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For the most part, I'll stick with main lines this month, if only because the 2500+ players seem to think that the French should be approached head on. It's difficult to tell whether they do so because they feel the variations are objectively best, or because they assume their preparation is superior. Probably some combination of both.

Download PGN of July '10 French games

Tarrasch Variation

In Fargere - Gleizerov, Marrakesh 2010, we see what is arguably the main line of the 3...Nf6 Tarrasch with 10...Qc7:

Here 17...Rf5 is the most interesting and promising move. The game's 17...Rf8 was also satisfactory, but gives no real winning chances.

Winawer Variation

Bove - Passerotti, Torino 2010, features the move 4 a3 versus the Winawer. In spite of Fischer's use, the move has never caught on among the world's elite; perhaps it deserves another look:

Here's a critical position from the variation with ...Nbd7. White threatens Ng5 with potential destruction on the kingside. Black has to decide whether to grab a pawn. Both sides have chances in this interesting line.

Although the 7 Qg4 variations are the most popular, we still see the 7 Nf3 and 7 a4/7 h4 Positional Winawers with some regularity. In DeFirmian - Furman, Las Vegas 2010, Korchnoi's move 7...Bd7, trying to get to main lines most efficiently, is put to the test:

Here 8 a4 will usually transpose to well-known variations, but Spassky's move 8 dxc5 remains unresolved. In the game, Black defends well enough until he uncorks an enormous blunder which effectively ends the game.

We've seen the Winawer with 7 Qg4 Kf8 in this column, but only a brief note on 8 Qd1:

This move protects the queenside (especially c2 and c3) from Black's pieces, while supporting White's own attack there. White also has much better chances of an effective a4 and Ba3 than with his queen on g4. Bologan - Rasidovic, Bosna 2010, is a game which could serve as a model for White's play in the Winawer. White simply tears his opponent apart in 22 moves.

The Winawer Poisoned Pawn main line, 6...Ne7 7 Qg4 cxd4 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 Qc7, continues to be featured in 6...Ne7 7 Qg4 contests. After 10 Ne2 Nbc6 11 f4, 11...dxc3 is being played a lot (as opposed to the traditional 11...Bd7), when White's latest try is 12 Nxc3:

We've seen this recently in this column, and in the game Karjakin - Sutovsky, Poikovsky 2010, I analyse both 12...Nxe5 and 12...Nd4. The main game is extraordinarily complicated and fun, with the result absolutely unclear up to the last moment.

Classical Variation

We've seen quite a few Classical Steinitz lines over the past few years, and it has become a very popular variation for both colours. After 7 Be3 Be7 (all the rage, as we've seen before; somehow waiting creates as many or more problems than the immediate 7...cxd4 or 7...a6) 8 Qd2 0-0, the modest 9 Be2 is being seen more often, and 9...a6 10 0-0 b5 might even be considered the new main line of the Classical Steinitz:

A tremendous variety of plans exist for both sides. Kurnosov - Swiercz, Lublin 2010, examines some of them, while the game itself is an exciting back-and-forth affair.

The well-established 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Bc5 variation of the Steinitz occurred in Riff - Feller, Guingamp 2010.

In the notes I survey some of the important games which have marked practice over the past few years. While Black can undoubtedly reach equality, White can pose more problems and has had an edge in practice.

MacCutcheon Variation

The variation with 8..Kf8 (after 4 Bg5 Bb4 5 e5 h6 6 Bd2 Bxc3 7 bxc3 Ne4 8 Qg4) went 4-0 this month:

In Severiukhina - Volkov, Voronezh 2010, Black, an experienced French player rated 300 points above his opponent, struggles with the position and ultimately loses. Since he does equalise out of the opening, and because Black has theoretical equality after 8...Kf8, the line is clearly playable. But Black has to be sure to understand which type of attacks by White are effective and which aren't; otherwise White will have a practical edge because his plans are the easier ones to implement.

In Xu Yuhua-Chen Yun, Hefei 2010, Black played the more conventional 8...g6, and White chose a somewhat unconventional plan with dxc5:

White is looking for active piece play by Nd4/Rb1/Qf4, etc. The play is equal, but unbalanced and full of interest.

Till next month, John

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