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A happy 2008! At the time of writing, Anand, Kramnik, Topalov and co. are battling it out at Wijk aan Zee. Very exciting stuff, but I've a feeling I might be waiting a long time for the first French in the Premier section. It's a pity that Morozevich wasn't invited. Anyway, there has been plenty of French action elsewhere, including an amazing game between Harikrishna and Short in the Wijk aan Zee 'B' Group. But first of all, we'll look at something rather offbeat.

Download PGN of January '08 French games

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Bd3

A tricky gambit variation

The neglected 3.Bd3 has a long pedigree, having been played by both Tarrasch and his hypermodern nemesis Tartakower. Simon Winawer used to play like this as well; and surely he should know a thing or two about the French...

White has now scored 7.5/8 in the ChessPub archives with 3.Bd3. OK, I've been choosing the games and perhaps I'm biased, but believe me, the bishop move deserves a lot more attention.

The focus this month is on the riposte 3...c5, which I give an exclamation mark in the archives. But that is because I think 4.exd5 should be answered by 4...exd5 with a type of French Exchange. After 4...Qxd5, which on the face of it is very tempting, as both d4 and g2 are hanging, White has a highly tricky pawn offer: 5.Nc3!:

The pawn on d4 is just about palatable, but the one on g2 is poisoned: 5...Qxg2 6.Be4! and it's goodbye to the black queen.

First up is a splendid attacking game in which White downs a GM opponent 160 Elo points above him. Once again we see the enormous effect of a surprise in the opening. Barsov isn't sure where to put his pieces and is soon in deep trouble in Cruz Ravina-Barsov.

In our second game, Black accepts the pawn on d4. He gets a more than decent position, but only because White avoids what I regard as his most potent means of attack. Here is Loeffler - Schebler.

Advance: 3.e5 Qd7

No white knight on c3 spells trouble for Black

I wish that I could recommend this way of playing against the Advance Variation- it would cut out a lot of theory. But watching Short's travails against Harikrishna at the Corus B made me realise a bitter truth: you should only contemplate Qd7 and b7-b6 once White has committed himself to Nc3, as in the Winawer. Otherwise you are asking for trouble in the shape of c2-c4.

I'm aware that my analysis doesn't do justice to this wonderful fighting game, which shows that the Indian No 2 Harikrishna has developed into a very imaginative attacking player. Nigel Short also deserves a lot of credit for his steely defence. Here is Harikrishna - Short.

Advance: 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bd7 6.Be2 f6

Using the French Defence to get a GM title

The English player Simon Williams succeeded in pushing his rating over the 2500 threshold necessary to gain the GM title at Hastings- he already had the requisite three norms. Here is one of the wins that did it: a 23 move demolition of an IM in Afek - Williams.

Tarrasch 3.Nd2 Be7

Dodging the Universal System

Another game from Hastings sees two of the top young English players slugging it out. After 4. Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bd3 c5 7.0-0 Black took the chance to avoid the so-called Universal System with 7...cxd4. Well, most of us hate facing the Universal, but was it out of the frying pan and into the fire? Here's how it turned out in Jones - Pert.

Fort Knox: 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7

A battle between Super Grandmasters

In the mainline after 5.Nf3 Bc6 6.Bd3 Nd7 7.0-0 Ngf6 8.Ng3, systems involving c2-c3 combined with a rapid advance of White's h-pawn can be tricky for Black [as IM Tom Rendle told me recently]. Fortunately, this month we get to see a mega-star of solidity defending Black's position. Despite the fact that Gelfand eventually loses to a tactic, there's a lot to learn from Karjakin - Gelfand.

Rubinstein 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7

An important choice for White

Here under the microscope is 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.Be3 Nd5:

In the diagram position, White has to make a key decision: should he save his bishop from capture with 8.Bd2; or should he press on fearlessly with 8.Bd3, claiming that after 8...Nxe3 9.fxe3 his pawn structure is strengthened rather than weakened? Take a look at Predojevic - Sojanovic.

