ForumHelpSearchMy ProfileSite InfoGuests InfoRepertoireLinks
This month, after two rather technical Tarrasch Variation games, I concentrate upon 3 Nc3. No sidelines this time: The most popular Winawer main lines contested among grandmasters recently have been the Poisoned Pawn and 'Portisch/Hook' Variations (the latter is 6...Qa4 7 Bd2 Qa4), and I have several of these. The MacCutcheon is on the upswing for Black, and the Classical Steinitz never stops being popular with either colour, so we'll see some new examples of each.

Download PGN of June '10 French games

Tarrasch Variation

French players who like 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 are sometimes frustrated by White's 4 Ngf3 order, since that keeps them out of their favorite positions and can be slightly irritating. In Rublevsky - Riazantsev, Poikovsky 2010, it's interesting to see how Black gets to the same pawn structure (extra centre pawn and 4:3 kingside majority) by playing ...Qxd5 anyway and voluntarily placing a knight on the rim:

Black equalises without too much difficulty.

The move 3...a6 goes back-and-forth in popularity. After 4 Ngf3 c5 5 dxc5 Bxc5 6 Bd3 followed by an early exd5/...exd5, the resulting position can easily transpose into or closely resemble standard 3 Nd2 c5 4 exd5 exd5 lines:

Here is a typical position. Black is probably O.K., but it may not be the smartest one to play against Mickey Adams, who is a master of technique. Adams is brilliant in exploiting the IQP in Adams - Akobian, Chicago 2010. In the notes, the Hess-Shulman game from the US Championship shows how White must be careful not to allow ...c4 under the wrong circumstances.

Winawer Variation

The Winawer Poisoned Pawn main line, 6...Ne7 7 Qg4 cxd4 8 Qxg7 Rg8 9 Qxh7 Qc7 10 Ne2 Nc6 11 f4 Bd7 12 Qd3 dxc3, is back in fashion and being played more frequently all the time.

This is Spassky's 14 Ne2 move, Khalifman's recommendation in his massive 'According to Anand' series. In Kargin - Martinovic, Bosna 2010, White demonstrates a simple way to consolidate his forces, but only after Black avoids the theoretical line which I presented in a previous column (see the notes).

Versus 14 Ne2, Nikita Vitiugov recommends 14...Rc8 in his new book, and I've cited some of his analysis in the game.

In So - Sadorra, Tagaytay City 2010, Black tries out one of my favorite recommended maneuvers from Play the French.

Here Black played ...b6/...Bb7/...Qc8 with the idea ...Ba6. But So's excellent play casts this into serious doubt, at least in this particular position. It looks like Black should deviate earlier, which there are various ways to do. But I'll have to look at this maneuver in similar positions as well, to see when and where it holds up.

The 'Portisch/Hook Variation' with 6...Qa4 7 Bd2 Qa4 (my latest name for it, in deference to the argument by Forum readers that Portisch deserves some credit) has been covered a lot in this column, as well as in recent books and articles. Nakamura - Schulman, St Louis 2010, was arguably the most important game in this year's U.S, Championship, since it eliminated the previous champion. It was certainly the most exciting of the games at the top.

This is a gambit pioneered (or at least developed) by Kasparov. Shulman uses a relatively obscure approach with the move 12...h6 which, however, hasn't proven bad in its few tests.

Hamdouichi - Sethuraman, Guinjamp 2010, tested one of the highly positional lines in this variation, with White playing Qb1/h4-h5/Nf3 versus ...c4/...h6/...Nge7/...Bd7/..0-0-0:

Games in this setup tend to go on at length without much dramatic happening, and this was no exception, until finally action broke out with a typical Black kingside pawn break. In general, this variation appears to be equal.

In a role reversal for the player of White, Sethuraman - Willemze, Bosna 2010, saw an extremely similar setup:

Here too the chances should have been equal, but Black got a little careless with his timing of a central break and his king became exposed.

Classical Variation

In the Classical, the most interesting game was once again played in the main line of the 5 f4/6 Be3/7 Nf3 variation with 7...Be7. Sethuraman - Bajarani, Kirishi 2010 (our third game by Sethuraman!) saw Black play a rather restrained version of the main line, though not a bad one:

After ...f5, things heated up very rapidly and White won with a very pretty attack.

Another standard position arises from either 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Bc5 9 Qd2 0-0 10 0-0-0 a6 or 7...a6 8 Qd2 cxd4 9 Nxd4 Bc5 10 0-0-0 0-0:

We've been here several times before, and in Pruijssers - Sengupta, Sarajevo (Bosna) 2010, I review various recent contests with it.

MacCutcheon Variation

The MacCutcheon Variation is proving to be a reliable weapon for those who would rather not surrender the centre (4 Bg5 dxe4) or cede space without structural compensation (4 Bg5 Be7). In Wang Zili-Wang Hao, Hefei 2010, Black chose to play the ..Bd7-c6 variation popularised by Glek:

A typical position. In the game, the play is equal but White allows Black a kingside advance and central break, then escapes with some luck.

Finally, in the game MacCutcheon 8...Kf8 Analysis, I reproduce the earlier ChessPub notes on the line 8 Qg4 Kf8, and add new annotations which were sent to me by Paul Cumbers, with additional comments of my own. I've made his new analysis about 20...Nxd4 the main line of the game, and I've included Neil McDonald's and Paul's notes from previous games. It appears that the whole line s indeed playable for the second player.

Apart from delving into the analysis, I want to apologize for misidentifying the annotations in the Archives game Gdanski-Talla. I attributed them to Paul rather than to Neil.

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.