Welcome to this month's French Update, which contains the latest news in all the mainlines of the Tarrasch, revisits the Fort Knox, looks at Anand's latest win over Shirov in the Classical and contains a survey of a popular variation in the McCutcheon.
We begin with the last of these:
According to the December Voting there are a lot of subscribers out there who want more coverage of the McCutcheon Variation with 8 Qg4 g6. Let me congratulate you on your impeccable judgement! This is a reliable and still relatively unexplored system that has been used with great success by Mikhail Gurevich and Igor Glek.
The opening moves are:
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Ne4 8.Qg4 g6
Now the standard continuation is 9 Bd3 Nxd2 10 Kxd2 c5 when White normally plays 11 Nf3.
Instead he could play 9 Nf3, when play could well transpose with 9...c5 10 Bd3 Nxd2 11 Kxd2. However, since the bishop virtually always goes to d3 whereas the knight doesn't always go to f3, it makes sense to play 9 Bd3 first as it gives more options.
So let's see what is going on after 11 Nf3. Play is similar to the Winawer Variation in that Black is giving up his important dark squared bishop and leaving his kingside slightly vulnerable. In return he hopes to exploit the weakness on c3 and perhaps even the white king that has been forced to remain in the centre.
Black's critical choice No. 1
First of all Black has to choose whether he wants to play the good old fashioned Nc6 and Bd7 or the modern treatment with Bd7, Bc6 and Nd7.
Advantages of the modern treatment are that the bishop on c6 defends b7 and is more active than it would be on d7. Furthermore on d7 the knight plugs the hole on f6, so that the black queen can move say to a5 without worrying about Qf4 and Qf6.
The disadvantage is that by putting the bishop rather than the knight on c6 Black is exerting less pressure on d4, which gives White a more free hand to manoeuvre. Also, after Nc6 there is the option of counterplay with Na5 and Nc4- though in fact this plan isn't often very effective. Finally, after Bc6, Black is more vulnerable to a Bxg6 sacrifice as the bishop no longer guards the e6 pawn- but more about this in the third note below which deals with Bxg6 sacrifices.
So there are pros and cons to both schemes of development. Nevertheless, in the hands of a player who knows what he is doing either method gives him a promising game.
Black's critical choice No. 2
A key positional decision is whether Black should block the queenside with c5-c4 or keep it open with c5xd4. Keeping the tension or taking on d4 is the most energetic way to handle the position whichever piece deployment Black has chosen. If things go well he can even carry out a successful attack on White's king. However, c5-c4 also has its good points, even if in general Black has fewer dynamic chances. He achieves an untroubled development and don't forget White's queenside weaknesses haven't disappeared- the pawn on a4 is a target for the bishop and the doubled pawns interfere with the harmonious manoeuvring of White's pieces.
Sacrifices on g6
You will have noticed that White's bishop is attacking the g6 pawn. Black has to watch out for possible Bxg6 sacrifices. Most of the time it is harmless- Black can respond by taking the bishop and running with his king after fxg6; Qxg6+ Kd7, etc. Or maybe Rg8 will be a strong reply, pinning the bishop against the queen. However, in one variation White can use this as a drawing weapon- see NM88. which would be frustrating for an ambitious player.
The nasty hole on f6
No two ways about it- there is a nasty dark squared hole on f6.
White often plays Qf4. Now if you leave the hole on f6 undefended with your king stuck in the centre you are asking for trouble- White will kill you with Qf6! So until you have castled queenside put the knight on e7 and keep it there- don't go wandering off with Nb6 and Nc4. Alternatively put your queen on e7. If you don't intend to castle queenside, keep guard of f6 until you have distracted White with your counterplay from playing Qf6.
Here's a nice positional trap that might just get rid of the hole on f6. Sometimes with the black queen on c7 and the white queen on f4, separated only by the e5 pawn, Black can improve his pawn structure with f7-f5! when exf6?? en passant drops the queen to Qxf4. This is a recurring positional trap in the McCutcheon and I remember being very surprised when Dan Mayers played the 'impossible' f7-f5 against me and solved all his opening problems.
Finally, Black can sometimes play f7-f6 to get rid of the hole on f6 and attack White's centre. But be careful- make sure White can't exploit the hole on e5 created after e5xf6- it may be worse than having a hole on f6 as it is a more important central square and can be controlled from the front as well by Re1 etc.
