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It's amazing how many important and exciting games there are in the French every month. I'm trying to work out an appropriate system to present games, and ideally each month's selection will:
(1) Show vitally important innovations;
(2) Address a wide range of French Defence variations, including less popular ones, rather than obsess over fashionable ones;
(3) Include background for each game, with as much analysis as seems appropriate, citing and commenting upon previous games from the ChessPublishing archives;
(4) Cover selected games by leading players, if only to indicate what the big guys are doing.
I should say that the latter games can be rather dull, since the very top players like to keep a draw in hand when playing Black, or even play directly for a draw. So if numerous games from the Under-12 section of a Junior Championship have something significant to say, I'll have no hesitation in using them.

Download PGN of December '09 French games

Advance Variation

In the 5...Qb6 Advance Variation with 6 a3, the older 6...Nh6 lines are in good shape, but it appears that 6...Bd7 7 b4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Rc8, in spite of neglecting kingside development, remains viable:

By bringing out four pieces (as opposed to White's one), Black can support either a pawn break (...f6, preferably), and White can have difficulty protecting his light squares (from ...Bb5 or, in the case of Bb2, ...Na5-c4). All of this depends upon a tempo, however, and if White can somehow maintain his b4 and e5 pawn structure (without allowing a takeover of c4, for example), Black may have to suffer for a long time to come. As yet, and after many tests, no move order has achieved that, but there are always new tries. In Stevic - Korchnoi, Novi Sad 2009, and the notes, we see that the move ...a5 is reasonably effective, but Black needs to follow it with an early ...f6. By failing to do so, he grants White a nice advantage (who in turn mishandles it). Interesting stuff.


Adams - Nakamura, London 2009, tested the recently popular 7...b6 in the Universal system with 3...Be7:

Adams follows an earlier game of his versus Caruana (while avoiding a more recent one), and Nakamura deviates first, albeit not in a fundamental way. Black apparently has a couple of ways to get an equal game, but against inaccurate play, Adams achieves an ideal bind based upon an e5 outpost. Ultimately the game is drawn, but it shows White's potential in the variation. One possible drawback of 7...b6 for the average player is that, while practice indicates that he probably does equalise, Black achieves few winning chances in the main lines. White may also be disappointed with this overall assessment.

Mamedov - Gaya Llodra, Palma 2009, tests the very familiar Universal System with 8...g5. I frankly prefer 8...a5, but 8...g5 has remained a tough nut to crack:

In the main line with 9 dxc5 Ndxe5 10 Nxe5 Nxe5, the move of choice seems to be 11 Nb3, when Gaya Llodra plays the new (newish?) move 11...a5, which looks all right, but then he misses a way to early equality. After that, Mamedov takes over and shows just how unpleasant this line can be for Black if he strays.

Classical Variation

I was unaware that the Alekhine-Chatard Attack is still so alive with possibilities. In fact, this old line has 20 representative games in the Archives The resulting lines are a perfect example of attack by pieces without much pawn support.

Lahno - Korchnoi, Marianske Lazne 2009, tests one of the main lines with 6...Bxg5. This works out satisfactorily for him, although I do wonder if one of White's older lines doesn't still give him a small advantage (see the note on 8 Nh3). As it goes, White exploits an inaccuracy to gain the advantage, but then Black misses a winning opportunity. The notes also deal with 6...c5 and, especially, 6...0-0.

Kosteniuk - Zhukova, Konya 2009, features the Hecht-Reefschläger variation with 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 e5 Ne4 6 Bd3, arguably the main line of the variation:

We take another look at this position, including Wisnewski's suggestion of 6...f5. I also talk about 5 Bd3, which allows Black to play 5...Nb4, an important move order distinction.

Winawer Variation

The Winawer Poisoned Pawn Variation after 7 Qg4 Qc7 has undergone a revival over the past five years. For the record, I pointed out in my last edition of 'Play the French' that I didn't know of any advantageous line for White; the move 7...0-0, however, was easier to incorporate, mainly in order to keep the book within manageable length. With the explosion of 7...0-0 theory, what to do next time?

Anyway, the main line with 13 Nxc3 a6 14 Ne2 has gotten more attention because of Khalifman's advocacy:

In Baron - Martinovic, Antalya 2009, I discuss the moves 14...0-0-0 and 14...Nf5 at some length. It seems to me that Black can always hold the balance. The game itself is the most entertaining of this month's batch, with a speedy and smashing attack.

Finally, in Savchenko - Shulman, Khanty-Mansiysk 2009, White's aggressive move 7 h4 bears fruit:

This advance has always produced tactical and double-edged play. Although Black stands fine in theoretical terms, I don't think that White should come out worse either, and even strong players periodically trot it out in order to mix things up. Kasparov himself used 7 h4 with effect, and in this game, after a mistake by Shulman, White gains a substantial advantage.

Till next month, John

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