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This month I look at a combination of theoretical variations and eccentric sidelines.

Download PGN of May ’18 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3, Sveshnikov's 10 Ra2 [C02]

Kulon, K - Kashlinskaya, A, Vysoke Tatry 2018 was a highly theoretical slugfest which tested the old Sveshnikov recommendation after 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 a3 Nh6 7 b4 cxd4 8 Bxh6 gxh6 9 cxd4 Bd7 of 10 Ra2:

There are various ways to meet this, but the most complex one is 10...Rg8, trying to tie White to g2 and/or reroute via ...Rg4. The game went down a lengthy path full of forcing moves, offering wild tactics at various turns. In the end, Black missed winning continuations and was outplayed in the time pressure, but the opening verdict can only be called ‘unclear’.

Tarrasch Variation with 3...h6, 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 [C03]

It’s been a while since I’ve revisited this personal favorite. This month I’ll show a couple games with slow approaches by White. After 3 Nd2 h6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 Nc6, White chose 6 exd5 in Slobodjan, R - Bredl, H, Germany (Bundesliga) 2018. Now I analyse 6...Qxd5, which looks sound enough; the game continued 6...exd5 7 c3:

In this relatively harmless position, Black tried the risky 7..Qe7+?! and suffered from White’s subsequent lead in development. White manhandled the attack at one point, but Black couldn’t cope with the complications.

Tarrasch Variation with 3...h6, 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 Bd3 [C03]

Belenkaya, D - Cornette, D, Vysoke Tatry 2018, saw the similarly slow 4 Bd3 c5 5 c3 Nc6 6 Ngf3 Nc6 7 exd5:

This time all three recaptures are playable. Black chose the unusual 7...Nxd5 8 0-0 cxd4 9 cxd4 Be7, with a normal IQP position.

Winawer Portisch-Hook Variation 8 Qg4 Kf8 [C18]

In the Winawer Portisch-Hook Variation, which goes 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Qa5 7 Bd2 Qa4, an order that has just begun to receive attention is 8 Qg4 Kf8 9 h4!?:

The idea is that the immediate ...Qxc2 comes with drawbacks, as it does after 9 Nf3, but that after 9 h4, White still retains the option of Qd1. The opening worked to perfection in Caruana, F - Lenderman, A, St Louis 2018. Still, as the notes show, Black could have held the balance by exchanging off his queen’s bishop.

Nearly every month there are games with the traditional main line 9 Qd1 b6:

In Larrea, M - Dominguez, F, Montevideo 2018, White tried the rare move 10 Qb1!?, with the idea Bb5, intending to meet 10...c4 with 11 Qb4+ and otherwise meet 10...Ba6 with 11 Qb3. The ending after 11...Qxb3 12 axb3 is fine for Black, however, and the notes show that Black has as many chances as White.

Winawer Armenian Variation 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5 [C18]

The Armenian Variation 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Ba5 continues to appear regularly. The US Championship game Nakamura, H - Akobian, V, St Louis 2018 tested the important line with 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5 Bc7 8 f4 Bd7 9 Nf3 Bxb5 10 Bxb5+ Nc6:

Nakamura followed a line played by Karjakin and slowly gained a nice positional advantage versus inaccurate play. I don’t think objectively a well-prepared player of Black should stand worse, but both sides’ many possible setups can be explored here.

Rubinstein Variation 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7 5 g4!? [C10]

White has had some difficulties establishing any advantage versus the Rubinstein Variation, which arises after 3 Nc3 (or 3 Nd2) 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7 - see the 60+ games we have featured in the Archives. Georg Meier has been the leading advocate for years (indeed, he was Black in 9 of those games). Leave it to Alexei Shirov to experiment with 5 g4!?:

This rare move has been played a few times before, with the main examples shown in the notes to the Russian Team Championships game Shirov, A - Alekseev, E, Sochi 2018. That game continued logically 5...Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 Nf3 c5, with even and unbalanced play.

Faced with 5 g4 in Shirov, A - Meier, G, Berlin 2018, a blitz game, Meier himelf cheekily replied with 5...Rb8!? 6 Bg2 b5, achieving double-edge play following 7 Ne5 Bb7:

These and other examples demonstrate that 5 g4 is neither harmless nor terrifying; it will be fun to see future tests.

Till next month, John

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