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Every month we get a new book! This time it's Play the Caro-Kann, A Complete Repertoire against 1 e4 by Jovanka Houska. I'm not sure how the lines discussed in last month's columns are assessed in it but will try to keep readers appraised as we go along.
This column continues with a discussion of the Pirc Defence (in good part because of two reader contributions), and then turns to the Scandinavian Defence for the first time. There are many lines to investigate, so I simply picked games from attractive variations or ones of particular current interest. Finally, I give a single-game update on the Alekhine.

Download PGN of April '07 1 e4 ... games

Pirc Defence

James Vigus' book The Pirc in Black and White is the centerpiece of my Pirc investigations this month. He has given us both new ideas and a basis from which to begin our analysis. Be ready for some serious, concrete analysis.

First, we look at a couple of ultra-critical Austrian Attacks in which White sacrifices a piece. The idea has been around for over 30 years and recently revived. But a reader contribution undermines the theory of the whole line. I'm going to append as much analysis as possible, because I'd like to see this position solved once and for all!

Do you remember the game Shirov - Smirin, from the February update? Shirov goes a little berserk with a piece sacrifice in the Austrian Attack, and Smirin defends so poorly that he should be lost by move 15! But Shirov gets lost in the complications and the wild game is ultimately drawn. A key position:

Having absorbed that (and some side theory), we take a look back into the distant past when Nakamura seems to be the one to have revived the above system.

Here, however, reader Elizabeth Vicary asks a great question, or rather, strikes a major theoretical blow to this whole wild line!

Black's key move (in the above position) wasn't played in Nakamura - Smirin, Mashantucket 2005, which I have re-analysed, whilst incorporating her new analysis, nor is it in Vigus' book. I agree with Elizabeth, but naturally the reader shouldn't take anything on faith.

The 2700+ battle Radjabov - Ivanchuk, Monte Carlo MNC 2007 is a Blindfold Rapid game. In the old days, it would have been unusual to suggest that such a contest could be of theoretical importance. For one thing, why would the players reveal any preparation, including the willingness to play a critical line? These days it's different, and Blindfold games are scattered throughout theoretical books. Top GMs take them more seriously, and have plenty of ideas and new moves to spare. Here Ivanchuk shows his faith in what seems to be an inferior ending. I've used the game as an excuse to talk about the theory of this very important line.

The key position. I've quoted theory and appended analysis. In the end, as so often, one can only say that the play is hard to assess.

Finally, a contribution from the author himself! James Vigus sends a note referring to our coverage of Nakamura's h3/g4 treatment of the Pirc, directing me to a discussion of the h3/g4 plan in his chapter on 4 Be3 and the 150 Attack. For example, here is a possible position:

These lines don't use the same philosophy as Nakamura's system does, in that the latter directs White's pieces as quickly as possible towards the central light squares e4 and d5. But 4 Be3 has the advantage that in certain positions there is no need to worry about h3 and g4 because Qd2/Bh6 is effective. And he points out that because of the h3/g4 idea, Black's whole idea of an early ...c6 can run into difficulties! At any rate, in James Vigus Pirc Inquiry, I'll try to give the reader an overview of what his book says with regard to the Be3/h3/g4 setup.

Scandinavian Defence

This is the primary 1 e4 X opening that I've neglected so far

Spasov - Kuajica, La Laguna 2007 features the popular 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd6 (Melts) Variation, later reaching the diagram position:

As so often, White gets an advantage but can't seem to find a way to improve his position. Frustration sets in.

In Senff - Mann, Bundesliga 2006-7, we see the classic battle between White's bishop pair and Black's pawn structure, which is ubiquitous in contemporary play. The same issues arise in the Caro-Kann and Slav Defence, among others:

White's task is to use a combination of space control and strategic exchanges to increase his hold on the position. The result is a game of high quality, including a very interesting queen endgame.

Lemos - Di Flores, San Luis 2007 also reaches the ...c6/..e6 structure, this time in a very popular variation:

I fill out some theory on what's been going on here, but the main game is of particular interest because of the conflict between White's two bishops and Black's opportunistic play with his knights.

Van den Doel-Tiviakov, Dresden 2007 features the popular Scandinavian variant in which White delays Nc3 with the possibility of c4 or, as in this game, simply to get to a desired transposition.

Black finds a straightforward solution here by means of 4...Nc6!.

Sometimes our impressions of a well-known line are based upon a few bad results, and we don't think much about the move order. In Hungaski - Di Diego, Mar del Plata 2007, as often happens, a non-professional player finds a natural plan that calls into question the previous assessment of the position.

Alekhine Defence

Just one game this time, in the important Voronezh variation. Last month we saw two uncommon tries by Black, this time we turn to the main line. Luther - Pajeken, Dresden 2007 arrived at this standard position:

As far as I can tell, Black is just hanging on here, but there are many more knowledgeable experts about this extremely technical line.

Till next month, John

Please post you queries on the 1 e4 ... Forum, or subscribers can write to me at if you have any questions or queries.