Saturday, February 22, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 31

Hello everyone and welcome to the thirty-first edition of The French Connection. As you may recall in the previous four editions, we have been heavily covering the Advance Variation, and here, we are going to be digging very deep into the line with 9...Bd7 and 10...Nh6 with pretty much a full explanation of the ideas behind this line for Black. With this explained, readers will be able to understand why such an innocent looking 11th move for Black was not very good at all. It was a move played based on principles more than anything else.

In chess, most people are told to focus on principles over theory and specific lines, and many do that. What they often fail to do is follow the wisdom of starting with the Ruy Lopez and Queen's Gambit from both sides. The reason for this is that the theory of those two openings fall very much in line with opening principles to the letter. The same cannot be said about the French Defense. Just look at the Winawer Variation - 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7. Fischer has always condemned this line, claiming doubt in it's soundness because it is anti-positional and weakens the Kingside. Black has voluntarily surrendered his dark-squared Bishop for what? Doubled pawns for White? It isn't until you fully understand the opening in depth that you appreciate the positives in the position over the negatives. If Black didn't have anything to offset the weakness of the dark squares on the Kingside, the Winawer would be out of business! I think we all know that that is certainly not true, despite Fischer's rant about it! The catch is that principles alone will not get through to survival. The French Defense is one of those openings where if White knows what he is doing, Black also must know what he's doing and must have a complete understanding of all the highly theoretical lines. If White tries to deviate, playing an inferior move, whether it be trying to pull a cheap trick on Black or playing something slow that simply leads to completion of development for White and nothing else, then this is where principles come into play. But the critical lines like the Winawer with 7.Qg4, Universal System in the Tarrasch, or Advance with 5...Qb6 6.a3, just to name a few, it is critical to know more than just principles when playing the French Defense.

Without further ado, let's look at our feature game.


Land of the Sky XXXIII, Round 4
W: Patrick McCartney (2087)
B: Rochan Bakthisaran (1897)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.a3 Nge7

This move can very much lead to the same position as 6...Nh6, and in this case does. The main difference is which sideline you want to deal with. 6...Nh6 allows White to play, if he wishes, 7.b4 cxd4 8.Bxh6 (instead of the immediate 8.cxd4) while 6...Nge7 gives White the added option of 7.dxc5. In this game, the main line is still reached, and is a fully viable option for White.

7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2 Bd7 10.g4 Nh6 11.h3



For details on getting to this point, I refer you to The French Connection: Volume 28.

Now take a minute or two and think to yourself "What would I play here?". First thing you need to do is identify the situation. In The French Connection: Volume 30, we talked briefly about why early developments of the light-squared Bishop to d7 were dubious in the notes to White's 7th move. Why was that? The Bishop move allows White to get his King to safety and maintain the advantage. In the 5...Qb6 line, White cannot tuck his King away and be able to maintain the advantage. Well, this comes at a cost for Black as well. While White's issue is King safety, Black's is piece coordination. Sure, the Knight on c6, Queen on b6, and from a defensive standpoint, avoiding checks, the Bishop on d7 all work together, but what about that Knight out there on h6? These two factors should give a hint as to what Black should do here. There are two acceptable moves. See if you can figure out what one of them is before reading the analysis following the next move.

11...Be7?

So what we have is a clash of King safety versus piece coordination. To continue with the lack of King safety, Black needs to continue to push on the d4-pawn and the Queenside, where it would come at a cost for White to get out of the mess, such as relinquishing his best minor piece, the Light-Squared Bishop, which we are about to see in the analysis here. The alternative is to focus on getting the rest of the pieces into the game. This will take time and allow White to get his pieces into the game as well, but at least Black is fighting with all of his army and not falling behind where all of his pieces get tied down, as we shall see in the game itself.

