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The focus is on the Tarrasch Variation this week, with an emphasis upon the somewhat rare systems as well as 3...Be7. Then I update a few important variations in the 7 Qg4 Winawer main line.

Download PGN of January ’17 French games

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Tarrasch Variation

This ChessPublishing column has been around for many years now, and has been the go-to spot for analysis on many ‘unconventional’ variations of the French Defence. The tradition started with Neil McDonald, who had an eye for unusual lines. You can’t, for example, find a comprehensive analysis about all the lines of the Hecht-Reefschlaeger (3 Nc3 Nc6) anywhere else. In the Tarrasch Variation (3 Nd2), I don’t know of any book or video that approaches the substantial amounts of material we have on the Guimard (3...Nc6) or 3...h6 variations. Let’s see a few recent examples.

Guimard Variation 3...Nc6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 [C04]

The variation 3...Nc6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 is dangerous, and Black often chooses the safe 6...Nb4. But 6...f6 is also playable, leading in the most critical line to this position:

We have seen various games with the normal 9...g6 10 Bxg6+ Kd7, but in Antal, Ge - Maslik, M, Slovakia 2016, Black played 9...Kd7 and achieved a reasonable game. White took advantage of some inaccuracies and won an instructive game.

Druska, J - Vovk, J, Slovakia 2016, tested 6 Be2 and reached a familiar main line position:

White can attack in the center with c4, but Black has enough resources to gain counterplay.

I’ll continue with the Guimard over the next months.

Tarrasch with 3...h6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 [C03]

Among the players who have used 3...h6 against 3 Nd2, we've seen Nakamura in the high 2700s, and quite a number of players in the 2650-2710 range, but never the all-time highest-rated player! Okay, the game Melkumyan, H - Carlsen, M, comes from the World Blitz Championships, but that event still produced some high-quality chess and the line in this game is also relevant for theory. White chose the relatively slow 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 c5 6 c3 variation which, however, can give him attacking chances in return for an IQP:

This kind of isolated pawn position is essential to understand in most Tarrasch Variations, including 3...Nf6, 3...c5, 3...Be7, and 3...a6 ! Carlsen slowly grinds White down, although there’s an amusing exchange of multiple blunders by both at the end, showing that everyone is flawed in Blitz.

Tarrasch 3...Be7 4 e5 c5 5 c3 [C03]

We need a thorough review of this 3...Be7 line at some point, since it’s one of Black’s best responses. I’ll mention a few instructive games. Plenca, J - Swayam, M, Zadar 2016, features the important move 4 e5, leading to this starting point:

Black played a bit passively with 6...Qb6 7 Ndf3 Bd7, but White couldn’t find anything convincing in response and a complex, double-edged game resulted.

The same line was tested in McShane, L - Pert R, London 2016, a Rapid game which arrived at this more standard-looking position:

Both sides played patiently and brought their pieces out, but then Black lashed out with ...g5, which wasn’t really justified in such a solid position. McShane played a fine positional game to bring home the point.

Tarrasch 3...Be7 4 c3 [C03]

A main line arose in the somewhat older game, Vallejo Pons, F - Sadorra, J, Baku 2016 from the Olympiad:

Here 9...Nfd7 is routine, but I have put in a lengthy note on the wild and apparently playable 9...Ng4!?. The game proceeded 9...Nfd7 10 Nb3 Bb6!?, also rare (10...Be7 is normal). The game turns into an extremely complex slugfest with a rather surprising ending in which White wins a dead-even position.

Winawer 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nbc6 9 Bg5 [C18]

Let’s see a couple of 7 Qg4 Winawer games from the end of last year. After 8...Nbc6 in the main 7...0-0 line, White nearly always plays 9 Qh5, since 9 Nf3 f5 has a fine record for Black. But the move 9 Bg5 is interesting and has never been fully worked out:

This dangerous line has never attracted many top players, but when a theoretical player like Leko uses it, regardless of the context, we should take notice. White was successful in Leko, P - Morozevich, A, Doha 2016; Black should look into the early alternatives in the notes.

Winawer 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Poisoned Pawn 11 f4 dxc3 12 Qd3 d4 13 Ng3 [C18]

In the Poisoned Pawn with the modern ...dxc3 and ..d4, White’s attempt to get a knight to d6 or f6 via g3 and e4 is frequently tested:

Dobrov, V - Remille, T, Marseilles 2016, deals with one of the most important lines, and I’ve added some dense analysis to illustrate the ideas. The game itself is completely crazy and rife with tactics, featuring a king march in the middle of the board.

Till next month, John

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