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Because of the various articles and books appearing on the subject, I’m showing a lot of Winawer lines involving the move ...b6 this month.

Download PGN of September ’19 French games

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Exchange Variation 4 Nf3 Bd6 5 c4 Nf6 [C01]

Who would dream that we'd get a miniature from this position? Xiong, J - Lysyj, I, Khanty-Mansiysk 2019, shows that you can’t make random moves in even the most innocent of openings.

Winawer Variation 4 e5 b6 5 Nf3 [C16]

4...b6 is recommended in a recent book by Lakdawala and a repertoire by Marin. Marin himself gave us a recent example in Popilski, G - Marin, M, Lund 2019, which went 5 Nf3 Ne7:

The play can head in many directions from this point, so I’ve included a number of games in the notes, especially in the main line 6 Bd3 Ba6 7 0-0.

Winawer Variation 4...Qd7 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 b6 7 a4 [C16]

4...Qd7 can easily transpose to 4...b6, but has the independent point that Qg4 can be met by ...f5 protecting g7. The game Wagner, D - Maghsoodloo, P, Zurich 2019, continued 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 b6, and now 7 a4. Then 7...Ba6 has proven good enough in practice, but Black wanted to complicate and payed the original move 7...Nc6!?:

The setup with ..Bb7 and ...0-0-0 goes back to Petrosian and Bronstein; in this game it succeeds.

Winawer Variation 4...Qd7 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 b6 7 Qg4 f5 8 Qg3 [C16]

Iruzubieta Villaluenga, J - Nieves Cabanes, J, Linares 2019, tested the traditional line 7 Qg4 f5 8 Qg3. Black chose the move preferred by Caruana, i.e., 8...Nc6:

I’ve tried to give an overview of the important lines, but especially of 9 Nh3 Bb7 10 Nf4 0-0-0. This position has to be handled with care in any case, but see the pretty game Tabatabaei-Malakhatko in the note to move 11. It has the potential to inspire you for White, or equally, to completely scare you off as Black!

Winawer Defence 4...Ne7 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 b6 7 Qg4 [C16]

David Miedema’s recent book The Modernized French Defence I: Winawer does a yeoman’s job of investigating theoretical lines, as well as taking renewed looks at some older and somewhat discredited ones. Among the latter is the variation 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 Ne7 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 b6!?, which enjoys periodic attention but has never really come back into favor. The most critical move is 7 Qg4, when 7...Ng6 8 h4 h5 has been contested over many years.

White has several options here, the two main ones being 9 Qg3 and 9 Qd1. The latter move was tested in Roebers, E - Keetman, M, Amsterdam 2019, when Black tried Miedema’s preference 9...c5 (instead of the normal 9...Ba6). As far as I can tell, this gives satisfactory play.

9 Qg3 is more dangerous, with direct kingside pressure. Then Alboredo, J - Hambleton, A, Sao Paulo 2019 continued 9...Ba6 10 Bxa6 Nxa6:

This is a terribly complex position with multiple plans for both sides. Objectively, White probably has the better games, but in practice there are chances for both sides.

Winawer Defence 4...Ne7 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 b6 7 Nf3 [C16]

Slow moves don’t bother Black, who can proceed with ...Ba6, for example, 7 Nf3 Ba6 8 Bxa6 Nxa6 9 0-0 Rc8:

Here White’s overambitious 10 Ng5?! h6 11 Qh5 0-0 left him exposed to queenside attack in Zwirs, J - Maatman, N, Dieren 2019.

Winawer Poisoned Pawn Variation 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4 10 Qd3 [C18]

In Huschenbeth, N - Naiditsch, A, Khanty-Mansiysk 2019, White avoided the main lines of the 7 Qg4 Qc7 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 cxd4 Winawer by 10 Qd3!?:

An unusual move which hasn’t been supposed to cause many problems, but in this game it succeeded in taking the play away from ultra-theoretical paths and created considerable problems for Black. The resulting structure and endings can arise from other lines and should become familiar to any Poisoned Pawn player. Although the game continuation wasn’t clear, White has some very dangerous options and I think we’ll be seeing more of this variation. Black might want to look into 10...dxc3 (as opposed to 10...Qxe5+, as played).

Till next month, John

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