So the first option for Black is 11...Rc8. Black will continue to bombard the Queenside. After 12.Nc3 Na5 (We saw in The French Connection: Volume 28 why Black needs to wait to play this move until White has already played Nc3) 13.Na4 Qc6 14.Rc1 Nc4, we have a position with play for both sides. That Knight on c4 is a problem for White, and he is virtually forced to relinquish his Light-Squared Bishop for it. After 15.Bxc4 bxc4 16.Nc5, we have the following position:



Now Black must make a critical decision. White's idea is to break through with d5. Black has to figure out whether to block it, which would require the Queen to do that job, or allow it and weather the storm. I think Black's best off allowing the pawn advance with 16...Ng8 where after 17.d5 Qxd5 (17...exd5 is bad due to 18.e6 Bxe6 {18...fxe6 19.Ne5 is winning for White} 19.Nd4 Qd6 20.O-O and now Black has the painful choice of two bad lines, either 20...Nf6 21.Qa4+ Bd7 22.Rfe1+ Ne4 23.Nxe4 dxe4 24.Qc2 or 20...Rxc5 21.bxc5 Qd7 {21...Qxc5 22.Re1} 22.f4 Qc7 23.Kg2 Bxc5 24.Nxe6 fxe6 25.Qe2 Qd7 26.f5, both of which ought to lead to a win for White.) 18.Nxd7 Qxd7 19.Qxd7+ Kxd7 20.Ng5 Nh6 21.b5 c3 22.Rxc3 Rxc3 23.Bxc3 Bxa3 24.Ke2 Be7 25.Ne4 Ra8 (25...Rc8 26.Ra1 and Black has nothing better than 26...Ra8, handing White a free move) 26.Ra1 and the position is basically equal.

The problem with blocking the pawn is that after 16...Qd5 17.Nxd7 Kxd7 18.O-O f5 19.Qe2, White is better after both 19...fxg4 20.hxg4 Nxg4 21.Ne1 Nh6 22.Ng2 where Black cannot prevent White from forcing the Queen off of d5 and pushing through with what is now a Black King stuck in the center, and 19...b5 20.Nd2 Be7 21.Nb1 and once again, Black cannot prevent the Knight from chasing the Queen off of the blockading square.

The second option is to hit the White center from the front and get the Knight into the game with 11...f6 when White can't hold on to the center, and so 12.exf6 gxf6 is played, and now after 13.Nc3, it should first be noted that those tricks with sacrificing the Knight on b4 do not work here compared to what we saw in two recent articles because of the added defense to the Knight on c3 via the Bishop on b2. In those cases where it did work, the White Bishop was developed to e3 rather than b2. Therefore, Black should carry on with 13...Nf7 when 14.Na4 Qc7 15.Rc1 Qf4 16.Rc3 b6 leads to another interesting situation:



Now White's main break is g5, but which way should he go about it? Turns out that white has two roughly equal options. The first is 17.Bc1 when 17...Qd6! 18.c5 Nxb4! 19.axb4 Qxb4 20.Bd2 Qxa4 21.Qxa4 Bxa4 22.gxf6 is roughly equal. The second is 17.Rg1. Here, 17...Nxb4? doesn't work as White is clearly better after 18.axb4 Bxb4 19.Be2 O-O 20.Kf1 Bxa4 21.Qxa4 Bxc3 22.Bxc3, and so therefore, better is 17...Ng5 18.Bb5 Nxf3+ 19.Rxf3 Qh2 20.Kf1, when an unclear position arises. There is no way for White to trap the Queen, and if both players are stubborn enough, this could abruptly end in a draw by repetition. After any move by Black, such as 20...Bg7, White can harass the Queen with 21.Rg2, knowing that if Black doesn't want to retreat, you could end up in a repetition with 21...Qh1+ 22.Rg1 Qh2 23.Rg2 Qh1+ 24.Rg1 Qh2. That said, White is not forced to take this route, and he could even test Black once to see if he retreats, and then do something else after the 2-fold repetition. Both players just need to be aware that this is possible, just like the draw that is available to White in the Zaitsev Variation of the Ruy Lopez.

In the game, Black will soon see himself getting into major trouble. The problem is that this Bishop move doesn't really accomplish anything, and all it does it lose all flexibility. For instance, after the 11...f6 move, forcing the trade of pawns, the Bishop could be better off on d6, which would be a waste of a move by Black, or g7 or h6, squares which can no longer be reached from e7.

