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A lot of games this month! Looking over them now, I see that more than half of the lines considered here are old (some in the process of being revived), or slightly irregular. This should fill in some holes in what is the biggest French book ever written - the ChessPublishing archives!

Download PGN of January '11 French games

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Advance Variation

The simple solution 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Nh6 is standing Black in good stead. I recommended it in my Dangerous Weapons: French, as does Moskalenko in The Flexible French. White doesn't often choose 6 Bxh6, but by doing so he gains some time in exchange for ceding the bishop pair.

In Korneev - Larino Nieto, Elgoibar 2011, this basic position was reached. White has a few alternatives of about equal value, with what looks like dynamic equality in each case. An interesting line to investigate.

In the old main line of the ...Qb6 Advance with 6 a3, Black tried one version of the tricky ...Na5 idea (perhaps not the best instantiation of the idea) twice in this month's batch, and was punished both times. White seems to have found an excellent solution here:

Brandenburg - Werle, Groningen 2010 is an example of the move 12 Qc2. In the game and notes, Black's best seems to be a pawn sacrifice in which he has some but probably not full compensation for a pawn.

Tarrasch Variation

In the traditional 3 Nd3 d5 4 exd5 exd5 lines, Black generally plays ...Bd6, allowing dxc5 and Nb3. He can also play ...cxd4 first, which has often been considered rather cooperative.

In Caruana - Short, Reggio Emilia 2011, Black never had any real problems.

Winawer Variation

A couple of less frequently-played lines first. In Vovk - Bobula, Kosice 2011, we see a textbook kingside attack by White in one of the slower formations with 6...Ne7 7 a4 Qc7:

This used to be played more often, and is not refuted; but the game shows how dangerous it can be to leave the d4/e5 centre intact. Note that manoeuvre of Black's knight to c4, while optically attractive, doesn't achieve much. In another recent game in the notes, Shirov also demonstrates an advantage versus Black's setup.

The traditional 6...Qc7 main lines are not terribly popular among the best players, but one newer setup has drawn some attention, i.e., 7 Qg4 f5 8 Qg3 Nc6:

This has gotten some theoretical attention over the last five years, and has been featured in Moskalenko's games and writings. The positive benefit of attacking d4 and e5 has to be weighed against the loss of Black's favourite plan of ...b6 and ...Ba6.

So far we haven't had a main game with 8...Nc6 on ChessPublishing. Just in time for this month's column, Black was successful in the high-level game Smeets - Ponomariov, Wijk aan Zee A 2011. I've tried to fold in some background, but there's an awful lot of material that would have to be reviewed in order to fill in the details.

Due to an email I got just before delivering this column (see the notes), I'm adding some supplementary analysis to address one idea following 8...Nc6 9 Ne2(!). This is in the cleverly-named game "Analysis of 6...Qc7/...Nc6 - Winawer [Smeets-Pono]". The idea is 9...Kf7, which is certainly odd-looking (after all, the king belongs on d7 in the French, not f7!), but I don't see anything wrong with it.

In the 4 Nge2 variation, there's an ending that pops up from time to time in which White tries to exploit his two bishops:

The problem is that the position is opened at too early a stage, which means that after 8...Be6! 9 Qxe4 Nf6 in Caruana - Kovacevic, Zadar 2010, Black's piece play compensated for the bishop pair.

I've given a few more notes on 6...Qa5 7 Qb1 c4 (and a silly one on 6...Nc6) in Willemze - Heemskerk, Groningen 2010.

A standard position. White goes overboard with a sacrifice, but Black misses his best continuations and gets smashed. The whole line is theoretically balanced; I haven't gone into the details here.

I also haven't looked at 7 Qg4 0-0 much, since it's a little out of fashion; but in fact, according to recent games and my own analysis. I doubt that White can show a theoretical advantage. Franklin - Knott, Hastings 2010-2011 examines one of the main lines in which Khalifman claims an advantage with the move 15 Ng1:

In the game, Black found his way to a draw, but he had early options (especially on his 16th- and 17th-moves) which would have been good ways to avoid the technical difficulties which arose. I also look at some earlier White alternatives.

Of course there's the obligatory Poisoned Pawn, and Kovacevic - Bukal, Zadar 2010 serves as an example of the popular 12...d4 line:

White plays 13 Ng3; at first, the game follows some earlier theory, which I outline without examining it in detail.

Classical Variation

The Alekhine-Chatard revival continues for White. This time it's our own Goh Wei Ming who conducts the White pieces! Sure enough, he employs Hector's 8 Qd3 move:

Within a remarkably short time, White is winning in Goh Wei Ming- Pham Thi Ngoc Tu, Ho Chi Minh City 2011.

Till next month, John

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