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Rather than starting a new subject illustrated by my own games, I have decided to stick to topicality this time and see how some of my predictions and ideas about the Centre Counter have developed since January, with both colours, in the real world, since they seem to have gone quite unnoticed in this very section ...!

Download PGN of October '06 1 e4 ... games

Scandinavian Defence

And it is true that current practice has been quite harsh on the "Scandinavian surprise", 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Cf3 Ne4?!, this year:

that is when White has adopted my recommended, and widely seen, antidote 6.Bd3!, after its inclusion in Chessbase's Mega 2006. In this line, it is clear that 6.Bd2?! (or 6.Bc4?! or 6.Qd3?...) will always result in presenting the biased idea of playability for Black. The question then may be: what is the point of analysing such games?

After 6...Nxc3 7.bxc3 g6 8.0-0 Bg7 Black profited from the opposing move order of 9.Re1 to slip in the novelty 9...Nc6 in Game one, although it is far from clear he had anything to gain from it after 10.Bd2 Bg4 (instead of 10.0-0 transposing) 11.h3, instead White replied 10.h3 allowing 10...Bf5 11.Rb1 0-0-0.

Events later proved that Black had castled 'coffin-side' but things were not always that clear.

So Black transposed back into the 'beaten track' ;o) in Game 2 after 9.Re1 0-0 10.Bd2 and tried to keep his c-pawn free with another novelty 10...Re8? which was strongly met by 11.Rb1!:

An excellent move not only because it mobilizes the last White piece before her majesty, usefully along an open file, but also because it enables White to freely set his central mass in motion after removing the rook from a1.

This happens to be the only opening at Master level where White can be lucky enough to get such a massive lead in development, with each of his pieces active and ideally posted, in return for the opponent's derisory joy of having "sprung a surprise"!

Black could not cope with this and the game was over two moves later.

10...c5 at least proceeded from a consistent idea in Game Three, but this could have been shaken up by 11.Bg5! Instead of this White played the cautious 11.h3!? but had the last words in the ensuing complications anyway.

Game Four saw my published refutation played for the first time in a proper game after the 'normal' 10...Nc6 11.h3! Qa3 (actually I had focused on 11...Bf5) 12.Qc1! Qxc1 13.Raxc1, winning one of the pawns b7, c7 or e7.

The second subject of this update is 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Bd2:

By comparison with the Caro-Kann (which brings about the same pawn structure after 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3{d2} dxe4 4.Nxe4), practice suggests it is rather problematic for White to hope for an advantage against the Centre Counter without first solving the problem of setting his beast on c3 free. Thus, this most direct attempt, keeping the king's knight back for the moment, is the move order chosen by at least the last 3 (classical...) World champions to reach this position.

Game Five illustrated one of its traps after the mistake 5...Bf5? as 6.Qf3! hits b7 and f5 - precisely because the f3 square was left vacant for the white queen! Therefore this forced the pitiful retreat 6...Bc8, practically synonymous with resignation...

That is why Black has to play 5...c6 before developing the bishop, as in Game Six, although with a different order of moves.

As a (quasi-unbreakable) rule in the Scandinavian, the black queen should not move 3 times in the opening phase unless being forced to - a rule that people who do not practice the variation themselves in serious games over the board, rather than games with nothing at stake on the Internet, are usually not acquainted with.

So, after the further 6.Bc4 Qb6? 7.Nf3 Qxb2? (certainly one too many. Moving the queen for more than half of the moves in the opening phase can only lead to disaster in the Centre Counter.) 8.Rb1 Qa3 9.Ne5 e6 10.0-0 Be7 I bet that anyone who has faced this position with Black in a real game on a proper board will never reproduce the experience!

Such a thing as danger, with a screaming, flashing, huge 'D' in our case, can only be sensed during the tension and concentration of a real game. When you sit comfortably in front of your 'advanced' screen, it is easier to give in to the siren's song...

Now the right plan is the 11.Re1! played, mobilizing the last piece to exchange the main defender of the enemy kingside, rather than the previously played 11.Qe2, since the white queen may join the assault on the kingside immediately without passing by this station... for a quick slaughter.

Instead 5...Bg4! is the move I support here (just as I do against 5.Bc4, with which it shares a great number of similarities, including a possible transposition to the key game Cornette - Prié I analysed in January.) 6.f3 Bh5 I understand that this defends f7 but on principle I prefer 6...Bf5 and only in case of g4 do I think about 7...Bg6, although in actual fact I have always played 7...Bd7 in this situation. After the further 7.g4 Bg6 8.f4! is the critical line, and is where the two branches 5.Bd2 and 5.Bc4 diverge because here the c4-bishop is not exposed, the knight on c3 is not pinned and White is ready to castle long after a queen move. 8...e6 9.f5 exf5 10.g5 Nfd7 11.Qe2+ Kd8!:

This important discovery, which proves this position playable for Black, is to be credited to the young Ukrainian IM Alexey Kislinsky (2495) who has just won more than a hundred points in 9 months!

In Game Seven it is possible that the German compatriot of IM Christoph Wisnewski (who had thoroughly analysed 5.Bd2 on his personal website, which is unfortunately unavailable today according to the information on the 1...e4 forum) may have been surprised by the violence of the counter attack on his king after 12.0-0-0 f4! 13.Bg2 Nc6 14.Bxf4 Nb4!.

In Game Eight, 8 rounds later in the same round robin tournament, a famous GM, who, like every fierce Dragon player, is usually keen on such complicated games with the opposite colour, had had time to prepare 12.Bg2, with the idea of getting rid of the enemy queen's knight prior to long castling, as it was this piece's jump to b4 that led to White's sorrows in the previous game.

Yet, in spite of the awkward position of his king after 12...Nc6 13.Bxc6 bxc6 14.0-0-0, Black apparently had enough counter play on the newly opened b-file to maintain the balance before White lost his nerve.

Game 9 produced a new attempt to bring the long traditional 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6?! Scandinavian, once favoured by Kislinsky and Reprintsev (the father of 5...Ne4), back to life by 6.Bd2! a6 7.Bc4 Qh5 8.Ne5! Nxe5. Unfortunately, the white initiative did not abate in this case either, in spite of the exchange of queens after 9.Qxh5 Nxh5 10.dxe5, because of the concern of the knight on the edge.

7...Qb6 is a safe way to keep the queens on board and shelter the black queen. However, in Game 10 after 8.Na4 Qa7 9.Be3 Ng4 10.Ng5 Nd8 11.Bb3 e5 12.Qf3 f6 13.dxe5 Nxe3 14.exf6! the black queen was so well sheltered on a7 that she found herself a helpless witness to the death of her husband in the centre!

Game 11 is a bonus game which recapitulates why the ...Nc6 Scandinavian is still not really playable after the more natural 6...Bg4 either.

Alekhine's Defence

John Cox, author of the excellent Everyman book Starting Out; The Alekhine, is back again this month as a guest contributor for Alekhine's Defence.

In Game 12 Ivanchuk plays the interesting new idea 9...Be6!?:

curiously it is not so easy for White to defend his c-pawn here, and after 10 d5 Bxc3+ he had doubled c-pawns and little control over the c5-square.

Game 13 and Game 14 both cover Sutovsky's 6 Bd3 against the Miles Variation:

with mixed success.

Well, that's it for now. Next month Jonathan Rowson will be taking over!

Please post you queries on the 1 e4 ... Forum, or subscribers can write to me at if you have any questions or queries.