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It's not easy to find high-level games with blockbuster new moves in the Caro-Kann, Pirc, Alekhine, or Scandinavian. The usual batch of games reflects the view of most top players: White is content to play for a small edge (thereby avoiding innovations in critical positions), and Black tries to find something solid. It's interesting to me that the Caro-Kann, seemingly the soundest and most established of these openings, is still producing unbalanced positions, if not always the most dynamic play. I think this is in large part due to the ongoing popularity of 3 e5, which has been the source of seemingly countless new moves and ideas.
This month's column concentrates mostly upon the Caro-Kann, with one eccentric line of the Alekhine. But there are three very different variations of the Scandinavian to look at, none of which are theoretically settled.

Download PGN of October '09 1 e4 ... games

Caro-Kann Defence

This is still the 1 e4 X opening that most appeals to highly-rated players. As usual, White is pursuing some non-traditional means of attacking it.

I'll continue with the variation 2 Ne2 d5 3 e5, an odd-looking sequence which we still haven't seen a good solution to. In Short - Mchedlishvili, Kolkota 2009, the players reached this position:

Short, who has been on a roll, produced 16 Ncxd5!, destroying Black's centre and activating all of his pieces. The attack succeeded without any obvious errors on Black's part.

Perunovic - Jovanovic, Kragujevac 2009 tested 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 dxc5. White took a commonsense approach, playing a French Defence variation a tempo up (because of ...c6-c5):

The variation isn't considered dangerous, but the extra tempo makes it a promising one. See especially the note on Houska's main line.

Van - der Weide- Bitalzadeh, Haaksbergen 2009, saw 4 dxc5 e6 5 Be3 Nh6 6 c3:

White produced a novelty on move 12 which left Black with the bishop pair versus two knights, but a rather static position. After some committal kingside moves for Black, White managed to make progress in that sector.

Moving to the traditional line with 3 e5 Bf5, Kurnosov - Galkin, Ulan Ude 2009, saw the popular move 4 Nd2. This has been scoring well for some time now and went 4-0 in this month's batch (I've merged in the games; Kamsky himself played 4 Nd2). The game saw Black cede White the bishop pair in order to get a jump in development and undermine White's centre.

He played 11...f6 here, the right idea but a bit premature.

In the main 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bf5 variation of the Caro-Kann, castling kingside has been extremely popular over the last couple of years.

Gaponenko - Chiburdanidze, Ohrid 2009, is a recent example, and I've mixed in some games and lines with ideas from the last year or two.

Alekhine's Defence

The 'Haakert-Variation' of the Alekhine is 1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5 3 d4 d6 4 Nf3 Nb6; it has been seen a bit more recently. I've copied some fascinating analysis supplied by Stefan Buecker in the Forum and elsewhere, based upon material from his wonderful Kaissiber magazine, issues 19 and 20, adding some of my own thoughts.

This is the most critical position. The analysis is in Analysis 4...Nc6 in Alekhine- Kaissiber and Recent Games.

Scandinavian Defence

We talked a little about the move ...g6 in the Scandinavian with 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd6, but not specifically the most popular version, which goes 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nf3 g6. This has been played upon numerous occasions by Tiviakov, which is a real endorsement:

In the game Fedorchuk - Tiviakov, Ohrid 2009, I've included a number of games from this month and pointed out some possible improvements. To my mind, if White employs the most challenging ideas, this line should be difficult for Black to play.

One of the oldest lines in the Scandinavian is 3 Nc3 Qa5 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nf3 Bg4, with the idea 6 h3 Bh5. Several players have taken it up again, most notably Christian Bauer. Remarkably, the variation doesn't even appear in Jovanka Houska's new (and excellent) 'Starting Out: the Scandinavian', probably because the big games over the past few years have been in other lines. Nevertheless, there seems a lot to look into here.

This is the key position, discussed at length in D Rivera-Bauer, Galicia 2009. The best source for this variation that I know of is John Emms' second edition of The Scandinavian.

Finally, what Jovanka Houska calls 'The Main Line: Shirov's 8 Nd5', again in her new book Starting Out: the Scandinavian:

We've looked at this position before (as well as the line with 9...Qxf6 instead of 9...gxf6). In Gashimov - Hamdouchi, Galicia 2009, I've cited several games from the last two years, but only scratched the surface. I prefer the White side, but no one has found a way to gain a large advantage.

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.