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This column reviews one of the main lines of the Classical Steinitz Variation. This is a major battleground for 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5, and both sides should pay attention to the latest trends and characteristic ideas.

Download PGN of August '15 French games

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Winawer Variation 6...Qc7 [C18]

First I'll show just a single game outside of our main variation. Volokitin - Bajarani, Warsaw 2015, supplements the 6...Qc7 Winawer variation which we examined last month.

French expert Volokitin, playing against a lower-rated opponent, couldn't cope with Black's better development and queenside pressure. The resulting near-miniature says something for the dynamism and trickiness of this variation.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7 Be3 Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 dxc5 [C11]

This month, almost all the games in the Steinitz Variation begin in this position, the most popular one among top players:

For some time now, Black has been playing ...b6 next, so as to reply to dxc5 with ...bxc5. This has proven successful, as we will see in a couple of examples. In order to avoid those lines, White is increasingly turning to 9 dxc5. Then Black has two recaptures. After 9...Bxc5 10 0-0-0, Bok - Tiviakov, Amsterdam 2015 saw 10...Qb6 11 Nd4, after which Black opted to liquidate into an ending:

This typically favours White slightly, as the game illustrates, although Black definitely should not lose if he defends well.

The more popular move is 10...Qa5, when in Arizmendi Martinez-Rudolf, Andorra 2015, White played Negi's suggested repertoire move 11 a3:

There can follow various replies, as explained in the notes. In the game Black chose 11...Be7. That's not bad, but White should gain some advantage with accurate play and Black should look into his alternatives.

Instead of 9...Bxc5, Black can also capture with his knight - 9...Nxc5 - and that seems to be a reliable course. This position normally arises:

In Derakhshani - Wagner, Biel 2015, 11 Qe1 was played, but Black simply continued with his main plan of ...a6 and ...b5 and at least equalized.

The better-known and sharper 11 Qf2 was tried in Jarmula - Bluebaum, Karpacz 2015. Then 11...Qa5 is possible, but Black played the more interesting move 11...b6, tempting White to attack with 12 f5:

After 12...Ra7! with the idea ...Rd7, Black had no trouble defending his king and even took the initiative in short order.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7 Be3 Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 Be2 b6 [C11]

Moving on to the traditional main line with 9 Be2, Black has begun to play the modern move 9...b6 on a regular basis, and after 10 0-0, the fairly recently-discovered finesse 10...f5 (to bypass the option, after the older 10...f6, of 11 dxc5).

A key position that is unresolved at the moment. The response 11 exf6 has a fair amount of history (due to 10...f6 11 exf6). In Alsina Leal-Peralta, Badalona 2015, 11...Nxf6 12 Bb5 Bb7 followed, and in another game this month (in the notes), 12...Bd7. Both look completely sufficient for equality.

Bente - Prusikin, Bayerisch Eisenstein 2015, saw 11 Bb5, perhaps a novelty and in some ways more logical than Bb5 in other contexts since White has good control over d4. After 11...Bb7, White might have played the consistent 12 Ne2, but instead surrendered the centre with 12 dxc5.

As you can imagine, this posed no difficulties, and Black even gained a small advantage over the next few moves. In the notes, a remarkable double pawn sacrifice was offered with the move 9 h4!?; well worth seeing.

Finally, in Froeyman - Michiels, Ghent 2015, White tried a move that goes with most Steinitz variations, 11 a3, leading to this position:

Here Black has played 12...Rc8 followed by ...cxd4 with queenside pressure, which seems slightly more accurate than the game's 12...a6. In general, Black has satisfactory play in this kind of position.

Till next month, John

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