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The Tarrasch Variation has several acceptable answers. One of them, 3...h6, looks a little bizarre but has its own logic and is a personal favorite. In this column I'll examine some games with 3...h6, as well as one with 3...Nf6. In the Winawer Variation I'll look at 4 a3, a favourite of some strong players, and then one main line.

Download PGN of July '13 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...h6 [C03]

Periodically I examine a game with the eccentric 3 Nd2 h6, which has defied White's attempts to gain any advantage, as discussed at various times in this column. But this month White scored a spectacular 4.5 of 5 against 3...h6, so I thought I should take another look. In Belikov - Legky, Alushta 2013, after 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5, Black played the somewhat strange 5...Ne4!?:

Following the natural moves 6 Bd3 Nxd2 7 Bxd2 c5 8 dxc5 Bxc5, White had a small advantage, but as the game went Black had several chances to get strong counterplay. In the end, White established a bind and ground Black down in a lengthy back-and-forth struggle.

The normal 5...Nfd7 followed in Shtyrenkov - Legky, Alushta 2013, and White deviated with the somewhat odd move 6 Nb3!?:

This seems quite harmless if Black plays 6...Be7, for example, or 6...b6, but even the apparently cooperative 6...c5 7 dxc5 Nc6, as played, should have led to full equality.

The main line goes 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3 Nc6, which is doubly important because this position can also arise from 3...Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Ngf3 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Bd3 (the so-called 'Universal System') 7...h6. So far it has held up in both theory and practice, but White won two games.

The game Mamedov - Nevednichy, Denizli 2013, saw the normal move 8 0-0, which is met by 8...g5. Here White played 9 dxc5 Bxc5 10 Nb3 Bb6:

and now 11 Qe2! yielded double-edged play with dynamic equality.

In Bauer - Hambleton, Geneva 2013, White tried the logical move 8 a3, which is useful in many lines and intends b4. After 8...Qb6, which I don't think is best, White played the standard pawn sacrifice 9 0-0 cxd4 10 cxd4 Nxd4 11 Nxd4 Qxd4 12 Nf3:

...with considerably more than enough compensation for a mere pawn. Nevertheless, Black has ways of maintaining the balance in this variation.

Tarrasch 3...Nf6, 6 Ndf3 Nc6 7 Nh3!? [C05]

In the normal 3...Nf6 variation, White can put his king's knight on h3 with the order 4 e5 Nfd7 5 c3 c5 6 Ndf3 Nc6 7 Nh3!?:

The idea is to leave paths open to the kingside for White's pieces, in particular his queen. In Dzhumaev - Vastrukhin, Voronezh 2013, Black played perfectly naturally by 7...cxd4 8 cxd4 Qb6 with a satisfactory game, although things went downhill later.

Winawer Variation 4 a3 [C15]

The best of White's 4th-move options to the standard 4 e5 may well be 4 a3. In the game Fedorchuk - Rodshtein, Beersheba 2013, one of the main lines is reached:

Here White tries 10 a4!? b6 11 a5, an ambitious line which should be dynamically equal.

I looked at 8...c5 9 Ne2 Bd7 at some length in PTF4, and the same position arose in Rombaldoni-L'Ami, Porto Mannu 2013, except that L'Ami began by 8...Bd7!?:

This was played in two other games recently, so apparently it has caught players' eyes. I analyse White's options to 9 Ne2, which in the game transposed to my own recommended line for Black after 9...c5. The second player quickly developed an advantage.

Poisoned Pawn 11...dxc3, 12...d4 [C18]

We're used to seeing Black successes in the main Poisoned Pawn line with an early ...d4, but it's White who comes out on top in Geller - Gordievsky, Samara 2013.

White plays the older move 18 a4 and outplays his opponent, although the opening is still equal.

Till next month, John

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