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Welcome to the March 2007 French Update.
I try to avoid statistics as much as possible, but there is no denying that Black has a great time of it in this month's update, scoring 8/10. It's been perhaps the most successful month for the French Defence since I started covering it way back in 1999.

Well, you could say I cheated by deliberately selecting games Black won, and there might be some truth in it. But just consider the Elo ratings of the white players and the number of moves the games lasted: players rated 2616 and 2587 contrived to lose in 21[!] moves; a player rated 2572 lost in 22 moves; a player 2556 in 24 moves; and Svidler, rated 2728, could only survive 28 moves.

In the games Black won that lasted more than 30 moves, all three players of White- Hertneck, 2520, Bologan, 2658, and Navara, 2719- were all a piece down by move 30 and could easily have resigned at that point.

Anyway, let's take a look at some of these brevities, as well as a couple of games in which the underdog [ I mean White] managed to pull off a win.

Download PGN of March '07 French games

Tarrasch 3.Nd2 Be7

Black is alive and kicking

Until the late 1990s Black's little bishop move was only thought to deserve a single paragraph in chess books; now it is a fully fledged Tarrasch mainline. In the first game we see GM Kotronias, an excellent opening analyst, getting a taste of his own medicine when the prodigy Nepomniachtchi comes up with an important improvement. Here is Kotronias - Nepomniachtchi.

The second game features 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Be7 4.e5 c5 5.Qg4, which has caused Black some anxiety recently:

It's all still pretty murky, but Black is winning some convincing games, including Balogh - Cvek.

Fort Knox 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7

Much too interesting for fans of the Fort Knox

I have mixed feelings about the game featured here. I'm pleased that the Fort Knox claimed a victim rated over 2700; on the other hand I'm a bit alarmed at the attacking resources that were shown to be at White's disposal after 15.d5!:

Fort Knox addicts like their wins to come smoothly, not in tactical melees! Anyway, here is Navara - Rustemov.

Rubinstein: 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7

An unpromising variation for White

Here we look at the old mainline 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Nf3 Ngf6 6.Nxf6+ Nxf6 7.Bd3. As you can see in the archives, over the last few years most top players have rejected this approach as White in favour of 7.c3 c5 8.Ne5. It's no wonder when you see how much trouble White gets into when he tries to play sharply in the game Nepomniachtchi - Drozdovskij.

Classical: 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5

Part One: A great way for Black to dodge theory

This month I've had a look at the unusual, but increasingly popular, sideline 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 Be7!?:

This simple developing move avoids all the heavy weight theory after 7...a6 and as far as I can tell is perfectly sound. It was used by Morozevich to beat Kramnik in a blindfold game at the Melody Amber 2003 tournament, but for some reason it hasn't really caught on. I have chosen three games: in the first, which features queenside castling by White, there is an upset when French hero Gurevich loses to a much lower rated opponent. However, Black looked very close to a win before a glorious swindle struck him down. The second game shows how Black can punish a passive response by White; while in the third game, the German GM Thomas Luther displays great skill in demolishing his opponent's centre. Here are Saric - Gurevich, Shomoev - Riazantsev and Bologan - Luther.

Part Two: Morozevich's adventures in the mainline after 7...a6

Alexander Morozevich faced 4.e5 twice at the 2007 Morella/ Linares tournament, and played down the mainline with 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6.Here Topalov came up with 8.Ne2!?:

This is a very unusual move. White intends to consolidate his pawn chain with c2-c3 and then start a pawn storm on the kingside with g2-g4 and f4-f5- or at least that appears to be Topalov's idea, as Morozevich got in first with a pawn advance of his own on the kingside. I've analysed the game and suggested an improvement for Black in Topalov - Morozevich.

In the last round of the tournament, Svidler stuck to the mainline with 8.Qd2 b5 9.a3 when Morozevich came up with the rather unusual 9...Bb7. It is interesting that he avoided 'his' gambit 9...g5. A sharp positional fight ensued, which is discussed in Svidler - Morozevich.

Winawer Mainline: 7.Qg4 Qc7

Three pawns up, but the white king in peril

The spotlight this month is focused on 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4 Bd7 12.Qd3 dxc3 13.Rb1 d4!?:

I'm surprised that Black doesn't play like this more often: after 14.Nxd4 the open d-file is going to be a long term hazard for the white king. Not even the exchange of queens abates the black attack in Hertneck - Bunzmann.

Anyway, that's all for this month. I hope you enjoyed the games. Good luck with your chess and see you next time.

Best Regards, Neil

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