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First, I've gotten a few good questions from readers, some of them with lengthy analysis. May I request that queries, games, and analysis be sent with a simple PGN or ChessBase file? This should be especially easy if computer analysis or research has been used, which I think has been true in every case so far. And if a book is being referred to, please send me the page and variation. Thanks.

This month I gathered a few statistics about the recent practice of openings on this site. Specifically, what level of players are using them?

An interesting comparison can be made with the ultra-respectable Petroff Defence. There were precisely 100 Petroffs played in this month's batch, with 3 of them by opponents whose averaged ELO rating was above 2700, 7 others with an average ELO 2650 or higher, 6 more above 2600, and 5 others above 2500.

By contrast, out of 55 Alekhine Defences, there were only 7 above 2400, 2 of those over 2500. I'll say quite something more on the relative unpopularity of the Alekhine below.

Not surprisingly, the figures on the Caro-Kann Defence were rosier (to 1...c6 snobs, anyway), with 294 games, sporting average ELO averages above 2700 (1), 2650 (11 others), 2600 (14 others), and 2500+ (40 others). The Caro-Kann may have declined slightly at the super-tournament level, but still holds the players' respect.

Out of 249 Pirc Defences (excluding the Modern Defence, by and large played by lower-rated players), there was 1 game with an average ELO over 2700, 8 other 2650+s, 7 other 2600+s, and 15 other 2500+s.

Finally, out of 108 Scandinavians, there were 5 games with the opponents' average ELO over 2600, and 9 more out of 2500.

Thus the Pirc and Scandinavia Defences were somewhere between the Alekhine and Caro-Kann in terms of the rating levels of those playing their respective defences. Of course, that's only this month's batch, but the sample size is large enough in each case.

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

Pirc Defence

I haven't paid much attention to the Classical lines here, perhaps because not that much is happening. Still, they are obviously important at the highest levels of the game.

In Rozentalis - Efimov, Crete 2007, we look at 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Be2 0-0 6 0-0 Nc6 7 d5 Nb8. The players reach this position:

I like White in this basic setup, but both sides are reasonably situated.

Pert - Ni Davies, Birmingham NCL 2007, features one of many variants of a Qd2/Be3 system versus an ordinary Pirc setup. Nigel Short is the author of a recent CD on the Pirc Defence.

Black goes straight for 6...e5! without any preliminaries.

More classical stuff arises in the high-level encounter Rozentalis - Tkachiev, Crete 2007. The game is pretty dull but illustrates how Black seems able to play just about anything against the Classical and (often) get away with it.

Doesn't this look nice for White? Yet the game quickly peters out. This pawn structure also comes up in the Caro-Kann and Scandinavian.

James Vigus' sent me the following suggestion and contribution many months ago and I never got around to showing (or answering) them:

'May I suggest a topic for a subsequent update?: Lopez Martinez-M.Gurevich, Dresden 2007. I think it's a theoretically critical game, though not likely to be widely noticed.'

O.K., here's the game J Lopez Martinez-M Gurevich, 8th ch-Euro Dresden GER (6), 08.04.2007, which is introduced by 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 Be3 Bg7 5 Qd2 0-0 6 f3 c6 7 h4 h5 8 0-0-0:

As Vigus points out, ...Bg7 and ...0-0 is a less common combination of moves, even 'quite a rare move - except among beginners and 2600 players!' He makes the point in his book that White will generally feel very happy that Black has played both ...Bg7 and ...0-0, apparently exposing himself to maximum attack on the kingside, but that Black's counterplay comes quickly. This game introduces a different move order with 7 h4 and White succeeds; does this tip the balance? I have given quite a few notes (guesses!), and Pirc players and 150-style attackers may want to look the game over for clues. Frankly, I welcome a further note from the author, who will be able to clarify the issues as I can't possibly do!

The Vigus book is obviously the best one around on the Pirc, by a landslide. I have to say, however, that this is the second time I've used this book and found that I had absolutely no chance of quickly locating the line in question. Or, as in the last case, somehow figuring out that the line wasn't covered. The end-of-chapter indices (once you locate their position and relevance) made the problem worse. This has been a serious problem with Everyman books for at least 5 years, and as a reader with limited time I'm sick of it. Authors must insist on an Index of Variations, and one that includes all transpositions. Mostly this is the publisher's fault, not Vigus'. However, I'm inclined to spend half of my space in future reviews harping upon this subject, since I've brought it up time and again over the years.

By the way, Vigus also indicates that the defence 6...b6 after 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 f4 Bg7 5 Nf3 0-0 6 Be3 continues to survive as a viable option, citing Gershon and Nor's San Luis 2005. I don't have the book, but for those interested, he says that their analysis is deep and apparently important for this line. More importantly, you should refer to his book (and/or get a copy!) to see why the slightly suspicious-looking 6...b6 has proven itself over the years, given of course some analytical help from the author himself.

We return to the ever-interesting Austrian Attack in Gharamian - Peralta, Calvia 2007. Once again I look at 6...Na6, which has been the popular choice for some time now among stronger players. Maybe the 6...Nc6 lines are just a bit too passive, whether satisfactory or not. This time I've included a recent game with 6...Nc6 and added some notes to provide some balance.

