[May 23, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
French Defense – Exchange Variation

[Line 322 : 1. e4 e6 2. d4]

Moves like 2… b6 or 2… c5 typically allow White to gain advantage quite easily so, on move two, the French Defense (2… d5) is the preference of most of the players of Black.

Advance Variation (3. e5) of the French Defense is covered in our Lines 323-324, Tarrasch Variation (3. Nd2) in Lines 325-330, and move 3. Nc3 in Lines 331-346.

Exchange Variation 3. exd5 is the simplest way to play against the French Defense, since it usually leads to quiet and symmetrical positions. Generally, after 3…exd5, there are two approaches that White can try – to play a straightforward plan by simply developing his kingside, e. i. 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bd3 Be7 6. O-O, or a more committal c2-c4, which leads to positions with an isolated d-pawn for White, like in 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. c4 Be7 6. Nc3 O-O 7. cxd5 Nxd5.

[Diagram: Black to Move] White has just captured the Knight on c6, and Black needs to play energetically to hold the game. How can he reach an equal position?

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[May 22, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Vadim Zvjaginsev:
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Semi-Slav Defense – Stoltz Variation with 6… Bd6 7. Bd3

[Line 283 : 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. Bd3]

On the seventh move Black can try 7… e5, a sideline aiming to simplify the position at an early stage. After 7. cxd5 cxd5 White has a choice between 8. Nb5 and 8. e4, but either way Black should have sufficient resources to obtain equality.

Both sides usually castle first: 7… O-O 8. O-O, and here recently, on the highest level, the following direct approach has become quite popular: 8… e5 9. cxd5 cxd5 10. e4 exd4 11. Nxd5 Nxd5 12. exd5 h6. Though precise play is required from Black, the best that White can get is a slightly more pleasant endgame.

By far the most popular continuation is 8… dxc4 9. Bxc4, and apart from 9… a6 (Line 284) and 9… b5 (Line 285) Black has 9… e5 at his disposal. Since, in some lines, Black has the idea to play e5-e4, which usually results in exerting pressure on the h2-pawn, White’s frequent choice is to neutralize by playing 10. h3. After that, Black can slowly improve the position of his pieces with 10… Qe7, Bb8 (thinking about Nf3-h4-f5), h7-h6 and Rd8, preparing to meet e3-e4 by capturing on d4, followed by Ne5. As an illustration, take a look at the following line: 11. a3 Bb8 12. Ba2 h6 13. Nh4 Rd8 14. Nf5 Qe8, with mutual play.

[Diagram: White to Move] It appears that Black’s position should be fine, but White has a nice maneuver, which leads to his big advantage!

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[May 21, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Bojan Vučković:
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Tarrasch Defense

[Line 063 : 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 without 3… dxc4, 3… c6, 3… Nf6]

Various Black’s third move choices are covered in other opening lines, and the topic of this line is theTarrasch Defense (3… c5). White’s usual reaction is 4. cxd5, and after 4… exd5 either 5. Nc3 with g2-g3, Bg2 and O-O, or immediate 5. g3, which often transposes to the same position.

White also has an interesting possibility to play 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. dxc5, where neither 6… Bxc5 nor 6… d4 7. Na4 Bxc5 give Black full equality.

After 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. g3 Nf6 7. Bg2 Be7 8. O-O O-O occurs the main tabiya of the Tarrasch Defense. For club level players we recommend the following sideline: 9. dxc5 Bxc5 10. a3, with good prospects for White.

The main alternative is 9. Bg5, keeping the tension on the board, where Black has to choose among 9… cxd4, 9… c4 and 9… Be6. Either way, White has sufficient resources to claim the opening advantage.

[Diagram: White to Move] F. Marshall – Ed. Lasker, USA 1923. Black King is still in the center, and Marshall has made a full use of that fact and obtained a decisive attack. Can you see the right path to winning as White?