12.Nc3 f6 13.exf6 gxf6

Black had to take with the pawn anyway as after 13...Bxf6?? 14.g5, there is no desperado move to get out of the fork, and White simply wins material, and so therefore, again I ask, what did 11...Be7 accomplish?

14.Na4

So, in essence, compared to the 11...f6 line, White is a move ahead with a misplaced Black Bishop on e7.

14...Qd8 15.Nc5 b6



16.Nxd7!

A player who lacks experience in the French would ridicule this move, giving up a Knight for a Bad Bishop in a position where he has a slight advantage in space, but here, it is correct. The Bishop acts as a key defender to e6. With the Bishop removed, combined with the b-pawn advancing to b6, many of the light squares, including e6 itself, become weakened by this trade. Retreating the Knight is vastly inferior. After 16.Nf3 Bd6 17.Rc1 Nf7, White is still better, but the Knight on d3 is merely getting in the way of the rest of White's pieces, and playing in this manner simply gives Black additional time to coordinate his pieces. Just like the Winawer mentioned in the introduction, the French is full of exceptions, and grabbing the "Bad Bishop" for a Knight is sometimes one of them. Keep in mind that you have to evaluate this trade on an individual basis. This trade is not always good, but here, it's the only move that leads to an outright winning position for White.

16...Qxd7 17.Bb5! Nf7 18.Rc1 Rc8 19.Qc2 Nfd8



So we have a position where three White pieces, the Bishop on b5, Queen on c2, and Rook on c1, tie down four Black pieces, the Knight on c6, the Knight on d8, the Rook on c8, and the Queen on d7, and so, in essence, White has an extra piece that is free to move. Now you might be thinking to yourself "sure, it's that horrible Bishop on b2", but that Bishop is doing a critical job. It covers e5! In fact, White's idea is to continue to dominate e5, and to use his pieces when he is ready and not before that. Besides using fewer pieces to tie Black down, it is White that can decide when to release the stranglehold, and will do so on his own time!

Knowing that White is trying to dominate e5, do you see his next move?

20.g5!

Removing the pawn from f6. Whether Black allows White to capture, captures on g5, or advances to f5, the e5-square will be weakened no matter what!

20...Kf7 21.Qe2

Now that the King has come forward toward the Kingside, White shifts his focus from the c6-Knight to the King.

21...a5?

This move serves little purpose. What is Black trying to do? Win a pawn? Does he not realize the danger of his King? As we will see in the game, White could care less about the b-pawn. There is no attack down the c-file for Black, and so he should probably have focused on trying to defend the King with a move like 21...Rg8. This should not work and White is winning no matter what, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

22.gxf6 Bxf6 23.Rg1 axb4



Black has just won a pawn. Does White care? Absolutely not! In fact, he hopes that Black will capture again on a3! With the Rook on g1, a Queen coming to h5, and a Bishop on a3 if Black were to capture a second time, the King is trapped in the crossfires. This extra pawn only means something if Black can reach an endgame, but reaching an endgame is absolutely hopeless for Black in this position. Every White piece plays a role, including the Bishop on b2. What is the Black Knight on d8 doing other than blocking his own Rook on c8 from coming into the game? Sure the h8-Rook can move to an open file, but that will take an extra move that Black does not have time for. The Queen is passive. Outside of being up a pawn, there is literally nothing positive that can be said about Black's position. White has no interest in slowing down, and is ready to blast the Black King!

24.Ne5+! Bxe5 25.Qh5+ Kf8 26.dxe5 Qf7 27.Qh6+ Ke8 28.Be2

This move, and virtually any other move that doesn't outright hang material, should win easily for White. That said, even stronger was 28.Rg7!, when after 28...Qf5 29.Qf6 Qxf6 30.exf6 Kf8 (What other move does he have? Black is virtually frozen!) 31.axb4 Rg8 32.Ba6 Ra8 33.b5 Nb4 34.Ba3 and Black is busted. For example, 34...Rxg7 35.Bxb4+! drops a piece.

28...Rg8

Virtually forced to tactically prevent the pin of the Queen to the King.

29.Rxg8+ Qxg8 30.axb4 Ne7?

