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This month we take a look at a number of high-level games (mostly) in popular variations. Nothing dramatically new is happening in these lines, but they’re all evolving and could use an update.

Download PGN of November ’19 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 Bd7 7 b4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Rc8 [C02]

The main line of the Advance with 5...Qb6 6 a3 Bd7 7 b4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Rc8 continues to give satisfactory play, as shown by two recent games involving Lupulescu as Black.

Svidler, P - Lupulescu, C, Douglas 2019, followed the main line 9 Bb2 Nge7:

Here White played the rare 10 Qd2, which protects b2 and thus prevents ...Na5. After 10...Nf5 11 g4 Nh6 12 Rg1, Black broke with 12...f6! and equalized. He later even got a winning game but lost the advantage in time pressure.

Kovalenko, I - Lupulescu, C, Khanty-Mansiysk 2019, tested the solid but unambitious alternative 9 Be3, which runs into ...Nh6-g4xe3 with this position:

Here Black’s retreats 13...Nb8 and 13...Nd8, bringing a bishop to b5 or a4, provide a complete solution to Black’s space disadvantage.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 [C07]

George Meier’s games in the French tend to be good exemplars for the opening. This month he played two games after 3 Nd2 c5. Now 4 Nfg3 continues to be a popular way to play without any risk. Draskovic, L - Meier, G, Batumi 2019, tested the line 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6 6 exd5 Qxd5 7 Nb5 Na6:

We’ve seen this line several times in this column, including in an earlier Meier game. It’s beginning to look like a straightforward equalizing system for Black, even though in the game he got a little careless and offered White some opportunities.

Ragger, M - Andreikin, D, Batumi 2019, saw the other main 4 Ngf3 line with the moves above and 5...Nc6 6 Bb5 Bd7 7 Nxc6 bxc6 8 Bd3, when 8...Bd6 9 Qe2 Qc7 10 Nf3 led to this position:

Black’s combination of ...Bd6 and ...Qc7 without ...Ne7-g6 means that e5 is a factor (e.g., 10...Ne7 11 e5), so he switched strategies with 10...dxe4 (10...f6 is also playable)11 Qxe4 Nf6 12 Qh4 (contemplating 13 Bh6) 12...h6 . This may not be the most harmonious defensive setup, but seems to suffice for equality; I tried to cover all the main deviations in the notes.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4 Qd7 [C07]

Guseinov, G - Meier, G, Batumi 2019, saw the main line 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4 (via the 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 cxd5 Qxd5 6 Bc4 move order), and now 6...Qd7. White chose the usual Nb3/Nbxd4 plan, arriving at this position:

Now 11...Qc7 would transpose into one of the old 6....Qd6 lines, but here 11...b5 and ...Bb7 is more active. In the game, White played nicely to gain a small advantage, but in general Black should equalize.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 f5 9 exf6 Rxf6 [C18]

In the main line Winawer with 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3, Black’s solidest line is 8...f5 9 exf6 Rxf6:

In this extremely well-known position, Black has been holding the balance in main lines, so in Giri, A - Nisipeanu, L, Batumi 2019, Giri tried 10 Qd1!?, a remarkable move. I find only one other game with it, by an unrated player! Giri's idea is that the queen is better placed defending the center than exposed to attack on the kingside; this is at any rate true in several other variations of the Winawer in which Qg4 is played and, soon after, Qd1. So why not here?

A more normal line is 10 Bg5 Rf7 11 Qh5 g6 12 Qd1, when in Brkic, A - Gharamian, T, Batumi 2019, instead of the traditional 12...Nbc6, Black tried 12...Qa5 13 Bd2:

, and now 13...e5!?, as Risazantsev played versus Aronian earlier this year. In this new game White played well and retained an advantage, but took a draw in a promising position. Black needs an improvement here.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nbc6 9 Qh5 [C18]

I don’t play much these days and seldom cite my own miserably-played games, but I was surprised to see how very rarely the important line in Proleiko, J - Watson, J, St Louis 2019, had been played. In the 7 Qg4 0-0 Winawer main line, this position can arise after logical moves but doesn’t appear in my databases:

White has obvious compensation for a pawn but not necessarily more than that. I’ve tried to survey and simplify the relevant theory.

3 Bd3 Variation 3...dxe4 4 Bxe4 Nf6 5 Bf3 c5 [C01]

3 Bd3 continues to be popular, more because White risks little than because of any inherent virtues of the move. Nevertheless, Admiraal, M - Skembris, S, Spilimbergo 2019, is a nice example of how White can work up a meaningful advantage if Black plays too casually:

Here Black stood level but went wrong by 15...Nbd3? and got in trouble.

Till next month, John

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