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‘Serious’ chess is steadily reviving after the long covid hiatus. With a few fun exceptions, this month’s column mainly features games with slower time controls. When in doubt, I’ve chosen to look at high-level encounters with some theoretical content.

Download PGN of September ’21 French games

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Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nh6 8 Bxh6 Qxb2 9 Nbd2 [C02]

3 e5 continues to be played by strong players who are trying out new ideas. In Jones, G - Apicella, M, French Team Ch 2021, the players tested the popular gambit line 3...c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 Be2 cxd4 7 cxd4 Nh6 8 Bxh6 Qxb2 9 Nbd2 gxh6 10 0-0:

Against 10...Be7 with the idea ...0-0, White should have secured the advantage. Black has some options which appear to improve because they quickly address the play on the queenside.

Advance Variation 5...Bd7 6 Be2 f6 7 0-0 fxe5 8 dxe5 [C02]

After 6 Be2, 6...f6 used to be very popular, and since Romain Edouard suggested it in his Chessable French repertoire, we are seeing it more often. Alekseenko, K - Edouard, R, French Teams Chalons en Champagne 2021, went 7 0-0 fxe5 8 dxe5:

8 Nxe5 has been the preferred move for years, but since White isn't achieving much with it, the pawn recapture is being played upon occasion and has assumed some importance. Versus 8 dxe5, Edouard recommends 8...Nh6 in his repertoire, and I discuss that and 8...Qc7 in the notes. Presumably to avoid preparation, Edouard played 8...g6, which is objectively inferior but worked out in the end.

Advance Variation 5...Qb6 6 Be2 Bd7 7 0-0 h6 [C02]

SuperGMs Grischuk and Andreikin met in the final of the Katara Bullet tournament on LiChess and played three French Advance games. Using Bullet games to illustrate theory is a bit silly, but the line chosen by Andreikin is unique and presumably well-prepared, so there’s something to learn here. The players contested the position after 6 Be2 Bd7 7 0-0 h6!?:

Grischuk’s first response to 7...h6 was 8 a3, which after 8...c4 9 Nbd2 Na5 transposed into a main line normally arising from 6 a3 c4. The game Grischuk, A - Andreikin, D, Katara Bullet Final (1.8) 2021, illustrates some of the most important themes, and was well-contested until a late blunder by White.

In Grischuk, A - Andreikin, D, Katara Bullet Final (1.12) 2021, White switched to 8 dxc5 Bxc5 9 b4 Be7 10 a4:

This is apparently playable for Black is he plays 10...Qc7, but in two games from the match he tried the risky 10...f6, which turned out to be good enough for Bullet games, even though it is probably objectively dubious.

Tarrasch Variation 3...a5 [C03]

I couldn’t resist showing a game with Nepomniachtchi’s remarkable move 3 Nd2 a5!?:

The thing is, he’s been playing this way for nearly a decade now (allowing his opponents to prepare at length) and keeps winning games with it! To me, it seems another example of what I’ve often said about 3 Nd2: that White is a little stuck and his next move tends to tip off Black as to what strategy to pursue. This accounts for the playability of slow ‘semi-waiting’ moves such as 3...a6 and 3...h6 (and even 3...Be7). Anyway, Lagno, K - Nepomniachtchi, I, Moscow Blitz 2021 continued with the natural 4 Ngf3 a4 5 a3 Nf6, soon entering a more-or-less normal-looking position. I discuss some 4th-move alternatives in the notes.

Tarrasch 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 Mainline, 10...Be7 [C07]

The 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 Tarrasch is still going strong. In the main line with 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4 Qd6 7 0-0 Nf6 8 Nb3 Nc6 9 Nbxd4 Nxd4 10 Nxd4, Giri’s suggestion in his repertoire for Chessable is 10...Be7, a nove which as a consequence is being played more often than the long-time favorites 10...a6 and 10...Bd7. In Engel, L - Bluebaum, M, Magdeburg 2021, White played the main continuation 11 c3 0-0 12 Qf3 Qc7>:

Instead of Giri’s main line 13 Bb3, which has been tested a lot recently, White tried 13 Bd3. This doesn’t seem dangerous, and in the game Black equalized, but later White achieved some pressure with the bishop pair.

Classical Morozevich 4...dxe4 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6 gxf6 7 Qd2 [C13]

We’ve covered Morozevich’s line 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 dxe4 5 Nxe4 Be7 6 Bxf6 gxf6 many times in this column. Then 7 Nf3 is the main move by a wide margin, but strong players have employed 7 Qd2:

Black needs to be a little careful, because is he makes too many pawn moves (along the lines of the normal variations) White can build up a quick central attack. In Hovhannisyan, R - Cabarkapa, N, Belgrade 2021 we get an example of White’s ideal setup versus 7...a6 8 0-0-0 f5 9 Ng3 c5!?.

Likewise, in Burke, J - Schmakel, S, Cherry Hill 2021, Black met 7 Qd2 with a lot of early pawn moves. The position after 7...f5 8 Nc3 can easily become precarious for Black:

Then 8...a6 9 g3 b5 10 Bg2 c6 may be playable, but invites White to develop quickly and grab space, which ultimately led to a powerful central breakthrough. In the notes to Hovhannisyan - Cabarkapa, I give Black some 7th-move options which avoid these kinds of problems.

Winawer Exchange Variation 5 Bd3 Ne7 [C01]

The Winawer Exchange with 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 exd5 exd5 5 Bd3 is a popular way to get a game without risking much. In Tari, A - Rapport, R, Stavanger 2021, White met 5...Ne7 with 6 Nf3, allowing 6...Bg4 (6 Qh5, 6 Qh3, and 6 Nge2 have been more popular). In a few moves, this position arose:

White has no easy way to exert pressure and played simply to maintain equality. The game and examples in the notes show that this can still become an unbalanced and interesting game.

Till next month, John

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