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We’ll look at Tarrasch Variations with 3...c5 4 exd5 this month, involving recapture with the queen and with the pawn. Then we turn to the Classical Steinitz Variation, arguably the most important French Variation there is in master chess these days.

Download PGN of March ’17 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 with 6...Qd7 [C07]

After 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4, we continue to see 6...Qd7 by strong players (instead of 6...Qd6 or 6...Qd8). After 7 0-0 Nc6 8 Nb3 Nf6, 9 Qe2 a6 10 a4 is an important try for White, who hasn't made any progress with other moves recently:

In Idani, P - Kobalia, M, Moscow 2017, Black played 10...Bd6, controlling e5 and intending to play ...e5 if allowed.

Tarrasch 3...c5 4 exd5 exd5 5 Bb5+ [C08]

We’ve never covered 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 exd5 5 Bb5+ Bd7 as thoroughly as other 3...c5 lines, and yet that has proven a fairly reliable drawing method for professional players over the years. The negative side is that Black’s winning chances in simplified isolated pawn positions are quite small, so it’s little wonder that this has never been a popular amateur choice. Nevertheless, Black might want to use ...exd5 as an alternative defense, and White should know something about it. One instantiation of this idea is 6 Bxd7+ Nxd7:

Now 7 Ngf3 is common, but White also plays the flexible 7 Ne2, avoiding an exchange of queens in various lines. In Zherebukh, Y - Cordova, E, Saint Louis 2017, I pay attention to early move orders, while the game illustrates a typical direction that the play may take.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7...Be7 [C11]

The Steinitz Variation 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 is White’s most important attempt to get something against the French in the Classical 3 Nc3 Nf6 order. Then 7...Be7 continues to be the most popular move at the master level. After 8 Qd2 0-0 9 dxc5, Black can play 9...Nxc5 or 9...Bxc5:

The latter move was played in the crucial Women’s World Championship game Muzychuk, A - Tan Zhongyi, Tehran (6.3) 2017. White played 0-0-0, Bd3, and h4, when Tan unnecessarily allowed a completely sound Greek sacrifice with Bxh7+ and lost badly.

In Mendoza, S - Thi Mai Hung Nguyen, Tagaytay City 2017, Black went into the same line but played the new move 11...Rd8:

At first this worked out satisfactorily, but after inaccuracies Black ran into trouble on the kingside and lost.

9...Nxc5 10 0-0-0 has become an important battleground:

Pablo Marin, A - Peralta, F, Barcelona 2017 is a fighting example of this line, with assorted examples of the various ways both sides can play these positions.

Given the kingside play White generated in those games, Black can also think about delaying castling. The best way to do that seems to be 8...a6:

This was tested in Ostrovskiy, A - Tan, J, PRO League 2017. After the critical move 9 dxc5, I think 9...Bxc5 gives Black the most interesting play, but the game’s 9...Nxc5 was also playable.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 [C11]

In the Steinitz, there’s been some question whether Black can count upon the lengthy forcing line 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 9 Qd2 Qxb2 10 Rb1 Qa3 11 Bb5 Nxd4 12 Bxd4 a6 13 Bxd7+ Bxd7 14 Rb3 Qe7 15 Rxb7 to produce a draw, as has previously been done by top Grandmasters including Nakamura upon several occasions (see the Archives):

White managed to eke out a win in Aroshidze, L - Jerez Perez, A, Barcelona 2017, and it’s worth examining that game.

Alternately, in Heimann Stein, A -Kaczmarczyk, D, Bad Ragaz 2017, Black’s move order 15...Qh4+ avoids certain lines by White even though it may transpose to the main variation, so the game continuation 16 g3!? Qh3 is potentially important:

It turns out that Black has good counterplay on the kingside and White can’t achieve more than a draw.

Till next month, John

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