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There are always plenty of games to report upon, but this is primarily a Pirc/Modern Defence month. Some high-rated players are trying their hand at ...g6 and ...Nf6, generally with a Modern Defence move order. Veselin Topalov is involved from both sides of the board, winning - surprise - both games.
In the Alekhine Defence, we have a game largely annotated by Mr. Alekhine himself, Alex Baburin.
Finally, there are a couple of representative Caro-Kann games, not flashy but including several new games played during the last month. The Advance Variation continues to be the hot line.

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

Pirc/Modern Defence

Amazingly, in the Classical Main Line (Nf3 and Nc3), in games with an average rating of 2300 or above, Black scored 12-2! Outrageous. To be fair, Black held a considerable rating advantage in 7 of these games, but still. And Black didn't win every opening, of course, so I'll try to cover some representative opening formations for both sides.

Malakhov - Topalov, Villarrobledo 2008, is a top-level test of the main line Classical with an early ...a6/...b6.

The basic position. Black can't quite claim full equality, but this is known as a solid system, and keeps the pieces on the board, creating a productive imbalance. In this game Topalov simply outplays his opponent. For those who don't follow these things or have forgotten, Topalov's most famous Pirc Defence as Black was his classic game versus Kasparov in Wijk aan Zee 1999, considered one of the most brilliant of all time. Worth looking up.

Speaking of which, the supergrandmaster game Topalov - Mamedyarov, Villarrobledo 2008, sees Topalov on the White side this time, but successful again.

This was a popular position in the early days of the Modern Variation. It still poses a serious challenge to Black's setup because of the constant idea of e5.

An important line for White is seen in Pazderski - Onischuk, Warsaw 2008:

Vigus calls this the 'Accelerated Classical'. White waits to develop his king's bishop, in part because it may come to c4 in one jump. I don't think that this is very dangerous, but it's handy to know a few associated ideas and, if you're Black, to prepare a concrete defence.

Ja Cuartas-F Cruz, Sitges 2008, is an up-and-down fight that went in unexpected directions. As for the opening, however, White was certainly better, and the limits of too early a third-rank 'hippopotamus' setup are shown.

It probably won't shock you when I say that White has a healthy advantage here. But what's his plan?

In Frolyanov - Graf, Kavala 2008, White's opening involves commonsense moves aimed at development and the acquisition of territory, while Black plays along Sicilian lines.

Here 9...b5?! took non-development a little too far and White achieved a nice positional advantage. But the play was still complex and Black prevailed in the end.

Tiger's Modern Defence didn't fare well versus the Austrian-like attack with e4/d4/f4. That wasn't so much because of the opening as its conduct. Nevertheless, White seems to have the practical advantage because Black has to play so accurately. In Kasimdzhanov - Alber, Ordix 2008, Black allows White to establish his big centre and got little in return. The move order is critical.

Here Black has 3 options, of which the one played seems the worst.

Federovsky - Pel, Pardubice 2008, followed what is arguably the main line of the Austrian version of Tiger's Modern (with f4):

The game follows Tiger's book until an innovation on White's 18th move causes the second player difficulties. I have tried to provide a general survey of this line.

Alekhine Defence

Alex Baburin was kind enough to let me use his notes from Chess Today for the game Conquest - Baburin, Dublin 2008. Chess Today ( is a daily email newsletter that Alex publishes, with tournament reports, annotated games, and other features.

Alex shows an ideal line versus 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Bc4, one which he's played before. I've included comments and analysis.

The key position. Black was successful here, but only a few days ago Conquest won the British Championship!

Caro-Kann Defence

It's amazing how fashion changes so dramatically these days. To judge from the frequency of its use, one would think that the Advance Variation with 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Bf5 4 Nd2 had been around for decades.

Olszewski - Macieja, Warsaw 2008, is my base game for a few of the recent struggles. This position is reached three times (with others in the notes):

Topalov is involved again (winning), and some top players battle it out. My impression is that Black stands safely enough, with plenty of play for both sides.

Finally, the line 3 e5 c5 4 c4!? continues to give Black fits. White's simple line here, which for some reason wasn't taken seriously for the last hundred years or so, puts direct pressure on the centre, and this month's 5-1 score (in higher-rated games) confirms that pushing the c-pawn has some punch:

Wells - Marusenko, Trefforst 2008, is a back-and-forth battle in which White gains the advantage and then loses his way, only to win through in the end. I've analysed some of the imbedded games to show where theory is headed. In fact, all the games indicate an advantage for White. Even Jovanka Houska enters into what seems an inferior line (although not an easy one for White), avoiding the recommendation in her own book.

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.