Returning to the 6...Na6 line, we see three recent games in this position with 8...Bg4, 8...Rb8, and 8...Nc7. It's worth mentioning that 6...Na6 scored 2.5 points out of 3 in this month's batch.

Another good sign for Black is that the anti-Philidor line 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 e5 4 dxe5 seems to be harmless, thus meaning that White can hardly avoid the popular Classical Philidor Defence once he plays 3 Nc3: 3...e5 4 Nf3 Nbd7. Rusev - Paunovic, Figueira da Foz POR 2007, tests this position:

White can play 6 Bc4 or 6 Bg5 here if he wishes to play for an advantage. This month had six games with 4 dxe5, and Black finished with 4 points to 2; and with a 200-point performance rating edge for Black!

Caro-Kann Defence

For a while the system with 3 e5, 4 Nc3, and 5 g4 seemed to be going out of fashion, but it's back again and has won several games for White recently. Nakamura - Bareev, Bastia 2007, is only a Rapid game, but a meaningful one for both players and perhaps of theoretical importance, too.

White makes the pawn grab 8 Nf4 Bh7 9 Nxh5 and eventually hangs onto his material and wins. In the notes I'll give the other Nakamura-Bareev game from a few weeks ago (this main game is from the Corsica Masters, just won by Nakamura).

I'll also hit a couple of the old and recent points about the 5 g4 as we go along, but of course there's too much theory to consider and you'll have to dig back through the archives.

The same line arises in De la Morte- LaFuente, LNA Copa Puma Argentina 2007. In fact, White was 3-0 with 5 g4 this time around.

As usual, the name of the game is flank space for White. Thus: 10 h4!

Alekhine's Defence

On my Chess.FM radio show, I asked Alex Baburin why more top players didn't use the Alekhine Defence consistently. He cited a few of the usual suspects, more or less the few exceptions who prove the rule (some Alekhine players of note are Kengis, Agdestein, and Vaganian, and Tony Miles contributed some original ideas). The reader may also have noticed that Shabalov has been playing the opening fairly consistently. He then went back to the old standby observation that Fischer used it successfully against Spassky in their match. When you research the games over the last 10-15 years, however, we find very few top players who play the Alekhine and, as shown above, the rating level of Alekhine players among professionals has generally been much lower than that for the other openings. Baburin himself has appeared considerably more often than any other grandmaster.

That leaves us with an apparently simple task: finding out why. We haven't done so yet, nor did previous writers in this column. Baburin himself seemed to indicate a slight fear of the Four Pawns Attack, but he also made the point that no one wants to prepare it as White! My own feeling is the one which was emphasized in Andrew Martin's 2006 survey: the very main lines, and specifically the 4...Bg4 variation (1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Nf3 Bg4) are generally in poor theoretical shape. Indeed, the the position after 4 Nf3 Bg4 5 Be2 scored 9-2 in this month's bunch, with roughly a 300+ point rating chasm. I'm going to turn to that issue in a forthcoming column, i.e., what system can Black feel comfortable with again this traditional main line?

In the meantime, I have received some feedback from reader Mark Morss about games in recent columns. The moral of this story seems to be that I should never turn my computer engines off while writing - they just about always crank out the right move! Well, in some positions anyway.

First, Morss sends an interesting suggestion regarding the game B Smith-Shabalov, King of Prussia USA 2007. The players arrived at this position:

1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 c4 Nb6 5 f4 dxe5 6 fxe5 c5 7 d5 g6 8 Bf4 Bg7 9 Nc3 0-0 10 Qd2 e6 11 0-0-0 exd5 12 cxd5 Re8 13 Re1 Na6 14 Nf3 Nb4 15 Bg5 f6:

Here I suggested 16 exf6 Rxe1+ 17 Nxe1 Bxf6 18 Bxf6 Qxf6 19 a3. At this point it becomes another story of computers. But, although three different engines all instantly suggest 19...Bf5, as does Morss, I didn't mention it (excuses given in the game). At this point we have a story of human versus computer, and I still think White stands better - see the 'game' Shabalov - Analysis.

Morss also sends this excellent comment about the game Ja Hanley - Summerscale, Middlesex vs Young England London ENG (2), 10.07.2007, which I presented in an earlier column:

1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 c4 Nb6 5 exd6 cxd6 6 Nc3 g6 7 Be3 Bg7 8 Rc1 0-0 9 b3 e5 10 dxe5 dxe5 11 Qxd8 Rxd8 12 c5 N6d7 13 Bc4 Nc6 14 Nf3 Na5 15 Bb5:

Here Hanley played 15...Nf8 and went on to lose, but Morss rightly gives 15...Nc6, cheekily offering White the chance to repeat by 16 Bc4 Na5 etc. He attaches a lengthy analysis to this. In my attempt to find another suggestion like the one above, I turned to my engine and found to my disappointment that each engine suggested 15...Nc6 right away, and also every other move from the analysis thereafter! So much for my hopes for a lazy response. So I tried to apply a certain amount of brain power and I still couldn't improve upon the analysis. This time I think that both man and the engine are right. Thus 15...Nc6 holds the balance, and we need new suggestions for White in the Voronezh!

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.