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This month we look at some important lines in the Advance and Tarrasch variations, in a few cases ones I have neglected in this column. Finally, I analyse a game in the Winawer submitted by a reader; it concerns a dangerous variation that has been ignored or miss-assessed in the literature.

Download PGN of April ’21 French games

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Advance Variation 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nge7 [C02]

Alexei Shirov has been a consistent advocate of the Advance over the past few years. In Shirov, A - Tomczak, J, European Online CC 2021, the line 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nge7!? was tested. This might transpose to a traditional variation after 8 Nc3 Nf5, but the fact that Black has played 7...Nge7 (avoiding 7..Nh6 8 Bxh6) gave White the opportunity to play 8 Na3 Nf5 9 Nc2, a reorganization that has brought him some success over the years. There are several ways for Black to proceed, and in the game he chose 9...Bd7:

After the surprising 10 Kf1!? (Shirov recently played 10 0-0 here, a game I analyse in the notes), 10...Be7 11 g4, the game turned sharp, with Black attaining a modest edge but then succumbing to a violent attack.

Advance Variation 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nh6 8 Bxh6 [C02]

Black lost a game in the main line after 7...Nh6 8 Bxh6 (all the rage) 8...gxh6!? (8...Qxb2 is critical, but this has been played often enough to warrant a look) 9 Qd2:

White’s structure and better minor pieces should outweigh Black’s bishops, but it’s not easy. In Durarbayli, V - Tomczak, J, European Online CC Final 2021, White transferred his pieces to the kingside and achieved a serious bind.

The current main line is 7....Nh6 8 Bxh6 Qxb2. In Vinter Schou, U - Godart, F, European Online CC 2021, White chose 9 Nc3 Qxc3+ 10 Bd2 Qa3, which we have seen previously in this column.

My feeling is that with accurate play, White has full compensation for the pawn, but not a bit more.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 Bd3 c5 5 dxc5 Nf6 6 Qe2 [C03]

3 Nd2 Be7 continues to be played regularly. In Heinemann, T - Tomczak, J, European Online CC Final 2021, White played 4 Bd3 c5 5 dxc5 Nf6 6 Qe2, and Black set up by 7...a5 8 0-0 Na6:

In this well-known position, White avoided the complex main line 9 e5 and played 9 exd5. Black has recaptured on d5 in both ways here, but I think the game demonstrates that 9...Qxd5 should fall somewhat short, and that 9...exd5 is preferable.

Instead of 8 0-0, White can also try to attack via 8 h4!?:

This isn't played very often, but has an excellent score and high performance rating. To begin with, White intends e5 and Bxh7+. Fedoseev, Vl - Braun, C, European Online CC 2021, continued 8...h6 9 a3 a4 10 e5 Nfd7 11 b4 axb3 12 Nxb3 and White has a few attacking ideas but Black should stand well. White got an edge but most of the game favored the second player up to the last tragic moment.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 c5 6 e5 Nfd7 7 c3 Nc6 8 0-0 h5!? [C06]

The main line 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3 Nc6 8 0-0 is normally met by 8...g5 or 8...a5. In Ragger, M - Tomczak, J, European Online CC Final 2021, Black experimented with an older move 8...h5!?:

The idea is to avoid 8...g5 9 dxc5, but keep ...g5 in reserve if it proves desirable. Indeed, 9 Re1 cxd4 10 cxd4 g5 followed, and Black gain interesting play. A truly complex back-and-forth game ensued. Perhaps we’ll see more of 8...h5.

Tarrasch 3...c5 4 Ngf3 Nc6 5 Bb5 a6 [C07]

In the variation with 3 Nd2 c5 4 Ngf3, the move 4...Nc6 has been less popular than the alternatives due to 5 exd5, when 5...Qxd5 6 Bc4 is a poor version of the 4 exd5 Qxd5 lines. But with 5...exd5 6 Bb5 Qe7+ gaining in popularity, this order is seen more often, and White often chooses 5 Bb5, which can transpose after 5...cxd4 6 Nxd4 Bd7 to a line we’ve seen many times in this column. I haven’t, however, examined the alternative 5...a6 6 Bxc6+ bxc6:

In spite of White’s lead in development this has done reasonably well for Black because of his strong center and bishop pair. In Fedoseev, Vl - Bluebaum, M, European Online CC Final Tornelo 2021, 7 0-0 Nf6 8 Re1 cxd4 followed and Black had no problems, although he blundered and lost after gaining a nice advantage. I’ve analysed some alternatives and feel that 5...a6 is a good option for Black.

Tarrasch 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 exd5 5 Ngf3 Nc6 6 Bb5 Qe7+ [C09]

Martin Duque, J - Sebenik, M, Bassano del Grappa 2021, tested the above-mentioned 5 exd5 exd5 6 Bb5 Qe7+ variation, currently popular among masters. White played 7 Be2 (I catch up on 7 Qe2 in the notes) 7...Nf6 8 0-0 Qc7:

Play continued 9 dxc5 Bxc5 10 Nb3 Be7, position that we have analysed more than once in the Archives. The game was fairly even throughout until after an exchange of mistakes a draw resulted.

Winawer Mainline 6...Ne7 7 h4 Qa5 8 Bd2 Qa4 9 Rb1 [C18]

Reader Alex Relyea sent the correspondence game Caron, VS - Relyea, A, ICCF 2021, which featured the line 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 h4 Qa5 8 Bd2 Qa4 9 Rb1:

This is surely an underrated move, and considering this, I have also taken a look at 6...Qa5 7 Bd2 Qa4 8 Rb1 in my notes. At any rate, after 9 Rb1, the game went 9...Qxa3, which Berg in his French trilogy calls ‘the simplest solution’, but it seems to be a grave mistake. Play continued 10 h5 h6 11 Ra1 Qb2 12 dxc5!. Relyea comments: "Berg says that 11.Ra1 is White's opportunity to bail out with a repetition, but after 12.dxc5 Black is almost lost.“ He points out that I show a similar idea in a related variation but not in this move order, and asks ” I need to abandon the whole line?" In the notes I mention 9...c4 and analyse 9...Nbc6. I would recommend the latter, but only after studying it carefully. This is an irritating line for Black to play against, and provides another reason to look at the popular 7...Qc7.

Till next month, John

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