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A lot of games and notes this month! There are always too many good ones to present. In general (and this month), I'll try to update a small number of variations in some depth, but avoid overspecializing by limiting myself to one. If I did the latter, the reader would probably never see several of his favorite lines covered.

Download PGN of March '10 French games

Advance Variation

Whether justified or not, 3...c5 4 c3 Nc6 5 Nf3 Qb6 6 a3 is still the most frequently-occurring variation of the Advance Variation. Then your choice between 6...c4 and retaining the tension with, say, 6...Nh6, might be indicative of what kind of French player you are. The former move can involve closed positions and long manoeuvering, and the alternatives tend to turn tactical or at least lead to dynamic positions. Viktor Moskalenko plays in a variety of ways, but his book The Flexible French devotes 32 pages to 6...c4, which he calls the 'Old Blockade System'! So when we see Moskalenko losing with that move, it's worth a look. In Yilmaz - Moskalenko, Angora 2010, this standard position arises:

Now there are at least seven respectable moves! In the game, Black reaches a good position, but gets impatient and breaks too early in the centre.

The 'modern' line with 6...Nh6 7 b4 cxd4 8 cxd4 Nf5 9 Bb2 was reached by transposition in Radulski - Bratanov, Plovdiv 2010. We've seen many games with 9...Bd7 and a couple with 9...Be7 (see the Archives), but it's not clear what's wrong with what Bratanov plays, which in fact one of the earliest moves in this variation, 9...a5. This has the idea 10 b5 a4:

I've surveyed a number of games and options and it appears that 9...a5 is playable, but that would take further study to be sure of.

A standard line arises if Black plays ...cxd4, ...Nge7-f5, ...Bd7 while White defends d4 by Be2 and Na3-c2. This is one position that arises consistently:

In the notes to Saltaev - Meister, Bundesliga 2009-10, I identify some typical ideas by way of practical examples. White generally resorts to g4 at some point, which gains space but leaves him vulnerable to ...h5. Black has few theoretical problems, but either player can use this variation on the grounds that the better player will usually win.


Since I've taken over this area, I haven't paid attention to the Guimard variation, 3 Nd2 Nc6, which Neil McDonald almost single-handedly brought to the attention of average players in this column. He charted the greatly improved results that Black has achieved over the past decade at high levels of play, and added numerous improvements. This month's batch included 17 games with the Guimard. Quite original positions arose, even if none of them put 3...Nc6 into serious danger.

Vrana - Szablowski, Novy Bor 2010, saw the line 5 e5 Nd7 6 c4!?. This has often been answered by 6...dxc4 with the idea ...Nb6, which is probably all right, but Black played 6...Be7:

White has no logical move which doesn't lose time or allow Black to counterattack the centre and get more breathing room. I don't believe that 6 c4 is a serious challenge to the Guimard.

Rooze - Simon Padres, Dresden 2010, features the most dynamic and critical line after 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 c3 f6, leading to:

This is recommended by Tzermiadanos in his How to Beat the French Defence book. In the game, Black plays a new move that seems to justify the previously maligned 9...Nxd4. Instead, 9...Ndxe5 is the recommended line in my Dangerous Weapons: French book. I have included a lengthy analytical update on Tzermiadanos' recommendations against that move. Thus Black has a choice of solutions to 9 Nd4, ranging from safe to rather wild.

The same line (6 c3 f6...) was played in Platt - Drozdovskij, Rijeka 2010. This time White exchanged on f6 and a standard position arose:

Black has no less than three equalisers here, and in each case enough play remains for either side to justify playing for a win.

The similar idea 6 Be2 with the idea Nf1 was seen in Jurkovic - Pandurevic, Zagreb 2010.

This is the main line, well-tested over the past half century but still yielding new ideas. The players come out of the open with equal chances, the nice part being that the position is totally unbalanced.

White's most solid attempt for advantage is considered to be 6 Nb3. In Sjugirov - Korobov, Moscow 2010, the main line came about:

Black's strategy is a combination of ...c5 and ...Ba6. So far no one has found a plan against it which yields an advantage (see my book, for example), and in this game Black gets a substantial edge before giving most of it away in complications.

In the traditional main line of the 3...Nf6 French (with Bd3/Ne2, not Ngf3), the highly theoretical variations have settled down somewhat. In Kryvoruchko - Apicella, Cappelle la Grande 2010, the following position is reached after 14 Qc1:

With both 14 Ne2 and 14 g3 looking satisfactory for Black, this solid move is attracting more attention, and Mickey Adams use is a good advertisement. Nevertheless, both sides might end a little disappointed in the main line after 14...Ng5; apparently Black can get to a drawn position in several lines, but then he himself has no winning chances.

Classical/Steinitz Variation

The Classical Variation was very successful for White this month. For example, after 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3, he scored 4 wins and 3 draws against 7...a6, and 3 wins with 1 draw against 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Bc5, in both cases with a huge performance rating differential (i.e., the players of Black were not weak!). Only the fashionable 7...Be7, covered last time, held its own; I've nevertheless included a nice win for White against 7...Be7 in the notes to the Svetushkin game below, along with alternatives for Black.

Peptan - Repkova, Cotroceni 2010, is a miniature with a silly ending, but also a clear example of White's most primitive strategy in the Classical succeeding.

The move 11 Kb1 is safe and logical, waiting for Black to show his (or her, in this case) cards. I've annotated two other recent games in this variation in the notes, both wins for White.

7...a6 was tested in Svetushkin - Iljushin, Moscow 2010. Black played a series of five consecutive pawn moves to establish himself on the queenside and prevent White's kingside attack.

But White spotted the flaw and played 12 c4!, showing that Black has neglected the center. Svetushkin missed a chance to overwhelm his opponent, and then a fantastic fight ensued.

Till next month, John

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