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What's new in the French Defence

Welcome to the January French Update

And it's welcome back to being able to play through games with a double click of the mouse [the so called Java Script, or JS games]. That's much more pleasant for casual browsing and satisfying curiosity.



Fort Knox


The Steinitz Attack

However, for those moments when you feel like doing some serious work [should they ever arise!] ChessPub.exe is going to remain operational. That is absolutely essential. Take for example the first game give here. The mainline variation has so many branches involving other games that it would have been impossible to find all the useful material under the 'old' system of JS games and subpages. Whereas using ChessPub it becomes straightforward.

So you now have the best of both worlds: JS games for ease of access and ChessPub for deep research!

To download the January '03 French games directly in PGN form, click here: Download Games

This month's update ranges from the dizzy heights of Wijk aan Zee 2003, with its 'correct' and modern Super GM chess to the odd, off-beat and antiquated. If you want to know more about 1.e4 e6 2.e5- the sort of thing that not even Morozevich would dare to play- then this is the place for you!

Advance Variation [C02]

I'll begin with another great game as White by Alexander Grischuk. It is no painful experience to see the French dismantled when it is done with such energy and panache. Looking at Grischuk's games on BigBase, it seems to me that he had a major boost in strength when he switched from the solid 3.Nd2 against the Caro-Kann and French to the more ambitious 3.e5. This space gaining move, which leaves the white centre slightly vulnerable, seems to suit his style: a lot of tension is generated as Black fights to activate his pieces. Of course preparation plays a big part as well, and in the game selected he plays an improvement on one of his earlier games.

The question arises, did Radjabov lose a positional battle or a tactical one? Grischuk had to find some great moves, but you could argue that if his position wasn't any good from the opening there wouldn't have been any good moves for him to find!

For a remarkable game between two brilliant young players click on Grischuk - Radjabov.

Advance 5.f4

In the French Advance White normally strives to advance f2-f4. So what if he plays it immediately: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6, and now instead of 5.Nf3, how about 5.f4?

If Black doesn't find a rapid response then White will complete his development having achieved f2-f4 without any fuss.

I've already discussed this in 'Mastering the French', if I remember correctly, but I was reminded again when I got the following email from Tore Lambrechts:

Thanks for a nice and instructive site!
I'm just an average club player from Norway, but finally managed to beat the old Club master from our little town Sandnes, thanks to some understanding of French positions, archived by studying on your site.
Magnus Monsen always plays f4 in this position, and I answers with h4 to prevent g4. But im not sure about it, it is might something better to do, but anyway I enjoined my win a blitz game played on ICC»

So here is Tore's game with some light notes, which besides being a nice positional effort by Black also sheds some light on 5.f4. Enjoy looking at Monsen - Lambrechts.

Here I should mention that I assume that subscribers are happy to see games they submit published on the site. If anyone just wants to show me a game, without revealing it to anyone else, they should let me know. I won't reveal anyone's handle on ICC.



Fort Knox


The Steinitz Attack

Winawer 4.Nge2 [C15]

The Chinaman Zhang Zhong was carving his way through the Wijk aan Zee B tournament with 10/11- 9 wins and 2 draws!!- and was no doubt expecting Australian GM Rogers to be his next victim in Round 12. Things didn't go according to the script as you can see by looking at Rogers - Zhang Zhong.

Well done to Daniel Stellwagen for getting his GM norm in the tournament. If he wants to send in any of his French games to the site he is very welcome!

Franck Steenbekkers has sent me some very interesting comments on the site, based on games given in the September 2002 Update- you can of course also find these games on ChessPub. First of all in the Winawer he points out a mistake he made in his own detailed analysis (in Dutch) of the game Gallagher-Steenbekkers:

«I gave 23 - - a4! 24 h4! - a3 25 Bg5+ - Kd7 26 Bxf7-e5 27 Ba2- Rab8 28 c3 - d3 29 Qg6 -Kc7 with an unclear game but White can win with 30 Qh7!»

I think the game was so complicated that errors were bound to appear even in analysis. Maybe in this sequence Black should try 26...a2 when if 27.Rxe6+ Kc7 walks into a discovered check, but is ready to queen next move! My thanks to Franck for sending this exciting game.

