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This month I return to individual games of interest in lines that we are quite familiar with: the Tarrasch with 3...Nf6, 3...h6, and 3...c5 and the Positional Winawer, but also look into the Winawer with 4...b6 which has recently been receiving increased attention. To close out I do a bit of analysis of the irregular 2 f4.

Download PGN of March ’19 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6 Mainline, 8...f6 9 exf6 Nxf6 10 0-0 Bd6 11 Nf3 Qc7 [C06]

Safarli, E - Johansson, L, Astana 2019, followed the main line with 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 c3 c5 6 Bd3 Nc6 7 Ne2 cxd4 8 cxd4 f6 9 exf6 Nxf6 10 0-0 Bd6 11 Nf3 Qc7, and Black took a unique approach to White’s setup with Nc3 and h3:

Here instead of the standard 15...Bd7, Black unleashed 15...g5!? Intending ...Qg7 with a kingside advance and central pressure. This is an old plan but in a new context, and it worked well.

Classical/Tarrasch Variation 5 c3 c5 6 f4 Nc6 7 Ndf3 Qb6 8 a3 [C11]

The move 6 f4 always maintains a small following, even though Black continues to score reasonably with the old main line 6...Nc6 7 Ndf3 Qb6. Here John Van der Wiel played the unusual order 8 a3 Be7 9 Ne2 twice in the Batavia Blitz tournament in Amsterdam.

Van der Wiel, J - Williams, S, Amsterdam 2019, saw 9...0-0 (the inclusion of a3 and ...a5 favored White after 9...a5 10 f5! in a game in the notes) 10 f5!?, which is probably too ambitious for White, but led to a wild back-and-forth affair. This is instructive and entertaining, but 10 b4 is the move White should look into for future contests.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 exd5 exd5 5 Ngf3 Nc6 6 Bb5 Qe7+ [C09]

We’ve looked at the line with 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 exd5 5 Ngf3 Nc6 6 Bb5 Qe7+ before. It’s not a particularly aggressive system, but continues to score respectably, as White has a hard time claiming more than a minimal advantage and usually doesn’t even achieve that. Predojevic, B - Berelowitsch, A, Berlin 2019, tested 7 Be2 Qc7 (7...Nf6 8 0-0 Qc7 was actually played, with the difference explained in the notes) 8 0-0 Nf6 9 dxc5 Bxc5 10 Nb3 Be7 11 Bg5 0-0:

This position has proven resilient thus far; in the game, Black played inaccurately and allowed White opportunities for advantage.

Tarrasch Variation 3...h6, 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 [C03]

It’s been a while since I looked at games with 3 Nd2 h6, which as you can see from the Archives has been used by very strong Grandmasters.

Alekseenko, K - Skoberne, J, Pro League 2019, went 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 c5 6 exd5 exd5 7 dxc5 Bxc5 8 0-0 0-0 9 Nb3 Bb6 10 h3 Nc6:

Black has active play and excellent practical chances.

Tarrasch Variation 3...h6, 4 c3 c5 5 exd5 exd5 6 Ngf3 [C03]

In Fitzsimons, D - Howell, D, Bunratty 2019, White played conservatively with 4 c3 c5 5 exd5 exd5 6 Ngf3 Nc6 7 Bb5:

Here Black played 7...cxd4 and White replied with 8 0-0! and achieved an edge. Better seems 7...Qe7+, as I suggest in the notes.

Winawer Variation 4...b6 [C16]

Recently two published French repertoires have suggested playing 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 b6, perhaps following Caruana’s experiments with the move in Rapids and Blitz. In any case we are seeing an increase in the usage of 4...b6, which I will cover in two games from this month’s batch.

Ter Sahakyan, S - Lenderman, A, Pro League 2019, saw 5 Qg4 Bf8, and now the critical idea 6 Bb5+ c6 7 Ba4:

Here Black has at least four plausible moves, although I tend to think that only one of them works decently against accurate play for White.

Smirin, I - Shachar, E, Israel Team Ch 2019, saw the arguably most important move 5 a3, when Black answered with 5...Bxc3+ (I have an extensive note on 5...Bf8 in the Sahakyan-Lenderman game) 6 bxc3:

Here Schachar played 6...Qd7, which can lead to traditional lines after 7 Qg4, in my opinion favouring White with precise play. I analyse the important alternative 6...Ne7 7 Qg4 and here Black has an interesting choice, including 7...Kf8!?, the move Caruana tried.

Winawer Variation, Positional line 7 Nf3 Qc7 8 h4 [C19]

Caruana was also involved on the White side of the Winawer, playing the Positional 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Nf3 twice. In Caruana, F - Smirnov, Ant, Pro League 2019, the popular variation 7...Qc7 8 h4 b6 9 Bb5+ Bd7 10 Bd3 arose. Here Black often leaves the position flexible with 10...Ba4 or 10...h6, but he chose to close things by 10...c4 11 Be2 Ba4 12 h5 h6:

This introduces a heavy positional game which should objectively lead to neither side being able to make progress. Surprisingly, Caruana was the first to falter, allowing an extremely strong tactic which his opponent overlooked. Later, Black blundered horribly and lost. But the opening appears to be completely sound.

Irregular 2 f4 Variation [C00]

For some reason, 2 f4 was played fairly often in the earliest days of the French Defense; perhaps King’s Gambit players naturally leaned towards that move. It soon became very rare, but is now occasionally played by good players with the idea 2...d5 3 e5 c5 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 c3, intending d4. The most common followup is 5...Nh6 6 Na3 Nf5 7 Nc2:

Black’s pieces and actively placed and he doesn’t mind playing against White’s center after 8 d4. In Zvjaginsev, V - Stupak, K, Moscow 2019, (a game that began 1 e4 e6 2 c3!? d5 3 e5 c5 4 f4 Nc6 5 Nf3 Nh6 6 Na3), Black played 7...Be7 8 d4 cxd4 9 cxd4, and now 9...Nb4!?, which exerts less pressure than 9...Qb6, but is playable. I examine alternatives in the notes.

Till next month, John

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