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What's new in the French Defence

Welcome to the December 2002 French Update!

Apologies as usual for the long delay in getting the update to you. The consolation is that it is much more detailed and carefully thought out than it would have been if I had been 'watching the clock'. Next time I hope to be able to answer some emails and comments on the French forum- I have been following them all with interest.




I am very pleased with the imaginative ideas shown in the games by Grischuk, Shirov and others in this update. They prove that despite the relentless advance of chess theory, it is still possible to be creative in the opening. However, these days the creative act often comes in the players study before the game and is aided by a computer program.

I have an ambivalent view on this. If we enjoy chess primarily because it is a fight, then is theory diminishing the interest of the game?

I don't know. Chess strategy has been greatly enriched by the development of opening schemes that stretch well into the middlegame. For example, without theory, the highly exciting games that result from the Winawer Poison Pawn line would be impossible. A couple of years ago I tried playing a form of Fischerandom chess with some members of the England junior team, but it leads to rather dull games, as no one has the confidence or understanding to start long term attacks involving sacrifices. I think the wonderful attacking styles of a Morphy, Tal or Alekhine- all of whom are still revered by players these days- would have been impossible if the pieces were shuffled.

To download the December '02 French games directly in PGN form, click here: Download Games

Anyhow, let's look at some games. Whether the ideas found in them were over the board inspiration or deep preparation they still make a stirring impression.

The Classical: Alekhine Chathard Attack [C13]

This has been all doom and gloom for White according to recent updates: see for example the October Update in which Bela Geczy revealed that White is struggling in the mainline after the acceptance of the pawn.

However Alexander Grischuk, one of the most imaginative of the young GMs who have appeared recently on the chess scene, seems to have considerably strengthened White's play with a second pawn sacrifice in a slightly off beat line. It looks very promising for White and Grischuk wins in fine sacrificial style: check out Grischuk - Brynell on ChessPub.

This is an exciting development, but it isn't going to persuade players to play the Alekhine-Chathard if Black can simply [and successfully] decline the offer with 6...c5- a move that I give an exclamation mark on ChessPub!

But here also things are looking up for White thanks to an idea on the eighth move discussed in this month's update. I have suggested an antidote to the theoretical novelty of the Yugoslav GM Pavlovic- after all, this website is meant for players of Black as well!- but no doubt it would cause an unprepared player a lot of trouble. You can see all this by looking at Pavlovic - Kuehn.

Classical: 4.e5 Mainline [C11]

These are times of uncertainty in the chess world, with apparently simple questions like 'Who is World Champion?' having no clear answer. However, there is one thing that is unchangeable and that is the law that says Anand will win with White against the French. I was a victim of this law way back in 1986, and it is still in force today as you can see by checking out Anand - Buhmann. As you will discover from the analysis, behind this apparently smooth positional win there were concealed some highly complex tactical variations. From the point of view of theory, if this is good for White then he has succeeded in side-stepping a contentious line that has been heavily debated on the website.

Also after 4.e5 there is a game between two superstars which seems to lead to a conclusive verdict on a variation previously regarded as 'unclear'. Bareev grabs two pawns but is mown down in brilliant fashion by Shirov. I love White's paradoxical 16th move: in order to start an attack with the rook down the b file Shirov first of all moves it to the d file! You can see this by looking up Shirov - Bareev.




Winawer 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.exd5 exd5 [C01]

Here I should remind you that on Chess Pub, as in Informator, this line is classified as C01, based on the move order 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nc3 Bb4. So you will find games and analysis on ChessPub by typing in C01 in the little box on the top left hand side of your screen, and then clicking on 'fetch like'.

Of course, the Winawer move-order is much more common and games tend to be more imbalanced than is typically the case in the Exchange thanks to the tension on c3. In this month's game we see an important theoretical line in which Black has previously struggled. But former Russian GM Yusupov [whose name is spelt on Chess Base and in German circles as 'Jussupow'] boldly enters the debate as Black. Have at look at what happens in Brendel - Jussupow

Winawer Mainline 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Bd3 Nbc6 [C18]

Next up is a powerful attacking display as White by the Icelandic GM Stefansson. The opening line deserves attention as a way to inject new life into a heavily analysed variation. It looks odd but it has been working very nicely for Stefansson, who- admittedly with some good fortune-has also defeated Psakhis with it. Have a look at Stefansson - Hedman.

Winawer Mainline 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Bd3 f5 [C18]

Timman had a rough time at Wijk aan Zee, but he did succeed in holding Shirov comfortably as Black- and as everyone knows, Shirov is much stronger with White than with Black. In this game Timman showed the positional inventiveness that made him one of the absolutely best players in the world in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Dutchman played the line with which he lost to Anand in a game mentioned in the notes on ChessPub, but this time he came fully armed. I am particularly impressed with the way everyone has gone Qg7 in this line, but Timman comes up with Qb8!! to prevent Bd6. To see what I'm talking about, have a look at Shirov - Timman.

Winawer Mainline 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Bd3 Qa5 [C18]

It's back to our old favourite the 'Rustemov System'. Here 12 year old wunderkind Karjakin has a go at breaking through Black's defences with moves like Qh5 and g2-g4. But thanks to Barsov's energetic defence the battle between youthful exuberance and mature steadiness ends all square. You can look up Karjakin - Barsov.




Tarrasch 3...c5 4.exd5 exd5 [C08]

This variation remains largely 'theory proof'; that is why it was favoured as Black by Tigran Petrosian, who liked to avoid possible surprises in the opening, and by Korchnoi in World Championship games with Karpov back in the 70s. Indeed, Korchnoi remarks in his book 'Chess is my life' that he and Karpov could have sat down and discussed the French before the games of the match, but Karpov would still never have got any advantage!

There is no novelty in the game selected here, unless you call the bad plan adopted by White a novelty, but Nisipeanu exploits his opponent's errors in highly instructive style. Enjoy looking at Vajda - Nisipeanu.

Tarrasch 3...c5 4.exd5 Qxd5 [C07]

In contrast to the comments above on 4...exd5, this system can be complicated; in fact it's impossible to play the 'long' mainline properly without being forearmed with a mass of theory. In the game given here White-rated 2551-becomes confused between two separate lines and ends up suffering a catastrophic defeat. Check out Korneev - Fernandez-Romero.




Well that's all for now. If you wish drop me a line by email or leave a message in the Forum. Meanwhile have fun with the beautiful game!

Best Wishes,