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Properly representing recent play in the French Defence is not easy, because there are developments in nearly every line. I've chosen games based upon whether they fill a gap in theory as covered in the Archives, or because strong players are contesting important variations.

Download PGN of October '10 French games

2 Qe2 Attack

The anti-French move 2 Qe2 is an old one, often associated with Morozevich' s name because he is the highest-ranked modern player to experiment with it. White usually wants to set up a King's Indian Attack structure (d3/Nf3/g3/Bg2) while discouraging ...d5 for a while. The idea is to avoid heavy theory and get to a playable position. Black has a wide variety of setups he can play. In Willemze - Peng Zhaoqin, Haarlem 2010, the game indeed became a sort of King's Indian Attack, but one in which Black hadn't played ...Nf6-d7:

Here he tried the typical French move 6...f6, leading to a position that opened up quickly.

Advance Variation

Sergei Movsesian is the player belonging to the world's leading players who is most dedicated to 3 e5. In Movsesian-E Berg, Khanty-Mansiysk 2010, (and in his game with Werle in the notes), we see him playing the old 5...Qb6 6 Be2 line, very likely the best chance for an advantage. The resulting position comes from theory:

In a very hard-fought game, Black equalises, then White gets the advantage, and a draw ultimately results.

Movsesian - Kosic, Sibenik 2010, tested the line 5...Qb6 6 a3 Nh6 7 Bd3, which soon led to this standard position:

White can't count upon any advantage here, as many games have shown, but this variation puts the better positional player in position to outplay his opponent without much risk. An instructive manoeuvring game results.

Tarrasch Variation

A postscript to last month's overview of 3 Nd2 h6. Reader Mavros Whissell sent me the game Whissell - Chung, Kitchener (Ontario Closed) 2010, in which White plays the Universal System with the rather unthreatening 8 0-0, but answers 8...g5 with 9 c4!?:

This fresh idea, losing a tempo with c3-c4, is in some ways an improvement on the direct c4 which we saw last month, because Black's extra move ...g5 weakens his kingside. Nevertheless, Black can also use ...g5 to his advantage, and fascinating positions result.

Speaking of tying up loose ends, another set of 3...Nf6 Tarrasch main lines with the Ne2-f4 tactical melee appeared this month. We keep thinking that Black has solved any problems in this line, but notice that Vallejo Pons (~2700) recently used this as White versus a player 250 points below him, so he must think it's possible to get the advantage or at least realistic winning chances in the resulting positions. In Paehtz - Kipper, Bundesliga 2010, I combine these recent games with a lot of notes. The main games stem from this position:

To my mind, the interesting question is who gets the better practical chances, because the overall theoretical verdict is equality. After losing some key games over the years, White is finding ways to force his opponent to play accurately.

Winawer Variation

Having exhausted the Poisoned Pawn Winawer for a while (although new games keep coming in), I want to catch up a little on the more static 7 Qg4 0-0 lines. In Kovchan - Nilsson, Copenhagen 2010, we follow what has become one of the main lines, beginning with this position:

The disappointing assessment of several key variations is that neither side can expect to get serious winning chances versus correct play.

If Black plays 7...cxd4 instead of 7...0-0 or 7...Qc7, White can generally transpose to the Poisoned Pawn by playing 8 Qxg7. But we've seen before that he has options, and the high profile game Vuckovic - Grischuk, Khanty-Mansiysk 2010, he experimented with the most crucial one, 8 Bd3. After 8...Qa5, White played the new move 9 Rb1!?:

When Grischuk responded with the rather eccentric 10...Kf8!?, after capturing the c-pawn, they had left the books behind. White launched a speculative attack that may have been objectively shaky, but ended up packing quite a punch. With some kingside sacrifices and a king walk, quite a battle ensued.

The positional main lines may be more to your taste when playing White, if only to avoid massive theory. After 7 a4 and 7 Nf3, strategic ideas and positional feel tend to mean more than in the tactically-oriented 7 Qg4 lines.

In Escobar Forero- Rodshtein, La Bordeta 2010, White invites a standard ending which goes back to the time of Botvinnik:

Black plays ...cxd4 and exchanges queens. The basic themes arise from several variations are worthy of careful study.

In Martinian - Abrahamyan, Yerevan 2010, the same type of position arises, but Black uses the move ...b6 to keep more play on the board. This can produce some rich middlegames.

MacCutcheon Variation

The big game in the MacCutcheon was doubtless Anand - Shirov, Bilbao 2010, played just a few days ago.

Here Anand went with the dynamic 14 h5 (rather than the dull and equal 14 Nxd4), and Shirov either didn't know the theory or decided to innovate. I suspect the former, because after 14...g5 (I try to show that 14...Qxc3+ is satisfactory as well, but it's less tested) 15 Qf6, the established move 15...Rg8! appears to be far superior to Shirov's 15...Rf8?, which led to big trouble right away. In an exciting battle, Shirov managed to confuse Anand with defensive tricks just enough to survive; but White had a winning position right out of the opening.

I've spent a lot of time here trying to indicate the right ways for Black to play here, and suspect that Anand was betting upon his superior knowledge of the opening rather than expecting a forced advantage.

Till next month, John

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