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Welcome to the December 2003 Update

I'll wish everyone a Happy New Year, even though in the land of the French it is still only December!

I hope your chess is going well. It's a pity that perhaps the greatest French exponent in the World won't be playing at Wijk aan Zee- Morozevich. Those flu bugs that attacked Morozevich have deprived us of a lot of exciting and instructive games!

Exchange Variation & misc.



This month I hope to answer all outstanding email queries, with the exception of Franck Steenbekkers analysis on the Winawer which I will save for next time.

Download PGN of December '03 French games

Exchange Variation & misc.

In the style of Paul Morphy

I am tempted to call 3.Bd3 the 'Morphy Attack' as if I remember correctly it was used by the great Paul Morphy back in the 1850s.

The game selected this month is certainly played in Morphy style by White-and for that matter by Black as well! Both players aim to land a decisive blow on their opponent's king, but as so often fortune favours the player with the better development. If you want to catch out a well prepared player as White, I would recommend you give 3.Bd3 a go, as Black suffers if he tries to equalise too quickly. This gives it genuine potential against a careless or over ambitious opponent. Check out Bluvshtein - Hoang Thanh Trang.

Exchange Variation

I have to admit it- I actually enjoyed playing through a win by White in the French Exchange! Karsten Mueller exploits some positional inaccuracies by his opponent in wonderfully calm style- but such is the concealed power behind his moves that Kindermann, himself a fine player, gives up after only 26 moves! The contrast with the fireworks of the Bluvshtein game above couldn't be greater. Have a look at Mueller - Kindermann.

Exchange Variation & misc.



Tarrasch 3...Be7 Variation

It's good to see Matthew Sadler, who was the stalwart of the English Olympiad team before his retirement from full time chess, adopting the French Defence as Black- even if it is only because he doesn't have time to study the Najdorf Mainline these days!

In fact Sadler demonstrates that an opening error in the French can be just as disastrous as in the Sicilian: he pounces straightaway on an inaccuracy by his opponent and never lets go. Enjoy Handke - Sadler.

Tarrasch 3...Nf6/ 5.Bd3: 7...Qb6 Variation

A hole in John Watson's analysis?

I got the following email from Tony Kosten:

«Hi Neil,
A student asked me what Black is supposed to do after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 Qb6 8.0-0!? trying to transpose into the Tarrasch pawn sac line (with Ngf3) without allowing the refusal variations? In his first edition John Watson gives 8...cxd4 9.cxd4 f6 10.Nf4 Nxd4 apparently, to transpose into the well-known exchange sac line, but unfortunately, after 11.Qh5+ Ke7 12.Ng6+ hxg6 13.exf6+ Nxf6 14.Qxh8 Kf7 White has 15.Bxg6+ Kxg6 16.Qxf8 as the black queen is no longer on d8!»

A tricky one this, as Black has suffered a disaster every time he has faced 10.Nf4! But I think there is a solution to Black's predicament. Check out the analysis in Caruso - Zak.

Is Psakhis Right?

Kevin Denny sent me the following email:

«Seasons Greetings Neil
I really enjoy your site and the hard work you put into it. A while back you covered a line in the Tarrasch which goes as follows:
Marciano-Apicella, 2000
1.e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ne2 cxd4 8. cxd4 f6 9. exf6 Nxf6 10. Nf3 Bd6 11. O-O O-O 12. Bf4 Bxf4 13. Nxf4 Ne4 14. Nh5 g6 15. Ng3 Nxg3
Although this game was later drawn you concluded that perhaps this line offered a slight edge for white. However Psakhis in his recent book on the Tarrasch states that he is not sure how white fights for an advantage after:
Oral, Tomas-Tibensky, Robert 1995
15...... Ng5!? 16. Ne5 Nxd4 17. f4 Qb6 or 16.Nxg5 Qxg5 17.Bb5 Qf6!
In both cases with a good game for black.
I would love to get your thoughts on all this and perhaps an update on the status of this variation in general.
Yours truly
Kevin Denny»

I've decided to annotate the exciting game Oral-Tibensky that Kevin mentions in his email. The idea of 15...Ng5- exchanging the black knight for the good white knight on f3 rather than the 'dud' one on g3- has a lot of merit, but unfortunately for Black I think White has a way to keep the advantage: a small advantage which is unlikely to trouble a great defender like Psakhis himself, but a definite plus nevertheless.

