ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
This month I’ll update a few lines we’ve been following over the past year. These are all variations which are getting established as respectable ways for Black to play.

Download PGN of February ’20 French games

>> Previous Update >>

Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 c4 7 Nbd2 Na5 8 g3 [C02]

In the main line with 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 a3 c4 7 Nbd2 Na5 8 g3 Bd7 9 Bg2, we’ve seen a number of examples in which Black plays some version of a ...Nge7-c8-b6 reorganization. In Mamedov, R - Smirnov, A, Wijk aan Zee 2020, Black tried 9...Be7!? 10 0-0:

, and now 10...g5!? introduced a kingside expansion. This looks sound enough. Play was double-edged until Black misplayed on the queenside and White got a strong initiative; but ultimately Black recovered for a miracle draw.

Tarrasch 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 exd5 5 Ngf3 Nc6 6 Bb5 Qe7+ [C09]

The variation with 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 exd5 (or 4 Ngf3 Nc6 5 exd5 exd5) has become respectable over the past few years, in no small part due to the line 5 Ngf3 Nc6 6 Bb5 Qe7+ 7 Be2 Qc7, as we’ve discussed often in the Archives. Recent games support that assessment, e.g.Heinemann, J - Tregubov, P Gibraltar 2020, tested the position after 8 0-0 Nf6 9 Re1:

, when both 9...cxd4 and 9...Be6 should equalize.

In Di Berardino, D - Kryakvin, D Gibraltar 2020, White played 9 dxc5 Bxc5 10 Nb3 Be7 11 Bg5 0-0 12 c3:

Here Black chose 12...Rd8, hoping to develop the c8-bishop actively (as opposed to the previously-played 12...Be6, although that was also satisfactory). Games thus far indicate that Black has no problems equalizing.

Classical, Steinitz Variation 6 Nf3 Be7 7 Be3 b6 8 Qd2 Nc6 9 Be2 [C11]

Continuing our discussion from last months, Black continues to experiment with the variation 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Be7 7 Be3 b6. Probably this is more difficult to play than the main lines but seems to be holding its own on a theoretical level. Now 8 Qd2 Nc6 9 Be2 0-0 10 0-0 is a standard position:

Here 10...Bb7, 10...f6, and 10...f5 have been normal. Praggnanandhaa, R - Topalov, V, Gibraltar 2020, went 10...cxd4 11 Nxd4 Nxd4 12 Bxd4 Nb8, with ideas of ...Nc6 or ...Ba6. This is a bit passive, but very close to equalizing.

Classical, Steinitz Variation 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 Be7 8 dxc5 [C11]

As White, Topalov preempted Black’s plan by 8 dxc5, leading to 8...Nxc5 9 Qd2 0-0 10 0-0-0 a6 11 Qf2:

A well-known position in which I feel 11...b6 is best. In Topalov, V - Sankalp, G, Gibraltar 2020, Black played 11...Qa5?!, which in spite of being used in numerous contests looks inferior. The game illustrates why.

Classical, Steinitz Variation 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Nf3 Be7 [C11]

White continues to play 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Nf3, as recommended by Harikrishna as part of a White repertoire. Vitiugov, N - Van Foreest, J, Wijk aan Zee 2020, tested the line 7...Be7 8 a3 0-0 9 Nf4 Qa5:

A known position. Vitiugov, an expert on both sides of the French innovated with 10 Bd3!?, but in spite of some attacking chances, careful defense seems to favour the second player.

In Alekseenko, K - Aryan, C, Gibraltar 2020, White chose 8 g3 0-0 9 Bg2 instead:

This looks solid, but after 9...b5! with the standard queenside expansion, it seems to me that Black is already having more fun. The game was double-edged.

Winawer Armenian Variation 5...Ba5 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5 [C18]

The Armenian Variation 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Ba5 continues to be explored. A fascinating game was Berg, E - Edouard, R, PRO League 2020, which after the traditional moves 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5, continued 7...Bb6!?:

I was unaware that this move existed (although it has a limited history); the first point is that after 8 Qg4 Kf8 we’ve transposed into the modern main line 7 Qg4 Kf8 8 Nb5 Bb6 (see the Archives). That leaves various alternatives, of course, including 8 Nd6, as discussed in the notes. Berg chose the flexible 8 Bd3 Nc6 9 Nf3, when 9...f6 led to a dynamic and interesting struggle. 7...Bb6 will need some more tests and analysis, but looks like a fun area for experimentation.

After the normal 7...Bc7 8 f4, Black played 8...Nc6!? In Adhiban, B - Flom, G, Gibraltar 2020. This is a rare move compared to the standard 8...Bd7 intending ...Bxb5. The contrast became evident after 9 Nf3 Nge7 10 Nxc7+ Qxc7 11 Bd3:

The c8 bishop generally has a role to play in this variation, but in the position before us it’s got no future. White already has a nice advantage and went on to win a miniature.

Till next month, John

>> Previous Update >>

Please post you queries on the French Forum, or subscribers can write to me at if you have any questions or queries.