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With Anish Giri recently publishing a complete French repertoire featuring the Winawer Variation, it seems a good time to look at 3 Nc3 Bb4, and especially the main lines with 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3. I’ll look at some recent games in variations that don’t generally receive the most attention.

Download PGN of September ’20 French games

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Winawer Poisoned Pawn Variation 11...dxc3 12 h4 Bd7 13 h5 [C18]

Here it’s interesting that Black is trying slightly irregular moves to avoid the masses of theory in main lines.

In this position, for example, instead of the normal 14...d4 (which has an a good reputation), Black played 14...Nf5!? in Espinosa Veloz, E - Indjic, A, Titled Tuesday 2020. This less forcing moves gives White many options, but also creates new problems for both sides to solve.

Winawer Variation 6...Ne7 7 h4 Qa5 [C18]

In the main line after 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7, White’s 7 h4 continues to be a popular and flexible choice. In Dourerassou, J - Indjic, A, Titled Tuesday 2020, Black chose the unusual sequence 7...Qa5 8 Bd2 Bd7 9 h5 h6, which White tried to exploit by 10 Qg4:

Then 10...Rg8 resembles Nepomniachtchi’s recent setup versus the h4-h5 idea. It seems less convincing in this context, although ultimately Black equalized and then gained a winning advantage.

Winawer Main 6...Nc6 7 Qg4 g6 [C18]

6...Nc6 has become somewhat more popular over the past few years, but not among top players. Ruslan Ponomariov has been the main exception, and in Kuzubov, Y - Ponomariov, R, Gladiators 2020, I’ve merged some of his earlier experiences into a recent game. The most critical line is 7 Qg4 g6:

White played 8 Qd1 here, counting upon his space advantage and bishops to serve him well versus Black’s dark-square weaknesses. I’ve examined a number of alternatives at this point.

In Matinian, N - Kostenko, P, Titled Tuesday 2020, White chose 8 Nf3, leading to 8...Qa5 9 Bd2 Qa4:

This is a variant of the Portisch-Hook variation (6...Qa5 7 Bd2 Qa4 etc.), with Black committed to ...g6; it gives both sides chances to play for advantage. The game slowly drifted White’s way, but not before Black had ways to equalize.

Winawer Main with 6...Qc7 7 Qg4 f5 8 Qg3 Nc6 [C18]

The move 6...Qc7 has never matched 6...Ne7 in popularity, but has always had a following. Critical is 7 Qg4 f5 (we saw 7...f6 last month), and now 8 Qg3 Nc6 9 Nf3 cxd4:

In Stockfish - LCZero, TCEC 18 Superfinal 2020, play continued normally by 10 cxd4 Nge7 11 Be2 0-0 and Black stood solidly, but White always has the better chances. Note that in both the main game and notes, Black used the maneuver ...Bd7-e8, ready to play ...Bg6 or ...Bh5 to try to fortify the kingside. This is a solid line and does reasonably well in practice, but objectively it’s difficult for Black to generate positive chances.

In Saric, I - Grabinsky, J, Titled Tuesday 2020, White tried the ambitious 10 Bb5!?:

The idea is to develop rapidly and prevent Black from finishing his development. Things turned tactical and the game ended quickly, but at this point both sides have fair chances.

Winawer 6...Qc7 7 h4 Nc6 [C18]

White can also play 7 h4, when 7...Ne7 transposes into 6...Ne7 7 h4 Qc7, currently a fashionable line. In Quesada Perez, Y - Grabinsky, J, Titled Tuesday 2020, Black went his own way with 7...Nc6, provoking 8 Qg4:

Here Black played 8...f5 (8...f6 could be an improved version of 6...Qc7 7 Qg4 f6) 9 Qh5+ g6 10 Qd1, which is perhaps playable for Black, but difficult. White was better for most of the game, although the blitz portion was typically error-strewn and irrational.

Classical Steinitz Variation 7...a6 8 Qd2 Qb6!? [C11]

Reader Jon Dart sent me some analysis by an online group concerning the rare line 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e4 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 a6 8 Qd2 Qb6!?:

After 9 0-0-0, the theme of Black’s ...c4 versus f5 appears. As Schmid, P - Arlauskas, R, ICCF 2020 shows, White should probably bypass this with a timely dxc5, because otherwise it’s difficult to defend against Black’s pawn storm.

Till next month, John

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