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This month I'll present games with fashionable main lines in both the Tarrasch and Winawer. Players on either side of the board are seeking ways to breathe life into well-established variations.

Download PGN of April '15 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5, 6...Qd7 [C07]

In the main 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4 variation, Black is increasingly turning to 6...Qd7, with the idea of leaving a diagonal open for his king's bishop, along with some other subtleties. The game Navara - Bartel, Jerusalem 2015, is a little over a month old, but I find it the best example, in that it shows an effective plan versus the 'normal' sequence in which White plays Nb3 and Nbxd4.

In this position, Black played 12...Bc5!, and had no problems after 13 Be5 Bb7, because Bxf6 was not a threat for several moves thereafter.

White's alternative approach with Qe2 and Rd1 has recently been popular, preserving more active and interesting play.

Here White has a variety of options including 10 Rd1 and 10 a4. In Kotronias - Landa, Cappelle la Grande 2015, White chose 10 Bf4 and got a complex and aggressive position, albeit with no real advantage. The pressure had its effect, however, and after defending well Black suddenly miscalculated badly.

Tarrasch Variation Universal System 7...g6 [C06]

Ortiz Suarez-Gonzalez Garcia, Merida 2015, features an important Universal System line.

See last month's column for four examples of 7...g6, one with White choosing the popular Bc2, in a perhaps more promising situation. Here Black's simple continuation with ...cxd4 and ...f6 proved a more than sufficient response.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nbc6 9 Qh5, 13...Qf7 [C18]

The U.S. Championship featured two games in the main line of the 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nbc6 Winawer. After a period of combatting new ideas from White, Black is finding various move orders which improve upon previous practice. Nevertheless, this is an amazingly complex line in which the theory looks as unresolved as ever.

Naroditsky - Holt, St Louis 2015, arrived at this well-known position:

Holt played the relatively infrequent move 15...Bd7. White responded well by playing the recommended 16.Qe2! with the idea g4 and h5, and after 16...b5 17.g4, the players arrived at this critical position:

Holt played 17...a5, a move he had used twice previously, but not mentioned in Negi's book on the French (which promotes the position for White). This appears to be sound (particularly if you don't mind drawing without having any positive prospects), but the first few moves require great accuracy, and in the game White took advantage of a poor move order to gain a permanent advantage.

Two rounds later, in Sevian - Holt, St Louis 2015, Black deviated with 17...Qe7, a logical move which supports ...b4 and, more importantly, prepares the defensive move ...Be8. These positions are outrageously complicated, and after inaccuracies by both sides, White gets a substantial advantage, only to throw it away in one move. Black then took over the initiative, won material, and carelessly forfeited! The only fair thing to say is that these are very dense positions which are in need of further tests.

Likwise, 15...Ne7, the neglected move played by Karjakin versus Vallejo Pons (a couple of years back; see the Archives and my notes), looks very much alive:

I like the way Black played the position in Carmeille - Miedema, Belgian TCh 2015. White played the recommended line, but achieved nothing on the kingside. Soon Black had an extra pawn with the initiative and duly brought home the point.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Bd3, 12 h4 [C18]

The 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Bd3 line has gotten a big boost since Negi's recommendation and analysis of it in his book.

Negi prefers the order 12 h4, as shown in the diagram, to the older 12 Bf4. The main game Stopa - Williams, London 2014, from a few months ago, along with recent ones in the notes, clarifies some issues that arise from his move order. French expert Simon Williams gets the advantage after White's inaccurate opening play, but then mishandles the complications.

Portisch-Hook Variation 8 Qg4 g6 [C18]

The Portisch-Hook Variation remains popular at all levels. In Sutovsky - Zifroni, Israel TCh 2015, Black played a very early ...c4, which led to an instructive situation:

At this point White defended his c-pawn by 12 Ra2, a move that is possible but generally less effective after an exchange of pawns on d4 (or with the pawn still on c5). As the game developed, Black was left with no positive prospects whatsoever and White seemed to have a free hand; but in fact, White himself apparently had no way to make progress, and only found a way forward when Black played a few unnecessarily committal moves.

Till next month, John

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