ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
The recent two super-tournaments have been terrific in terms of excitement, but narrow in opening choices and devoid of 1 e4 Others! Actually, 98% of the spectrum of all respectable openings has been ignored for the last year, as top players go through their latest obsessions with individual variations.
After 1 e4, and the Ruy Lopez has become the dominant opening! Some of this is just the usual 'going for the draw as Black' - the main examples of this over the last few years have been the Petroff, Marshall Gambit, Berlin Defence, and in the Sicilian, the Sveshnikov, in all of which Black makes no pretence of trying to win (although below 2300 or so, you can naturally play for a win with anything). But Black has also been fooling around with dynamic Ruy Lopez variations such as the Archangel, Classical, Breyer, and new lines of the Chigorin Defence, and all at the highest levels (not to mention the Schliemann revival!).

Anyway, to return this column, these narrow and imitative repertoires are wholly a matter of fashion, and I think it's only a matter of time before the big guns turn back to some of our openings. Certainly they are being played at the grandmaster level. The Caro-Kann is always respectable, of course, and has been a high-level opening for years. And Carlsen's Alekhine play has sparked general interest at the grandmaster level. But the Pirc Defence has a solid theoretical foundation and would make a particularly good addition.

The fourth member of our opening group isn't faring as well, and I'll begin with that.

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

Scandinavian Defence

GM Fabiano Caruana was on my ChessFM (ICC) radio show and had prepared a few games for the listeners/viewers. We didn't get to this one and he agreed that I could share the game with ChessPublishing readers. His verbal commentary is wonderful and, although the game itself is a few years old, I think it's still of theoretical value, and I've included a game or two for background. The original annotations are extensive, and I've excerpted only a fraction of his main comments, since I hope that he will publish the complete version else where.

In this position from Caruana - Strikovic, Lorca 2005, Fabiano was creating his own theory and decided that the pawn sacrifice 12 a3! was the way to go. An enormously complex game resulted.

Caro-Kann Defence

It's surprising that in the Archives there are so many games with 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nf6 5 Nxf6+ gxf6 compared to those with 5...exf6, the line that I grew up with. In Teterev - Lomako, Minsk 2008, we see a variant of the main line:

These moves are standard, but the game follows and improves upon the ancient contest Asztalos-Nimzowitsch, Bled 1931!

Shirov keeps using the 4 Nc3 Advance Variation of the Caro-Kann, as he has for more than a decade, and he keeps racking up points. This is an older battleground that he has returned to:

The game Shirov - Andreikin, Dagomys 2008, involves, unsurprisingly, a sacrifice and attack on Black's king.

Alekhine's Defence

Black is always trying something slightly off the beaten track to answer the Four Pawns Attack. In Bromberger - Kremenietsky, Gausdal 2008, he makes an innocent developing move 9...Bb4. This move is entirely logical in terms of development and deserves more attention, as Nigel Davies suggests. It doesn't seem to quite equalise; but it's close, and all the pieces stay on in an unbalanced position. Hard to ask for more if you want to keep things interesting. Check out the note on 10...0-0, for example.

In the Forum, there was an interesting question about what the top players use versus the For Pawns. Because of the game Svidler-Baburin, Bunratty 2008 (a short draw in the notes, not annotated separately), I decided to see what the world's leading Alekhine Defence player (or at least the best-known) does about the Four Pawns Attack. In a majority of his games Baburin has played the old main line with 9...Be7/10...0-0/11...f6, so I've decided to add a couple of games and give a short review of what we've said about that line, with comments about the broader picture. This is hidden in Zilberstein - Baburin, San Francisco 2007, to which I already gave some notes in the Archives. Provisionally, I'd say about this line: great against 2750s, but you might want something else against that booked-up-but-300-points-weaker ICC star!

As a main line 4 Pawns refresher and reminder of how treacherous the most winning of won games can be, see Pommeret-C Philippe, Gap 2008.

In this position that's been played and analysed as much as any in the Alekhine, Black either forgot his analysis or had one of those slips of the hand and played 16...Bf6?? White, rated almost 500 points below his opponent, took advantage of this mistake/blunder with accurate play to achieve an overwhelming position with multiple direct wins at hand. We've all experienced the 'death by too many alternatives', and this one ends tragically.

In Colovits - Pesotsky, Plovdiv 2008, one of the main 4 Nf3 g6 lines is tested. Cox's book has Black doing all right in this line, but it's awfully difficult to play in practice.

Often a4 and ...a5 are included, which may not make much difference. Anyway, Black had earlier played ...Qe7 in this position; here he tried 15...Qb5!?, but it doesn't seem to be an improvement, and White simply mauls him on the kingside.

Pirc Defence

As White, Shirov has played the variation in Yudin - Tseshkovsky, Dagomys 2008, and in fact, Vigus calls it the Shirov Attack! The main lines are unclear but not thrilling for Black (at least from my point of view); there is even the opportunity for White to take on a queenless middlegame that looks better for him. Tseshkovsky plays a move somewhat frowned upon:

He has recaptured on d7 with his queen's knight (rather than ...Nfxd7), exposing himself to e5. After 8...0-0, White plays 9 0-0 and allows Black to get great counterplay with 9...b5! The preferred move is 9 Qe2, and I wonder if Tseshkovsky had in mind to play my speculative 9...b5!? ('?' in Vigus).

Finally, a note on engines: I received a free copy of HiArcs 12, but haven't used on the above material. Instead I have been trying it on my other computer and can highly recommend it. If you read my books, you'll know that I've been using HiArcs for many years, almost since it first came out. it's been my default engine when working on books, and has always given me different positional ideas than other engines. So that's a product plug that's easy to give without having to fudge or exaggerate!

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.