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I return this month to my old favorite 3...h6 in the Tarrasch. Then I look at a high-level Rubinstein Variation, three games in the Positional Winawer, and a White win in the newly popular 3 Bd3 variation.

Download PGN of September ’17 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...h6 4 Bd3 c5 5 dxc5 Bxc5 6 Ngf3 Nf6 7 0-0 [C03]

It’s been a while since I examined the Tarrasch with 3 Nd2 h6. Long-time readers will know that I have a soft spot for this useful but eccentric waiting move. Admittedly, I should also pay more attention to 3...a6, since both moves score rather better than you’d think at first glance. For now, I’ll present a few games from the past two months with 3...h6 and look at 3...a6 in a forthcoming column.

First, White can play conservatively with dxc5 and exd5 ideas, for example, 4 Bd3 c5 5 dxc5 Bxc5 6 Ngf3 Nf6 7 0-0 Nc6 8 exd5 Qxd5:

If you compare this with the 3...Be7 lines, you’ll see that Black has gained a tempo (...h6) because his bishop has only moved once to capture on c5. Since ...h6 is moderately useful, Black should have no problems, and didn’t in Sosa, T - Villanueva, Mar, Buenos Aires 2017.

Tarrasch Variation 3...h6 4 exd5 exd5 [C03]

The Exchange Variation versus 3...h6 is even less dangerous than usual because the knight on d2 has to move again to prove useful. The game Evengroen, J - Maatman, Nick, Dieren 2017, developed normally by 4 exd5 exd5 5 Bd3 Bd6 6 Ne2 Nf6 7 Nf3 0-0 8 0-0 Re8:

This was dead equal, but because unbalanced to Black’s liking after 9 Ng3 c5.

Tarrasch Variation 3...h6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 c4 [C03]

Far more critical is the line 3...h6 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 c4, which we’ve seen a few times in this column:

Volotovsky, K - Sochacki, W, Pardubice 2017, continued 6...Be7 7 Bd3 0-0 8 0-0 c5 with double-edged play.

In Kowalczyk, R - Prithu, Gupta, Warsaw 2017, Black tried the riskier 6...c5!?, breaking up White’s center immediately. This forces a favorable resolution of the central tension, but with risk of leaving the king exposed in certain lines. An important position arises after 7 cxd5 exd5 8 Bd3 Nc6:

White can play 9 0-0, as in the game, or try the more critical 9 e6 Qe7 10 0-0 fxe6 and 11 Bg6+ or 11 Bf5!. Neither of these necessarily gives White an advantage, but they might be uncomfortable to face over-the-board. Thus 6...Be7 is safer.

Rubinstein Variation 4...Nd7 5 Nf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 Bd3 c5 [C10]

It’s always instructive to see how Georg Meier continues to draw with the Rubinstein against top-rated opposition.

In this line, which we’ve seen several times in the Archives, Black equalizes by fianchettoing his bishop, playing ...Qc7, and not worrying about Bxf6, doubling his pawns. See Zherebukh, Y - Meier, G, St Louis 2017.

Winawer Variation 7 a4 Qc7 8 Nf3 b6 9 Bb5+ [C19]

An old-fashioned variation which still arises regularly via a wide variety of move orders is 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Nf3 (or 7 a4 b6 8 Bb5+, etc.) 7...b6 (7...h6 will often lead to the same position) 8 Bb5+ Bd7 9 Bd3 Nbc6 10 a4 Qc7 11 0-0 h6:

12 Re1 0-0 13 Bf4 followed, as in several older contests. I simply haven’t covered this position enough. Black's stands solidly; although on the negative side, there's not much pressure on White's center. Pavlidis, A - Pichot, Alan, St Louis 2017, continued dynamically. After Black’s positional mistake White gained a clear advantage, only to lose it in the complications.

Wei Yi, - Sambuev, B, Tbilisi 2017, followed the same line but White played 13 h4:

Winawer Variation 7 h4 Qc7 8 Nf3 b6 9 Bb5+ [C19]

7 h4 remains popular In Hansen, Eric - Cuenca Jimenez, J, Linares 2017, Black played 7...Qc7 8 Nf3 b6 9 Bb5+ Bd7 10 Bd3, and Black could have returned to known lines by 10...Ba4 or entered into the position from Wei Yi’s game (or something similar) by 10...Nbc6 11 h5 h6 11 a4. Instead, he played the stubborn and original 10...Bc8!?, trying to insist upon ...Ba6 anyway:

This may not be bad, since ...0-0 is the ‘lost’ tempo and not always desirable. Whitre responded with the equally stubborn. 11 h5 h6 12 a4 Ba6 13 Bb5+!?, hoping that 13...Bxb5 14 axb5 would divert Black long enough to get an attack. In the game it worked, but I’m not convinced that White has any advantage at all versus good play.

Irregular Moves, 3 Bd3 Variation 3...dxe4 4 Bxe4 Nf6 5 Bf3 [C00]

The apparently innocent move 3 Bd3 continues to score above average for White (Kramnik and Vachier LaGrave have beaten their peers with it, for example). We’ve covered this a fair amount, and a game this month illustrates a traditional defense for Black and how White manages to gain the advantage over it.

This position goes back to Alapin. After a series of forced exchanges beginning with 8 Bxc6+ bxc6 9 dxe5, White got a very small edge in Arribas Lopez, Angel - Abrahamyan, T, St Louis 2017. White has won more than his share of games in the past two years with the same line. Oddly enough, although there are some wins for Black, there are extremely few draws.

Till next month, John

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