As for a general assessment of any variation, it's always hard to give a verdict. The Tarrasch with 3...Be7 looks great when Morozevich plays it: and I'm sure that 3...Nf6 would look equally fantastic if Kasparov started playing it as Black. It seems to me that lines with 11...Qc7 are more in vogue at the moment than 11...0-0, at least in international tournaments. But either move has been around a long time, and if they were thought good enough to be played by 2700 players a couple of years ago they should be good enough for us today.

Any way here is Oral - Tibensky.

Another tricky question

An email from Bill Bentley:

«Neil...First, thanks for your excellent work; I really have enjoyed both your book and the Chess Publishing site. Now my question pertains to the line 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Bd3 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Ne2 cxd4 8 cxd4 f6 9 exf6 Nxf6 10 Nf3 Bd6 11 0-0 Qc7 12 Bg5 0-0 13 Bh4 Nh5 14 Nc3 a6 15 Rc1 and g6. You say in your analysis that you spent a long time playing ...Qc7 but never found a way to make Qg7 work and continue with the suggestion 15 ...g6 16 Na4 Bd7. If it doesn't work then why play ...g6 at all? Why not play 15...Bd7 straight away?
Just trying to understand, Bill Bentley»

A very good question!

I was being too general in dismissing the idea of Qg7 out of hand. It does work in a lot of lines, otherwise Bareev, Timman, etc. wouldn't have played it with Black. The big problem is that it comes to grief in one specific variation, namely [following on from the variation in Bill's email] 16.Na4! Qg7? 17.Nb6 Rb8 18.Bxa6!- see for example Adams-Mullon on ChessPub. Incidentally this variation has been contested by some superstars, as back in the year 2000 Adams himself came within an ace of losing to Mikhail Gurevich in a game where after 18...Rxf3 he played 19.gxf3? rather than 19.Qxf3! as in the Mullon game. I recommend 16...Bd7, but that doesn't seem too great either- White has won most of the important recent games. Of course, it only needs Gurevich or some other top theorist to find a decent line for Black against 16.Na4 and then the whole line will be promising for Black again.

So why not play 15...Bd7 immediately? Amazingly enough this has only been played four times, which suggests it should be bad, but I can't see why. I guess everyone preferred 15...g6, before 16.Na4! was known to be a problem, and the habit stuck. Certainly it feels a bit scary leaving the knight on h5 undefended for one more move, but a refutation is difficult to find. I've done some analysis which you can find in Grigoriants - Alavkin.

Meanwhile in the 'other' 14.Qc2 variation Jonathan O'Connor gives some colourful background details to his game with Oral which was given in the notes to Pilgaard - Jakab in the September Update.

Oral-O'Connor a story

I was wondering when you'd quote my game against Thomas Oral. Well now I know. Let me tell you how I came to play this game. My chess club, Dublin CC, qualified to play in the European Club Cup two years ago. We are all amateurs, but a trip to Crete, hob-nob with all the world's top players, get a sun-tan, sounded good to us. We had three goals: 1. Not to come last. 2. To come ahead of Bray CC, the other Irish team, and 3. Not to lose any match 6-0. Well, we succeeded in all three.
Well, I got my chance to play a GM. Thomas Oral is an easy player to prepare for. I knew he'd play 14.Qc2 and so I looked up my collection of ChessPublishing games and decided on the ...Qd6 line. Oral seemed surprised that I was so well prepared and he spent all his time at the board trying to find the best moves. During the game and immediately afterwards, I found lots of nice ideas, but sadly, I have forgotten most of them. In the game, I of course, saw that 25...Bxf5 was very good for black, but I stupidly thought that after 25...gxh4 26.Bxh3 hxg3+ 27.fxg3 I could play 27...Ne2 with an attack. But I missed the obvious 28.Qg6 winning. After that Oral had an easy time of it, and no doubt, I helped speed up the loss as well.
Interestingly, the next time Oral played this line, he refused the exchange sacrifice and played Bg6xh5 instead. I feel my game has turned him off 16.gxf3 for ever.
Ciao, Jonathan»

Tarrasch 3...c5 4...exd5

A good way to avoid theory

Ian Ramrattan writes:

«Hi Neil, what do you think of the lines:
1.e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 (Nd2) ...Ne4 ?
What are the chances that black would have a good game after the exch of knights. I saw a video presentation from chess channel and it seems to be good for black. How do the stats suggest it?
Ian Ramrattan, Trinidad, Caribbean»

It is certainly a good way to avoid mainline theory! I think it is more effective against 3.Nd2 as White has fewer options than after 3.Nc3, when there is the interesting line 3...Nf6 4.e5 Ne4 5.Nce2!?

