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After a couple of examples in the Tarrasch Variation, this month's column concentrates upon the move ...b6 in the Classical Steinitz Variation. A few years ago this was practically unknown and now it shows up in at least four different forms.

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Tarrasch Variation 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 [C05]

Let's start with the Tarrasch Variation 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 c3 Nc6, pitting White's well-supported centre against Black's lead in development and undermining moves. One classic line involves a break with ..g5.

This typical position arose in A Ivanov- Lowinger, Bethesda 2014. While Black is holding his own in this position from a theoretical point of view, the game saw him neglect to move his king from the center and White soon had a winning game.

In the 5 f4 line, an attack upon White's centre with ...c5 and ...f6 often leads to a tactical melee.

Markantonaki - Avramidou, Vrachati 2014, is a case in point. Black plays slowly and White misses an early opportunity to gain a huge advantage. Later, Black allows White to establish a space advantage in the centre and both wings, which proves too much to handle.

Classical Steinitz ...b6 plan [C11]

In the Classical Steinitz main line with 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3, Black has many ways of setting up:

The most common plans involve ...a6 and ...b5, ...Be7, and various lines with ...cxd4 with ...Qb6 and/or ...Bc5. Only in recent years has the move ...b6 been played in several positions. On the surface, it's a passive move, failing to initiate expansion with ...b5-b4, using up the b6 square for Black's queen, and preparing the uninspiring move ...Bb7. But it has the important advantage that if White plays dxc5 (a terribly common move in the main lines without ...b6), then Black can recapture with ...bxc5 and obtain a dangerous, mobile center. Other plusses will become evident as we move into examples.

Classical Steinitz 6...Be7 7 Be3 b6 [C11]

Let's look at various ways that the move ...b6 arises. An ultra-modern version is to bypass ...Nbc6 and play 6...Be7 7 Be3 b6:

Instead of developing normally with 8 Qd2 or 8 Be2, for example, White played 8 Ne2!? in Djukic - Kaleziv, Podgorica 2014.

8 Qd2 was played in Zhao Zong Yuan-Lou Yiping, Jiangmen 2014, and Black continued to delay ...Nc6 with 8...0-0:

The point was to follow with ...a5 and ...Ba6, after which Black achieved equality rather easily. We should this line developing its own theory soon.

Classical Steinitz 6...Nc6 7 Be3 Be7 8 Qd2 b6 [C11]

After 6...Nc6 7 Be3, Black can play 7...b6 or 7...Be7 8 Qd2 b6:

From this last position, 9 Be2 is normal, but we see a variety of other ideas in this month's batch. In Pijpers - Wempe, Groningen 2014, for example, White took advantage of the committal ...b6 to play 9.Bb5. This isn't particularly impressive, but does have the idea of diverting Black's bishop in preparation for the pawn break with f5.

A traditional pawn chain position arose after 9 Nd1 0-0 10 c3 in Dourerassou - Bluebaum, London 2014:

Black played an early ...f5 and ...a5-a4, achieving close to equality. White opened the center with c4 at the wrong moment and got the worst of it.

Finally, the remarkable 9 h4!?, sacrificing a pawn following 9...cxd4 10 Nxd4 Bh4+ 11 Bf2, is both sound and reasonably promising. I would normally call this 'imaginative', but it was played in a machine battle Komodo-Stockfish, 2014, referred to in the notes to 8...b6 in Wan Yunguo-Wempe (see the next game), along with another Komodo-Stockfish game which was also drawn.

Classical Steinitz 6...Nc6 7 Be3 Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 Be2 b6 10 0-0 [C11]

The most popular...b6 line is 6...Nc6 7 Be3 Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 Be2 b6 10 0-0:

Wan Yunguo-Wempe, Groningen 2014, continued 10...Bb7 11 Nd1 cxd4 12 Nxd4 Nxd4 13 Bxd4 Nc5:

The idea of ...Ne4 guarantees Black equality.

Instead, 10...f6 is considered the main line, and 10...f5 was played in Kurayan - Volkov, Paderborn 2014:

Here 11 exf6 is critical, transposing into the 10...f6 lines. White played 11 Nd1 and Black again exchanged on d4 and brought a knight to c5. This was sufficient for equality, although Black was later outplayed in a difficult contest.

Till next month, John

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