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This month I’ll look into a few Advance Variation lines, but spend most of the column on the main line Winawer with 7 Qg4 Kf8. I’ve neglected this line over the years, but it remains an interesting and playable option for Black.

Download PGN of June ’18 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nh6 8 Bxh6 Qxb2 9 Nc3! [C02]

Maybe it’s the computers, but it seems as though every week we see a new idea in some line that’s been around 100 years or more. In the Advance Variation, after 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nh6, a position arising in thousands of games, the sequence 8 Bxh6 (sometimes queried) 8...Qxb2 9 Nc3! appears only a few times in my databases, but is not only legitimate but quite dangerous, as shown in two recent games with Vasif Durarbayli as White:

Here Durarbayli, V - Shmeliov, D, Chicago 2018, went 9...gxh6 10 Nb5!, and White got a considerable advantage, although Black has improvements that keep him near equality with accurate play. In the notes to this game, I give extensive analysis to 9...Nxd4, possibly the best practical reply to White’s idea, with all kinds of fascinating and unexplored byways.

Durarbayli, V - Jumabayev, R, St Louis 2018 saw the straightforward 9...Qxc3+ 10 Bd2 Qa3:

For the pawn, White has space and a lead in development. That should be enough compensation and in the game White took advantage of very slow play by his opponent to gain a large advantage. In the notes I show some better alternative for Black, but certainly not anything which invalidates the 9 Nc3 idea.

Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 Nh6 7 b4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Nf5 9 Be3 [C02]

In the main line with 6 a3 (instead of 6 Be2) 6...Nh6 7 b4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Nf5, White often plays the solid 9 Be3, and after 9...f6 10 exf6 gxf6 11 Nc3 Nxe3 12 fxe3 Bh6, Novikov, K - Gusarov, G, Sochi 2018, reached a familiar position:

Here White tried the aggressive but loosening 13 e4!?, which led to considerable complications. At the very end the players exchanged blunders and the game ended peacefully.

Winawer Main Line with 7 Qg4 Kf8 8 a4 [C18]

Viktor Moskalenko just came out with a new article extolling the merits of 7...Kf8 in the main line Winawer (1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Qg4). I’ve sorely neglected this variation although it has consistently had followers amongst top Grandmasters. Because I only found a couple of notable games this month, however, I’ve taken the unusual step of examining games from all of 2018 to try to form a thorough overview of what’s going on in these lines. To begin with, the game Zherebukh, Y - Akobian, V, St Louis 2018, features 8 a4, with the idea of Ba3. This was the initial response to 7...Kf8, later eclipsed by alternatives, especially 8 Bd2.

Black isn’t thought to have many problems here following 8...Qc7, but the play is quite tricky and it seems that existing theory doesn’t tell the whole story.

Winawer Main Line with 7 Qg4 Kf8 8 Qd1 [C18]

8 Qd1 has been a popular solution (as it is against 6...Qa5 7 Bd2 Qa4, the Portisch-Hook Variation). Saric, I - Akobian, V, PRO League 2018, saw 8...Qc7 (criticized by Moskalenko) 9 Nf3 b6 10 a4:

It’s likely that White has a small edge here, although the game was back-and-forth and ended in a flurry of blunders.

After 8 Qd1, Moskalenko likes the maneuver, 8...Qa5 9 Bd2 Qa4, which is very similar to the Portisch-Hook Variation above with 8 Qg4 Kf8 9 Qd1, but with the inclusion of ...Ne7. See my notes to Saric-Akobian above, including an amusing miniature with a premature resignation.

Winawer Main Line 7 Qg4 Kf8 8 Nf3 [C18]

Another reply to 7...Kf8 is 8 Nf3, when 8...Qa5 9 Bd2 Qa4 is again a good solution. After 10 Bd3 c4 11 Be2 Qxc2, White has standard compensation for the pawn:

This was roughly equal in Vega Gutierrez, S - Osmak, I, Vysoke Tatry 2018.

Notice that in the examples above, Black played his queen out on the 8th move. The other idea is 8...b6. I’ll show a game Jelecevic, I - Burovic, R, Jahorina 2018 from this month, which features the critical h4-h5 idea, arriving at this position:

White decides to give up the c-pawn after ...cxd4/cxd4/...Rxc2, which is sound enough, but tries to combine that with kingside play instead of gaining the advantage on the queenside.

Winawer Main Line 7 Qg4 Kf8 8 Bd2 [C18]

The most important reply to 7...Kf8 is 8 Bd2, as confirmed by its high frequency in the big databases (as well as in the Archives). Both Anand and So used 8 Bd2 with the past year, which is a strong recommendation. Then 8...Qc7 is seen most often. I’ve used a couple of older games here, and merged in some others in the notes. Mulet, P - Kowalski, I, Warsaw 2017, saw piece play with 9 Bd3 Bd7 10 Nf3 c4 11 Be2 Ba4:

These closed positions are terribly tricky. White has genuine chances on the kingside but Black should be able to defend. The game is more double-edged.

There were two instructive games between strong players at last year’s World Blitz Championships featuring a plan with h4-h5. Leko, P - Akobian, V, Riadh (World Blitz) 2017, saw 8...Qc7 9 Bd3 b6 10 h4 Ba6 11 h5 h6 12 Rh3 Bxd3 13 cxd3 Nbc6:

This is a fairly typical Winawer pawn structure in which Black should play ...Na5 with the idea ...c4 at an early stage. He failed to do so, and Leko took over the position with fine play.

In Kokarev, D - Socko, B, Riadh (World Blitz) 2017, White played 9 h4 immediately, which brought up the theme of ...cxd4 and ...Qxc2. It turned out that after 9...h6, sacrificing the c-pawn by 10 Nf3 cxd4 11 cxd4 Qxc2 wasn’t as effective as hoped.

After 12 Rc1 Qe4+ 13 Qxe4 dxe4, the tempo on the f3 knight makes it difficult to recover the pawn without letting Black activate his temporarily passive pieces.

For the record, Moskalenko thinks that after 8 Bd2, 8...b6 is a safe alternative to 8...Qc7, and also recommends looking into the rare ideas of 8...Bd7 and 8...Qe8!?, in both cases aiming at a4. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for examples to show.

Till next month, John

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