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All main lines this month. I've tried to pick variations that are currently being used by top players, with recent games to illustrate them.

Download PGN of June ’16 French games

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Tarrasch Variation Universal System with ...Be7, 8...a6 [C06]

We have a couple more examples of 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 and the Universal System (with ...Be7). In the first game, Maenhout - Peng Zhaoqin, Dutch League 2015-16, Black plays the flexible 8...a6 and White responds with 9 Re1:

White's move uses up the retreat square e1 for the f3 knight, so Black tries 9...g5!? to drive away the knight and pressure the centre. A very messy battle results.

Tarrasch Universal System with ...Be7, 8...g5 [C06]

In Dobrovoljc - Tratar, Otocec 2016, Black plays the main line 8...g5 9 dxc5 g4. Eventually the players arrived at this position:

White has ideas of Bxd8 and Bf6. Black realizes that the latter move is more important and chooses 18...f5! 19 Bxd8 Rxd8. With a pawn and bishop pair for the exchange, and threatening ...Ng4, Black stands better.

Tarrasch Universal System 7...g6 8 Bc2 [C06]

In the standard Universal system arising from 3...Nf6, new ideas continue to flourish. The US Women's Championship game Abrahamyan - Gorti, Saint Louis 2016, saw the careful move 8 Bc2, leading to this position:

Black has two ways to achieve counterplay. I like 14...b5 intending ...b4; in the game, Black played for ...f6 and got a minor disadvantage.

Tarrasch Variation Mainline with ...Qc7, 12 h3 [C06]

In the same tournament (US Women's Championship), Nemcova - Gorti, Saint Louis 2016, entered the main 3...Nf6 lines with ...Qc7. White tested the popular move 12 h3, and it led to this typical position:

A long, hard positional fight ensued, with Black freeing her position and dynamic equality persisting into the middlegame.

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

The following position (after 15...f6) looks familiar, right?

I haven't checked every source, but as far as I can see it hasn't arisen before! The new move 15...f6, with the idea 16 exf6 Nd5 replaces a number of earlier tries, and seems to equalize, or come extremely close even if White finds some difficult moves. You can find the details in Pijpers - Johnsen, Ortisei 2016.

Winawer Portisch-Hook Variation 7...Qa4 8 h4 Nc6 9 Nf3 [C18]

It's hard to ignore a heavyweight battle on the scale of Karjakin - Radjabov, Shamkir 2016, in which Black tried the Portisch-Hook Variation 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Qa5. A position very typical of the variation arose:

As has occurred in many games with this variation, neither side saw a productive way to make progress, and a draw soon followed.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7...Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 dxc5 Nxc5 [C11]

7...Be7 has dominated the practice of the Steinitz Variation over the past months. In So - Nakamura, St Louis 2016, White entered the 9 dxc5 lines, and Nakamura chose the popular 9...Nxc5:

In the past, this has played second fiddle to 9...Bxc5, but as long as Black is content with foregoing attacking chances, it seems to hold up well. White kept a very minor advantage but couldn't make anything of it.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7...Be7 8 Qd2 b6 [C11]

We've seen a good deal of the various ...b6 systems over the past year. The combination of 7..Be7 and 8...b6 is perhaps not the best order:

In Bok - Kjartansson, Gjakova 2016, White played the very annoying move 9 Bb5, and after 9...Bb7 10 0-0-0 a6 11 Bxc6 Bxc6, 12 f5!, which at the least is difficult to meet in practice and even with best play seem to favour White somewhat. Of course Black has options, but either an earlier or later ...b6 might be easier to play.

Till next month, John

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