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An assortment of variations this month, with an emphasis on the Exchange and Classical variations.

Download PGN of May '15 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6/5 Bd3 mainline with ...Qc7 [C06]

To go with the previous months' discussions, here another look at an important and controversial line in the 3...Nf6 Tarrasch. Bru Rullo-Ryan, Barcelona 2015, tested this position:

Exchange Variation 4 Bd3 c5 [C01]

After 3 exd5 exd5 4 Bd3, the move 4...c5 is often recommended by French authors. Two games from this month showed typical ideas, both beginning with 5 dxc5 Bxc5:

Grimm - Sipos, Hungarian TCh 2015, saw White put his knight on f3, allowing an early ...Bg4. Black got easy equality, and an entertaining draw followed.

In Hoffmann - Fiebig, Bremen 2014-15, White put his knights on e2 and c3, with the idea of pressuring Black's centre:

This worked reasonably well, and after some small inaccuracies White got superior piece play, although he tripped up in complications.

Exchange Variation 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 Nf6 [C01]

Finally, Zvara - Polasek, Prague 2015, tests the line 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 Nf6, as recommended in my book Play the French 4:

Here White plays the inaccurate 8 Bd3, but in any case this line has proven safe and equal.

Winawer Variation Poisoned Pawn 11...dxc3 12 h4 [C18]

The modern Winawer Poisoned Pawn receives constant tests in both over-the-board and correspondence play. This position is important:

In Milliet - Kirk, Hinckley Island 2015, Berg's recommended line with 16...Kb8 17 h7 Rh8 intending ...Bc8/...b6 is tested.

Classical 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 [C13]

At least among grandmasters, the Classical French variation 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 isn't as popular as it used to be; White has turned to 4 e5 more frequently, and Black has the options 4...Bb4 (MacCutcheon) and 4...dxe4. One issue is that White can play 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e5 Nfd7 6 h4!?, the Alekhine-Chatard Attack, which has received a good deal of attention in this column. But the traditional 6 Bxe7 Qxe7 is still considered sound and playable. This month we look at a few examples.

In Felgaer - Cubas, Asuncion 2015, after 7 f4, Black plays the immediate 7...Nb6, and refrains from the common move ...a6 thereafter. After Black refused the offer of a queen exchange, the players reached this position:

Here White played 15 f5! with a strong attack. When White faltered, Black was able to struggle back to equality, but then misjudged the position and lost anyway.

Ibrahimova - Sevdimaliev, Nakhchivan 2015, saw the immediate 7...0-0 8 Nf3 c5, leading to this customary position:

Generally White stands a shade better in this structure, but not enough to truly bother Black. On the way to a level, double-edged position, both sides missed a standard 'Greek' bishop sacrifice on h7.

The combination of ...a6 and ...c5, with recapture by the knight after dxc5, is a sound approach. In Klovchan - Rathnakaran, Dubai 2015, this position was reached:

Black should play ...f6 next, with equality.

Alekhine-Chatard Attack 6...h6 7 Bxe7 [C14]

Novikov - Stella, Budapest 2015, begins in a harmless enough fashion (another 7...a6 and 8...c5 line), but develops into a battle with some of the craziest tactics that I've seen in some time.

This is the starting point for the tactical struggle. Nearly every move has incalculable variations, and after a last-minute exchange of blunders right at time control, the game is drawn.

Till next month, John

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