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In this column I'll continue to combine some significant games from last month's batch with this month's. It seems to give a slightly broader perspective. After skipping the Caro-Kann last time, I'll devote this column mainly to it. After that, Alekhine's fanatics might enjoy the two-game analysis of a single variation of the Four Pawns Attack (mightily assisted by the Forum contributors).

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

Caro-Kann Defence

The Advance Variation 3 e5 continues to produce the most double-edged games. In Vachier Lagrave-Dittmar, 7th Gibtelecom Masters 2009, White held back on the move c3, playing Be2, 0-0, and Nbd2, so that upon Black's move ...c5, he could play c4:

This strategy has done well of late and, as the imbedded Kamsky game suggests, indicates that Black should be careful about too early a central break.

The system with 3 e5 Bf5 4 c4 has never been considered anything special; but with the effectiveness of c4 in so many other lines, more attention is being given to the immediate advance:

Efimenko - Gyimesi, Bundesliga 2008-9, saw the most frequently played defence, which involves ...dxc4, ...e6, and ...Ne7-d5. It seems to me that he never quite equalises. You should look at both the recent and older imbedded games.

The Short Variation with Nf3/Be2/0-0 continues to be popular. A key Black line involves an early ...c5 and ...cxd4. In Sjugirov - Cheparinov, Budva 2009, White reinforced the centre with c3, but then recaptured by Nxd4:

After 8...Nge7!, the well-prepared Cheparinov apparently had equality; at least I can't find anything promising for White. But after that, Black set up slightly inaccurately. White could have maintained a modest bind, but instead decided to go with a sacrifice. It should have led to a draw, but in practice Black's defensive task was too onerous and the attack won out.

By contrast, if Black plays ...cxd4 before White commits to c3, the first player can often use the extra tempo to gain some advantage.

We've seen this in previous updates. White can play c4 in one jump or, as in the game Volokitin - Ruck, Budva 2009, Nd2-f3 with a solid space advantage. Volokitin turned this position into a deceptively strong attack and won easily.

After 3 e5 c5, we again see the move c4, either immediately (4 c4), or via 4 Nf3 and 5 c4 (which I prefer). These lines are still giving Black trouble. In Robson - Khairullin, Moscow (Aeroflot) 2009, 4 c4 cxd4 5 Nf3 (5 Qxd4 is possibly more critical, and analysed in the notes) 5...Bg4 6 cxd5 Qxd5, this key position was reached:

After 7 Nc3 Bxf3 8 Nxd5 Bxd1 9 Nc7+, Black found the improvement 9...Kd7, which seems to solve his problems. The notes show some options.

Vyoschin - Rozum, St Petersburg 2009, saw 4...Nc6 5 Nf3 instead (4 Nf3 Nc6 5 c4 is another order, and a way to limit Black's options). The move 5...Bg4!? is still critical, but in the game it fell short, as suggested by theory. White's superiority is reinforced in the notes.

Finally, I've neglected the Exchange Variation, 3 exd5 cxd5, which is played with some frequency and seems to be enjoying quite a revival. In this month's batch there were no fewer than 17 games in which White played the 'pure' Exchange Variation with 4 Bd3 (or 4 Nf3), as opposed to 4 c4 (the Panov-Botvinnik Attack).

Mista - Dziuba, Polish Ch Chotowa 2009, features the traditional main line with 5...Nf6 6 Bf4, leading to this position:

Literally hundreds of games have been arrived at this point, and if White grabs a pawn by 11 Bxd6 Qxd6 12 Qxb7, Black gets more than enough compensation (he scores 9.5 out of 11 in the top-rated games in Megabase!). In the game, White plays the much better 11 Bg3, which keeps things complicated.

Black's popular alternative 5...Qc7 was tested in Ehlvest - Popov, Moscow 2009:

This is Jovanka Houska's recommendation in her book. In neither the game nor notes does White gain any meaningful advantage. However, the Exchange Variation lines can be improved upon more easily than many in the Caro-Kann, and it can be a handy weapon, perhaps as a second alternative.

Alekhine's Defence

I received several notes about the 10....Qd7 variation featured in last month's column (see Stopa-Ramirez) from Luis Eduardo Neves Gouveia, who is the 'Ig' in the ChessPublishing Forum on the Alekhine. I'll refer to him as 'LENG' or 'Luis' below. He not only sent new analysis, but pointers to old analysis in the Forum, most of it by him and Mark Morss. The Forum analysis is incredibly dense; it goes back over at least 6 posts, and it's not so easy to dig up or put together. So I've created two games which incorporate what I see as the most important conclusions of their analysis (the actual details would be immense!), my previous comments, and some expansion upon both of our analyses.

The game New analysis of 4 Pawns Attack - with 10...Qd7 11 0-0 Rd8 features 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.d4 d6 5.f4 dxe5 6.fxe5 Nc6 7.Be3 Bf5 8.Nc3 e6 9.Nf3 Bg4 10.Be2 Qd7 11.0-0 Rd8:

Apparently White emerges with an edge, but this is very complex.

When Black plays 11...0-0-0, we reach this position:

In New Notes on 4 Ps Alekhine - with 10...Qd7 11 0-0 0-0-0, I survey the theory and in the end prefer White somewhat, although hardly refuting the line. This game also includes analysis of the important order 9...Qd7.

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.