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[May 20, 2018] Updated Opening Article by GM Vadim Zvjaginsev:
October 2014 Revisited: Semi-Slav, Stoltz Variation – Main Line with 9… b5

When we originally published GM Zvjaginsev’s opening survey in 2014, the key game was Giri’s powerful novelty that brought him a full point as White in the fourth game of his match against Shirov. The Candidates Tournament in Moscow (2016) gave him an opportunity to shine with opposite colors: Nakamura tried a new idea, but it turned out that Giri had already worked it all out at home – he calmly remembered his preparation, and the game soon ended in a perpetual check.

In the meantime, many theoretically relevant games from all sources (over-the-board, correspondence and engine games) have appeared. While our overall theoretical verdict remains the same, we still recommend careful study of the new additions, as some variations are extremely complex and difficult to play without thorough preparation.

[Diagram: Black to Move] It seems as if it is already curtains for Black in this position from a recent correspondence game, but it is his turn to move, and that gives him an opportunity to save the game.

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[May 19, 2018] Updated Opening Line from Dragan Paunović:
Sicilian Defense, French Variation with 3. d3

[Line 441 : 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d3]

Line 441 covers the seemingly unambitious 3. d3, which is one of the most popular ways for White to avoid the Paulsen Sicilian. White is prepared to react on 3… d5 with 4. Nbd2, which transposes to the French Defense, or with 4. Qe2, which is typically followed by king’s fianchetto. Apart from the early d7-d5, Black also has other promising setups at his disposal.

Queen’s fianchetto 3… b6 is our recommendation for club level players. After 4. g3 Bb7 5. Bg2 d6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 Nf6, the arising position is about equal.

Similar to the above mentioned plan is 3… b5 4. g3 Bb7 5. Bg2 d6 6. O-O Nf6, and again, Black is doing fine.

The main line goes 3… Nc6 4. g3, and here Black has various promising possibilities: 4… d5 with Nf6, Be7 and O-O; 4… g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O d6 often accompanied with Nf6; 4… Nf6 5. Bg2 d6 6. O-O Be7, which is quite flexbile; and 4… Nge7 5. Bg2 g6 6. O-O Bg7, which is a frequent choice of advanced players.

[Diagram: White to Move] G. Kamsky – M. Bartel, Istanbul (ol) 2012. What happens if White captures the Knight on d3, and is there anything better for him in the diagrammed position?

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[May 18, 2018] Updated Opening Line by Dragan Barlov:
Slav Defense, Modern Line

[Line 072 : 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 e6 with 4. Qc2, 4. e3]

Line 072 deals with two popular choices for White in the Modern Line of the Slav Defense – 4. Qc2 and 4. e3.

The idea of 4. Qc2 is to keep the options open. If Black chooses 4… f5, which is one of the main ideas of c6-d5-e6 setup, White has a promising 5. Bf4 at his disposal. Black’s main preference is 4… Nf6, and only after 5. e3 Ne4, he can proceed with f7-f5, Bd6 and Nd7. If White goes for 5. Bg5, Black usually continues with 5… h6 6. Bh4 dxc4 7. Qxc4 b5 8. Qc2 Bb7, with mutually rich play. Advanced players often opt for 5. g3, where again 5… dxc4 6. Qxc4 b5 7. Qc2 Bb7 should be good for Black.

Against the other major line 4. e3, Black can make the aforementioned setup 4… Bd6, with f7-f5 and Nf6. The logical sequence of moves that may follow could be 5. Bd3 f5 6. O-O Nf6 7. b3 with the idea Ba3. Anyway, Black should be fine after 7… Qe7 8. Bb2 O-O 9. Qc1 b6 10. Ba3 c5.

[Diagram: White to Move] A. Stella – M. Kravtsiv, Livigno 2012. After trading the queens 19. Qxa8 Rxa8, White can equalize by playing 20. Bd2. Is there something better that White can do in the diagrammed position?

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