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I’ll limit myself to two variations this month. The first is potentially an alternative weapon for Winawer players who don’t want to enter the most theoretically dense main lines. The other is a review of some lines in the Alekhine-Chatard Attack, which continues to be a real problem for those who like 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7.

Download PGN of February ’22 French games

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Winawer Variation 6...Nc6 7 Qg4 g6 8 Qd1 [C18]

One of the more interesting of Black’s sidelines in the main-line Winawer is 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Nc6. Although we have seen a number of games with this move in the Archives, it hasn’t really caught on among the top players. But in recent years that is changing, with quite decent results for Black. Furthermore, 6...Nc6 can lead to an important position often arising from 6...Qa5 7 Bd2 Qa4 8 Qg4 g6, as explained below. So it’s time to take a closer look. After 6...Nc6, 7 Nf3 is played a fair amount, but the most frequent critical continuation is 7 Qg4, after which 7...g6 is best:

I have always been suspicious of exposing Black’s dark squares like this when Black has a bad light-squared bishop, but the knight on c6 is well-placed and the one on g8 protects the weaknesses as well as supporting the move ...f6, so you could argue that this is an exceptional case. To begin with, the move 8 Qd1 is sometimes seen, as in the high-level Rapids game Karjakin, S - Rapport, R, Baku 2021. It defends White’s queenside and hopes to exploit White’s two bishops and space. In return, Black gets a lead in development, brings his king to safety on the queenside, and can counterattack on the kingside. There followed 8...Bd7 9 Nf3 Qa5 10 Bd2 c4 11 h4 h6. As the game and notes show, I don’t think this is too serious a threat to 6...Nc6.

Winawer Variation 6...Nc6 7 Qg4 g6 8 Nf3 Qa5 9 Bd2 Qa4 [C18]

White usually tries to make use of his queen on g4 by 8 Nf3. Then 8...Qa5 9 Bd2 Qa4 can go in various directions.

A well-tested position. Liang, J - Rozman, L, New York Winter GMA 2022, saw 10 Be2 Bd7 11 Qf4 c4 12 Ra2 h6 and Black got good counterplay by ...Rh7 and ...0-0-0. See the notes for various transpositions worth noting.

Instead of 11 Qf4, 11.0-0 c4 12.Qh4 h6 13.Ra2 is particularly important, as this exact position arises in the Hook-Portisch Variation of the Winawer after 6...Qa5 7.Bd2 Qa4 8.Qg4 g6 9.Nf3 Nc6 10.Be2 c4 11.Ra2 Bd7 12.Qh4 h6 13.0-0.

The instructive game Hong, A - Kovalenko, I, PNWCC 2020, is a good example which arose via the Hook-Portisch route. I’ve brought it up to date by analysing more recent contests in the notes. In particular, I’d draw your attention to 13...Rh7 at this point, although 13...Nce7, as played, is also viable.

Winawer Variation 6...Nc6 7 Qg4 g6 8 Nf3 Qa5 9 Bd2 c4 [C18]

Black can also forego ...Qa4 with 9...c4 10 Be2 Bd7 11 h4 h6, as in Ohanyan, E - Sjugirov, S, Titled Tuesday 4th Jan 2022:

The game saw 12 h5?! g5 and ...f5 soon followed. 12 0-0 and 12 Qf4 are better tries, with a complex game in store.

Winawer Variation 6...Nc6 7 Qg4 g6 8 a4 [C18]

8 a4 is also played, for example, in Alboredo, J - Rodriguez Vila, A, Florianopolis 2022, where there followed 8...Qa5 9 Bd2 Bd7 10 Nf3 c4.

This can lead to unique play after 11 Be2 0-0-0 12 0-0 f5!? or, as in the game, after 11 Qf4 h6 12 h4 Rh7 13 g4!? with the idea g5.

Winawer Variation 6...Nc6 7 h4 Qa5 8 Bd2 Bd7 9 h5 [C18]

A rather rare but thematic move is 7 h4, when 7...Qa5 8 Bd2 Bd7 9 h5 was played in Lima, V - Hungaski, R, Florianopolis 2022.

Here 9...0-0-0 give White a variety of approaches, e.g., 10 Qg4 Nge7! 11 Qxg7 is a risky but complicated pawn grab. The game went 10 Be2, and instead of 10...h6, 10...f6 seems to equalize more easily.

Winawer Variation 6...Nc6 7 a4 Qa5 8 Bd2 [C18]

White combined a4 and h4 in the game Abdumalik, Z - Bellahcene, B, Gibraltar 2022, which went 7 a4 Qa5 8 Bd2 Nge7 9 h4:

This resembles a Winawer main line but deviated after 9...Bd7 10 Qg4 0-0-0 11 Nf3 f6! with complications.

It’s hard to be definitive about any of these lines, since both sides have so many options. I do think the best way to study them is to go over these and other games carefully and get used to the important ideas, especially those which recur across variations.

Classical, Alekhine-Chatard Attack 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e5 Nfd7 6 h4 0-0 [C14]

3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e5 Nfd7 6 h4 is one of the rare gambits that continues to deliver good results after over a century of practice. The games in the Archives are still relevant, but I wat to bring a few things up to date. First, although 6...0-0 has been played for years (with some very strong players as Black), I’m beginning to think that it’s just a big mistake.

In the notes to Hauge, L - Johannsson, O, Reykjavik Blitz 2022, I indicate that 7 Qg4 is at best very hard to meet and 7 Bd3! even more so, in both cases with direct attacks. The game continuation 7 Nf3 c5 8 dxc5 was less effective for White, although the ensuing play is typical and instructive.

Alekhine-Chatard Attack 6 h4 Nc6 [C14]

Another move that fares poorly is 6...Nc6:

In Vetokhin, S - Chakravarthi, M, Arandjelovac 2021, White played simply 7 Nf3, exchanged bishops, and kept a space advantage. The alternative 7 Qd2! can be still more depressing for Black, since White will soon gain a commanding central advantage with f4.

Alekhine-Chatard Attack 6 h4 h6 7 Bxe7 Kxe7 8 f4 [C14]

6...h6 has been popular, but I feel it also leaves Black well short of equality. It lost three games recently, including Karthikeyan, M - Sharan, R, Sitges 2021, which went into a sort of main line by 7 Bxe7 Qxe7 8 f4 a6 9 Nf3 c5 10 Qd2 Nc6:

Here White played the strong move 11 Ne2!, which has replaced the older 11 0-0-0 over the past few years. As I indicate in the notes, Black hasn’t found a really satisfactory solution and has to carry a serious positional disadvantage into the middlegame.

Alekhine-Chatard Attack 6 h4 c5 7 Bxe7 Kxe7 8 Nf3 [C14]

In view of these and other developments, Black may well have to turn to either the acceptance of the pawn by 6...Bxg5 7 hxg5 Qxg5 which is probably quite playable, but has scored well for White (including over the past few years; see the Archives); or the move 6...c5, usually leading to 7 Bxe7 Kxe7. Then Srinath, R - Gugan, G, Benidorm 2021, saw 8 Nf3:

This is less popular than 8 f4 and 8 Qg4 (both of which score rather well), but has an even higher success rate. I suspect that Black can handle all three moves, but will tend to end up in slightly worse positions with relatively fewer positive prospects. In the game, White should have gotten a clear advantage at a few points but the play became irrational and ended in a draw with Black well on top.

Till next month, John

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