What's New- December '01
Welcome to this month's French Update. Let's begin with an old favourite.
It is about time that we looked again at this solid defence. It has the good practical feature that it is equally playable against both 3.Nd2 and 3.Nc3. Naturally play can often transpose into the Classical Variation after for example 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Bg5- this is the equivalent of 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Nbd7 6.Nf3.
However, White can try to exploit the Rubinstein move order 3...dxe4 by delaying Nf3 in favour of an aggressive development of his queenside pieces. We have already seen this scheme used with great success by White in Sadler-Miles on ChessPub. Of course, Black was taken by surprise in that game; forewarned is forearmed and since then he has been fighting back strongly. In this month's game he scores a fine victory which restores my faith in Black's position. Have a look at the excellent game Nedev-Supatashvili, DEC01/05.
Classical Players look here!
The lines that follow could also arise via the Classical 4 Bg5 dxe4 5 Nxe4 Nbd7 variation.
The mainline Rubinstein can be considered to be 3..dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.Bg5. Now usual is 7...h6 8.Bh4 c5, but I want to look at two alternatives to this sequence, one for Black and one for White.
Firstly, Black can play the immediate 7...c5!? One good point is that compared to the mainline there will be less damage to Black's kingside after a future Bxf6 g7xf6 since his pawn is still on h7 rather than h6. Also Black hopes that the bishop on g5 may become a target. In the game itself White suffers a truly gruesome fate- take a look at Kotronias-Godena, DEC01/06.
Assuming Black plays 7...h6, besides the well explored 8.Bh4 White can retreat his bishop back to the centre: 8.Be3!? This avoids any immediate simplification by making it hard for Black to play the freeing c7-c5. As the illustrative game shows, it contains a lot of venom if Black responds carelessly. For an antidote, have a look at the commentary in Gallagher-Marcos, DEC01/08. Incidentally, this game began via a Classical move order.
Our final Rubinstein game features 7.Bd3 in the above line rather than 7.Bg5. White ducks the theoretical challenge and is outplayed move by move. Jon Speelman knows how to get just the right balance in the Rubinstein between methodical defence and forceful counterattack. Enjoy Zelcic-Speelman, DEC01/02.
Assuming White isn't afraid of gambitting his d-pawn, he can play a system based on Ngf3 against a wide range of lines in the Tarrasch. For example:
3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ngf3 or
3...Be7 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bd3 c5 7.c3 Nc6
or finally 3... c5 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 Nfd7 6.c3 Nc6 7.Bd3
Therefore if White can prove conclusively that Ngf3 gives him the advantage then he has a universal panacea against the Tarrasch. No wonder then that there is an arms race between White and Black in these lines and that Kasparov himself has become involved in the theoetical battle!
This month we look at Black's solid response based on ...g7-g6 and ...Bg7. Here I have analysed in detail a system in which Black delays Qb6. It looks promising- check out the interesting game Minasian-Luther, DEC01/01.
The Tarrasch 3...c5 4.exd5 Qxd5
In this variation the pawn structure looks decidedly in Black's favour: both of White's centre pawns quickly disappear. Therefore it is impossible for White to set up a cramping pawn chain as for example in the 3...Nf6 Tarrasch. However, there remains a pawn that can do Black a lot of harm if he underestimates it: the c pawn can be used as a battering ram to break up Black's queenside if he castles there. This is what happens in Hunt-Zatonskih, DEC01/07.
Black can delay ...Nc6 in favour of ...Qb6 followed by a quick ...Bd7 and ...Bb5 to exchange off his bad bishop. This approach is justified by the blocked nature of the centre and the special value of White's king's bishop which is his light square guardian. Nevertheless, the position isn't COMPLETELY closed and here I present a game in which White had a spectacular success with a direct attacking scheme. Have a look at Pap-Buljovcic, DEC01/04.
I'm told that GM Ruslan Ponomariov has the nickname 'the little Karpov'. I'm not surprised having seen some of his beautiful positional games: like the former World Champion in his prime he is adept at exploiting tiny advantages. Aged only about 20 and already 2684 he could well be a future World Champion. Here we see him in action against Vaganian. The Armenian has been playing the French all his life but is totally outmanoeuvred. Note also White's clever move order in Ponomariov-Vaganian, DEC01/03.
The Winawer Declined: 5...Ba5/7.Qg4
This system is close in spirit to the so called 'Poison Pawn' Variation of the Mainline Winawer.In both cases White decimates Black's kingside structure with Qg4 and Qxg7. The 'golden rule' here is that if White manages to get his king safely castled on the kingside without making a serious concession elsewhere then he has good winning chances. This is because Black's counterplay depends on exploiting White's king- either targeting it directly or making it stay in the centre where it interferes with the coordination of White's other pieces.
The game that follows is of theoretical interest, but Black ignores the rule and ends up facing a fierce attack with no counterplay whatever. Have a look at Bryson-Wagener, DEC01/09.
The Georgian GM Ketevan Arakhamia has an interesting pet line against Black's solid system based on ...c7-c5, ...Nge7, ...g7-g6 and ...Bg7. Whilst it doesn't necessarily promise much advantage it at least keeps the tension and takes Black out of his familiar structure. Have a look at Arakhamia-Hagarova, DEC01/10.
Well that's all for now. Best wishes for the new year and happy hunting with the French!