Winawer: 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Ne7 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 b6

Black's speedy queen manoeuvre

Some time ago GM Bogdan Lalic provided analysis for this website on 7.Qg4 Ng6 8.h4 h5 9.Qd1 Qd7 10.Ne2 Qc6:

He believed that the queen manoeuvre ...Qd7 and ...Qc6 was the best way for Black to handle the position. It's good to see Bogdan's opinion validated in a heavyweight clash between two 2700 players [it may 'only' have been a rapidplay game, but it was also a World Cup!] Check out Karjakin - Grischuk.

Winawer Mainline: 7.Qg4 Qc7 8.Qxg7

So is Black OK or not? The mystery deepens

What follows is in reply to an email from the Forum's 'dom' concerning recent coverage of the variation 8...Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4 dxc3 12.Qd3 d4 13.Rb1 Bd7 14.Rg1 0-0-0 15.g4 Be8:

Dom's email is in italics, and I've added my comments.

You asked for comments about "Winawer: Poisoned Pawn 7.Qg4 Qc7" in your last update. Reference is game: Rodriguez-Pecorelli,Matanzas 1994 (analysis in chessinformant database on CD) or game Kritz-Cornette,Ascona 2007 (chesspublishing, update december 2007) and position after 15.Rb1 or 15.g4 (there are various move orders reaching this position) 15...Be8! (Instead 15...Nd5 - Wagman-Tamai,Caorle 1988 the first game played with the position according to - 16.Rg3! f6?! 17.exf6 Nxf6 and now the amazing 18.Nxd4! is better than 18.g5 played in the game. Idea is: 18..Be8 naturally pinning the d4-knight, transposes to line with 15...Be8) 16.Rg3! and now if 16...f6?! 17.exf6 Nd5:

[a] 18.Qc4 Qh7! is your analysis in chesspublishing updates.

I'm glad you like my move! But I'm still puzzled why Berg didn't play 18...Qh7 versus Svidler and why in a later game Kritz [rated 2596] allowed Black to do it- but Black didn't take the chance. I wonder if there some analysis of this line somewhere that I'm not aware of?

[b] 18.Nxd4! running to a pin (18...Nxf6 19.Nb5! unpinning knight because 19...Rxd3 20.Nxc7 Rxg3 21.Nxe8 and advantage to White in the ending.

I agree. Checking on the database, 19.Nb5 was actually played in a correspondence game V.Myakutin - P.Cimmino, Russia vs RoW 2004-6. A better try might be 19...Qe7 but 20.Qc4 Kb8 looks a healthy advantage for White.

Going back a move I wanted to play 18...Bg6, when 19.Nxe6 Rge8 is surely too dangerous for White but 19.Qc4 looks good for him, for example 19...Nxd4 20.Qxd4 Bxc2 21.Rb5 Kb8 22.Qe5! that annoying offer to exchange queens!

Returning to the position after 16.Rg3, dom has an improvement in mind:

Black has to try 16..Nd5! and now White has no obvious way to win: 17.Nxd4 Nxf4 ; 17.Bg2 Qe7 stopping h2-h4 ; 17.g5 Kb8 18.Nxd4 Nxf4 19.Nxc6+ Bxc6 20.Qxc3 Nd5 or 18.Qe4 Nb6 ; 17.h4 f6 18.exf6 Nxf6. Analysis done quickly this evening with computer (Schredder help): to be checked

The good thing about the line with 16...Nd5 is that Black isn't even a pawn down! However, 17.g5! strikes me as the obvious attempt to 'punish' Black for not playing f7-f6:

After 17...Kb8, White can build up slowly with 18.h4 instead of taking on d4. Can Black generate counterplay in the face of 19.h5 etc, supported if necessary by Rh3? I thought about 17...Nde7, shamelessly giving up two tempi to put the knight on the f5 square. But 17...Nde7 18.h4 Nf5 19.Rh3 Rh8 20.h5 f6 21.g6 fxe5 22.Bg2 looks very good for White.

My thanks to Dom for his very interesting and informative email. Subscribers can play through the above analysis by clicking on Myakutin - Cimmino.

Anyway, that's all for now. Good luck to everyone with their chess!

Best Wishes, Neil

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