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This month we have 'the usual suspects', that is, variations in the Qg4 Winawer and the Steinitz Variation of the Classical French. These are currently among the most popular theoretical battlegrounds in the French, and I've doubtless overemphasized their coverage, so let this be the last detailed look for a while, although I'll continue to report on truly major developments in these lines.
Parimarjan Negi's new book on playing 1 e4 versus the French, Caro-Kann, and Philidor contains recommendations for White in both the 7 Qg4 Winawer and the Classical Steinitz, since they are part of his suggested repertoire. I'll be comparing those with other authors' analysis and the games that we've seen in this column, as well as offering some of my own thoughts.

Download PGN of October '14 French games

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Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nbc6 9 Qh5, Berg's 13...b5 [C18]

A few games from this and last month illustrate the direction of play in the most important 7 Qg4 main lines. Leko - Lupulescu, Tromso 2014, saw a high-level test of Berg's new idea 13...b5 in the 7 Qg4 0-0 variation:

Leko tried 14 h4 Rf5 15 Ng5, as in last month's game. 15 Ng5 is the move recommended in Parimarjan Negi's new book on playing 1 e4 versus the French, Caro-Kann, and Philidor. After 15...Qe7 (nothing else has been tried yet), White has several options I discuss. I'm sure that there will be many further tests of 13...b5.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 f5, 13...Nd7 [C18]

The newly-revived variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 f5 9 exf6 Rxf6 10 Bg5 Rf7 11 Qh5 g6 12 Qd1 Qa5 received a fresh test in Mamedov - Pourramezanali, Baku 2004.

The game saw 13 Bd2 Nd7, a move introduced into high-level play by Carlsen, and recommended by Berg in his book. The game is instructive, apparently demonstrating that White can achieve a position in which Black is rather tied up without an obvious plan. On the other hand, it's not clear how White can try to make progress if Black plays solidly. In the game, the second player slips and White is able to succeed through the application of pressure down the e-file.

Instead of 13 Bd2, an important newer try is 13 Nf3, recommended by Negi in his book and briefly analysed in my notes.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 cxd4 [C18]

Negi likes 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Bd3 as his anti-Poisoned Pawn weapon. When Black tries to bypass this by 7...cxd4, one main line continues 8 Bd3 Qa5 9 Ne2 0-0:

In Saulin - Mesropov, Moscow 2014, White plays the relatively harmless 10 0-0, but a complex and instructive game results. Negi likes 10 Bg5 with the idea 10...Ng6 11 Qg3!, as described in my notes.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 Poisoned Pawn 12...d4 [C18]

Every month there are numerous new games with the Poisoned Pawn main line. In the 12...d4 subvariation (certainly the main line these days), Vehi Bach-Chalmeta Ugas, Barbera del Valles 2014, saw a new try for Black:

Here 15...Nf5 is the main line, and 15...Bb7 is only slightly worse for Black. The game saw 15...Bd7!?, which proves interesting but ultimately seems inferior to the alternatives.

At least one key position of this line is becoming so well worked out that we can begin to assess it:

Here in Sorkovsky - Cech, Tatranske Zruby 2014, White tried 21 Rc5, which like many other moves in the Archives should lead to an equal game (and often a forced draw) with accurate play. In the heat of a real game, White missed a chance for a clear advantage, and then Black, rated over 200 points higher than his opponent, missed a fairly simple win just before the game concluded.

Classical Steinitz 5 f4 c5, 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 [C11]

This variation has received the usual workout, and I'm including a number of games from last month in the discussion. Once again, I'm going to compare Parimarjan Negi's recommendations for White in his new book, since the Classical Steinitz is part of his repertoire.

I've beaten the variation with 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 9 Qd2 Qxb2 10 Rb1 Qa3 11 Bb5 to death; see the Archives. Black uncorked a remarkable novelty in Seyb - Ikonnikov, Fuerth 2014. We have seen the position after 14 Rb3 Qe7 15 Rxb7 repeatedly in top-level encounters, and as far as I can tell, no one has played the simple move 15...Rc8(!):

Nor is it in any of the books. This has important advantages over 15...Qh4+ that compensate for the fact that it's a slow move. Check out the game and my notes. I'm not convinced that Black can't achieve full equality, possibly in more than one way. Even if that's wrong, I'd guess that whatever edge White might achieve would be slight.

Classical Steinitz 5 f4 c5, 7...Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 dxc5 [C11]

Not surprisingly, we have a few games with 7...Be7 8 Qd2 0-0 9 dxc5:

Now 9...Nxc5, which we looked at in games contributed by Thomas Johansson, was tested in Nasuta - Hackner, Durban 2014. In the game, Black equalizes fairly easily. White should check out Negi's recommendation in the notes.

The more popular 9...Bxc5 is featured in Motylev - Makhmutov, Bilbao 2014. I've folded several recent games into the notes. In the main game, we see the fashionable 10 0-0-0 Qa5 11 a3:

Here I give games with 11...Rb8 and 11...Be7. But I want to draw particular attention to a game in the notes, Sredojevic-Cabarkapa, Palic 2014, which features the pawn sacrifice 9...Qa5 10 0-0-0 b6!?:

If Black can play this way then you have to wonder whether White's setup with dxc5 and 0-0-0 causes enough problems for his opponent.

Classical Steinitz 5 f4 c5, 6...Be7 7 Be3 b6 [C11]

Bortnik - Studer, Durban 2014, tested the recent idea of delaying ...Nc6 in favor of ...b6:

I feel that this ...Ba6 idea is inferior (Black lacks space and development), and after either 10 f5 (as in the game) or 10 Bxa6 Nxa6 11 f5, White's advantage is obvious. It seems to me that the early ...b6 before ...Nc6 is a worthwhile idea, but only because Black can avoid certain lines on his way to transposing back to a standard setup with ...0-0 and ...Nc6 (and in some cases ...f6).

Till next month, John

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