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I look at only three variations this month. First, there's a group of games with a rare Tarrasch Variation favourite of mine; hopefully it will inspire some interest. Then I use a series of games to try to fill some gaps in the Poisoned Pawn Winawer. Unless a truly blockbuster game comes around, I hope to give the whole variation a rest for a few months after this. Finally, I'll look at couple of MacCutcheon games and address a small subset of issues in this ever-more-complicated variation.

Download PGN of September '10 French games

Tarrasch Variation

I recommended the remarkable-looking move 3...h6 (in response to 3 Nd2) in my book Dangerous Weapons: The French. Brought into general attention by Eingorn and some GMs and IMs seeking new paths, it has easily survived refutation attempts and scored quite conventionally. The only attempts in theory books to address 3...h6 from White's point of view have in my opinion failed to show even a small White advantage. Nevertheless, the move hasn't really hasn't caught on yet. I noticed that there were only four examples in this month's batch (and none in last month's); still, they were contested by players in the 2400-2600 range for both colours, including GMs and IMs. And Black scored 3-1. Maybe the tide is turning a bit.

In Konnyu - Hoang Thanh Trang, Budapest 2010 White tries 4 Ngf3 Nf6 5 e5 Nfd7 6 c4!?:

This move has been seen in several recent games with 3...h6. It tries to take advantage of the fact that ...h6 doesn't attend to the centre. The drawback is that White can no longer shore up his centre with c3, and Black immediately tries to exploit this.

In Mestre Bellido-Bhat, Badalona 2010, White plays a main line with 4 Ngf3, 5 e5, and 6 Bd3, but without c3:

He thus concedes his supporting pawn on d4 in order to overprotect e5 a la Nimzowitsch. This should lead to an equal and unbalanced game, but White proceeds too slowly and when his e5 pawn goes, Black's centre is too strong (although the game itself turns messy).

Maslak - Volkov, Irkutsk 2010, sees White avoid any e5 commitment by playing the relatively safe 4 Bd3 and 5 dxc5. This leads to a fairly normal position except that Volkov substitutes ...Nge7 for the usual ...Nf6:

This looks a bit strange in conjunction with ...h6, but he seems to equalise easily and Black in fact grabs an early advantage.

In Khamrakulov - Duong The Anh, Kuala Lumpur 2010, White also tries his luck with a dxc5 and Bd3 setup. This leads to a standard IQP position:

Black could have placed his bishop on d6 instead of e7, but he has full equality anyway.

Winawer Variation

I'm going to tie up some loose ends in the Poisoned Pawn Variation with three recent games (taken from the past few months), as well as two older ones by prominent players. The latter provide a good outline for gathering material and resolving some very specific setups by White. The Poisoned Pawn is not easy to study in the sense of learning every line by heart; but if you get used to all the tactical themes, it's not too hard to work out the relevant ones for both sides over the board.

In Kokarev - Sadykov, Izhevsk 2010, White returns to our much-discussed 14 Ne2, answering 14...Nf5 with the rare move 15 Bd2, strengthening c3 and covering a5 (versus ...Na5). It's quite a reasonable way for White to get a double-edged game while avoiding well-known (and often forcing) main lines:

Navara - Petrik, Rapid Open, Hustopece 2010 reconsiders the dangerous older variation in which White plays an immediate h4-h5:

Black has at least four ways of contesting this unresolved position, which is full of tactical possibilities and exciting play.

Papp - Liedl, Oberwart 2010, sees an attempted revival of the older line in which White plays Rg1 and g4 (similar to the Tait plan we looked at last month):

This which leads to some interesting options on the last few moves. Because the theory is so complicated, I've broken it down into separate games. Besides Papp-Liedl, I've re-analysed the previously annotated ChesPublishing game Svidler-E Berg, EU-chT Heraklion 2010, with an examination of move orders, reaching very different conclusions. Thanks to the assistance of E Berg and Rybka 4.

Finally, I look separately at an older high-level game with 15 h4!?, Shirov - Shulman, World Cup Khanty Mansiysk 2007, in order to make sense of this particular move order and its consequences.

MacCutcheon Variation

The MacCutcheon continues to be a major fighting ground, surely in part because Black wants to avoid the less interesting lines with 3...dxe4 or 4...dxe4. In Rombaldoni - Vuelban, Di Roseto 2010, we see the main 8 Qg4 Kf8 line, where White plays the positional Rhb1 and Black decides to close the queenside:

This Black formation is playable and used, for example, by Ivanchuk and Volkov. Nevertheless, he has some difficulty undertaking anything active, and the game itself is a model for White's play.

Wang Jue-Murshed, Kuala Lumpur 2010, sees the players contesting the radical 7...g5!? 8 h4:

I wasn't sure whether to include this game, because the move 7...g5 has other drawbacks; but the wild lines after the sacrificial 8 h4 h5 9 hxg5 have never been completely resolved, and this game, with a big improvement for White, goes a long ways towards doing so. Black should look into his 8th-move alternatives.

Till next month, John

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