3 dxe4 4.fxe4 e5 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.c3:

By contrast to the 5...Be6 6.c3 line seen in last month’s game, here 6...Nf6 already creates a (slightly) strange impression and must have encouraged MVL in going for the throat. This he did, forcing Black to sue for peace with a queen trade, and there followed an instructive same-colour bishop ending which can be considered a modern classic.

Caro-Kann Defence: Exchange Variation with 4...Nf6 5.c3 Bg4 6.Qb3 Qc7 7.h3 Bd7 [B13]

It is always nice to see top players (by accident or by design) taking recommendations from these pages on board, and one such instance was seen this month in the game Tari, A - Firouzja, A. An earlier game between the same two players (see Justin’s notes) began in the same way, with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nf6 5.c3 Bg4 6.Qb3 Qc7 7.h3 Bd7 8.Nf3 Nc6 9.0-0 e6 10.Re1 Bd6 and now the Norwegian grandmaster chose the improvement noted by Justin, 11.Qd1:

The point is that the c1-bishop actually does its best work from home, but inconveniently the b1-knight would like to block the bishop on its way out (to f1 or b3) and also its best route out is not yet clear. So White improves the queen to e2 first (threatening Ne5 in many cases), then develops the b1-knight, then finally thinks about the c1-bishop. In this game, Black arranged ...Nh5-f4 during these manoeuvres and thus made the final decision about the c1-bishop quite an easy one. During the complications that then followed, Alireza was perhaps a bit too attached to the bishop pair.

Caro-Kann Defence: Classical Variation with 6.Nh3 [B18]

The second noteworthy opening choice by Piorun this month occurred in the line 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.Nh3 Nf6 7.Nf4 e5. There is generally no doubt that Black is objectively equalising in these lines, but there is some pressure to avoid a bishop-pair position that could turn into a long 60+ move squeeze for White. I have done a fair bit of work before on the line 8.dxe5 Qa5+ 9.c3 Qxe5 10.Be2 but mainly in the context of 10...Nbd7, while in the game Piorun, K - Socko, B Black opted for 10...Bc5 instead:

All kinds of normal moves like 11.Nd3 are possible in response, but White chose the fairly incisive 11.Qb3 and, if not for an unfortunate miscalculation a few moves later, could have achieved quite a large advantage out of the opening. It seems that Black should stick to the tried-and-tested 10...Nbd7, after which I have included some notes and a couple of relatively interesting ways to test Black’s defences.

All the best, Daniel

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