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This column was unfortunately delayed by a fall and injury, and I've written it from my bed without recourse to the full set of books and DVDs to which I normally have access. So there may be either repetition of other's suggestions, or material that has been challenged elsewhere. In any case, most of this deals with recent lines that have been covered in other ChessPublishing games, so I doubt that I'm too far off.

Download PGN of December '10 French games

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Advance Variation

In the Advance Variation, White still prefers lines with a3 to classical developing ones. After 5...Qb6, this is routine, but after 5...Nh6, 6 a3 looks slow and invites Black to attack the base of the pawn chain by ...f6:

But White has profited as well: by waiting to place his bishop on d3 rather than e2, White gains mobility and is able to use his e-file unobstructed. In Johannessen - Hammerstad, Oslo 2010, this led to an advantage based upon greater space.

Tarrasch Variation

The 3...Nf6 Tarrasch with ...Qc7 in the main Bd3/Ne2 lines has become one of my favorite ways to defend for Black, and my students have helped me develop it over the past few years. But recently White has done rather well in practice, so I thought I'd look at a few games. Not surprisingly, Black comes out satisfactorily from a theoretical point of view, but some new move orders make White's play easier to organize and, more importantly, give Black fewer chances of bowling over his opponent as has so often occurred in our ChessPublishing games.

In Schoenberger - Pirrot, Bad Wiessee 2010, we have something very near the main Bg5-h4 line, but with a slightly different order that puts both players on their own.

Here Black plays ...g5, a conventional move defends along his second rank and prepares to pressure d4. But it also creates weaknesses for White to play against. The chances are equal until Black loses the thread.

In the main line, 12 g3 plans to exchange bishops with 13 Bf4, just as White plays an early Bf4 versus ...Bd6 without ...Qc7. In Gomez - Ganguly, Guangzhou 2010, Black deviates from the main lines (see the note to move 13) by developing slowly with 13..Bd7:

In general, White seems to stand better in these lines if he gets to consolidate.

White's most important recent try for advantage is to skip all the Bg5-h4 and Bf4 ideas in favour of the modest Bd2:

By this means he avoids Black's counterplay based upon moves such as ...h6/...g5 and ...Nh5, and prepares development by Rc1 and, for example, Bc3 or b4.

In Hou Yifan-Muminova, Guangzhou 2010, I survey various setups for both sides. The resulting positions are uncharted and dynamically balanced, which should favour the better player on that day.

Finally, White played the main line but with a twist in the game Cuenca Jimenez-Johannessen, Vila Nova de Gaia 2010:

In this over-analysed position, White plays the rare 15 Bb1. It is a legitimate alternative, leading to a variety of positions that might be called dynamically equal.

Winawer Variation

The Winawer with 4 a3 has some serious adherents, and after 4...Bxc3+ 5 bxc3, Black sometimes avoids his opponent's preparation by 5...Ne7. In a game from two months ago, Vallejo Pons-Dizdarevic, Plovdiv 2010, White continued 6 Qg4 0-0 7 e5, and Black avoided transposition to main lines by 7...f6!?:

It's wonderful that we can leave theory at such an early stage and consider a wealth of new issues.

I missed a game in the 7 h4 Winawer last month, Hou Yifan-Socko, Plovdiv 2010, in which Black plays what seems to be a time-wasting move ...Qc7:

In fact, it may be useful to see where White is going to place his pieces before committing to a defence.

These days you can't stay away from the Poisoned Pawn Winawer for too long without losing the thread. Black's early ...d4 (without ...Bd7) is all the rage, and in Fier - Jatoba de Oliveira Reis, Americana 2010, White plays into a position which I hadn't seen since the 1970s:

After doing some research, I found that it has attracted renewed interest and can go in a number of unique directions.

In the same line with an early ...d4, White can start his h-pawn rolling without delay by 13 h4:

Here Black's most aggressive option is 13...b6. In Bernadskiy - Vysochin, Lviv 2010, I've tried to flesh out the theory on this fairly new position. In addition, the game itself is a great battle and worth playing over.

Classical Variation

Johnny Hector is a great fan of the Alekhine-Chatard Attack, and arguably the leading theoretician among masters, so it's always good to see how he plays the line. This is especially the case when Black tries a less-travelled path. In Hector - Matthieesen, Soenderborg 2010 , Black plays 6...0-0 (6...Bxg5, 6...c5, and 6...a6 are far more common), 7 Qg4 f6!?:

This leads to a crazy battle in which Black outplayed White and reached a completely winning position, when things went south for him. There are many options for both sides, and I think White may be able to keep a small edge with the proper response.

Till next month, John

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