Thursday, 12 July 2007

Revisiting the French

Spassky Korchnoi 1977
Position after 10 ... f6

Paul Dargan and I were discussing openings the other day, and briefly exchanged a few thoughts on French Defence.

The French has a reputation as a solid but un-adventurous defence, and I must admit that when I played it as a junior the games typically fitted that description. I would win by exchanging off pieces down the c-file and gradually exploiting weaknesses in White's pawn structure. As my opponents got better and this simplistic approach stopped working, I dropped the French from my repertoire and sought adventure in the Sicilian.

However, in reality, the French, and in particular the Winawer variation, can lead to some very dynamic and unbalanced positions where wild attacks rage. This game played in 1977 Candidates final match is a perfect illustration.

Boris Spassky - Viktor Korchnoi, Game 4, Candidates 1977
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. a4 Bd7 8. Nf3 Qa5 9. Bd2 Nbc6 10. Be2 f6

Here's where the fun really begins. Black had been getting into difficulties with 10 ... c4, so in the mid 70's Korchnoi started adopting the double edged 10 ... f6.

11. c4 Qc7 12. exf6 gxf6 13. cxd5 Nxd5 14. c3 O-O-O 15. O-O Rhg8 16. Re1 e5 17. c4 Bh3

Spassky Korchnoi 1977

18. Bf1 Nb6 19. d5 Nxc4! 20. dxc6 Qxc6 21. g3 Bxf1 22. Rxf1 e4 23. Qb3 Qd5 24. Rac1 Nxd2

Here, 24... Ne5 looks strong and is Fritz's recommendation. After 25. Rxc5+ Qxc5 26. Rc1 Nxf3+ 27. Kg2 Qxc1 28. Bxc1, Fritz considers Black is better, although both Keene and Timman consider White's co-ordinated Queen and Bishop give him the upper hand.

25. Nxd2 Qxd2 26. Rxc5+ Kb8 27. Rb1 Rg7 28. Rb5 Rdd7 29. Qe6 e3 30. fxe3 Rge7 31. Qg8+ Rd8 32. Qb3 Rdd7 33. Qg8+ Rd8 34. Qb3 1/2 - 1/2

Check out Jan Timman's excellent 'Art of Chess Analysis'for a thorough study of this game.

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Chess Tales by Roger Coathup: A collection of online articles about chess and chess players.