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This month features a new attacking plan for White in the Advance Variation and an update on some 3 Nd2 c5 Tarrasch Variation lines. As usual, Blitz and Rapid games dominate, so I’ve mixed in references to a lot of older games in the notes.

Download PGN of November ’20 French games

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Advance, Milner-Barry Gambit 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 0-0!? [C02]

Years ago the maverick opening experimenter Johnny Hector used to play the following strange variant of the Milner-Barry Gambit: 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Bd3 cxd4, and now instead of 7 cxd4 Bd7 8 0-0 Nxd4, the similar pawn sacrifice 7 0-0!?. He had some success with it, but until very recently the move had pretty much disappeared from master play. Since White has obvious compensation after 7...dxc3 8 Nxc3 (compare the main lines of the Milner-Barry), strong players of Black have traditionally chosen 7...Bd7:

All it takes is one game from Magnus Carlsen to really draw attention to an idea, and in Carlsen, M - Harikrishna, P, Saint Louis Blitz 2020, Magnus not only revived Hector’s line but put his own stamp on it with the move 8 Nbd2!?. White gained space and good piece play in return for a pawn. This is arguably dynamically equal, and Carlsen eventually prevailed.

Two leading grandmasters who have taken up this line are Rauf Mamedov and Gawain Jones. Both have played Hector’s move 8 Re1 instead of Carlsen’s 8 Nbd2. This does seem to give White better attacking chances, if only because the combination of ...dxc3 and Nxc3 gives White’s knight dangerous prospects so Black has to either allow that or commit to less promising moves. In Mamedov, R - Bluebaum, M, Chessable Qualifier 2020, Black played 8...Nh6:

White played carefully with 9 h3, preventing ...Ng4, and it proved difficult for Black to develop harmoniously. The chances may be objectively balanced, but the fact that White had a winning attack by move 20 illustrates how treacherous this line can be.

We’ve seen Gawain Jones win various games with the Tarrasch Variation 3 Nd2, but recently he has also been attracted by this gambit (at least for some recent Blitz games), facing 8...Nge7 twice and answering 9 h4 both times:

This discourages 9...Ng6 due to 10 h5. In Jones, G - Iskusnyh, S, Titled Tuesday 10/13 2020, Black played 9...Nf5?!, running into 10 Bxf5! gxf5 11 cxd4 Be6 12 Nc3. This is a standard French position except that White has more of his usual moves in, including Re1 and h4. It’s still not an easy position, but probably favors White in practical play.

Instead, Black should look into accepting the pawn by 9...dxc3 10 Nxc3 a6, analysed briefly in notes to Jones-Iskusnyh. Another try, 9...Rc8!?, was played in Jones, G - Erigaisi, A, Titled Tuesday 10/20 2020. There followed 10 Nbd2 dxc3 11 bxc3 Na5 12 Rb1 Qc7:

A messy position in which both players missed some chances (typical of blitz play, of course), and the game ended tragically in a time scramble where first Black missed some simple wins and then managed to lose an ending with K+R+N versus K+R+P.

Overall, the gambit with 7 0-0 looks like a promising new way for White to create attacking prospects, while from Black’s point of view the extra pawn allows him more winning chances as well.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 c3 [C01]

Back in 2011 Denis Yevsev wrote a book recommending 3 Nd2, and after 3...c5, 4 c3. I haven’t paid attention to this line, which is seldom played by leading masters (especially not those above 2600). But it is fairly popular among amateurs and deserves a look:

Black can play a number of equalizing moves, e.g., I analyse the simplest solution 4...cxd4 5 cxd4 dxe4 in the notes to the game Xu, A - Sivakumar, S, PNWCC Masters 2020. In that game, Black played 4...Nc6, to which White responded with 5 Bb5? (already a mistake. 5 Ngf3 is correct) 5...cxd4 6 cxd4 dxe4, and already White couldn’t achieve full equality. Although 4 c3 can hardly lead to disadvantage by force, I think it fails to pose Black serious problems. A more serious version of this idea is 3 Nd2 Be7 4 c3.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nc6 6 Bb5 Bd7 7 Nxc6 bxc6 8 Bd3 [C07]

Because 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 and here 4...exd5 are both doing rather well for Black, 4 Ngf3 remains a popular alternative among strong players. We’ve discussed the variation 4...cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nc6 6 Bb5 Bd7 7 Nxc6 bxc6 8 Bd3 numerous times. In his recent French repertoire for Chessable, Giri recommends the rare sequence 8...Bd6 9 Qe2 e5:

Probably because of Giri’s recommendation and analysis, this is starting to receive some attention. Xiong, J - Huzman, A, PNWCC Online blitz 2020, saw 10 exd5 cxd5 11 c4 Ne7 12 cxd5 Nxd5 13 Nc4 Bb4+, and White should have conceded equality with 14 Bd2, because 14 Kf1?! should have proven too risky.

In Lintchevski, D - Tugarin, A, Sochi 2020, White tried 10 c4 d4 11 f4 instead:

The next few moves are critical in establishing the long-term structure. Both sides had chances to get active play, but in the end the position became completely closed.

In Kovalev, V - Flom, G, PNWCC Masters 2020, Black chose the more conventional solution 8...Qc7 9 Qe2 Ne7 10 Ndf3 Ng6:

This has become a critical position in which both sides have chances. In the game, Black misses a few opportunities for active play and White ends up with an overwhelming kingside attack.

Tarrasch Variation 3...c5 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6 6 exd5 Nxd5 [C07]

Finally, Black can play with 3...c5 4 Ngf3 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Nf6. After 6 exd5, we have mainly looked at games with 6...Qxd5 but some players still prefer 6...Nxd5. Zhao, I - Vanapalli, V, PNWCC Masters 2020, is an example of the line 7 Ndf3 Bb4+ 8 Bd2 0-0 9 c3:

Black has the choice of several retreats, all of which are playable. But he makes a positional mistake by placing his knight on c6 and allowing White to weaken his pawn structure. White eventually got pressure on both sides of the board, only to fall short in exploiting them.

2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 Variation [C00]

After 2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 (or 2 Nc3 d5 3 Nf3) 3...Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7, play can enter the Classical Variation after 5 d4 c5 6 dxc5, etc., or after 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3, and now 6...Nc6 7 d4 is a line recommended for White by Harikrishna and covered in this column (via a 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 move order). But Black can avoid this by playing 6...d4!, a move with an extremely good record. White has usually chosen 7 cxd4 cxd4 8 Nexd4 Nxe5 9 Bb5+!, as in Grischuk, A - Terry, R, Speed Chess 2020:

After 9...Ned7 (9...Nec6 is also fine) 10 0-0 Be7 11 Ne2 0-0 12 d4 Nf6, Black stood quite comfortably. Although Grischuk eventually managed to outplay his opponent and take home the point, I think that 6...d4 is a complete solution to White’s move order.

Till next month, John

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