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In this month’s column, I want to draw attention to a respectable Advance Variation line which I haven’t looked at in a while, with an emphasis on a promising idea for White. Then I’ll look at some Winawers, all in the 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 Ne7 main line. Nothing of shattering importance, but lines whose treatment is changing slightly and thus presenting new problems.

Download PGN of April ’23 French games

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Advance 5...Bd7 6 Be2 f6 7 0-0 fxe5 8 Nxe5 Nxe5 9 fxe5 Qc7 10 Re1 0-0-0 [C02]

Last month we looked at 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7. Black has options, of course , including 6...f6, as recommended in Romain Eduoard’s French repertoire and covered fairly extensively in the Archives. This move has been generally successful over some years now, but a couple of games this month show a method by which White can pose a real challenge and play for advantage.

In the main line 7 0-0 fxe5 8 Nxe5 Nxe5 9 dxe5 Qc7 Ter Sahakyan, S - Gadimbayli, A, Vrnjacka Banja 2023, saw 10 Re1 0-0-0:

Here White played the modest 11 Bf1, and after 11...h6?!, 12 a4! with the very strong idea Na3-b5. This is surprisingly difficult to counter. Black can play better on move 11, but does tend to end up with a small disadvantage.

In the same line, Papp, Ga - Martinovic, S, Austria Team Ch 2023, dispensed with protecting the e-pawn and played 11 a4!:

Black captured with 11...Qxe5 (else Na3-b5 follows anyway), and after 12 Bf3 Qf5 13 Na3 Black’s position was difficult to defend. Black can improve, but in general, this line looks dangerous for the second player, who should at any rate be specifically prepared to meet each move order.

Advance 5...Bd7 6 Be2 f6 7 0-0 fxe5 8 Nxe5 Nxe5 9 fxe5 Qc7 10 c4 0-0-0 [C02]

The older theory of this line is tested in Motylev, A - Burcu, C, Vrnjacka Banja 2023, where White plays 10 c4:

I’ve included some recent game excerpts and analysis in the notes. The game itself follows some analysis I did in 2020. Black equalizes and draws quickly.

Winawer Main with 7 h4 Qc7 [C18]

In the Winawer main line after 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7, White continues to try the aggressive 7 h4. Black’s most popular reply has been 7...Qc7. Then in Preotu, R - Shimanov, A, PRO League Prelim 2023, White played 8 Rb1!?:

This isn’t as common as 8 h5, but it is a move White is likely to make anyway in this line, and it prevents ...cxd4 followed by ...Qc3+ from winning the d-pawn. Black replied with ...Nbc6/..Bd7, and ...0-0-0 and a typically double-edged game resulted. This would repay study by players with both colors.

After 8 h5 instead, we’ve looked at Rustemov’s forcing line with 8...cxd4 9 cxd4 Qc3+ 10 Bd2 Qxd4 11 Nf3 Qe4+ 12 Be2 Nf5 before:

In Caruana, F - Galchenko, M, Titled Tuesday 28th Feb 2023, White tried 13 0-0 Nbc6 14 Re1 0-0 15 h6, and Black immediately went wrong with 15...gxh6?. I had analysed 15...Nxh6! in an Archives game some years ago; it still looks satisfactory for Black, but both players need deep preparation in a line like this.

Winawer Main with 7 h4 Qa5 [C18]

Another answer to 7 h4 is 7...Qa5 8 Bd2 Nbc6:

In Carlsson, L - Berg, E, Swedish Team Ch 2023, White set up with 9 a4 Qc7 10 Nf3 Bd7 (10...f6 is interesting) and a typical Winawer position resulted with play for both sides.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 10 Ne2 dxc3 11 h4 Nbc6 12 Bf4 [C18]

In the main line of the Poisoned Pawn, after 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4 10 Ne2 dxc3 11 h4 Nbc6, 12 f4 is easily the most popular move, but 12 Bf4!? is a plausible and little-tried option:

This has scored quite well for White in terms of performance rating, and it seems logical to protect e5 while keeping the bishop's diagonal open at the same time. There are drawbacks as well, however, in that the e5 pawn can sometimes be captured, and if not, White's setup on the kingside after an the advance h4-h5 and g4-g5 is less stable than after 12 f4. In Arfan, A - Tran Thanh Tu, Budapest.2023, White had a chance for a slight edge, then fell into a losing position, and finally achieved a miracle draw.

Winawer Main with 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Bd3 c4 [C18]

Black has had reasonable results over the past few years in the line 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Bd3 c4 9 Be2 Qa5 10 Bd2 Nf5, but recent games have me realizing that Black has to be careful to avoid a modest but thankless long-term disadvantage here. Perunovic, M - Indjic, A, Bundesliga 2023, saw the rare move 11 a4:

When White plays his more common alternatives like 11 h4, 11 Nf3 or a queen move like 11 Qf4, Black will often play ...Qa4 at some point, tying White to defense of c2 and commanding a bit more queenside space. 11 a4 stops that. The game continued 11...Nc6 12 Nf3 Bd7 13 Nh4! Nce7 (13...0-0 is better) 14 Nxf5 Nxf5. This type of position is rather static for Black and White can take his time and advance on the kingside. I suggest improvements in the notes, but my impression is that White is a bit better in any case. Food for thought.

Till next month, John

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