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This month we look at approaches versus the Advance, some recent tests of Winawer Poisoned Pawn theory, and some of the more difficult variations for Black in the Rubinstein.

Download PGN of October ’21 French games

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Advance, Euwe Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Rc8 7 0-0 a6 [C02]

The Advance Variation continues to feature in many top players’ games. Let’s look at two defenses for Black which have recently become more popular. After 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Be2, Black played 6...Rc8 in Robson, R - Khusnutdinov, R, Online Olympiad 2021 2021. I’ve only a couple of games in the database with this move, but many strong players have experimented with it and Black’s results are generally fine. After 7 0-0 a6 , Black wants to open up the queenside and potentially effect exchanges there:

In the game, a standard pawn structure arose, with balanced complications arising.

Advance, Euwe Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 f6 7 0-0 fxe5 8 Nxe5 Nxe5 9 dxe5 Qc7 10 c4 [C02]

A more established line which we’ve seen often of late goes 5...Bd7 6 Be2 f6:

Blomqvist, E - Hellers, F, Malmo 2021, tested the main line 7 0-0 (here 7 Bb5 is a valid try which I haven’t touched upon before; a recent game is included in the notes) 7...fxe5 8 Nxe5 Nxe5 9 dxe5 Qc7 10 c4. White chose a harmless variation and Black achieved some advantage, with a draw resulting.

Winawer 7 Qg4 Poisoned Pawn 7...Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4 10 Ne2 Nbc6 11 f4 dxc3 [C18]

For the most part, Grandmasters as White seem to be avoiding the main lines of the Winawer, so it’s worth looking at what’s going on in a few critical variations. In the modern Poisoned pawn with 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4 10 Ne2 Nbc6 11 f4 dxc3, the position after 12 Qd3 d4 13 Nxd4 Nxd4 14 Qxd4 Bd7 15 Rg1 has been exhaustively analysed. Aronian tried to surprise Duda with 15 Qd6 at the recent Meltwater tournament. The move isn’t terrible, but as you’ll see in the notes to Eswaran, A - Alavkin, A, Titled Tuesday Aug 2021, this led to defeat in an embarrassing miniature. In the main game the normal 15 Rg1 Nf5 16 Qf2 followed:

Black tried the brave 16...Rh8!?, avoiding the massive theory with 16...Qc6. This worked in a Blitz game (and in the only three games I can find with 16...Rh8), but objectively I think White should emerge with a nice advantage. I’ve included a couple of other recent games in the analysis.

12 h4 has also been analysed at great length. Nevertheless, I feel that both sides still have some leeway in which to experiment. After 12...Bd7 13 h5 0-0-0 14 Qd3 d4 15 h6, we have a position that can arise by various move orders. Most theory has concentrated on 15...Kb8, but it’s important for Black to know that 15...Rg6 is a playable option:

This was seen in Nasuta, G - Bebel, A, POL Cup blitz Lodz 2021, and the play followed theory for a few moves until White deviated. I’ve tried to provide analysis of the critical junctures. My feeling is that Black can fully equalize, and that the lines are more forcing and easier to remember than those after 15...Kb8. On the downside, Black's winning chances are seriously reduced.

Winawer Mainline 7 h4 Qc7 8 h5 h6 [C18]

Another Aronian-Duda game saw 7 h4 Qc7 8 h5 h6 9 Rh3:

This covers c3 versus ...Qc3+ after ...cxd4/cxd4. Black played 9...b6 in Aronian, L - Duda, J, Meltwater CCTF 2021. The resulting play was about equal throughout, but this is a relatively unexplored line.

The better-known 9 Rb1 arose in Zilka, S - Petr, M, Zlin 2021.

There followed 9...b6 (9...Nbc6 does reasonably well in these positions) 10 Qg4 cxd4. This capture is an attempted improvement on the immediate 10...Rg8 as Nepomniachtchi played in the Candidates. It has worked well so far, but in this game Black didn’t quite equalize versus a new move by White.

Rubinstein Variation 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 [C10]

Considering how popular the Rubinstein Variation 3 Nd2/Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Nd7 is, and how useful a backup system it might be, I should be examining recent games more often. This month I want to look at three popular systems for White which have been played enough at high levels that Black needs to be aware of the nuances of theory if he is to emerge with a satisfactory game.

The sequence 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 c3 might at first seem slow, but this has proven quite challenging for Black, as one can see in the Archives. It’s possible to play solidly with 7...Be7, for example, but most Rubinstein aficionados like to challenge the center with 7...c5:

Genocchio, D - Gilevych, A, Civitanova Marche 2021, tested the main line 8 Ne5 (also very important is 8 Be3 Qc7 9 Ne5, which is analysed in the notes) 8...a6 9 Qa4+. The game’s 9...Nd7 (9...Bd7 is examined in the notes and tends to lead to a drawish ending) 10 Be3 results in a complex middlegame in which Black has counterplay but one feels that White has the better practical chances.

Another well-known ‘slow’ line begins with 7 Be3 (instead of 7 c3), when Queenside castling and a possible kingside pawn storm become themes. After 7...Bd6 (7...Be7 has some unique merits) 8 Bd3 0-0 9 Qe2 b6 10 0-0-0 Bb7 11 Kb1 c5:

White can drum up attacking chances with 12 Bg5 . In Ivic, V - Andreikin, D, Krasnaya Polyana 2021, Andreikin played the ultra-risky 12...Qc7, which was either a bluff or a mistake, because with accurate play White could have achieved a large advantage.

In Lopez Varela, P - Shirov, A, Linares 2021, Black faced another deceptively dangerous line in 7 g3:

Shirov himself has played this. You can see the Catalan resemblances, especially if Black continues with ...c5 at some point. The game’s 7...b6 is critical. It allows 8 Ne5 and 8 Bb5+ Bd7 9 a4, as well as here simply 9 Be2. Some standard endings can arise in this line, and Black should be precisely prepared for them to avoid having to suffer. See the notes for details.

Till next month, John

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