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This month we have an assortment of lines which I either havenít covered at all or have neglected for a while. Thereís very little main line theory in these games, and you may find them of practical interest for that very reason.

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

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Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 a3 f6 [C02]

In Alekseev- O Kislov, Minsk 2015, Black beat an opponent rated 400 points higher than himself, achieving a won game in 15 moves! Well, okay, it was a Blitz game, which hardly counts, but the opening is still instructive.











Black has played an unusually early ...f6. Here White played 7 exf6?, already a big mistake. The game shows how terribly dangerous it can be for White to combine the a3/b4 plan with the capture on f6, giving Black a large lead in development and activity.


Advance Variation Na3 v ...Nge7 [C02]

Iíve rather neglected Whiteís Na3-c2 idea in the Advance so Iíll give a few examples this month. A typical position arose in Shirov-Svane, Bundesliga 2015-16:











Here Black played the standard idea ...Nb4 and White avoided the exchange by Ne3. In general, the play seems balanced, but Black managed to upset his famous opponent when the latter became too ambitious.

Iv Popov- Shpagin, Minsk 2015, saw a similar setup:











The difference is the knight on f5, exposing Black to the occasional threat of g4. But this isnít a serious problem, and the game was equal until Black gave up the center and allowed White to attack.


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

White demonstrates a textbook winning strategy in one of the main lines in Yu Yangyi- Xu Yinglun, Doha 2015.











White has almost caught up in development and can castle safely, while Black has no concrete counterplay to make up for his weaknesses.



Exchange Variation, 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 [C01]

Baches Garcia-Swayam, London 2015, reached this standard IQP position:











Black played the natural 9...Bg4, but soon got the worse of it after 10 h3 Bh5 11 g4. Fortunately Black has better ways to approach the position.



Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 e5 Nh6 [C03]

In the 3...Be7 line, 4 e5 is still critical and should probably be more popular. Gharamian-Cordes, London 2015, saw my old suggestion 4...Nh6, and after 5 Ndf3, Black played the ambitious novelty 5...f6!?:











This involves a pawn sacrifice after 6 Bxh6 and 7 Qd2. Blackís bishop pair didnít really suffice for enough compensation, but after some inaccurate play by White, he managed to draw against his higher-rated (by 400+ points!) opponent.


Tarrasch Variation Universal System 8...g5 [C06]

Against a lower-rated opponent, Cordes did still better, using the old ...g5 main line versus the Universal:











This position continues to be tightly contested and unclear, as indicated in my notes. In Krokay-Cordes, London 2015, Black improved upon an earlier game and, as in the Gharamian game, he ended up with the bishop pair. White very quickly blundered and lost a miniature, but the opening is still of considerable interest.


Tarrasch Variation 3...h6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 [C03]

Periodically I return to the eccentric 3...h6 versus the Tarrasch. Itís a delight seeing Nigel Short playing this Ďwaiting moveí, even if it is only in Rapid play.

Azarov-Short, Minsk 2015, tested the move 6 c4 after 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7.











Short tried 6...dxc4 7 Nxc4 Nb6. Even though I donít think this is the best line, it produced a complex, equal middlegame. In the notes, we see another game with Short fighting against 6 Be2.

Other strong players are using 3...h6 recently. The game Draskovic-Stocek, Reykjavik 2015, is another example of 6 c4, but with 6...Be7, soon reaching the following position:











At first sight White seems to have all the attacking chances, but his center is vulnerable which limits his play. There followed 11 Bb1 Re8 12 Qc2 Nf8 13 dxc5 Bg4 with active play.

From Whiteís point of view, Sergei Rublevsky usually has good solutions in Tarrasch lines. In Rublevsky-Ponkratov, Khanty-Mansiysk 2015, White played 6 Bd3 c5 and only now 7 c4, leading to this position:











Blackís central pressure compensates for his inferior development, and if White can claim any edge at all, itís quite limited.



Hecht-Reefschlaeger 4 e5 f6 [C10]

An instructive addition to our 3 Nc3 Nc6 collection is Baron-Cox, London 2015, which reached this familiar type of position:











In general I feel that Whiteís attack should be somewhat more dangerous than Blackís, but in practice Black has come out of the opening well, and in this game he reached a winning position.


Till next month, John

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