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This month I'm going to continue with the project of filling in the holes of my previous coverage about lines with ...dxe4. These variations are played reasonably often, but aren't my favourites and haven't been dealt with thoroughly enough over the past few years. At the end I've tacked on a recent Advance Variation.

Download PGN of April '13 French games

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Rubinstein Variation [C10]

In January and then briefly last month we looked at games with the Rubinstein Variation, 3 Nc3 (/3Nd2) 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7, which has been used by strong players for years to get a safe and solid position for Black, as have other ...dxe4 surrender-of-the-centre variations. A remarkable number of games have been played with it over the years and it continues to be popular. As mentioned previously, the Rubinstein, regardless of the theoretical standing, consistently scores considerably worse than other variations of the French. In fact, as I've pointed out before, if you eliminate ...dxe4 lines the French becomes almost as successful as the Sicilian Defense, and more successful than any other 1 e4 defense. Black draws a fair number of games, but he very seldom wins. This month that trend continues: the score was 8-8-0, a 75% winning record for White with an almost 300-point performance rating lead. Last month it was better, but 9-9-2 with an over 150-point edge still isn't impressive (and 13-10-5 the month before). Anyway, I gave three games with the Rubinstein in January and one game last month (Anand-Meier), and am going to wrap up my overview of 4...Nd7 by giving several more, using games from the past 2-3 months, and filling in some relatively important lines I skipped before or relegated to notes. Not to worry: this isn't the sort of hot theory in which assessments are constantly changing!

7 c3 [C10]

First, we have the normal variation 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 with White choosing 7 c3:

As you might think, this isn't particularly ambitious. In Leko - Andreikin, Loo 2013, we see White play a sideline, and Black work his way to equality without much trouble.

7 Be3 [C10]

We've seen the position following 7 Be3 Nd5 8 Bd2 c5 in previous columns:

In particular, Georg Meier has defended it against top players, although not always successfully. In Caruana - Meier, Baden-Baden 2013, he equalizes and seems to be playing natural moves, when suddenly everything falls apart. Again, even when the play is theoretically level, White tends to have all the practical chances in these lines.

The variation in Kokarev - Pushkov, Taganrog 2013, has shown up in a few games recently. After White plays 7 Be3, Black tries a queenside fianchetto:

I like Black's 8...b6, and after 9 Ne5, he should strongly consider 9...Bb7(!), which is analysed in the notes. The game's 9...Qd5 is also playable, but somewhat in White's favour.

Mainline 7 Bd3 [C10]

White can also play simply 7 Bd3, when 7...c5 is the most common reply:

Now 8 Be3 poses Black some unique problems. In Edouard - Tiviakov, Wijk aan Zee 2013, Black struggles to establish full equality; perhaps a slightly inferior but drawish ending is the best he can do at various junctures.

The move order in Geske - Gasthofer, Bundesliga 2012-2013, with 5 Bd3 and 6 Qe2, is a good way to go if you want to play the old main line represented in this diagram:

This is the equivalent of the main line above with 7 Bd3 c5 8 dxc5 Bxc5 9 Qe2 0-0. Black should probably equalize, but there are a variety of unique ways to play this and it's worth a go for White if he wants a fairly straightforward position. In the game, both sides had chances and White prevailed.

Fort Knox Variation 8 Ned2 [C10]

The Fort Knox 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bd7 with the idea ...Bc6, hasn't done as badly as the Rubinstein, but has the same drawback: a lack of positive chances. In 19 games over the past two months, Black has only scored a full point twice.

In Gormally - Hanley, Brighton 2013, White tries out an older knight retreat Ned2 that has probably been underrated:

Black responds with the standard idea ...Bxf3, but White's setup is well-suited for the play which follows.

Fort Knox Mainline 8 Ng3 [C10]

Kobalia - Demidov, Russian TCh 2013, is an example of the main line with 8 Ng3:

We've seen this in quite a few Archives games. A general lesson, albeit one with exceptions, is that Black is usually better off making White pursue the attack without playing ...c5 and exposing his position.

Advance Variation 6 a3 [C02]

Finally, I forgot last month to include this example of what has become the most important main-line Advance Variation. In Savic - Dudukovic, Pozarevac 2013, after 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 a3 (which you are doubtless becoming tired of), White chooses the solid setup with Be2 and 0-0:

We've seen some successes for Black in this line. In this instructive game, White develops some dark-square pressure in return for Black's light-square play on the queenside, and the situation is balanced until a blunder intervenes.

Till next month, John

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