It must have been twenty years ago that I first discovered the Main Line against the French Defence loses a pawn. No, really.
Idly pushing the pieces around one day it suddenly occurred to me that after 1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, 3. Nc3 Bb4, 4. e5 c5, 5. a3
instead of …Bxc3+ or …Ba5, Black can play 5. … cxd4
If 6. Qxd4 then … Nc6 gaining time so White should probably play 6. axb4 dxc3 when 7. bxc3 looks pretty ugly after 7. … Qc7.
Instead White needs to give up a pawn with 7. Nf3 cxb2, 8. Bxb2.
I showed this idea to a friend at the club I was playing for at the time. To be honest we were fairly dismissive of 5. … cxd4. Both of us thought it was far too ropey to play in a formal club match although we eventually came to the conclusion that it might be worth a punt in a rapid or casual game.
Now I must confess my claim to the naming of this variation is somewhat weakened by the fact that I never did play the line in the end (and I’ve played all sorts of unsound rubbish over the years I assure you). Also, in chess there’s never anything new under the sun and … cxd4 is really an ancient idea anyway. The oldest example my not particularly diligent researches have come up with so far is Maroczy playing it against Lasker in the 1924 New York tournament.
Mine or not, I was (and remain) quite fond of the idea, if for no other reason than I discovered it for myself. Imagine my surprise, though, when that well known purveyor of French Defence oddities, Viacheslav Eingorn, gave 5. … cxd4 an outing against John Nunn at the 1990 Reykjavik Four Nations Team tournament.
Eingorn played 7. … Ne7 instead of capturing on b2. Apparently this was a Theoretical Novelty at the time although the very amateur (both of us sub 130s) analysis school in that club room all those years ago had already concluded this was the superior plan.
True, Black got chopped up in short order (1-0, 25) but Nunn found the game interesting enough to include in his ‘Best Games’ (Batsford, 1995). Nunn suggested that had Eingorn played 14. … Qc7 instead of 14. … Nxe5?, White would have had the edge anyway but he, “… would have had to continue very accurately to justify his attack ….”
Fast forward to April 2007 and the publication of John Watson’s new book, Dangerous Weapons: The French. Now in a recent column in the Guardian, Danny King and Ronan Bennett suggested this book would supercede Watson’s classic, “Play the French”, the latest edition of which was published in 2003. In fact they are totally different kinds of book altogether.
PfF is a repertoire book for Black but in DW, to quote the publisher’s blurb,
“Instead of travelling down well-trodden and analyzed paths, Watson concentrates on fresh or little-explored variations of the French, selecting a wealth of 'dangerous' options for both colours. Whether playing White or Black, a study of this book will leave you confident and fully-armed, and your opponents running for cover!”
One of the chapters is, as you might have guessed by now, dedicated to 5. … cxd4. Watson, even concludes that it might be playable for Black. To be honest I’m not so sure but if you want to check it out amazon have it here.
Amazon’s dispatch time is 1-3 weeks so those of you who are like me and can’t delay gratification might want to go to your traditional chess book supplier – although you should be prepared to pay an extra fiver on top of the amazon price.