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In an important development, Nakamura has recently shown that in the Classical Steinitz Variation Black is able to equalize without allowing the complexities of the traditional main lines. I've looked at recent games with that solution. I've also revisited the Hecht-Reefschlaeger Variation, 3 Nc3 Nc6. This has generally been neglected in the literature but has quite a history on ChessPublishing, especially due to Neil McDonald's efforts.

Download PGN of May '13 French games

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Classical Variation with 4 e5, 8...Qb6 [C11]

As mentioned above, Black now seems to have a very reliable, if somewhat drawish, approach to the Steinitz line of the Classical Variation. This begins with the move 8...Qb6:

Hikaru Nakamura is making a living with this move, which has a nice forcing aspect to it and cuts down on Black's preparation. In the main line with 9 Qd2 Qxb2, Nakamura has held his own against the world's best players (Anand, Topalov, Leko, and Karjakin twice). This position is key:

Black can play either 15...Qh4+, as in Leko - Nakamura, Zug 2013; or 15...Qd8, as in Karjakin - Nakamura, Zug 2013. As the games and notes show, Black equalizes relatively easily. The main drawback for the average player is that White can virtually force a draw; if Black prefers to play on, he will have accept a position with a limited disadvantage.

Danin - Gleizerov, Koge 2013, features the slightly odd-looking 9 Ncb5:

After 9...a6 the game goes into a virtually forced sequence ending in perpetual check. Alternatively, Black can play 9...Bc5 with a level, more interesting game.

White's best try to maintain complications is 9 a3, played in Macieja - Shimanov, Nakhchivan 2013:

White has done rather well with this passive-looking move, but Black holds his own at the top levels. As the game shows, he can gain full equality in various ways. On the other hand, this line leaves play on the board, so 9 a3 is your most promising choice if you want to play for a win.

Hecht-Reefschlaeger 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 e5 [C10]

The Hecht-Reefschlaeger 3 Nc3 Nc6 has very little literature attached to it. But ChessPublishing has quite a few games with scads of analysis, and I wrote about it from the Black side in Dangerous Weapons: The French.

Gullaksen - Getz, Haraldsheim 2013, saw White play 4 e5, which is perhaps not as popular as it should be. Black continued 4...Nge7 (4...f6 is the main recommendation in my book) 5 Nf3 Nf5:

Here White has a variety of attempts. The game went 6 Bb5 (another recent game in the notes features 6 h4) 6...Bd7 7 Bg5, when it appears that Black has three satisfactory replies.

In Loberg - Rozentalis, Fagernes 2013, White set up a big centre by playing 5 f4. This position was soon reached:

At first it might seem as though White, having establish a powerful centre which isn't being attacked, should stand better. But he also has no natural way to attack Black's position, and Black can organize ...c5 after securing his development, when he has no problems.

Hecht-Reefschlaeger 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 [C10]

We've seen the position after 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Ne4 6 Ne2 before:

In Juracsik - Zentai, Budapest 2013 (and another recent game in the notes), Black began with the most dynamic move 6...f6, but after 7 Ng3, declined the complications of 7...fxe5 by 7...f5, a conservative move which does appear to come close to equalizing.

We've also seen the line after 5 Bg5 Be7 6 e5 Ne4 7 Bxe7 Qxe7 8 Bd3 Qb4:

Now 9 0-0 Nxc3 10 bxc3 Qxc3 doesn't seem to offer White enough for a pawn, so the move has been 9 Bxe4 with the idea 9...dxe4 10 a3. In Payne - Lock, Gatwick 2013, Black played normally and got equality, but there's a move that I missed in my book which solves all of Black's problems right away, and even gives chances for an advantage.

Till next month, John

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