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This month I take a quick look at 2 f4, since it was featured in a critical FIDE World Cup game, and then devote the rest of the column to various developments and ideas in the 3...Nf6 Tarrasch.

Download PGN of October ’19 French games

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Irregular Variation 2 f4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 c3 [C00]

1 e4 e6 2 f4 is a playable line which Carlsen has used a couple of times. It appeared in the vitally important Armageddon game from the FIDE World Cup, Yu Yangyi - Vitiugov, N Khanty-Mansiysk 2019, which continued 2...d5 3 e5 c5 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 c3 Nh6 6 Na3 Nf5 7 Nc2:

Black played 7...d4 and the game lost theoretical significance a few moves later when White blundered. But this is a key juncture which has been reached in quite a few games and I make some suggestions in the notes.

Wen Yang-Mu Ke, Qingdao 2019, saw the continuation 5...Bd7 6 Na3 Nh6 7 Nc2:

and here Black played 7...Qb6, eyeing both d4 and b2. When White responded slowly, the second player quickly gained a large advantage, but in any case it seems a very logical idea which might even make White question what is the point of his whole setup.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6 Mainline, 8...f6 9 exf6 Nxf6 10 0-0 Bd6 11 Nf3 0-0, 13...Ne4 [C06]

With the popularity of 3...c5 growing, especially among top players, I’ve had some long-time French players ask me where I think the defense with 3 Nd2 Nf6 stands. After 4 e5 Nfd7 5 c3 c5 6 Bd3 Nc6, the Universal Variation with 7 Ngf3 seems to have dropped in both effectiveness and popularity, (even via 3...Be7 orders). Today, 7 Ne2 is the popular choice. Recently in this column, we’ve looked a bit at the old main theoretical line with 7 Ne2 cxd4 8 cxd4 f6 9 exf6 Nxf6 10 0-0 Bd6 11 Nf3 0-0 (instead of 11...Qc7) 12 Bf4 Bxf4 13 Nxf4 Ne4:

Here there have been a few developments worth noting:

After 14 Ne2, the game Shirov, A - Volkov, S, Linares 2019, tested the pawn sacrifice 14...Bd7:

Kindermann played this way back in 1990 and nobody seemed to notice. In the past few years it has received both over-the-board tests and analysis, but as far as I know this is the first time a high-ranked GM has played it since then. I’ve indicated a few of the important paths, but this is largely new territory and well worth exploring.

We’ve seen 14 Qc1 Ng5 15 Nxg5 Qxg5 a fair amount on ChessPublishing. Then the ‘positional line’ is 16 Ne2, when 16...Qf6 leaves the most chances on (16...Qxc1 is examined in the notes to this month’s game Hurdzan-Alivodic).

This position has a good deal of play in it. White has several moves, including 17 Qc2 and 17 Qc5. In Hurdzan, T - Alivodic, D, Bratislava 2019, White played what has been the most common move, 17 Qd2. Black replied with 17...e5, which is playable, but I’ve included some examples of 17...Bd7, which seems to me the better way to maintain equality.

Represa Perez, M - Guya Llodra, J, Linares 2019, saw (from the previous diagram) 17 Qe3, and again Black freed his game with 17...e5; but this is hard to play and in the notes I examine the solider 17...Bd7 and 17...a6. In general, White hasn’t much to brag about in these lines.

Yip, C - Paragua, M, Rockville 2019, tested the familiar pseudo-sacrifice 16 Bxh7+!? Kxh7 17 Nxc6:

After many years of experience and correspondence play, it’s beginning to look as though the line 17...Qf6 18 Nxf8+ Qxf8 is dead equal if both sides make a few accurate moves. By contrast, the alternative 17...Qxc1!? 18 Nxf8+ Kg8 19 Raxc1 Kxf8 20 Rfe1 has left White with enough to play for a win. In this game, however, Black played the unusual but accurate 20...Kf7! , which according to my notes seems to equalize fairly easily. He even went on to win, although that wasn’t due to the opening.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 c3 c5 6 Bd3 b6 [C06]

Black’s attempt to deviate by 6...b6 (instead of 6...Nc6) intending ...Ba6 has scored reasonably well over the past few years. In the Archives, we have examples of games with 7 Ne2 and 7 Ndf3, but White has other ideas. For example, Miesbauer, J - Liu Guanchu, Budapest 2019, began with 7 Nh3:

This keeps a path open for White’s queen to swing to the kingside, and he won an impressive miniature.

7 h4 is logical, intending h5-h6, and has scored well in a small number of contests. 7...Ba6 8 Bxa6 Nxa6 usually follows:

Here there have been a couple of games with 9 h5 cxd4 10 cxd4 Nb4 intending ...Nd3+ and ...Qc8-c4. Lorenzo de la Riva, L - Moskalenko, V, Sabadell 2019, saw White covering the queenside with 9 Ne2, when Black played 9...b5. I like the idea of leaving the knight on a6 to support ....b4, and feel that Black gains more counterplay than in lines with ...Nc7.

Finally, Mocchi, T - Guttenthaler, F, Trieste 2019, went traditionally with 7 Ne2 and resulted in a position which we’ve analysed before:

Here Black played 14...c4?! . The game shows how White can build up an advantage on the kingside when Black releases the pressure on White’s center like this. Fortunately, Black has other options which give him satisfactory play.

Till next month, John

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