[March 24, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
French Defense, Normal Variation – Classical Variation without 4. Bg5

[Line 336 : 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 without 4. Bg5]

Line 336 deals with various sidelines in the Boleslavsky Variation (4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3) of the French Defense, as well as with the alternatives for both sides, starting from White’s fourth move.

In the Boleslavsky Variation, the main examined line is 7… Qb6, where White usually responds with 8. Na4 Qa5+ 9. c3. Positions tend to become quite closed after 9… c4 10. b4 Qc7, and after several accurate moves, Black should be able to equalize. His 9th move alternative is 9… b6 10. Bd2 c4 11. b4 Nxb4 12. cxb4 Bxb4, and though it’s easier to play the position for White, Black still has his fair share of counter-chances. The other try for Black (9… cxd4 10. b4 Nxb4 11. cxb4 Bxb4+ 12. Bd2) leads to his opponent’s advantage.

Nakamura had tried 7… Rb8 several times, and that is the line we recommend for beginners.

For the players of White that want to avoid the most critical lines, we recommend either 5. Nce2 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Nf3, or 4. exd5 exd5 5. Bg5, which is more suitable for beginners.

[Diagram: White to Move] Black’s central pawns seem terrifying, and they would indeed offer him dangerous compensation, were it not for White’s unexpected blow. How can White get an almost winning position?

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[March 23, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Vadim Zvjaginsev:
Sicilian Defense, French Variation with 3. d4 (incl. Anderssen, Kan & Kveinys Variations)

[Line 442 : 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4]

After 3… cxd4 4. Nxd4 Black has a choice among several possibilities. The Taimanov Variation (4… Nc6) is covered in our Lines 449-456, and the other major line is the Kan Variation (4… a6), which is partially examined here.

The Anderssen Variation (4… Nf6 5. Nc3 Bb4) is rarely seen nowadays, since it is considered to lead to longterm advantage for White.

Similar stands for the Kveinys Variation (4… Qb6), where White’s most ambitious try is 5. Nc3 Bc5 6. Na4 Qa5+ 7. c3.

The main focus of Line 442 is the Kan Variation with early c2-c4: 4… a6 5. c4. White gets more space, and if he manages to neutralize Black’s pressure on central squares, he has good chances to secure more pleasant positions. After 5… Nf6 6. Nc3 there are two essentially different plans for Black: 6… Bb4 and 6… Qc7.

With 6… Bb4 Black attacks the e4-pawn, and 7. Qd3 is here quite a popular continuation, e. g. seen in a theoretically important game M. Carlsen – V. Anand, Sochi (m/6) 2014.

After 6… Qc7, Black leaves his opponent with a strong center, generally planning to play d5 in the later stage of the game. The game here usually continues with 7. a3 b6 8. Be3 Bb7 9. f3 d6 10. Be2 Be7 11. O-O O-O 12. Qd2, and though White’s position is preferable, Black has a very flexible setup, so a strategic battle typically follows.

[Diagram: White to Move] Black’s last move was Nxe4, overlooking White’s strong response. How can White gain an almost decisive advantage?

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[March 22, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Dragan Barlov:
Grünfeld Defense, Schlechter Variation (Main Line)

[Line 089 : 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be2]

The Schlechter Variation, where White plays early e2-e3, has a reputation of a solid opening choice for Black. Since it’s a sort of combination of Slav and the Grünfeld Defense, it bears obvious similarities to the both. After 6… O-O 7. O-O Black typically has a choice among several plans.

For beginners we recommend 7… Bg4, with the idea to give away that Bishop for the Knight of f3 at some point, followed by placing practically all the pawns on white squares. White can try 8. cxd5 cxd5 9. Qb3 b6 10. h3 Bxf3 11. Bxf3 e6, and although he has a bishop pair, Black’s position is rock-solid without obvious weaknesses.

Another suggestion of ours is 7… Nbd7. Depending on White’s reaction, Black can either play slowly by opting for b7-b6 and Bb7, or he can choose Ne4 with the idea to trade a pair of Knights. If White fights it with 8. Qc2, there is an interesting possibility that Black can try: 8… Nb6 9. cxd5 cxd5 10. a4 Be6, and his position should be fine.

Black can also play 7… b6, most typically followed by Bb7 and Nbd7, though White has a way to keep a slight, but long-term pull.

