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As this is going to be my last update before I hand the column back to our worthy site owner, I have submitted a bumper issue with 7 densely annotated games. I have not covered the Classical Steinitz in the previous months so there is a lot of material for me to chew on.
I've enjoyed my time as a columnist and have learnt a lot from this experience. Hopefully, this can be reflected in my rating in months to come? (Fingers crossed)

Download PGN of October '09 French games

3.Nc3 Nc6 - Hecht Reefschlager

I initially wanted to make this article an exclusive Steinitz month but I have to show this game as I think it poses a serious threat to all Hecht lovers.

The Dutch GM Friso Nijboer has found many weapons against our beloved defence and it appears that he has found another venomous idea. After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bd3 Bb4, White normally plays 6.e5. In the game Nijboer - Reinderman, White played the outrageous 6.0-0!:

The idea of this move is shown after 6...Bxc3 7.exd5 and no matter how Black chooses to win a pawn, White will nick the 2 bishops plus a huge initiative to boot. I'm not sure if this idea will refute the entire variation for good but it certainly looks like a very good try. At least, all subscribers are aware of it now.

Classical Steinitz - 7...Be7

After the initial excitement over the 7...Be7 variation, the popularity of this line has suffered a dip recently:

From the looks of it, the GMs have decided the antidote to this deceptively poisonous line is by playing 9.Be2 and castling Kingside. The critical position arises after 11.a3 as shown in the next diagram:

In Svidler - Yifan, I took a look at both 11...Qb6 and 11...Bb7 (embedded in the notes) and decided that Black's best chance indeed lies in one of Neil's recommendations:

Here, Black should play the paradoxical 13...a4! instead of the insipid 13..Bb7. Svidler went on to win in fine, instructive style by squeezing his young opponent to oblivion and showed everyone what to avoid when playing this line with Black.

Classical Steinitz - 7...cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5

This line has been the main line of the Steinitz for a long time mainly because it's fundamentally sound and has stood the test of time. Of course, there is a lot of theory in this line but it is definitely worth studying as it can remain in your repertoire for life.

From the diagram position, play normally goes 9.Qd2 0-0 10.0-0-0 a6 and here there are 4 main moves and we will cover them all!

In Amonatov - Rychagov, White played 11.Nb3 (11.Kb1 was also briefly covered), a favourite of Nijboer who has won several games with it. Here, Black has a couple of choices:

1) 11...b6!?

This move came into prominence in the last couple of years and we last saw this on Chesspub in Berg-Marinkovic where Black scored a huge upset. By placing the bishop on c5, Black wants to maintain its pressure on its counterpart while preparing to develop harmoniously with ...Bb7 and ...Rc8. White would preferably refrain from capturing on c5 as that would allow Black to recapture favourably with ...bxc5, increasing Black's control of the centre and helping Black in his attack on the queenside. This effectively means that Black is the one with the control over the tension in the centre and therefore to counteract, White should try to attack on the kingside quickly.

I've included some games in the notes to highlight the typical ideas from this position. Check out Bologan-Speelman in particular to see how fast a top GM can be decimated easily in this treacherous line.

2) 11...Bb4

This is rightly the main move and has been all the rage since the fascinating game Anand-Morozevich St Luis 2005. Despite the result, I do think Black could have equalized with some accuracy and he really should not have walked into the following position:

What a nightmare!

In Akhayan - Meessen, we look at 11.h4, an old move which has also generated much interest from Chesspub in the past. After 11...Nxd4 12.Bxd4 b5 13.Rh3 b4 14.Na4 Bxd4 15.Qxd4:

Both 15...f6 and 15...Qa5 were well-covered on Chesspub with no new updates but I prefer 15...a5! 16.Bb5 Rb8 17.Bd3 f6, a recommendation of both Watson and Pederson. This just looks like a clean equalizer to me and Black should have nothing to fear against this line.

Most people will think of the famous Kramnik-Radjabov game when they see 11.Qf2, but fortunately, the French defenders have managed to come up with some pretty effective replies.

In the notes of Rodriguez - Cruz, I made a case for 11...Nxd4 12.Bxd4 b6!?:

Black normally plays 12...Qc7 but has almost always been massacred. Readers may like the quiet but uncompromising 12...b6 as so far, I've not found anything particularly dangerous for Black

The main game went 11...Bxd4 12.Bxd4 b5 which is the tried, tested and proven antidote to this whole 11.Qf2 idea. In the game, Black whipped up an attack on the queenside with very logical means and obtained the following position:

A dream French position for sure.

Classical Steinitz - 7...a6 8.Qd2 b5 9.a3 g5!?

I've always liked this line and consider it to be one of the most aggressive, dynamic and modern variations of the entire French complex. Its popularity has dipped in recent times though, and I'm not sure what the reason is.

White generally continues with 10.fxg5 (most principled. For alternatives, check out the archives) 10...cxd4 11.Nxd4 and now, Black has a choice.

In Polzin - Feygin, we look at what I believe was the sounder recapture with 11...Ncxe5:

Here, Khalifmann made a strong case for 12.Nf3!?, a "paradoxical retreat" as described by Neil, and this might have triggered the recent popularity of this move. Feygin was unfazed though, and instead of castling short which almost everyone else had (and suffered), chose to castle long and obtained a promising position.

Finally, we take a look at 11...Ndxe5 in Wan Yun Guo - Goh Wei Ming, where White tried the extremely rare but very interesting 12.Be2!? (at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this happened to be yet another Khalifmann recommendation!)

This actually makes a lot of sense and White could have gotten a large advantage straight from the opening. As it turned out, I managed to escape unscathed from the opening, played progressively worse as time goes on and was clearly losing before I got an embarrassingly lucky break.

That's all for now. Hope you've enjoyed these games and thanks to all who have sent me encouraging emails over the past 6 to 7 months. Good luck with your chess!

Do send me your comments and criticisms (politely please) to, or drop me a PM on the forum and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Have fun with your chess!