There are two things to be on guard against as Black. Firstly, that the knight on e4 doesn't get trapped and lost to f2-f3 and secondly that after the exchange Nxe4; d5xe4 the pawn on e4 doesn't drop off for nothing. If he avoids these two 'accidents' then Black has good chances in the middlegame. Have a look at Estrada - Lima.

Exchange Variation & misc.



Classical Variation 5.Nce2

Is the pawn on e6 poisoned?

Ken Castle sent an interesting email on general themes reflecting on: «the weakness or not of the e6-pawn (followed sometimes by the d5-Pawn), usually when threatened by a bishop along the h3-c8 diagonal, with Black's c8-Bishop perhaps obstructed. I appreciate that requesting some form of generalised guidance is inevitably superficial, but identifying when the pawn is poisoned, possibly even when captured with Check, often requires seeing a long way, in usually a highly double-edged situation- Ken Castle.»

A classic example of this is in the Tarrasch in which Black offers the e6 pawn with check, but White refuses, e.g. 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ndf3 Qb6 8.g3 cxd4 9.cxd4 f6 10.Bh3 fxe5 11.fxe5 Bb4+ 12.Kf1 0-0! and here 13.Kg2 is the move as 13.Bxe6+?! Kh8 leaves White open to the counter blast 14...Nxe5! and if 14.Bxd5? Qb5+ wins the bishop. This is an extreme example- I think an experienced player just 'feels' that White is pushing his luck too far in grabbing the pawn, though he would undoubtedly do some calculation. I don't think a player such as Alekhine would have taken the pawn, even if he had never seen the position before- though Steinitz might have done [and no doubt won after some hair raising adventures!].

There are of course all sorts of situations in which it is by no means easy to judge whether the pawn should be taken or not [or, if you are playing Black, whether it should be left open to capture]. These days computers are teaching us that it is possible to grab pawns that previously looked too 'hot'. I recall Timman or someone writing in New In Chess that computers have virtually killed off positional pawn sacrifices in top class chess.

When judging a sacrifice, theory helps a lot, so does calculation and strategical feel- but then this is no different from me saying that it is better to be a good player rather than a bad player!

In any case, here is a recent game in which Mikhail Gurevich offers his e6 pawn. Theoretically speaking this is another way for Black to oppose 5.Nce2 whilst avoiding the sharp mainline. Have a look at Hamdouchi - Gurevich.

Classical 5.f4

A plan needed

Ian Ramrattan also sent the following email. I have put my suggestions into the text of his email.

Hi Neil
Your updates are great and please keep up the good work. I need some help. I recently played the following moves as black in a tournament and lost. Please tell me what my plans should have been abd where I went wrong.
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 a6 8. a3 b5 (was this correct by me?)»

This isn't necessarily wrong, but a more active approach was 8...cxd4 9.Nxd4 Bc5- threatening Qb6 to attack d4 and b2- 10.Nce2 Qe7 and Black is ready to attack the white centre with f7-f6.

«9. dxc5 Bxc5 10. Bxc5 Nxc5 11. Nd4 Nxd4(was this ok?)»

I think it only helps White by bring his queen to a good square on d4. 11...Bb7 looks better, when if White ever tries to strenghthen his hold on d4 with Nc-e2 you have Ne4.

«12. Qxd4 Qe7 (too passive?)»

It looks the best move.

«13. Be2 Bb7 14. O-O O-O
What should have been my plans from here on? I eventually got my light-squared Bishop in a bad position and was crushed.»

Black could try ...Rac8, hoping to get in ...Ne4 in an advantageous way- the c2 pawn is the biggest target in White's camp. Also ...f7-f6 is a common idea in such positions- it loosens Black's position by opening the e file, but if handled correctly it will generate counterplay against f4.

The thing to do is look at the games on ChessPub and see how top players have handled similar positions. This can be done by putting C11, the code for the Classical with 4.e5, into the search box and then playing through all the games that appear on the screen, or using the 'Roadmap' game brought up in the search to locate the most relevant games.

Exchange Variation & misc.



Well that's all for now. Thanks to every one who emailed me and those that didn't- you are all making this site possible by subscribing.

Good luck with your chess- whether you are playing on the ICC or at Wijk aan Zee!

Best Regards,