The corrected annotations [with a little English added to the Dutch!] can be found by clicking on Gallagher - Steenbekkers.

Winawer Mainline 7.Qg4 0-0 [C18]

«I have a new question», says Franck Steenbekkers.

«In the so called Rustemov variation of the Winawer happens strange things for me.»

«Let me tell the story:
In the game Solleveld-van Haasterd van Haasterd plays the bad move 16 - Qa4 instead of the best move Qc7 of the game Sax-Goloschapov Montecantine Terme 1999.
This is possible that he didn't know the theory.
But a couple of months later he plays versus Jan Timman in the Lostboys tournament and now he plays the bad 16 - Qd8 and now Timman won a nice game with 17 Bh6-Rf7 18 Ng5-Qa5 19 Kf1-Raf8 20 Nxf7-Rxf7 21 Bxg7(also fxe6 is very strong!) -Rxg7 22 f6 1-0 Do you know the reason why IM van Haasterd two times refused to play 16 - Qc7 and also why Timman with white plays this variation wich black should give good play (with 16 -Qc7!).
Is there maybe a refutation of 16 - Qc7??»

That's very intriguing [and a little scary!]

The game Franck refers to Timman-van Haastert is given in the notes to Bluvshtein-Shulman on ChessPub. Also the Sax game is mentioned there.

Well if there is a refutation of 16...Qc7, and 16...Qa5 and 16...Qd8 are demonstrably bad, then the question arises: why are players like Barsov giving White the chance to go into this line-see Karjakin-Barsov last month? The GM from Uzbekistan is very good on theory. Also Goloschapov himself is still willing to play into this variation. I'm guessing, but I think Timman didn't have any refutation in mind: instead he thought he could find a way to keep the tension after 16...Qc7 in the line given on ChessPub and win because he is a very strong player. I suggest to Mr Steenbekkers that he boldly play 16...Qc7 against Timman!!

To save yourself the trouble of looking it up you can play through the Karjakin - Barsov game here.

By the way, if you have never used ChessPub before, this is how you find the Bluvshtein-Shulman game mentioned above: you log into ChessPub giving your password, then put C18 in the box at the top left hand column. You do this because C18 is the code for the mainline 7.Qg4 0-0 or 7.Qg4 Qc7, etc. Then click on 'fetch like'. This will bring all the C18 games, 56 games at the last count. Then scroll through them until you see the Bluvshtein-Shulman game. If you wish, once you have looked at the Bluvshtein game you can get an overview of the Rustemov line by finding the game called 'Winawer 7.Qg4 0-0 &'. It is already somewhere in the list you have fetched up on your screen.

OK, the games are somewhat jumbled up when you use 'fetch like'- a game with 7...Qc7 might be sitting next to a 7...0-0 game as they are both C18- but it is VERY easy to find stuff.



Fort Knox


The Steinitz Attack

Fort Knox [C10]

I am very fond of the Fort Knox as it played a useful role in my becoming a GM- when trying for norms my idea was to hold 2500+ players to a draw with Black and win my games with White! That isn't the most exciting way to do things but it seemed to work. Alas these days I play more 'interesting' chess and lose...

In this month's game Chernin plays a novelty which I was the first to use according to Informator. I'm still sure it is a good move, but both Chernin and myself ended up losing our games! I guess the strength of our opponents had something to do with it.

So for a strong novelty that has so far scored 0/2, have a look at Ivanchuk - Chernin.

Tarrasch 5 f4 [C05]

«I recently got caught in a Tarrasch variation that I can't find anywhere on your site. The line goes 3 Nd2 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 c3 Nc6 7 Ndf3 cxd4 8 Nxd4!? The only theoretical reference I have is in Psakhis' book which calls it "perfectly playable" and quotes an old Larsen - Brink-Claussen, 1978 game. Is there anything you can add?
Bill Bentley.»

White's idea is rather rare, but he does nicely in practice. In the stem game mentioned Black replied to Larsen's novelty 8.Nxd4 with an immediate blunder- as usually happens. You only have to take an opponent out of theory, no matter how good he is, and immediately there is a chance that he will put a piece on a bad square or make an incorrect exchange or other positional error. It happens all the time in the games of Kasparov!

