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In the Tarrasch, given all the recent developments involving 3...Nf6 and 3....Be7, I’ve rather neglected 3...c5, so that will receive attention this month. I’ve also looked at some main line Winawers with 7 Qg4.

Download PGN of October ’17 French games

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Tarrasch Variation with 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5, 10...a6 11 Re1 [C07]

The Tarrasch with 3 Nd2 c5 continues to be a reliable choice at the top levels of play. The basic ideas and positions tend to repeat themselves, especially in the 4 exd5 Qxd5 lines. In three games this month we saw a critical but rather outdated line that once formed the foundation of early 4...Qxd5 practice, beginning with 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4 Qd6 7 0-0 Nf6 8 Nb3 Nc6 9 Nbxd4 Nxd4 10 Nxd4 a6 11 Re1 Qc7 12 Bb3 Bd6 13 Nf5, and leading to this position:

In Berczes, D - Ider, P, Budapest 2017, and another game (included in the notes), White essayed upon the most obvious attacking try 19 Re4 (I also look at 19 Be3 and 19 Bc1, including yet another recent game) 19...Kxh6 20 Rh4. Surprisingly (or maybe not, given the enormous burden of remembering an entire repertoire of sometimes neglected lines), the players of Black immediately forgot their theory and played 20...Kg7?? (I go over 20...Qe5! at some length in the notes; as has been established for some time, it results in a draw). After the king move, 21 Qxh5 wins for White. Strangely, White missed easy wins in both games and nearly let the opponents off the hook.

I’m going to look at and update developments in the line that Ntirlis and Aagaard consider critical in their book: 10 Nxd4 a6 11 Re1 Qc7 12 Qe2, and here the move 12...h6

I analysed this in Agzamov-Grachev from early 2016 (see the Archives), and will use a few games from earlier this year to expand upon that. In Frischmann, R - Schneider, J, Apolda 2017, the solid and logical 13 h3 is played and after 13...Bc5 14 Nf5. Black deviates from theory’s 14...Kf8 with 14...0-0!?, which is risky and, even if it might equalize with perfect play, a bit difficult for over-the-board practice.

Instead of 13 h3, 13 g3 is often played in order to establish a bishop on f4 and then perhaps on e5. But it weakens the long diagonal and the variation 13...b5 14 Bd3 Bc5 keeps things in balance, as shown in our game Ersecki, T - Schneider, J, Rymanow-Zdroj 2017:

White developed more chances using the system 11 Bb3 Qc7 12 Qf3 Bd6 13 h3 0-0 14 Bg5 in Nakamura, H - Lenderman, A, Isle of Man 2017:

Here 14...Nd7 is the most popular move, but Lenderman’s 14...Bh2+ 15 Kh1 Be5 is also playable. As the game went, Nakamura uncharacteristically missed a winning attacking opportunity and Black equalized. In general, White’s practical chances look better here than after 11 Re1 Qc7 12 Qe2, if only because the position is more flexible.

Tarrasch Variation with 3...h6 4 c3 c5 5 exd5 exd5 6 Ngf3 [C03]

Returning to the 3 Nd2 h6 line we examined last month, I neglected to mention a recent game by Luke McShane (a leading Tarrasch Variation advocate) in which he failed to make meaningful progress following 4 c3 c5 5 exd5 exd5 6 Ngf3 Nc6 7 Bb5 Qe7+ 8 Qe2 Qxe2+9 Kxe2 a6 10 Bxc6+ bxc6:

White has a nice lead in development, but Black has the bishop pair and better pawn structure. In McShane, L - McPhillips, J, Llandudno 2017, these factors balanced out and a well-played draw ensued.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn old mainline 11 f4 Bd7 [C18]

Peter Leko hasn’t played much in the past few years, but whenever we see him on the White side of 3 Nc3 it’s worth seeing what results. In the game Leko, P - Pichot, A, Isle of Man 2017, Black essays upon the traditional main line of the Poisoned Pawn Winawer with 3...Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4 10 Ne2 Nc6 11 f4 Bd7 , rather than the current fashion with 11...dxc3. This allows Leko to enter the important variation with 12 Qd3 dxc3 13 Qxc3, and after 13...0-0-0 14 Rb1 d4, he tries 15 Qc4:

This is less common than 15 Qd3, in part because it allows the ending after 15...Na5. As might be expected, Leko is able to outplay Black in the technical position which follows, but he allows equality a few times along the way, so objectively this line doesn’t seem anything to fear. The more ambitious 15...Nd5 is discussed in a note.

Winawer 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Poisoned Pawn 11 f4 dxc3 12 h4 d4 13 h5 [C18]]

The current main line with 11...dxc3 12 h4 d4 13 h5 Bd7 14 Qd3 0-0-0 15 h6 Kb8 16 h7 Rh8 was tested in Kollars, D - Escalante Ramirez, B, Montevideo 2017:

White played the critical move 17 g4 and Black opposed bishops by 17...Bc8 18 Rg1 b6 19 Bg2 Bb7. We’ve seen this position before; it’s quite fluid and balanced, so both sides can expect a fighting game. In the present affair, White managed to achieve f5 and Bg5 with a clear advantage.

Winawer Main with 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 c4 [C18]

In the variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3, Black has played 8...Nbc6 and 8...f5 in thousands of games, but very seldom 8...c4:

The ‘official’ reason for this (in the very few mentions of 8...c4 I can find) is 9 Bh6 Ng6 10 Bxg6, with the idea that after 10...fxg6 11 Bd2 or 11 Be3, the position compares well for White with the main line 8...Nbc6 9 Qh5 Ng6 10 Nf3 Qc7 11 Be3 c4 12 Bxg6 fxg6 13 Qg4. But that's not clear, since the Black queen may not belong on c7 (indeed, e8 is likely better), and the tradeoff of ...Nbc6 for Nf3 is of no particular advantage. In the game Martin Carmona, G - Cuenca Jimenez, J, Linares 2017, both sides mangle the initial move orders a bit, but the fundamental features of the position are illustrated, and I see nothing wrong with 8...c4 as a legitimate alternative to the main moves.

Till next month, John

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