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In this column I continue to look at the Advance Variation by examining a fairly popular sideline with 4...Ne7 and 5...Nec6. Then I turn to the Wing Gambit 2 Nf3 d5 3 e5 c5 4 b4, a respectable pawn sacrifice which I’ve rather neglected in the past. Also deserving an update is 3 Bd3; every month I find myself looking at numerous games with this slow move and feeling uninspired, but its remarkable popularity compels me to show some examples and new recommendations.

Download PGN of July ’22 French games

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Advance Variation with 4...Ne7 5 Nf3 Nec6 [C02]

Against the Advance Variation 3 e5, the line 3...c5 4 c3 Ne7 5 Nf3 Nec6 used to be almost unknown, but has gained a modest following over the past few years. We have already looked at the continuation 6 Bd3 b6 7 0-0 Ba6 8 Bxa6 Nxa6 a couple of times. Then Morris-Suzuki, S - Mammadova, G, Women's Speed Chess Q2 2022, continued 9 h4 Be7 10 h5 h6:

White probably has a theoretical edge with his space advantage, but in practice this position has proven solid for the second player.

The other main move for White is 6 a3, aiming for 7 b4 with a space advantage.

In Diaz, F - Petrovic, A, Titled Tue 10th May 2022, Black played 6...a5 (I give some analysis on 6...Nd7, which I feel is more flexible) 7 Bd3 b6 followed by ...Ba6. These positions tend to favor White’s central advantage but are certainly playable.

French Wing Gambit 2 Nf3 d5 3 e5 c5 4 b4 cxb4 5 a3 [C00]

After 1 e4 e6 2 Nf3 d5 3 e5 c5, 4 b4 is the French Wing Gambit, which has never been terribly popular, but is pretty sound and is played enough that any French player should be prepared to meet it at some point. We haven’t looked at this much, but no less than Magnus Carlsen played 4 b4 a couple of years ago and various Grandmasters have toyed with it; for example, David Howell and Aleksandr Shimanov used it recently (albeit at fast time controls). In Howell, D - Goltsev, D, Titled Tue 7th Jun 2022, Black played 4...cxb4 5 a3 bxa3 6 d4 Nc6:

Full acceptance of the pawn by ...bxa3 is seldom recommended in the books. I’ve never liked it because it takes pressure off the center and gives White straightforward development. Nevertheless, looking at examples, we see that Black’s extra pawn and queenside play are nice pluses that compensate for White’s undoubted positional pressure.

In Novikova, G - Rustemov, A, Titled Tue 10th May 2022, Black used a different defense that I wasn’t very aware of but has been played by strong Grandmasters, namely, 4...cxb4 5 a3 Qa5:

This can be a surprisingly efficient way to clarify the position. For one thing, ...Bd7-b5 is a theme, and it proves useful to provoke Bb2, when White’s bishop doesn’t aim down the c1-h6 diagonal. 4....Qa5 has a nice theoretical standing, and this should serve the purposes of someone looking for a straightforward way to play without much effort.

Wing Gambit Declined 2 Nf3 d5 3 e5 c5 4 b4 d4 [C00]

Finally, 4...d4 is a popular defense, generally leading to 5 dxc5 Bxc5:

6 Ba3 is the old move, but I will show that Black has solved that, so White has turned to 6 Bd3. In Shimanov, A - Barria Zuniga, D, Titled Tue 3rd May 2022, we see that Black has various equalizing options in the opening. In the game, time pressure leads to a torrent of mistakes and a back-and-forth struggle in which Black eventually forfeits.

3 Bd3 Variation 3...dxe4 4 Bxe4 Nf6 5 Bf3 [C01]

For the past few years White has consistently shown an affinity for playing the slow move 3 Bd3. I’m not certain why this appeals to the first player so much, since Black can get easy play with almost every logical defense. On the other hand, it has to be admitted that White’s position is safe, simple to play, and requires very little preparation. In the past we’ve mainly looked at 3...dxe4 4 Bxe4 Nf6 5 Bf3 c5, which continues to suffice for equality. It can be rather forcing, however and, being well known, may not pose enough problems for White to satisfy some players of Black. This month I want to look at other Black setups which leave interesting play on the board. One common sequence that has been used a lot recently is 5...Nbd7 6 Ne2 Bd6:

Black intends ...e5 next. Janaszak, D - Harvey, M, Titled Tue 31st May 2022, continued 7 Nd2 (intending 7...0-0 8 Nc4 as in one game in the notes). The game saw 7...e5!, preventing 8 Nc4 due to 8...e4, and Black was arguably somewhat better already.

White does better to play 7 0-0, when Ritviz, P - Sengupta, D, Pune 2022, went 7...0-0 (7...e5 8 Ng3! 0-0 9 Nf5 is less convincing) 8 Ng3 Re8:

Then ...e5 follows safely with balanced play.

An interesting way to try and modify this move order is 6...e5:

By not committing to ...Bd6, Black avoids any problems with an immediate Nd2-c4. After 6...e5, Van Foreest, M - Harff, M, Hilversum 2022, saw 7 Bg5, when Black equalized with the straightforward 7...h6, and White quickly went astray. More interesting is the related sequence 7 Nbc3 Bd6 8 Bg5, which I analyse in the notes.

Jobava tried an original setup with 5...g6!?, in order to bring the bishop to the long diagonal and then address the center:

Pap, G - Jobava, Ba, Titled Tue 10th May 2022, continued 6 Ne2 Bg7 7 0-0 0-0, and White played the relatively innocuous 8 a4, which shouldn’t cause any trouble. I look briefly at alternatives; this setup seems solid enough for Black.

3 Bd3 Variation, 3...Nc6 4 Nf3 [C01]

A more common defense used by several Grandmasters is 3...Nc6, hitting the pawn on d4:

In Zavgorodniy, S - Oganian, M, Titled Tue 5th Apr 2022, I try to give an overview of the most important continuations. Theory is relatively underdeveloped here and careful study will give you a head start with either color.

Till next month, John

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