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This month there is no pattern, but we do (among other things) see Firouzja losing (!) on the White (!) side of a Caro. The most interesting game from my perspective was Spitzl-Konopka, an Alekhine that gave off distinct Grunfeld vibes. Probably Anand-Xiong is the most theoretically critical game.
On a personal note I cautiously returned to the board after some four months as top seed in the Bundaberg Open in Australia, narrowly winning it via a horrendous, exhilarating blunderfest in round 4 that will probably be included next month.

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

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Scandinavian Defence: 3...Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 g6 6.Bc4 [B01]

We kick off with Zawadzka, J - Iordachescu, V. The 3...Qd6 Scandinavian probably deserves a blanket ‘+/=’ evaluation in my books, one reason for which is shown in the note to move 6. More generally, Black can choose to avoid ...a6 indefinitely, allowing White the possibility to play Nb5 at any moment of their choosing; however this kind of thing is extremely double-edged. I refer especially to the position after Black chose 8...b6?!, allowing White to gain multiple tempi on the spot:

Black seems to be holding everything together after 9.Nb5 Qd8 10.Bf4 Ne8, but this first impression is deceptive.

Alekhine’s Defence, Four Pawns Attack 5...g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 [B03]

There isn’t a line against the FPA that satisfies both the bloodlust of the kind of maverick likely to essay the Alekhine on a regular basis, and the cold scrutiny of the machine. After 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4, the choice is between fianchettoing the f8-bishop (hoping for the best) or trying to counter White in the centre with 5...dxe5. In the game Black chose 5...g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0-0:

Castling for Black here seems to be a worse, though very common, move-order. We go into some of the subtleties as well as seeing a nice incisive plan by White. In Alexakis, D - Dimitrov, R White delays Nf3 to the point of even sacrificing the e5-pawn with 11.d5! , just to deny Black’s light-squared bishop something useful to do. This dovetails very nicely with the next example.

Alekhine’s Defence 4.Nf3 g6 5.c4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.exd6 cxd6 8.Be3 [B04]

On the margins of the whole Voronezh complex (and frequently transposing back into it) we have the line 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3, which by implication gives Black chances to play ...Bg4 in various positions. Initially Black chose, reasonably enough, to keep the option without exercising it, choosing 4...g6 5.c4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.exd6 cxd6 8.Be3 0-0:

There is nothing really wrong with this move, but my preference would have been to play ...Bg4 immediately. Following the delayed version seen in the game, 9.Rc1 Bg4, I think White could have kept an advantage with 10.Be2. See Spitzl, V - Konopka, M.

Caro-Kann, Advance Variation 3...c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.dxc5 e6 6.a3 Bxc5 7.b4 Bb6 8.Bd3 [B12]

We have spent a lot of time on 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3 and here regarded ...cxd4 (see Haria-Harvey from the September update for an example) as more or less equivalent to 4...Nc6. But of course, after the latter White can also opt for 5.dxc5 e6 6.a3 , as they did in Warmerdam, M - Erigaisi, A, to claim that Black has lost some options of ...Nd7 (relative to the normal 4.dxc5 lines.) Play continued 6...Bxc5 7.b4 Bb6 8.Bd3 Nge7 9.0-0 Ng6 10.Bb2 0-0:

We’ve reached a major theoretical position of the 4.dxc5 line. I take a fresh look at the 11.Re1 variation as well as checking the slightly novel idea of 11.c4 dxc4 and now 12.Bxg6!? Meanwhile, in the game we get a useful demonstration of how White can handle the queenless middlegames with a far-advanced e5-pawn.

Caro-Kann Defence, Fantasy Variation with 3...dxe4 4.fxe4 e5 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.c3 [B12]

The Fantasy Variation is starting to take more and more of our time on this site and the main reason is that there are small problems White can pose with sidelines even in the so-called ‘equalising variations’. One of the canonical equalising variations runs 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3 dxe4 4.fxe4 e5 5.Nf3 Bg4 when after 6.c3 I have historically favoured 6...Nd7. (This might need to be revisited in light of the new possibility 7.Be2.) In the game Black instead made the move-order slip 6...Nf6 7.Bc4 Nbd7?!:

White missed the opportunity to play the thematic 8.Qb3 but nevertheless won the game after Black snatched a pawn that was really too hot to handle: see Lee, J - Song, R.

Caro-Kann Defence, Short System with 5...c5 6.Be3 Qb6 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.0-0 Qxb2 [B12]

In probably our highest-calibre game of the update, two 2700 players faced off in the highly theoretical line beginning with 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:

The main line by some way is 9...cxd4, but Jeffery Xiong came into the game with a really fascinating idea. 9...c4 is still known, but after 10.Rb1 Qa3 had never been played before according to my database. It is worth more practical outings, because the sequence White needs to find begins with the unusual 14.Bd1 and continues with a rather implausible thrust of the g-pawn. See Anand, V - Xiong, J.

Caro-Kann Defence, Exchange Variation with 4...Nc6 5.c3 Qc7 [B13]

This variation is best-known for the game Aronian-Howell, Caleta 2019 in which White found themselves down a piece after really not very many moves at all. Since then, better ways have been found for White. The game continuation 6.h3 g6 7.Ne2 is very logical and seems well-placed for taking advantage of the most visible drawback of Black’s queen position. Now in Livaic, L - Ratkovic, M Black played the very logical 7...Bf5:

This way of offering a bishop trade is very well-known and (especially in cases where White’s played h3) leads to pressure down the g-file for Black. However, that’s all quite ‘big picture’ and there are roadblocks along the way.

Caro-Kann, Classical Variation 7...e6 8.h5 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Nf6 11.Bd2 c5 [B19]

We pick up the action in the game Firouzja, A - Artemiev, V after 11.Bd2 c5. Black is trying to prepare ...Nc6, a more aggressive knight deployment than the traditional d7-square.

This move has seen less of the spotlight recently, and between the present game and a World Cup test in the notes, I came to the conclusion that this is because of 12.Ne4 Nc6 13.dxc5. As things were, play continued 12.0-0-0 Nc6 13.Bc3 Qd5 and the suspicious if common 14.dxc5 - as my notes indicate, it seems likely that 14.Kb1 is a better way to test Black’s resources in this line.

All the best, Daniel

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