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We'll try to catch up with a couple of important variations this month. The good thing is that we have examples from highly-rated players, the bad thing is that several of them are from the World Blitz and Rapid Championships, so be prepared to see some colossal blunders!

Download PGN of November '15 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Nh6 6 a3 f6 [C02]

Reader Jindrich Zapletal examines the variation with 5 c3 Nh6 6 a3 f6:

This leads to some significant material which I haven't covered in this column or elsewhere. See Advance 5..Nh6-Reader Questions, 2015.

Winawer Variation 4 Qd3 [C15]

The move 4 Qd3 makes an occasional appearance at high levels, and the world's highest-ranked woman used it in Hou Yifan-Dzagnidze, Monte Carlo 2015. Black played 4..dxe4 5 Qxe4 Nf6 6 Qh4 c5:

This had previously failed to equalize for Black, but she could have had an even game out of the opening with accurate play. As it was, Hou Yifan gained an early advantage and won smoothly.

Exchange Winawer 4 exd5 exd5 5 Bd3 [C01]

High-ranked players were seen on both sides of the Exchange Winawer, 4 exd5 exd5 5 Bd3. This has become quite popular on all levels of play. In particular, 5...Nc6 (the move recommended in Emanuel Berg's recent book), suffered a few defeats this month. The main line is 6 a3 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 Nge7. In Onischuk - Kovalenko, Berlin (World Blitz) 2015, the players reached the position after 8 Qh5 (by transposition via 6 Qh5 Nge7 7 a3 Bxc3+ 8 bxc3). After the normal 8...Be6, White chose 9 Ne2:

We've seen this position before. The f5 square became contested after Ng3 when Black played ...Qd7, ...g6, ...Nf5 and after Nxf5 Bxf5. White incorrectly exchanged his bishop on d3 with Bxf5, leaving his light squares vulnerable (especially c4), but he managed to equalize after inaccuracies by Black. Just as a balance was established, the Blitz time control produced a decisive blunder.

White's knight went to f3 and g5 in Andreikin-E Hansen, Berlin (World Blitz) 2015:

After 11 Nxe6, 11...Qxe6+ is normal and held to be equal. Black chose 11...fxe6?!, after which he lacks compensation for White's bishop pair, especially with the handicap of his backwards e-pawn.

White put his queen on f3 instead of h5 in Rabiega-E Hansen, Berlin (World Blitz) 2015, and earned a slight opening advantage. This slowly led to an overwhelming position for him, but a hallucination in time pressure gifted Hansen a point, hopefully making up (at least partially) for his two difficult defeats as Black in this line.

Andreikin - Dubov, Berlin (World Blitz) 2015, saw the slightly unusual but solid 6 a3 Be7!?, leading to this near-symmetrical position:

Black got careless with 12...a6?, allowing the winning shot 13 Bxh6!, but Andreikin wasn't paying attention and the game continued along dull paths until Blitz blunders again intervened.

A last game in the Exchange Winawer, Ivanchuk - Socko, Berlin (World Rapid) 2015, featured 6 Nge2, when 6...Be6 7 0-0 Qd7 anticipated castling queenside:

But 8 Na4 with the idea Nc5 in combination with c3 and b4 frustrated those plans and resulted in some advantage for White, who went on to convert in instructive fashion.

Classical 4...Be7 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bxe7 Qxe7 7 f4 [C14]

The Classical 4...Be7 main line with 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bxe7 Qxe7 7 f4 was featured in a number of interesting contests this month, with White generally coming out on top. I've combined these in a couple of games.

Katz - Kacheishvili, US Chess League 2015, has some background material, including a look at the Aagaard/Ntirlis recommendation 7...a6 8 Nf3 Nb6:

I feel that this is a rather poor choice for Black which leaves him quite a ways from equality. In the game, a more thematic order 7...0-0 8 Nf3 c5 order occurred, and 9 Nb5!? involved some fascinating play. At one point this position was reached:

Here Black should try 13...g5!, which is still unclear. After 13...fxe5? 14 fxe5, Black's cause was theoretically hopeless.

The conventional sequence 7 f4 a6 8 Nf3 c5 9 Qd2 Nc6 10 dxc5 Qxc5 arose in Vocaturo - Iagar, Skopje 2015:

Black still couldn't equalize after 11 Bd3 b5 12 Ne2! Nb6 13 b3!. This is a standard setup in which Black's light-squared bishop is passive and his knights lack outposts.

Till next month, John

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