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I hope you are enjoying your French experiences, as either White or Black.

I noticed the thread on the Forum about the lack of popularity of the French among the World's top 10 players. It's good that Morozevich is playing it again regularly after all this nonsense with 1.e4 e5, and maybe Bareev and his beloved French might also be in the top 10 again. Certainly at less exalted levels the French is very popular. Out of the 3,000 or so games played over the bank holiday in April at various international tournaments, a healthy 7% began as the French.

There are plenty of wild moves and sacrifices this month, but we'll begin calmly by looking at a fairly smooth performance by Black in the Advance variation.

Download PGN of April '05 French games

Advance: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Be3

A good line against Kupreichik's move

The wing development of the knight with 5...Nh6!? makes a lot of sense after White has committed his bishop to e3:

After all, he isn't going to want to exchange with 6.Bxh6 gxh6, when he could easily end up a tempo down on a mainline 5.Nf3 position with Nh6. For a thematic display from Black, check out Llorens - Rojas.

Tarrasch 3.Nd2 Nc6

More on the Guimard Maniac Variation

Almost as soon as last month's update went online I got the following email passed onto me:

«Hi Neil
I am a new subscriber. I loved you Guimard-Caveman Analysis. I am big fan of Vaganian, when selecting my opening variations over the year, it seemed to inevitably steer always back towards Vaganian's repertoire from the 70ies and 80ies. I always loved the Guimard, although better players dismissed it as faulty.
Tomorrow, I will play in the Swiss team championship, League B, and I hope for a Tarrasch. So I really loved your analysis. One little point. From a first look at it with our friend Fritz it seems that in the Caveman-Maniac game after 11.c4 exf4 12.Bf4 fxg2 13. Rg1 Qxf4 14. Bh5+ g6 15. Nxf4!? is strong. I saw no future for black after 15.Bb4+ 16.Ke2. Am I missing something?
Best wishes, this is really an amazing site.
Zeno Kupper»

Thanks Zeno- I'm glad to hear you are enjoying the site.

Well, the 'little point' as Zeno so modestly put it turned out to be a bust of the whole line! Or at least that's what I thought when I looked at one variation after another after 15.Nxf4 and they all ended dismally for Black:

Actually, I had completely missed the point, as the truth lay elsewhere. Or at least the 'truth' until I get another email from Zeno or another subscriber. Anyway, I have tidied things up by removing the analysis of 11.c4 from the game I gave last month- here for reference it is again in Caveman - Maniac. The discussion of 11.c4 can be found in the new game Caveman2-Maniac2.

Tarrasch 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Ngf3

More bad news for Black versus the Universal System

Black is trying but failing to equalise in the variation that runs 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Ngf3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Bd3 Be7 8.0-0 g5 9.dxc5!:

I learnt to play the French Defence back in the 1980s and was heavily influenced by the classical games of Botvinnik and the young Korchnoi. Therefore, I find it hard to adjust to this dynamic new world in which White can allow his centre to be smashed up but still have a good position.

Though perhaps we aren't so far from the classical school of chess as I seem to be suggesting. White can only play like this because of Black's equally anti-classical move 8..g5: if the black pawn were back on g7, then 9.dxc5 would be positional suicide. In fact, you could say we are travelling further back in time than Botvinnik to the age dominated by the King's Gambit. In those hallowed days any loose play by Black which endangered his king's safety was immediately pounced upon, at no matter what cost in material or pawns. Hracek's 12.f4! is in this spirit. But I'm jumping ahead... check out Hracek - Stellwagen

Rubinstein 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.g3

A dangerous move neutralised

I'm sure fans of the Rubinstein would prefer their opening never to appear in any update: that would mean the theory would never change, and so they could beat their opponents simply through playing better chess. Well, this month I'm going to show you how to deal with 5.g3, which has been something of a nuisance for Black:

Then, theory wise, you can go to sleep for another five or so years until White finds another dangerous idea. Here is Svidler - Bareev.

