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This month I've chosen mostly Tarrasch and Winawer lines to look at. In part, that's because of reader contributions. One of these comes from Uwe Heilmann, who annotates a game featuring a cutting edge line in the Portisch-Hook Variation of the Winawer. Jose Blades (or Jose Noel Blades Aldebol) once again contributes a game in the Tarrasch as well as an analytical contribution of considerable theoretical interest. Otherwise I've chosen games from the past few months which either illustrate typical ideas or involve an opening twist that I found interesting.

Download PGN of March '14 French games

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Exchange Variation 4 c4 [C01]

To begin with, let's take a look a somewhat older game with a modest and fairly popular version of the Exchange Variation for White, namely, 4 c4. One of the most commonly arising positions is this one:

In Ri Forster-P Carlsson, Warsaw 2013, we look at this position and a few related lines with ...Bb4 and ...Nf6.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 exd5 exd5 main line 9...Bb6 [C09]

There are at least two interesting versions of the 3...c5 Tarrasch that involve ...exd5 as a response to exd5. One begins with 4 exd5 exd5 and playing ...Bd7 in reply to Bb5+. The other is the main line in which Black sets up with ...Nc6/...Bd6/...Nge7. By playing 4 Ngf3 Nc6 5 exd5, White avoids the former possibility. In the game Safarli - Savchenko, Minsk 2014, the players enter the main line and Black unconventionally allows the exchange of his dark-squared bishop.

This is the kind of position White wants in the Tarrasch. He has positional pressure against the dark squares and 'hanging' pawns. This may not be a winning advantage (it's certainly close), but Black has no positive prospects whatsoever. The resulting exploitation of Black's weaknesses looks almost routine.

Universal System 7...f5!? [C06]

Going back a few months, I wanted to mention the game Haria - McDonald (yes, our Neil!), London 2013, in which Black tries a novel approach to the Universal System (which he helped to develop the theory of some years back in ChessPublishing). After 7 Ngf3, he played 7...f5!?:

This move seems ideally designed to meet Ngf3 because White hasn't a natural kingside attacking plan (less of one than against ...f5 in the 5 f4 systems). Unless of course White plays exf6, as he does in this game. The significance of that is that we've transposed to 7...f6 8 exf6, without having to deal with other 8th moves by White. Now 7...f6 8 exf6 Nxf6 has never been a popular line for Black, but it has scored perfectly well and seems theoretically sound. Moskalenko has played it and analysed it (in Flexible French), while I gave it a more detailed look in PTF4. It seems a handy weapon that doesn't require much preparation.

Mainline with 11...Qc7, 13 Rc1 h6 [C06]

In the popular ...Qc7/...Bd6 variation of the 3...Nf6 Tarrasch, the following position has been very popular over the years:

In this position in PTF4, I give 13...Bd7 and 13...h6 as my main lines, with a note on 13...Ng4 (a lesser-known move which may be perfectly okay). Jose Blades sends us an analytical contribution Tarrasch 14.Bxf6- 13... h6 line, 2014, in which he suggests that 13...h6 is inferior due to a move that I didn't take seriously, namely, 14 Bxf6!?. I'm not convinced that the line favours Black (see my suggestion on move 15, as well as later analysis); but it shows how varied and exciting the play can be in these flexible and complex positions.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 12...d4 13 Ng3 [C18]

The Winawer Poisoned Pawn is still the focus of many White players seeking to gain the advantage versus the French. We have a few games this month which go down original paths in well-known variations.

It was only a Blitz game, but Karjakin - Nepomniachtchi, Beijing (Blitz) 2013, was a well-played example of the 'new' main line of the Poisoned Pawn (12...d4).

Theory concentrates upon 15...Nf5 (see the notes), but the game saw 15...Kb8 with the idea ...Bc8, ...b6, and ...Bb7. This worked out rather well for Black, but White outplayed his opponent in an extremely difficult struggle.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 12...d4 13 h4 [C18]

Khanin - Aitbayev, Pavlodar 2013, tested the natural move 13 h4, leading to the line 13...b6 14 h5 Bb7 15 h6 0-0-0 16 h7 Rh8:

After 17 Rh3, Black played a new move suggested in PTF4 - 17...Nd5! - and equalized.

White has options on several moves in this line. From the above diagram (after 16...Rh8), Blades contributes still another of his recent games, Glowatzky - Bladzei, Chess 2014 , in which White plays 17 Ng3:

The game is annotated in great detail and well worth playing over. I don't see any theoretical problems at all for Black. White should not lose, but in most lines Black gets some advantage and he tends to have the better practical chances.

Winawer Portisch-Hook Variation 8 Qg4 Kf8 [C18]

Another very relevant contribution this month comes from Uwe Heilmann, who annotates the game Zakharov - Heilmann, World Cup 20 (P 11). It features a critical line in the Portisch-Hook Variation, which we haven't looked at in a little while.

In this and a couple of other games, White has been trying to make something of the move 12 cxd5 (in PTF4, I gave 12 c3). In an ongoing game, Uwe shows a good way for Black to organize his pieces, and quotes several other games. Both sides get chances here, and I think we'll see more of this line for that reason.

Portisch-Hook 8 Qb1 c4 9 h4 [C18]

Another path with the Portisch-Hook involves the move 8 Qb1, which is still the most popular continuation. One main-line position appears to be acceptable to both sides, since it has appeared repeatedly over the past few years:

In Barbosa - Piorun, Cappelle-la-Grande 2014, I look at a couple of recent games in this line. Nothing earth-shattering, and the general impression is that both sides have flexible enough positions to sustain a great many unique plans.

Winawer Exchange 5 Bd3 c6 [C01]

I can't resist tossing in a game with 4 exd5 to continue (or conclude?) the discussion on the Forum I referred to last month. In Nestorovic - Ganguly, Cappelle-la-Grande 2014, after 4...exd5 5 Bd3, Black again chooses the popular 5...c6, following our game from last month until White deviates on move 9.

Here White tries 9 Nce2 instead of 9 Qh5. Interesting that two such strong players of Black (2623 and 2676) use the less ambitious move 5...c6 instead of, say 5...Nc6, which is relatively sharp. or 5...Nf6, which is safe and natural. In PTF4, I analyse all three moves.

Till next month, John

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