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Happy new year to everyone! There was a lot of great chess played in 2008, I hope that 2009 proves as memorable.

Here to start with is a puzzle I composed based on the end of the game Dvirnyy-Bruno given below:

It is Black to play. How are you going to deal with the threats to your king? If you want a clue I'll remind you that it is Christmas and you should give generously!

The solution is at the end of the update.

Download PGN of December '08 French games

Advance Mainline

Is the Advance Variation unlucky for White?

We'll start by looking at a couple of games in the Advance mainline with 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bd7 6.Be2. First up is 6...f6!?:

This is a counter attacking line that leads to more violent play than is usual in the early stages of the Advance Variation. White gains a winning position but stumbles into a horrible swindle in Gruskovnjak - Zorko.

Our second game features 6...Nh6. White spurns the chance for 6.Bxh6 and quickly builds up a winning position. But having completely outplayed his opponent, GM Iuldachev becomes enticed by attacking lines and misses a straightforward win. How many times has that happened in our own games? Here is the sorry tale in Iuldachev - Kosic.

Tarrasch 3.Nd2 Be7 4.Bd3

Who's afraid of the Greek Gift?

In the mainline after 4...c5 5.dxc5 Nf6 6.Qe2 Nc6 7.Ngf3 the simple recapture 7...Bxc5 is gaining attention over 7...Nb4:

GM Vasilos Kotronias is such a fine opening analyst that it is amazing to see him play such a lacklustre game. Indeed he is losing with White after only 14 or so moves. As he is from Greece you might say that even Homer nods, especially when the Greek Gift doesn't work! Here is Kotronias - Banikas.

Tarrasch 3.Nd2 Be7 4.Ngf3

The Universal System gives Black no peace: part one

I guess if French players could wish one opening system uninvented it would be White's so-called Universal system- or would it be the Exchange Variation? Hmm, a close call that!

«Dear Neil,
For next month's update, could you kindly go over the game Cawdery, D - Shulman, Y, Dresden 2008? This line with c4 made Black look pretty uncomfortable, and White was rated hundreds of points below his GM opponent. How should Black respond to ideas involving c4 in the Universal System?
Thanks, Julian Chan»

Yuri Shulman is rated 2616 and Daniel Cawdery 2265, but it was a real scare for the GM who was losing in the final position when a draw was agreed. The game began 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Be7 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bd3 c5 7.0-0:

Cawdery avoids bolstering the d4 pawn with 7.c3 in order to retain the option of attacking d5 with c2-c4. In the good old days this decision would have raised eyebrows as Black can break up the white centre with c5xd4. However, chess is much more dynamic in the 21st century, and White's Universal System puts the emphasis on piece play and the initiative rather than maintaining a neat pawn structure. For more discussion click on Cawdery - Shulman.

Tarrasch 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Ngf3

The Universal System gives Black no peace: part two

We'll also take a look at a curious Universal sideline which leads to the following memorable position after 22 moves:

Seldom is a king so abandoned by his army. Find out how it happened in Reeh - Mann.

Tarrasch 3.Nd2 Nc6

Goh, play the Guimard!

One of the best things about the French updates in recent months has been the contribution of IM Goh Wei Ming to the debate about the value of the Guimard and Reefschlaeger-Hecht Variations. You can find two more of his games with the customary deep notes in Shanava - Goh Wei Ming and Wang Hao- Goh Wei Ming.

Tarrasch 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 Qxd5

A long and intricate variation

One of the features of this system is that the absence of pawns in the centre allows long and intricate sequences of moves with the big pieces to be prepared using a computer program. As long as Black has analysed further and wider than his opponent he is OK, but in a number of games he gets knocked over the head by a novelty. Of course this is a much greater problem for players at top international level than those of us who just play for the fun [or torment] of it. Anyway, the latest example of a prepared variation leading to a crushing win for White is Ganguly - Petrik.

Classical 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 Be7

Another great victory for the 'quiet' 7...Be7

White throws a javelin [13.h5!] and Black hurls back a thunderbolt [13...b5!!]. Or at least that's the way this game between two top Chinese players seems to me. The 7...Be7 system must have gained more scalps at 2550+ level in 2008 than any other French variation. The latest can be seen in Li Chao-Ni Hua.

