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Mostly Tarrasch Variations this month, which is perhaps appropriate with several of the recent 1 e4 repertoires recommending 3 Nd2 for White. After a look at some ...dxe4 lines, I conclude with a few Winawer lines that are important, or at any rate handy to know.

Download PGN of May ’22 French games

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Tarrasch Variation with 3...c5 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nc6 6 Bb5 Bd7 7 Nxc6 bxc6 8 Bd3 [C07]

After 3 Nd2 c5, as mentioned last month, White hasn’t had much luck with 4 exd5 recently and often turns to 4 Ngf3 to keep the game flexible. Black’s most direct continuation 4...cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nc6 continues to be tested, particularly in the main line 6 Bb5 Bd7 7 Nxc6 bxc6 8 Bd3, when 8...Bd6 9 Qe2 Qc7 10 Nf3 has ideas of e5 and c4:

The main move 10...dxe4 followed by ...Nf6 has been played in several recent games, including Kevlishvili, R - Goryachkina, A, Titled Tuesday 15 Mar 2022. Black gains time and has good activity to compensate for his minor weaknesses.

In this line, the order 8...Qc7 9 Qe2 Ne7, which we’ve seen in several Archives games, is designed to avoid the impact of e5. I have been meaning to point out White’s use of 10 b3, as in Lintchevski, D - Swiercz, D, Speed Chess 2021:

This simple move has been the most successful for White. In the notes, I try to point out both White and Black’s best ways to play, but there is a lot of room for exploration here.

Tarrasch Variation with 3...c5 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6 6 exd5 Nxd5 [C07]

In the line 4...cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6 6 exd5, we’ve seen quite a few games with 6...Qxd5 in the Archives, and a couple with 6...Nxd5 . The latter offers fewer positive prospects but is arguably safer and easier to play. After 7 Ndf3 in Nepomniachtchi, I - Grischuk, A, World Rapid Warsaw 2021, Black chose the forcing 7...Bb4+ 8 Bd2 Bc5:

Several games have shown that White has difficulties getting any real pressure here.

Tarrasch Variation with 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3 b6 [C03]

IM Yurij Krykun just put out a Chessable course with a French repertoire in which he recommends 3 Nd2 Be7, and in particular the line 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3 b6. At this point he prefers 8 Qe2 for White, even considering 8 0-0 inferior because it prevents White from continuing with Nf1-g3. But after 8...Ba6 he neglects 9 Ne1, which clears a path for White's queen to g4 and also frees the f-pawn to advance (giving only 9 Bxa6).

We have seen this played with success by strong players before, and my notes to the recent game Malinovsky, K - Cvek, R, Extraliga 2021-22, go into considerable detail about the options over the next few moves. It’s difficult at best for Black to fully equalize, but he can achieve a playable and double-edged game if he knows what he’s doing.

Tarrasch 3...Nf6 Mainline, 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.Nf3 Bd6 11.0-0 0-0 12.Bf4 Bxf4 13.Nxf4 Ne4 [C06]

In the venerable main line beginning 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.c3 c5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.Nf3 Bd6 11.0-0 0-0 12.Bf4 Bxf4 13.Nxf4 Ne4, we have seen the position after 14.Qc1 Ng5 15.Nxg5 Qxg5 16.Ne2 Qf6 17.Qd2 numerous times:

Players seem to have pretty much exhausted this not-very-exciting position, but it’s worth noting that Black has a way to neutralize White’s position (or be able to draw without too much effort) that has hardly been played. Podlesnik, B - Alivodic, D, Podgorica 2022 went 17...e5 18 dxe5, and instead of the frequently-played 18...Nxe5, he played 18...Qxe5. The engines think this second-best, but it may be even easier to handle than 18...Nxe5.

Classical Rubinstein Variation 4...Nd7 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Bg5 h6 7 Bxf6 Nxf6 8 Bd3 [C11]

The line 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Bg5 has extra significance because of the Classical order 3...Nf6 4 Bg5 dxe4 5 Nxe4 Nbd7 6 Nf3, transposing. Players of Black looking for something solid if unambitious might be attracted by this line. Over the past few years, the move 6...h6 has become more popular than 6...Be7.

Now Van Foreest, J - Ding Liren, Charity Cup 2022 saw 7 Bxf6 Nxf6 8 Bd3, when instead of the common 8...Nxe4 and 8...Be7, Black played 8...c5, which allows White some extra options but keeps close to equality if Black plays accurately.

Fort Knox Variation 8 Ned2 [C10]

The Fort Knox arises after 3 Nc3 (or 3 Nd2 dxe4) 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bd7 with the idea ...Bc6. I’ve neglected this line for some time now, mainly because the results have been fairly lopsided for White, but also because I haven’t noticed any new ideas to bolster Black’s cause. The main line is still 5 Nf3 Bc6 6 Bd3 Nd7 7 0-0 Ngf6:

In two games from the American Cup Championships, Caruana played 8 Ned2 versus Xiong (I look at a couple of games with the traditional 8 Ng3 in the notes), and in both, Black played 8...Bxf3 9 Nxf3 Bd6. White gained a serious advantage after 10 c4 followed by Qe2 and Bd2-c3. See Caruana, F - Xiong, J, Saint Louis 2022 for the followups of each game.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn Variation 12 h4 dxc3 13 h5 0-0-0 14 Qd3 Nf5 [C18]

One of White’s goals in the Poisoned Pawn Winawer is to get to the Tait Variation, which has been considered practically a win for the first player if he knows what he’s doing. I haven’t looked at this for many years, and felt that players of both colors should know how theory stands today, and which lines are the most promising. There are numerous orders by which the following position can arise:

Keller, P - Alikhanov, F, Titled Tuesday 14th Dec 2021, is only a Blitz game, but I’ll use it to explain move orders (and in the absence of other recent examples of the old main line). The game continued 16...f6 17 g4 Nh6 (many games have gone 17...fxe5, which now looks refuted) 18 exf6 (18 Nxd4 used to be thought winning; now Black has shown resources), and among the various attempts that Black has made, none should hold successfully. In the game, White blunders badly and Black wins. Of course, that’s Blitz for you.

In the end, as I indicated years ago, 16...Be8 appears to be the best try for Black. As far as I can see, it’s still unrefuted, but you’d have to be very well-prepared to use it (and be ready to defend for a while). I’ve given a brief overview in the notes.

Winawer 4 Nge2/ MacCutcheon [C12]

The Winawer and MacCutcheon Variations intersect in the lines 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nge2 Nf6 5 Bg5 and 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Bb4 5 Nge2. Then 5...dxe4 is normal, but Black can also play 5...h6 6 Bxf6 Qxf6. Then 7 a3 intends to win back the bishop pair with a central advantage:

Now Black should play a pawn sacrifice with 7...Ba5!. In Chernomordik, P - Rustemov, A, Titled Tue April 2022, White accepted by 8 b4 Bb6 9 exd5? 0-0 and surprisingly, Black already stands worse. White has better ways to play, of course, as examined in the notes.

Till next month, John

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