Tiviakov's French 3.Nd2 - a peerless pedigree

by Albert Silver
9/16/2013 – The French Defense is an immensely popular opening at all levels and especially in club play. Sergey Tiviakov is a very successful player in opens and proposes to teach his pet 3.Nd2 line, with all the lines, ideas and thousand of commented games. More impressive than his high rating, is his pedigree with the opening, including a whopping win rate of over 80%.

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Sergey Tiviakov's The French Defence 3.Nd2

A review by Albert Silver

Recently I began to overhaul my opening repertoire which has more holes in it than swiss cheese, and one of the openings I direly need to revisit is my reply to the French Defense. Over the years I have played a variety of lines, all with fairly scant study and just some ideas and general moves. Time has taught me to avoid the most cutting edge variations unless I plan to play chicken with my opponent and hope he swerves from the collision before I do.

One of my needs, like so many non-professionals, is a solution that will not demand I check the databases every week to see if a critical move has been played, or some line been refuted. This approach is actually in line with what many top grandmasters do, in which they depend more on their deeper understanding of the opening they are playing, than on a smashing novelty to win it right in their home preparation.

Among the two DVDs released by ChessBase using their newest interactive video technology, is Sergey Tiviakov’s The French Defence. 3.Nd2: a complete repertoire for White. Sergey Tiviakov is a well-known top pro on the circuit of opens, and easily one of the most successful as well. One of the potential advantages I perceived in him is that his repertoire will have been designed to not put him unnecessarily in harm’s way, and leave enough leeway to be able to fight for a win against the lower-rated masters he will face time and time again.

The very opening video, introducing his plan and why you should consider following his suggested lines comes with a rare pedigree that goes far beyond his admittedly high rating: extremely impressive results. Tiviakov informs us that he has played 219 times against the French Defense using 3.Nd2 with an amazing 138 wins, 75 draws, and only 6 losses. I know that when he said that my eyes widened, and my back straightened, as if the secret to such successful results were about to come out of my computer’s loudspeakers. He promises not only to share his choice lines and ideas behind each and every one of them, but assures us that he has taken care to include databases with many commented games to make sure the buyer of the DVD has everything he needs to successfully deploy 3.Nd2.

Aside from the usual links to games and videos, there are some new ones to supplementary material

The question immediately came to mind: how complete is it really beyond the obvious video material? At the top of the table of contents are a few links one normally does not see:

  • Database
  • Tiviakov's games
  • ECO
  • Meier with Black

Clicking on Database reveals a truly huge database of over 300 thousand games employing the French Defense (not only 3.Nd2), including many that are deeply commented.

A view of the list of over 300 thousand games employing the French Defense, including not only comments by Tiviakov, but Carlsen, Kasparov, Anand, Caruana and many more.

Here is an example from the database with Tiviakov’s own comments:

[Event "Solsona op 1st"] [Site "Solsona"] [Date "2003.08.22"] [Round "9"] [White "Tiviakov, Sergei"] [Black "Almeida Quintana, Omar"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C06"] [WhiteElo "2613"] [BlackElo "2425"] [Annotator "Tiviakov"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2003.08.15"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "ESP"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2004.11.15"] {[This game from the last round of the tournament in Solsona, is my best one. During the whole tournament I didn't play convincingly, making too many draws. I had to win that game in order to get a prize.]} 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. c3 c5 6. Bd3 Nc6 7. Ne2 cxd4 8. cxd4 Qb6 9. Nf3 f6 10. exf6 Nxf6 11. O-O Bd6 12. b3 {[I play this variation often, having won several games with it.]} O-O 13. Bb2 Ng4 $5 {[This move came as a complete surprise for me. The main line goes 13...Bd7 14.Nc3, although Black has several other playable options. White plan is quite simple: Nc3, Rc1, Re1, Na4, Nc5, Ne5.]} 14. Ng3 Qd8 {[Very interesting. Black is trying to prevent 15.h3? which is bad because of 15...Nf2 16.Kf2 Qh4. At the same time he wants to transer the queen to f6 and, possible, to h6.]} 15. Re1 $1 {[Since 15.h3 is impossible, White has to re-group the pieces diferently, he has to rid of the unpleasant knght on g4.]} Bd7 16. Nf1 Bf4 $2 {[A serious mistake. 16...Qf6 was necessary, when after 17. h3 Nh6 White is only slightly better, since the knight on h6 can later be transferred to f7.]} 17. h3 Nf6 18. Ne5 {[White has realised its strategic aim, having taken control over the square e5. He is better.]} Nxe5 {[After 18...Be5 19.de White has the advantage due to the pair of bishops.]} 19. dxe5 Ne4 $2 { [Black decides to look for a counter-play sacrificing a pawn, although White without much difficulties can neutralize the initiative. Passive 19...Ne8 was necessary.]} 20. Bxe4 dxe4 21. Rxe4 Qe8 $6 {[Black has more chances to survive in the ending after 21...Bc6. He can hope for the ending with the opposite coloured bishops.]} 22. Bc1 $1 {[White is just in time to exchange the pair of bishops.]} Bxc1 23. Rxc1 Bc6 24. Rg4 $1 {[It is important to protect the "g" line from the possible attack to the White king.]} Rd8 25. Qe1 Rd5 26. Ne3 { [Using a small trick, White wins a tempo. Now 26...Re5 27.Qc3 loses.]} Rd3 27. Rc3 {[Eliminating the pair of rooks, White also has no more problems with his king, forever. Meanwhile the black king on g8 becomes much weaker.]} Qd7 28. Rxd3 Qxd3 29. Rc4 $1 {[At the moment the rook on g4 has nothing to do. White re-group his pieces to get rid of the unpleasant queen on d3.]} Rd8 30. Qa5 Qb1+ {[After 30...a6 31.Qc7 White wins as well. Black has nothing better than exchange the queens by 31...Qd7 with a lost ending.]} 31. Kh2 Rf8 32. Qd2 { [Having sucessfully taken control of the open line "d" White prepares the decisive invasion.]} Qa1 33. Qd6 Re8 34. Rg4 {[The pawn g7 and the weak Black king become a target.]} Kh8 {[34...Qa2 loses after 35.Rg4 g6 36.Rf4.]} 35. Rf4 Kg8 (35... h6 {was better.}) 36. Ng4 Qf1 (36... h5 {loses after} 37. Nf6+ gxf6 38. exf6) 37. f3 Qc1 38. Nf6+ Kh8 39. Rc4 1-0

