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I was going to do a column on non-main line Winawers, but I got so wrapped up that I only made it through the 4th-move alternatives to 4 e5 (and not even through half of those, actually). At any rate, players from grandmasters on down are playing these moves consistently, so you'll have to know them if you're going to essay upon 3 Nc3 Bb4. And from White's point of view, the main lines of 4 a3 strike me as an extremely interesting area of investigation; you may find a weapon that can be used throughout your chessplaying life.
Since there are generally a limited number of quality games with these lines each month, I've combined games going back into the summer to choose from, although probably half of the examples come from the past four weeks.

Download PGN of November '11 French games

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Winawer Variation 4 a3 [C15]

We'll start with that same 4 a3. After 4...Bxc3+ 5 bxc3 dxe4, the main line is 6 Qg4 Nf6 7 Qxg7 Rg6 8 Qh6. In Hector- 'Jan1' Sorensen, Danish Ch 2011, Black player the very popular 8...Nbd7, but then transposed after 9 Ne2 c5 to a line which could have begun with 8...c5:

There has been a trend away from 9...b6 due, I suspect, to lines in which White plays a4-a5. In this game, White plays a new and modest move which works well enough, and Black sacrifices a pawn for positional reasons, reaching practical equality. In the notes I've also looked at 8...b6, which seems a worthy option.

In Andreikin - Vitiugov, Saratov 2011, two 2700+ players battle it out from the same position, beginning with the innocent-looking 10 a4, which soon leads to this rather odd-looking position:

White played 12 Qd2! preparing Ba3 and Nd4-b5. Fortunately he avoided 12 Ba3? Qxf2+!.

Switching to 8...c5 9 Ne2, Black played the unusual 9...cxd4!? in Lu Shanglei-Cao, Kuala Lumpur 2011. The game went into a typical Winawer bishop-pair ending, with White's weaknesses balancing out his powerful bishops. Finally Black sacrificed a pawn, as so often, to blockade the light squares:

Here he found 20...Rd5! 21 Rxh7 Rf5 22 Rf1 Nd5 followed by ...b5 and easily secured the draw.

4 Bd2 [C15]

Next I look at just one game with 4 Bd2 (with a lot of theory and notes, of course). Ivekovic - Martinovic, Zagreb 2011, reached this very well-known position:

For some 60 years or more this position has been known, with scores of games, and as far as I can tell, no one ever played 15...Nc6 here! What's more, it may be the best move in the position.

Winawer Exchange Variation [C01]

The Winawer Exchange Variation, 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 exd5 exd5, hasn't had a good theoretical reputation for years, simply because players of White only seemed interested in getting to a completely safe position without pursuing potential advantages. A couple of years back 4 exd5 began being played a bit more, with mixed results. As a consequence, there is lengthier and more definite theory. Right now, after White's normal 5 Bd3, the move 5...Nf6 has become as popular as any other:

In the game Ivanisevic - Vallejo Pons, Porto Carras 2011, White played the most pointed move 6 Bg5, and Black demonstrated a way to neutralise it, even gaining a slight advantage.

White played 6 Nge2 first and Bg5 a few moves later in Perez Candelario-De La Villa Garcia, Arenal d'en Castell 2011. In response, Black played the standard Exchange French manoeuvre ...Bg4-h5-g6:

After Nxg6, Black could have calmly recaptured with his rook pawn, but chose ...fxg6 instead. Perhaps not the objectively correct decision, but it sufficed and led to an interesting technical struggle.

After 4 exd5 exd5, 5 Qf3 is Bent Larsen's old variation with which he won a couple of nice games:

In Kotz - Gonda, St Valentin 2011, I overview some of the possibilities. The game itself tests the recommendation I made in Dangerous Weapons: The French, that is 5...Qe7+ 6 Nge2 Nc6 7 Qd3. Black equalises, and the position is playable for both sides. Lots of notes, of course.

4 Nge2 [C15]

Finally, 4 Nge2, White's most popular deviation from 4 e5. I look at two games with 4...dxe4 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 Nxc3 Nc6:

This is one of the main lines. In Barhudarian - Nasybullina, St Petersburg 2011, I examine 7 d5 (surprisingly popular and ultimately uninspiring), and then the game continuation with 7 Bb5, following a main line which is suddenly interrupted by a tactical mistake.

In Wallner - Weinzettl, Vienna 2011, I look at the same variation with a different 10th move. As is often the case, the resulting lines should be harmless, but the position turns wild and an entertaining game results.

Till next month, John

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