So what is the best response to 8.Nxd4-? There are two methods worth investigating which you can see by clicking on Atlas - Weinzettl

Here the irrepressible Franck Steenbekkers points out a major error I made in the game Van der Wiel-Ryan, given in the September Update.

«You gave a solution for the black problems in vd Wiel-Ryan.»

«You gave 12- Qe8 13 b3 - Bf7 14 Ra2 - Kh8 15 gxf5 - exf5 16 Rg2 - Qh5 but white can play Rxg7! and is winning»

You can see the corrected score by clicking on Van der Wiel-Ryan.

Yep, that wasn't one of my finest moments! In the game Van der Wiel-Werle that I had quoted earlier White had played Bd3, so that Qh5 actually threatened the knight on h3. With the bishop still on f1 after Rxg7 the bishop defends the knight on h3! Here 16...Rg8 looks necessary, but then 17.Nhg5 intending Rg3, Rh3 [or a sac on h7] looks uncomfortable for Black.

So it's back to the drawing board for Black: maybe he can play 12...Bd7, Be8 and Bg6, the standard plan in variants of this line? This hasn't been refuted, its just that I thought [wrongly] that Werle's queen manoeuvre Qe8, Qh5 was the better plan.

Certainly the verdict on 12...a5 remains the same- it is a very poor move.

Tarrasch 5.Bd3 [C07]

Yet more from Franck Steenbekkers:

«You gave a game Martinovich - Ditmar [in the September Update]. This is a nice game but I am not very sure of everything is correct in this game. I think 22 Rc1! is very strong as at the end White can play for a big advantage with 25 Bh7!»

In this case I'm not sure I agree with Franck's verdict. I wouldn't like to have this position as Black against Deeper Blue or whatever the latest computer is, but surely Black has a big initiative after say 25...Kxh7 26.g4 Bxf4 27.gxh5 Ne4. The bishop on b2 is passive and the white king is pretty open.



Fort Knox


The Steinitz Attack

The Steinitz Attack and other early e4-e5 [C00]

The final section this month was inspired by the following email:

«I was wondering if you could add a "Heroes and Slayers" section to your webpage at I would love to go in depth into the French even more than I already do. I love the French defence like no other chess player on earth.
Jonathan Munnell»

I agree with Jonathan that there could be more about the 'culture' of the French on the website. It does seem a bit odd to stick to just recent games in the updates, when the French has had such a long and colourful history. It has been a favourite of both ultra solid players like Burn, Maroczy, Petrosian and Bareev and mavericks like Nimzowitsch, Reti, Korchnoi and Vaganian. And it has been attacked at all levels of aggression from the refined positional play of Karpov to the crazy attacking style of Grischuk.

On the other hand, I want the site to be filled with 'living ideas' and not to become a museum!

So, as the first step in looking at this heritage, I have studied the old line 2.e5!?- the Steinitz Attack.

This has given me an excuse to give games by Tarrasch and Winawer- when they were real, flesh and blood people and not just names! Also there is a game by William Pollock, a little known English master, though he did beat both Tarrasch and Steinitz at Hastings 1895! That of course was the Hastings tournament which kicked off the tradition and was won by Harry Nelson Pillsbury.

Pollock also invented a line in the Classical, but alas no one uses it anymore:

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7 7.Qg4.

So onto the Steinitz Attack.

Steinitz used 2.e5 six times at a big tournament in Vienna in 1883 and scored +4=1-1 with it. The game he lost was in the playoff for first prize with the Polish player Simon Winawer [they agreed to share first prize when the score was 1-1.] So for this wonderful fighting game, with Pollock-Tarrasch in the notes, click on Steinitz - Winawer.

In the second game given here Steinitz has a smooth victory. In writing the notes I have included some recent theory and a couple of my own ideas. Have a look at Steinitz - Golmayo.

So is 2.e5 any good? I would put it into the category of the Trompovsky: White doesn't stand worse and he might be able to direct play into opening lines that are unpleasant for his opponent.

Well that's all for this month. My thanks to Franck Steenbekkers and all the others who contributed their ideas to the update. Happy chess fighting!

Best Wishes,




Fort Knox


The Steinitz Attack