My own approach tends to be quite impressionistic, which is not a euphemism for 'lazy', but rather a way to offer a Grandmaster's personal angle on opening theory above and beyond what you can easily get from searching through Chessbase or ECO. Indeed, the way I present my understanding of theory here is quite similar to the way I prepare for my own games at Grandmaster level. I don't always know every single variation, but I usually have a good grasp of the main ideas in any given line, and a strong sense of the direction that critical variations are taking. Consequently, I tend to focus on lines and games that intrigue me in some way, and then explain why they intrigue me, based on my own experience of the line, or my prior knowledge of it. Moreover, I tend to analyse the middlegames and endings more than might be strictly necessary for an opening site, but I feel that this gives a fuller account of important games, and helps to commit the main structural and positional issues to memory.
I hope you like my approach, but beware that it won't give you a bullet-proof opening repertoire. I don't spoon-feed basic opening theory to myself or anybody else because I think it gives a false sense of security, and good chess comes with perpetual vigilance. However, I will always endeavour to explain why the selected games were chosen.
Svidler - Ivanchuk was a bit of an eye-opener for me because after 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 Be3 c6 I had never taken 5 h3!? very seriously as an independent line, assuming that it was just another way of playing the lines with Nf3:
Here, however, White's intentions are much more aggressive, and Black has to be ready for f4 and g4, as you can see.
I am not sure what to call the line 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 e5!? Because if White doesn't take on e5, we are likely to get a Hanham Philidor, which does not belong on this part of the site, but if White exchanges queens then we definitely have a line that belongs under 1 e4 ..., so I have labelled it 'Philidor-by-stealth' for now, and await corrections:
In any case Vescovi - Felgaer was an impressive display for White, suggesting that Black cannot afford to be too passive in these late middlegames.
Among all the games considered this month, the one that made the biggest impression on me was certainly Zjvaginsev - Kharitinov. White resurrects a line that is rarely taken seriously by strong GMs, and shows that 3.f3!? remains a serious weapon against the Caro-Kann:
The key insight involves an instructive comparison with, of all things, the French Winawer!
We continue with two games that are related, but come from very different lines. In both cases Black plays an early ...g6 in a typical 4...Nd7 Caro structure. Neither game is theoretically 'hot', but I think both give fresh things for Caro players to think about.
Korneev - Bologan is vintage Caro-Kann from Black, which is not necessarily a compliment, while Mkrtichian - Dizdarevic highlights a sideline that may or may not be playable at the highest level, but is well worth a try for anyone bored with the main lines of 4...Nd7. This is the position after 6...g6!?:
There is a lot to take-in in the main line classical. I looked at this variation closely once in my preparation for my match with Michael Adams. I spent the first few days feeling confused, and the next few feeling frustrated by the absence of any clear advantage for White. Then, eventually, I began to make some sense of the move-order subtleties, but that was 1998, and I've forgotten almost everything!
However, Anand - Maceja began to shake off the cobwebs, and I suggest an improvement that might be quite important for Black.
If Bologan's play against Korneev above looked too patient, too strong and too precise, then you can take heart from the following game in the Advanced Variation where he looked much less impressive.
Bologan - Dreev features a principled contest between structure and bishops, with the bishops coming out on top, but the theoretical verdict remaining far from clear.
That's all for now, keep the emails coming. Jonathan.