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This month I’ll devote to the Tarrasch Variation, beginning with a slightly offbeat line stemming from 3...a6, and then turning to popular main lines coming from 3...c5 and 3...Be7.

Download PGN of December ’18 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...a6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 c3 c5 7 Bd3 Nc6 8 0-0 g5 [C06]

In my flaky (but fun) 2007 book Dangerous Weapons: The French, I proposed looking into the eccentric line 3...a6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 (4...c5 is normal) 5 e5 Nfd7 6 c3 c5 7 Bd3 Nc6 8 0-0 g5!?:

This is a standard idea in the Universal System that can arise in this exact position, but with the moves 3...Be7 or 3...h6 substituted for 3...a6. Since White’s move Bb5 is important in many of those lines, the extra ...a6 has it’s good points, although naturally so do ...Be7 and ...h6. The variation has never grabbed much attention, but has had a decent score when used. In the recent European Blitz Championship, Blazo Kalevic had success with it versus two high-2600 grandmasters. In Ragger, M - Kalevic, B, Skopje (Blitz) 2018, White tried 9 b3, which led to double-edged play. In the notes I examine 9 h3 from the diagrammed position, as well as White’s early options after 3...a6 leading up to the key position.

In Guseinov, G - Kalevic, B, Skopje (Blitz) 2018, White played the thematic 9 dxc5, which has been seen more often than the alternatives combined:

Black played 9...g4 10 Nd4 Ncxe5!?, which is probably not best. There are various alternatives in the notes.

In the Olympiad a few months ago, Kalevic had played 8...g5 in a classical game. That game tested the important line 9 g4 h5 10 h3 hxg4 11 hxg4 (also arrived at by 9 h3 h5 10 g4, etc):

Here there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the older 11...Qb6; but in Nsubuga, H - Kalevic, B, Batumi 2018, Black played 11...b5 and won quickly. White can improve, however, and this remains a critical variation.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 dxc5 Qxc5 [C07]

It’s nice to see the French used in the Finals of a World Championship, in this case in the FIDE Women;s World Championship. Kosteniuk, A - Ju, W, Khanty Mansiysk 2018, saw 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 dxc5, and here instead of the fancy finesses with 5...Nf6, Ju played simply 5...Qxc5, not fearing 6 Ne4. A standard setup ensued, with White playing a4:

This is a popular idea designed to discourage ...b6 and create weaknesses on Black's queenside. But as the game goes it doesn't create many problems and Black gains easy equality.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4 Qd7 [C07]

In the main line with 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4, 6...Qd7 continues to be a popular choice. After 7 0-0 Nc6 8 Nb3 a6 9 Nbxd4 Nxd4 10 Nxd4 Qc7 11 Bb3:

, 11...Nf6 would be a traditional main line that has often arisen from 6...Qd6, but Black also has 11...Bd6, reserving the idea of ...Ne7. Then Gschnitzer, A- Beckett, C, London 2018, continued 12 Qh5 Nf6 13 Qh4 Bd7, with a position that has proven equal and full of chances in more than one game.

The setup with Qe2 was seen in Kamer, K - Gadimbayli, A, Konya 2018, following 7 Nb3 Nc6 8 0-0 a6 9 a4 Nf6 10 Qe2:

Black has various satisfactory ways to meet this. In the game he tried 10...Bd6 11 Bg5 Qc7 but followed up incorrectly and got the worse game.

Nisipeanu, L - Istratescu, A, Bucharest 2018, took a similar course with 7 0-0 Nf6 8 Qe2 Nc6 9 Rd1 a6 10 a4 Qc7 11 Nb3:

Here Black tried a new move with 11...Bd6, which was okay, but after a small inaccuracy could have found himself in major trouble.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 e5 c5 5 c3 Nc6 6 Bd3 Bd7 [C03]

After 3 Nd2 Be7, 4 e5 is critically important, especially in the line 4...c5 5 c3 Nc6 6 Bd3!. Djurhuus, R - Zumsande, M, Porto Carras 2018, continued 6...Bd7 7 Ne2:

Black played 7...cxd4 8 cxd4 Rc8, but then neglected to pursue his advantage on the queenside and fell into a passive and inferior position. This has been a popular variation for White, so I’ve provided some material and analysis on the sharp option 7...f6, which looks promising and more fun than playing solely on the queenside.

Another game with 4 e5 featured leading GMs Mamedov and Lagarde at the European Blitz championships. Mamedov chose a new 7th move, 7 Qg4!?:

This makes a certain sense, and White got a very limited edge in Mamedov, R - Lagarde, M, Skopje (Blitz) 2018. Later both sides ran out of time in an incredibly complex position so the game degenerated. The opening is worth a look; I’ve made one early suggestion for Black.

Till next month, John

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