Classical McCutcheon: mainline 6.Bd2

Three possible improvements for Black at move 20

'McCarnage in the McCutcheon' is the way Paul Cumbers describes a recent game he played in the 4NCL [British Chess League.] He writes:

«Hi Neil,
I've finally got round to sending you a significant game I had with the McCutcheon a couple a years ago in the 4NCL. During the game I was remembering some analysis I'd seen by Boris Schipkov, in particular the suggested improvement on Lutz v Korchnoi, Essen 2002. I was hoping my opponent wouldn't find the drawing line, but alas it wasn't to be! Since the game I've analysed 3 fascinating alternatives for Black on move 20 which attempt to keep the game alive. The complications are difficult to fathom however, and I don't know whether Black can do more that simply delay the draw for a few more moves (theoretically speaking)... I'm sure you'll enjoy the ride anyway!
Best wishes, Paul Cumbers»

Well, Paul, if you are looking for novelties on move 20 I think you must know a lot more about the opening than me! Great stuff and thanks very much for being generous enough to share it on chesspub. Here are Paul's detailed notes to a riveting game in Wilson - Cumbers.

Winawer Mainline 6...Qa5

How to play in the blocked Winawer centre

I have to admit that I've always found the strategy of a blocked Winawer centre hard to understand. And I guess it's not only me, as the chess immortal Adams was unexpectedly slain last month by Caruana in this very structure.

And so to try to grasp what is going on I've studied the games of two of the greatest positional masters in the world. The focus is on the variation 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Qa5 7.Bd2 Qa4 8.Qb1 c4 and now 9.Nh3!? is an interesting idea:

Leinier Dominguez, rated 2719, is the best player from Cuba since Capablanca. Even that legendary world champion would have been proud to have carried out the sustained positional attack we see in this month's selected game.

Here are some statistics from the game: White moves his king's knight 14 times out of a total of 44 moves. His queen's bishop moves like a yo-yo from d2 to g5 and back again three times.

At the other end of the energy scale, White's queen moves to b1, then shuffles one square to c1- and that's it. Meanwhile the rook on a1 doesn't move at all. And- White wins a brilliant positional game! Yes, after 30 years of chess I'm still trying to understand how this magic works... be amazed by Dominguez - Cubas.

Andrei Volokitin of the Ukraine gives us a fine demonstration of technique in our second game. He makes it seem easy, which is an amazing feat considering he is engaging the very experienced GM Predrag Nikolic in a purely positional battle. Here is Volokitin - Nikolic.

Winawer 6...Qc7

Bruno does it again

Opening expert Filippo Nicolo who made a very nice contribution to the September update has sent me an email- I've reworded it slightly because the Italian Championship is now over.

«Hello Neil,
The Italian chess championship 2008 was won by young GM Fabiano Caruana, the top seed (elo 2640) (even though he lost to Alessio Valsecchi at the 6th round in a crazy Scandinavian game).
In the fifth round IM Fabio Bruno produced another French great game that you will find in attachment with a few of my comments. Do you remember the game Kogan-Bruno in the July 2008 issue where Bruno slaughtered the White in a Classical French? Well this time he was ready to defend Black pieces in a French Winawer with 6... Qc7 and produced a fine miniature: Dvirnyy Daniel (FM rated 2458), as White, was dead lost in a mere 20 moves.
Best Regards, Filippo Nicolo»

Many thanks for drawing this fine game to my attention. Here with Filippo's notes and a couple of additions by me is Dvirnyy - Bruno.

Winawer 7.Qg4 Kf8

A dramatic last round

Congratulations to all Americans reading this on a fine result at the Olympiad, especially in saving your biggest effort for the last round and crushing Ukraine 3.5-0.5. Our next game was part of this great victory. It also led to the saga of a distraught Ivanchuk missing his drug's test. By the way, I wish there was a drug that could make me see moves like 21.a5!! Enjoy Kamsky - Ivanchuk.

The solution to the puzzle at the start of the update is 38...Qh1+! 39.Kxh1 b1Q+ 40.Kh2 Qh1+! 41.Kxh1 Qa1+ 42.Kh2 Qxe5+ 43.g3 Qxg7 and Black has saved his king and will win easily e.g. 44.Bd4 f6 45.Nxe6 Qh7.

Phil Dixon has sent me a very interesting novelty he played in a recent game. Phil, I was wondering if you'd like to write some brief notes to introduce it- after all, it's your idea! In any case, I'll analyse it in one of the next updates.

Thanks to Matt Guthrie for his nice comment about the Wade-Uhlmann game, it's much appreciated.

So that's the end of the update. I hope you enjoyed it. Let me wish you a happy and successful start to 2009 whether or not you manage to play any chess.

'Bye for now, Neil

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