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In the highly publicized Norway super tournament this month, the severely outrated Simen Agdestein played very well, including draws with the French Defence against two of the best players in the world. I'll examine those games as well as others in the Steinitz, Classical Variation and Winawer.

Download PGN of June '14 French games

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Steinitz Variation 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Qb6 9.Qd2 [C11]

We'll start with the Agdestein games. They both tested the Nakamura favorite line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Qb6 9.Qd2 Qxb2 10.Rb1 Qa3 11.Bb5 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 a6 13.Bxd7+ Bxd7 14.Rb3 Qe7 15.Rxb7:

ChessPublishing readers are now over familiar with this position. On the other hand, such high-level contests deserve a brief look. I should warn you that these games have been annotated in more detail elsewhere, so you might want to look around if you're curious. I just hope that I've gotten the opening theory right!

In the first game, Karajakin - Agdestein, Stavanger 2014, Black chose 15...Qh4+, and instead of the conventional 16.Bf2, which has been analysed to death, White chose 16.Qf2, which in the past has led to a couple of quick draws. Black had a couple of chances for early equality, but suddenly erred and allowed White a fine exchange sacrifice:

Black was lucky to escape after an inaccuracy by White, but Karajakin deserves credit for rejecting several forced draws and risking losing in order to keep the game alive. This nearly backfired, but Black's technique at the end was poor and the game ended in a draw.

In Grischuk - Agdestein, Stavanger 2014, Black deviated with the less common move 15...Qd8, and the game continued 16.0-0 Rb8 17.Rxb8 Qxb8:

18.f5! Qc8! and the game was dynamically equal, also eventually ending in a draw.

Alekhine-Chatard Attack [C13]

The Alekhine-Chatard Attack continues to have followers among strong masters, which attests to its soundness. In Yu Yangyi-Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son, Tabriz 2014, Black answered 6.h4 with the simple 6...h6, and after White played 7.Bxe7 (7.Be3 can be considered the main line) the following typical position arose:

This is very much like the Classical Variation with 6 Bxe7. I've merged 2 very recent games into this one, and have cited some games from my previous columns with partial annotations in the notes to give an overall view of the state of the variation. The game itself is a real fight.

Haast - Peng Zhaoquin, Utrecht 2014, illustrates a solid defence to the Alekhine-Chatard with 6...Nc6 7.Nf3 Nb6:

I've also included games from this month with 6...a6 (which has scored poorly and may be just inferior after 7 Qg4!) and 6...0-0, which as far as I can tell is still a sound way to play. Nevertheless, in our game with 6...0-0, White wins by utter massacre of an opponent rated nearly 300 points ahead of him!

Winawer Variation Poisoned Pawn 11...dxc3 12 h4 [C18]

Emanuel Berg's superb work on the Winawer Variation puts a huge amount of space into the Poisoned Pawn line with 12 h4. Arguably this recently-popular move is even more dangerous than the traditional 12 Qd3.

Libiszewski - Nataf, Saint-Quentin 2014, sees the logical response 12...b6, to which Berg devotes a dense chapter. This game notes cover the outlines of theory and some important themes.

The natural 12...Bd7 can also be played, but can run into Tait Variation territory following 13 h5 0-0-0 14 Qd3 Nf5?! (14...d4 transposes to 12...d4 13 h5 Bd7 14 Qd3 0-0-0, Berg's preferred order) 15 Rb1 d4:

In Muhammad - Kanmazalp, Albena 2014, there may be a misprint, as White now plays the strange 16 Ng1?! here. In fact, he may have played the main move 16 Rg1 (the game makes sense either way), so I've included that move and some theory in the notes. In either case, a terribly flawed game ensues, but I included it to show how conventional theory assesses 12...Bd7.

Till next month, John

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