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Already since my last column, the literature has expanded. On the Pirc Defence, about which I had mentioned the need for a more recent book, James Vigus' The Pirc in Black and White (Everyman 2007) just arrived at my door - it's only 391 pages!. A German book by Wahls, Müller, and Langrock, Modernes Skandinavisch Band 2, is an update on Wahl's classic Scandinavian book. It's in German, and I haven't seen it, but you can be sure that it will be dense with useful analysis.
I should also have emphasized Gallagher's older 2002 book Starting Out: The Caro-Kann. This is perhaps not Gallagher's most inspired effort; on the other hand, since he's one of the very top-flight authors in the game, that's not much of a criticism. The main point is that I don't know of any other comprehensive Caro-Kann book out there (in the sense of covering all main lines). So if you're taking up the opening for the first time, I have to recommend it.

In the last column I covered a few recent developments in the Alekhine's, Pirc, and Modern. This time I want to cover mainly the Caro-Kann. I've still been unable to cut down on my previous tendency (in the Flank Openings column) to analyse whole games. Since the opening and early middlegame are the areas that the ChessPublishing subscriber is most interested in, I'll be heading that way next time. But in the games I've chosen, the advantage isn't really clarified until well into the game, or even at the end. Besides, they're interesting!

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

Caro-Kann Defence

As usual the action has been dominated by 3 e5. In the traditional variations with 3 Nc3 cdxe4 4 Nxe4, both 4...Nd7 (see below) and 4...Bf5 are holding their own at the moment, the latter move rather easily. It's interesting that 3 e5 has been so effective, in terms of both results and creating extremely original positions, whereas 3 e5 in the French Defence, although enjoying spurts of popularity, is relatively easy to counter. In general terms, one might say that the advantage of getting Black's bishop out (e.g., by ...Bf5) is outweighed by the structural problem of having to waste a move with ...c6-c5, if indeed that move occurs at all.

I'll begin with recent games from the Aeroflot tournament in Moscow, where the Advance Variation received a thorough workout in the games of top grandmasters. By far the most frequently seen White setup was the 3 e5 Bf5 4 Nf3 Short Variation, which involves the simple Be2, 0-0, and (normally) c3. This has experienced a newfound popularity, especially since 4 Be3 has lost some of its sting (which is not to say that Black has completely solved his problems in that line, either). All of a sudden, Short's setup is the main line of the Advance, and arguably of the entire Caro-Kann, at least when White is trying to win. I would recommend it to anyone who needs a system versus the Caro-Kann and is interested in strategic play, usually involving pawn chains.

Socko - Wojtaszek, Opole 2007 is a positionally interesting game with a nice tactical resolution.

Black has done everything right, but now White shows the virtues of central control by playing 10 a3!, denying Black any entry points or outposts and intending to grab more space by means of b4. Instructive play results.

Ni Hua-Iordachescu, Aeroflot (Moscow) 2007 saw White play the Short Variation, but with the alternative strategy of Nd2-b3. This counters Black's queenside play while pursuing his own on the kingside. All in all, I like this idea, although the game goes back and forth. The complications near the end are exciting.

Finally, we see one of the recent and logical defences for Black that has to do with securing the kingside, but also attacking on the other wing. Ni - Hua-Minasian, Aeroflot (Moscow) 2007 reached this position:

Both players are engaged in attack upon the other's pawn chain. Now it would have been interesting to see ...0-0-0 on Black's part, when it's hard to believe that White can win on the kingside, and eventually Black can continue his queenside attack.

Let's not forget 3 e5 Bf5 4 Be3, which has been all the rage for a couple of years. Efimenko - Riazantsev, Aeroflot (Moscow) 2007 illustrates one of the many original ideas that 3...Bf5 4 Be3 has led to.

With the exotic manoeuvre 7 Nb3!? c4 8 Nd2, secures the base of his pawn chain. But he neglects his kingside development, so naturally Black turns his attention to the front of the chain by 8...f6!. This yields at least equality. Check out the notes, however, because simple development would have posed Black some difficulties.

Instead of the standard 3...Bf5, ChessPublishing '1 e4 ...' columnists seem to have had a fondness for the move 3...c5 (after 3 e5). After that move, Black has scored 9.5 out of 13 points in the archives! Nevertheless, after a period of grandmaster approval of 3...c5, strong players have fled back to 3...Bf5. In Informants 95 and 96, for example 18 of 21 games saw 3...Bf5. After 3...c5, the game Laznicka - Akopian, Aeroflot (Moscow) 2007, features the infrequently played 4 c4!?, which has been recently experimented with:

Black equalises immediately and then grabs the advantage. Nevertheless, it's not clear White can't achieve some small edge with proper play. The 4 dxc5 line remains the most critical in any case. I'm not happy with Black's play in these lines.

Of course, White has hardly abandoned 3 Nc3 (or 3 Nd2) dxe4 4 Nxe4. Bobras - Wojtaszek, Polish Ch (Opole) 2007 witnessed a main line of the 4...Nd7 5 Ng5 variation that was first popularised by Karpov as Black.

This has become the standard position. Recent games have indicated that instead of the old move 15...c5, Black gets good play via 15...Nd5! . The idea is ...Nf4, but also ...Kg8 and ...g5, when White's queen finds itself in danger of being trapped, or at least being attacked under uncomfortable circumstances. I have tried to update the theory on this move which was once played by the great Portisch, and is now receiving fresh impetus. We may even find White returning to 5 Nf3 Nf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6, or here 6 Ng3.

Pirc/Modern Defence

When I was in the Flank Opening column, I always used to cite Webmaster Tony Kosten's games with 1 c4. Now I've moved just in time to catch his 1 e4 games! This 17-move win versus Tiger's Modern illustrates how important it is to play exact move orders when your position is cramped.

Now if Black plays 7...Bb7, he transposes into a position discussed briefly last month, which is one of Tiger's main lines. In Kosten - Hague, Wokefield Park 2007 he played 7...c5!? instead, and ran into 8 dxc5! with the idea 8...Nxc5 9 Bxc5! dxc5 10 e5, when Black was already in dire straits. He missed a chance that I point out in the notes, which may or may not be convincing.

Elizabeth Vicary, a talented young player who is rapidly climbing in the ranks (and a US Championship participant), asked my predecessor Jonathan Rowson about the line 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 h3 Bg7 5 g4!?, as played by Hikaru Nakmura:

Normally Nge2 follows, and probably Bg2. Actually, Nakamura plays this h3/g4 setup against all kinds of Modern and Pirc orders, and Elizabeth's question really relates to the system as a whole. Of course, it exemplifies the mania for g4 in every opening. Nevertheless, nothing of the sort is given in James Vigus' brand new 381-page book on the Pirc!

I'll give a few games in full, and then what I think is the answer to one key line. See Smallville - Iborg, ICC 2005, Nakamura - Hickl, Mallorca/Playchess 2004, and lastly, my solution to the problem in Smallville - SCORPION83 (Akobian), ICC 2006. At least in certain situations, I think that Black has missed the point.

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.