ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
The usual assortment of online and Blitz games, with some over-the-board contests mixed in. I’ve tried to catch up with a few old lines that I’ve neglected, and in particular, cases where both sides should be aware of new developments.

Download PGN of October ’20 French games

>> Previous Update >>

Winawer 4 Nge2 Nc6 5 a3 Ba5 6 b4 [C15]

After 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nge2, I have a soft spot for the move 4...Nc6, since it leads to the most complex and interesting strategical imbalances. It was my recommendation in early editions of Play the French, but the analysis takes up a lot of space, so I eventually substituted other satisfactory but simpler lines. In Jobava, B - Xiong, J, PNWCC Artist Point 2020, White entered into 5 a3 Ba5 6 b4 Bb6 7 Bb2:

White followed with e5, Na4, and Nxb6, but got behind in development and allowed Black a nice exchange sacrifice, which resulted in the kind of game where White would have had to play very accurately to avoid positional disaster, but failed to achieve that.

Winawer Armenian Variation 6 b4 cxd4 7 Qg4 Kf8 [C18]

It’s been a while since I reviewed this variation. After 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Ba5, White has found a reliable weapon in 6 b4 cxd4 7 Qg4 Kf8 8 Nb5 Bb6 9 Nf3 Nc6 10 Bb2 Nge7 11 Nbxd4:

The sequence 11...h5 12 Qf4! Ng6 13 Nxc6 has been played and analysed for some time, but is beginning to look quite good for White. In Arjun, K - Kryakvin, D, PNWCC Online Blitz 2020, I look at this line, along with earlier and later alternatives for Black.

Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 7 Na3 [C02]

After 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Be2, 6...Nge7 isn’t the most popular move (as opposed to playing ...Nh6 or ...f6), because it allows White to play 7 Na3 and usually Nc2 next without worrying about ..cxd4 and ...Bxa3. After 7...cxd4 8 cxd4:

Black usually follows up with 8...Nf5 or 8...Ng6. In Lagarde, M - Bischoff, K, Karlsruhe 2020, Black brought the knight to the queenside by 8...Nc8!?, a rare idea which may or may not fully equalize, but is quite solid and seems a good practical choice.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3 Nc6 8 0-0 g5 [C06]

We haven’t looked at the ‘main line’ with 3 Nd2 Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 Bd3 c5 7 c3 Nc6 8 0-0 g5 in a while. In Antipov, M - Bartel, M Polish Teams Blitz 2020, White played the undeveloping move 9 Nb1:

This is an idea that has popped up in several similar variations over the past few years. It is quite challenging, because after 9...g4 10 Ne1, Black’s idea of ...g5 suddenly begins to look seriously weakening. This may not be too bad, and the game was certainly very interesting; but to avoid positional disadvantage, I look at 9...Qb6 in the notes.

Exchange Variation 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 Bb5 [C01]

It’s a good sign for the French Defense that so many strong players are avoiding the main lines after 3 Nc3 and 3 Nd2 and playing the Exchange Variation 3 exd5 exd5. The variation with 4 Nf3 has been the most popular. Black has mainly been playing either 4...Nf6 or 4...Bd6 in response, but the move 4...Nc6 has always had a following and seems to be fully playable. The old main line is 5 Bb5 Bd6 6 c4 dxc4 7 d5 a6 8 Ba4 b5 9 dxc6 bxa4 10 0-0 Ne7 11 Nbd2:

Chigaev, M - Iljiushenok, I, Chelyabinsk 2020, continued 11...c3 12 Ne4 0-0 13 Qa4 Rb8 14 bxc3 and Black fell short of equality. In the notes, I show several ways to improve upon this.

Exchange Variation 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 Nf6 [C01]

After 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 Nf6, White has traditionally played 6 Nc3, often leading to 6...0-0 7 cxd5, a temporary pawn sacrifice that continues to be satisfactory for Black. Over the past few years, following the lead of some strong players, White has sometimes turned to 6 c5, releasing pressure on the center but gaining a bit of time and some space. After 6...Be7, we have seen Vachier LaGrave and Xiong trying out 7 Bd3:

This is not terribly dangerous, but at least it creates new problems for both sides in an unbalanced position. In Smeets, J - Vandenbussche, T Karlsruhe 2020, Black played too casually in the opening and White gained a nice positional bind and an advantage which never went away. I’ve suggested early ways for Black to release the pressure and equalize.

A similar line is 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 Nf6 6 Nc3 0-0 7 c5, when 7...Be7 resembles the line above and is fine, but Black also has the intermezzo 7....Re8+ 8 Be2 Bf8:

This is a balanced position with multiple plans for both sides. In Paravyan, D - Noritsyn, N, Titled Tuesday 2020, White allowed Black to gain the bishop pair and the advantage, but then the game descended into absurdity.

3 Bd3 Variation 3...dxe4 4 Bxe4 Nf6 5 Bf3 [C01]

So long as White tries to squeeze something out of 3 Bd3, which appears regularly on the tournament circuit, I suppose that I should continue to look at it. Kovalev, V - Erigaisi, A, PNWCC Online Blitz 2020, followed the popular main line 3 Bd3 dxe4 4 Bxe4 Nf6 5 Bf3 c5 6 Nge2 Nc6 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Ne5. The ‘normal’ move 9 0-0 has been looking completely harmless, so White has played 9 Nc3 a few times recently:

Here both 9...a6 and the game’s 9...Bb4 look fully satisfactory. Again, it’s a good sign that White is so eager to avoid the main lines of the French.

Till next month, John

>> Previous Update >>

Please post you queries on the French Forum, or subscribers can write to me at if you have any questions or queries.