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This month we look at everything from 3...Qxd5 versus the French Exchange to complex theory in the Winawer and Classical. I hope you find something that suits your style of play.

Download PGN of August '06 French games

Exchange 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5

An antidote to the French Exchange?

Christian has written to me under the heading 'the French Exchange still bothers me!'

[by the way Christian, I haven't forgotten your earlier email with its four suggestions. I'm just waiting for a good moment to surprise the world with them]

«Dear Neil,
how are you? Hopefully fine.
As you know, one of the hardest challenges in regard of the French Defence is facing a somewhat weaker opponent who plays the Exchange Variation in order to reach a draw. I have studied a lot of games in this variation and have found out that even 2600+ grandmasters often fail to win as black when facing an around 2400 rated opponent who plays the Exchange Variation.
So when I saw GM Prié, Scandinavian-expert and Chesspublishing commentator, chose the line 3. ...Qxd5 I immediately became very interested in it.
Of course, 4. Nc3 Bb4 seems rather unproblematic for black, a statement which was confirmed in one of the SOS-volumes regarding the Katamylov- variation (e4 e6, d4 d5, Nc3 dxe4, Nxe4 Qd5!?). The opening report for 3...Qxd5 is (too?) excellent for black and I expect 4. c4! to be the hardest test for the second player. However, I still think this is a good line for black, leading to more complex play than the normal 3. ...exd5 and allowing black to opt for more. I would be very satisfied as black if after 3...Dxd5, 4. c4 we could keep the white edge to a normal +=. Do you think this is possible?
I am looking forward to hearing from you again. Thank you very much and all the best -

It's a strange world: I'm sure that all the Petroff devotees at the top level in chess would switch to the French straightaway if they were guaranteed to face the Exchange Variation. And I'm equally sure that Karpov would always have opened with the French versus Kasparov in their World Championship matches if he knew nothing worse was going to hit him than the Exchange!

So let's not forget that the Exchange Variation is also a somewhat miserable choice for White: he has forfeited the chance to maintain the pressure on the black centre. For the time being that should be punishment enough: we shouldn't be trying to emerge from the opening with a big advantage as Black.

After 3.exd5, there is no doubt that 3...exd5 is objectively the best reply, as it equalises the space balance in the centre and frees the bishop on c8. Instead after 3...Qxd5, White keeps an edge as he maintains a pawn on d4 and the black bishop remains passive on c8:

Black can try to resolve these problems by preparing ...c7-c5, and ...b7-b6 and ...Bb7 to activate the bishop, but isn't he striving to achieve what he could have with 3...exd5 instantly?

On the other hand, perhaps by playing 3...Qxd5, we are giving our opponent a greater opportunity to go wrong? You can find analysis in Bevilacqua - Drazic.

Classical 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5

Black's pawn sacrifice under threat

Nakamura and others have been having some fun recently as Black after 4...Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5 9.a3 g5!?:

However, this may be about to come to an end, as you can see in Fedorov - Podolchenko.

Classical 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.h4

Some ideas in the Alekhine-Chatard Attack

Firstly we look at recent developments after the rather unusual 6...0-0. In the main game, Pelletier plays in marvellous style, combining tactical nuances with long term positional pressure. Here is Pelletier - Zueger.

We then move on to 6...c5 7.Bxe7 Kxe7:

Here 8.dxc5 has won a couple of high profile games for White, but a short but important game convinces me that Black is OK- here is Gabrielian - Nikolenko.

The next game, which features 8.Qg4, is far more of a fight. It is also encouraging for Black, as White never seems to have more than a draw at best. Check out Nataf - Riazantsev.

Winawer 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Qd7

Something old, something new

Under review here is the variation 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 b6 7.Qg4 f5 8.Qg3 Ba6 9.Bxa6 Nxa6 10.Ne2 Nb8:

There is an interesting new idea for White in the notes here, courtesy of the fertile imagination of Grischuk.

It is surprising how often after the 'old' move 11.Nf4 the line 11...Nc6 12.Nxe6! resurfaces- I thought that Black is dead and buried here, but titled players keep coming back for more punishment. Anyway, it's good to know the analysis, for which check out Zhigalko - Mihajlovskij.

Winawer 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.Qg4

An excellent way to confuse an unwary opponent

Here we see Nigel Short play the offbeat 5.Qg4, cut through a swathe of complications, and win in convincing style. I'm sure we're going to see a lot more of the early queen foray of Short - Antonsen.

It is all the more attractive as White can play 5.Qg4 after both 4...Ne7 and 4...c5.

But all is by no means lost for fans of the Winawer. The second game features a strong-looking sacrifice for Black. I wonder what the very well prepared Nigel Short had in mind against it? Here is Frolyanov - Leniart.

Winawer 7.Qg4 Qc7

An unusual move in the Poison Pawn Variation

Finally, Joshua Gutman has sent me an email under the heading 'Rare, but logical move in poison pawn French'

He is referring to the position after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4 Bd7 12.Qd3 dxc3 and now 13.Ng3!?:

Joshua writes «I think the move 13. Ng3 makes a lot of sense. It also seems to be not quite as chaotic as the main lines. I mean if nothing else it's an attempt to play the Qc3 lines without allowing Black getting in Nf5 (Although personally I don't like this way of playing, I think the Be2-f3 plans where white can even play 0-0 sometimes are much more solid and black still has quite a bit to prove about his position I feel). White has a few plans of development and looking through my database I'm not completely convinced by any of the games.»

This move is so unusual that I've decided to illustrate it with a very old, but instructive game. Here is Sveshnikov - Webb.

That's all for now. Good luck with your chess and see you next time. Best Regards, Neil

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