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The two most theoretical variations in this month's update are the f4 variations of the 3 Nd2 Nf6 Tarrasch and the 7 h4 lines in the Positional Winawer. We also take a look at the Winawer Exchange, one branch of the Universal System versus the Tarrasch, and a couple of odds and ends.

Download PGN of September '11 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6, 10 Nh3 [C06]

I'll begin with a line which I recommended in my Dangerous Weapons: the French book. It's the main line of the 3...Nf6 Tarrasch with Bd3, except that White's knight ends up on h3 instead of e2:

In Fataliyeva - Sithalatchumi, 29th World Junior Girls, Chennai 2011, Black played the accurate order 10...Bb4+ 11 Bd2 Qa5! and equalised; the notes indicate all kinds of sharp possibilities.

Universal System 7 Ngf3 g6 [C06]

The Universal System in the 3...Nf6 Tarrasch system has gotten a lot of coverage in this column. Neil McDonald uses it as his anti-French variation in his 1 e4 repertoire book; to be fair, that's a relatively elementary book and you'll want to go into the much greater detail that he provides in this ChessPublishing column. This month's games Narayanan - Reinaldo Castineira, Presolana 2011 (and Borisek-Sebenik in the notes) tests the 7 Ngf3 g6 variation:

The theory of this line continues to develop, although what you mostly need is judgment and common sense. Black begins a queenside advance and White finds a very nice way to counter in the centre.

5 f4, 8 a3 [C05]

For some time White shied away from 5 f4 in the Tarrasch due to the many devastating Black sacrificial attacks in the centre with various combinations of ..f6, ...g5, ...Ndxe5, and ...Nxd4. Over the past two years various GMs have treated White's defensive tasks with more caution and then taken advantage of his long-term advantage in space. One of the most popular methods has been to play 8 a3 in the main line:

The game Nithander - Richter, Gothenburg 2011 begins with the standard 8...Be7 and illustrates a way of resisting White's queenside expansion (9 b4) while starting Black's own attack in that sector.

The alternative defence to 8 a3, 8...a5, also has its followers:

In Van der Wiel-Michiels, Antwerp 2011, White played 9 Ne2 a4 and now the ambitious 10 g4!?. In two other games from this month which I show in the notes, White played the 'modern' move 9 b3. Then 9...Be7 puts Black miles ahead in development, but the clever 10 Ra2 asks Black what's he's going to do while White wants to gradually bring his pieces out and strengthen his central grip.

Winawer - Positional Variation 7 h4 [C18]

It's healthy to move away from the more dramatic lines once in a while to look into White's positional strategies. The move 7 h4 is only temporarily quiet, however, since White threatens to overrun the kingside by h5-h6, perhaps in conjunction with Qg4 (and Rh4 is a standard theme). This month White scored quite well with 7 h4. A basic position arises after 7...Qa5 8 Bd2 Nbc6:

The game Tazbir - Sieciechowicz, Polanica Zdroj 2011 sees the classical battle between development and structure following 9 Nf3 Bd7 10 h5 0-0-0, with 11 a4!? replacing the traditional 11 h6. In the notes we see a recent game with 9 h5 h6, another typical structure.

One variation was played twice: 7...Nbc6 8 h5 Qa5 9 Bd2 Qa4 10 Nf3 cxd4

Now White plays 11 Rh4! and captures on d4 with a piece (first the knight, then the rook). Guseinov - Bocharov, Khanty-Mansiysk 2011 (and Musakaev-Seredov, Khanty-Mansiysk RUS 2011 in the notes) illustrate the play. Black can probably equalise early on, but he has only one chance, and this line is a bit risky for him. I'm not sure what if anything is wrong with the normal 9...cxd4 10 cxd4 Qa4 first; perhaps White thinks that the ending after c3, generally disparaged, actually gives him a few chances.

Winawer Exchange Variation [C01]

Periodically players resort to the Winawer Exchange Variation, 3...Bb4 4 exd5 exd5, in an attempt to play a more relaxed game than in most other French lines. In this month's batch, of the 7 highest-ranked games, this system scored 6-1...for Black! That's really just a reflection of what is often said about the Exchange Variation: that it's impossible to avoid an imbalance and White, who might be playing to keep the draw in hand, finds it hard to adjust to irrational situations which arise. Certainly Black has no theoretical edge after 4 exd5 and in these games a rough balance arises from the opening. I've merged a series of game fragments into Doluhanova - Paehtz, Dresden 2011.

Classical/Steinitz Variation 5 Nce2, 7 Nf3 [C11]

In his playoff match versus Ni Hua, Ponomariov twice employed a rare system with 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3 Nc6, and now 7 Nf3 (instead of 7 f4):

In spite of his 1.5-0.5 result, this sequence isn't particularly effective versus accurate play, as the notes and games in Ponomariov - Ni Hua, Khanty-Mansiysk 2011 indicate. Nevertheless, Ponomariov gets credit for essaying upon something to throw his opponent off the beaten track, and is rewarded for it.

Till next month, John

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