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This month we look mainly at the Winawer main lines with 4 e5 c5 5 a3. Almost every traditional line for both White and Black is being tested on a master level, so I’ve taken an eclectic look at some interesting examples.

Download PGN of April ’18 French games

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Tarrasch Variation Universal System 8...g5 [C06]

Before moving to the Winawer, one 3...Be7 Tarrasch Variation caught my eye. In the main 3 Nd2 Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3 Nc6 8 0-0 line, one worthy but rather neglected idea after 8...g5 is 9 b4!?:

The idea is to stabilize the center, even at the cost of a pawn, thus exploiting the artificiality of ...g5. In Popovic, D - Guerra Rivera, S La Roda 2018, this at any rate leads to complex play with chances for both sides.

Winawer Portisch-Hook Variation 8 c4 [C18]

In the Winawer Variation with 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Qa5 7 Bd2 Qa4, the immediate 8 c4!? is not easy to assess:

Although it's consistent for White to open up the position for his bishops, he has no pieces out yet so the result isn’t obvious. The game Alekseenko, K - Savchenko, B, Batumi 2018, illustrates the main ideas.

Winawer Portisch-Hook Variation 8 h4 [C18]

8 h4 is much more popular, grabbing space before committing the other pieces. Perudecic, Mil - Djordjevic, Vu Novi Sad 2018, arrived at this typical position:

Black played 13...Rf8, preparing ...0-0-0, but then changed his mind and left the king in the center. The instructive part of this game consists in how White makes progress and ultimately breaks through.

Winawer Portisch-Hook Variation 8 Qg4 Kf8 [C18]

In the main line with 8 Qg4 Kf8 9 Qd1, Black has been doing well with 9...b6. In Hovhannisyan, R - Flom, G Batumi 2018, Black tried the similar 9...Nbc6 10 Nf3 b6:

This may be less accurate, but in the game led to play that is characteristic of the pawn structure.

The other important approach after 8 Qg4 Kf8 is 9 Nf3, sacrificing the c-pawn for activity. In Matinian, N - Mirzoyan, D Batumi 2018, we review some lines following 9...Ne7 10 h4:

Black has enough counterplay, and in this game he even achieves a serious advantage.

Winawer Armenian Variation 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5 [C18]

Theory continues to be refined in the Armenian Variation 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Ba5. In the well-played game Swiercz, D - Matsenko, S New York 2018, the players contested 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5 Bc7 8 f4 Bd7 9 Nxc7+ Qxc7 10 Nf3 Ba4, leading to this position:

Black can exchange his bad bishop and claim full equality.

Winawer Armenian Variation 6 b4 cxd4 7 Qg4 Kf8 [C18]

Najer, E - Lomasov, S, Batumi 2018, saw a recent test of the critical line 6 b4 cxd4 7 Qg4 Kf8 8 Nb5 Bb6. There are numerous alternatives along the way, but the line 9 Nf3 Nc6 10 Bb2 Nge7 11 Bd3 Ng6 12 Qg3 f6 is important:

Apparently White has nothing particularly promising here. The game went his way after Black had equalized but made a bad miscalculation.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn Variation 9...Qc7 10 Rb1 [C18]

A rare but perfectly playable deviation for White in the Poisoned Pawn is 10 Rb1 (instead of 10 Ne2), when 10...Qxe5+ 11 Ne2 dxc3 12 h4 is a critical line:

Here Black has tried three main moves. The cautious 12...Nd7 covers e5, f6, and f8, denying White easy entrance to the kingside. It led to an even game in Smirdec, A - Chan, L, Canberra 2018, although White outplayed Black in the early middlegame and eventually prevailed in a hard-fought contest.

Winawer 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 f5 [C18]

Over the years, one of the most common lines in the Winawer with 7 Qg4 has been 7...0-0 8 Bd3 f5 9 exf6 Rxf6 10 Bg5 Rf7 11 Qh5 g6 12 Qd1 Nbc6 13 Nf3:

In Perov, G - Savenkov, K, Moscow 2018, Black played 13...Qf8, and instead of 14 0-0, White anticipated ...h6 by playing 14 Be3!? . After 14...c4 15 Be2 h6 16 Qd2 Kh7?, White had, by not castling, retained the possibility of 17 h4! With the idea of h5 and sacrificing on the kingside. This lead to a substantial advantage, although a couple of inaccuracies on White’s part reversed the chances.

Till next month, John

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