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With the return of over-the-board play and slower time controls. I’ve chosen mainly games from the FIDE World Cup, choosing primarily lines that have recently been contested by leading players.

Download PGN of August ’21 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Nh6 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nf5 8 Bxf5 exf5 [C02]

The variation 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Nh6 can go in various directions, but often gives rise to a standard position of the sort following 6 Bd3 cxd4 (or 6...Nf5) 7 cxd4 Nf5 8 Bxf5 exf5 9 Nc3 Be6:

We’ve seen variants of this formation in the column several times. Mareco, S - Cori, J, FIDE World Cup, Krasnaya Polyana 2021, entered into an old main line, one which is still producing interesting play for both sides.

Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 Bd7 7 b4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Rc8 9 Bb2 [C02]

In Giri, A - Abdusattorov, N, FIDE World Cup, Krasnaya Polyana 2021, Black played 5...Qb6 6 a3 Bd7 7 b4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Rc8:

White hasn’t made much progress against this system. He tried 9 Bb2, but the standard idea 9...Na5 10 Nbd2 Nc4 held up well in the endgame that resulted.

Advance Variation 4...Qb6 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nge7 8 Na3 Nf5 [C02]

A position which can come up by many move orders occurred in Grandelius, N - Akobian, V, FIDE World Cup, Krasnaya Polyana 2021, following 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Qb6 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nge7 8 Na3 Nf5 9 Nc2 Bd7 10 0-0:

This position has arisen in this column a dozen or so times over the years, but considering its frequency (over 1000 games in my database) and its consistent use by top-level players, I should be paying it more attention. Black has a variety of playable moves. In the game, he plays 10...Rc8, which looks fine if followed up properly. I’ve touched upon alternatives, and a more in-depth study of this line should benefit players of both colors.

Classical Variation 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 h6!? Gambit [C12]

After 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5, an odd line that a few strong players have toyed with over the past few years is 4...h6!? 5 Bxf6 Qxf6 6 exd5 Bb4:

Black gambits a pawn and hopes for compensation in the form of two bishops and a lead in development. White has tried several approaches here; I find the one in Bacrot, E - Haria, R, FIDE World Cup, Krasnaya Polyana 2021, rather convincing. With best play, Black seems to get less-than-adequate compensation. Nevertheless, there may be more to explore here.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 exd5 exd5 5 Ngf3 Nc6 6 Bb5 Qe7+ 7 Be2 Qc7 [C09]

In the popular line 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 exd5 5 Ngf3 Nc6 6 Bb5 Qe7+ 7 Be2 Qc7, Giri lost a key World Cup game on the White side after 8 dxc5 Bxc5 9 Nb3:

Here 9...Be7 is the soundest-looking move, preventing 10 Qxd5 due to 10...Nb4. But in Giri, A - Abdusattorov, N, Krasnaya Polyana FIDE World Cup 2021, Black played the ambitious alternative 9...Bb6. This keeps the bishop active at the potential cost of a pawn. White declined and a tough double-edged game resulted, with Black scoring the point from a problem-like finish.

Dmitry Kryakvin (the author of a recent two-volume French repertoire book) had two games this month with the main line 8 0-0 Nf6 9 Re1:

Kryakvin played 9...Be6 in one game and drew (as reported in my notes), but he preferred the safer 9...cxd4 in Moiseenko, Va - Kryakvin, D, Novorossiysk Blitz 2021. In spite of being a blitz game, the play never strayed very far from equality.

King’s Indian Attack 3... c5 4 Ngf3 Nc6 5 g3 Bd6 6 Bg2 Nge7 [A08]

It’s been a while since we looked at the setup with 2 d3 d5 3 Nd2 c5 4 Ngf3 Nc6 5 g3 Bd6 6 Bg2 Nge7 7 0-0 0-0. In Kassis, A - Kuzubov, Y, FIDE World Cup, Krasnaya Polyana 2021, White chose Fischer’s old move 8 Nh4 (instead of the standard 8 Re1).

Black has a variety of setups. In the game, 8...Bc7 was tried; I’ve suggested that 8...b5 is a particularly interesting choice.

King’s Indian Attack, Nbd2, Qe2 MainLine [C00]

Another standard King’s Indian Attack position arose from 2 Qe2 Be7 3 Nf3 d5 4 d3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 h4 c5 7 g3 Nc6 8 Bg2 b5 in Zvjaginsev, V - Haria, R, FIDE World Cup, Krasnaya Polyana 2021. After a few moves this position arose:

Black delays castling in order to sidestep potential attacks with Bxh6. In response, White played c4, blocking the advance ...c4. Complex double-edged play resulted, which was roughly balanced but turned tactical and irrational in time trouble.

Winawer Mainline 7 h4 Qc7 8 h4 [C18]

The Winawer line 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 h4, often played at elite levels, continues to be contested. For the past several years, 7...Qc7 has been the most common defense, with 8 h5 a critical move:

Black usually plays 8...h6 (see several high-level games in the Archives), and I’ve included some recent games with that move in the notes to the main game. But it’s not clear that he can’t get away with grabbing a pawn by 8...cxd4 9 cxd4 Qc3+ 10 Bd2 Qxd4 instead. After 11 Nf3 Qe4+ 12 Be2 Nf5, Pichot, A - Lagarde, M, Biel 2021, deviated from the usual 13 Kf1 and 13 0-0 (which I analyse in the notes) with 13 Rb1, a move that the engine likes but I don’t see in any database. This might have reaped immediate dividends, because Black misjudged some tactics; White missed his opportunity, and the resulting game was both thematic and instructive.

Till next month, John

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