French Update June 2002
Welcome to the June French update. I'm actually coming out of retirement to play some tournaments this summer so hopefully I'll get the chance to show off some wins on the website! If you have a similar inclination or want to discuss anything French-wise just drop me an email. Meanwhile let's look at the latest ideas of the big guns.
When Ruslan Ponomariov became FIDE World Champion it was claimed in certain quarters that his success was mainly due to the fact that he adjusted to the fast time controls and hectic schedule better than his opponents. As if intent on disproving this theory Ponomariov played excellently at Linares to come second to Kasparov at a classical time control, and then crashed out early in the first two rapid play FIDE GP tournaments! So we must look for other reasons for his fantastic achievements at such a young age.
One of the marks of a Champion is to find new ideas in the opening. In the case of Kasparov these are often powerful improvements in theoretical lines which give him a definite plus; with Ponomariov they tend to be less spectacular and may not objectively give any advantage. Nevertheless, they take the opponent out of his desired set up and force him to play chess, not just trot out familiar moves or plans. The game today is a good example of Ponomariov's ability to set his opponent fresh problems. We are already familiar with the 4 e5 Nfd7 5 Nce2 method of reaching a Tarrasch pawn structure from the Classical. Instead Ponomariov plays his knight to e2 on move seven, which seems to confuse Akopian, who immediately chooses the wrong plan. Thereafter White's exploitation of his dark square pressure is remorseless. This wonderful game could have been played by Botvinnik or Karpov. Enjoy checking up Ponomariov-Akopian
Classical 4.Bg5 [C14]
A new system of development in the Classical as early as move seven? Sounds impossible in the year 2002, yet that's what occurs in the next game. Black is rewarded with a rapid attack and a convincing win. Of course it might have been played before in an obscure club or tournament game that I know nothing about, but you can see the ideas introduction into master chess by checking out the game Cheparinov-Graf.
Classical/Rubinstein 4...dxe4 5.Nxe4 Nbd7 [C10]
Despite the Classical move order, the summary of games in this line is in the Rubinstein ebook as Black avoids ...h7-h6.
Korchnoi is still going strong- possibly every tournament result he has is the best of all time by a player of his age. However, in the game selected here he comes unstuck in a variation that has served him well in the past. Basically he spends three moves preparing to get his bishop to f6, only for it to fall victim to a crushing Rxf6! exchange sacrifice. His opponent in this game is a fine attacker but he doesn't always get to demonstrate this at the highest level thanks to a lousy opening repertoire. Have a look at what happens when he is given the chance in Kasimdzhanov-Korchnoi.
Winawer 4.Nge2 [C15]
Last month I was getting excited about White's chances in this line thanks to Berg's demolition of Kindermann. However, Nigel Short's no-nonsense approach with the black pieces has rather poured cold water on the idea. I always thought that the best square for Black's king's knight was f6 rather than e7, but this may be wrong. Short shows admirable restraint in purposefully developing his kingside and avoiding the invitation of his young Swedish to play sharply. Have a look at Berg- Short.
Winawer 7. Qg4 Qc7 8.Bd3 [C18]
A sound, but less enterprising, alternative to 8...cxd4 is 8...c4. The fact that it is played comparatively rarely is perhaps psychological: having already risked his neck with the daring 7...Qc7 rather than the sound 7...0-0 Black is unwilling to revert to solid play with a blocked centre. In the selected game the Hungarian Grandmaster Istvan Farago proves as unbeatable as ever in the French Winawer. It features a tough positional battle in which White's pawn offer on the queenside is trumped by Black's exchange sacrifice on the kingside. Have a look at Gullaksen-Farago.
The Advance Variation: [C02]
4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Bd7 6.a3 a5!?
The archpriests of the Advance as White- Movsesian and Shirov- know that White has to attack with his pawns on the kingside with g2-g4 or h2-h4 at some point, even if it entails risk; to set up barricades isn't good enough, as White's position will eventually be worn down. In the selected game White adopts a passive stance on the kingside for far too long, which makes things very easy for Gurevich, who has won this type of game many times before. You can find another beautiful win by Gurevich against Grischuk in the notes to the instructive game Delchev-Gurevich.
The second Advance game has left me bewildered. Black sacrifices material for serious positional pressure- but can it be worth the exchange and a pawn? In the game he wins in good style, but even though I have written a book on the King's Gambit I wouldn't recommend you try such an extravagant sacrifice at home. Check out Jonkman-Vysochin.
I was also a little confused the first time I played through the final game in the Advance section, but since it was played by the maverick Volkov that doesn't surprise me at all. As you will see there is a firm positional basis to his moves- and no wonder as if it was all just random hackery he would never have become Russian Champion! Have a look at his latest offering in the crazy 6.a3 a5 in Delchev-Volkov.
Tarrasch 3...Be7 [C03]
After some time we revisit this old favourite. Results aren't as good now for Black as when it burst onto the scene a few years back- at the same time as Chesspublishing!-but it remains as potent as ever in the hands of the new star Radjabov. Svidler decides to close the centre but then runs out of ideas and is gradually outplayed. This game was taken from Radjabov's greatest success to date- second place in the FIDE GP tournament in which he only lost to Kasparov in the match final. Judging from the game given here we still have a lot more to see from both 3....Be7 and Radjabov. Here's Svidler-Radjabov.
The French Exchange. [C01]
As we know from the French Advance game above Alexander Volkov has one of the wildest styles of any top player. Therefore it is interesting to see what happens when his opponent tries to anaesthetise him with the French Exchange. Semeniuk seems intent to keep it tight and dull, but Volkov replies by giving himself doubled and isolated pawns, which is one way of making sure it is no longer balanced! Once the tactics start it is all one way traffic. Have a look at Semeniuk-Volkov.
Well that's all for now. Good luck and happy hunting with the French- let me know if you have any good scalps!