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As promised, I’m going to pay more attention to 3...c5 against the Tarrasch. Then I’ll look into some French Defenses played by super-GMs at the St Louis ‘Showdown’ tournament, followed by two games with 3...dxe4. There are G/20 and G/10 games, to be sure, but not surprisingly there are some theoretical lessons involved.

Download PGN of November ’17 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 with exd5 exd5, 6...Qe7+ [C09]

In the Tarrasch with 3 Nd2 c5 4 Ngf3 Nc6 5 exd5 exd5 6 Bb5, we previously discussed one game with the maneuver 6...Qe7+ 7 Be2 Qc7:

Here White played the natural 8 0-0 in Mamedov, R - Harikrishna, P, Antalya 2017. Black had no problems after 8...Nf6 9 Bb5 cxd4, and a well-played draw ensued./p>

Adams, M -Nikolaidis, I, Hersonissos 2017 saw 8 dxc5 instead, which is arguably more challenging. After 8...Bxc5 9 Nb3 Bb6!? (other moves are playable), capturing the d-pawn is critical.

Adams played slowly and the game was soon even, but he displayed superior technique and ground down his opponent.

Tarrasch Variation with 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5, 6...Qd7 [C07]

The 4 exd5 Qxd5 lines continue to hold up well for Black, although White keeps finding new ways to pose problems. In Karjakin, S - Caruana, F, Paris 2017, after 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4, Black played the fashionable 6...Qd7, and White showed that this needn’t transpose to 6...Qc7 by playing 7 0-0 Nf6 8 Nb3 Nc6 9 Nbxd4 Nxd4 10 Nxd4 a6 11 Bg5:

As explained in the notes, this is not as easily played versus 6...Qd6. In the game, both sides played natural moves, but White missed a couple of very promising tactical opportunities and Black came out with the advantage.

Winawer Main with 7 h4 Qc7 [C18]

In his ‘showdown’ match versus Dominguez Perez in St Louis, Wesley So credited the French with helping to turn his fortunes around after having struggled with 1 e4 e5. Dominguez Perez, R - So, W (8.3)G/10, St Louis 2017, includes two games with the line 3...Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 h4 Qc7 8 h5 h6 9 Rb1:

This extremely rare move, used by Leko, sidesteps loads of theory. In their 10-minute game, Black equalized and eventually won, while in the 5-minute game Black chose an inferior line and should have come out worse, but held the draw. The openings were both played at a high level, and the games themselves were impressive considering the time controls with no increment or delay.

Steinitz 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5, 7...a6 & ...b5 plan, 10 Ne2 [C11]

The same pair contested three games with the Steinitz Variation, this time one Game/20 and two Game/10s. Each began 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 a6 8 Qd2 b5 9 dxc5 Bxc5 10 Ne2:

Dominguez Perez, R - So, W G20 (2.3), St Louis 2017, was part of the G/20 match; it continued 10...Qb6 11 Bxc5 Nxc5 12 Ned4, which looks favorable for White with his better bishop, but needn’t be due to Black’s control of e4 and solid position. The practical chances remain with the first player, however, and he finally gained the point.

In the Game 10 rounds, Dominguez Perez, R - So, W G10 (2.3), St Louis 2017, saw 10...0-0, instead of the exchange on c5, White chose 11 Ned4:

After 11...Qb6, 12 a3 would have helped out more hope for advantage than 12 c3 b4!, but in any case Black seems pretty comfortable in these lines.

Rubinstein Variation 7 g3 [C10]

White is having trouble making progress against the Rubinstein Variation. A few strong players including Vachier Lagrave have played 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 g3, answering 7...b6 with the diversionary maneuver 8 Bb5+ Bd7 9 a4:

We have seen that Georg Meier is a superb handler of the Rubinstein Variation, and in Nepomniachtchi, I - Meier, G Hersonissos 2017, he shows his technique by going from a difficult ending to a drawn one. But that took a big effort, and White eventually found an unusual way to win.

Fort Knox Variation 8 Ng3 [C10]

We haven’t talked much about the Fort Knox Variation, but in Nepomniachtchi, I - Duda, D Hersonissos 2017, Black tries out an idea of Jobava’s that we haven’t seen yet on ChessPublishing: 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bd7 5 Nf3 Bc6 6 Bd3 Nd7 7 0-0 Ngf6 8 Ng3 g6:

I like this move, which gives Black more activity and central influence than the usual lines, although I have to admit that White’s space advantage gives him the better game regardless.

Classical/Tarrasch Variation 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Be7 7 Ne2 Nc6 8 c3 [C11]

An important hybrid line of the Classical and Tarrasch Variations goes 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Be7 7 Ne2 Nc6 8 c3, which can also arise via orders such as 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3, or via the Tarrasch by means of 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Ndf3 Be7 8 Ne2. Now upon 8...Qb6, 9 a3 reaches a well-established but still controversial position:

In Ponomariov, R - Dvirnyy, D Hersonissos 2017, play went 9...0-0 10 b4 cxd4 11 cxd4 a5, and White played the enterprising and I think fully sound sacrifice 12 b5. Black may be able to defend and escape with equality, but that takes precision, and in the game Ponomariov gets a clear advantage, only to completely throw it away, and then recover by sheer good fortune. A wild game.

Till next month, John

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