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I'm in London right now and the London Chess Classic has just concluded, with nary a French Defence, which isn't saying much, as 18 of the games (over a third of them) featured 1 e4 e5, with 13 Berlin Defences and yes, 18 draws. By contrast, the French was alive and well in the concurrently-running FIDE Open, where the obsession with drawing with Black was nowhere in sight. In fact, there were more French Defences than double e-pawns! Anyway, I'm catching up a bit with a few games that could have made earlier columns, and adding a number from this London event.

Download PGN of December '15 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 Nh6 [C02]

There were some slightly unconventional Advance Variations in the recently-concluded FIDE Open in London. In Ilfeld - Compton, London 2015, a popular position arose in the main line with 5...Qb6 6 a3 Nh6 7 b4 cxd4 8 Bxh6 gxh6 9 cxd4:

Black played the rare 9...a5?!, which turns out to be anti-positional because it releases Black's central counterplay without real compensation. A rather routine win followed based upon White's command of space and superior activity.

Milner-Barry Gambit Declined [C02]

Hector - Merriman, London 2015, tested the 'declined' Milner-Barry Gambit with 5...Qb6 6 Bd3 Bd7!?, generally considered a mistake (going back to Nimzowitsch) due to 7 dxc5. But the position after 7...Bxc5 8 0-0 a5 (versus b4) 9 Nbd2 f6 turns out not to be so clear:

White might be able to get a tiny edge with accurate play, but he allowed Black a chance to get the advantage by mobilizing his center. With Black having foregone that, White kept control and won with a classic positional squeeze.

Milner-Barry Gambit 10 Qe2 [C02]

Compton - Rozycki, London 2015, saw a pure Milner-Barry Gambit with 6...cxd4 7 cxd4 Bd7 8 0-0 Nxd4 9 Nxd4 Qxd4 and now White prevented capture of a second pawn with 10 Qe2!?:

After the game's 9...Ne7, White got in the Nbd2-f3 manoeuvre he wants without losing another pawn. Black probably still has an edge, but a double-edged game resulted. The notes show that this move order is not without drawbacks, however.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6 Mainline, 12 Bf4, 14 Qc1 [C06]

I missed an important game: Adams - Jedynak, Douglas (Isle of Man) 2015.

This is now the main, main line of the traditional 3...Nf6 variation (without ...Qc7). Adams wins a very instructional game, although I'm still not sure that White has an advantage versus optimal play by Black.

Alekhine-Chatard Attack 6....h6 [C14]

We've seen quite a few successes for 6 h4 (the Alekhine-Chatard Attack) in this column. One reply that seems to be more reliable than the others is 6....h6:

At this point, Sawlin - Hovhanisian, Berlin (Blitz) 2015, saw the popular sequence 7 Bxe7 Qxe7 8 Qg4 0-0. White's 9 Nf3 was positionally suspect, however:

After 9...c5, White couldn't hold his center together and got the worst of things. An ideal Black miniature win resulted.

Danielyan - Sedina, St Petersburg 2015, saw the better sequence 9 0-0-0 c5 10 f4, but Black still achieves easy play and quickly got the better game.

It turns out that 7 Be3! is a more dangerous move, because it attends to the center and retains the bishop as an attacking piece. In Medarde Santiago-Arribas Lopez, Madrid 2015, 7...c5 8 Qg4 followed:

Here 8...g6 has been the most common move, but Black chose 8...Bf8!?, and White got the better of things after 9 dxc5. Still, the position is rich and a very complex fight ensued.

Classical Steinitz 3...Nf6 4 e5, 7...Be7 8 a3 [C11]

A main line Steinitz was tested in Vishnu - Lenderman, London 2015, where White played a very early 8 a3, a move of Svetushkin's:

Black naturally chose 8...0-0, as have most players in this position, when 9 dxc5 Bxc5 10 Bxc5 Nxc5 11 b4! has scored very well for Black in the past, but careful analysis makes me conclude that White can retain the better game. In the game itself, White missed a nice winning tactic, then stood better for a long time anyway, and finally folded towards the end of a long and hard-fought struggle.

Assorted Lines 2 f4 [C00]

I've gotten a surprising number of questions over the years about the move 2 f4. I think the main reason that it has never attracted much interest from masters is not that Black can force an advantage, but that, as in the case of many slow moves, it allows Black to equalize immediately with a number of setups. White will usually meet ...d5 with e5 (although you can play a kind of reversed Dutch if Black delays ...d5). Then a setup with d3 and c3, usually involving Na3-c2, is the most popular. In Prosviriakov - Rambaldi, London 2015, a more or less typical position arose:

Black played 8...f6!? And a tense central situation arose, with equal chances.

Till next month, John

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