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Over the past month there were a number of interesting French games in most variations, but White’s continued enthusiasm for the Advance Variation sticks out, so in this column I’ll concentrate on 3 e5 theory.

Download PGN of March ’23 French games

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Advance Variation, gambit lines [C02]

Just when Black seemed to have solved his problems in the faddish gambit line following 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 0-0, White’s results over the past couple of months have become quite good again. I’m not persuaded that Black stands worse in the main positions, but in recent practice White has had a nice winning percentage. True, this tends to be more the case in Blitz battles; that’s still an indication that Black needs to have better concrete preparation and a good feel for the issues that arise if he wants to play 5...Qb6.

Let me give just a couple of examples, and refer the reader to the Archives and recent games for a fuller understanding.

Hector Gambit 5...Qb6 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 0-0 Bd7 8 Re1 [C02]

The most common position arises after 7...Bd7 8 Re1:

In recent games the flexible move 8...Rc8 has been seen quite a bit. Bas Mas, J - Wilson, E Titled Tuesday Feb 14 2023, saw 9 a3!? (intending b4) 9...a6 10 b4 dxc3 11 Nxc3 Nxb4, with great complications. Needless to say, there are plenty of options.

Paichadze, L - Lux, H, Titled Tuesday Feb 14 2023, saw the more common 9 Nbd2 and there followed 9...dxc3 10 bxc3 Na5 11 Rb1 Qc7:

This is a key position. White has several dangerous tries. In the game, Black blundered and lost in just a few more moves.

The main move is still 8...Nge7, after which White has done well with 9 h4:

Here there are a number of moves. Yaniv,, Y - Gorodetzky, D, Israeli Team Ch 2023, continued 9...Rc8 10 Nbd2 Nf5. This seems an odd place for the knight but while White retains plenty of compensation for his pawn, Black is able to maintain equal chances.

Advance Variation with 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 7 Na3 [C02]

After 5 Nf3, there are various independent lines stemming from 5...Bd7 that we have covered many times in the Archives, but what the best move orders for both sides are is still unresolved. Sankalp, G - Jumabayev, R, Airthings Masters 2023, saw 6 Be2 Nge7 7 Na3:

This commits the knight rather early, but by not castling, White potentially strengthens his standard advance h4-h5 and might also gain a tempo for central protection. The game continued 7...cxd4 8 cxd4 Ng6 9 Nc2 Be7 10 0-0 0-0 and with accurate play the game should be level, but it might be easier to play 9...f6.

Unfortunately, instead of 9 Nc2, White can play 9 h4!:

This position has been played quite a lot over the years. It arose in Firouzja, A - Xu, X, Airthings Masters 2023, (in which 8 h4 cxd4 9 cxd4 was played). Now the move in the game, 9...Bb4+, is really risky at best after 10 Kf1!, when I see no way for Black to avoid a serious disadvantage. I think he should probably go in for 9...Be7 with the idea 10 h5 Nh4, although even there this variation looks less than ideal for Black.

The most common variation arises after 7 Na3 cxd4 8 cxd4 Nf5 9 Nc2:

In Motylev, A - Das, S, Cannes 2023 (which used the 7...Nf5 8 Nc2 cxd4 9 cxd4 order), Black played simply with 9...Be7 (one of several widely-used options) 10 0-0 Qb6!? This last move has been played a fair amount, even in correspondence, and is probably playable, but it seems to me that the line 10...0-0 11 Bd3 f6 12 Bxf5 exf5 is more reliable and gives Black some positive chances.

Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 7 0-0 cxd4 8 cxd4 Nf5 9 Nc3 [C02]

So much for 7 Na3. Throughout the years, 7 0-0 has usually been played, when we have seen 7...Ng6 a lot in the Archives, but 7...cxd4 8 cxd4 Nf5 is a common alternative, allowing 9 Nc3:

An important juncture. Sutormin, D - Volkov, S, Chelyabinsk 2023, continued with 9...a6. This is a flexible move, one of whose main ideas is to play ...Qb6 and answer Na4 (the move that tends to bother ...Qb6) by ...Qa7. I spend some time looking at a well-known Giri-Carlsen game with 9...Rc8, which is arguably the most accurate move, and an older contest with 9...Be7, which may be less reliable but not for the reason often given. In the game, Black played inaccurately and White had a serious edge, but not really due to the opening.

Advance Variation with 5...Bd7 6 a3 c4 [C02]

White players who are positionally-oriented might prefer 6 a3 to 6 Be2. One of the drawbacks to this move is that systems with an early ...f6 gain in strength. In Lacasa Diaz, J - Koutlas, N, Titled Tuesday Feb 7 2023, 6...c4 7 Nbd2 f6 was played:

White tried the most ambitious move 8 g3 (8 Be2 is the main alternative) 8...fxe5 9 dxe5, which in most lines offers the e-pawn in return for piece activity and rapid development. The game, a Blitz affair, lost theoretical interest at an early stage, but I’ve added notes on some early options.

In Krzywda, A - Gutierrez Olivares, D, Titled Tuesday Feb 21st 2023, White played the unusual but not unknown 7 h4!?:

This has some logic, grabbing space on the kingside and leaving the c1 bishop free to defend White’s center against ...f6 is ideas. There followed 7...Nge7 8 h5 h6 and a double-edged maneuvering game resulted.

Advance Variation 5...Nge7 6 Na3 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nf5 8 Nc2 Be7 9 Bd3 [C02]

A similar variation, which sometimes transposes, is 5 Nf3 Nge7. One significant difference is that White hasn’t committed his bishop to e2 yet, and so can play for Bd3. In Dauw, S - Dgebuadze, A, Wachtebeke 2023, play developed by 6 Na3 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nf5 8 Nc2 Be7 9 Bd3 Bd7:

Analogous to the 5...Bd7 lines above. Now White has had some success with 10 h4, but I feel that 10...f6 maintains the balance with good counterchances. The game continued 10 0-0 h5!? (I prefer 10...0-0) 11 Re1?! g5! and Black had plenty of counterplay.

Advance Variation 5...Nge7 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 0-0 [C02]

White played the immediate 6 Bd3 is De Vleeschauwer, M - Dgebuadze, A, Wachtebeke 2023, and Black responded with 6...cxd4:

Now White decided to gambit a pawn along the lines of the fashionable 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 0-0 gambit above, so he played 7 0-0?! (the position after 7 cxd4 Nf5 is well-known; I’ve included a recent example in the notes) 7...dxc3 8 Nxc3 Ng6 9 Re1 Be7. In this position, White's problem is that by not bringing his queen to b6, Black is a tempo ahead of the 5...Qb6 version. What's more, White cannot gain another tempo as he did there by attacking the b6 queen via Rb1 or Be3. Thus Black has a considerable advantage, although the game itself wasn’t fully convincing.

Till next month, John

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