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I thought I'd begin this month's column by answering a question about which books (and electronic products) I use or make reference to when writing about the 1 e4X openings. Fortunately, for practical purposes, the ChessPublishing archives have just about everything I (and you) need, with great annotations; but I very often look at databases, usually inclusive ones such as Megabase, Informants, The Week in Chess (TIC), and ChessBase Correspondence Database. One easy way to get oriented with something unfamiliar is to refer to an Encyclopaedic work like NCO or MCO (MCO-15 is recently released and reasonably up-to-date).

For details, there are countless books and DVDs on these openings, far more than I have time to look through, so for this site, I ignore the old books and stick with relatively recent ones. An obvious example for the Pirc is James Vigus' The Pirc in Black and White. Nigel Davies' recent Starting Out: The Modern has some good analysis (he's a great expert in the Modern), as do his DVDs on the Pirc and Modern. Finally, you may have seed that I have a soft spot for Hillarp-Persson's Tiger's Modern book and the variations in it. For the Caro-Kann, Jovanka Houska's Play the Caro-Kann and Peter Wells' Grandmaster Secrets: the Caro-Kann stand out for contemporary lines; this is an opening that has been somewhat neglected in the literature. Shirov's My Best Games in the Caro Kann is very entertaining, but covers only a few lines (it's great on 3 e5 Bf5 4 Nc3 e6 5 g4). For some reason, there is a long tradition of books, CDs, and articles on the Panov Caro-Kann; I don't think that any are that useful! In the Scandinavian, I use the second edition of John Emms' Scandinavian, and for 3...Qd6 I still refer back to Michael Melts' older book on the subject, although it has been increasingly overtaken by modern practice. Andrew Martin's The Scandinavian the Easy Way DVD and Essential Center Counter are older, but he suggests interesting repertoires. Jovanka Houska is working on a new Scandinavian book that I have high hopes for. For the Alekhine Defence, John Cox's 2005 Starting out: Alekhine's Defence is still the best overall reference; otherewise I'm heavily dependent upon databases. Perhaps Alexander Baburin will finally put together a work on the subject!

Books from the White point of view are useful; you simply have to remember which line is is which book! Some examples are Khalifman's Play According to Anand 1 e4 series, which has critical analysis on just about every variation; and McDonald's Starting Out: 1 e4 repertoire book. We can also look forward to Andrew Greet's Beating Unusual Chess Defences: 1 e4: Dealing with the Scandinavian, Pirc, Modern, Alekhine and other tricky lines (yes, that's all one title), due out in December 2009. Maybe it will render this column out of date, but I hope not!

Let's move on to this month's games. I have generally given the Scandinavian less treatment than the other 1 e4 X openings, so this month I've looked at quite a few.

Download PGN of February '09 1 e4 ... games


Last month we saw the move 4 Bg5 (after 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6) score an astonishing 9 out of 10; in several games, the opening play wasn't key to the result, but you have to wonder. This month White continues in style, scoring 2.5-.5. The big game was Motylev - Kasimdzhanov, Wijk aan Zee (Corus B) 2009.

In this typical 'main line' position, White essayed upon 10 e5!, which created significant problems for his esteemed opponent. White gained a large opening advantage and never looked back.

The Pseudo-Philidor line with 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 e5 is important as a transpositional device (the traditional Philidor move orders all have drawbacks), so we've seen many top players using the Pirc order this decade. Last month Black scored 6.5 out of 8 points after 4 dxe5 dxe5 5 Qxd8+ Kxd8. I'm showing the game Negi - Akshayraj, Mangalore 2008, which isn't particularly gripping, because I want to feature the 6 Bc4 Be6 line.

Black plays an irregular setup and some overambitious moves, but still manages to hang on until White himself overreaches. This month, by the way, White rallied to a 3-3 score in this system, but without remotely threatening the validity of Black's setup.

Alekhine's Defence

The Four Pawns Attack receives only occasional attention, even though it still poses a genuine threat to the Alekhine. In Stopa - Ramirez, Richardson 2008, a game I saved from last month's batch, Black tries to deviate from a well-established older line by an early exchange on f3:

The only drawback seems to be that White can capture with a piece, and indeed, Black never seems to equalise. But there may be improvements. In any case, I've given a rather lengthy overview of the more conventional lines with an early ...Qd7 (including ...Rd8 and ...0-0-0), just to give the reader the lay of the land. Systems with ...Qd7 are among the most attractive ways to meet the Four Pawns, which is not to say that they fully equalise.

