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A happy new year to everyone. 2008 should be great chess-wise with a match between Kramnik and Anand as a highlight. Funnily enough both these players have introduced ideas into the French Defence that are discussed in this update.
But don't hold your breath if you expect either player to indulge in the French Defence in their match. It's a pity that our opening isn't more popular at the highest level. It is purely a question of fashion. As you can see this month, the French by no means disgraced itself the couple of times it was essayed at the immensely strong Russian Championships.

Download PGN of December '07 French games

King's Indian Attack with 3.Qe2

In the style of Philidor

It's a long time since we looked at 1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Qe2:

In putting his queen on e2, White is already planning to support a pawn on e5. The move Nbd2 can wait- in fact according to how the struggle develops, Na3 or Nc3 might be better ways to develop the knight. The game could continue 3...Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4:

Now we have reached a position that would have delighted Philidor: the pieces have proved to be the servants of the pawns, with both knights obliged to wait at home until the pawns have established themselves in the centre. For a great example of pawn power, check out Strikovic - Fernandez Romero.

Advance: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6

A great game by Harikrishna

Here we examine 6.Be2 cxd4 7.cxd4 Nh6 8.Bd3!?:

White moves his bishop a second time in order to avoid the rather dry and over analysed variation 8.Nc3 Nf5 9.Na4 Qa5+ 10.Bd2 Bb4 etc. An important positional question soon arises on the kingside. Whatever the theoretical verdict, you have to admire the blend of positional understanding/ tactical flair shown by the young Indian Super GM in Harikrishna - Meier.

Fort Knox: 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7

No theory, no sacrifices, no attacks- just the good old Fort Knox

The Fort Knox often leads to a very pure, classical struggle in which the health of respective pawn structures is of more importance than dynamic elements. In this month's game, Black outplays his opponent by proving he has the more active pawn majority. Not everyone likes this type of technical chess, but I'm deeply impressed by Mas - Murshed.

Rubinstein 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Bd3

That poison pawn on b2: another case history

It's high time we had a look at 6.Bd3. I've chosen to examine a radical response to White's deceptively modest looking bishop move, namely 6...dxe4 7.Bxe4 Qd6!?:

Black breaks the pin on his knight after which e4 is hanging. It's been quite a popular idea recently, though Black should have remembered the perils of pawn grabbing in Alekseev - Ismagambetov.

Classical/Rubinstein 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.Bg5

A dangerous variation from the reigning World Champion

Here we look at the sharp line 7...h6 8.Bh4 c5 9.Bb5+ Bd7 10.Bxd7+ Qxd7 11.Qe2 cxd4 12.0-0-0 Bc5 13.Qe5!?:

Anand brought White's tricky queen move back to top level chess with a 24 move win over Gurevich a couple of years ago. Judging from the outcome of the latest game, it still has some teeth- here is Macieja - Laznicka.

Classical 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Be7 6.Bxf6 gxf6

A nice scalp for the French Defence

Next up is a game from the Russian Championship. The recapture 6...gxf6 has somewhat gone out of fashion recently and seems to catch Svidler poorly prepared. It's not everyday that the French Defence claims one of the world elite as its victim. Therefore we should all enjoy Svidler - Rychagov.

Classical 4.e5

Kramnik's legacy in the French

Under the microscope is 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Qd2 0-0 10.0-0-0 a6 11.Qf2:

Kramnik seems to have given up on 1.e4 at the time of writing, and gone back to his old favourite 1.Nf3- the move which made him a World Champion. Perhaps the brightest spark of his 1.e4 phase was his introduction to elite chess of 11.Qf2! - a move that has given Black a lot of trouble.

But perhaps no more as French hero Morozevich comes agonisingly close to a glorious win in Jakovenko - Morozevich.

Winawer:Poisoned Pawn 7.Qg4 Qc7

A lucky variation for White

Once again under discussion is 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 cxd4 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 Qc7 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4 Bd7 12.Qd3 dxc3 13.Rg1:

Including the two games given here, White has a terrific point tally with 13.Rg1. Yet looking at the games I can't escape the feeling that it is a poor move. In the first game, Shirov is absolutely busted in round 2 of the World Cup: he would have gone out of the tournament if Shulman had found one of several clear wins.

And in the second game, Kritz plays into a line that I think is demonstrably bad for White. But 2/2 for White- are some moves just lucky!? You can decide for yourself by clicking on Shirov - Shulman and Kritz - Cornette.

If anyone wants to point out what I'm missing, please email me!

Anyway, that's all for now. Happy new year and good luck with your chess!

All the best, Neil

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