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Welcome to the April 2009 French Update. I'm taking over from Neil for a few months, and hope to give a different, personal angle on my favourite defence.

Download PGN of April '09 French games


The Universal system has done well on ChessPub in recent updates and is proving to be an annoying weapon for Black to handle. Browsing through Moskalenko's The Flexible French, I was tempted to take on the Black side of the variation and found my chance in this year's Singapore National Championships. The book recommended 7...g6 which I really like:

In Timothy Chan-Goh Wei Ming, Singapore Nat'l Ch 2009, the opening worked like a charm and gave me my first win with 3...Nf6 in the French Tarrasch.

The Leningrad System

Next, I would like to present an alternative line against the Universal System.

Black just played 8...Nb6!? here, aiming to erect a light square barricade, and White was soon frustrated in Pavasovic - Gurevich, EICC 2008.


The Mac with 6.Be3 has been very popular as it is theory efficient, contains a fair bit of venom and was endorsed by Glek and Watson recently. A good friend of mine, Tibor Karolyi also recommended this variation when I was searching for an effective antidote from White's perspective.

In the game Goh Wei Ming - David Smerdon, Dresden Olympiad 2008, Smerdon employed his own novelty again to good effect and was always the one in control:

Here Black equalized cleanly with 16..Na4!, incidentally another recommendation of Moskalenko's in The Flexible French. The game was wildly complicated and ended with an unexpected result.


The Winawer has to be one of the most, if not, the most fascinating variation in the entire French Defence. After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3, Black has plenty of options, from the recently popular Poisoned Pawn, to what they call the "Modern" Winawer. Throw in a Rustemov, the thus far nameless 7...Qa4, the Armenian Variation, and all those lines with ...b6 and ...f5 and little wonder that the average player often takes a long time (and a few hard losses) before truly being able to play 3.Nc3 confidently. And quite rightly so, as challenging these lines head on requires a certain degree of study and understanding.

Thus, it is understandable when people start looking for alternatives to these crazy theory-driven variations, something not so well-known and yet which retains a certain amount of bite. And wouldn't it be even better if the variation is fundamentally sound, recommended by a top-notch French Defence exponent, and recently endorsed by an emerging, young, super GM?

I've never really thought much about the move 5.Qg4 even though I briefly glanced through a chapter devoted to this move in Dangerous Weapons - The French by IM John Watson, but 2 recent games from the Filipino prodigy GM Wesley So brought this move to my attention again.

Here in Wesley So - Mark Paragua, 4th Pichay Cup 2008, the winner of the 2009 Corus Group C event played 21.Nxe6! Nxe6 22.Bg5 Ndc5 23.Qa3!:

Quite picturesque, with a spot of geometry contributing to the aesthetic value of this position. Check out the pins and hanging pieces in this position!

The game Pirrot - Meessen, BL 2002, represents a tough challenge to the variation and demonstrated an antidote for French devotees. Objectively, 5.Qg4 is not the refutation of the Winawer after all, but it is definitely a lot of fun.

The "Drasko" Winawer

The line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3 6.bc Ne7 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Bd3 f5 9.ef Rf6 10.Bg5 Rf7 11.Qh5 g6 12.Qd1 Nbc6 13.Nf3 Qf8!? has been somewhat neglected on ChessPub recently. I've named it the Drasko Variation as its most popular adherent seems to be the Montenegro GM Milan Drasko. The following position after White's 16th move is key to the entire variation:

White normally proceeds with moves like a4, Ba3 and when possible, Bd6, dominating the important e5 square. There are a number of critical ideas from this position from Black's perspective and I've tried to present the games as coherently as I could:

1) Black plays 16...Qg7, and if White plays the typical 17.a4, Black reacts with 17...g5.

Caruana - Drasko, EICC 2009, features a novelty but I've included other games embedded in the notes illustrating the above theme.

2) Black plays 16...Bd7 and after 17.a4, Black plays 17...Kh7 18.Ba3 Qb8!?

In Berg - Drasko, EICC 2009, Black played an innocuous novelty with a specific idea (19..Qc7!?) but Berg demonstrated some fine understanding and destroyed Black's position. After a series of accurate moves, the following position arose:

Here, the Swede played 27.Rxe4!! a superb exchange sacrifice.

3) Black plays 16...Bd7 and after 17.a4, Black plays 17...Rd8, intending after 18.Ba3, Bc8, holding the d6 square.

This seems to me to be the most reliable way of playing the entire variation. Black never seemed to be in any trouble in Quezasa Perez-Malakhatko, Ch Int Open Paris 2008.

The next 2 games feature different tries from White. Black never encountered real problems in Constantini - Drasko, Bratto Open 2006 & Vallejo - Drasko, EICC 2009, the latter featuring a novelty from the 2700 GM.

I hope you like the material presented. Do send me your valuable comments, games, or analysis! At the moment, I'm earnestly preparing a French Poisoned Pawn Special for the May update. Watch this space!

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