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In view of the popularity of the Advance Variation I’ve tried to fill some gaps with games in important lines. Then we revisit the Classical 5 Nce2 line, featured a major game between Carlsen and Harikrishna. I’ve added an instructive theoretical game in the Steinitz Variation and an obscure Winawer Poisoned Pawn game with an interesting deviation. Finally, two games in the 3...c5 Tarrasch with the popular 4 Ngf3.

Download PGN of April ’22 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 a3 Rc8 7 Bd3 [C02]

After 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 a3, Black usually plays 6...f6 or 6...c4. But in line with the recent rage for ...Rc8, Eynullayev, A - Jumabayev, R, Titled Tuesday March 22nd 2022, saw 6...Rc8 7 Bd3!? cxd4 8 cxd4 Qb6 9 Bc2:

This position isn’t seen often yet it does arise periodically. Black essayed upon the adventurous 9....Nxd4?!, which led to good play but is objectively inferior and should have led to big trouble. Instead, 9...g5! would have led to complex, balanced play.

Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Rc8 7 a3 [C02]

Another ...Rc8 variation we’ve seen goes 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Be2 Rc8, and now in Kosteniuk, A - Jumabayev, R, Rapid Wk7 2022, White varied from the usual 7 0-0 with 7 a3:

This was probably a good idea, to confuse Black, and White should have gotten good chances, but the complications and the Rapids time control combined to lead to chaos.

Advance Variation 4...Qb6 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Bb5 [C02]

Black’s ancient line with ...Qb6 and ...Bd7-b5 received an elite level test in Vidit, S - Rapport, R, FIDE Grand Prix-II Belgrade 2022. The game went 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Qb6 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Bb5, and here 8 Bxb5+ Qxb6 9 Nc3 Qa6 10 a4:

There have been a number of interesting games here. Vidit managed to expand on the queenside and even missed an early forced win, while Rapport eventually took advantage of inaccuracies and won a hard-fought battle. I’ve examined options along the way such as 10th-move alternatives and 6 Bd3.

Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nh6 8 Bxh6 Qxb2 [C02]

The gambit line with 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nh6 8 Bxh6 Qxb2 continues to be tested. In Grischuk, A - Lenderman, A, Titled Tuesday Feb 22nd 2022, the most popular version with 9 Nbd2 gxh6 10 0-0 was seen:

Instead of the ultra-critical 10...Nxd4, which we’ve examined a few times, Black played 10...Bd7 11 Rb1 Qxa2 12 Rxb7 Rb8 13 Rxb8+ Nxb8. White played 14 Qa1 (we’ve looked at 14 Qb1 previously) 14...Qxa1 15 Rxa1, when two moves seem to equalize, but Lenderman chose the more difficult path and didn’t find the best defensive moves.

Classical 4 e5 and 5 Nce2 - Harikrishna System, 5...c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Nf3 Be7 8 a3 [C11]

There continue to be frequent tests of 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Nf3, which Harikrishna used as his main recommendation in his book on playing against the French. He faced the ultimate test in this line against none other than Magnus Carlsen this month. Carlsen chose 7...Be7 8 a3 0-0 9 Nf4 Qa5:

We have seen this before. In Harikrishna, P - Carlsen, M, Charity Cup 2022, White innovated with 10 b4!?. I don't see any previous games with this, which would make it that rare beast, the true novelty. It leads to fascinating play, although whatever preparation Harikrishna did make soon became irrelevant in the complications. To be fair, he wanted to avoid Carlsen’s preparation versus his lengthy published analysis on 10 Ra2. I’ve updated the games with both sides’ options along the way.

Classical 4 e5 and 5 Nce2 - Harikrishna System, 5...c5 6 c3 cxd4 7 cxd4 f6 8 Nf4 [C11]

Instead of 7 Nf3, White also has 7 f4, which we have examined in the Archives. If Black doesn’t like something in that line, a very interesting order is to forego 6...Nc6 in favor of 6...cxd4 7 cxd4 f6:

This has been played many times by Renato Terry with satisfactory play. In Polanco Nunez, Y - Terry, R, Titled Tuesday Feb 1 2022, we look at a whole row of such games after 8 f4, 8 exf6, and the line played in the main game, 8 Nf4 Bb4+ 9 Bd2 Qb6.

Steinitz Variation 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 9 Qd2 Qxb2 10 Rb1 Qa3 11 Bb5 Nxd4 12 Bxd4 a6 [C11]

The Steinitz Variation with 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 is the main line of the 3 Nc3 Nf6 French these days. We have seen many games in the past with the forcing line 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 9 Qd2 Qxb2 10 Rb1 Qa3 11 Bb5 Nxd4 12 Bxd4 a6 13 Bxd7+ Bxd7 14 Rb3 Qe7 15 Rxb7:

I haven’t updated the theory on this for some time, but it still seems to be holding up for Black. A critical line that has been tested repeatedly over the past couple of years begins with 15...Rc8 16 0-0 Qd8 intending ...Bc5. Thanks to Chess Life editor John Hartmann, who sent me the very recent game Khanin, S - Hungaski, R, Spring Chess Classic 2022, an excellent example of the play. Thanks also to Hungaski; I’ve used some of his excellent notes and added some of my own to give a limited overview. In a hard-fought game, Black could have held the balance in the opening but played one inaccuracy, got in trouble, and then defended tenaciously to achieve a draw.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6 6 e5 [C07]

After 3 Nd2 c5, the main lines with 4 exd5 Qxd5 have scoring better for Black than White in recent months, so we are seeing a lot of games with 4 Ngf3. In the line 4...cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6, White usually plays 6 exd5, but 6 e5 Nfd7 7 N2f3 Nc6 8 Bf4 is a solid option:

In Matlakov, M - Jumabayev, R, Rapid Wk6 2022, White managed to get a natural attacking position with c3 and Bd3, later winning with a nice attack. Probably Black is better off preventing that, as I show in the notes. There are also some fascinating options here, such as 8...Be7 (8...Qb6 was played) 9 c3 g5!? 10 Nxg5!?.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6 6 exd5 Qxd5 7 Nb5 Na6 [C07]

We have seen quite a few games with 6 exd5 Qxd5 7 Nb5 Na6. Kovalev, V - Maghsoodloo, P, Rapid Wk7 2022 illustrates why White continues to play this fairly risk-free line, but also how Black has little to fear if his is carefully prepared. The line 8 Nc3 Qd8 9 a3 has become popular:

Here the game’s 9...Bd7 (a good move after 8...Qd6 9 a3) never quite equalizes, and White soon got a substantial advantage. 9...Be7 seems better and has held up in practice. In general there’s enough play for both sides to stay interested in these lines.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4, 10 Qd3 Nbc6 [C18]

In the Poisoned Pawn after 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4, 10 Qd3 continues to challenge Black. In Beerdsen, T - Maneluk, D, Titled Tuesday March 1st 2022, instead of the normal 10...Qxe5 or 10...dxc3, Black played the rare 10...Nbc6!?:

This rather terrible-looking move gives White the chance to transpose back one of the main lines by playing 11 f4 (I add a few recent examples), but the obvious attempt at refutation is 11 cxd4, when Black’s point is 11...Nxe5!. Although this has scored terribly in practice, it turns out to lead to interesting gambit positions if Black is very carefully prepared and avoids falling into a few positional traps. White doubtless has a theoretical edge, but it’s a complex struggle which might appeal to some. The game example is just a Blitz game, which nevertheless serves to illustrate the important early choices.

Till next month, John

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