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Much of what I talk about this month concerns variations that I've looked at before, e.g., the Austrian Attack of the Pirc Defence and the main 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bf5 Caro-Kann. These lines are currently popular in grandmaster chess and have to be given special notice. Within them, of course, we're seeing big changes. And naturally, given the patterns of chess play over the last 50 years, I can guarantee that most of these fashions won't last long!

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

Pirc Defence

Horrible news for Black in the Austrian Attack (3 Nc3 g6 4 f4). When preparing this column, I usually separate the new games by variation. Then I begin by ordering the lists according to average ELO. For the last month's worth of Austrian Attacks, the clashes on the 'top 10 boards' resulted in a staggering 10-0 victory for the White pieces! Yikes. Maybe Black isn't in a theoretical crisis yet, but is a practical crisis that much better?

A fun battle took place in Wells - Spraggett, Monarch Assurance 2007, when Black tried the popular move 6...Na6 in the variation 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 f4 Bg7 5 Nf3 0-0 6 Bd3. One of the main lines is tested and White comes out on top. There are several possible improvements, but again, the practical advantage goes to the attacking player.

Offhand, it would seem that White has an obvious advantage with his two bishops in space. In fact, the position is rather delicate, as Black's central pawns must be restrained.

In So - Mahjoob, Cebu City 2007, Black again suffers because he doesn't follow theory exactly and underestimates the importance of precise timing. A transposition of the moves ...Rb8 and ...Nc7 leads to disaster after the obvious 11 e5!

One of the most interesting and potentially important games this month is Anisimov - Voinov, Krasnoyarsk 2007.

The move 7 Qd4 (diagram) has been played in only a tiny fraction of games with the Austrian, yet I think it hold considerable promise. As in the Pirc in general, James Vigus' book is by far the most useful, and the fact that he really only likes one variation for Black is a sign that White can take it seriously and try to improve, as I've tried to do. At the very least, this would be a good way to infuse new life into an old variation. Be prepared for a lot of notes!

Caspar - Pavlovic, Port Erin 2007, brings up a curious point: After 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Be2 0-0 6 0-0 (the traditional main line), why can't Black play simply 6...c5 ?

This is passed over in most books, and Vigus gives it a short mention, suggesting that 7 d5 is the most important reply; I talk about that briefly. In the game, White blunders horribly and loses a pawn in a few moves. Amazingly, Blatny and Huebner have both made the same (obvious?) error!

Caro-Kann Defence

We're getting used to this critical position of the main line of the Caro-Kann:

I wanted to have done with it for a while, but the variation is awfully important if Black isn't going to end up with one of those 'I'm-a-little-worse-with-nothing-to-do' positions. Two dynamic ideas are possible to avoid that scenario.

Zapata - Andretta, Miami 2007, and Amonatov - Bareev, Krasnoyarsk 2007, both feature Houska's favourite 12...Bb4. The first game follows the main line, but I also discuss 13 Ne4!?, perhaps due for a revival. The second game has two other contests from this month imbedded as notes, including a critical main line. Although White does well in this small batch of games, it looks as though Black has his full share of practical chances to go along with theoretical equality.

The alternative 12...Qa4 was played in Van den Doel-Seirawan, Netherlands 2007, as well as in So-Ravi, Cebu City 2007 (which is in the notes):

Regardless of the theoretical assessment, White has more attacking chances if Black plays this way, and both these games serve as a warning that if Black gets too exotic, he can put his pieces too far from the action.

Alekhine's Defence

The Voronezh variation seems to be settling down a bit, and as we saw last time, it is getting along reasonably well in the main line. The issue now is whether White can get anything at all. In T Andrews- LR Schmidt, USCL 2007, questions about some new orders arise, but in general Black is not challenged in the opening. After that both sides trade errors and eventually come to a draw.

A game between higher ranked opponents is not theoretically critical, but instructive in the opening and well-played thereafter. In Ni Hua-Torre, Cebu City 2007, after 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Nf3 Bg4 5 Be2 e6 6 h3, Black plays 6...Bf5!? (instead of 6...Bh5):

This doesn't seem to be an improvement, but the succeeding play represents several of the main ideas in standard structures.

White goes for a standard space advantage in Karajakin - Karttunen, Kemer 2007.

It looks as though Black might be breaking up the centre, but after 13 d5 Bxe5 14 Bxc5, White dominates the board. I tend to be a little depressed about Black's game when he has to put his knight on c7.

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.