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No blockbuster theoretical breakthroughs this time around, but some serious tests of critical lines. The Caro-Kann 5 g4 line and the Pirc with 5 a3 are the most interesting to me, probably because they represent modernity in relatively extreme form.

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


The appeal of 3 e5 versus the Caro-Kann is not abating. Perhaps that's because after 3 Nc3 dxe4, White has to be prepared for all of 4...Bf5, 4...Nd7, and 4...Nf6, whereas in the Advance Variation he tends to decide upon the direction of play. After 3 e5 Bf5, for example, there are 7 reasonable moves that are played fairly regularly! With apologies, I'm going to reach back into last month's games for a couple of examples and then show two new ones.

It's hard to ignore Grischuk - Karpov, 2nd ACP World Rapid Cup, Odessa 2008 because of who the players are, even though the game is rather technical.

White has a hard time claiming an advantage with these f4 setups, which is shown by the games in the notes as well as by Karpov's play in the main one. Still, with all those pieces on the board and a blatant imbalance, it's not line for either side to shy away from.

There are always new games with 5 g4 on the 2600+ level. Macieja - Postny, Maalot-Tarshiha 2008, tested the popular 5 g4 Bg6 6 Nge2 f6 7 Nf4 fxe5, and arrived at this position:

Annotating an Archives game Wegerle-Yevseev, Andrew Martin suggested that this might be White's best try for advantage in this line, and it came out well in one game. At first this looks like it will turn tactical, but Black's game is very solid and the bishops are under control, whereas White has several weaknesses. I doubt that this will prove to be the way for White to make progress in this line; he in fact ended up losing.

So our attention is fixed upon the alternative to 7 Nf4, that is, 7 h4.

This theoretical position was reached in Mekhitarian - Molina, Brazilian Ch 2008. White has space and a kingside pawn mass, but Black's central situation appears the better one. My first instinct is that Black should have no difficulties, but in fact there are problems to be solved. The bishop on f7 doesn't help. A significant example, and probably White's best option at the moment.

Sulskis - Dmitrov, 6th Gibtelecom Masters 2008, reached the following position, which oddly enough came from 4 Be3 in the Advance Variation:

Black's position is a little loose, and he needs a way to bring his pieces out. At best, this is a difficult proposition.

Pirc Defence

I'm not sure how many people are aware of this 5 a3 move versus the Austrian Attack: 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 f4 Bg7 5 a3 (or 5 Nf3 0-0 6 a3):

In the game Sjugirov - Mihajlovskij, St Petersburg 2008, it racks up another point. It seems to me that Black hasn't yet fully absorbed the difficulties the modern-style a-pawn nudge presents. Nevertheless, there are some wild complications and some fun lines in this lively game. Check out the note to White's 7th move, by the way.

Returning to a modest tradition of ours, I shouldn't forget to show Tiger Hillarp-Persson playing his favourite system, "Tiger's Modern". PA Hansen - Hillarp-Person, 6th Gibtelecom Masters 2008, is a lopsided matchup in which White gets slaughtered quickly. Nevertheless, there's some theory involved, and the typical wildman attack by White is countered by the also-typical destruction of White's centre.

The key position. Black seems to hold his own in this line, and 'dynamically equal' is my assessment.

I've always been frustrated meeting the solid setup that I call the "Martinowsky System":

In Yudin - Smirnov, Moscow 2008, Black plays a rather primitive plan involving ...a5 and ...Na6. It's odd how he doesn't suffer from lack of space and an odd knight placement, but it all turns out well.

Alekhine's Defence

I'm not sure why Black keeps playing the line in Stepanov - Tukhvatullin, Kazan 2008:

After 11 Be2, he always seems to get in trouble. Maybe it's not that bad (see the notes), yet Black often comes unprepared. The result of the game is deceptive.

My apology for the game Yandemirov - Konnov, Kazan 2008. I actually did a lot of analysis before realising that most of it had been covered in the Archives already! Here's the game anyway; it's a refresher, and at least I've indicated a few points at which I think you might embark upon further examination.

Yes, it's our old favourite Voronezh position. Someone would really have to rip this position apart in analysis to give us a definitive answer

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.