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This month I've examined some top-level Tarrasch Defence Guimard Variation games, and then taken a long-delayed look at some 3...dxe4 variations (arising via 3 Nd2 dxe4 or 3 Nc3 dxe4). Finally, there's a somewhat irregular Winawer that caught my eye.

Download PGN of January '13 French games

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Tarrasch - Guimard Variation [C04]

This was an interesting month for the Guimard as we saw some action in the 2700+ crowd.

Rublevsky - Silvain, Warsaw (Blitz) 2012, went 6 Bd3 f6 (more ambitious than 6...Nb4).

Here White played the dubious 7 0-0?!, a pawn sacrifice that shouldn't work, but Black blundered and White came out on top.

In Giri - Nakamura, Beijing 2012, Black entered a slightly passive line which is better for White but playable:

He ended up suffering with the worse position and then, presumably as both players began to suffer from a time shortage, White missed a powerful way to advantage, and both players made crucial errors in a complex ending which Black had the last chance to win, with a draw eventually resulting.

The super GM game Karajakin - Grischuk, Moscow (Blitz) 2012, saw a rare order in the line 4 c3 e5, i.e., 5 dxe5 dxe4 6 Qe2!?:

This is undoubtedly equal, but Grischuk played a little ambitiously and probably should have stood somewhat worse. He won in the blitz complications.

...dxe4 Systems - Rubinstein/Fort Knox [C10]

In this column I've seldom looked at 3...dxe4 variations. These can arise via 3 Nd2 dxe4 or 3 Nc3 dxe4. Traditionally, these are played by Black at the top levels in order to get a safe game, and in some cases an early draw. I'm afraid that I have to agree with the general impression that ...dxe4 is a bit passive, and it's not in line with the philosophy of most dedicated French Defence players and authors, who treat the French as a dynamic counterattacking system. But for the average player, any position that is unbalanced should be good enough to play for a win against average opposition, and of course you may simply want to avoid heavy theory.

Fort Knox 5 c4 [C10]

The Fort Knox, 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bd7 with the idea ...Bc6, was covered extensively in ChessPublishing by Neil McDonald, who then recommended it for Black in his How to Play Against 1 e4. Unfortunately, I haven't kept the reader up-to-date with 4...Bd7, in part because top players haven't seemed very interested. This is odd, because Black gets a solid game with respectable (if not glowing) results.

At any rate, the first thing to do is look at 5 c4, Tzermiadianos' recommendation in How to Beat the French Defence, which isn't covered in Neil's book, nor in ChessPublishing thus far. In Seymour - McDonald, London 2012, we get to see the author's response to 5 c4. Instead of the obvious 5...Bc6, which uses up almost all the coverage in Tzermiadianos, he plays 5...Ngf6:

White responds with 6 Nc3, in order not to free Black's game, but it's a trifle slow and poses little danger.

In the game Forcen Esteban-Belezky, Zaragoza 2012, we see what has to be the most testing move, 6 Nxf6+, leading to this position:

The verdict from this position hovers between small advantage for White and completely equal. In the game, White slowly uses his space advantage to achieve a winning game.

There are always plenty of examples of the usual 5 Nf3 Bc6 6 Bd3, and I've included a few of them within Jones - Arkell, Kilkenny 2012. This is one basic position:

As in so many Fort Knox lines, Black is solid enough to prevent obvious White attacks, but has few positive prospects. The game is a particularly good illustration of how Black can sometimes create structural changes that guarantee equality.

Rubinstein Variation [C10]

After 4...Nxd7, we have the Rubinstein Variation, and following 5 Ngf3 Ngf6, White usually plays one of two moves, both well-represented in the Archives. In Macieja - Alvarez Pedraza, Mexico City 2012, White chooses the most popular line, 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6, and now instead of the main moves 7 Bd3 and 7 Bg5, the modest 7 c3:

This is deceptively difficult to fully equalize against, as you can see in the notes. In the game, White ends up with the bishop pair and a stable advantage.

In Kosteniuk - Zatonskih, Beijing 2012, White played 7 Bd3 and met the most ambitious move, 7...c5, with 8 Be3, soon arriving at this standard position:

Here 9...Be7 is normal. Zatonskih played 9...cxd4 and remained worse for some time.

Hou Yifan- Zatonskih, Beijing 2012, saw 7 Bd3 Be7, another respectable line, which reached this common position:

This appears to be a harmless position for Black, although the game continuation was relatively dynamic and could have favoured either side.

The other main move is 6 Bd3. In Karajakin - Wang Hao, Tashkent 2012, Black played the popular 6...Nxe4 and arrived at a position we've seen previously on ChessPublishing:

Here White avoided the obvious 9 Bxf6 and played the more complex 9 Bd3. Black grabbed a pawn with 9...Qb4+, which is asking a lot, and fell under great pressure. White falters, gives away his clear advantage, and under what looks like time trouble, manages to butcher an opposite-coloured bishops ending. Wang Ho, in turn lacking time, misses his winning opportunity and the game ends peacefully.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn Variation 11 Bf4 [C18]

The main lines of the Winawer Poisoned Pawn grow ever deeper, but a few sidelines are still under-investigated. In a well-played and exciting game between two lower-rated players, Sukaylo - Schnegelsberg, Bad Zwesten 2013, White substituted 11 Bf4 for 11 f4:

This certainly doesn't pose an existential threat to Black's system, but it leads to fresh positions and deserves more attention.

Till next month, John

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