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This month I’ll take a look at some Advance Variation games and ideas, along with one eccentric move in the Qg4 Winawer and a quick look at 2 b3.

Download PGN of January ’19 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 c4 7 Nbd2 Na5 [C02]

I’m always a little surprised at the popularity of the Advance Variation, which hasn’t had a great theoretical reputation or following for a long time. But it’s relatively safe and allows White to choose his structure, so that he is able to limit his preparation. Additionally, the careful player avoids much danger of being attacked in return for granting Black relatively easy play. Of the top players, Sveshnikov has promoted the theory, while Grischuk and Shirov have consistently found new ideas.

3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 a3 remains the most popular continuation among grandmasters looking for a win as White, and rather than test main lines with 6...Nh6 or 6...Bd7, French expert Vitiugov (who plays both the White and Black side of the Advance) chose the older sequence 6...c4 7 Nbd2 Na5 in Zhigalko, S - Vitiugov, N, St Petersburg (World Rapid) 2018.

White played 8 Be2 Bd7 9 0-0, and before castling queenside, Black embarked upon the now-standard maneuver ...Ne7-c8-b6, while White found a new way to attack:

Here White was ready for 15 Nh4 intending f4-f5 , which had previously not been an effective option in this variation. In fact, Black might do well into developing more quickly, as shown in the notes. The course of the game was unclear, but White’s basic attacking idea did succeed.

White can also put his king’s bishop on g2 or h3, as we’ve previously seen in this column. Then Tan Zhongyi - Ni Hua, Makati 2018, is a good example of how Black likes to set up his pieces:

Having prevented any queenside breaks from being effective, Black often turns his attention to the kingside, as happens in this game.

Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 Na3 cxd4 7 cxd4 Bb4+ [C02]

White has also tried the move 6 Na3, instead of the traditional 6 Be2 and 6 a3.

It makes sense to get a knight to c2 before committing the king's bishop to a passive square like e2 (as with 6 Be2); in this way Bd3 may still be possible. The drawback is that While White takes time to develop the knight Black can quickly bring pieces to the queenside and disrupt White’s setup. Predke, A - Vitiugov, N, St Petersburg (World Blitz) 2018, shows a direct way to attack White’s game, leading to an unclear pawn sacrifice. Since that is rather defensive for Black, I’ve shown two other games from this month in the notes, with Black playing a clear simplifying plan.

Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Rc8 7 0-0 Nge7 [C02]

The other ...Bd7 setup involves ...Ne7-f5 (as opposed to ...Ng6), e.g., 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Be2 Rc8 7 0-0 Nge7 8 Na3 Nf5 9 Nc2 cxd4 10 cxd4 Qb6:

This is a solid but unambitious setup. Steinberg, M - Teske, H St Petersburg (World Blitz) 2018 saw the solid 11 Rb1 with the idea b4, whereas another game this month featured the rather premature 11 g4 (see the notes).

Advance Variation 4...Bd7 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 a3 Bb5 7 dxc5 [C02]

Some top players are playing with the Advance. In Vachier LaGrave, M - Aronian, L, London 2018, Black tried the system with 4 c3 Bd7 5 Nf3 Qb6 (4..Qb6 5 Nf3 Bd7 is more frequently used). White entered the line 6 a3 Bb5 7 dxc5 Bxc5 8 Bxb5+ Qxb5 9 b4 Bb6 10 a4 Qc4:

This hasn’t yielded much in the past and shouldn’t have here, as Aronian equalized easily. For some reason he committed a stream of errors thereafter and White prevailed, but the opening still looks solid.

Advance Variation 4...Ne7 5 Nf3 Nec6 [C02]

A variation that has gained considerably in popularity is 4...Ne7 5 Nf3 Nec6!?:

Black has the twin ideas of ...b6 and ...Nd7 with ...f6. There are many unexplored possibilities in this relatively young line; I’ve tried to show a few in Potapov, P - Zvjaginsev, V, St Petersburg (World Blitz) 2018.

Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 7 Na3 Ng6 8 h4 [C02]

Korchnoi’s old treatment of the Advance with 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 is still topical. Milliet, S - Melkumyan, H, London 2018, tested the position after 7 Na3 Ng6 8 h4 cxd4 9 cxd4:

Here I think 9...Be7 is best, but 9...Bb4+ led to a fascinating struggle in which White slowly outplayed Black, but tragically misses consecutive easy wins in time trouble.

Winawer 7 Qg4 0–0 8 Bd3 f5 Mainline, 13...e5!? [C18]

Riazantsev played an extremely obscure line to good effect versus Aronian at the World Blitz Championship After the standard moves 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 f5 9 exf6 Rxf6 10 Bg5 Rf7 11 Qh5 g6 12 Qd1 Qa5 13 Bd2:

, Black tried 13...e5!? in Aronian, L - Riazantsev, A St Petersburg (World Blitz) 2018, and got the desired response when White avoided 14 dxe5 in favour of 14 h4?, which should have led to a serious disadvantage.

2 b3 Variation [C00]

The system with 2 b3 d5 3 Bb2 has never caught on in a big way, but periodically attracts the attention of practical players as a safe way to develop and hopefully surprise the opponent. After the main line 3...dxe4 4 Nc3 Nf6 5 Qe2, White will recover his pawn with good piece play, at the cost of ceding some central control:

Izzat, K - Liu, X, Melbourne 2018, goes along fairly normal lines and Black slightly outplays his opponent in the opening. Then an inaccuracy allows White to establish a permanent advantage.

Till next month, John

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