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Most of my coverage in the Tarrasch (3 Nd2) of late has been with 3...c5, which has been the preference of most leading French players. But there are still plenty of games with 3...Nf6, and this month I’ll look at some games involving White systems with f4.
After 3 Nc3, the Steinitz lines with 3...Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 remain at the height of fashion, and I’ve chosen to concentrate upon a few variations with 7...a6.

Download PGN of September ’23 French games

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Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Ndf3 Qb6 8 a3 a5 [C05]

After 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7, I haven’t looked at the various f4 systems much recently, in part because they aren’t particularly popular compared with setups with Bd3 followed by either Ndf3 or Ngf3. But White’s actual results have been promising, and some strong players are quite happy to repeatedly enter into the main line 5 f4 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Ndf3. A recent game Wolff, P - Root, D, US Seniors Saint Louis 2023, continued 7...Qb6 8 a3:

This has become a very popular move, with ideas of b4. Black played 8...a5 and White responded with 9 b3!, preventing Black’s queenside play.

By contrast, Iglesias Ferreira, A - Alvarado Diaz, A, Spanish Rapid Ch Linares 2023 saw 9 h4, allowing 9...a4, grabbing key queenside squares. White continued 10 h5:

This has arisen a number of times and leads to extremely complex play. Objectively, White may stand slightly better, but as the wild and error-riddled game shows, both sides can easily slip into winning and losing positions.

Tarrasch Variation 3...Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Ndf3 Qb6 8 g3 [C05]

The older move is 8 g3, on which a great deal of theory has been developed. In Apaydin, F - Gulbas, C, Denizli , Black chose the flexible 8...Be7:

White embarked upon 9 Kf2 intending to bring the king to safety on g2. Black can try to attack on the kingside via ...g5, but in the game he stuck to queenside expansion with ...a5-a4-a3.

Tarrasch/Steinitz Variation 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 f4 Be7 8 Nf3 [C05/C11]

Another Tarrasch Variation with f4 arises by one of two orders: the above sequence with 7...Be7 (instead of 7...Qb6) 8 Ne2, or the Classical order 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 f4 Be7 8 Nf3, as in the game Short, N - Roberson, P, World Rapid Team Dusseldorf 2023 (in that game I also discuss the important line 6...cxd4 7 cxd4 f6). Both orders lead to this position:

8...0-0 9 h4 f6 gives us a complex and double-edged variation played by Duda as White against both Carlsen and Grischuk (see the notes). White has several moves, all leading to open-ended play.

Tarrasch 3...Nf6 Mainline 11.0-0 0-0 12.Bf4 Bxf4 13.Nxf4 Ne4 14 Ne2 Rxf3 [C06]

In the traditional Bd3 lines without f4, it’s been some time since I examined 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 c3 c5 6 Bd3 Nc6 7 Ne2 cxd4 8 cxd4 f6 9 exf6 Nxf6 10 Nf3 Bd6 11 0-0 0-0 12 Bf4 Bxf4 13 Nxf4 Ne4 14 Ne2 Rxf3!? 15 gxf3 Ng5:

Players have been reaching this position for over 60 years, and possibly well before then. Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems to me that both 16 Kh1 and 16 f4 offer White some advantage, as shown in the notes to Gamundi Salamanca, A - Balbuena Fuentes, M, Spanish Teams Linares 2023. For quite some time players of White have preferred 14 Qc1 instead of 14 Ne2, even though the former move doesn’t seem to be giving White anything. As is seen in the Archives and in a note to this game, Black’s has recently investigated 14 Ne2 Bd7, and my feeling is that that’s the safest way to go if you want to play this line.

Steinitz Variation 7 Be3 a6 8 a3 cxd4 9 Nxd4 Bc5 10 Qd2 [C11]

3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 a6 continues to be as important as any line in the Steinitz. It is less forcing than the popular but drawish 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6 or, for example, 7...Qb6. After 7...a6, the move 8 a3 has become an increasingly popular option. Black’s response 8...cxd4 9 Nxd4 Bc5 makes sense, in that compared to 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Bc5, the move ...a6 is arguably more useful than a3. After 10 Qd2, a couple more high-level games this month saw 10...g5:

In Pichot, A - Bluebaum, M, 2023, White tried the solid 11 Nxc6, which seems to yield a small advantage but shouldn’t scare Black too much. In the notes, we see 11 Nf3, previously seen in this column, tested in a game by Ponomariov. Also in notes I’ve included a recent game with and analysis of 8...Qb6!?, which is at least an interesting option.

For those not eager to commit to 10...g5, 10...0-0 is an option. Then Prraneeth, V - Artemiev, V, Abu Dhabi.2023 went 11 0-0-0 Bxd4 12 Bxd4 b5:

There are quite a few games here, and my impression is that Black can stay very close to equality even if White plays the very best moves. The game itself went seriously wrong for the first player.

Steinitz Variation 7 Be3 a6 8 Qd2 b5 [C11]

Instead of 8 a3, 8 Qd2 is the old main line and still regularly played. After 8...b5, Dahl, C - Poetsch, H, Ostfildern 2023, saw 9 dxc5 Bxc5:

Here 10 Bd3 has become a common alternative to the traditional 10 Bxc5. and is used to keep the position complicated. Black defended with 10...Qb6 11 Bf2 h6 and got reasonable chances. In the notes I analyze a recent game with the traditionally preferred move 10 Bxc5.

After 8 Qd2 b5, White can also play the unusual move 9 h4!?, as in Vidit, S - Bluebaum, M, World Cup Baku 2023:

After 9...Bb7, White chose the new move 10 Qf2 in two games from the FIDE World Cup. There’s much to be explored here.

Till next month, John

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