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This month I’ll cover some Advance Variation lines which aren’t considered the most critical but appear with regularity in master games. Then I want to return to the popular Steinitz Variation and examine some lines that have recently come to the fore.

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Advance Variation 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Na3!? [C02]

An unusual idea with a small following is 6 Na3!? after 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6:

This has been played extensively by Volokitin and Efimenko, as well as by other strong grandmasters, yet I haven't previously covered it for ChessPublishing. The game Kobo, O - Bykov, O, St Petersburg 2018, shows a number of equalizing possibilities, but none of them without opportunities for both sides.

Advance Variation 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 a3 f6 [C02]

After 5...Bd7, 6 a3 tends to be slightly less effective than after 5...Qb6. Apart from 6...c4, 6...f6 forces concessions in the center. Primbetov, K - Khegay, D, Almaty 2018, saw 7 b4 fxe5 8 dxe5 Qc7 9 Bf4 0-0-0 with a complex and dynamically balanced game.

Not too surprisingly, the play turned highly tactical.

Advance Variation 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 [C02]

6 Be2 has always been the main move. Then Mamedov, R - Skoberne, J, Batumi 2018, tested the line 6...Nge7 7 0-0 Rc8, which aims at quick queenside pressure via ...cxd4. White has played various moves here, but the capture on c5 by 8 dxc5 is certainly critical. After 8...Ng6, White can offer the e-pawn by 9 Be3 Ngxe5 10 Nxe5 Nxe5 11 b4, but in the game, after 9 b4, Black delayed capture on e5 by 9...Be7 10 Be3 0-0:

This led to a unique setup after 11 Nbd2 Qc7 12 Nd4!?. Apparently the play is objectively balanced. After some back-and-forth, Black missed a tactic and White won a quick victory.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7...a6 8 a3 [C11]

Of the various continuations after 3 Nc3 Nf6, the Steinitz Variation 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 continues to be played as much as all other lines combined, and the main line with 5...c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 is by far the most popular position. Here we’ve looked extensively at 7...a6 and 7...Be7 over the years and they continue to be the most frequent choices. After 7...a6, White is often trying ways to bypass the main line 8 Qd2 b5. In Karjakin, S - Lomasov, S, Isle of Mann 2018, White played 8 a3,which led to the known position 8...cxd4 9 Nxd4 Bc5:

Here Black shouldn’t have too much trouble equalizing, but both sides retain plenty of play and avoid heavy theory.

Steinitz Variation 7...a6 8 Ne2 [C11]

8 Ne2 is a fairly promising way to proceed, shoring up d4 and often foregoing c3 while completing development. In Bacrot, E - McShane, L, Batumi 2018, Black found the interesting sequence 8...b5 9 g3 Qa5+:

This achieves equality by either creating a target (c3) or dislodging the king (Kf2). As the notes show, 9...b4 is also fully playable. Again, the positive thing from White’s point of view is that unique positions arise with plenty of chances (for both sides).

Steinitz Variation 7...a6 8 Qd2 b5 9 dxc5 [C11]

After the traditional 8 Qd2 b5, 9 dxc5 has gained in popularity and provides a simple way to resolve the tension. In Gledura, B - Bluebaum, M, Batumi 2018, 9...Bxc5 10 Bd3 Qb6 11 Bf2 followed:

Black has tried various moves here; the game continuation is instructive.

Steinitz Variation 7...Be7 8 a3 [C11]

White can also meet 7...Be7 with moves other than the standard 8 Qd2. In Areshchenko, A - Bluebaum, M, Muelheim 2018, he tried 8 a3 and Black found the interesting 8...b6:

The ...b6 systems have run into some problems recently, but this particular order is appealing because in the ..b6/...c5 structure, a3 seems rather a waste of tempo compared to ...Be7.

Steinitz Variation 7...Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 dxc5 [C11]

In the main line with 8 Qd2 0-0, 9 dxc5 has the virtue of clarity and simplicity. Hence we’re seeing many games with it, even though Black is generally able to hold the balance. Nakamura, H - Zumsande, M, Isle of Man 2018, saw 9...Nxc5 10 0-0-0 a6 11 Qf2 b6:

This position has been fairly well-tested, but since both sides have so many ways of playing the next few moves it will probably be a center of attention for some time to come. In the game, Black had no problems for a while and even got the better of it, but was outplayed in nice fashion.

Till next month, John

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