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Welcome to this month's update, mostly looking at recent ideas from the Olympiad.
Season's greetings to all!

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

Scandinavian Defence

After 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3, 3...Qd6 continues to be the overwhelming choice of top players (instead of 3...Qa5). In Fressinet - Feygin, Bundesliga, Emsdetten 2008, a game between 2650+ grandmasters, White played an early Be3 and arrived at this position:

This is rather difficult for Black to handle, and I doubt that he can equalise. Nevertheless, he was in the game until one big mistake, after which he couldn't recover and lost to a killing attack in just 25 moves.

White's move g3 is an attempt to harass Black's queen by Bf4, and of course to fianchetto. This idea has been around since 3...Qd6 became popular, and is always dangerous.

In the high-level game Macieja - Tiviakov, Remco Heite Wolvega 2008, White gets a very large advantage, but throws away a completely winning game in what looks like time pressure.

The traditional lines with 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6 are very much alive. In order to avoid the Portuguese Variation with 3 d4 Bg4, we talked about 3 Bb5+ Bd7 4 Be2 and 4 Bc4 last month. The former move was tested twice in this new batch, as shown in Kosintseva - Mohota, 38th Olympiad, Dresden 2008.

Here we have a common starting point that has been defended by Black many times. The computer suggests a remarkable positional exchange sacrifice at this point beginning with 8 c4. It might even be good!

Pirc Defence

After looking at the game Sadvakasov - Molner, National Chess Congress Philadelphia 2008, I'm not convinced by the traditionally played move order of one of the well-known Austrian Attack lines.

The position after 10...Bxd4! has been played for years, but the line 11 Nxb5 Qa5+ 12 c3 is not quite fully worked out (last month we looked at 12 Qd2, as played by Radjabov versus Ivanchuk). Fortunately for the Pirc player, I think there's an earlier path to equality that he should know about, and the game continuation is, which deviates slightly from the normal move order, may also be acceptable if accurately played. These Austrian Attack lines should be studied before they appear on the board!

Caro-Kann Defence

As always, a popular defence at the top levels. Before we go to the main lines, reader Eric Grubbs asks an interesting question about a strange gambit in the Exchange Variation. White risks remaining a pawn down, but hyper-aggressive players might want to investigate. In Eric's game, Black declined and this position arose:

White proceeds to get the advantage with convincing play. The game is called Eric Grubbs on the Caro-Kann-Gambit in Exchange Variation, Analysis 2008.

Turning to the traditional main line, it appears that Black is still OK.

Once again, we have the starting point of the key variation in Jovanka Houska's great book on the Caro-Kann Defence. It has taken over as Black's favourite treatment. I present a number of examples within the game V Akopian-Solak, 38th Olympiad Dresden 2008.

Alekhine's Defence

In Mok Tze Meng-Gu Hernandez, 38th Olympiad Dresden 2008, one of the traditional main lines of the Exchange Variation with 5...exd6 gets a test:

In this well-known position Black tries to avoid the normal 13...Be6 or 13...Bxf3 by playing 13...Bf5, an interesting and apparently sound move. Although you might think that g4 fits in with White's plans anyway (he often tries to prevent ...Nf5), here Black's intention is ...Be4. I've included various database games within this one, but except for the game itself there are only modest notes, so the whole idea will need further study if you want to use it against strong opponents.

This month's Voronezh Variation game (5...cxd6) has the same moral as so many before: both sides have to know their lines by heart, especially Black. He too often goes wrong in opening variations in which theory is happy with Black's play.

Daulyte - Nguyen Thu Giang, 38th Olympiad, Dresden 2008, proves that point again. Both sides stick to theory until well into the middlegame, but one inaccuracy dooms the second player. I've supplemented some excellent analysis from an older article by John Cox.

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.