ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
This month I look at variations with 3 Nc3. Then both 3...Bb4 and 3...Nf6 have been holding up well in high-level play; in fact, I think that explains why we have seen a rise in the popularity of 3 e5 and 3 exd5. Nevertheless, every month sees developments and even new approaches with 3 Nc3, and in this column I’ll concentrate on Winawer lines. Black can also play 3...dxe4 versus 3 Nc3, of course, and we’ll look at some new games with the Rubinstein Variation.

Download PGN of September ’22 French games

>> Previous Update >>

Winawer Variation 4 Qd3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Nf6 [C15]

After 3 Nc3 Bb4, quite a few strong players have been bypassing the main lines and using sidelines such as 4 exd5, 4 Nge2, and 4 e5 c5 5 Bd2. One such move that I haven’t paid enough attention to is 4 Qd3. It has been employed regularly by players such as Andreikin, Hou Yifan, and Hector, while the young GM Olexandr Bortnyk is a big fan. I’ll show three Blitz games played by Bortnyk this month (all wins for White) to illustrate some of the ideas.

In Bortnyk, O - Terry, R, Titled Tuesday 9th August 2022, Black played 4...Nc6 5 Nf3 Nf6, provoking 6 e5 Ne4:

In practice, Black has scored well here, but I think White should achieve an advantage with accurate play. In the game, Black conceded far too much space, and although the play deteriorated in typical Blitz fashion, White prevailed.

Winawer Variation 4 Qd3 dxe4 5 Qxe4 Nf6 6 Qh4 b6 [C15]

Bortnyk, O - Ismagilov, D, Titled Tuesday 26th July 2022, saw the main line with 4...dxe4 5 Qxe4 Nf6 6 Qh4. Here Black tried the unusual 6...b6 (I include analysis of the alternatives, notably the main line with 6...Nc6) 7 Nf3 Bb7:

This looks reasonable for Black. He even achieved a nice advantage after 8 Bg5 (8 Bd2= is safer), but grabbed a pawn and allowed White too much activity.

Winawer Variation 4 Qd3 Ne7 [C15]

The solid move 4...Ne7 was tested in Bortnyk, O - Rustemov, A, Titled Tue 9th Aug 2022.

This is one of the older solutions which I’ve recommended in the past. In the game, Bortnyk experiments with 5 Qg3?!, and Black misses a chance to achieve a nice advantage. After that White take over. I’ve analyzed the best move 5 Bd2 in the notes.

Winawer Variation Main Line 7 Qg4 cxd4 8 Bd3 Qa5 [C18]

After 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Qg4, there’s always been a question of whether 7...cxd4 might be a good way to get to the Poisoned Pawn rather than the normal 7...Qc7. I’ve generally preferred the latter because of some dangerous sidelines after 7...cxd4, but 7...Qc7 gives White other options and theory is still not clear on the subject.

In Frolyanov, D - Popov, M, Moscow 2022, White tested the line 8 Bd3 Qa5 9 Ne2, and Black went into a line like the Poisoned Pawn with 9...dxc3 10 Qxg7 Rg8. While this has scored well for Black (and ultimately wins this game), White has several very challenging continuations (including 11 Qh6, which I mention in the notes). My feeling is that the extensively tested 9...0-0 is more reliable, assuming that Black is well-prepared.

White tried another tricky order in Huschenbeth, N - Krishna, C, Biel 2022. After 8 Bd3 Qa5, he played 9 Rb1, to which the generally well-prepared Krishna answered 9...Nd7, allowing the solid 10 Nf3:

Now 10...Qxc3+ 11 Bd2 Qc7 improves upon our older Archives game with 10...Ng6?!. Black looks to be in good shape in the forcing line that followed. Nevertheless, both sides will need to look into 11 Kf1 before we can state that this is a complete solution for Black.

