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Welcome to the February Update. As will be seen from the selected games, Open tournaments can generate a lot of exciting chess as players of various strengths cross swords.

Please note that when a game is referred to with only the surnames of the players, for example 'Gurevich-Berg', this indicates that the game can be found in the PGN Games database.

Download PGN of February '06 French games

Unusual 2nd moves

We shall begin with something that I should perhaps have saved for April 1st!

Bird Attack: a wild flight of fantasy?

It must have been very irritating playing against the 19th century English master Henry Bird as Black. If your favourite move against 1.e4 was 1...e5, he would be sure to play 1.f4; if you knew you preferred the French, after 1.e4 e6 he would nail down the d-pawn with 2.Bb5:

Nonsense? Well, according to my imperfect database, Henry Bird played 2.Bb5 three times at Wien [Vienna] in 1873, and scored 3/3!

Black has two main responses. Firstly, he can expand on the queenside, using the tempo he can gain by hitting the bishop with 2...a6. Objectively speaking, this doesn't promise White much; but that isn't the point. We are hoping that our French devotee opponent will feel uncomfortable in a strange version of a Sicilian 3.Bb5 or the Ruy Lopez. And so it proved in the game Walter - Duffau.

The alternative is an outright attempt at refutation with 2...Qg5, when both b5 and g2 are hanging. Here is an example of White's attacking possibilities against careless- but natural- moves by Black: 3.Be2 Qxg2 4.Bf3 Qg6 5.d4 c5 6.Nc3 a6 [to stop 7.Nb5, but...] 7.Na4!:

and in this bizarre position the threat of 8.Nb6 is very hard to meet. Alas, White missed his chance in Bettman - Barsov.

Tarrasch 3.Nd2 Nf6

More tough fights in the Universal System

The latest battle ground in the Ngf3 System is 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ngf3 g6 8.h4!?:

Here Marie Sebag used a new idea to score a stunning win as White against a highly rated opponent at the Cappelle La Grande Open. Check out Sebag - Popov.

Alternatively, Black can avoid the most complex theory with 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.c3 c5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.Ngf3 Be7 8.0-0 a5 9.Re1 cxd4 10.cxd4 g5!?:

Black thereby dodges the 10...Qb6 11.Nb1! line. The English near-GM Simon Williams has used this to good effect as you can see in the games Erenburg - Williams and Buckley - Williams.

Incidentally, I should take the chance to say well done to Matt Guthrie for spotting the mistake in the score of the Gormally-Rendle game given last time. There was no mutual blindness, 44...Qc1+ was played rather than 44...Qe1+. Here is the corrected Gormally - Rendle.

Rubinstein 5.Ngf3 Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.c3

The ghost of Kasparov still haunting Black

Despite his retirement, the influence of Garry Kasparov on modern chess theory is as strong as ever. As you will see below, Luther gets into hot water in the Winawer because he is trying to avoid a line introduced by the 13th World Champion. And here, in the quiet backwater of the Rubinstein, Black has to contend with an attacking system that Kasparov brought to World attention some years ago in a game with Ponomariov. This runs 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.c3 c5 8.Ne5:

In this month's game, Vysochin follows the Kasparov template; Kruppa has nothing new in mind. The result is a straightforward win for a strong Grandmaster, though with some nice touches: enjoy Vysochin - Kruppa.

Classical: 4.e5

Two important theoretical games

A key variation runs 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5!?:

I used to regard this as a side line that dodged sharp theory, but that all changed when Radjabov used it to beat Kasparov. Black gains space on the queenside and prepares to play Qb6 without having to worry about Na4 in reply, but White has found new ways to cause the opponent problems.

Here we investigate 9.a3!? In the first game, Nigel Short trounces Natalia Zhukova with a wonderful combination of accurate and aggressive moves. For an example of the sort of irrepressible play that once earned the winner a match against Kasparov, click on Short - Zhukova.

In the second game, Black responds with the ultra aggressive 9...g5!?:

It leads to a tough fight in which Black is lost at various points, but his determination pulls him through. Here is Dworakowska - Malakhatko.

Winawer Mainline: 5.a3 Ba5

I should say thanks to Franck Steenbekkers, who emailed me some time ago about a different variation in the Winawer, which I'll talk about next time. For the moment, here is a pretty win for White after his opponent chooses a discredited variation in Goloshchapov - Luther.

Winawer Mainline: 7.Qg4

A queen sacrifice against Shirov

And finally it is Shirov's turn to get into trouble after he plays what I regard as a highly dubious line. It is not often that someone gets to offer their queen against Shirov, even as a pseudo-sacrifice: so enjoy Shirov - Zhukova.

Well that's all for this month. I hope you get to play some tournament or match chess and try out the French. Best of luck! Neil

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