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Four of the five French Defense games in the U S Championship had decisive results, with one win for White and three for Black. I’ll cover those games as well as a few examples of Tarrasch and Classical lines.

Download PGN of April ’17 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 [C03]

3 Nd2 Be7 continues to be the preferred choice of many strong French players (as well as the move recommended in numerous books and videos). The main line is still 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3, and here apart from 7...0-0, Black has played 7...b6 a few times recently:

This is similar to the increasingly popular 6...b6 after 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Bd3 c5 6 c3. The main difference is that Ngf3 has been played, so f4-f5 isn't an immediate issue. In Reshef, O - Lyell, M Budapest 2017, the normal exchange 8 0-0 Ba6 9 Bxa6 Nxa6 occurred. In this type of position, Black is either equal or very close to it, even if he tends to lack dynamic counterplay. In the game, White got a moderate positional advantage and brought home the point.

Tarrasch 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5, 8...g5 [C06]

In the main line with 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3 Nc6 8 0-0, we have looked at 8...g5 numerous times. This is one key position that arises:

In Womacka, M - Werle, J Bremen 2017, the important 11 Bb5 Bd7 was tested. I’ve included recent games in the notes.

Tarrasch Mainline with 11...Qc7 12 g3 [C06]

In the 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Bd3 c5 6 c3 main line with ..Qc7 and ...Bd6, Peng, D - Tarun, V Khanty-Mansiysk 2017, tested a standard Black exchange sacrifice:

White’s 14 Rc1 allows (and practically forces) 14...Bxf4 15 Nxf4 Rxf4. The resulting position is more interesting than has been thought, but in the end, very accurate play by both sides should result in a balanced game. Black in particular should know how to play this line.

Tarrasch 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4 Qd6 [C07]

This occurred in three games in the US Championship. In Kamsky, G - Akobian, V St Louis 2017, White played the traditional setup with 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4, and after 6...Qd6 (see recent updates for the fashionable 6...Qd7) 7 0-0 Nc6 8 Re1 Nf6, 9 Nb3 a6 10 a4 is very similar to what we saw last month in Idani-Kobalia, except that Re1 replaces Qe2. That seems less pointed, and Black decided to develop slowly with 10...Be7 11 Nbxd4 Nxd4 12 Nxd4 0-0:

Waiting to play either ...Qc7, ...Bd7 or ...b6 in favour of castling has become more popular of late. White played b3 and Bb2 with a solid setup, but had no threats and the game was equal until Kamsky uncharacteristically fell asleep at the switch.

Tarrasch 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 dxc5 [C07]

White often chooses to play 5 dxc5 instead, as Zerebukh did twice. We haven’t covered this move often enough in this column, although it is chosen relatively often as an alternative when White doesn’t want to contest the main lines. In Zherebukh, Y - So, W St Louis 2017, Black recaptured directly with 5...Bxc5 6 Ngf3 Nf6 7 Bc4 Qc6:

This is sound enough for Black, but it’s also true that White can use his somewhat greater mobility to try for a useful imbalance. In the game, White gained the bishop pair and could have maintained a limited edge.

In Zherebukh, Y - Akobian, V St Louis 2017, Black recaptured the pawn with the queen following 5..Nf6 6 Ngf3 Qxc5. The pawn formation is the same, but I think Black equalizes more easily than after 5...Bxc5. Both sides developed naturally and the following position arose:

Here, in an equal position, White made the instructive error 15 Bxf6?. This tends to be a bad move unless White can get an attack or force the creation of an outpost. Not only does Black gain the bishop pair, but his central control is increased with a pawn on f6 (or even f5). In the game, Black got a clear advantage and won very quickly following another mistake.

Classical Steinitz Variation 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2 [C11]

In the classical move order 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7, 5 Nce2 is becoming less common, since the lines after 5...c5 6 c3 Nc6 then 7 f4 are holding up well for Black. A relatively rare way for White to play it is with 7 Nf3. Then I give a short survey of replies, but the game Robson, R - Caruana, F St Louis 2017, saw the logical 7...Qa5, disturbing White’s development. After White played 8 a3 followed by b4, this position arose:

Caruana found the positionally well-motivated move 10...b5! . Black is able to get away with this because he can attack by ...a5 and one of his knights is likely to get to c4 via b6 or a5 before one of White's gets to c5. A complex and interesting game resulted.

Classical Steinitz Variation 6...Be7 7 Be3 b6 [C11]

There were the usual raft of Steinitz variations this month. Here’s a slightly rare but theoretically important position arising between two strong players:

In Anand, V - Pelletier, Y Zurich 2017, Black released the tension with 10..c4!?. Normally I don’t like releasing the pressure on White's center in this way if White hasn't committed his king to the queenside, especially when White doesn’t even have to prepare f4-f5 by, say, moving a knight off of f3. But it turns out that the lack of White's light-squared bishop in his attack is important, and what seems to be a substantial kingside advantage isn’t so dangerous. It’s worth pointing out that Anand won a nice game anyway, indicating that this line leaves plenty of chances for both sides.

Winawer Portisch-Hook Variation 6...Qa5 [C18]

After a period of popularity, the 6...Qa5 Portisch-Hook Variation hasn’t been seen as much.

Black may well have been new to this system in Caruana, F - Naroditsky, D St Louis 2017; here he played 9...b6?!, neglecting development, and then another slow move got him into serious trouble. Caruana won with a smooth and convincing attack. This is a model game for White that shows how careful Black has to be with his development.

Till next month, John

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