Reader Kam Lee asks a question about 9...f5 in the Voronezh, an attempt to liven up Black's defensive task:

He has a specific question related to 10 g3, but I've laid out some material on 10 Nh3 and 10 Nf3 as well. See Kam Lee question-Voronezh Alekhine Defence.

Nigel Short has been playing some Alekhine Defences over the last couple of years, and had few difficulties equalising. As far as I can tell, he hasn't lost yet, with draws versus Adams and Polgar, and a win over Navarra in this month's Corus tournament (albeit by blunder). The game Hou Yifan-Short, Wijk aan Zee (Corus B) 2009, illustrates a way of playing the 5 cxd6 exd6 Exchange Variation for Black that prevents one of White's favourite setups:

Here, instead of the most common move 6...Be7, Short played 6...Nc6 (as does Alex Baburin), so that White can't play the Bd3/Nge2 system that has been so effective. As the game goes, Hou Yifan gives up a bishop (intentionally or otherwise) and gains a space advantage. In the end, nothing much happens and the game is drawn.

Scandinavian Defence

After 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3, it's interesting to witness the gradual shift from the traditional 3...Qa5 to 3...Qd6. I'm going to combine some games from last month with this month to try to produce a fuller story. Sergei Tiviakov, who has taken over as the top-level advocate of this line, has scored 5.5 points in his last 7 games with 3...Qd6. The qualifier, however, is that he lost to the one player rated above him, Shirov (2726 to 2686), drew with a 2620 player (Socko) and beat a string of players rated 200 or more points below him. Nevertheless, that's a lot of wins, and I examine 3...Qd6 from the perspective of his games.

In Socko - Tiviakov, Bundesliga 2008-9, Black exchanged his bishop for a knight on f3 and set up his pawns on e6 and c6:

If you play the Slav Defence, Caro-Kann, or Scandinavian Defence, there's a good chance that you'll end up including one or several variations that result in this basic structure. One reason that the Scandinavian has grown in popularity is that there's no smooth way to break down Black's structure, especially since White's knight on c3 gets in the way of c4, which in turn is necessary if White will ever play d5. Given the chance, Black might break with ...e5 or ...c5 (although the latter extends the range of White's bishop along the long diagonal).

In this game, for example, White resorted to Ne2 in order to get the move c4 in, but then Black took advantage of the passive position of the knight to play ...e5 and essentially level things.

In Shirov - Tiviakov, Benidorm (Rapid) 2008, White played the standard idea of Ne5, but then instead of 7 Bf4 (see the three Tiviakov games in the notes), he tried 7 f4!?. Black responded with 7...Nb6, to bring out his light-squared bishop:

Shirov typically tried to create the maximal imbalance with the astonishing 8 g4!?. This achieved little versus cool defence, but at some point Black missed multiple opportunities and gave the advantage to White.

In So - Bosboom, Wijk aan Zee C 2009, Black combined ...Qd6 with ...a6 (rather than ...c6). That was been the standard 3...Qd6 setup for some years, but recently ...c6 has become more popular. Perhaps that's due to the g3 system, which currently looks like the biggest threat to ...a6:

White quite simply occupies the long diagonal (discouraging Black's favourite idea ...b5 and ...Bb7), and supports Bf4 with tempo. Contrast the line with Black's pawn on c6 instead of a6; in that case the effective scope of White's fianchettoed bishop is reduced.

Of course, the old main line 3...Qa5 has not been fully supplanted! In Thipsay - Tiwari, Gurgon 2009, Black plays a well-known idea one move later than usual:

The point is to encourage Bd2 and then exchange White's important dark-squared bishop before setting up a ...e6/...c6 centre. The drawback is that Black falls behind in development. Also, White has a critical attacking option that was tested against the same player; you can find it in the notes.

Zhigalko - Tomczak, Warsaw 2008, tested a main line that we've seen before:

Black's compact centre protects e5 and d5 while giving him the g-file. Such a position of restraint, with no pawns past the third rank, is characteristic of the Scandinavian. White will have difficulties finding a way to break down such a defence. Nevertheless, Black needs to find a coordinated plan, and is often reduced to sitting around waiting for White to reorganize. In the game, Black makes a central break for activity, which creates weaknesses and plays into White's hands.

Till next month, John

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