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This month I have gone for all Caro-Kanns, an unconscious choice that will be compensated in short order. Maybe the most interesting game for independent follow-up research is Alekseenko-Karjakin, where a new ”Italian-like“ plan is demonstrated within the Endgame Offer variation.

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

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Caro-Kann Defence: Endgame Offer 3.d3 with 3...Qc7 [B10]

I had not been entirely sure how White should best react after 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.d3 Qc7, and in Alekseenko, K- Karjakin, S White showed a highly plausible answer despite the game being ‘only blitz’. The younger Russian Candidate continued 4.Nc3:

Black’s reply is close to being forced; 4...dxe4 5.dxe4 e5 6.Bc4 was the continuation, reaching an Italian-like position where White manoeuvred quite successfully, that is until both sides were reduced to increment and the game became simply a lottery.

Caro-Kann Defence: Endgame Offer 3.d3 with 3...g6 [B10]

Another attempt to avoid taking ...dxe4 is 3...g6, which saw a high-level test (also at quite a fast time control) in Caruana, F - Xiong, J. Jeffery Xiong is one of the most innovative Caro players these days and indeed he found a plausible way to play that didn’t involve much existing theory: after 4.e5 Bg7 5.d4 f6 this position has only been seen 12 times before:

More tests are definitely required, since the position is rather critical and at least two moves (6. exf6 and 6.c4) get initial nods from engines before they get bogged down in the complexity. In any case Fabiano’s 6.h3 (possibly the result of being surprised) is unlikely to be the best way to fight for an advantage.

Caro-Kann Defence: Two Knights Variation with 3...Bg4 and 6.d4 [B11]

I have recently given a lot of airtime to White’s other 6th moves, but not so much to 1.e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6 6.d4 as played in the World Cup game Erdos, V - Bluebaum, M. Other than a mild feeling of surprise when I learned that White’s surname is spelled with a special Hungarian diacritic, this game also caused me some mixed feelings about the ever-increasing popularity and playability of Caro lines where White sacrifices the d4-pawn early. The game continued with 6...Nf6 7.Be2:

Matthias accepted the pawn with 7...dxe4, a principled choice but not one that can necessarily be justified with normal Caro instincts. An excellent piece of preparation from White.

Caro-Kann Defence: Fantasy Variation with 3...e6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bf4 [B12]

The quite esoteric line 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3 e6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bf4 continues to get tests in IM and GM games at quite some rate, which makes sense since Black needs quite some accuracy to equalise. We follow Djukic-Braun from the July update for the next three moves: 5...Ne7 6.Qd3 b6 7.Nge2 Ba6 8.Qe3 and here I note an interesting contribution from a reader that might give White an advantage after all in the 8...Nd7 line. However, this time we see a Slovenian grandmaster play 8...0-0:

With a bit of engine analysis it is not too difficult to reach convincing equality for Black here, but the nuances of when to play ...b5 and when ...Nd7 can be challenging for a practical game. See Srebrnic, M - Tratar, M.

Caro-Kann Defence: Advance 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.c4 e6 7.Nc3 [B12]

Another currently fashionable B12 variation runs 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nc6 6.c4 e6 7.Nc3 and this month I annotate two games on the subject. The first is Kirk, E - Duboue, P, in which Black essayed 7...Bc5 8.Nxc6 bxc6:

It seems quite natural for me that if White ever takes on d5, Black should recapture ...cxd5 if possible. The possibility of b4-based tricks and a 2v1 majority seems less relevant than the fact that if the ‘hanging pawns’ get blockaded, they are doubly blockaded- a fact which was ably illustrated by White in this game.

Secondly, the more common 7...Bb4 was tried by England’s newest IM Marcus Harvey en route to a last-round draw with Black against another, younger English talent. The key position arises after 8.cxd5 Qxd5 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.Qe2!?:

I have checked a few moves for Black here and my favourite would be the unprovoked 10...Bxc3!? (a novelty), while the game Haria, R - Harvey, M (both sides still being in prep) saw the uncommon 10...Qc5, by implication agreeing with my perspective that the theoretical move 10...Ne7 doesn’t offer Black enough play for the broken structure.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 4.Nd2 e6 5.Nb3 Nd7 6.Be3 Qc7 [B12]

Last month’s 8th move innovation in this line (see van Foreest- Anton Guijarro) was, as mentioned at the time, copied no more than 2 weeks later in the game Le, Q - Xiong, J. I refer to the position after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nd2 e6 5.Nb3 Nd7 6.Be3 Qc7 7.Nf3 f6 8.Bd3 and now 8...Bg4!:

While the source game saw White sacrificing a pawn for an initiative against Black’s uncastled king, this time it was the White monarch that soon found himself in difficulties. Black played an essentially perfect game despite the rapid time control, with the immediate continuation being 9.exf6 Ngxf6 10.h3 Bxf3 11.Qxf3 Bd6! 12.c4 Bb4+ and White choosing here to rather optimistically give up castling rights.

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

I promise I will give this line a rest soon, but there is one quite significant subtlety in my textbook recommendation against 4.h4 that needs to be emphasised by including the game Abdusattorov, N - Murzin, V. Stockfish 14 in particular shows us that Black is by no means guaranteed equality just because a ...Qa6 queen-trade offer sends White scuttling back to d1, and this can happen in a number of lines. The one in question here is 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.Bd3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Qa5+ 7.Nd2 e6 8.Ngf3 Nh6 9.0-0 Nf5 10.Nb3:

The best continuation seems to be the slightly artificial-looking ...Qb5 (why cue up a future a4 tempo-gainer for White?) But after the game’s 10...Qb5 11. Qd1, the time delay Murzin experienced in both playing ...c5 and in reactivating his queen (which didn’t move again until he had a lost position) does not appear to be easily remedied; White seems to stand better.

All the best, Daniel

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