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No overarching theme here; simply a selection of games in important variations, (with a look at our old favourite, the Hecht-Reefschläger Variation).

Download PGN of May '12 French games

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Exchange Variation [C01]

Although things are more fun when Black chooses to mix things up with ...0-0-0 in the Exchange Variation, he can also play calmly with ...0-0 in a variety of ways. In Wang Chen-Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son, Ho Chi Minh City 2012, he simply brought his pieces out to natural squares:

Here White is already slightly behind in development, although he held the balance fairly easily.

Tarrasch Variation - Universal System 7...g6 [C05]

At the moment, it seems that there are several reliable solutions to the Universal System. One of the best is 7...g6. In Otte - Picard, Cala Rajada 2012, White tried the slightly unusual 8 Bc2:

Of course Black can continue 8...Bg7 here, but in the game he preferred 8...b6, hoping to play ...Ba6 with effect. This plan has both advantages and disadvantages.

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

The obligatory Poisoned Pawn game again illustrates the danger of too-slow development by White, regardless of the positional gains. In general, the move 13 Ng3, while played by some leading lights, has done poorly:

In Mrndjic - Selimovic, Bosna 2012, White attempts to improve upon theory and should end up in trouble, but after a series of blunders by both sides wins out.

12...Bd7 13 Qxc3 [C18]

In the traditional 12...Bd7 line, 13 Qxc3 Nf5 14 Rb1 0-0-0 15 Rg1 d4 16 Qd3 has an enormous body of theory and practice behind it, with a load of material in the Archives. Still, there may be a thing or two to add:

In Golub - Melnichuk, Kiev 2012, Black plays 16...f6, giving me an excuse to make a limited but to-the-point (I hope) survey of ideas and a few suggestions. The game continuation is almost undoubtedly inferior for Black but worth knowing. I also spend a lot of time on 16...Na5, probably the main move at this point.

Classical Variation - Steinitz 7...a6 [C11]

In the main Steinitz line with f4/Nf3/Be3, the move 7...a6 has slipped in popularity versus 7...Be7 and 7...cxd4, but certainly has no refutation and does well enough in practice. The position after 9 a3 has been seen a lot in ChessPublishing columns:

Now 9...g5, 9...Bb7, and 9...Qb6 are popular. In Alekseev - Demidov, Sochi 2012, Black played the rare 9...Qa5 and soon played a new move. White probably has a theoretical advantage; the game itself was rather messy.

Classical 7...Be7 [C11]

In the popular 7...Be7 line, a standard sequence is 8 Qd2 0-0 9 Be2 b6 (or 8 Be2 0-0 9 0-0 b6, which can transpose after 10 Qd2):

In Perunovic - Sedlak, Vrnjacka Banja 2012, White plays 10 Nd1, preparing either c3 or c4. In the notes, I analyse two games from this month with the normal 10 0-0.

MacCutcheon Variation 6 Bc1 [C12]

In the main variation, the move 6 Bc1!? has never been very popular but remains a legitimate weapon with no universally-accepted solution. I think that it's quite competitive with 6 Bd2 in terms of value. Perez Mitjans-Rioboo de Larriva, La Roda 2012, arrived at this normal position:

Here 8 Nge2 is almost invariably played, but White tried 8 a3 and ultimately achieved success. Black can equalize with accurate play, but even then there is plenty of play left.

Hecht-Reefschläger [C10]

Iordachescu - Kuzubov, Dubai 2012, was a rare 2600+ Hecht-Reefschläger game. White played 4 Be3 and arrived at the following position:

This is a standard French setup which is solid but tends to leave Black a little worse. Here, it's easier to handle because White has played 0-0-0 and will be loathe to expand on the queenside.

Kuzubov tried the same idea in Vishnu - Kuzubov, Dubai 2012, against a White setup involving more space:

This is the same basic setup as in the previous game. Black played 12...Na5 followed by ...Kb8/...Rc8/...c5 and achieved a good position Even though it's likely that White could have gained a slight advantage, this is a perfectly acceptable setup.

Till next month, John

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