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Hi! This is my first column for this section. The first thing that I see is that it's going to be a lot of fun! What an embarrassment of riches; I quickly found enough material to fill many columns. I noticed that Jonathan Rowson often stopped analysing a game after the opening stage was well and truly over. Although that hasn't been my practice in the Flank Openings column, I can see its usefulness in terms of provided the maximum amount of material that most readers are interested in, and will probably drift in that direction as time goes on.

My credentials in these openings are not overwhelming, but not completely lacking. First, I have to follow all of them for my students and for my writing. Furthermore, in my disreputable past I often used the Pirc Defence, Modern Defence, and Alekhine's Defence. Never the Caro-Kann or Scandinavian, but I'm involved in catching up with them as well. When I used to play 1 e4 I knew some lines pretty well; of course, theory has expanded to perhaps 100 times as much material since that time!

The literature on these openings encompasses a broad range of books, tapes, and CDs/DVDs. I'll be referring to some of these as I go along, especially as new ones appear. Andrew Martin, for example, has recently released repertoire DVDs on the Caro-Kann and Scandinavian (with 3...Qd6). There's a newly-released (perhaps not entirely new?) book by Karpov and Podgaets on the Panov Caro-Kann. There have been so many books on the Panov that one can hardly count them, because players are lazy and it's so easy to write about! Conversely, there aren't many books about the other, more difficult, Caro-Kann variations, or for that matter about the opening as a whole. Joe Gallagher's Starting Out: The Caro-Kann spings to mind. The Pirc has been covered periodically over the years (among older books, the ones by Nunn/McNab, and Chernin/Alburt stick out, and Aleksei Lugovi's 2002 ChessBase CD is an excellent source of games and ideas). It could use something more up-to-date and comprehensive. There are surprisingly many books on the Scandinavian such as Wohl's older one, Emms', and Martin's, with doubtless others for which I can't remember the authors' names. As a young player, I used the older Alekhine's Defence works by Eales and Williams, Vladimir Bagirov and Burgess' two books; but as far as I know the leading source is now John Cox's excellent 'Starting Out' book. As for the Modern, the older-but-quite-relevant book by Speelman and McDonald is very good; however, the current star of the show is Tiger Hillarp-Persson's Tiger's Modern. The latter concentrates upon systems with ...a6, and provides a repertoire against all major White systems. I'll talk about other books and discs as we go along.

Here are some beginning examples and thoughts on the Alekhine's, Pirc, and Modern, with of course much to come on the Caro-Kann and Scandi in forthcoming columns.

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

Alekhine's Defence

No less a name than Vassily Ivanchuk has been playing Alekhine's with moderate success. I think that Ivanchuk and Morozevich are the only two of the world's super-elite who play pretty much anything as Black (as does Shirov, who has slipped some in ranking). In the following game, Leko - Ivanchuk, 1st ACP World Rapid Cup, Odessa 2007, Ivanchuk dares to try Alekhine's versus the super-GM Leko. They reach this position:

A very typical result of the exd6 Exchange Variation when Black responds by ...exd6. White has space and nicely-placed pieces, while Black stands solidly and without weaknesses. A draw resulted, although I can't say for sure how serious White's advantage was.

In the same event and round, these opponents teed off again; I'm not sure whether it was before or after the previous game. In Leko - Ivanchuk, 1st ACP World Rapid Cup, Odessa 2007(#2), Black tried the riskier ...cxd6 system instead. He was confronted with the intimidating Voronezh Variation. Sometimes it seems as though that's the only line anyone plays any more! The recent solutions presented in this column seem a little unconvincing to me, as White's play is fairly easy to improve upon. Check out recent and archived ChessPub games to see what you think.

Here Black has already been stuck in the 'Voronezh Bind' for some time, and White begins the attack with 17 h4! . He won quickly and handily.

Narayanan - Nakamura, Gibtelecom, Catalan Bay 2007 turned into a pseudo-Voronezh when White decided against the critical d5 move (frankly, it looks very hard to meet).

This allowed Nakamura to get some space via the traditional manoeuvre 11...d5! with the idea 12 c5 Nc8. He eventually took the initiative and won.

Jonkman - Krasenkov, Wijk aan Zee 2007 is better news for Black. In a well-established line that I suspect is fine for him, Krasenkov takes advantage of an early slip by White.

Here White plays the ugly and time-consuming 11 Bf4?, with predictable consequences.

Pirc Defence

We begin our Pirc Defence Coverage with two extremely interesting Austrian Attacks (1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 f4). In Shirov - Smirin, 1st ACP World Rapid Cup, Odessa 2007, the opponents plunge into the newly fashionable and incredibly tactical line which involves 4...Bg7 5 Nf3 0-0 6 e5 Nfd7 7 h4!?. I'm not sure why some old solutions aren't being used, but players of both colours might want to check this out.

This is the key position. Only research will reveal the truth here, and although Shirov could have won at more than one point, I personally think that Black is O.K.

Graf - Tischbierek, Koenigshofen 2007 was a main-line 4 f4 Bg7 5 Nf3 0-0 6 Bd3 Na6 variation:

Black's 6...Na6 (intending ...c5) has fared well over the years. Here Graf played 7 Bxa6!?, a move almost never played (or considered) by any leading player. It looks anti-positional in the extreme, especially since the bishop on d3 has moved twice; however, defending as Black proved to be no easy task, as my notes indicate. As I say, chess isn't always logical; not until you look back and adjust your logic!

These days the Pirc is the normal way to get to a position from the main-line Philidor's Defence ('Philidor-by-Stealth' in Jonathan Rowson's terminology). That line goes 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 e5. Now, since 4 dxe5 dxe5 5 Qxd8+ Kxd8 is so often seen, I'll treat the whole thing as a unit and include 4 Nf3 Nbd7 5 Bc4 Be7 here. The following popular position is often reached:

Black intends ...Bb7, ...a6, and ...b5. In Bologan - Eljanov, Corus B, Wijk aan Zee 2007, White played 9 Bg5, intending to exchange on f6 and weaken Black's central squares. A very unique and double-edged position arises out of which Bologan gets an advantage but fails to convert.

From the same position, White played the more standard 9 d5 in Chadaev - Kazhgaleyev, Moscow Open 2007. Black found a way to equality and got winning chances, which he cashed in after some inaccurate play.

Modern Defence

In view of the interest in Tiger Hillarp Persson's new book Tiger's Modern, I thought that I'd look at some games with ...a6 and compare them with the comments and examples in Tiger's book.

In Ramaswamy - Ki Georgiev, Gibtelecom, Catalan Bay 2007, White tried an unusual move order that ended up with a fairly standard position in which White played Nce2 and c3:

Things quickly got messy, and White finally blundered. A very interesting game while it lasted, and you might want to see my notes with the three inserted Tiger games.

Another instructive opening arose in Jovanovic - Skoberne, Nova Gorica SLO 2007. Black chooses a possibly inaccurate move order (at least one that Tiger doesn't like), but things soon revert to a typical ...a6 Modern. The themes are characteristic of the opening and play is balanced until Black slowly outplays his higher-rated opponent.

The move order with 4 Be3 a6 and then 5 f4 is quite popular, and very dangerous for Black. However, the game Nachev - Khismatullin, Moscow Open 2007 is a good demonstration of the power of Black's fianchettoed bishops.

Black has sacrificed a pawn but his compensation is obvious. He controlled the play throughout, ultimately winning the game. As I point out, some of these lines with Be3 and f4 have been analysed rather deeply, which isn't quite the idea when one plays moves like ...g6 and ...a6 !

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.