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I've been ignoring the Panov Attack. We begin with a highly critical line, and will see how a Blitz game between two top-level and knowledgeable players can teach us what to do.

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

Caro-Kann Defence

In Grischuk - Dreev, 61st Open ch-Moscow Blitz 2007, Black equalises by standard means until he finally succumbs in what looks like time pressure. I will supplement this game with quite a bit of background theory. Of course, I'm sure that such theory is changing as I write this. White's basic gambit position arises from 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 cxd5 4 c4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Bg5 dxc4 7 Bc4 (see also a note on 7 d5):

Now I examine 7...Qxd4, the most important move, but Dreev chooses 7...e6, which is a fully legitimate alternative and in fact transposes to a Queen's Gambit Accepted in this game.

In Short - Ni Hua, Liverpool 2007, the players follow extremely well-known theory. They are about to enter into one of the most famous endgames in chess, when Ni Hua uses a rarely-seen move, queried by every source. It turns out to be much better than its reputation.

Black has just played 14...exd5 instead of 14...Qxd5. Short responds with a known move, but it bypasses the critical variation recommended by Fischer and the books. In fact, I try to show with lengthy analysis that Fischer's line is harmless, and for more than one reason! As it goes, we get an important theoretical battle, which also happens to be great fun.

Let me return one more time to the main-line 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bf5 variation. Four of this month's top six lines with 5 Ng3 Bg6 6 h4 h6 7 Nf3 Nd7 8 h5 Bh7 9 Bd3 Bxd3 10 Qxd3 e6 11 Bf4 saw Jovanka Houska's recommended defence 11...Qa5+ 12 Bd2 Bb4, resulting in two wins and two draws for Black!

The key position. Here we see tests of 15 d5 and 15 0-0-0. I'll do a partial overview of this line, using a game from earlier this year, Cheparinov - Iordachescu, and fill it in with recent games. Then I'll give the whole variation a rest, hopefully for at least a few months!

Scandinavian Defence

I've somewhat neglected this defence relative to the others in this column. Partly that's because I see little happening at the top levels. It would be nice to get some resolution to the much-played variation beginning with 3...Qa5 4 d4 c6!? (a move-order issue) 5 Nf3 Nf6 6 Bc4 Bf5 7 Bd2 e6 8 Nd5 Qd8 9 Nxf6+ gxf6:

A position that has arisen consistently over the years. One attraction for White is that he can play for a small advantage, but failing that, he keeps a safe position. In Haznedaroglu - Gogolis, Athens 2007, my notes indicate that White can probably maintain a small edge with accurate play. But it isn't much.

Lines with Nge2 are very interesting and I think underestimated:

In Erturan - Exizoglou, Athens 2007, White responded to 6...Bf5 with the straightforward 7 Bd2 e6 8 Ng3 Bg6 9 h4 h5?!, leading to a strong attack; I analyse 9...h6 instead. After 7 0-0 in Okhotnik-Keitlinghaus,France 2003, Black had previously tried the more tactical plan of 7...e6 8 Ng3 Bd6!?, discouraging f4-f5. The latter idea is not possible after 7 Bd2, see the notes.

In the next game, Heinemann - Sieber, Apolda 2007, we see the similar 7 Ng3 Bg6 8 0-0 (Becerra Rivero,J -A Rodriguez, San Martin 1995 had seen the enterprising 8 h4 h6 9 h5 Bh7, and now 10 Bd2 intending Qe2 and 0-0-0 is a promising course) 8...Nbd7 9 f4! with attack:

All these ideas look dangerous for Black. It will be interesting to see whether he can equalise versus the Nge2 lines. For now things certainly look promising for White.

Alekhine's Defence

A hyper-provocative Four Pawns Attack idea for Black has lately attracted some attention, beginning with 6...c5 7 d5 g6!?:

The game B Smith-Shabalov, King of Prussia USA 2007 reached this standard position. It illustrates how Black can survive the onslaught of pawns and obtain dynamic counterplay. As will be seen in the notes, I'm not entirely convinced by Black's scheme, yet the whole line is certainly far from refuted.

Even though 3 d4 d6 4.Nf3 dxe5 5 Nxe5 c6 has a serious following, it is too passive for my taste. Having said that, White has to find a way to use his greater freedom. Jakovenko - Bu Xiangzhi, Nizhniy Novgorod 2007 came to this normal-looking position:

Here Jakovenko made two backward moves with 7 Nf3 N7b6 8 Be2!. Although Black is hardly in despair, it proved hard for him to counter White's simple plan of c4 and the exploitation of his space advantage.

Finally, in Krylov - Suder, Durham 2007, Black opted to fianchetto and played a similar ...c6 structure. White set up in conventional fashion, and I still don't see how the second player can level things.

Here Krylov played 11 Nxd7 Qxd7 12 Ne4 with pressure. Maybe this isn't so terrible, but who would want to defend as Black?

Till next month, John

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