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Many thanks to Gawain Jones and Tom Rendle for taking over my duties last month. I loved the Armenian Variation update (one of my students played it for several years), and of course 3...h6 in the Tarrasch is a line I keep promoting and defending, originally in my book Dangerous Weapons: The French. (In fact, I'll throw in another brief segment on 3...h6 below, as French Defence giant Shulman and rising female star Hoang Thanh Trang are using this tricky move that Short and Sadler have also employed).
In view of my absence, I'll be using games from the past two months to cover a variety of lines.

Download PGN of March '12 French games

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Advance Variation [C02]

Of course, there have been many games in the main lines, but first let me touch upon a rare line I've included in Play the French, namely 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Be2 f6!?:

It seems to me that this is fully sound. In Farran Martos-Gonzalez Rodriguez, Catalunya 2012, Black gets somewhat the better of the opening and I superficially examine a few options.

Sevillano - Clawitter, Los Angeles 2012, tested the main 6 a3 line with ...Nh6-f5, ...Bd7 and ...Rc8:

Here Black uncorked 13...g5! and actually gained the advantage against his opponent, rated 400 points higher. White hasn't had a great deal of luck in this opening, although he did prevail in the game.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6 [C06]

One of the main 3...Nf6 lines with 11...Qc7 is tested in Idani - DG Petrosian, Yerevan 2012:

We've seen this several times in the Archives. The move 12 g3 is one of the most important, and here Black played the familiar 15...e5 with serious complications. As the notes indicate, this isn't forced, but at any rate Black comes up with a new and ultimately effective move.

The other main line with 3...Nf6, this time with 11...0-0 is seen in Tiviakov - Reinderman, Wijk aan Zee 2012. After 12 Bf4, Black responded with the interesting 12...Nh5!?, a favourite of Moskalenko's, leading to this position:

White outplayed Black, but in general he has only a slight advantage and Black should be right in the game.

3...h6 [C03]

In Liou - Shulman, Fremont 2012, French expert Shulman tries out 3...h6 (a Dangerous Weapons move). They reach this moderately well-known position:

Here I like 6...c5 or 6...Be7, as explained in the Archives. Shulman chooses the safe but rather passive 6...dxc4.

Winawer Portisch-Hook Variation [C18]

White is slowly but surely developing some main lines in the Portisch-Hook variation of the Winawer. Zherebukh - Akopian, Moscow 2012, sees 8 Qb1 c4 9 h4 with the idea h5-h6, and Black plays a now standard setup:

A slightly odd feature here (although not new) is that Black has decided not to play ...h6, not fearing h6 by White. Nevertheless, that may be the first player's best chance. The game itself is very well played and eventually drawn.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 11...dxc3 [C18]

We've seen the Poisoned Pawn variation in Borosova- E Berg, Gibralter 2012, several times, but 13 h4 still isn't the favourite move because it allows 13...b6 rather than the slightly more passive 13...Bd7.

Here Black plays 15...Nf5 allowing the ending after 16 Bb5+ Bd7 17 Qxd7+, which gives Black serious positional advantages for a pawn.

Exchange Variation [C01]

We haven't talked about the variation 3 exd5 exd5 4 Bd3 c5 much in this column, but it's quite respectable. In Rabiega - Vallejo Pons, Trier 2012, the following position was reached:

Here Black deviated from the usual 8...Nc6 with 8...h6 (also played in another recent game given in the notes), which is really unnecessary. White played very cleverly for attack and succeeded, but with a large advantage lost his way and then lost the game.

After 4 Nf3 Nc6, 5 Bb5 Bd6 6 c4 dxc4 is a hotly-contested line, but in Galego-N McDonald, Sunningdale 2012, White played the slow 5 h3 instead and Black soon took the initiative, reaching this position:

Strange to say, it's not so easy for Black to force an advantage. In a very back-and-forth game, he was often on the verge of a significant advantage, but ultimately allowed White to draw.

Wing Gambit [C00]

The French Wing Gambit (1 e4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e5 c5 4 b4!?) is pretty good for a gambit. I'm not really a believer, and it seems that White is always trying to justify being a pawn down. In many lines Black retains a small edge, whereas if White does get sufficient play it's often barely enough for equality. This is probably not a situation that White wants out of the opening, although there's no refutation in sight.

Interestingly, we get the first truly high-level venture with the Wing Gambit that I've seen in years in Zviagensev - Rodshtein, Moscow 2012. After Black plays the standard recapture on b4, he simply leaves his kingside as is and initiates queenside action:

Seps - Zatonskih, Frauenbundesliga 2011-12, is a different story. Black grabs the pawn on a3 and lets White bring out a piece too many:

White is not winning, but has somewhat more than enough for a pawn. Alas, she later stumbled, but the opening result is not what Black wants.

Till next month, John

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