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Welcome to the January 2004 Update

Sorry about the delay in getting this update online. I hope it proves worth the wait!




To download the January '04 French games directly in PGN form, click here: Download Games

Tarrasch 3...c5 4.exd5 exd5

The advantage of surprise

Why is it so important to find new ideas in the opening?

The value of a new move isn't so much that it is better than the usual move, but rather that it surprises the opponent. He or she can no longer bash out theory but actually has to THINK about the position in front of them- a great shock to the system, which explains why players often blunder in reply to a new move, or the instant they run out of theory.

A surprised opponent often fears the worst and reacts passively in order to avoid your deep preparation- real or imaginary!- which can make an average or even inferior move look great.

Here is just such an instance. White plays a highly unusual, but not particularly good, move in a well known position and is rewarded for his originality. Check out Van Beers-Kern and then make it your motto always to surprise your opponent!

Tarrasch 3...c5 4.exd5 Qxd5

Intriguing new idea for Black leads to a stunning... defeat!

It is very easy to dismiss a new opening idea as insufficient based purely on the fact that its pioneer went on to lose the game. Thus it is possible to tell a 'story' about the next game along the lines of 'Black played a new move, it was bad, and White punished him by sacrificing a couple of pieces and winning the game'. But have a look at this game without being prejudiced by all the exclamation marks I give to the winner and you will see that Rustemov has provided Black with an interesting new idea. Here's Glek - Rustemov.




Classical 4.e5

The Haldane Hack

Justin Horton writes:

«Dear Neil,
Would you be interested in discussing the Haldane Hack at all? I'm sure you saw the piece in Chess Monthly about this dangerous but probably unsound line - 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Qh5. Following his moment of fame Robin Haldane gave a talk on the line at the last Streatham and Brixton club night. French Defence adherents in the audience reckoned 5...c5 and 6...a6 might be the way to go.
There's practically no theory on the line. (I've not seen it in any book, not even Watson's Play The French, though of course we're all waiting for the new Psakhis which I'm sure will devote a whole chapter to the Hack.) Which is odd, because there are many worse ideas (3.Be3 comes to mind) which have received attention while the Hack remains obscure.
Justin Horton»

I must admit this is the first time I have heard of the wonderful Haldane Hack.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Qh5

My first thought was: if this works it is quite a slap in the face for the French, as the whole of the French 'industry' is based around preventing mate on f7 after 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nc6 3.Qh5 Nf6 4.Qxf7 mate. The last thing you want to see is a white queen aiming at f7, the soft underbelly of the black position.

Well I checked out all the games on my database- they are remarkably few in number, the first being by Robin Haldane himself in 1987. The more I looked at it the more I liked it. One important feature is that after the natural response 5...c5 White must be prepared to gambit a pawn with 6.Nf3 as other moves have led to total disaster. However, 6...cxd4 7.Nxd4 g6 8.Qg4 Nxe5 9.Qg3 Bg7 10.Bf4 has turned out well for him. So why not give it a go?

I have given two games, the first of which features this critical gambit line. Incidentally, it was won by Alan Smith according to my database- though I am inclined to think that the game has been wrongly appended to him, and it was really played by the English FM Andrew Smith. [These things happen: for example I won against Michael Adams, rated 2665, back in 1996, but according to Big Base my opponent was Mark Adams, rated 2080- thus my best ever win was taken away from me!] Anyway, enjoy a fine attack in Smith - Richards.

The second game features all other tries for Black- and features a beautiful king hunt by White. I wonder where the Italian player Sergio Simoli got the idea for 5.Qh5- had he seen Haldane's game at Guernsey in 1987?

My thanks to Justin for pointing out this idea to me- and thanks also for daring to cast doubt on 3.Be3.

Here is Simoli - Ciampi.

A sense of deja vu:

Have you seen this puzzle before? White plays 11.Qf2! and wins. Seriously speaking Black really needs to get his act together in this variation of the Classical, as every month seems to bring a fresh disaster. The latest offering features a very pleasing sacrifice by a Danish IM- check out Aagaard - Brynell.




Winawer Mainline 6...Qc7

The death knell for an ancient variation?

