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This month I’ll mainly concentrate on some Winawer sidelines that regularly appear in tournament play. In particular, the old line 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nge2 has enjoyed somewhat of a revival with some new ideas.

Download PGN of November ’23 French games

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Advance 5...Bd7 6 Be2 f6 7 0-0 fxe5 8 Nxe5 Nxe5 9 fxe5 Qc7 [C02]

I was going to skip the Advance for a month or two, having covered it a lot this year, but I realized that there were some move order issues in one of the lines we have followed for a long time, namely, 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Be2 f6 7 0-0 fxe5 8 Nxe5 Nxe5 9 fxe5 Qc7:

In Nepomniachtchi, I - Erigaisi, A, Blitz 2023 (a game from two months ago), White’s idea of meeting ...0-0-0 with a4 and Na3 was tested via 10 Bf4 0-0-0 11 a4. This is very dangerous, so in the notes I’ve looked at trying to improve with 10...Ne7 intending ...Nc6; Black may even end up castling kingside. Two days after this game was played, Nepo chose 10 Re1 and Erigaisi tried the same idea, delaying ...0-0-0 by 10...Ne7 followed by ...Nc6; this is also in the notes. Both orders are of particular interest because once Black castles queenside he has to deal with a direct attack.

Winawer 4 Nge2 dxe4 5 a3 Bxc3 6 Nxc3 Nc6 7 Bf4 [C15]

White is often playing safely versus the French Winawer of late, avoiding complex lines in favor of seeking small advantages. After 3 Nc3 Bb4, 4 Nge2 has a solid reputation and has had a bit of a revival recently. An important and forcing response is 4...dxe4 5 a3 Bxc3 6 Nxc3 Nc6, hitting the d-pawn. I haven’t covered this for quite a while, in fact not since the ambitious gambit 7 Bf4 has become White’s favorite way to play.

This can be treacherous if Black is unfamiliar with the ideas, for example, both immediate captures on d4 are losing. In Pichot, A - Haring, F, Arad 2023, Black tried 7...Nge7 and White played the clever 8 Qd2!, when 8...Qxd4? still turned out to be a mistake. Black has a couple of playable options, but White retains some chances and there’s more to explore here.

7...Nf6 is the usual move . In Swiercz, D - Mishra, A, US Ch Saint Louis 2023, White played the only really challenging move, 8 Bb5, and 8...Nd5 followed:

This is not the only sound move, but it’s fairly forcing, and after 9 Bxc6+ bxc6 10 Bd2 Nxc3 11 Bxc3, a position arose which has been played a few times. It looks like Black can be satisfied in this variation.

Winawer 4 Nge2 dxe4 5 a3 Bxc3 6 Nxc3 Nc6 7 d5 [C15]

White is still playing 7 d5 as well, also with some fresh ideas. After 7...exd5 8 Qxd5 Be6 9 Qxe4 Nf6, we have seen 10 Qh4 is three games in the Archives. Instead, 10 Qa4 has proven quite successful in practice:

Reprintsev, A - Dong, N, Titled Tuesday 24 Oct 2023, continued with the most popular move 10...Qd4, and after 11 Bb5 Qxa4, White chose the rare 12 Nxa4. This may not objectively improve upon the normal 12 Bxa4, but White handled the ensuing position better and won nicely.

Another Blitz game from the same event saw 10...0-0, which also gives a sound impression, and offers both sides more chance to avoid oversimplification:

In Makaraci, T - Bjelobrk, I, Titled Tuesday 24 Oct Late 2023, White played the inaccurate 11 Be3?!, which after 11...Ng4 left him scrambling for equality. I give analysis of 11 Bd2 and 11 Bd3 in the notes.

Winawer 5 Bd2 Ne7 6 a3 [C17]

After 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 Bd2 Ne7, a safe line for White is 6 a3 (6 Nb5 is the more ambitious main line - see the Archives) 6...Bxc3 7 Bxc3 b6:

Here White has tried several moves, some of which we’ve seen in the Archives. In Shuvalova, P - Roebers, E, FIDE Grand Swiss Women 2023, White played 8 Nf3 (the modern idea 8 h4 is examined in the notes) 8...Ba6 9 Bxa6 Nxa6, and the unusual but thematic 10 h4 followed. An equal but unbalanced game resulted.

Winawer Main Line 6...Nc6 7 h4 [C18]

After 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3, 6...Nc6 continues to attract attention as a less theoretical approach, in part because Carlsen has tried the move a few times as Black. In Sadvakasov, D - Rapport, R, World Rapid Team 2023, White played 7 h4, which has grown more popular due to its use by top GMs:

Black played 7...Bd7 followed by 8...Qa5 and 9...0-0-0 with a typical positional Winawer line which gives chances for both sides.

Winawer Main Line 6...Nc6 7 Qg4 g6 8 h4 [C18]

Besou, H - Papasimakopoulos, A, Titled Tuesday Aug 1 2023, saw 7 Qg4 g6, which is still the most frequently-arising variation. We have seen the position after 8 h4 h6 9 h5 g5 10 f4 f5 11 Qg3 g4 before:

White needs open lines somewhere, so his move 12 Ne2? was a mistake, allowing 12...c4, when White’s weaknesses are more attackable than Black’s. Instead, Giri’s 12 dxc5 is a good idea, when more open lines might follow after a timely c4. This is very double-edged, of course, and playable for both sides, but I suspect that White can retain some advantage.

Till next month, John

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