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Some Tarrasch and Winawer variations this month, mostly lines we haven’t covered for a while, but also a couple of high-publicity contests.

Download PGN of August ’18 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 e5 c5 5 c3 [C03]

With 3 Nd2 Be7 doing reasonably well for Black in the main lines after 4 Ngf3 and 4 Bd3, White sometimes turns to 4 e5, and in particular the line 4 e5 c5 5 c3 Nc6 6 Bd3, which is illustrated in this month’s game Harikrishna, P - Zhou Weiqi, Chinese Teams 2018.

This has become the most popular way for White to try to make something out of 4 e5, and Harikrishna's use of it is a good indication that the system has some real bite. After 6...cxd4 7 cxd4 Qb6 8 Ndf3 Bd7, The course of the game shows how careful Black has to be in the opening. I’ve tried to include a few games from over the past year to illustrate other common defensive setups.

In the same line, Black can also try to keep White’s king in the center by 8 ...Bb4+ 9 Kf1:

The problem is that the king can easily shift to g2, and in the meantime it’s hard for Black to develop. Lyell, M - Farago, I, Budapest 2018 illustrates how easy it is for Black to get chased back. White is definitely having the better of it in this variation.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 [C03]

The 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 lines are never as popular as 5 Bd3/5c3, but they score reasonably well for White and will repay preparation. Years ago in Dangerous Weapons: The French I recommended playing this position after 5...c5 6 Ngf3 Nc6 7 Nb3:

The good thing about such lines is that theory doesn’t generally determine the result. In Mamedov, R - Eren, A, Ankara 2018, White sacrificed his d-pawn and achieved very interesting attacking chances.

Webster, D - Moradiabadi, E, Middleton 2018, saw the unusual but reasonable move 5...b6:

The obvious point is ...Ba6, but Black is also waiting to see whether White will commit to Ndf3 or Ngf3. The game and notes indicate that Black can benefit from delaying either or both of the moves ...Ba6 and ...c5, depending upon White’s setup.

Winawer - Armenian Variation 6 b4 cxd4 7 Qg4 Kf8 [C18]

We have covered a couple of Black’s lesser-known alternatives in the main line recently, and they are continuing to attract attention. One high-profile example was Magnus Carlsen’s use this month of the Armenian Variation, 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Ba5 in the game Georgiadis, N - Carlsen, M, Biel 2018. White chose the ultra-safe line 6 b4 cxd4 7 Qg4 Kf8 8 Nb5 Bc7 9 Qxd4 Nc6 10 Qc5+ Nge7 11 Nxc7 Qxc7:

At first the computer likes this quite a bit for White, but that’s almost certainly based on its optimistic evaluation of the bishop pair, and perhaps the fact that Black won’t be able to castle. But as various games have shown, the modest weakness of White’s pawn structure compensates Black, and in the game Black even achieved a winning position before uncharacteristically drifting.

Winawer - Armenian Variation 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5 Bc7 [C18]

In the other main line with 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5 Bc7 8 f4 Bd7, the game Monnisha, G - Milikow, Y, Pardubice 2018, arrived at this standard type of position:

We’ve seen a fair number of these games, and one rule of thumb is that if Black can achieve the exchange of light-squared bishops by ...Bb5, that’s usually a complete equalizer.

Winawer Variation Mainline 7 Qg4 Kf8 [C18]

Another Winawer main line deviation that we examined recently was 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Qg4 Kf8, which continues to look sound. In two games this month White tested the older 8 a4:

In Santos Ruiz, M - Ozmak, I, Benasque 2018, Black tried 8...Qc7 9 Qd1 Nbc6 with the idea of exchanging and ...Nb4. This seems a legitimate plan.

Winawer Exchange 5 Bd3 [C01]

Players at all levels continue to use 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 exd5 exd5 5 Bd3 from time to time, mainly because it’s relatively solid and doesn’t commit to any pawn weaknesses. One popular line goes 5...Nf6 6 Nge2 0-0 7 0-0 c6:

The Blitz game Aronian, L - Caruana, F, Speed 2018, followed Anand-Caruana (previously analysed in this column) until move 12, and stayed balanced most of the way until Black began playing too passively and exposed his king.

Boruchovsky, A - Gallego Alcaraz, Pardubice 2018, saw another familiar setup with 5...Ne7 6 Nge2 Nbc6 7 0-0 Bg4:

This kind of position is important to understand from both sides. In variations where Black doubles White’s c-pawns (as in the game), White’s two bishops compensate for the resulting weaknesses, but White has to proceed actively before Black’s knights assume active roles.

Till next month, John

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