ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
This month, I've been looking at some new games which employ older and/or less well known variations. In part that's because a number of readers have sent me questions about them; also, this month's World Team Championship saw a number of players digging up such lines and playing interesting games with them. You'll notice that there are a lot of Tarrasch variations which is logical given its appearance in many important games over the last two months.

Download PGN of January '10 French games

Advance Variation

The 5...Qb6 6 a3 variation of the Advance (championed by Sveshnikov) admits of several solutions, but a simple one that's been neglected is 6...f6:

I have suggested this move in every edition of 'Play the French' (in a note each time), and I'm continually surprised that so few people have used it. For example, there's one fairly irrelevant game in Informant, only the briefest and practically meaningless treatment by Sveshnikov in his 2-volume Advance Variation series, and it hasn't been in ChessPublishing until now! For those who don't like facing 6 a3, this could be your solution. In Yilmaz - Sutovsky, 7th World Team Championship, Burka 2010, White went into a standard line and got less than nothing. Sutovsky is always well-prepared, but after missing chances for a very good game he loses the thread entirely.


Yuri Shulman, who has been on an absolute roll with the French Defence over the past two years (and interpreting it very dynamically), ran into some trouble at the World Team Championship. In Malakhov - Schulman, 7th World Team Championship, Burka 2010, he had to face a rare system which I recommend for White in Dangerous Weapons: The French:

Malakhov has used 7 Nb3 in the past. It's easy to give advice in hindsight, but it may have been a mistake for Shulman to pick one of the few lines that keeps the position closed; I suspect that with his style, he might have been more comfortable playing to break down the centre and open lines.

The players followed a main 3...Be7 line in Can - Shulman, 7th World Team Championship, Burka 2010:

We've seen this position several times before; I think that this is one of Black's best lines, because it not only produces a dynamic balance, but offers plenty of winning chances. Here White played 10 c4, which is one of the most interesting (and least resolved) of his options. Black should not be in any grave danger, but he misplayed at a couple of key defensive junctures. I've added a partial analysis of the main 1ine 10 c3, based upon a survey by 'Paddy' in the Forum.

Reader Nagesh Havanur writes: "I would like to draw your attention to a bit of confusion on p.44 of the Tarrasch ebook in pdf format [pg 43 in my version-jw]...After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ndf3 Qb6 8.g3 cxd4 9.cxd4 Bb4+ 10.Kf2, the side line 10...f6 is mentioned , citing the game Kotrotsos-Moutousis Athens 2004:

"As a matter of fact, this game followed a different line, 8. h4 cxd4 9. cxd4 Bb4+ 10.Kf2 f6 as shown in the November 2004 Update by Neil McDonald.

To return to the first variation, after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ndf3 Qb6 8.g3 cxd4 9.cxd4 Bb4+ 10.Kf2 f6 11.Be3 fxe5 12.fxe5 0-0, 13.Ne2 recommended in the chapter is an oversight...".

He then sends the game Viswanathan Anand-Jayant Gokhale, Indian National Junior Championship 1986 (not in Megabase, by the way), refuting 13.Ne2, and mentions some alternatives. I have annotated that game (up to the point where Havanur leaves off), and included other material with the rare 10...f6.

Thanks for that 'Chessbibliophile', the eBook has been suitably corrected!

Reader Michael White asks a question that is remarkably difficult to answer. In the Universal System of the Tarrasch Variation with 3...Nf6, he wants to know how White should proceed if Black doesn't wait to play ...g5 on the 8th, 9th, or 10th move, as in hundreds and hundreds of top-flight games, but does so on the 7th move:

He says: "I was faced by this in a rapid play game by an International Master over a year ago and got rolled over. It seems to me that White has to find a different plan than taking on c5 because Black can often save a crucial tempo and threaten to move his bishop to c5 in one move rather than two, which is what would be the case if it was already on e7."

Let me clarify that for those unfamiliar with these lines. Michael is comparing 7...g5 (diagrammed) with the lines coming from 3...Be7 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6.c3 Nc6 7.Bd3, which can also arise via 3...Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Ngf3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Bd3, and now 7...Be7 rather than a move like 7...Qb6 or 7...a5 or 7...g6 or, most pertinently, 7...g5.

Anyway, it's a great question! 7...g5 is surprisingly rare, but after considerable analysis I'm not sure what White should do about it. There are a very limited number of games in Megabase, correspondence databases, and TWIC, and not even a note in Informant. To make matters worse, 7...g5 isn't mentioned in a ChessPublishing game, in spite of the deep analysis that we've given about the 'Universal System'.

