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First, thanks to David Vigorito for supplying the March Column. I hope that I can borrow his expertise again; if I'm lucky, we can also get authors of recent books on the 1 e4... systems to chime in.
In the meantime, I want to show some recent investigations that I've done, but also address a few reader questions and a Forum contribution. Alekhine's Defence will be our main focus, but there is also a LION thrown in!

Download PGN of April '08 1 e4 ... games


Reader Guy Whitehouse enquires about a few lines of the Caro-Kann, ones that will be of interest to a great number of players because they have to do with basic decisions about what lines to play. They are also questions that I faced myself when I was a 1 e4 player, and with which I still deal with my students today.

First, Guy asks about the Panov Attack, specifically about Black's choices on his 5th move and recommendations in certain lines.

One is Gallagher's recommendation for White: 6 Nf3 Bg4 7 cxd5 Nxd5 8 Be2 (8 Qb3 is the main line and I say a few words about it) 8...e6 9 00 Be7 10 h3 Bh5 11 Qb3. Another is about the line 5...Nc6 6 Bg5 Be6 7 a3 Qd7 8 Bxf6 gxf6 9 c5 Bg4 10 f3 Bf5.

He wants to know whether it's worth it to play 5...Nc6 or just play 5...e6 and 6...Bb4.

In Caro - Kann Panov Attack-Questions from Reader, 2008, I've tried to put together a fair-sized structure of Panov variations and choices starting with the 5th move, along with some advice about these and other lines.

Guy also asks about the Advance Variation line 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 Nc3 a6, recommended by Gallagher:

In Caro - Kann Advance Variation-Questions from Reader, 2008, I pretty much blindly repeat what Peter Wells says in his Chess Explained book. It seems to me that he gives a 1-move refutation! Okay, that's going a bit far, but I sure wouldn't be happy playing Black after Peter's 5th move.

As a bonus(?), I've put in some new analysis of a seldom-played line that I mention in my Mastering the Chess Openings Volume 1 versus the move 3...c5 (after 1 e4 c6 2d4 d5 3 e5), which is recommended by Jovanka Houska (3...c5, that is, not my move). I'm frankly not thrilled with 3...c5 for Black for several reasons, but this is the most unusual and I think entertaining one. It's an idea stolen from the French Defence.

Pirc Defence

R Adamson-A Ivanov, Reno 2008 tested the 'LION' Variation, which I've yet to discuss:

Remarkably, I see 184 games with this strange-looking position in my TWIC database. The whole system doesn't inspire confidence in me, and yet no convincing solution has been found that I know of. I have included some notes beginning with this starting position through to the current main line, and in spite of White's nice win here, Black seems to have a couple of playable options.

Alekhine's Defence

The high-publicity games of Magnus Carlsen deserve our attention first. He won one of the most important games of his career using his 4 Nf3 dxe5 5 Nxe5 c6 system versus Topalov in Morelia/Linares, but dropped a couple of games in the Amber tournament. True they were both Rapid and Blindfold(!), so the result means little, but the openings were logical and in White's favour. In these games and in the variation as a whole, Black always seems to get a playable position, but not one that is particularly fun to work with. Anand - Carlsen, Amber Blindfold 2008 saw this position, arising from 6 Be2 Nd7 7 Nf3 Ndf6:

Carlsen played 8...Bf5 and got the worst of it after 9 Nh4.

In the Prodigy-vs-Prodigy game Karjakin - Carlsen, Amber Blindfold 2008 (the same event), he tried 8...Bg4 from the diagram, but suffered against the bishops following 9 h3 Bxf3 10 Bxf3.

I decided to look at a few lines with 4 Nf3 Bg4 again, even going back a couple of months. Abdulyazanov - Tukhvatullin, Kazan 2008 shows how White gets the advantage when Black plays too passively. I don't like the line Black plays in this game (10...d5), but that may be a matter of taste.

I certainly don't provide anything like a survey of this well-known and thoroughly analysed line, but I've added a little material.

I got interested in the rare line played in Popovic - Zubak, Bizovac 2008, but I have to admit that I couldn't save Black from a nagging disadvantage, at least not if White made some good but fairly easy to find moves. In fact, it's more difficult for Black to avoid getting massacred than it might first appear.

An odd mix of systems with both of the two main 'anti-4 Nf3' moves ...Bg4 and ...g6 thrown in. Alas, there are no miracle solutions. It's hard for Black to find something new versus 4 Nf3, but I'll keep looking!

In previous columns, I examined some analysis in the Forum by Mark Morss, who has demonstrated that the 'Shabalov line' in the Four Pawns has more life to it than I have given it credit for:

Based upon previous analysis in this column, I think there's a good chance that the line 15...f6 16 exf6 ultimately works out in White's favour (barring surprises). But in the Forum a while ago, Mark came up with the truly courageous idea 15...Qc7(!!??). Walking right into 16 d6 isn't as bad as it looks, and I've done some computer-assisted analysis, far too lengthy, trying to wend my way through the enormous complications. See Shabalov Four Pawns-Analysis, Continued, 2008 It looks to me that White's better, but I can't say that for sure, and I think that Mark has officially proven how versatile and interesting this line can be!

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.