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The Advance Variation is our subject this month, and in particular the line 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nc3 Qb6 6 a3 c4. At the end I’ve examined one game with 6...f6.

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Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 c4 7 Nbd2 [C02]

I noticed recently that I haven’t looked at the line 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 a3 c4 in this column for many years, and we have very little coverage of what has always been an important line:

I actually suggested playing this way in my first Play the French edition but then switched to the more dynamic 6...Nh6 or 6...Bd7 (these are very thoroughly covered in the Archives). The move 6...c4 continues to be a mainstream choice, and I thought I’d give an overview of theory by analysing and citing some games from the past year.

The immediate 7 g3 used to be considered harmless by theory due to 7...f6. I’m not sure whether that’s still a respectable counter, but in fact most players of Black play 7...Na5 (or 7...Bd7 and 8...Na5) 8 Nbd2 Bd7, transposing to the popular and important variation 7 Nbd2 Na5 8 g3 Bd7.

This is a key position. White has 9 Bh3 and 9 h4 (with the idea Bh3), but Black seems to get enough counterplay in these positions; in many cases he can even gets the initiative by castling queenside and launching his kingside pawns forward. So most high-level games these days begin with 9 Bg2. In Manea, A - Marin, M, Olanesti 2018, Black played a slow-looking reorganization that has become common: ...h6 followed by ...Ne7, ...Qc7, and ...Nc8-b6 and, finally, castling queenside . It’s remarkable that Black can take so much time, but numerous games have confirmed that it’s difficult for White to find an effective way of breaking down his opponent’s position. The game illustrates what happens if White exposes his kingside too much.

Something very similar happened in Piorun, K - Socko, M Katowice 2018:

In this case, Black played 16...g5!? and although this gave White some positional trumps after 17 Nhg4, there was enough kingside counterplay to hold a rough balance. It’s worth comparing Marin’s game, where Black prepared for the ...g5 break with ...Ba4, and ...Nd7. That gave him the further option of ...f6, with easier and more active play, although both approaches are satisfactory in the end.

Nevertheless, it’s not surprising that Black often tries to develop more quickly. In the same line, Fedoseev, Vl - Paravyan, D Moscow 2018, went 9...Ne7 10 0-0 Nf5 11 Rb1 0-0-0 12 Re1:

The idea of b3 would have given Black too much queenside counterplay, so White followed up with Nf1-e3. The game was equal, but White made some clever positional exchanges and went on win nicely.

After the main move 7 Nbd2, Black normally plays 7...Na5, but some strong players have preferred 7...Bd7. Then Black retains ideas of transposition by ...Na5 or central attack by ...f6. The drawback is supposed to be the move 8 b3:

Black equalized in the well-played Blitz game Zhigalko, S - Duda, J Katowice 2018. I do think White should retain some edge in this line, although nothing drastic.

One more g3 variation arises after the normal 7 Nbd2 Na5 8 g3 Bd7. Then we saw development with 9 Bg2 above, but White can also play for Bh3 by means of 9 h4. Then Lavrov, M - Rakhmanov, A Serpukhov 2018, saw Black undertake a reorganization similar to the ones above by 9...Ne7 10 Bh3 h6 11 0-0 0-0-0 12 Re1 Kb8 13 Rb1 Nc8 14 Nf1 Qc7 15 Ne3 Nb6:

The extra moves ...0-0-0 and ...Kb8 haven’t really altered the situation. Later the game reached a point where neither side should have been able to make progress, but White allowed a strong pawn break.

White’s other main setup involves putting his bishop on e2. The position after 7 Nbd2 Na5 8 Be2 Bd7 9 0-0 Ne7 10 Rb1 Qc7 has arisen many times over the years:

The recent game Corrales Jimenez, F - Harmon-Vellotti, L Las Vegas 2018, illustrates some of the main ideas. As usual, neither side has an obvious means of making progress unless the opponent allows a pawn advance.

A final high-quality example Bruzon Batista, L - Akobian, V St Louis 2018, again illustrates the balanced nature of this line.

Here White has developed his queen’s bishop, but it’s probably no better on h2 than on c1. The slightly different development in this game is that after ...Nb3 and Nxb3, Black recaptured with the pawn in order to bring his bad bishop to b5.

Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 f6 [C02]

Finally, one game without 6...c4 that seems noteworthy is Fedoseev, Vl - Stupak, K Sochi 2018, which continued 6...f6 7 Bd3 fxe5 8 dxde5 c4 9 Bc2 g6:

This very complex line continues to hold up for Black in practice, and the theory seems satisfactory as well.

Till next month, John

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