Classical 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5

A big name encounter

Last month I told you how wonderful 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5 is for Black:

I guess I should redress the balance by giving what I think is the best line at the moment for White. It seems that the Kasparov sponsored 9.a3 has lost its impetus, but 9.Be2 is still to be reckoned with. Black in fact wins in the big name encounter I have selected here, but that just proves that there is more to chess than good opening knowledge. Here is Svidler - Morozevich.

Winawer 7.Qg4 0-0

New ideas for White and Black

It was nice to get an email from subscriber Franck Steenbekkers as he always has something interesting to say:

«I got today an copy of the magazin Schach 4 and saw the in my opinion very important game Krits-Jussuopow. What is your opinion of 13 ...-Qe7?».

My first thought was- what a great way to avoid the deluge of theory in the mainline. White played rather dully in both games I have available with 13...Qe7. In Kritz's case I guess he wasn't too bothered about 'only' drawing with Yusupov. Here is Kritz - Yusupov

Franck also mentions the 'Rustemov Variation' with 15.Be4, which has been considered in ChessPub in the games Polzin-Giemsa and Kim-Stellwagen - it's tricky for Black, but I think he is OK.

Finally, Franck mentions the game Pelletier-Jussupov played in Basel 2005. You have got me there- I have to admit I haven't seen this game! You are welcome to send it to me.

Next, Bernhard Sporrer has written to me:

«Hello Neil,
I am a new Goldcard Subscriber. I am interested in the game Bacrot-Vaiser, which was part of the September 2003 update. You described 22.0-0-0 as a D.O.I- a decisive opening innovation. But I failed in finding a way to an advantage for White after 23... Rf5 instead of Vaisser's 23.... Qxa3+. It would be very nice, if you could give me some hints, how White should continue his attack.
Thanks in advance.

As soon as I saw the game Sulypa-Apicella, played in 2004, in which Black followed all the moves of the Bacrot-Vaisser game up to 21...g6, I was virtually certain that I was wrong about 22. 0-0-0 being a DOI. My reasoning was as follows:

If 22.0-0-0 has been proven to win for White 'end of story' in 2003, why on Earth would GM Manuel Apicella repeat all these moves as Black up to 21...g6 in 2004? Apicella knows his opening theory, he is no idiot and besides playing the French he is French- he might well have watched the game Bacrot-Vaisser as it happened and could possibly even have talked to Bacrot about it afterwards.

Looking a bit further on my database, I saw that White has been trying early divergences in this variation- and why should that be the case if 22.0-0-0 just wins?

So the circumstantial evidence says that Black is OK, even without examining the position. Well, I did then analyse it and was soon convinced that 23...Rf5 is at least equal for Black. I've included the new analysis, and also looked at a new idea for White in Sulypa - Apicella.

So theory marches on- Vaisser had no chance of finding his way through all this theory when he was surprised over the board by 22.0-0-0, so I guess in one sense this was a DOI. But if you are looking for a move that is going to upset an opponent tomorrow, I would suggest you forget about 22.0-0-0 and have a look at Michiels - Dgebuadze.

Winawer 7.a4

Two theoretically important variations

After 7.a4 Nbc6 8.Nf3 Qa5:

we'll examine both 9.Qd2 and 9.Bd2.

Of course it is a big choice as to whether White defends c3 with his queen or bishop. In both cases his centre can be quickly dissolved: the game-deciding question is whether with f7-f6 Black is gaining freedom of action for his own pieces, or unwisely opening up lines for the eager white pieces. This inherent tension in the position often produces fireworks. Here are two exciting and theoretically important games- Felgaer - Rustemov and Berg - Akesson.

OK, goodbye for now. My thanks to everyone who has contacted me. I'm sorry it wasn't possible to reply to all emails this time, so I can only ask for your patience. If you have any ideas or comments, don't hesitate to send them in. Meanwhile I hope you are having fun with your chess!

Best Wishes, Neil