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With the Olympiad going on, some of the main lines of the French are being tested, but since we've been largely concentrating upon a few of those this year, I thought I'd catch up on a few neglected variations. All of these stem from 3 Nc3.

Download PGN of August '14 French games

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Alekhine-Chatard Attack 6...c5 [C14]

The Alekhine-Chatard Attack (3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e5 Nfd7 6 h4) is one of those unusual gambits that has continued to evolve and remain respectable into modern times. As proof, check out our Archives games. This month, Women's World Champion Hou Yifan was not afraid to try 6 h4 in an important Olympiad game. After 6...c5 7 Bxe7 Kxe7, a popular line, she played the rather unusual 8 Nf3:

This move is a 'lesser possibility', according to Ntirlis, but is the least complicated solution at White's disposal. Whether or not it gains the advantage by force (doubtful), Black has problems to solve, and White soon had an unstoppable attack in Hou Yifan-Hoang Thanh Trang, Tromso 2014.

MacCutcheon Variation 6 Bc1 [C12]

Among the new games and ideas in the MacCutcheon, the line 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Bb4 5 e5 h6 6 Bc1, formerly obscure, stands out because it has received so many tests.

The game Saric - Batchuluun, Tromso 2014, saw 6...Ne4 7 Qg4 Kf8:

I tend to favour lines with ...g6 over ...Kf8, but in this case the latter move may equalize more easily.

Instead, 7...g6 has been the most common move. Perunovic - Markoja, Bad Gleichenberg 2014, contains some recent games and analysis.

This position is fundamental. It seems that Black can attain equality versus either recapture, but the resulting positions are double-edged.

MacCutcheon Variation 6 Bh4 [C12]

The other odd move that has received attention recently is 6 Bh4, leading to this position:

In PTF4 I analyze 4 moves for Black here, all resulting in approximately equal play. Mastrovasilis - Mulet, Gorzow 2014, was an unbalanced and well-played game until Black faltered and let White break through.

Hecht-Reefschlaeger 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 exd5 exd5 [C10]

It's been a while since I looked into 3 Nc3 Nc6, the Hecht-Reefschlaeger Variation. It's remarkable how resilient this has been over the years. White doesn't seem to have a convincing advantage in any line. Perhaps someone will put together a comprehensive up-to-date work on this variation, because as far as I know there hasn't been anything of length written since my Dangerous Weapons: The French book, and much has happened since.

Jobava has used 3...Nc6 several times this year, including against super-GMs Caruana and Dominguez Perez. In the Olympiad game Dominguez Perez-Jobava, Tromso 2014, White played the symmetrical line 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 exd5 exd5, leading to this standard position:

This constitutes a potential drawback of 3...Nc6, i.e., that some variations are rather sterile and thus not desirable for play against much weaker players. In this case, I'd recommend one of Black's methods for breaking the symmetry soon (see the notes), because although Jobava pulled off a draw with what looked like ease, White had an option that would have at least forced Black to suffer on the defense for some time.

Hecht-Reefschlaeger 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 e5 f6 [C10]

Tomczak - Betkowski, Lazy 2014, tested the 4 e5 f6 5 Bb5 variation (Jobava recently chose 4...Nge7, which is solider and more common; see the notes and the ChessPublishing Archives), arriving at the following standard position:

In the game, White tries a pawn sacrifice to accelerate his queenside attack. Black should probably have accepted; but his real mistake came a few moves later when he surrendered a huge outpost on e5.

As seen in Sadykov-A Timofeev, Kazan 2014, and the notes (featuring a miniature with Christian Bauer as Black), 4 e5 f6 5 f4 is hardly a threat to Black's system. The resulting structure offers chances to both sides:

In the game, Black developed a central advantage and drove it home.

Hecht-Reefschlaeger Mainline 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 e5 Ne4 [C10]

Vilchenko-A Timofeev, Vladivostok 2014, featured the main line with 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 e5 Ne4 6 Bd3 Bb4, soon arriving at this familiar position:

Instead of the usual 9 a3, White played 9 exf6, which led to an early equality and soon to a substantial Black advantage.

Our third straight Timofeev game, Danin-A Timofeev, Vladivostok 2014, followed the same line with 6 Ne2 instead of 6 Bd3. This led to:

Here Black played 10...Qd6 and should have stood worse. The old move 10...Qd5! is worth reviewing, especially since this is a forcing line needing a precise solution

Winawer Poisoned Pawn Variation 12...d4 [C18]

There have been numerous games in the ever-important Poisoned Pawn Variation, particularly in the early 12...d4 line which has dominated recent practice. Anything by Emanuel Berg in this line is worth reporting, since he literally wrote the book on it. In the recent Olympiad game Kalugampitiya-E Berg, Tromso 2014, we see Berg running into a problem I've encountered in both the Poisoned Pawn lines: a lower player (in this case 2121, over 400 points below Berg) prepares a drawish line in one of the main variations and there are few ways to deviate without seriously risking defeat.

Here White plays 18 Qc5 and gains no advantage but virtually secures the draw. We see this problem not only in the main game, but in the imbedded game which I've annotated (Ernst-Hovhanisian, Ghent 2014), in which the very same thing easily could have happened. The point is that the main line with 12...d4, marvelously successful for Black both in theory and on a high level, doesn't look appropriate versus a much lower-rated player unless a draw is acceptable.

An even clearer example: Kokarev - Prizant, Voronezh 2014, followed the main line up through move 17, arriving at this position:

Here White, clearly knowing his theory, played 18 Be3, which is harmless and well known to lead to one of several drawn positions (as explained in both my Play the French 4 and Volume 2 of Berg's French series). In this case, White was the higher-rated player; he even won when Black left theory and erred badly. But again, the real problem for Black arises when he is the higher-rated player and has little if any opportunity to play for a win. Then the theoretically sound status of 12...d4 is small consolation, and it might behoove Black to know some alternative systems, for example, 7...0-0 or 7...Kf8.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nd7!? [C18]

A game I analysed but neglected to include in last month's batch with 7...0-0 is Paramzina - Pustovoitova, Moscow 2014, in which after 8 Bd3, Black succeeded with the irregular move 8...Nd7!?:

This has never had a good reputation, perhaps deservedly so, but White should know why. In the game he was quickly lost.

Till next month, John

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