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In the Tarrasch Defence, I've been emphasizing games with 3...Nf6 for some time now (yes, because it is the featured move in PTF4), and it's been a long time since I updated other lines. One of those is 3 Nd2 Be7, the main recommendation in Antic & Maksimovic's Modern French book ('A&M' in my notes), and Vitiugov's The French Defence, as well as Neil McDonald's How to Play Against 1 e4 (and finally, 3...Be7 was one of my two recommendations a decade ago in my own Play the French 3 = 'PTF3' in my notes). This column is almost exclusively devoted to 3...Be7.

Download PGN of November '12 French games

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

The main lines of 3...Be7 have stayed basically the same over the past 10 years, with a few exceptions, but the details of theory have grown exponentially. In the old days, after 4 Bd3 c5 5 dxc5 Nf6 6 Qe2, I gave both 6...0-0 and 6...Nc6, but 6...0-0 was meant to be a clever way to avoid the massive theory associated with the knight move. Now it's Vitiugov's main line, and Antic & Maksimovic analyse it for 17 pages! Yikes. At any rate, 3 games in this month's batch continued 6...0-0 7 Ngf3 a5 8 0-0 Na6 9 e5 Nfd7:

In Kurmann - Kindermann, Potsdam 2012, White played 10 c3 Naxc5 11 Bc2, and Black chose 11...b5, which I think is better, or at any rate more pointed, than 11...b6, and not as risky as 11...f6, although those moves are both playable.

Codenotti - Hainke, Livigno 2012, continued 10 c4 instead. Perhaps White got the smallest of edges out of the opening. A very interesting game followed, marred by a horrible string of mistakes near time control.

Universal System 8...a5 [C06]

White's best shot versus 3...Be7 still seems to be the Universal System. In the main line with 8...a5, White played 9 Re1 for many years (I count 19 games in the Archives with 9 Re1), but in the past couple of years the safer 9 a4 has become the way to go, perhaps because of Mickey Adams' success with it:

There were 3 games this month from this position, and all three games saw the only line featured in Vitiugov (who thinks White stands better after 9 a4) and A&M, which is 9...cxd4 10 cxd4 Nb4 11 Bb5 0-0 12 Nb1, heading for Nc3 with control over b5. (Incidentally, check out Ni Hua-Zvek in the Archives, where I analyse three other ninth moves for Black).

It would be significant if Black has equal play here, because 8...a5 is well-established and reliable in other lines. Chandra - Ghosh, Vizag 2012, demonstrates an efficient solution for Black with 12...Nb6, which equalises, and Zojer - Lehner, Hohenems 2012, shows an alternative method with 12...Nb8, apparently also fine, although I prefer the former idea.

Universal System 8...g5 [C06]

The most ambitious move is 8...g5, which is also riskier than 8...a5. 9 dxc5 is the only move theory approves of:

In Adams - Karttunen, Eilat 2012, Black played the safe but slower 9...Nxc5, which apparently concedes White an edge, albeit a small one. In the game I have a note about a suggested improvement by A&M, and yet their own side note seems to cast Black's idea into doubt.

9...g4 is critical, and has been for over a decade. It would be nice to see what Adams has prepared against it these days. Adhiban - Petrosian, Vizag 2012, went right into the main line of 8...g5-g4:

In this position, both the traditional 13 Re1 and the solid 13 Qe2 appear to yield small advantages, but not much to brag about. Perhaps 8...a5 is objectively preferable, if not as exciting.

Iordachescu - Balaian, St Petersburg 2012, features a win by Black over a player rated 457 points higher! Nevertheless, the opening is instructive for an unusual move by Black, and the way in which White reacts to it to retain the edge.

After 12 f4!, Black finds 12...Ng6! and hangs in there.

3...Be7 4 e5 [C03]

It used to be that when White played 4 e5, he was heading for the line 4...c5 5 Qg4. Over the years, Black has proven to have sufficient resources following 5...Kf8 and 5...g6. In two games this month, White played the simple 5 c3 instead, with the idea 5...Nc6 6 Ndf3:

After 6...Qb6 7 Bd3 White slowly gained the advantage in Huebner - Paehtz, Potsdam 2012; nevertheless, Black has alternatives in this position which are good enough for equality. I should direct your attention to Pogonina-Mkrtchian, from this month, merged into this game under the order 6 Bd3!?, a very interesting try for White.

Burg - Poetsch, Griesheim 2012, illustrates an inoffensive sideline for White, 5 Ngf3 Nc6 6 dxc5 (the equivalent of 5 dxc5 Nc6 6 Ngf3), which avoids the complexities of 5 Qg4 or 5 c3. Black should gain equality, but misjudges the position and allows his kingside to be fatally weakened.

3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 [C07]

Finally, a note on the still-reliable 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 Qxd5, which I intend to address again in a forthcoming column. I just wanted to mention that a number of strong players have used 5 dxc5 over the past year, but I don't think it need worry anyone.

This is the basic position. Balogh - Le Quang Liem, St Louis 2012, is a recent example of how Black should equalise. I've indicated the standard ideas by merging some games in the notes.

Till next month, John

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