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This month I'll mainly be looking at some examples of, and developments in the Tarrasch Variation Universal System, which has won its share of games over the past couple of months and continues to offer White practical chances. We also have a nice contribution from Joachim Wintzer, a French devotee of the first order.

Download PGN of May '14 French games

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Tarrasch Variation Universal System 8...f6 [C06]

The Universal System continues to be a common choice by White, especially since it can arise by various move orders. The move 7...f6 (as I recommend in PTF4) has been neglected until recently, but that is changing. Kharlov - Mikheev, Togliatti 2014, saw the order 7...cxd4 8 cxd4 f6, which is a bit more difficult but normally transposes. This main line position arose:

In the game, a dynamic equality persisted throughout, until Black faltered badly near time control.

The same line occurred in Navara - Ulibin, Riga 2014, but this time Black took with the queen on f6 after 9 exf6.

This has some concrete problems based upon kingside tactics and White emerged with an advantage from the opening.

Universal System 7...g6 [C06]

None of the other treatments of the Universal System are refuted, as far as I can tell; but White keeps playing it, which indicates that the play is probably dynamically equal. The 7...g6 system has a good reputation. In Plaskett - Mingarro Carceller, La Roda 2014, White was successful playing an early h4 and then the odd h5.

He succeeded in keeping the kingside closed and then won, although primarily by outplaying Black in an even queenless middlegame.

Another standard ...g5 idea occurred in Lkhamsuren - Khulan, Govi-Altai 2014.

This actually came from the move 3...h6, but has turned into a Universal System with 7...h6, by transposition. It is the same position as Plaskett-Mingarro Carceller, except that since Black has played ...g5 directly instead of ...g6 and then ...g5, White doesn't have h4 in. Whether that's good or bad (for either side) isn't at all clear.

A similar position arises in Zhai Mo-Zhang Xiaowen, Xinghua 2014.

This came from Black playing ...g6 and then, after h4, ...h6. But it's instructive to see how White has a comfortable advantage here compared to main lines. That's because Black played the exchange on d4 too early (...cxd4 and cxd4), allowing White to put a knight on b3 without getting hit by ...c4. White had a positional advantage for most of the game, although at least Black's position was solid and he managed to outplay White when complications appeared.

White combined ideas of h4 and 0-0 in Kerigan - Danin, Delft 2014.

Here White played 10 Re1, sacrificing the d-pawn to gain time and post his pieces actively. This worked out nicely, but should only have been equal at best.

Exchange Variation 4 Bd3 Nc6 [C01]

The position after 4 Bd3 Nc6 5 c3 Bd6 6 Qf3 arises frequently:

Black has traditionally played various moves here, e.g., 6...Nge7, 6...Be6, and 6...Nce7 (see the Archives). But 6...Nf6 is also quite playable, and has seen somewhat of a revival. Its virtues are demonstrated by Joachim Wintzer in the recent game Bruedigam - Wintzer, Bundesliga 2014, and in the notes you'll see Black get the advantage in another Wintzer game. Thanks to Joachim for these convincing and well-played examples.

Classical Steinitz 5 Nf3 [C11]

We have seen before that the position after 1 e4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 d4 c5 is the same as the Classical Variation 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nf3 c5. In the main line, White's most ambitious course is to castle queenside and reach the following position:

Two interesting games this month had this as their starting point. In Danin - Kniest, Werther 2014, White won a quick encounter when Black allowed a clever kingside sacrifice and then responded poorly. I've included another game in the notes.

Till next month, John

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