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Assorted Tarrasch Variations this month, from the conventional 3...c5 to the bizarre 3...a5. Some of these games were played in Rapid or Blitz events, but they prove to be very instructive anyway.

Download PGN of February ’17 French games

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

In the main lines with 6...Qd6, we are seeing more of the setup with ...Be7 and ...0-0 (instead of ...Qc7 and ...Bd6).

I’ll illustrate this with the Olympiad game from a couple of months back, Guseinov, G - Sedlak, N, Baku 2016. As shown by the notes and the course of the game, this is a very safe and sound approach whose only drawback would be the lack of winning chances against slow play.

As we have seen previously, the move 6...Qd7 (instead of 6...Qd6) is a reasonable alternative.

Here 10...Qc7 might transpose to normal 6...Qd6 lines. Black, in Nikitenko, M-Volkov, S , Moscow 2017, chose 10...Be7 instead, with a piece placement we see in Guseinov-Sedlak above. After White became overambitious, Black won a nice attacking game.

Tarrasch 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nc6 6 Bb5 [C07]

4 Ngf3 remains a popular grandmaster choice. In the reliable line 4....cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nc6 6 Bb5 Bd7 7 Bxc6, Black has been playing the position with 7...bxc6 8 Bd3 Qc7 recently (instead of the safe 7...Bxc6):

Erenburg, S - Lenderman, A, Bethesda 2017, followed theory for about 15 moves and resulted in a position in which Black probably stands very slightly worse, with two bishops in a somewhat inferior structure. But it’s double-edged, and as a whole, this line is more interesting for both players than 7...Bxc6.

Tarrasch with 3...Be7 4 c3 c5 5 Ngf3 [C03]

Systems that delay e5 with an early c3 are considered very safe, if unambitious. For example, 3...Be7 4 c3 c5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Nxd4 Nc6 7 Bb5 Bd7:

This is the same as the 3...c5 Tarrasch Variation above 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nc6 6 Bb5 Bd7, but with an extra c3 for White and ...Be7 for Black. In Guramishvili, S - Bok, B, Wijk aan Zee 2017, we see the dangers that can arise after the exchange of White’s e-pawn for Black’s d-pawn. It’s surprising how quickly White’s game goes downhill if Black’s kingside majority gets moving.

Tarrasch 3 Nd2 a5 [C03]

No, that’s not a misprint for 3...a6. Ian Nepomniatchchi used the move 3...a5 in the World Championship Blitz tournament in Doha, and has played it several times over the years (albeit mostly in Blitz) even against the likes of Vachier Lagrave and Dominguez Perez.

Rather silly, to be sure. But it underscores the fact that 3 Nd2 limits White's own options, and thus that ‘semi-waiting’moves such as 3...a5 as well as 3...h6 and 3...a6 are at any rate playable. In the meantime, there’s hardly a line in which the move ...a5 (and ...a5-a4) isn’t at least somewhat useful for Black, both gaining space and discouraging White’s b4. In Ganguly, S - Nepomniachtchi, I, Doha 2017, White plays well and gets a little edge before the play degenerates in time trouble. I’ve merged in and lightly annotated most of the games I could find with 3...a5; they tend to be pretty exciting! Something for days when chess seems played out.

Tarrasch Guimard Variation 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 exd5 [C04]

As promised, let’s continue with our Guimard investigations, the highest-rated recent game was Hammer, J - Shaposhnikov, E , Pro League 2017. Hammer decided to exchange in the center with 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 exd5, but arrived at a typical position in which his knight on d2 was in the way.

Black tried 8...Ne7, to support ...Bf5 and prepare ...c5 in some cases. This way okay, but the aggressive 8...Bg4 might have given him more chances for an advantage.

Tarrasch Guimard Variation 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 Nb4 [C04]

In the main line with 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7, 6 Bd3 f6 7 Ng5! is at any rate dangerous for Black (as shown in the Archives), so the alternative 6...Nb4 7 Be2 c5 8 c3 Nc6 is important. Then 9 Bd3 transposes back into the 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 main lines; see the Archives. The question is whether White can utilize his 'extra' tempo and leave the bishop on e2. Azarov, S - Filipets, E, Minsk 2017, tested 9 0-0 Be7 10 Re1.

Black took the unusual step of ignoring the center and playing on the queenside. This was perhaps not so bad, but as the game went, White launched an ideal attack on the kingside, and with the help of some pretty tactical points achieved a winning ending.

Rubinstein Variation 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nbd7 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 [C10]

Hans Langrock’s book on the Rubinstein Variation (3 Nd2 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nbd7, or 3 Nc3 dxe4 etc.) draws heavily from Georg Meier’s many games over the years with that opening. Since this month’s batch included four Rubinstein games by Meier, I thought it would be of interest to see how he’s handling it.

Dek, L - Meier, Geo, PRO League 2017, went into the classical main line with 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Bd3 c5, arriving at this position:

Black’s 4:3 majority versus 3:2 is quite reliable. Here White played 11 Bd3 0-0 12 c3 Qd5 13 Nf3 and got nothing. Black achieved an edge in an ending before White blundered. In another game in the notes, Meier’s opponent played 11 Bf3, which seemed to give him a little something but eventually petered out.

Meier seldom loses a Rubinstein game, but in Kulaots, K - Meier, Geo, TCh-SWE 2017, an even position goes awry when he allows a winning sacrifice and loses in just 24 moves.

White has played the tricky h4 and appears to have some pressure, but 14...Qe7 was safe enough. Instead, Black miscalculated something after 14...Be7? 15 Bxf6 Bxf6 16 Nxe6! and lost quickly.

Till next month, John

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