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This is an eclectic bunch. I feel that I've said too little about the Exchange Variation, so there are two games. I've also had surprisingly few Tarrasch Variations with the ultra-popular 3...Be7, and very little about the Winawer with 7...0-0, which after all is one of the main lines. The latter proved to be one of the most difficult analyses that I've done in a long time. Along with these, I've included games with the Winawer Poisoned Pawn Variation (a seemingly compulsory duty these days), and two of my own favourites, the Advance with 5...Nh6 and the Hecht-Reefschläger Variation.

Download PGN of March '11 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Nh6 [C02]

The move 5...Nh6, promoted by both Moskalenko and myself, arises in Kabanov - Poghosyan, Moscow (Aeroflot B) 2011. The variation White chooses is natural and important, but ultimately poses little threat to the system:

Exchange Variation [C01]

A typical Exchange Variation with opposite-side castling arose in Mikkelson - Brynell, Danish Teams 2011:

I already like Black in such positions, although White managed to equalize before misplaying it.

The variation 4 c4 is quite popular in the Exchange Variation. There are several direct ways to equality, but the whole game lies ahead. In Taylor - Stopa, Los Angeles 2011, this typical isolated pawn position arose, with level chances:

Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 [C03]

Strange to say, I haven't concentrated much on 3...Be7, which is recommended in several French books, including my own. Here's a peek at a recent game Kochetkova - Bajarani, Aeroflot B Moscow, 2011, with what is rapidly becoming a main line, also promoted in my book:

In this position, White has tried many moves, as explained in the notes. They all give interesting play (without much risk), but Black can always keep the balance.

Winawer Variation - Poisoned Pawn 7 Qg4 [C18]

There were four more Poisoned Pawn Winawers this month, and since the worth of 7 Qg4, which is probably the main line of the French Defence, depends upon it, I'll continue to analyse the developments.

In Kuijpers - Stellwagen, Dutch Team Championships 2011, we revisit the main line:

Black comes out well. Both sides need to play accurately; in the notes, White gains the upper hand against an inferior deviation by Black.

Another main position arises in Smirnov - DG Petrosian, Aeroflot B Moscow 2011:

The move 13 Rb1 tries to keep White's options open and discourage queenside castling (incidentally stopping ..Qb6). The possibilities are broad, with decent chances for both sides; but I give three continuations for Black at this point which all seem to equalise.

Winawer 7 Qg4 0-0 [C18]

I thought I'd quickly review the main line with 7 Qg4 0-0, but it turned into a nightmare of complex positions and ideas. After a while I decided to stick with the main line in the variation where Black picks 13...Qf7, and it took me hour after hour to make sense of that. The featured game is Vuckovic - Apicella, Capelle la Grande 2011.

It seems that I've seen this position a hundred times now, and ChessPublishing has scads of lengthy analysis on it, with not entirely happy verdicts for Black. When I saw Apicella defending it successfully, against a 2600+ player no less, it seemed worth reinvestigating. He has by my count played 7...0-0 14 times, 5 of them in this main line. I'm not sure if these lines will ever be completely settled; I've found at least five serious changes to existing theory just by keeping my engines humming and using a little common sense.

Hecht-Reefschlaeger Variation [C10]

Finally, another look at a lighter variation, 3 Nc3 Nc6. In Van Kampen-Hertneck, Amsterdam 2011, White chose the solid variation 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 (a game with 5 e5 Ne4 6 Ne2 appears in the notes) 5...Nb4 6 Bg5:

White gets a little something out of the opening, but nothing that Black can't handle.

Till next month, John

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