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I haven’t caught up with the Advance Variation in a while, in particular the popular 5 Nf3 Bd7, so we’ll look at some games in that variation. Apart from that, I’ve chosen just a few recent games in main lines of the Tarrasch and Classical.

Download PGN of December ’16 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 [C02]

Several French repertoire books and videos recommend 5...Bd7 (the ‘Euwe System’) in the main line, rather than the traditional and more common 5...Qb6. Then 6 Be2 Nge7 keeps open the ideas of ...Nf5 and ...Ng6. To discourage the latter, White sometimes plays 7 h4:

This rare but relatively important move hasn’t been covered in this column. It appeared in the Super-GM game Topalov, V - Caruana, F in the London Classic this month. A terribly complex back-and-forth game ensued in which first Black, then White, had large advantages, until finally White cracked in time pressure.

After the frequently-played sequence 7 Na3 cxd4 8 cxd4 Nf5 9 Nc2 Qb6 10 0-0, Black has tried a number of moves such as 10...Rc8, 10...f6, and 10...a5!?. The option 10...Na5 has been popular because of the straightforward idea of exchanging Black’s bad bishop for White’s good one, as happens after 11 b3 Bb5:

It’s hard for White to use his extra space, and his d-pawn is weaker than anything in Black’s camp. In Cumming, R - Pert, R, London 2016, White played 12 Bxb5+ Qxb5 13 Qd2!?, but 13...Nc6 was solid, and if anything Black got the better chances.

White played better in McShane, L - Hawkins, Jo, London 2016, with the move 12 Bd2, leading to this position:

Here Black played 14...0-0-0?, which is too risky, especially when 14...0-0 was fully equal. White advanced his queenside pawns and got a winning atttack, but failed to convert.

We’ve seen the position after 7 0-0 Ng6 several times in the Archives. In Zhou, Y - Libiszewski, F, Reading 2016, White played what is arguably the most promising idea of 8 g3 Be7 9 h4, leading to 9...cxd4 10 cxd4 0-0 11 h5 Nh8:

Now 12 h6 g6 has been tested and probably only helps Black after ...f6 and ...Nf7, so in this game White simply develops with 12 Nc3 f6 13 exf6 Bxf6 14 Be3. That doesn’t seem to be enough to scare Black off this line, but leads to interesting play.

Tarrasch 3...Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Bd3 main line [C06]

Cukrowski, F - Musialkiewicz, P , Poronin 2016 is a slightly older game in which White plays very solidly with Nc3 and Be3 in this traditional setup:

This is rather important to be familiar with, since White players like the safety such a setup provides. Black responded a little oddly with 14...h6!? and ...Qf7, which was a little slow. In the game, White missed a chance to secure a thematic positional bind but went on to win after mistakes.

Classical Steinitz with 7 Be3 a6 [C11]

Before we get too far away from this year’s Olympiad I should show the important and hard-fought game Kramnik, V - Meier, G, Baku 2016, where White took an original approach to the Steinitz:

Black played 11...b6 and White took some space and initiative with 12 b4! Nd7 13 Bd3; later the game blew up tactically. In the notes we see that 11...Qa5, played in a recent game, might improve.

But the real surprise comes in the recent game Ragger, M - Bluebaum, M, Novi Sad 2016, where the players followed the Kramnik game through 12 b4 and then Black uncorked the amazing move 12...f6!!?:

After 13 bxc5 bxc5, White manages to hold onto his piece for many forced moves, but ends up having to give material back. A terrific sacrifice, and as a bonus, White needs to play a gorgeous drawing combination at the end of the game to ensure a draw.

Till next month, John

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