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We have nothing but main lines this month. Even at the top levels, White is deriving no advantage in these variations. But they are all complicated enough to produce winning chances for both sides.

Download PGN of September '12 French games

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Advance Variation 6 a3 [C02]

The main line of the Advance Variation with 6 a3 is still the most popular meeting ground for French players and their opponents. Kharchenko - Arslanov, St Petersburg 2012, saw the main line with Sveshnikov's favourite 8 Bxh6 and 10 Ra2:

Black played one of the three suggestions in my book, beginning with 10...Rg8, and got full-fledged play, eventually turning a small edge into victory. In the notes, another game with the same line went White's way after Black played an inferior variation.

In Sandipan - Siedentopf, Dresden 2012, the same variation arises and White plays the commonsense move 10 Be2. The players arrive at this position:

Sveshnikov stops here and says 'with compensation'. The game follows a couple of moves that I analyse in PTF4 and then deviates. Regardless, Black has equality, but in this case he allows transposition into a difficult ending and loses.

Tarrasch Variation - Guimard [C04]

As mentioned last month, the Guimard Variation is maintaining the interest of strong players and gaining decent results. But this month the better players were on the White side. In Amonatov - Cori, Istanbul 2012, after 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nd7, White played the standard 6 Nb3 a5 7 a4 line and the players arrived at a theoretical position:

After 12 Re1 Ba6 13 Bxa6 Rxa6, Black was fully equal, but incorrectly lashed out with ...g5 and got the worse game. Cori lost a game at the Istanbul Olympiad in the same variation to Topalov; I've analysed Topalov-Cori, Istanbul 2012, in some depth in the notes to the main Amonatov game. Once again Black stood perfectly well out of the opening.

The much-debated line 6 Bd3 f6!? received another test in Castellanos Rodriguez-Naumkin, Cesenatico 2012.

In this main line position, Black played 13...Bd6!? (13...c6! looks like the best move, as explained in the notes), and White got dynamic play from 14 b4!. Black should play 14...Ng6, as in an earlier game; instead, 14...Bxb4? led to serious trouble and a quick defeat.

Winawer Variation Poisoned Pawn 11...dxc3 [C18]

Leko - Caruana, Dortmund 2012, tested the current main line of the Poisoned Pawn in an amazing game between supergrandmasters.

After 23 moves, several of which Leko says he needed to find over-the-board, White played the innovation 24 Bb2!. This led to a brutal slugfest, with White defending successfully in several improbable lines. The correct result seems to be a draw, but Caruana played a dreadful move and should have lost. In the end, Leko himself missed an easy consolidation and it's unclear whether he had any good further chances to win. I've inserted an interesting game Shyam-Papasimakopoulos in the notes.

In this same main line, Black won two games when White played 13th moves other than taking a pawn with 13 Nxd4. Both games were interesting and very complex, but neither poses a threat to the variation. For example, Jacko - Sipos, Banska Stiavnica 2012, reached the main line from 13 h4 b6 14 h5 Bb7 15 h6 0-0-0 16 h7 Rh8:

Here White played 17 Rb1 (instead of the main line 17 Rh3), and after 17...Nd5! Black had no problems and good chances for an advantage.

Later in the Dortmund tournament, Leko switched to 12 h4. Leko - Bartel, Dortmund 2012, saw an old main line beginning with 12...Bd7 13 h5 0-0-0, leading to this position:

Instead of the older 17 Rh3, Leko played 17 Be3, but had Black responded with 17...Nxe3! 18 Qxe3 Rg7, he would have equalised at least.

Classical Variation with 4 e5, 7...a6 [C11]

The Classical Steinitz Variation with 7...a6 and ...b5 continues to be a solid choice, even if most of the attention has swung to 7...Be7. The game Grischuk - Potkin, Moscow (Russian Ch) 2012, featured a line used by Kasparov and Anand with an early a3.

Here Black played the calm 11...Rb8, adding to his queenside pressure. This lead to equality.

Classical Variation with 4 e5, 7...Be7 [C11]

The variations with 7...Be7 continue to be the most popular at the top levels, and White seems to be having trouble demonstrating anything again the modern ...b6 ideas. In particular, 8 Qd2 0-0 9 Be2 b6 scored 3 of 4 this month. Fedorov - Ibragimov, Izhevsk 2012, went into the most direct strategy following 10 0-0 f6 (10...Bb7 led to equality in Sivuk-Volkov in the notes):

Black should equalize in this line, but White seized the chance for an early dxc5, Ng5 and Re1 and gained a definite advantage, until later throwing it away and losing.

Till next month, John

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