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I’ll look at an assortment of lines this month, including some very old main lines that we haven’t seen in a while. Black apparently has no reason to avoid these traditional variations of the Tarrasch, Steinitz, and Winawer.

Download PGN of June ’19 French games

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Advance Variation, Milner-Barry Gambit 8 0-0 Nxd4 9 Nbd2 [C02]

Somewhat below the main boards in United States swiss system tournaments, you’ll see a fair numbers of players trying the Milner-Barry Gambit with 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 (or 5...Bd7 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 cxd4 Qb6) 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 cxd4 Bd7. Then the line which has taken over as White’s soundest gambit version is 8 0-0 Nxd4 9 Nbd2:

Over the years I’ve been asked about this line quite often, and it still arises fairly regularly, but is appearing less frequently in grandmaster play.. This month, the game Licardo, R - Lalic, B, Mali Losinj 2019, tested one of the standard solutions 9...Bc5, when the further gambit 10 b4 followed. This is perhaps the most critical line, but requires good preparation.

In Van Doren, B - Wiley, T, Eindhoven 2019 , Black played 9...Nc6 instead, which is also playable but seems to give White more long-term compensation based upon space and activity. The game went 10 Nb3 Nge7 11 Be3:

Morozevich once played this way as Black against Topalov and got a good game, but White stands well enough that we can call this a dynamically equal position.

Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 Nh6 [C02]

In one of the most frequently-played variations of the Advance Variation, with 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 a3 Nh6, strong players on the White side including Fedoseev, Movsesian, Vitiugov and Negi have experimented with 7 Bd3!?:

White plays a Milner-Barry setup in which the move a3 means that he can defend the d-pawn with Bc2 and not fear ...Nb4. This costs a tempo, but ...Nh6 isn't necessarily ideal. In Alekseenko, K - Lomasov, S, Sochi 2019, play went 7...cxd4 8 0-0!?, a fully playable gambit which led to a small positional advantage. Probably Black should play an early ...Nf5 to equalize. This double-edged line will doubtless be seen a lot more.

Tarrasch 3...c5 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6 6 exd5 [C07]

After 3 Nd2 c5 4 Ngf3, one of the most popular defenses is 4...cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6 6 exd5. Then Black plays two moves with fair success. The first is 6...Nxd5:

In Grandelius, N - Nisipeanu, L, Malmo 2019, I review some of the major options. In the game White got the smallest of edges but it led nowhere.

The slightly more ambitious reply is 6...Qxd5. Then Perske, T - Meier, G, Bundesliga 2018-19, went 7 Nb5 Na6 8 Nc3:

This has become a main line. Black played 8...Qd6 and equalized convincingly.

Steinitz Variation 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Nf3 [C11]

After 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3 Nc6, we are very used to 7 f4, as illustrated by many games in the Archives. Over the past few years, a number of strong players have tried to make something out of 7 Nf3:

Here Toma, K - Cornette, M, Telford 2019, saw 7...Qb6, after which 8 a3 a5 9 Nf4 cxd4 10 cxd4 seems to give White a small pull with his space advantage. However, had Black played the dynamic 9...g5!?, he could have gotten full counterplay.

Harikrishna, P - Nisipeanu, L Malmo 2019, saw the positionally logical 7...a5, stopping b4 and preparing expansion of the queenside:

White played 8 a4. Then Black has several good options such as 8...Qb6 and 8...Be7. In the game he tried 8...cxd4 9 cxd4 Nb6, which might not be best, but led to an equal game.

In Zawadzka, J - Socko, M, Warsaw 2019, White tried 8 a3, when 8...a4! looks effective. Black played 8...b6 9 Nf4 Ba6 instead, but should have come out somewhat worse had White played a timely c4. In the event, White found a winning piece sacrifice and crashed through.

Classical, Morozevich Variation 7 Nf3 f5 8 Nc3 a6 9 Qe2 b5 [C11]

We’ve seen many games in the Morozevich Variation 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 dxe4 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6 gxf6, one key line going 7 Nf3 f5 8 Nc3 a6 9 Qe2 b5 10 0-0-0 b4:

Here there are dozens of games with 11 Na4. In Yoo, CW - Anagnostopoulos, K, Irakleio 2019, White unleashed the amazing 11 d5?!?, a courageous piece sacrifice which ultimately netted a point in pretty fashion. In the notes, I show why 11 d5 is (unfortunately) unsound, and also show a few other recent examples in this line.

Till next month, John

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