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Odds and Ends this month, with a special look at 3...a6 in the Tarrasch.

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Tarrasch Variation 3...a6 [C07]

Gold Subscriber Bill Schaefer asks about the Tarrasch Variation with 3...a6. I've been neglectful of this variation, which has been used by some very strong grandmasters over the years (e.g., Korchnoi). Perhaps the main drawback, not necessarily a serious one, is that in some of the lines where White isolates Black's d-pawn, it's unclear whether ...a6 is optimal, because it uses time that could be spent developing. I'll use three recent games, with more in the notes.

First, Getz - Risting, Tromso 2016 proceeds with 4 Ngf3 c5 5 dxc5 Bxc5 6 Bd3, which is important because it is so common. In this case, White answered 6...Nc6 with 7 c3 Nge7 8 Qe2, presumably reserving the idea of e5 in some lines:

In the event, White chose exd5 later, and should have kept an advantage, but even with a few inaccuracies, Black was only marginally worse until tactical mistakes intervened.

When White manages to exchange dark-squared bishops, Black has no counterplay and has to defend 'forever'. This position arose in Shevchenko - Chigaev, Voronezh 2016:

I try to explain the move order issues (including ...Nf6 versus ...Nge7) in the notes. This technical position is ideal for White. In spite of that, it's difficult to convert when Black has only one weakness, and White didn't manage to complete the task.

The other unique idea that arises from 3...a6 is a timely ...c4, since ...a6 helps to protect c4 in case White plays b3, and is in any case a useful move. Birnboim - Hammar, Gjakov 2016, was an interesting example between strong players in which Black didn't develop a piece while he set up the typical structure:

At first, the computers love this position for White, but I don't see that Black has trouble developing his pieces or justifying his space grab. White even got much the worse of it after he failed to break up Black's queenside or find good squares for his pieces.

One problem from Black's point of view is that even when he equalizes, it can be hard to generate winning chances. Two GMs drew against vastly lower-rated opponents last month. The game Tuna - Nikolic, Sarajevo 2016, was interesting, in that by trying to stir up chances, Black got himself in a lot of potential trouble, and after his opponent's mistakes was only able to balance the play.

This position out of the opening is uninspiring, in part because the natural 9...Bd6 can be met by 10 Bb5+!. Nikolic tried 9...Bb4!? against his opponent (rated almost 600 points below him), but that risked getting the worst of things or, as in the game, getting a sterile position with no chances to win.

Winawer Variation 4 Nge2 Nc6 [C15]

Vachier Lagrave, M - Bauer, C, Drancy 2016, saw an irregular and harmless variation of the 4 Nge2 Nc6 line, namely, 5 a3 Ba5 6 exd5 exd5 7 Ng3. Black played natural moves and this position arose:

Strange to say, Vachier Lagrave (at the time of this writing number 2 in the world in live ratings) began to make inaccuracies and Black stood better. In the end, both sides made mistakes and Black made more of them, so White won out.

Classical Alekhine-Chatard Attack 6...0-0 7 Bd3 [C14]

The Alekhine-Chatard Attack continues to be popular and controversial. Larino Nieto - Forcen Esteban, Sanxenxo 2016, followed some theory that we've seen before on Chesspublishing, which I've cited and commented upon. This position might be familiar:

Perhaps more importantly, I've used this game for a general update of 6...0-0, with a lengthy note on 7 Qg4.

Classical Alekhine-Chatard Attack 6...Bxg5 7 hxg5 Qxg5 8 Qd3 [C14]

Acceptance of the pawn on g5 by 6...Bxg5 7 hxg5 Qxg5 hasn't really given Black good results since White discovered 8 Qd3. Song - Panchanatham, Philadelphia 2016, saw 8...g6 9 Nf3 and arrived at this typical position:

White should play 12 Rh6!, castle queenside, and bring the other rook to h1. After 12 Be2 h5, he won the pawn back with the idea of g4, and still had some pressure, but Black got counterplay with ...f6.

In the notes we see that 9 Nh3 also seems to give some advantage. Overall, 8...g6 is difficult for Black and it may be that 8...Nf8, discussed in games in the Archives, is a better course.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 [C11]

A reader drew my attention to a game that I missed from last year, Chigaev - Iljiushenok, Sochi 2015, which renews an old discussion of the Steinitz French line following 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 9 Qd2 Qxb2 10 Rb1 Qa3, when White played the rare 11 Ncb5!?:

This has been dismissed by most sources, but is more interesting than has been acknowledged. That said, a knowledgeable player of Black should be fine.

Till next month, John

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