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This month we have two contributions in the Tarrasch Variation Universal System to look at, and I've chosen a number of recent games in the 7 Qg4 0-0 Winawer main line to review the theory.

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Tarrasch Universal System 8...a5 9 a4 [C06]

GM Bogdan Lalic, who has contributed to ChessPublishing previously, sent us a game Lillo - Lalic, LLucmajor 2014, illustrating a theoretically important variation of the Tarrasch. I've left his excellent annotations intact, and added some notes and theoretical context, mainly based upon earlier games from this column.

After 8...a5 in the Universal System, the move 9 a4 has become mainstream. It is safer than many of White's alternatives, in that has centre becomes harder to attack; but at the same time it gives Black free play on the queenside. In the game, White manages to keep a very small edge at first, but Black manages nicely and I don't think he has to be pessimistic about his setup.

Tarrasch Universal System 7...f6 8 Ng5 [C06]

Another contributor Francesco Bentivegna sent us an annotated game that was part of an article on about 7...f6 in the Universal System, based upon a game Congiu - Bruno, Forni di Sopra 2014.

The most critical move here is 8 Ng5?!, once thought to be a refutation. Bentivegna was unaware that I had recommended 7...f6 with improvements for Black in Play the French 4, and the game and most of the key analysis overlaps. But there is a lot of interesting side material and in any case most readers probably don't have my book. On a practical level, this line may be of interest as an alternative remedy to the Universal System; two of my students have been using it with success.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 f5, 13...Nd7!? [C18]

During my investigations of the Poisoned Pawn Variation, 7 Qg4 Qc7, I've rather neglected Black's solid defence with 7...0-0. So I went over games from the past six months and tried to see what's happening in the theory of this line.

I originally overlooked Kuzubov - Savchenko, Minsk 2014 in earlier updates, which features a move in one of the main lines which Carlsen played against Karjakin in a game I annotated here (see the Archives):

13...Nd7!? is rare, but it has Berg's approval in the second volume of his Winawer book. The game is a complex back-and-forth affair, but the general impression survives that Black stands satisfactorily in this line.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nbc6 9 Qh5, 13...Bd7 [C18]

Negi - Justo, Cappelle-la-Grande 2014, tested the main line with 8...Nbc6 9 Qh5 Ng6, leading to this standard position:

White won two high-level games from this position. Negi went into the main line with 15 h5, and Black defended with the sequence I suggested in Play the French 3. As the notes show, this line is holding up for Black, but if White does nothing Black can't make progress. In the game, he avoids some blockading solutions, while White fiddles around and finally tries a breakthrough that shouldn't succeed, but does.

In Motylev - Golubov, Taganrog 2014, White plays a somewhat older move from the previous diagram: 15 Ng5!?. In a couple more moves, this position arises:

Caruana had previously played Black here, and the position generally is equal, but the game shows that Black shouldn't play too passively and has to be alert for some specialized tactics.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nbc6 9 Qh5, Berg's 13...b5 [C18]

Perhaps the most theoretically important recent game with 7...0-0 was Saric - Huzman, Yerevan 2014, which tested Berg's move 13...b5:

Berg gives this a '!!' (perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek?) and it nicely fills several requirements of the position while waiting for White to commit, e.g., after the game's 14 h4, 14...Rh5 is well-timed because, as opposed to the 13..Bd7 lines, Black's queen can still swing over to f7. Once again, we find that Black has to play accurately in order to avoid White's tactical ideas, and in the game he accedes quietly to a worse game even after White misses a decisive shot.

Till next month, John

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