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Some Winawer and Classical variations this month. We recently spent some time investigating the Rubinstein Variation with 3 Nc3 (or 3 Nd2) 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7. But we haven't looked in detail at 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 dxe4 for a while. In this update I'll look at some recent ideas. Before that, we'll see several recent games in the ultra-critical (and popular) Winawer 7 Qg4 variations.

Download PGN of February '15 French games

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Winawer Poisoned Pawn 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7, 11...dxc3 [C18]

First, a look at a game that I missed from a couple of months ago in what has become the main line of the Winawer Poisoned Pawn:

Dizdarevic - Schon, Melbourne 2014, serves both as an example of typical play in this line and an update in the notes on several important sidelines.

Also from the very end of last year, Beukema - Burcu, Groningen 2014, tests a new move in the main line in which White sets up with Rg1/Rb1/Bd3:

Here White tried 19 Kf1!?, but it didn't pose many problems.

When White plays an early h4 before retreating the queen to d3, Black lacks the time to play ...b6 and ...Bb7 and needs to develop conventionally:

Generally White retreats with 15 Qd3 at this point, and it's important to realize that Black's best plan is 15...Kb8 with the idea ...Bc8/...b6/...Bb7. If he plays to corral the h-pawn instead by 15...Rg6 and ...Rh8, as we see in Zhigalko - Petrik, Prague 2014-15, White gets a substantial advantage by grabbing the d-pawn.

Winawer 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 f5 [C18]

The 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 f5 variation is enjoying a revival. In the main line with ...Qa5, Carlsen's 13...Nd7 leads to this position, which is becoming a standard one:

In Shankland - Timman, Wijk aan Zee 2015, White played the new move 16 h4!? with the idea 16...Nf6 17 h5! . Black should be able to maintain the balance, and the game was fairly even throughout.

If Black refrains from ...Qa5, he can choose the variation with ...Nbc6 and ...Qf8 that we have seen so often in this column. In Van Foreest-Berelowitsch, Belgian Team Ch 2015, White plays Negi's recommendation 14 h4:

Instead of the near-automatic 15...c4, Black tries 14...cxd4 15 cxd4 Qg7, which is probably objectively inferior, but creates problems for White to solve.

Exchange Winawer 5 Bd3 Nc6 6 Nge2 [C01]

A non-critical but very high-level example of the 4 exd5 Winawer was Vachier Lagrave-Ivachuk, Beijing (Blitz) 2014.

After 7 a3 Bxc3+, White has to make an important choice between recaptures.

Classical Rubinstein Variation [C11]

After 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5, the capture 4...dxe4 is perhaps not as interesting as 4...Bb4 or 4...Be7, but continues to hold up. In the variation 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6, Black can play either 6...gxf6 or 6...Bxf6.

Classical Rubinstein Variation 6...gxf6 7 Nf3 f5 [C11]

There have been numerous articles and recommendations relating to the more popular 6...gxf6. After 7 Nf3, Black normally plays 7...a6 (a la Morozevich), but the move 7...f5 has been around for some time and stands unrefuted. It encourages White to play 8 Nc3, when 8...a6 is still looking fully playable:

Kovalev - Harshkou, Minsk 2015, continued 9 g3 (the other main move 9 Qd2 is covered in the notes) 9...b5 10 Bg2 Bb7, a position that has held up very well for Black over the years. This game and its notes reaffirm that assessment.

The less popular 9 Qe2 prepares quick queenside castling and d5. This arose in a game from late last year, Krstonijevic - Draganic, Podgorica 2014.

The position after 9...b4 10 Na4 Qd5! was tested in numerous older games between strong players; today, it seems as though Black's position is reliably equal (see the notes). The game even goes his way after White plays too passively.

Classical Rubinstein Variation 6...Bxf6 [C11]

Black can also play the traditional and more mundane 6...Bxf6, when 7 Nf3 0-0 is one of the important positions:

Now 8 Qd2 is by far the most popular move, but in Van Kampen-Shankland, Wijk aan Zee 2015, White played 8 Bc4, intending d5 after a ...c5 break. The play was quite balanced throughout the early middlegame, with plenty of options for both sides, until White suddenly blundered.

The normal 8 Qd2 has been seen in several recent games, including Geller - Lysyj, Moscow 2015. After 8...Nd7 9 0-0-0, Lysyj chose 9...Be7, an old favorite of Bareev's:

In the Moscow Open, Lysyj faced the unusual move 10 Bd3 in two games. He had no particular opening problems, and in general this line looks in good shape for Black.

Till next month, John

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