ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
Alas, there were no 1 e4 X games from the Anand-Kramnik match, and for that matter, only one game with 1 e4 ! Maybe Topalov-Kamsky will produce something surprising.
In the meantime, I thought that after so many Pirc Defences recently (thanks to James Vigus), I'd go back to the Modern Defence in this column, showing some typical games from recent play. In the Alekhine Defence, I continue with the ultra-popular Voronezh, in addition to an example of an irregular but characteristic setup for Black. Finally, we have a promising line versus the Portuguese Variation, which should supplement last month's wonderful contribution by Goh Wei Ming.

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

Pirc/Modern Defence

The Modern Defence is outrageously flexible and can go in any direction. Here are a few games from two variations that are popular among strong players. The first is 1 e4 g6 2 d4 Bg7 (an old finesse here is 2...d6, hoping for 3 Nc3 c6 4 f4 d5 5 e5 h5, when the bishop on f8 is better-placed than on g7) 3 Nc3 c6 4 f4 d5 5 e5 h5, the so-called 'Gurgenidze System'. Black develops smoothly on the kingside light squares.

In Vocaturo - Abbasov, Sautron 2008, Black achieves good play by means of ...Nf5 and ...e6, answering h3 with...Bxf3 and ...h4. This is the standard treatment. White is very patient and uses his centre to squeeze his opponent, but only after the latter's inaccuracies.

White's conventional replay to 3...c6 is 4 Nf3 d5 (of course, Black can switch plans with 4...d6; in the notes, I cite Zivkovic-Bologan, Kallithea 2008).

Believe it or not, Black's ...f6 setup has been the main strategy for many years now, and has fared reasonably well. See Neubauer - Liiva, Beijing (Rapid) 2008.

The other popular Modern Defence, which I would recommend to any advanced player, is Tiger's Modern. The main line with e4/d4/f4 for White is still critical.

A common starting point. In Martin del Campo-Hoang Canh Huan, Beijing 2008, White plays positionally, with an early a4 in order to disturb Black before he can set up; but Black's central counterattack equalises easily.

More fun arises from 7 e5, one of the first lines in Tiger's book.

In Humphrey - Hoffman, Essent Open, Hoogeveen 2008, both players were up on the theory and the play was equal out of the opening. In general, Black seems to stand satisfactorily here, although Rybka has an interesting new suggestion in one of the variations.

Alekhine's Defence

I've never been a fan of knights on c7 in the Alekhine's. Even though the knight eyes e6, and may even come there at some point, Black's pieces never seem to coordinate.

In Socko - Efimov, Kallithea 2008, White simply uses his extra space to establish an easy edge.

At the top levels, the Exchange Variation 5 exd6, and in particular Voronezh variation, is still being played more than other lines in the Alekhine; my experience is that a great many teachers want their talented students to play it. This month has many more games, of which I've chosen two, but with some imbedded examples from recent events. It's worth noting that White is doing extremely well with 5 exd6, even if the theory isn't strictly bad for Black. This simply reflects that neither side is preparing with the thoroughness that they should, and that even when both players don't prepare, Black suffers most. This month's batch with 5 exd6 exd6, by the way, resulted in over a 300 point advantage in performance rating for White.

'Li Chao2' played 3 games this month with 5 exd6 (I plead ignorance about the form of this name, which is given in TWIC; he's the 2622 player called simply Li Chao in earlier databases). Two of them were in the Voronezh and arrived at the diagrammed position. At this juncture, he used 15 Be2 (versus Hoang Canh Huan, 1st WMSG Blitz Team 2008), and 15 Bb5 (Li Chao2-Garma in the same tournament), winning both games. I've imbedded some of the relevant theory.

Scandinavian Defence

Last month Goh Wei Ming contributed a superb analysis of key lines in the Portuguese Variation, which goes 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6 3 d4 Bg4. This month I'll add a couple of games and notes, with plans that he didn't cover. One line begins with 4 Bb5+:

This is a very interesting approach, helping Black's development but hurting his piece coordination. My impression is that White retains a riskless edge, although Black's 'restraint centre' keeps him in the game, à la Caro-Kann. In the Forum, there are varying opinions of White's line. I agree with those who are discouraged by this move order; at any rate, Ahn - Rosse, Kallithea 2008, works out well for the first player.

Similar but not quite as irritating is the sequence 3 Bb5+ Bd7 4 Be2 Nxd5 5 d4:

Here Black usually plays 5...Bf5, but in Blesic - Karaklajic, Belgrade 2008, he uncorked the remarkable 5...b5!?. This prevents c4 and grabs some space, while weakening c5 and c6. Black eventually got the advantage, although White has plenty of options and it's too early to tell how 5...b5 will fare.

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.