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This month Tom and I have taken over for a guest update - I'm sure John will be back again very soon. My experience in the French is virtually all on the White side and so I've examined some high powered games in the Tarrasch, while Tom has decided to investigate recent developments in the 5...Ba5 Winawer, the 'Armenian Variation'

Download PGN of February '12 French games

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Tarrasch Defence 3...h6 [C03]

Recently Black has been testing various third moves and Howell - Short saw Nigel repeat the offbeat 3...h6, which worked so well for him at the London Classic. David avoided castling with 8.a3!?:

and succeeded in taking over the initiative on the kingside.

Tarrasch Defence 3...c5, ...Qxd5 [C07]

Following 3...c5 4.Ngf3 cxd4 5.exd5 Qxd5 6.Bc4 a few strong players have been trying out the unusual retreat 6...Qd7!?:

With decent results, but Adams - Fridman sees Mickey play a wonderful game, sacrificing a pawn for strong positional compensation, enduring even into the endgame:

White doesn't have to allow this variation of course and in Karjakin - Giri White was the one who played an early deviation with 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.dxc5!?:

Perhaps Karjakin simply wished to avoid Giri's preparation but Black failed to equalise and so this idea must be taken seriously. Now over to Tom.

Winawer Defence - Armenian Variation 5...Ba5 [C18]

The first three games cover the key line 6.b4 cxd4 7.Qg4 Ne7 8.bxa5 dxc3 9.Qxg7 Rg8 10.Qxh7 Nbc6 11.Nf3.

In Najer - Korobov White plays the critical 13.a6!:

But then decides to delay taking on b7, however I don't think it's an idea that will catch on!

The same line but with the more usual 14.axb7+ is examined in Amonatov - Gorovykh where Black tries 15...d4!:

Which seems to keep Black's chances alive in this important theoretical line.

In our third game in the line Black scores an impressive victory with another interesting idea. I've yet to find a convincing refutation of 11....Qxa5!? as you will see in Savchenko - Sichinava:

Finally I've looked at recent games in White's more positional option of 7.Nb5:

It's of no surprise that many White players choose this over the complications of the Qg4 lines but Black still has to be accurate here as can be seen in Filippov - Kvon.

Overall I believe the Armenian Variation remains playable, especially as a surprise weapon. Usually the better prepared player will come out on top. I hope you find our annotations interesting and we'll see you over at 1.e4... very soon!

Gawain and Tom.

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