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This month we have an assortment of variations, for the most part ones which I haven't covered enough in previous columns. For once, there aren't any 7 Qg4 Winawers, 3...Nf6 Tarrasches, MacCutcheons, or main line Advance or Classical systems!

Download PGN of April '11 French games

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Odds and Ends - 3 Bd3 [C01]

Periodically someone or other claims that 3 Bd3 yields White a small advantage, and it's a solid choice; in fact, we've seen 9 examples in the Archives.

A key position. I haven't addressed 3 Bd3 yet, and I'll use Mamedov - Martinovic, Aix-les-Bains 2011, because it involves strong players. In the notes I indicate how Black can get an equal game with dynamic chances in several ways. Even when White 'tricks' Black into a position that has been analysed as hopeless in the Archives, Black still comes out okay.

2 b3 [C00]

Rzayev - Tran Tuan Minh, Budapest 2011 saw 2 b3 d5 3 Bb2 dxe4 4 Nc3, a fairly popular gambit on lower levels. Nevertheless, it seems rather a waste of the White pieces, since equality is the most he can hope for. In many lines the first player tries an early g4, which I think is generally ineffective, including in the position from the game:

Black can simply develop and cast this move into doubt.

Exchange Variation [C01]

The system invented by Kasparov versus 4 Nf3 Bg4 continues to achieve opening advantages. In Szablowski - Mirzoev, Budapest 2011, Black tried a new approach with 6...Ne7:

White quickly got a large edge in the early opening, although he soon gave it away and eventually lost.

Tarrasch Defence 3...c5, 4...Qxd5 [C07]

True to his book, French Defence virtuoso Nikita Vitiugov played 3...c5 in the Tarrasch in Azarov - Vitiugov Aix-les-Bains 2011, and went into the ...Qxd5 line. The game arrived at this typical position:

The usual themes are there: White's space versus Black's active bishops and 4:3 majority. A draw resulted. I've included an update on several of the common alternatives, using games from this month.

Winawer Variation - 5 Bd2 [C17]

Ryan - Fluvia Poyatos, Barcelona 2011, saw the 4 e5 c5 5 Bd2 Winawer, which as far as I can tell is in just awful shape for White. I give some new theory about the revised lines which are presented in the second edition of Dzindzihashvili and Perelshteyn's repertoire book. As far as I can see, they haven't done a good enough job of improving upon the first edition. Anyway, the action in this game begins here:

There were also three more important Poisoned Pawn Winawer Variations this month (plus another less theoretical but instructive one), including a very important improvement sent in by a reader. But I've already devoted a lot of space to that system, and will take a month off before returning to it. There will surely be even more in the Poisoned Pawns next month, so I'll be able to put all the latest games together in context.

Classical Variation 5 Nf3 [C11]

The variation 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 (=2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 d4 c5 6 dxc5) has its own subculture, and I cite the Forum in the notes to Gunnarsson - Halldorsson, Reykjavik 2011. The game features a controversial recapture with the queen on f6:

The way the game goes, Black gains an early equality but is slowly outplayed in a thematic and instructive manner.

The same variation comes up in Alvarez Pedraza-Moskalenko, Barcelona 2011. The game sees Moskalenko on the Black side of a line that he devoted a whole chapter to in The Flexible French, in which he was enthusiastic about White's attacking ideas:

Naturally, Moskalenko shows a simple way to neutralise White's ambitions.

Till next month, John

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