Two of the greatest positional players of all time, Mikhail Botvinnik and Tigran Petrosian, were fans of the variation 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Qc7 intending to answer 7.Qg4 with 7...f5 8.Qg3 cxd4 9.cxd4 Ne7:

Botvinnik for example used this line to beat Reshevsky in the 1948 World Championship tournament that was held in the Netherlands and Russia.

Now, however, the opening scheme seems to be in deep trouble. In fact according to my database, Black has lost every single game played since 1951 against the attacking method examined here! Check our Smirnov - Singh.

Winawer Mainline 7.a4

The Winawer is better than the Classical!

Yes, it's official. Bareev lost three times with the Classical Variation at Wijk aan Zee, then in desperation switched to the Winawer- and won against Topalov. His preparation for this game was made easier by the fact that the Bulgarian GM doesn't go in for the ultra- theoretical lines with 7.Qg4. In fact it is Bareev who comes up with a new idea that shows that Black is more than OK against 7.a4. Enjoy Topalov - Bareev.

Winawer 8.Qg4 Mainline

The Rustemov System Under Attack; a line versus 8...Nbc6 9.Bg5

Judging from messages left on the Forum, French players are getting hot under the collar about White's attacking chances in the line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Ne7 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Bd3 Qa5 9.Bd2 Nbc6 10.Nf3 f5 11.exf6 Rxf6 12.Qh5 Nf5:

Now 13.g4! is crucial as if this is good for White then the whole of the Rustemov System is unplayable: we'll have to scrap 8...Qa5 and go back to 8...f5 or 8...Nbc6.

This month's game looks like more bad news for Black as GM Timoshenko, a very deep theoretician, comes to his game with French devotee GM Farago armed with a very dangerous novelty. The result is disaster for Black, but I think the variation still lives, as Farago had a way to improve his play quite substantially.

Have a look at the game and analysis in Timoshenko - Farago.

Also in the context of the Rustemov I had the following interesting comment from subscriber Franck Steenbekkers:

«I played in some icc games and e-mail games 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Ne7 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Bd3 Nbc6!?
But I think that then the variation with 9 Bg5 is dangerous for black!
Watson gave two games
One is the famous game Herneck-Uhlman with the suggestion of 21...e5! for black.(but black must be happy with a draw, and maybe white can try something.
The other suggestion is the variation of the game Koch-Apicella (Chambery 1994)
But I think that white can improve with the strong 20 Rh1!!! and after this move black has only ...Rg6 and I think that white is (much!) better in this position.
What do you think??
With friendly chessgreetings,
Franck Steenbekkers»

Here the Rustemov System comes to the rescue of Black, as he can avoid the double edged lines that Franck mentions above by transposing into it. This is explained in the notes to the Timoshenko-Farago game given above.

Winawer Mainline 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Bd3 f5

Franck Steenbekkers writes:

Subject: Winawer is not always fun!!

«Dear Mr. McDonald,
I wrote you some time ago that I had not very good feelings about 8...f5 in the Winawer with 7 Qg4 0-0.
But today I got a copy of Play the French 3 edition and i saw that the 8...f5 variation is one of the recommended lines.
Watson gave a not so convincing solution to the black problems after the very strong 15 dxc5!!!
He gave the follow variation:
21...Rf5! (a suggestion of Kinderman) 22 Nf3 (22 h4 h6 23 Nf3 Be6) Be6 23 0-0 Bd5 24 Nd2 Rh5!! 25 Re1 Qh4 26 Ne1 dxc2 27 Qc2 Ne5
But I don t trust this for black!!»

Thanks for pointing this out to me- I should try to get my hands on a copy of John Watson's new book. Of course despite any uneasy feelings, the line recommended by Lutz and endorsed by Watson is a vast improvement over the way Pelletier played it. Watson's variations have a habit of standing the test of time.

I have analysed a recent game between Bologan and Yusupov in which White came up with a brand new way to take on the 12...Qa5 variation. I guess this means that Watson's book is already a little out of date!

You will find this exciting game, plus a brief analysis of 15.dxc5 by clicking on Bologan - Yusupov.




Well that's it for now. I hope some of these ideas come in useful in your own games. Good luck!