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This month I’ll return to the topical variations 3 Nd2 Be7, 3 Nc3 (or 3 Nd2) 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nbd7, and 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4. The latter has become the main battleground for 3...Nf6 and continues to produce the most original moves and ideas.

Download PGN of May ’17 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 e5 c5 5 c3 Nc6 [C03]

We saw last month that 3...Be7 is doing well in the main lines after 4 Ngf3 Nf6, so a number of players have turned their attention to 4 e5. In the variation 3 Nd2 Be7 4 e5 c5, White used to play 5 Qg4 exclusively, but recently has tried 5 c3 Nc6 6 Bd3 more often. Jurcik, M - Shirov, A Czech Republic 2017, continued 6...cxd4 7 cxd4:

Here Shirov played 7...f6!?, allowing 8 Qh5+ Kf8 for the sake of central pressure. This proved reasonably good, although with perfect play White likely keeps a modest advantage. Instead, Black emerged from early complications with a winning position.

Slovak, K - Kozusek, D Kouty nad Desnou 2017, saw the move 6 Ngf3 instead. Both sides have options, but in the game this known position was reached:

White already has to be careful not to lose a pawn. The game and notes show that 9 Be3 is best, and equal.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 Bd3 c5 5 dxc5 [C03]

The other main alternative to 4 Ngf3 is 4 Bd3 with the idea 4...c5 5 dxc5. The relative safety of this line appeals to some players. After 5...Nf6 6 Qe2 0-0 7 Ngf3 a5 8 0-0 Na6 , White usually tries 9 e5 Nfd7, and now has a choice between 10 c3 and 10 c4.

Agmanov, Z - Kazhgaleyev, M Almaty 2017 saw 10 c4 Naxc5 11 Bc2, and now the move 11...dxc4!?, which is decent but perhaps not optimal.

A game from March, Bellia, F - Orosz, A Budapest 2017, featured the solider 11...b6 12 Nd4, and here 12...Qc7! 13 f4 Ba6 would have levelled matters.

Classical Rubinstein Variation 4...Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Bd3 [C10]

Georg Meier continues to defend this line, in which he is almost certainly the world’s leading expert (in Hans Langrock’s book, his repertoire and games are prominently featured). He essayed upon it against two of the world’s top 5 players in the Grenke Classic.

This position has arisen many times. Here 12...Qc7 is normal. In Vachier Lagrave, M - Meier, G Baden-Baden 2017, Meier chose 12...Bc5, with which I find only two master games. He didn’t have much trouble achieving a drawn position.

Classical Rubinstein Variation 4...Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 Be3 [C10]

It was a different story in Caruana, F - Meier, G Baden-Baden 2017.

In this known position, Meier again deviated from theory with 11...c5!, which should have achieved equality. As the game proceeded Caruana outplayed his opponent and won a nice game.

Classical Steinitz Variation 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 a6 7 Ne2!? [C11]

This is still the focal point of more grandmaster games than any other variation. In the slightly irregular line with 4...Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 a6!?, White tried 7 Ne2!? In Vachier-Lagrave, M - Naiditsch, A Karlsruhe 2017, arrived at this odd position:

After the committal 9...c4, White launched an attacked with g4 followed by f5. After enormous complications with some original manoeuvres by Black, Naiditsch ultimately came out on top, and in general this variation looks dynamically equal with prospects for both sides.

Classical Steinitz Variation 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 a6 7 Be3 Qb6 [C11]

In the same variation at the same tournament, Hou Yifan - Naiditsch, A Karlsruhe 2017, saw the more conventional sequence 7 Be3 Qb6 8 Rb1 Nc6 9 Qd2:

Here, instead of the usual 9...Qa7, Naiditsch played 9...Qc7. Black ended up exchanging multiple times on d4 and then exchanging queens with ...Qc5. Any advantage that White has is not particularly meaningful in such positions, and after some complications the game was drawn.

Till next month, John

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