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This month I first take a look at a couple of Classical Variation contests which follow main lines. Next I examine a recent games in a 3...c5 Tarrasch variation which has become a main line. There follows a whole series of Winawer games, most in lines that are not particularly theoretically critical, but arguably useful to know about.

Download PGN of December ’21 French games

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Classical 4 e5 Steinitz Variation 7 Be3 Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 Be2 [C11]

The Steinitz Variation with 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 Be7 is still one of Black’s most popular orders, and after 8 Qd2 0-0 9 Be2, the move 9...b6 is seen just as often as 9...a6.

In the diagram, White has a couple of setups involving Nd1, e.g., we see 10 Nd1 and, more often, 10 0-0 f5 11 Nd1, as in the game Martinez Alcantara, J - Lenderman, A, Charlotte 2021. This allows c3 or c4 in some lines, while the knight can end up on f2 or e3.

Classical Steinitz Variation 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Nf3 [C11]

Harikrishna’s repertoire (in Beat the French Defence with 3 Nc3 ) with 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2 continues to be tried out on a regular basis. Lodici, L - Haria, R, Catez 2021, saw 5...c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Nf3:

Players are becoming familiar with this setup, and the game continuation 7...Be7 8 a3 0-0 9 Nf4 Qa5 has been seen before. White tried the new move 10 Bd3?!, but landed in trouble after complications.

Tarrasch 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5, 10...a6 11 Re1 [C07]

In the 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4 Qd6 7 0-0 Nf6 8 Nb3 Nc6 9 Nbxd4 Nxd4 10 Nxd4 a6 11 Re1 Qc7 old main line, 12 Bb3 and 12 Qe2 have been the main lines for decades, but in the last couple of years attention has turned to 12 Bf1, which gives the kingside some extra defense and in many cases prepares g3 and Bg2.

Black has several playable moves, as indicated in the notes to Predojevic, B - Markus, R, Vrnjacka Banja 2021. In the game, 12...Be7 was tested and appears to be a reliable solution.

Winawer Variation 4 Qd3 Nc6 [C15]

White has been a playing a variety of sidelines against the Winawer, including the solid 4 Qd3, which intends to castle queenside early and attack. In Bortnyk, O - Shimanov, A, Speed Chess GP3 2021, Black played the unusual 4...Nc6:

After 5 Nf3 Nf6 6 e5 Ne4 7 a3 Bxc3+ 8 bxc3, White may have a little something to play with. As it was, the time control resulted in various inaccuracies and a messy battle.

Winawer Variation 4 Qd3 dxe4 5 Qxe4 Nf6 6 Qh4 Nc6 [C15]

In Andreikin, D - Papasimakopoulos, A, Titled Tuesday Oct 2021, Black played the more normal 4...dxe4 5 Qxe4 Nf6 6 Qh4 Nc6 7 Nf3 Ne7:

The position after 8 Bd3 Nf5 9 Bxf5 exf5 10 Bg5 has scored overwhelmingly for White, but after the game’s 10...Qe7+ I think it should be equal with best play.

Winawer Variation 4 e5 b6 5 h4 Qd7 6 h5 [C16]

The line 4 e5 b6 has seen quite a revival over the past few years and is recommended in a few repertoire books. Zeltsan, J - Lenderman, A, Cherry Hill 2021, saw 5 h4 Qd7 6 h5 h6 7 Qg4 Bf8, a position which had arisen about 35 times until 2020 with decent results for Black (in terms of performance rating).

Then in a couple of correspondence games, White discovered (or saw) that the engine’s first move was 8 b4!! . Check out the notes in the game - this is practically winning outright. Lenderman was fortunate that his opponent played 8 Be3 instead.

Winawer Variation 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Qc7 7 Bd3 [C11]

After 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Qc7, 7 Bd3 is a flexible move that might transpose to a main line, e.g., after 7...Ne7 8 Qg4. In Cadilhac, I - Erigaisi, A, Castelldefels 2021, Black preferred 7...Nc6:

There followed 8 Qg4 f5, and White played 9 exf6?! Nxf6 10 Qg3, a thematic idea in some variations, but too slow here had Black chosen 10...e5!. Instead, White should consider either 9 Qh5+ or 9 Qg3, as examined in the notes.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 9 Qxh7 cxd4 10 Ne2 Nbc6 11 f4 dxc3 12 Qd3 b6 [C18]

After 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4 dxc3 12.Qd3, a time-honored position, Black essayed upon 12...b6!? in Kuybokarov, T - Ganguly, S, Riga 2021.

The game continued in unique fashion after 13 h4 Bb7 14 h5 0-0-0 15 Qxc3. All very strange; French Defense expert Ganguly probably wished to answer Nxc3 on White’s part with ...a6 and play for positional compensation, although this is a controversial interpretation of the position. Perhaps it was simply a Blitz experiment, see the notes for details.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 9 Qxh7 cxd4 10 Ne2 Nbc6 11 f4 dxc3 12 Nxc3 a6 [C18]

Instead of 12 Qd3, 12 Nxc3 was played in Paravyan, D - Bharath, S, Titled Tuesday Nov 2021:

12..a6 was played; I include recent notes on the generally recommended 12...Nd4. As the game went, both sides missed some tactics (it was Blitz), but some typical and instructive themes arose.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 11 f4 dxc3 12 h4 d4 13 h5 Bd7 14 Qd3 0-0-0 [C18]

What most people would call the main line of the Poisoned pawn goes 12 h4 (or 12 Qd3 d4 first) 12...d4 13 h5 Bd7 14 Qd3 0-0-0, and here instead of the normal 15 h6, white played 15 Rb1 in Stevanic, D - Mihov, F, Catez 2021:

The game continued 15...Kb8 16 Rg1!?, avoiding the well-known 16 h6 in order to play for g4. This resembles the Tait Variation (15...Nf5 16 Rg1!), but without Black's knight committed to f5, where it inevitably loses time to g4. This difference allows Black to hold the balance and achieve good chances.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 11 f4 dxc3 12 Qd3 d4 13 h4 Bd7 14 h5 0-0-0 15 h6 [C18]

The main line 12 Qd3 d4 13 h4 Bd7 14 h5 0-0-0 15 h6 was played in Moskalenko, A - Bharath, S, Titled Tuesday Nov 2021. Instead of the popular 15...Kb8, Black played 15...Rg6:

We just saw this move in a recent column; in fact, this game follows the same course and I might well have skipped it, but it doesn’t hurt to be warned that if White isn’t concretely familiar with the tactical nuances of these positions, it’s easy for even a French expert like Moskalenko to go wrong, and almost impossible to play accurately at fast time controls.

Till next month, John

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