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This month I’ve concentrated mainly upon a few Winawer lines that are respectable but a little outside of the mainstream.

Download PGN of October ’16 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 a3 Nh6 [C02]

Every month in the main line with 5...Qb6 6 a3 Nh6, there are a few games that reach this position:

It arises when White plays 9 Be3 instead of 9 Bb2, and Black replies with 9...f6. Now we’ve seen analysis of 10 b5?! and 10 Bd3, but these days White usually plays the solid 10 exf6. In Rozentalis, E - Greet, A, Baku 2016, I give an overview of this line featuring recent games.

Winawer Variation 6...Qc7 7 Qg4 f6 [C18]

In the main line, 6...Ne7 is the most popular move, with 6....Qa5 a respectable alternative. The formerly popular 6...Qc7 retains a following, although we seldom see it contested at the very top levels. A few recent games made me wonder if there could be some new life here. For one thing, 7...f6, which French Defence players have periodically tried to revive over the years, may be better than its reputation.

I was surprised to see that neither I nor my predecessors had included any games with 7...f6 in this column. In spite of some nice wins by White in high-profile games, it may be that with the best move orders Black can get satisfactory play.

In Savanovic, A - Nikolic, P, Bihac 2016, White played 8 Bb5+, once thought to be a ‘refutation’ of 7...f6. This key position arose:

Although White missed a great chance in the game, the notes show that the opening is fully playable for Black.

A contest between youngsters, Yeritsyan, A - Lomasov, S, Khanty-Mansiysk 2016, saw 8 Nf3 c4 9 h4, a line chosen by both Karjakin and Anand as White:

In spite of this strong backing, Black seems to stand perfectly fine and equalized in this game.

Winawer Variation 6...Qc7 7 Qg4 f5 [C18]

As indicated in previous columns, 7...f5 is a playable option. Black has to play accurately, especially after 8 Qg3. Then 8...Nc6 (advocated by Moskalenko) continues to be Black’s favourite choice. Gusein, H - Wiley, T, Olomouc 2016, tested the critical gambit 9 Nf3 cxd4 10 Bb5!?:

This is Negi’s recommended line versus 7...f5, and I’ve appended quite a bit of analysis in what I think are the critical lines.

We’ve seen the ‘main line’ with 10 cxd4 Nge7 before:

This position arose in Vasile, C - Cusmuliuc, D, Arad 2016. Black played 13...Be8, as in earlier games, and equalized by bringing this bishop to the kingside.

In the old main line with 8...cxd4 9 cxd4 Ne7, White has done very well with 10 c3 0-0 11 Ne2, for reasons explained in the notes to Santagati, A - Gilevych, A, Erice 2016. In the game, Black foregoes the normal 11...b6 and chooses a very interesting sideline with 11...Ng6:

At this point, 12 h4 has been a popular move, but allows 12...f4!, when Black ultimately sacrifices a pawn for positional gains and equality. The game is an illustration. I’ve included a lengthy note on the more critical move 12 Rb1, with games and suggestions.

Winawer Variation 7 Nf3 h6 [C19]

I was asked recently about Berg’s flexible solution to the Positional Winawer with 7 Nf3, namely 7...h6:

I was surprised to see that we have only a couple of examples with this in the Archives, so I thought I’d take a fun game Svetushkin, D - Manukyan, A, Moscow 2016, and fold in some recent games and notes.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 Bd3 c5 5 dxc5 Nf6 6 Qe2 [C03]

The 3...Be7 4 Bd3 c5 5 dxc5 Nf6 6 Qe2 variation is highly contested these days, especially the line with 6...0-0 7 Ngf3 a5 8 0-0 Na6:

In Zhigalko, S - Shirov, A, Baku 2016, I’ve analysed a number of recent games beginning with this critical position.

Till next month, John

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