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This month we've got the great pleasure of hearing from James Vigus, author of The Pirc in Black and White, about two extremely important lines in the Pirc Defence. He annotates two games in the same style as he writes his opening books, so you'll get an up-to-date theoretical survey in both cases.
I've added some games in the Scandinavian Defence, and one with the Alekhine's Defence.

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

Pirc/Modern Defence

In his notes to the first game, Lengyel - Chapman, Budapest 2008, James Vigus has written a small treatise for us about the old main line of the Classical Pirc (and arguably of the Pirc itself), beginning with 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 Be2 0-0 6 0-0 Bg4:

Here's the main line of the variation. James combines recent games with older ones, explaining: 'I have just read Kasparov's stimulating book The Openings Revolution of the 1970s, which has reminded me of the value of studying opening theory from the time before either I was born or the silicon onslaught had begun. Furthermore, a reader of my book from Singapore, has pointed out an important improvement in what was practically the main line of the Pirc during Karpov's reign as world champion. This, combined with a new game or two, has set me on the trail of new life in an old line.'

The result is a complete and up-to-date survey of this complex and important line. The best part is that Vigus talks us through the lines and explains central ideas.

Next, James takes up the main lines with ...c6 (instead of ...Bg4), using a game played two weeks ago as the basis: Gochelashvili - Tseshkovsky, Maykop 2008. In another extensive investigation, he reviews his old material and catches us up with the latest dynamic idea for Black.

A key position. In every main line, ...f5 comes shortly. Apparently the second player is holding his own. Thanks, James!

Scandinavian Defence

I've neglected the Scandinavian in comparison with the other openings in this column, so let's try to restore some balance. Alas, the basic positions in which Black sets up with ...e6 and ...c6 didn't fare very well this month.

Christian Bauer has played some of the most interesting Scandinavian Defences over the years, and we'll look at two of his games from this month. In Fressinet - Bauer, 83rd ch-FRA, Pau 2008, with the 3...Qd6 line, the players arrive at a standard type of position in which White has made an 'extra' Be3 move compared with other variations:

This difference seems to help Black, and gets him close to equality, but I still like White, and the idea of f4 deserves notice.

The following position from Maze - Bauer, Pau 2008, might come from any number of Scandinavian Variations. In this case Black played 3...Qa5, ...c6, and retreated to c7:

You could argue that the most interesting aspect of this position is how difficult it is for Black to generate truly positive chances. His position is solid, and probably acceptable for a player satisfied with a minor disadvantage; but how many players have this kind of thing as their goal out of the opening? A lack of space will haunt the second player. As it goes, Black tries to get positive play and is punished for doing so.

The variation in Popovic - Savic, Subotica 2008, (and related structures) should probably be avoided by Black, again because of his lack of positive prospects against careful play by White.

White can always gain the bishop pair with Nxg6, but centralising his pieces to exploit his space advantage may be still more bothersome for Black.

In Amin - Sengupta, World Junior, Gaziantep 2008, the move Be2 was combined with Ne5 (as in Fressinet-Bauer).

But here White has played f4, an idea that we don't see as often as you'd expect. With the queen on d6 (from 3...Qd6), it has the added advantage that ...Nxe5 isn't possible yet. Faced with a potential g4 and f5, Black played ...h5, but that practically guaranteed that castling kingside would be too risky, whereas f7 hangs if he goes queenside. Black was under pressure all game, and the kingside weakness came back to haunt him.

Alekhine's Defence

I hate to return to the Voronezh so often; it is, however, the most popular system in the younger crowd of players that I deal with. For all the opening preparation that players do these days, it's amazing how, in such a theoretical line, players still seem to be 'winging it'.

In Zubarev - Aloma Vidal, Acropolis Open, Athens 2008, Black goes right into the main line, and in particular the one currently considered optimal for him:

But he fails to follow the best line and loses as a consequence. It's hard to know whether to recommend the Voronezh (and for which colour), but if you play on either side you'd better know your stuff!

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.