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Navara and Sindarov showed good home preparation at the Olympiad, and one effort from each is featured this month. However, in the other games, Black demonstrates strong ideas on the periphery of modern opening theory, further illustrating that these days (almost) anything is playable.

Download PGN of September ’22 1 e4 ... games

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Nimzowitsch Defence, 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bg4 5.Bb5 a6 [B00]

After 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bg4 it might appear that White is spoilt for choice, and to some extent this is true. However, playing down most of the variations and applying a bit of understanding on the Black side, it is possible to limit White’s advantage to +0.5 in most cases- a reasonable outcome for a first move like ...Nc6. I have provided a survey of some of the more promising options, with my preference probably going to 5.d5 by a narrow margin. The game continued 5.Bb5 a6 6.Bxc6 bxc6 7.h3 Bh5:

White will soon have to justify the loss of the bishop pair, and it appeared that merely trying to emphasise Black’s doubled c-pawns didn’t quite cut the mustard, particularly as pieces came off the board, in Saric, I - Jovanovic, Z.

Nimzowitsch/Pirc Defence, 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 g6 [B00/B08]

This is a crossover variation between the Pirc and Nimzowitsch, and one which has been used to reasonably good effect by the world champion in the past. Smirnov, A - Carlsen, M was a gripping encounter for me personally, as it seemed my adopted home of Australia would have good chances of scoring a match upset. Some drama later, this in fact came to pass! The game continued with 5. h3 Bg7 6.Be3 0-0 7.Qd2:

Here Magnus imparted another characteristic spin to the position with the useful 7...a6 (7...e5 is more common) and only really pulled ahead after a further 20 moves of dramatic, dynamic chess.

Modern Defence without ...Bg7 [B07]

One of the perks (not a pun!) of writing this column is that every so often, you come across something that completely defies classification. We have to some extent checked lines like 1.e4 g6 2.d4 d6 3.Nc3 a6 before, though not through that order. What is completely new is the phenomenon of Black totally avoiding ...Bg7, and not even because a Gurgenidze structure (with ...c6, ...d5, ...h5 against White’s d4, e5) had been reached. The game Kojima, S - Diaz, N continued 4.Be3 Nf6 5.f3 b5 6.Qd2 Nbd7 7.g4 (I prefer 7.h4) 7...Bb7 (I prefer 7...Nb6) 8.g5 Nh5 9.Nge2:

Here I quite like the idea of 9...h6, at least showing some Modern flair, while in the game Black resolutely continued to chart his own course with 9...e5!?, preparing a KID-esque ...Nf4 pawn sacrifice in some lines. A very entertaining game and one where White went wrong no fewer than three times by playing the move Kd2!

Caro-Kann Defence, Exchange Offer with 3...g6 [B10]

Yet another Exchange Offer and this time it is Black showing great originality in the opening, in the game Hernandez, G - Jobava, B (originality being practically a given from the Georgian.) After 1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.d3 g6 4.Nbd2 Bg7 5.g3 he uncorked the surprising 5...Nh6!?:

The point is to play, in almost Fischer-random style, ...f6, ...e5, and ...Nf7. Against very accurate play this setup doesn’t quite cut it, but a lot of memory as well as understanding is required to point this out. In particular, the critical break for White appears to be c4!, with timing being of the essence. In the game, after initial good play White started to flounder and from moves 10-25 the game provided a splendid demonstration of Black taking control of the centre.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 3...c5 4.Nf3 cxd4 [B12]

We revisit the topical variation 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3 cxd4 5.Qxd4 Nc6 6.Qf4, in this case with Black demonstrating what seemed like an effortless equalisation in Fier, A - Vallejo Pons, F. In particular, after 6...e6 7.Nc3 Nb4 8.Bd3 Nxd3 9.cxd3 Black stuck to straightforward mobilisation of the kingside.

In previous coverage of this line Black spent time on moves like ...Bd7 and ...Rc8, while in the present game 9...Ne7 was played, delaying those two (undoubtedly useful) moves until White had made some commitments on the kingside.

Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation with 3.e5 c5 4.dxc5 e6 5.a3 Bxc5 6.Qg4 [B12]

By analogy to the French, it can make a lot of sense for White to meet 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.dxc5 e6 with this line, aiming to exploit the absence of Black’s dark-squared bishop from the kingside. Following 6...Ne7 7. Nf3 0-0 8.b4 Bb6 the game rapidly sharpens and White needs to consider quite seriously how they intend to meet ...f6 or ...f5:

I was unable to find anything much for White after either 9.Bb2 or 9.Bd3, but the lines are very sharp and instructive, and sufficiently confusing that the higher-rated player could view it as a suitable battleground. In Navara, D - Batsuren , D White essentially capitalised on one slightly premature pawn break from his opponent to win the game...

Caro-Kann Defence, Panov-Botvinnik Attack with 5...g6 [B14]

Presumably another game won very much from preparation by one of the young Uzbek gold medallists, and quite an impractical-looking proposition for Black to hold for most of it, was the encounter Sindarov, J - Druska, J. While I am not the biggest fan of 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 , it does deserve to exist and can transpose in some cases (like this one) into important lines of the 5...Nc6 or 2.c4 variations. Play continued 6.cxd5 Bg7 (I prefer 6...Nxd5) 7. Bb5+ Nbd7 8.d6:

The natural capture 8...exd6 seems to be a slight mistake, while it might be worth Black’s while to investigate the slower evolution of positional compensation starting with 8...0-0.

Caro-Kann Defence, Smyslov Variation with 4...Nd7 5.Ng5 h6 [B17]

One of my favourite variations (limited effort, to get pretty close to equality and a position where understanding trumps memory) was seen in our final game Rohl Montes, J - Henriquez Villagra, C, and White responded with the principled 6.Ne6 Qb6 7.Nxf8 Nxf8 8.c3:

I used to think it was a big deal here that Black plays 8...Bf5 rather than ...Nf6, but I have since revised this. Black’s plan is simply ...Nf6, ...Ng6, ...0-0, ...Rfd8 and ...a5-a4, with White needing considerable accuracy to gain an advantage against the unorthodox setup. My guess is that following 9.Nf3 Ng6 (the better to avoid White playing Ne5 or Nh4 soon) the assertive 10.Bc4 is how White should proceed.

All the best, Daniel

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