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This month I’ll focus on the Advance Variation, which remains the most fashionable approach versus the French. I found Cheparinov’s solution to the Advance in his recent Modern Chess database/e-course particularly interesting, and have devoted numerous games to it. Then I return to the gambit lines with 6 Bd3 and 7 0-0, which are still going strong; they are also recommended in several of the latest e-books and products.

Download PGN of October ’23 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 7 0-0 Nf5 8 dxc5 [C02]

Cheparinov’s course French Defence - Top-Level Repertoire for Black features the order 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bd7, and after the traditional main line 6 Be2, 6...Nge7. Here White has two main moves. Giri, A - Theodorou, N, Julius Baer Rapid 2023, saw 7 0-0 Nf5:

An important juncture. Cheparinov prefers this to 7...cxd4 8 cxd4, since that allows White to play Nc3 next. That’s a complicated tradeoff, and we’ll look at 7...cxd4 below. On the minus side, after 7...Nf5 White gets a couple of extra options, notably 8 dxc5, which Giri played. Black answered with 8...a5! 9 Na3 (9 Bd3 is also critical) 9...Bxc5 10 Nb5 0-0, and although White eventually prevailed, the game is equal at this point.

Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 7 0-0 cxd4 8 cxd4 Nf5 9 Nc3 a6 [C02]

In order to avoid the dxc5 idea, Black can play 7...cxd4 8 cxd4 and now 8...Nf5. After 9 Nc3, 9...Rc8 and 9...Be7 are often played, but I want to look at a couple of games with 9...a6 (which is frequently played over the next few moves anyway).

In Bacrot, E - Ivanchuk, V, French TCh Chartres 2023, 10 Kh1 Rc8 11 a3 was played, as in a number of games recently. Black has several moves which equalize, and the game was balanced until time trouble mistakes had their way.

Instead of 10 Kh1, White tried 10 Bg5 in Giri, A - Volkov, S, AI Cup Play 2023. Black played 10...Qb6 11 Na4 Qa7:

A standard maneuver that keeps pressure on d4 and covers c5. The play was equal through the early middlegame.

Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 7 Na3 Nf5 8 Nc2 [C02]

7 Na3 is the major alternative to 7 0-0 in this variation. Then Cheparinov recommends 7...Nf5 here as well, when the recent game Vachier Lagrave, M - Meier, G, AI Cup 2023, went 8 Nc2 cxd4 9 cxd4 Be7:

Cheparinov considers this position 'a key tabiya of the whole variation' and gives considerable analysis. The game was double-edged, with even chances throughout the opening stage.

Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 Nge7 7 Na3 cxd4 8 cxd4 f6 [C02]

In Fressinet, L - Artemiev, V, Julius Baer Rapid 2023, Black answered 7 Na3 with 7...cxd4 8 cxd4 f6!?, a rare move leading to original play following 9 Nb5 Ng6 10 exf6 gxf6:

The game was roughly equal throughout the early middlegame until Black’s center began to expand.

Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 Na3 cxd4 7 cxd4 Bd7 [C02]

After 5 Nf3 Qb6, White sometimes plays 6 Na3 right away, as in Kosteniuk, A - Zatonskih, A, Cairns Cup Saint Louis 2023 (in the notes I also look at 5...Bd7 6 Na3). The game went 6...cxd4 7 cxd4:

Here White played 7...Bd7 (7...Bb4+ and 7...Nh6 are alternatives) 8 Be2 (8 Nc2 is considered in the notes 9...Bb4+ and White was forced into the awkward 9 Kf1., which is a bad sign for this order.

Advance Bd3 Gambit 6 Bd3 Bd7 7 0-0 cxd4 8 Re1 Nge7 9 h4 [C02]

The rage for a gambit solution to the Advance with 6 Bd3 and 7 0-0 hasn’t died down, in part because it has been recommended in several e-books and products over the past year. The sequence 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 0-0 Bd7 8 Re1 Nge7 9 h4 has become a sort of main line:

Escalona Landi, S - Christie, J, San Salvador 2023, continued 9...Nf5, not the most common move but a good practical choice which leads to a standard type of position. The actual order of this game was 4...Qb6 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 Bd3 Bd7 (rather than 6...cxd4), so I’ve analysed the option 7 dxc5 in the notes.

Advance Bd3 Gambit, 5...Qb6 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 0-0 Bd7 8 Re1 Rc8 [C02]

The move 8...Rc8 can sometimes transpose if Black plays ...Nge7 next, but has important independent features. In Cheparinov, I - Svane, F, FIDE World Cup Baku 2023, the normal developing move 9 Nbd2 was played:

Black played 9...dxc3 10 bxc3 Na5 (I analyse 10...Bc5, which looks like a sound defence) 11 Rb1 Qc7 12 c4!, which we’ve seen previously and still looks critical.

In Zhigalko, S - Galchenko, M,Titled Tuesday 22nd Aug 2023, White answered 8...Rc8 with the more ambitious 9 h4?!:

I think that this is poorly timed because of the reply 9...Nh6! (9...a6 was played in the game), after which the g4 square can be a great spot for this piece, since it is difficult to expel from that square and targets the vulnerable f2 square.

Advance Bd3 Gambit, 5...Qb6 6 Bd3 Bd7 7 0-0 cxd4 8 Nbd2 [C02]

Instead of 8 Re1,White played the older move 8 Nbd2 in Stevic, H - Hoang, T, Rapid Ajka 2023:

After 8...Nge7, White played 9 Re1, transposing into 8 Re1 Nge7 9 Nbd2, a main line which produces complex positions. White got the better of things in the instructive game that follows. I’ve also given a note on the independent line 9 Nb3 dxc4 10 bxc3 Ng6.

Till next month, John

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