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There have been a number of well-played and instructive French Defences in the past few days in the World Cup, so I've adjusted the column to include several of them.

Download PGN of September '15 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 [C03]

The World Cup encounter Nisipeanu - Anton Guijarro, Baku 2015, saw Black play the fashionable 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 line with ...b6, reaching this position:

Perhaps Black has theoretical equality, but I like White's practical chances, as illustrated by the game.

Winawer Variation 7 Qg4 0-0 8 Bd3 Nbc6, Berg's 13...b5 [C18]

Reader Alan Bell has sent some fascinating analysis of the 7 Qg4 0-0 Winawer, using as a base the game Berg - Sjodahl, Norrkoping 2015, that differs from the Berg-Sjodahl, Vaxjo 2015 game that I published early this year (see the Archives). The most important analysis is included in the lengthy note containing his own game Poell-A Bell, ICCF 2015.

He says: "I thought you might be interested in the attached game. Having played the Poisoned Pawn variation in the Winawer for several years, I have gone back to the 7...0-0 line that you first championed in PTF3. I found Berg's book to give good analysis (as it does with the Poisoned Pawn) but I found myself seriously tested in a recent ICCF game when my opponent followed a line played by Berg himself, though not featuring in his book! This line is very dangerous but I think I managed to find a reasonable way for Black to maintain equality - just about!"

Here's one key position:

In his correspondence game, Bell played 19...Kf7! Here, improving upon Sjodahl's 19...Kh7.

Just to make things more interesting, French Defence lover Paul Zwahr informs me of a key transposition that Berg misses in his book after 15 Kd2, which poses Black still more problems after the recommended 13...b5. In general, it seems that Black has more problems in this line than he can possibly be happy with, but we'll see how theory and practice develop.

Winawer Variation Poisoned Pawn 11...dxc3 12 Qd3 d4 13 h4 [C18]

Still another great French slugfest was sent to me by Tomas Blom, Blomqvist - Rozentalis, Molnlycke 2015. He includes some excellent notes that appear in Lars Grahn's blog (, and I'll leave a selection of those those loosely translated but otherwise mostly untouched, for the reader's enjoyment.

Here Black played the new and amazing move 15...f6!?.

Winawer Variation 7 h4 Qc7 [C18]

Leko demonstrates how nice 7 h4 can be for the White side in Leko - Goganov, Baku 2015.

Black has picked a rather marginal line, perhaps playable, but he makes one inaccuracy and suffers to the end.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Bc5 9 Qd2 0-0 10 0-0-0 a6 [C11]

Robson - Vovk, Baku 2015, is a perfect illustration of Black themes in the Classical French.

After an extremely complex opening, both sides are preparing to attack on opposite wings. But with one move, 21 g4?, White allows Black to both blockade and seize the initiative, after which he scores a fine attacking victory.

Wei - Vovk, Baku 2015, shows the flip side, with White scoring a very impressive attacking win.

Here White found the ingenious move 19 Bb5!, not forcing an advantage, but mixing things up with remarkable sacrificial themes. The opening was in any case satisfactory for Black.

In Shabalov - Zherebukh, Greensboro 2015, White got a very nice opening:

Here White's better bishop and control over d4 and c5 should count for something. As the game went, he missed a few chances to pursue the advantage and then became too ambitious, falling to a counterattack.

Hecht-Reefschlaeger 5 e5 Ne4, 7 0-0!? gambit [C10]

Periodically I have to uphold this column's reputation as the main (only?) source of material on the Hecht-Reefschlaeger. Carnicelli - Messina, Porto San Giorgio 2015, saw the line 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 e5 Ne4 6 Bd3 Bb4 and now the gambit 7 0-0!?:

Black responded in an original and perhaps not fully satisfactory way, but White failed to take advantage and the second player gained the advantage.

Hecht-Reefschlaeger 5 Bd3 Nb4 [C10]

Two strong GMs slugged it out in Gharamian - Bauer, Saint-Quentin 2015. The opening pitted White's space and development against Black's bishop pair and sound structure.

Having gained a slight advantage, Black was careless with his king and allowed White to get a winning attack. In time trouble, White gave away the win, and then, tragically, neglected to grab a simple draw.

Till next month, John

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