The link with Tiviakov’s games shows his personal record with 3.Nd2, putting away any doubts as to his claimed results. There is even a selection of games by Georg Meier facing 3.Nd2 as black, though a word of warning: all his games are there, including ones when he was still a budding eleven-year-old junior. In case you wonder whether he has a similarly huge score but with black, he does not. He has  a very slight plus but mostly due to his strength of play.

The videos start by covering the more offbeat replies, showing not only how to play against them, but also why they are deservedly rare guests except for the gluttons for punishment. In fact, he explains that while he knows how to play against them, he never actually faced them all. We are then shown the many main lines, and a few surprises do begin to materialize. With such a huge score, one would understandably be expecting to be shown the many ways White is left between comfortably ahead to outright winning, but it is nothing of the sort. In many cases, Black is able to achieve complete equality and the grandmaster does not try to smokescreen the truth of the matter: he knows of no way to secure an advantage. Still, the white player does not need to be overly concerned, since equality does not mean a draw, and there is plenty of room and play to fight for the initiative.

Sergey Tiviakov presents one of the key lines against 3.Nd2

Although the author promises a complete solution against the French, and he certainly delivers, he is up front on what the player needs to know in terms of middlegame play in order to handle the resulting positions. The French Tarrasch, arising after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.ed ed 5.Ngf3 Nf6 will often lead to isolated d-pawn situations, a very thematic middlegame situation and independent study of how to best handle these situations can only be a boon to the 3.Nd2 player. Tiviakov declines from suggesting any particular works, but a quick search in the ChessBase Shop of the word ‘isolated’ unearthed two DVDs dedicated to the subject: Daniel King’s Power Play 6, which covers it among others, and above all Adrian Mikhalchishin’s Winning Structures that is devoted to the isolani.

Finally we reach the interactive videos, which are essentially video versions of the quiz questions of yore. The first comment worth pointing out, is that they are not easy, so do not be put off if you fail to find the grandmaster’s solution. In fact, even he fails to find the best move as seen in the second quiz where I came up with the same solution as Tiviakov, but it is labeled as variation. The best answer is still the winner, and he not only breaks down why it is superior, but how the game ended.

Sergey Tiviakov makes his compelling case for adopting 3.Nd2 against the French

After finishing the DVD, my question was not whether I could recommend it, but to whom. Sergey Tiviakov comes with a winning pedigree the likes of which very few can claim, and this gives him added authority far beyond his lofty Elo. He is clear and easy to understand, and all his recommendations are as honest as can be, never promising a magic bullet. Some of the technical material will be outside the understanding of players rated below 1800, and the quiz questions are downright tough. Still, I can recommend this to players rated even 1600 simply because the lines he guides the student to play all lead to balanced positions with little to no risk of losing in the opening, and plenty of play to go for the win if desired. It is hard to go wrong with that.

'The French Defence. 3.Nd2: a complete repertoire for White' can be purchased in the ChessBase Shop

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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