ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
This month I thought I’d revisit some main lines of the Winawer with 6...Ne7 which are no longer the most popular but have received tests recently with some new ideas. In particular, I haven’t covered the 7 Qg4 0-0 variation in a while, which is perhaps better than its reputation. Then I turn to new ideas in an aggressive continuation in a fashionable Steinitz variation which we’ve looked at a fair amount in recent columns.

Download PGN of January ’24 French games

>> Previous Update >>

Winawer Positional Line 7 a4 Qa5 8 Bd2 Nbc6 9 Nf3 Bd7 10 Be2 [C19]

In Nunn, J - Renman, N, World Senior Citta del Mare 2023, we see a re-litigation of an ancient variation by two of its early practitioners, beginning with 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 a4 Qa5 8 Bd2 Nbc6 9 Nf3 Bd7 10 Be2 f6 11 c4 Qc7 12 cxd5 Nxd5:

The main line here has been 13 c4 Nde7 14 exf6 gxf6, but a very important alternative is 13 exf6 gxf6 14 c3, which has a long history but still has a lot of unexplored possibilities, as the game illustrates.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 f5 [C18]

After 7 Qg4, 7...0-0 has become relatively rare at the top, but I notice that White isn’t playing the lines that most discouraged Black a few years ago. In Ter Sahakyan, S - Markus, R, European Teams Budva 2023, the old variation 8 Bd3 f5 9 exf6 Rxf6 10 Bg5 Rf7 11 Qh5 g6 12 Qd1 Nbc6 13 Nf3 Qa5 14 Bd2 cropped up:

Here Black played 14...c4 15 Be2 Nf5 16 h4!? with a double-edged struggle. The well-known theoretical alternative 14...Qc7 15 dxc5 e5 has been thought to favor White somewhat but recent correspondence games suggest that Black stands satisfactorily in that case.

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

Black also answers 8 Bd3 with 8...Nbc6. Then White used to play 9 Qh5 almost exclusively, but has increasingly turned to 9 Bg5:

We have seen many Archives games with 9...Qa5 in this position. In the notes to Firouzja, A - Dgebuadze, A, Chartres Noel Match1 2023, I examine a recent game with that move (with Dgebuadze as Black there as well). In the game itself, however, Black played the unusual 9...Qc7 10 Nf3 Ng6, and White attacked with 11 h4! . This gets very complicated, but I think that if White plays accurately Black probably can’t equalize, so probably 9...Qa5 is sounder.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nbc6 9 Nf3 f5 [C18]

After 8 Bd3 Nbc6, the natural 9 Nf3 has never been held in high regard due to 9...f5 10 exf6 Rxf6 11 Bg5:

And now either 11...e5!? Or 11...Rf7 Bharath, S - Firouzja, A, Titled Tue 14th Nov 2023, saw the latter move, and in the game White gained some advantage. With accurate play, equality should have resulted. Importantly, the forcing 11...e5! is apparently an easier and forcing solution for Black.

Poisoned Pawn 9...cxd4 10 Qd3 dxc3 11 Ne2 Nbc6 12 Qxc3 [C18]

In Van Foreest, J - Theodorou, N, European Teams Budva 2023, I examine some of the theory stemming from 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4 10 Qd3:

A couple of years ago strong grandmasters like these were using 10 Qd3, but now most games involve somewhat lower-rated players. It seems to me that the resulting lines are still wide open and offer original play; possibly elite players are interested in simpler lines in which the theory is more stable.

Steinitz Variation 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 9 a3 [C11]

Following 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3, 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 continues to be a sound defense. Then, in view of the many draws with 9 Bb5 (involving lengthy forced sequences), White has often turned to 9 a3 to try to keep matters complicated. Hou Yifan - Harika, D, Speed Chess Ch (Women) 2023 went into the important line 9...Bc5 10 Ncb5 Nxd4 11 Bxd4, and Black chose 11...0-0:

White has various ways to play this, but as the game and notes show, Black can reach equality with accurate play.

In Lobanov, S - Shubin, K, Khanty-Mansiysk 2023, Black tried 11...Bxd4 12 Qxd4:

, and now 12...0-0 gave White a moderate and lasting advantage. Better was 12...Qxd4 13 Nxd4, as analysed in the notes, when Black has a few routes to get to only a minor disadvantage.

Steinitz 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 9 Qd2 Qxb2 10 Rb1 Qa3 11 Ncb5 [C11]

Instead of 9 a3, the gambit line with 9 Qd2 Qxb2 10 Rb1 Qa3 is still looking solid for Black, who continues to draw games after 11 Bb5. White has turned to 11 Ncb5 in some games:

In Ter Sahakyan, S - Balog, Il, European Teams Budva 2023, this led to a two-pawn sacrifice which didn’t give White enough compensation, although in the complications he prevailed.

Till next month, John

>> Previous Update >>

Please post you queries on the French Forum, or subscribers can write to me at if you have any questions or queries.