White attacks g6 with h5
In response to White's attack on the g6 pawn with h5, the best response is usually g5 bypassing the h pawn and keeping the kingside structure fairly solid. Sometimes the pawn on g5 can be used aggressively with g4! to dislodge White's knight from its central post on f3. In fact Black may often play g6-g5 voluntarily so that he can attack the knight with g4.
Remember however that the ugly looking g6xh5 shouldn't be rejected out of hand. The semi open g file might make counterplay with Rg8 possible. If White is collapsing on the c file he won't be able to take advantage of Black's split kingside.
Bad bishop Endgames
Black should avoid endgames in which his bad light squared bishop is hopelessly outgunned by White's knight. Such a scenario would be particularly bad if White got his king to d4 and couldn't be driven back.
There were already three games on the website which deal with the 'Modern Treatment' of the line. You can find these by clicking on NM19, NM88 and NM73. the last of these is the important Leko-Short game which features 11 h4 rather than 11 Nf3.
To these I have added Gashimov - Vysochin which is a good example of what can go wrong for White in this line if he loses control. The analysis gives an example of Black's plan of blocking the queenside with c5-c4.
The 'Old fashioned ' treatment is examined in Lanc - Glek. a relatively old game itself but with recent references contained inside it.
The Fort Knox Variation is still alive and well. When Black challenges White's knight with Bc6, White has three possible responses- he can advance the knight to g5, retreat it to d2 or defend it. You can find all three responses discussed here with reference to recent games in Karlsen-Rozentalis, which also features an interesting trap.
The 'long variation'after 4...Qxd5 and 10...a6 continues to be tested in top class events. The crux of the matter is the position after 18...Nh5:
Now 19 Be3 and 19 Bc1 have been played with success, but Black seems to have sufficient resources- see my analysis and that of GM Jon Levitt on the 3...c5 Tarrasch subpage. However, White has now begun testing Black with 19 Re4!? I've looked at the recent games and analysed the position and think Black has at least a draw in all lines if he knows what he is doing. See for yourself in Luther - Schlecht.
This month we look at two ways for Black to handle the position after 5 f4.
Firstly, he can enter the complications of the sharp 9...Bb4+ Variation. The hero here is the young American Patrick Hummel, who I believe has been coached by the French guru John Watson, so it's no surprise he knows a thing or two about the Tarrasch! In fact, it proves rather easy for Hummel to gain a winning position as his GM opponent forgets/is unfamiliar with the theoretical line. Have a look at Black's energetic but precise play in Gufeld - Hummel.
In contrast there is the solid 5...f5 Variation. Rather perversely, when I began the website I extolled the virtues of this line for Black and then chose to illustrate it with a crushing win for ....White! The next game goes some way towards redressing matters, as Black wins in good counterattacking style. Take a peek at Sosna - Matlak.
There is now a mass of sharp theory after the mainline with f7-f6 attacking White's centre. It's become a memory exercise, and personally speaking I feel slightly discouraged as I can never remember whether I am supposed to sacrifice the exchange on move 14 or 15! Sometimes I think it would be nice if Black could play as in the 5 f4 line above- just castle, block the kingside and look for counterplay on the queenside. Well, can he? I've looked at a game from the recent Hastings Premier in which Bischoff played Be7 and then h5 and g6 to block the kingside. It works out well for Black in the end, though there are some 'ifs' and 'buts' that need to be investigated. See if you like the way Black handles it in Beshukov - Bischoff.
In the mainline we have seen lots of hard fights between Adams and Morozevich after the double edged 7...Nb4. However, in the game given here Black scores a convincing win with the more solid 7...Bxc5. GM Hector lunges forward in the centre but it just leads to the loss of a vital pawn. Have a look at Hector - Barsov. Subscribers with long memories may recall that I played this line myself in NM79. so I hope you believe me when I say I think Black is fine after 7...Bxc5- actions always speak louder than words!
Anand remains the French bogey man. Now he has 3/3 against Shirov with his pet 5 Nce2 system against the Classical. The latest win was the most important of all as it came in Game Four of their FIDE World Championship Match in Tehran. Shirov made an enterprising sacrifice after some laid back play by White, but he then lost his way. Take a look at Anand - Shirov.
Well that's it for this month. I hope you are enjoying chess success in 2001!
Bye for now,
Thanks to everyone who contacted me, especially with games and analysis. I will try to include them in the next update.