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A variety of lines this month. The emphasis is on the Exchange Variation and the Steinitz Variation, and I’ve tossed in a few interesting games in variations that could use updating or might be useful to know.

Download PGN of October ’22 French games

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Exchange Variation 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 Nf6 6 Nc3 0-0 [C01]

One of Black’s most popular and effective lines against 3 exd5 exd5 4 Nf3 is 4...Bd6. White’s most ambitious line is 5 c4 Nf6, and traditionally play has gone 6 Nc3 0-0:

Here White can win the pawn on d5 or play for c5. In Zhao Jun - Xu, Fuling 2022, White chose the former path with 7 cxd5, and Black responded with the accurate order 7...Nbd7 8 Be2 h6 with the idea ...Nb6, gaining equality and later even some advantage when White failed to clarify the position.

Exchange Variation 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 Nf6 6 c5 Be7 7 Bd3 [C01]

With 4...Bd6 becoming increasingly popular, White has become frustrated with the cxd5 lines and turned to 6 c5 more often, trying to get developed quickly; this has some drawbacks but also gives more options against Black’s normal idea of early ...b6. After 6...Be7, there have been numerous games of late.

Lagno, K - Kashlinskaya, A, WGP Astana 2022 tested the line 7 Bd3 0-0 8 0-0 b6 9 Be3, which we’ve analysed before. The game is an interesting example of how White can achieve some chances, with the notes indicating how Black might handle this position.

After 7 Bd3, Black can also play the immediate 7...b6. Then 8 axb6 (8 Be3 gives more chances) 8...axb6 tends to be harmless:

In Lenderman, A - Song, J, Titled Tue 13th Sep 2022 , Black actually emerged with the better opening, but White eventually prevailed in a sharp struggle.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 9 a3 [C11]

Black has been playing some more forcing lines (ones less subject to surprise) versus the Steinitz. Niemann, H - Xiong, J, US Ch St Louis 2022 tested the very fashionable line with 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6, which was already well established, but since Plichta’s Chessable French repertoire product appeared, it has grown in popularity. Here instead of 9 Qd2 (which we see in the next games), there followed 9 a3 Bc5:

This position doesn’t seem to be a threat to the soundness of Black’s setup, but gives White more options to keep the game interesting. Niemann tried 10 Ncb5 Nxd4 11 Bxd4 0-0 (I analyze options for both sides), and here the rare 12 Bxc5, which led to some problems after 12...Nxc5, and later a serious disadvantage for White. The straightforward 12...Qc5! is a good solution for Black.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 9 Qd2 Qxb2 10 Rb1 Qa3 11 Bb5 [C11]

We’ve seen a number of games in the Archives with 9 Qd2 Qxb2, and the theory continues to expand. After 10 Rb1 Qa3 11 Bb5 Nxd4 12 Bxd4 a6 13 Bxd7 Bxd7, White tried the unusual 14 Rxb7 in Nguyen, DH - Aishwin, D, Raipur 2022, probably aiming to confuse his opponent. Black responded normally with 14...Bb4 15 0-0:

Now 15...Rc8 was playable, but Black got into early trouble after inaccuracies. The alternative 15...Bc8 is easier to handle and should lead to full equality.

Abdumalik, Z - Kashlinskaya, A, WGP Astana 2022, went into the main line 14 Rb3 Qe7 15 Rxb7:

Now 15...Qh4+ has become fashionable (I update it in the notes), but the game’s 15...Rc8 is also getting many tests. It is the recommendation Plichta analyses in depth. I’ve given a few of the key lines, but the key point is that both sides need to be deeply prepared. A fighting game resulted; it went back and forth until White prevailed.

Morozevich Variation 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6 gxf6 7 Bc4 [C11]

An interesting game from the Olympiad a few months ago featured Morozevich’s line 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bxg5 dxe4 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6 gxf6. In Hernandez Guerrero, G - Ganguly, S, Chennai 2022, White tried the 7 Bc4, which is not very common but logical enough:

Play continued 7...f5 8 Ng3 Qd6 9 c3 with a complex game in store.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4 dxc3 12.Qd3 d4 13.Nxd4 [C18]

A deeply-analysed variation of the Winawer which we’ve often seen is the Poisoned Pawn main line with 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Qg4 Qc7 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4 dxc3 12.Qd3 d4 13.Nxd4 Nxd4 14.Qxd4 Bd7 15.Rg1 Nf5 16.Qf2 Qc6 17.Bd3 Qd5 18.Be3.

This has gained a reputation as a drawing line, but no matter how theory says the play should go, there’s usually someone willing to test whether they know more than their opponent. In Muzychuk, M - Kashlinskaya, A, Chennai Olympiad 2022, play went down the most forcing line 18...Nxe3 19.Qxe3 Rxg2 20.Rxg2 Qxg2 21.Be4 Qxh2 22.0-0-0 Bc6 23.Bxc6+ bxc6 24.Qd4 a5:

In this still-theoretical position, White played the trickiest move 25.f5, and Black responded well for a couple of moves, but she hadn’t prepared deeply enough and threw away the game in a single move. The game and notes shows how both sides need to be well-prepared if they’re going to use such an ultra-forcing line.

2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 d4 4 Ne2 c5 5 5 Ng3 [C00]

After 1 e4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3, Black often plays 3...Nf6, of course, and we’ve seen a fair number of games with 3...d4 4 Ne2 c5 5 c3. I’ve neglected the option 5 Ng3, as in Alekseenko, K - Martin Fuentes, A, Spanish Team Rapids Toledo 2022. There followed 5...Nc6 6 Bb5 Bd7 7 0-0:

Black fell further behind in development with 7...a6 8 Bxc6 Bxc6 9 Ne5, and stood somewhat worse. 7...Bd6 is best, leading to an interesting, double-edged game.

Till next month, John

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