Winawer Variation Main Line 7 h4 Qc7 8 h5 cxd4 [C18]

The flank attack 7 h4 continues to be popular. One line that’s never been quite resolved and is still being used in correspondence chess is 7...Qc7 8 h5 cxd4!? 9 cxd4 Qc3+ 10 Bd2 Qxd4 11 Nf3 Qe4+ 12 Nf3 Nf5:

Rustemov used this many years ago, and this year has been playing it often in online tournaments. It hasn’t been popular because Black is under attack for only a pawn, but has the advantage of being a fairly forced position that you can prepare in advance. In Martinez Alcantara, J - Rustemov, A, Rapids 2022, Black faced the main move 13 Kf1 (see the notes for analysis of the critical 13 Rb1) and after 13...b6 (with the idea ...Ba6), White chose 14 c4 Ba6, and now the miscalculation 15 Qa4+?! b5 16 Qb4??, when 16...Nbc6 should have won shortly. 14 Bb5+! is best alternative, which I examine in the notes.

Winawer Variation Main Line 7 h4 Qc7 8 h5 h6 9 Rb1 [C18]

Grischuk has been Black in this system in many games this year, and his games are instructive whether played at Classical, Rapid, or Blitz time controls. Karjakin, S - Grischuk, A, Moscow 2022, saw the normal 8...h6, and White tried 9 Rb1!?, leading to 9...b6 10 Bb5+ Bd7 11 Bd3 Ba4:

Karjakin played 12 Rh4, which has scored well in limited practice, but the closed position after 12...c4 appears to hold up well for Black.

Winawer Variation Main Line 7 h4 Qc7 8 h5 h6 9 Nf3 b6 [C19]

After 8...h6, the main move has been 9 Nf3, which arose in a couple of other Grischuk games (at Blitz and Rapid time controls). A standard position similar to the Karjakin game arose in Pranav, V - Grischuk, A, Titled Tuesday 26th July 2022 following 9....b6 10 Bb5+ Bd7 11 Bd3 Ba4 12 Rh4 c4 13 Bf1:

This was a Blitz game, but all sorts of typical themes arose over the next 30 moves. At this point, 13...Nd7! was better than 13....Nbc6 14 Rf4!, after which White gained a small advantage. Grischuk later managed to get to an ideal position on the kingside, but things went astray and in the end White won a lengthy struggle.

Martinez Alcantara, J - Grischuk, A, Rapid Swiss 2022, saw the important sequence 10 a4 Ba6 11 Bb5+ Bxb5 12 axb5:

Here Black played 12...a5. In my comments I say “This is by far the most commonly-played move, but the present game makes me wonder whether the move works in this line at all, or at any rate with this order.” Check out the rest of the game notes to see if you think Black will continue to want to play this move. I could be missing something, but I think we’ll be seeing 12...a6 from now on.

Rubinstein Variation 4...Nd7 5 c3 Ngf6 6 Bd3 [C10]

After 3 Nd2 or 3 Nc3, Black can always play 3...dxe4 4 Nxe4, when 4...Nd7 is the Rubinstein Variation. The highest profile game in recent months was Carlsen, M - Meier, G, Chennai Chess Olympiad 2022, which continued 5 c3 Ngf6 6 Bd3:

Carlsen wants to avoid mass simplification, and the positions that result from either 6...c5 or 6...Nxe4 7 Bxe4 Nf6 8 Bc2 c5 (as played in the game) are fairly harmless but seem to give White the tiniest of edges. In the game, Meier equalizes and eventually gets ground down in a very drawish endgame.

Rubinstein Variation 4...Nd7 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 Be3 Bd6 [C10]

Meier continues to be the highest rated player using the Rubinstein regularly. The game Vocaturo, D - Meier, G, Chennai Olympiad 2022 includes a couple of his recent games in the line 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 Be3 Bd6 8 Bd3 0-0 9 Qe2 b6 10 0-0-0:

This is a more dynamic variation than we normally get from the Rubinstein, and should reward good preparation.

Rubinstein Variation 4...Nd7 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 Bg5 h6 8 Bxf6 [C10]

Beerdsen, T - D Jong, T, Vlissingen 2022, examines the important order 5 Ngf3 Ngf6 6 Nxf6+ Nxf6 7 Bg5 h6:

Here White decided to exchange on f6 (8.Bxf6), which looks relatively harmless, yet after opposite-side castling, mutual pawn storms resulted in a double-edged and exciting game (albeit flawed by time pressure). In the notes we see recent games with the important alternatives 8 Bh4 and 8 Be3.

Till next month, John

>> Previous Update >>

Please post you queries on the French Forum, or subscribers can write to me at if you have any questions or queries.