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This month's update will be devoted to recent games in the Caro-Kann and Alekhine Defences. The Caro-Kann has been used a lot of late, and the main lines with 3 Nc3 (or 3 Nd2) 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 took the spotlight in Peter Leko's Candidates Match with Bareev. As the games show, Black has some problems to solve after both 4...Nd7 and 4...Bf5, but they are hardly insuperable ones.
I'm behind on Alekhine Defence coverage, so in this update I want to take a close look at the Flohr Variation, 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Nf3 Bg4 5 Be2 c6!?. Strong players continue to employ this move in spite of its slightly shady reputation, and I think they are justified in doing so. On the other hand, some critical lines haven't been tested in a while.

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

Caro-Kann Defence

In the very first round of the FIDE World Championship Candidates, the game Leko - Bareev, WCh Candidates Matches (1), Elista 2007, tested the main line with 4...Nd7, which was covered in the March update. That article gave an optimistic assessment of Black's chances. In the game, Leko played simply and achieved a small advantage, although if Black had followed a narrow path through existing theory he probably would have come out with equality. Later on White floundered, and Bareev missed a big opportunity. He then handed the advantage back to Leko and promptly blundered.

The same variation occurred in the third game of the match, and makes an interesting comparison. This time White deviated into what I feel is a bit more promising line, by first putting his queen on h4 instead of h3. This temporarily discouraged ...c5 because Be4 was possible. Afterwards, White went back to the Qh3 plan, but with a better starting point.

This comes from Leko - Bareev, W Ch Candidates Matches (3), Elista 2007. As it turns out, White won again, pretty much clinching the match.

The main line with 4...Bf5 was played in the last game of Leko-Bareev, an uneventful contest in which Bareev didn't seem to care and Leko needed only a draw. But Kaidanov-A Ivanov, Stillwater (US Ch) 2007, was a different matter. White managed to build up an effective attack in a seemingly harmless position with reduced material:

Here the primitive 18 g4! quickly led to victory.

Jovanka Houska has written a fantastic Caro-Kann repertoire book with recommended lines that are extremely well-researched. Against the Advance Variation 3 e5, she proposes 3...c5!? and makes a good case for it; but I don't really believe that it equalises. The game Luther - Dittmar, Triesen 2007, illustrates one of the ways to attack 3...c5.

This is the starting point of one of her main lines. In the game, Black immediately blunders (close to it, anyway), so I've spent most of my time analysing Houska's recommended continuation. I feel that it favours White somewhat.

Alekhine Defence

The Flohr Variation with 4.Nf3 Bg4 5 Be2 c6 never seems to go away:

Theory in the main (and most popular) line with 6 0-0 has become more extensive and has more definite contours than it did just a few years ago. First we look at Senff - Krasenkow, Bundesliga 2006-7, a game with ups and downs; both sides have problems, but if Black plays too ambitiously, his task may be more difficult than White's.

In this position, Krasenkow goes for it by expanding on the kingside via ...h6 and ...g5.

Alekhine god Baburin also seems to trust the Flohr Variation , which is a good sign. In Arakhamia - Baburin, Triesen 2007, the main line with 6 0-0 Bxf3 7 Bxf3 dxe5 8 dxe5 e6 arises. This game and the two that follow test the move 9 Qe2, which is considered inferior but everyone seems to play it! In fact, things are not so easy:

In the same variation Illijin - Horn, Biel 1977, illustrates a position that can arise by many orders:

Black has good play in the main line, but after he wins a pawn, White manages to work up an unexpected attack.

Ibarra Chami-Fernandez Garcia, Havana 2007, follows exactly the same line until White blunders. But in the game notes I will concentrate upon the idea of 10 Rd1:

The combination of Qe2 and Rd1 is considered bad, but I find it intriguing and deserving of a closer look.

White can also 'foolishly' exchange queens:

This is considered completely harmless by theory. The main game Bilic - Gavric, Vogosca 2007, seems to confirm this. But maybe the ending has some poison in it for Black, or at least poses more problems than thought. My question is: What happens if White simply overprotects e5?

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.