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I tend to neglect the less ambitious White systems against the French, so this month I'll touch upon a couple of them. Recent King's Indian Attack games show that Black can equalise (by a number of methods); nevertheless, since complex positions can arise, even strong players of White will periodically choose the KIA when they are tired of or frustrated by the main lines. Similarly, the Exchange Variation 3 exd5 is an attempt to simply 'get a game' and play chess. It's a little surprising how unsuccessful White has been in this case, but a few Exchange Variation specialists persist and score moderately well with 3 exd5.
As always, top players are fighting it out in the Classical Steinitz Variation, and I've included a few recent games and analysis to broaden your exposure to these lines.

Download PGN of June '13 French games

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King's Indian Attack 2 d3 d5 3 Qe2 [C00]

The variation 1 e4 e6 2 Qe2 became popular some years ago after Morozevich began playing it. One issue in that case is that Black can play a Sicilian setup with 2...c5; so some players of White turned to 2 d3 d5 3 Qe2:

As you might imagine, Black has more than one good answer to this slow setup, but the game should be equal with good play by both sides. In Adams - Meier, Baden-Baden 2013, Black played 3...Nf6 4 Nf3 and now 4...Nc6, which is a bit unusual but seems a complete solution to the position.

In Lorenzo de la Riva-Moskalenko, Barcelona 2013, Black set up the traditional anti-King's Indian Attack formation:

This is indeed a bit more effective versus the KIA than when Qe2 hasn't been played. Nevertheless, White threw the French expert Moskalenko a little off kilter with 9 c4, a move designed to both restrain Black's kingside expansion and pressure d5. Moskalenko responded with the decidedly mediocre 9...dxc4. I tend to believe that I know every theme in French Defence positions, but I was surprised to see that a particularly effective solution in several games after 9 c4 has been the pawn sacrifice 9...b5!?. See the notes.

KIA Mainline 2 d3 d5 3 Nd2 [C00]

In the main line 2 d3 d5 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 Ngf3, I'm biased towards the solutions 4...Bc5!?, 4...Nc6, and 4...b6, as analysed in Play the French 4. 4...b6 is perhaps the simplest of these:

I review some of the possibilities in the game Broekmeulen - Hovhanisian, Limburg 2013.

Exchange Variation 4 c4 [C01]

The variation with 3 exd5 exd5 4 c4 has acquired a steady following over the past decade among second-tier players. As with most Exchange Variations, White isn't playing for an advantage unless he catches Black off guard; but if White can achieve an isolated queen's pawn with some attacking chances, that will satisfy most proponents. Here's one of the typical beginning positions:

Normally, White plays Nf3, Bd3 (or perhaps Be2), and 0-0, waiting for Black to play ...dxc4 (usually best at some point). But a minority of players set up with Bd3 and Nge2, which I examine in a few games. In Rakhmanov - Frolyanov, Khanty-Mansiysk World Rapid 2013, both sides develop naturally, but after combining ...Be7, ...Nc6, and ...Bf5, Black ends up without a target of attack and White is able to achieve the traditional d5 advance to his advantage, ultimately winning a nice attacking game.

In Safarli - Nguyen, Khanty-Mansiysk World Blitz 2013, White captured early on d5 and places his pieces on the same squares:

I don't like this plan as much, since it turns out that White doesn't have a particularly good placement for his queen's bishop, and Black can easily develop light-square pressure.

Black sets up differently in Safarli - Vitiugov, Khanty-Mansiysk World Blitz 2013, playing ...Bb4 instead of ...Be7 and then expanding on the queenside:

This is a promising setup because it emphasizes light-square control. White may not have reacted in dynamic enough fashion, because Black had a slight advantage most of the game. Towards the end, the French author Vitiugov collapses, but this is doubtless due to the pressure of playing a lengthy Blitz game and presumably living on the increment for some ungodly length of time.

Classical Steinitz 7...a6 [C11]

Along with the Winawer, the Classical Steinitz is seen more frequently than any other try at high levels these days. In the main line, with the rise of 7...Be7, I haven't paid much recent attention to 7...a6, but there have been a few interesting games as of late:

You don't often see the adventurous pawn sacrifice 8 Bd3!?, which at any rate generates original play in Inarkiev - Gordievsky, Khanty-Mansiysk World Blitz 2013. It's a pretty well-played and interesting Blitz game, but again ends tragically when White loses a rook-and-knight-versus-rook ending, again playing with the increment on move 119! Someone should do something about such silliness.

In Karjakin - Topalov, Sberbank GM Rapid 2013, after the normal 8 Qd2 b5 9 dxc5 Bxc5, Karjakin chanced 10 Bd3!?, a pseudo piece sacrifice that is probably best left declined:

Topalov grabbed the chance to play 10...d4, a very risky course, and lost a miniature.

7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 [C11]

Finally, let's return to last month's topic in the Steinitz Variation: Nakamura's specialty 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6. This leads to a gambit ending in this position (refer to the Archives for details):

For once White actually wins a game in Saric - Lalic, Bol na Bracu 2013. As I mention in my notes, Dom does considerable analysis of this line in the French Forum.

Till next month, John

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