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This month we take a small break from the Caro-Kann main lines where Black is earnestly fighting for equality, and remind ourselves that chess is a practical game. In certain structures arising from the Scandinavian and Modern, perfectly natural moves from White in ‘+1’ positions can nevertheless run into incisive ripostes that equalise on the spot.

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

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Scandinavian Defence: 3...Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 [B01]

After 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 White has a variety of ways to obtain an advantage. The natural 5.Nf3 is one of them, while I also investigate Justin’s book recommendation of 5.Bd2!? in some depth. Play continued 5...c6 6.Bc4 Bg4 (I prefer 6...Bf5 for Black) 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 e6, reaching a classical ‘small centre’ position:

White has a definite advantage here, mostly accessed through the simple expedient of pushing the g-pawn as far as possible. Nevertheless, the details can become unintuitive if Black just develops calmly, and in the game Bezgodov, A - Tsoi, D the grandmaster soon lost his way and allowed a trade of dark-squared bishops.

Scandinavian Defence: 3...Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 a6 [B01]

Another game that proceeded on schematically similar lines was Kayvev, R - Tiviakov, S. Black expressed an early intention to set up all the pawns on light squares and cede the c8-bishop, a style of play which in England has become associated with grandmaster Keith Arkell. The game continued 6.g3 Bg4 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 c6 9.Be3 e6:

It can sometimes be less than completely clear how White should make progress in such a position, particularly since c4 can be a strategic mistake that leaves the d4-pawn vulnerable to attack from a few angles. My take is that, as in the first game above, White should castle long and thrust the g-pawn. A further refinement is that (if possible) the f1-bishop can be kept where it is while awaiting a favourable deployment to d3, c4, g2 or even h3. In the game, White played rather less ambitiously against his illustrious opponent and allowed the thematic moves 14...e5! and 18...Bc5!, the latter of which equalised immediately.

Modern Defence: 4.Be3 a6 5.h4 [B06]

The move-order nuances in this line are becoming quite incredible. In general White needs to play h4, f3, Qd2, 0-0-0 and develop at least one kingside minor piece (possibly inserting Kb1 at some point), but has tremendous latitude as to how this actually gets done. I am, however, newly fond of the move-order 5.h4 h5 6.Qd2 for White, since after 6...b5 there is an interesting new possibility.

This possibility is 7.a4!?, as tried by Joshua Sheng extremely recently. I don’t see a way for Black to even get a somewhat playable game. Our main game Maurizzi, M - Sivuk, V continued instead with the formulaic 7.0-0-0 Nf6 8.f3 Nbd7 (it is usually good for White to play f3 only when prodded by ...Nf6) and now White showed a good grasp of the move-order nuances. It is time to develop a kingside minor piece, but in case of 9.Nh3 Black would get to take the knight without making the concession ...c6, and in case of 9.Bd3 Black would be able to arrange ...c5. Thus the way to square the circle is 9.Kb1! Nb6 10.Bd3 c6 11.Nh3! Bxh3 12.Rxh3 with a slight but unpleasant disadvantage for Black. White’s central-kingside pawns are coming forwards and the game’s 12...Nbd7 served only to egg them on to go faster. An inaccuracy later meant that Black had a thematic equaliser, but missed it and the French talent notched a nice victory.

Modern Defence, Hippopotamus: 4.Bc4 e6 [B06]

To be fair to the Black player from the last game, we should also mention that this month he played one of the nicer thematic Hippo games I have seen. White made a couple of unprincipled moves in the opening and perhaps the most interesting juncture arose after 6.Bg5?! h6 7.Be3:

I suspect that Black should have broken with Hippo dogma and eschewed the game move 7...a6, but different opinions are possible. See Mazur, S - Sivuk, V.

Caro-Kann Defence: Short System with 5...Nd7 6.0-0 Ne7 7.c3 [B12]

One of the biggest factors pushing me reluctantly into the arms of the 5...c5 system is actually the apparently innocuous c3-complex (more often reached via 5...Ne7 6.c3.) This month’s game began 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Nd7 6.0-0 Ne7 7.c3 h6, a logical move albeit one that doesn’t do too much against White’s usual Ne1-based plans.

See Anand, V - Adly, A for yet another demonstration that the Indian World Champion’s powers are by no means dwindling, even though from the strict theoretical perspective it might seem that 8.a4 g5 is better followed up with 9.Na3.

Caro-Kann Defence: Advance Variation with 4.h4 c5 [B12]

There was probably never any question that 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 c5 was not a path to equality, but exactly how White can get an advantage is yet to be spelled out. The following game is a fairly good textbook example: 5.dxc5 (Pavlovic previously annotated a game with 5.Nc3) 5...Nc6 6.Bb5 Qc7:

I analysed various tries for White, of which the cold-blooded 7.Nc3! looks significantly better than the 7.Bf4 of Vucinic, G - Miladinovic, I. A reason for the line continuing to be tried every so often is that the ‘normal’ moves Nf3 and Bf4 objectively allow Black some chances.

Caro-Kann Defence: Exchange Variation with 4.Nf3 [B13]

Finally, two games beginning from the Caro variation advocated by Gawain in his new book. In the first game, Noritsyn, N - Howell, D I investigate possibly less critical options from the position after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Nf3, with the game seeing the natural 4...Nf6 that causes White to need to play very precisely for an advantage. The latter course of the game was very interesting from the perspective of how to use the momentum that ensues from your opponent having an IQP. However, from a pure theoretical perspective probably 4...a6 is preferable.

Better yet is 4...Nc6 5.Bb5 Qa5+ 6.Nc3 Bg4!, a line noted by Gawain where White has great problems untangling the knots around their d4-pawn:

In Haria, R - Derakhshani, B I give reasons for this recommendation, as well as ways in which White can nevertheless continue to try and press in a practical game. The key line seems to be the note 9...Nf6 10.a3 Rc8 11.Qg3.

All the best, Daniel

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