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This month I’ll begin with an example of an Exchange Variation line favoured by Carlsen, look at recent games in the Morozevich, and then move on to the popular Steinitz Variation, concentrating upon lines that include the move ...Be7.

Download PGN of January ’20 French games

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Exchange Variation 3 exd5 exd5 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 Bd6 [C01]

It's a little surprising how often elite players resort to fairly harmless lines versus the French. Still, anything Carlsen employs frequently, and Vachier Lagrave uses in an important game deserves attention. Vachier Lagrave, M - Andreikin, D, Jerusalem 2019, saw 3 exd5 exd5 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 Bd6 6 Qe2+ Be6, a position that has occurred in a surprising number of top-level games:

7 c4 has achieved nothing here, as I show in the notes, so White has turned to 7 Ng5 Qe7 8 Nxe6 fxe6. But this structure is perfectly fine for Black, as the main game and other encounters illustrate.

Classical Variation, Morozevich ...dxe4/...gxf6 System 7 Qd2 [C11]

We have seen many examples of 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 dxe4 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6 gxf6 over the years, and it remains a respectable system in high-level play. The move 7 Qd2 has become one way in which White tries to avoid the traditional lines with 7 Nf3. It allows the setup with 7...b6 8 0-0-0 Bb7 9 Nc3:

This has been a popular position over the past few years. White has space and fairly easy development, but Black has the bishop pair and good squares for her pieces. Muzychuk, M - Goryachkina, A, Monaco 2019 is a good example, with White gaining the advantage versus somewhat inaccurate Black play, although it proved insufficient to win.

Classical Variation, Morozevich ...dxe4/...gxf6 System 7 Nf3 a6 8 g3 [C11]

The oldest variation, which we have seen before, is 7 Nf3 a6 8 g3 b5 9 Bg2 Bb7 10 Qe2:

It’s interesting that decades after Morozevich popularized 6...gxf6, this is still an important and unresolved line. Beerdsen, T - Zifroni, D, Herzliya 2019, is a fun example of the double-edged play which can result. See the notes to these games for a few recent alternatives that White has tried.

Classical Steinitz with ...Be7 and ...b6 [C11]

After a few setbacks last year, Black has had better results with the move ...b6 in the Classical Steinitz. In particular, the variation 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Be7 7 Be3 b6 has been revived. The game De Jong, M - Gleizerov, E, Groningen 2019, continued with the flexible 8 Be2 Nc6 9 0-0 0-0:

Here 10 Qd2 transposes to the following game, but White played 10 Kh1, and 10...f5 11 exf6 Nxf6 12 Bb5 followed. Black has to play accurately here, but should be able to hold the balance. In the game, White overpressed and got in trouble.

Rathanvel, V -Volkov, S, Stockholm 2019, saw the aggressive move 8 h4, leading to 8...Bb7 (8...Nc6 is also important) 9 Qd2 Nc6 10 h5:

A very complex position. I think that this is one of the better lines for White to play for an advantage with, even if Black has sufficient chances.

Pridorozhn, A - Volkov, S, Khanty-Mansiysk 2019, tested a commonly-reached position which often arises by 6...Nc6 7 Be3 Be7 8 Qd2 (8 dxc5) 8...0-0 9 Be2 (9 dxc5) 9...b6 10 0-0 Bb7, but note that the order with 6...Be7 7 Be3 b6 8 Be2 Nc6 9 0-0 0-0 10 Qd2 Bb7 avoids White’s option dxc5 on the 8th and 9th moves.

I’ve chosen to illustrate this variation by emphasizing three games by Volkov (two in the notes), all of which show typical themes.

Classical Variation, Steinitz with ...Be7 Main Line 8 Qd2 0-0 9 dxc5 Qa5!? [C10]

I should update the fashionable and highly tactical line 7 Be3 Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 dxc5 Qa5!? 10 0-0-0 b6 11 Bb5 Nb4 12 a3 bxc5 13 Kb1 Rb8 14 axb4 cxb4 15 Nxd5 exd5 16 Bxd7 Bxd7 17 Qxd5 Qxd5 18 Rxd5 Bc6:

This position doubtless gives White a small advantage with perfect play, with Black’s bishop pair not fully compensating for White’s extra pawn. Practical results are about even, however. A game from November, Volokitin, A - Stankovic, M, Hungarian Teams 2019, shows White eventually prevailing, although with accurate play Black seems to be able to stay within drawing bounds, as is generally the case in this variation. I’ve given many examples and considerable analysis in various sidelines; this is not a line you should enter into without concrete preparation.

Till next month, John

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