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This month I feature the Rubinstein Variation 3...dxe4, emphasizing a few lines which I haven’t covered thoroughly enough before. Then we look at a couple of recent Steinitz Variation games, and finally, address a question from a reader regarding the Tarrasch with 3...Nf6.

Download PGN of February ’23 French games

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Rubinstein Variation 4...Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Bg5 [C11]

The Rubinstein with 3 Nd2 dxe4 or 3 Nc3 dxe4 continues to hold its own and more: over 80 games this month, Black achieved a performance rating advantage!

We start with the line 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Bg5 (equivalent to 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 dxe4 5 Nxe4 Nd7 6 Ngf3), which was seen in Oparin, G - Lenderman, A, Titled Tue 17th Jan 2023. The game continued 6...Be7 7 Nxf6+ Bxf6:

8 h4! , an old move used extensively in the early 2000s by the likes of Kasparov, Topalov, and Anand. Black must be careful not to fall under attack.

Kourkoulos Arditis, S - Ladopoulos, D, Thessaloniki 2023, Black played 6...h6 instead of 6..Be7, leading to 7 Bxf6 Bxf6:

This looks like a reliable line for Black with few drawbacks.

Rubinstein Variation 4...Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 Ne5 [C10]

White has periodically tried 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 Ne5 over the years. A popular follow-up has been 7...a6 8 Bd3 c5:

In Sanal, V - Vallejo Pons, F, World Blitz Almaty 2022, there followed 9 dxc5 Bxc5 10 0-0 0-0 11 Bg5, when 11...Be7?! was too slow but 11...h6 should lead to a balanced game. More difficult to meet is Harikrishna’s recommendation 11 Re1, after which Black has decent play, but I doubt that he can fully equalize. The solution 7...Nd7 is also worth investigating.

Rubinstein Variation 4...Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Bd3 Nxe4 7 Bxe4 Nf6 8 Bg5 [C10]

One of the most successful lines in practice against the Rubinstein has been 6 Bd3. In Sargissyan, S - Dourerassou, J, Titled Tuesday 17th Jan 2023, Black played the most popular defense 6...Nxe4 7 Bxe4 Nf6, and White played 8 Bg5:

White gets a lead in development and Black needs to be very careful after 8...Be7 9 Bxf6! Bxf6 10 Qd3! . White got a very large advantage in two recent examples.

Gadimbayli, A - Vallejo Pons, F, Gashimov Memorial Blitz Baku 2022, saw the same opening but with 8...c5 instead of 8...Be7.

After 9 0-0 cxd4 10 Nxd4 , Black played 10...h6 and got in serious trouble, with a wild and messy game resulting, whereas 10...Be7 would have been approximately equal.

Steinitz Variation 7...Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 Be2 b6 [C11]

After 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3, the variations with 7...Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 are still being contested on a regular basis. In Mamatov, M - Sankalp, G, World Blitz Open Ch Almaty 2022, the well-established 9 Be2 b6 followed:

After 11 0-0 Black played the older 11....f6 and after 12 exf6 (12 dxc5 is more challenging) 12...Nxf6, Black should be comfortably equal.

Steinitz Variation 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 9 a3 Bc5 [C11]

Najer, E - Cheng, B, World Blitz Open Ch Almaty 2022, saw the extremely popular 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6, when the 9 Qd2 gambit has dominated theory until recently, but the move 9 a3 has been hotly- contested of late. Then 9...Bc5 10 Ncb5 is featured in several Archives games, but the players tested 10 Na4 Qa5+:

Now 11 c3 has been the main line, but the game’s 11 b4 is more critical. After 11...Qxa4 12 bxc5 Nxc5 13 Nb5, Cheng played 13...Ne4!. I analysed this in an earlier game in the Archives. It seems to be a complete solution for Black, leading to a draw unless, as in the game, White tries for more and gets overrun.

Tarrasch with 3...Nf6, 7 Ne2 cxd4 8 cxd4 f6 9 exf6 Nxf6 10 0-0 e5 [C06]

Reader Martin Carpenter submitted an original question about some straightforward moves that theory has neglected for over a century. He begins with a position that has arisen in thousands of games, beginning with 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Bd3 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Ne2 cxd4 8 cxd4 f6 9 exf6 Nxf6:

Now White plays 10 0-0 or 10 Nf3, and without thinking Black responds with 10...Bd6 in the vast majority of cases. But Carpenter asks why, after 10 0-0, Black doesn’t play 10...e5. A great question! Oddly enough, in the very first game in my database with the position after 10 0-0 (played in 1914) Black indeed played 10...e5, but then it wasn’t until more than 50 years later that Black again tried the move!

Since 10 Nf3 prevents ...e5, Carpenter also suggests 10...Bb4+ and appends some analysis.

In ‘Question in 3..Nf6 Tarrasch’, I take 10 0-0 e5 as my main line and explore some solutions; one interesting discovery is that in the line played most often, White made the same mistake in seven out of eight games! In the notes, I expand upon Carpenter’s analysis of 10 Nf3 Bb4+. Thanks for this contribution; it turned out to be a fascinating exercise!

Till next month, John

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