So I'll follow a game between pretty strong players, Damaso - Agdestein, Internet 2004, and try include the most important things that have been played, and the little that's been analysed. As far as I can tell, 7...g5 is quite all right!

Reader Franck Steenbekkers from the Netherlands, always a font of French ideas, asks several questions which I hope to get to in future columns. Three of them concern the 6...Ne7 7 Qg4 cxd4 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 Qc7 Poisoned Pawn main line. I plan to get to that in a future, hopefully not too distant, column. The other question is in line with the 'looking-backwards-at-the- Tarrasch' theme of this month's column:

"In PTF1 and PTF 2 you recommend the variation with 3...Nf6 and ...Qb6. I have the feeling that 12 b3 with 13 Bf4 is unpleasant for Black. An endgame without prospects. What is your opinion?"

First, it's scary to realize that Play the French 1 is now 26 years old, and PTF2 14 years old! I've been looking over that latter, in part for material not covered elsewhere, and (all things considered it) doesn't look so bad! Of course, the change in French theory between PTF2 and PTF3 has been enormous, especially in the mutual lines which are tactical in nature. At any rate, the 12 b3 0-0 13 Bf4 line can indeed take the wind out of Black's sails; one drawback from White's point of view is that if Black plays normally, White won't get enough of a pull to win many games either (see this month's Mamedov-Akobian for some ideas). But there may be more interesting ways for Black to proceed if he needs to retain realistic winning chances. In Reader Franck Steenbekkers Q-Tarrasch 3...Nf6: 7...Qb6 line, I look at some ideas using the fairly random game Tzoumbas (2365)-Luther (2520), Athens 1997, as a template.

One reason that this is of interest is that another game played this month, Mamedov - Akobian, World Team Championship, Burka 2010, saw Black using 7...Qb6 and going right into this main line. White didn't choose to play 12 b3, preferring 12 Bf4!?:

This old pawn sacrifice hasn't been tested much in modern times. Black's position holds up, and White ends up getting slightly less than an even game. But the notes are interesting, in that they check the pre-computer analysis that I engaged in some 15-25 years ago.

Classical/Steinitz Variation

In 'The Flexible French', Moskalenko devotes a chapter to the line 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nf3 c5 6 dxc5 Nc6 7 Bxf4 Bxc5 8 Bd3 f6 9 exf6 Nxf6, specifically concentrating upon the line 10 Qe2 0-0 11 0-0-0'!', a specialty of Zakharov which he christens the 'Russian Roulette'. Notice that this can also arise via 1 e4 e6 2 Nf3 (or 2 Nc3 d5 3 Nf3) 2...d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 d4 c5 6 dxc5, etc.

At any rate, perhaps as a response, attention has turned to what has always been a respectable but less popular alternative: 9...Qxf6:

This is featured in one of Dvoretsky's old books (Positional Play), and recently McDonald made it part of his repertoire in How to Play Against the French Defence, (which I'll quote quite a bit from). There were three relevant games this month, all involving 2600 types as Black. Two are mismatches in rating, but still relevant. I'll give them with analysis in Fernandez - Torre - M Gurevich, Leon 2010. The whole variation is much too flexible to cover the many possible paths it can take, but I hope that this is a good start.

In Druckenthaner - Drozdovskij, Hastings 2009, Black tries the alternative 7...Nc5. I haven't time before the deadline (nor the energy) to examine the theory in any depth, but wanted to show the game.

This entire variation was given the massive treatment on the Forum of the 'Contest' position in the Kaissiber Theoretical Competition (sponsored by Stefan Bücker) , and I've put many of the lines there into Fernandez Torre - Gurevich. I strongly suggest that readers take a look in there on a regular basis, whenever you're looking for suggestions for White or Black.

Winawer Variation

Reader Daniel Castro asks an insightful question:

"After 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. a4 b6 8. Bb5+ ( usually labelled with a exclamation mark) Bd7 9. Bd3, White has avoided the exchange of his powerful light-squared bishop.

But I've been wondering if 8...Kf8, preserving the possibility of ...Ba6 could be playable." See my admittedly preliminary discussion in Reader D Castro Question- Winawer 7 a4 b6 8 Bb5+ Kf8.

That's it for this month. It's been fun looking at out-of-the-mainstream lines which nevertheless have plenty of unanswered questions to address.

Till next month, John

Please post you queries on the French Forum, or subscribers can write to me at if you have any questions or queries.