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This month we see an assortment of lines, including some Advance and Tarrasch variations, main-line Winawers, and a bit more on the Morozevich Classical (with 4 Bg5 dxe4 and 6...gxf6).

To download the April '16 French games directly in PGN form, click here: Download Games

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Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 Nh6 [C02]

Vitiugov-Werle, Karlsruhe 2016, features an unusual move order from the French expert and author playing White: 5...Qb6 6 a3 Nh6 7 Bd3!?. Black has various options, but enters into a familiar position:











We’ve seen this (and similar positions) before. It is generally equal; here Black even got the better of the opening phase before being outplayed.


Advance Variation 5...Nh6 6 Bxh6 gxh6 [C02]

In Ivell-Smerdon, Birmingham 2016, 5...Nh6 was met by the immediate 6 Bxh6 gxh6 Bd3, with a Milner-Barry Gambit sort of position arising:











Not surprisingly, the novelty 9 Qe2 (versus 9 Qd2) is a risk, giving up the d-pawn, especially following 9....Bd7 10 a3?! Nxd4.



Tarrasch 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5, 10...a6 11 Re1 [C07]

With several of the participants the men’s US Championship employing the French at least part of the time, we can expect to see some interesting games with it, and there have been two critical battles in the first two rounds. Sam Shankland is a great expert in the Tarrasch Variation, so it’s interesting to see what he does versus the ever-popular 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 line.











The bishop retreat to f1 has only recently been taken seriously due to Tomashevsky’s efforts. In Shankland-Chandra, St Louis 2016, Black equalized handily after 12...Bd6 13 Nf5 Bxh2+ 14 Kh1 Kf8.


Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6, 7 Ne2 f6 [C05]

Sometimes lines that have been dismissed for almost a century turn out to be playable. In Ahvenjarvi-Tikkanen, Norrkoping 2016, Black played the classic mistake 7...f6 in this normal Tarrasch position:











After 8 Nf4, White is supposed to have a clear advantage, but Tikkanen comes out well in complications. There are two definite improvements for White, but neither gives him more than a small advantage. An interesting idea to use against an unprepared opponent.


Tarrasch Guimard Variation 4 c3 e5 [C04]

We’ve looked at quite a few other Guimard Variations in the past two months, so here’s a game with the 4 c3 e5 variation. In Ayazmali-Zengin, Cesme 2016, Black answered 5 dxe5 with 5...Nxe5 (we’ve seen the more ambitious 5..dxe4 before):











White can get a very small edge in a couple of ways, but it’s not enough to produce serious winning chances.



Winawer Variation Poisoned Pawn 11...dxc3 12 h4 d4 13 h5 [C18]

A brief look at a few games exemplifying 7 Qg4 and Poisoned Pawn lines. Elistratov-Nikolenko, Moscow 2016, went right down the popular main line in which White keeps the queen on h7 and thereby discourages ...b6 and ...Bb7. This position has become standard:











Here Black played 15...Be8. A wild game results with White playing h7 and g4, versus Black’s plan of ...Ng6/...f5, targeting the h7 pawn.

Wu-Bellahcene, Porto Carras 2016, went down the same path, but instead of 15...Be8, Black played the positional reorganization with 15...Kb8 followed by...Bc8/...b6/...Bb7.











After Kf2 and Bg2, White made the committal move g5!?, which eliminated Black’s ...f6 attack but made progress on the kingside difficult. Due to White’s inaccurate play, Black was able to enforce the move ...d3, after which he gained a clear advantage.

In Nasuta-Tirelli, Stockholm 2016, Black tried yet a third move, 15...Rg6!?, which is not objectively as good as the other two because it allows a capture on d4.











Now Black should try 18...Bc6. After mistakes, the game still led to complex, double-edged play, with Black making the last error.


Winawer 7 Qg4 0–0 8 Bd3 Nbc6 9 Qh5 [C18]

Instead of 7...Qc7, the defence with 7...0-0 refuses to go away. In the US Championship game Caruana-Shankland, St Louis 2016 , the main line with 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nbc6 9 Qh5 Ng6 appeared, and now White tried the sideline 10 Nh3!?, resulting in this position:











This is a normal main line position except that White's knight is on h3 instead of f3. Thus he cannot play h4-h5 without first playing Nf4. I don't see this as a particularly challenging line for Black, who at least equalized in the opening. He played too ambitiously on the queenside, however, and then defended poorly, allowing his elite opponent to swarm all over that side of the board.



Classical Variation 4 Bg5 de4 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6 gxf6 7 Nf3 f5 8 Ng3 [C11]

Last month we examined the line 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 de4 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6 gxf6 7 Nf3 f5 8 Nc3. In Kosteniuk-Sutovsky, Gibraltar 2016, White played 8 Ng3, which has been used by some strong players including Carlsen.











Instead of the near-automatic 8...c5, Sutovsky played 8...h5, and after 9 h4, the tradeoff assisted Black to get good play in several lines.


Till next month, John

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