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This month is primarily devoted to the Rubinstein Variation, a solid variation in which Black surrenders the centre into order to develop smoothly and subsequently attack White's centre. Theory has expanded dramatically over the past decade, and I've chosen only a selection of the most popular lines.
Apart from that I've chosen two Winawer games which are relevant to developments in main lines. One is a contribution from Franck Steenbekkers in the Portisch-Hook Variation, and the other continues our investigations in the Poisoned Pawn Variation.

Download PGN of April '14 French games

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Rubinstein Variation 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 [C10]

The Rubinstein Variation is 3 Nc3 (or 3 Nd2) 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7 with ...Ngf6 to follow. It is the most respectable of the ...dxe4 variations, and this month I want to delve into some key variations. White has a difficult time getting anywhere against Black's defences; on the other hand, there are many variations in which Black never has any winning chances at all unless he plays passive and arguably inferior lines. There are too many options to cover thoroughly, but in the notes to the recent games I've chosen I'll try to indicate an outline of currently important theoretical continuations.

In two games this month, we see the line 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Bd3 c5 (Black's best chance for full equality) 7 0-0 (7 Nxf6+ Nxf6 8 dxc5 Bxc5 poses no serious problems).

Then in Shomoev - Kryakvin, Taganrog 2014, Black chose 7...cxd4, with a successful outcome; and in Adhiban - Ravi, Kolkata 2014, Black preferred 7...Nxe4 and lost. Nevertheless, current theory is more inclined to favour 7...Nxe4, and both are acceptable continuations. The notes contain an overview of the theory.

The line 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 c3 is seen in the Archives more often than any other, and has scored very well for White. Black's most critical response is 7...c5 (7...Be7 can be seen in several games in the Archives), when 8 Ne5 has ideas of Bb5+ and Qa4 or Qf3.

Here we have repeatedly seen the move 8...a6, which is probably best. In Popov - Kopylov, Basel 2014, Black tried 8...Bd6?! and got in immediate difficulties. In the notes, I present the main lines and status of 8...a6.

Smirin - Petrov, Skopje 2014 saw the sequence 5 Bd3 Ngf6 6 Qe2. White is thinking about castling queenside. Black chose the rather slow 6...Be7 (6...c5 is critical, as shown in the notes, along with 6...Nxe4) 7 Nxf6+ Nxf6 8 Nf3:

After 8...c5 9 dxc5!, Black got diverted from the kingside and White's attack succeeded there.

White can also play for an early initiative with 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 Bg5:

This was used a lot in the old days, and still has some bite. In Predke - Beldyugin, Togliatti 2014, Black played 7...Be7 and stood slightly worse throughout, although the game was within drawing range. Instead, 7...c5 is critical and the Rubinstein player should probably go in that direction.

Winawer Portisch-Hook Variation 8 h4 [C18]

Our old friend Franck Steenbekkers contributes a game in the Portisch-Hook Variation. In Laan - Steenbekkers, Correspondence (ICCF) 2013, Black faces the 8 h4 line and responds with 8...Ne7 9 h5 b6!?:

This allows 10 h6, when 10...gxh6 shatters Black's pawn structure, but in return for an open g-file and extra time for the positionally-desirable ...Ba6.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 11...dxc3 12 h4 [C18]

I have one leftover Winawer Poisoned Pawn variation to show. In a game from the end of last year, Milliet - Alina L'Ami, Warsaw 2013, White played the move 12 h4 before moving her queen back to d3. This has become an important and critical move order:

Black responded inaccurately and could have lost quickly, although the game went back and forth and ended in a draw. I've merged in another game from this month to illustrate a different treatment by Black containing several important positional and tactical themes.

Till next month, John

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