The main variation in this line is 7… a6 8. a4 a5, with the idea to transfer the Knight from b8 to b4, or to make a queenside fianchetto. White has a few ways to fight for opening advantage, but Black should be able to equalize.

[Diagram: White to Move] White would like to play e3-e4, but it seems that Black has full control over the e4-square. How can White accomplish his plan?

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[March 21, 2018] Updated Opening Line from GM Dragan Paunović:
King’s Indian Defense, Orthodox Variation (incl. Kazakh Variation)

[Line 158 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 without 6… e5]

The Orthodox Variation (6. Be2) is the most popular variation in the entire King’s Indian Defense, and our Line 158 covers various reactions from Black, apart from 6… e5, which is covered in Lines 159-169.

Against the Kazakh Variation (6… Na6) White has an interesting choice in 7. Bf4, which prevents e7-e5. That leaves Black with the idea c7-c5, like in 7… Bg4 8. O-O c5, but after 9. d5 White has a lasting spatial advantage.

Poking the center with 6… c5 has recently been tried by a few strong grandmasters, with a modern idea in mind. While 7. d5 transposes to Benoni, which is covered in our Line 117, White can also play 7. O-O. Players of Black can then opt for the abovementioned novel idea by playing 7… Re8, but even there White can fight for opening advantage in a number of different ways.

Black’s main alternative to 6… e6 is 6… Bg4, with the idea to trade his light-squared bishop for the knight on f3, followed by exerting pressure on the d4-pawn. The game then typically continues with 7. Be3 Nfd7 8. O-O Nc6 9. d5 Bxf3 10. gxf3 Ncb8, and after 11. f4 White has a slight edge.

[Diagram: Black to Move] Today’s preview brings a nice trick that is well-known from several grandmaster games. How can Black immediately seize significant advantage? Hint: black pawn on e7 is not as pinned as it seems!

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[March 20, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Modern Benoni, Snake & Pawn Storm Variations (incl. Czech Benoni)

[Line 117 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 without 3… b5]

The main focus of our Line 117 is the Pawn Storm Variation: 3… e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. e4 g6 7. f4. This line requires nerves of steel paired with very deep knowledge, and our evaluation is that Black should be able to get promising positions.

Apart from the above mentioned line, White can also choose the solid 7. Nge2 Bg7 8. Ng3 O-O 9. Be2, or a very similar one: 7. Bd3 Bg7 8. Nge2 O-O 9. O-O. We recommend both these lines to club level players.

Snake Variation 5… Bd6 of the Modern Benoni has probably been rightfully neglected in recent years, since White can fight for tangible advantage in a number of ways.

Czech Benoni 3… e5 leads to closed positions with long-term spatial advantage for White.

The early fianchetto, where e7-e6 is typically postponed, is an interesting try for Black, though after 3… g6 4. Nc3 Bg7 5. e4 d6 6. Nf3 O-O 7. Be2 e6 8. O-O exd5 9. exd5 White has a generally preferable position.

[Diagram: Black to Move] J. Gil Capape – R. Kuczynski, Sharjah 1985. White only needs to castle to get a dominant position, but Black can turn the tables and get a strong attack after several energetic moves.

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[March 19, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Dragan Barlov:
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Semi-Slav Defense – Neo-Meran (incl. Lundin Variation)

[Line 276 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 dxc4 7. Bxc4 b5 8. Bd3 without 8… a6, 8… Bb7]

As viable alternatives to the more frequent 8… a6 (Line 277) and 8… Bb7 (Lines 278 & 279), two fully playable variations are covered in our Line 276: 8… b4 (Lundin Variation) and 8… Bd6.

The Lundin Variation is our recommendation for club level players. The game there usually continues with 8… b4 9. Ne4 Nxe4 10. Bxe4 Bb7, and now Black prepares c6-c5, while White tries to exploit his opponent’s slightly weakened queenside.

After 8… Bd6, players of White have tested many plans: 9. Bd2 (followed by Ne4 and Rc1) and 9. Ng5 (with Qf3, and later Nge4) are some of the possibilities, but the main move is 9. O-O, where after 9… O-O White again has a wide variety of choices; among them 10. b3, 10. Qc2, 10. Bd2 and 10. e4 deserve the most serious attention.

[Diagram: Black to Move] A. Moiseenko – A. Pashikian, Moscow 2009. Black here missed a truly remarkable combination, which could have secured him a big advantage. Can you find it? Hint: the c6-c5 breakthrough seems hardly possible here, but it turns out to be feasible anyway!

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