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This month I examine the Advance Variation with 4...Ne7, aiming to play ...b6 and ...Ba6, plus an old favorite of mine, 3...h6 against the Tarrasch Variation.

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Advance Variation 4...Ne7 5 Nf3 Nec6 6 Bd3 b6 [C02]

The recent Chess24 Banter Blitz match between Parham Maghsoodloo and Georg Meier featured the variation 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Ne7, leading to 5 Nf3 Nec6 6 Bd3 b6

Maghsoodloo, P - Meier, G, Chess24 Banter Blitz 2020, includes games and analysis where White plays 7 0-0, allowing the exchange of bishops by ...Ba6. Although White wins the main game, this line looks fully satisfactory for Black.

In Libiszewski, F - Gilevych, A, PRO League 2020, White prevented ...Ba6 with 7 Qe2:

The idea is 7...a5 8 a4 Ba6 (not the only move) 9 Bb5!, which ties Black down at the cost of some lost time. This is not easy to play against, especially if White plays for a crude kingside attack.

Advance Variation 4...Ne7 5 Na3 [C02]

Kovalenko, I - Meier, G, Chess24 Banter Blitz 2020, saw the interesting move 5 Na3, by which White wants to anchor the center with Nc2. By delaying Nf3, he leaves the queen's path to the kingside unblocked. This has been used by a number of strong players.

There followed 5...Nec6 6 Nc2 b6 (6...Nd7 looks promising and is analysed in the notes) 7 Nh3 Be7 8 Qg4! with a substantial advantage.

Tarrasch Variation 3...h6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 [C03]

This month saw high-level games with an old favorite of mine, 3 Nd2 h6. In Ju Tan - Sadler, M, Daventry 2020, White went for a very aggressive thrust after 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 c5:

and now 7 c4!?. This has been tried a few times but we haven’t analysed it in this column. The game followed a sort of main line.

Tarrasch Variation, 3...h6 4 Bd3 c5 5 dxc5 Bxc5 6 exd5 [C03]

When confronted with 3...h6 Maxime Vachier Lagrave took a conservative approach with 4 Bd3 c5 5 dxc5 Bxc5 6 exd5 exd5 7 Nb3 Bd6 8 Nf3:

Black has to choose where to put his king’s knight, on f6 or e7. With ...h6 already in, I somewhat prefer the former, but in Vachier Lagrave, M - Martinez Reyes, P, PRO League 2020, Black developed simply with ...Nge7 and ...Bg4. The opening was level, although inaccurate play led to a quick White victory.

Tarrasch Variation Universal System 8...g5 9 Nb1 [C06]

Even in an extremely established variation, there’s sometimes a compelling move that escapes notice for many years. After 3 Nd2 Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3 Nc6 8 0-0 g5, I think that one such move is 9 Nb1, as played in Raja, H - Martirosyan, H Moscow 2020:

This is a well-known idea in other variations of the Universal System, but played in barely 1% of master games in this position. As far as I can see, it’s a safe way for White to play for advantage and better that the great majority, if not all, alternatives. See what you think; the game itself is flawed but very entertaining.

Classical 4 Bg5, Morozevich’s line 6 Bxf6 gxf6 7 Nf3 f5 [C11]

Morozevich’s line 4...dxe4 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6 gxf6 continues to be popular. In Hellers, F - Kashlinskaya, A, PRO League 2020, after 7 Nf3 f5, White tried the sideline 8 Ned2:

The idea is that after 8...c5 9 Bb5+, White develops quickly and will clarify the central structure. In the game, Black equalized but got careless and allowed White to penetrate down the d-file.

Harutjunyan, G - Kostenko, P, Chelyabinsk 2020, went into the popular position after 8 Nc3 a6 9 Qe2 b5 10 0-0-0 b4 11 Na4 Qd5:

We’ve seen this position a few times, but not the move 12 c4!?, which leads to a simplified position where the two bishops compensate for Black’s somewhat inferior pawn structure. A few strong players including Aronian have employed this move, but it doesn’t seem to yield much for White. I’ve included a few other recent games of interest with 9 g3 in the notes.

Exchange Variation 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 Nf6 6 c5 [C01]

It’s interesting that even supergrandmasters are turning to the Exchange Variation rather often, surely a sign of respect for the soundness of the French Defence in main lines. Vachier Lagrave, M - Dvirnyy, D, PRO League 2020, followed a line played by Carlsen (and naturally others) after 3 exd5 exd5 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 Nf6 6 c5!? Be7 7 Bd3:

Carlsen actually played 7 Nc3 first (analysed in the notes), but the 6 c5 move and resulting structure have never been in favour until recently. These positions are not easy to play, so Black should be aware of the ideas if he wants to play this move order.

Till next month, John

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