This move loses on the spot, but there is no mercy for Black, even after a move like 30...Kd7 as 31.Bb5 continues to tie Black down.

31.Rxc8 Nxc8 32.Bb5+

And now the only way to avoid instant checkmate is to jettison the Knight with 32...Nc6, giving the King the d8-square, but even then, Black's totally busted. Instead, Black fails to play this move, and is instantly mated.

32...Ke7 33.Qf6# 1-0


For anybody that is an advocate of the French Defense, myself included, this game can be very painful to look at. Yes, I had the White pieces in this game, and definitely consider this one of my better played games with the White pieces, but it is still painful as a French advocate to see Black go down like this. That said, if all you do when studying an opening is see the positive side of everything, you will never learn, because one learns a lot more from their mistakes than from their successes. We analyzed in depth Black's ideas at move 11, and rather than just some database dump full of moves, we reasoned it out in both lines, and with thorough analysis, we found the ways for Black to either equalize, or at minimum, create a highly unclear position, and the purpose this game served was to illustrate what could happen after a single move that conceptually looks fine, but turns out to be a very lazy move with horrifying after effects. Probably the biggest thing that you have to deal with in the French Defense, especially the Advance Variation, compared to say, the black side of the Ruy Lopez, is the lack of space, and when you lack space, accuracy becomes more critical. This is one of the main reasons why, when I wrote the 7-part Repertoire for White and Black on the French Defense in 2017, that I gave the Advance Variation as the line covered for White! The Advance Variation is more about understanding, and less about memorization, than say, 3.Nc3. However, actually understanding it, and not just memorizing it, is more critical here than in almost any other opening known to man kind, especially for Black!


This concludes this edition of The French Connection. Till next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Chess is a Game with 32 Pieces

Hello everyone and welcome. In the previous article, The French Connection: Volume 30, we previewed the article with the first round from Land of the Sky, a tournament played in the final weekend of January. Here, and the next article, we will be covering two other games from that tournament.

You might be wondering what the title is all about. Have you ever heard someone say, either in person or on a forum, something along the lines of "I have no idea what my opponent was playing, but I was playing the King's Indian", or some other "setup" often played against multiple lines? If they tell you that, they are amongst those that believe that chess is a 16-piece game, and does not understand that the opening is determined by both players, not by one.

For example, let's say you are a King's Indian player. The game starts 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3. Black thinks "Ok, White probably just made a mistake playing the Knight in front of the c-pawn in a Queen pawn opening. I am going to blast him with my King's Indian Defense! So Black plays 3...Bg7. There is nothing wrong with this move. Another option is 3...d5, preventing 4.e4 and leading to what is known as the Barry Attack after 4.Bf4. However, back to 3...Bg7. Now White plays 4.e4 and Black plays 4...d6. What Black now needs to understand is that this is no longer a King's Indian Defense, that 3.Nc3 was not a mistake, and that we are now in a Pirc Defense. Black has done nothing wrong thus far, but let's say that after 5.Be2 O-O 6.O-O, a main line of the Classical Variation of the Pirc Defense, Black, still in a King's Indian mentality, plays 6...e5, a move that has been played in this opening, but 6...c6 is the main line and is far stronger. Black assumes that white will advance the d-pawn, where he can then move his Knight and advance the f-pawn. White, instead, plays the strong 7.dxe5!. Black says "Ok, White is going to play the boring exchange line. This is an easy draw for me! After 7...dxe5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Bg5 Re8. Ok, so now White is going to play 10.Nd5, right? Once again, this is NOT a King's Indian. White does not have the pawn on c4, and here, 10.Rad1! is strong. This is not a refutation to 6...e5, but White's advantage is greater here than against the stronger 6...c6, with the idea of attacking the e4-pawn via a future ...b5 and trying to attack the Knight on c3, the only piece guarding e4 after 6 moves. There is nothing wrong with a King's Indian player walking into a Pirc Defense, but then he needs to apply the proper ideas of the Pirc rather than just blindly continue to play under the delusion that this is a King's Indian Defense. As a King's Indian player, I've occasionally ended up in a Pirc, and while it's not my main line of defense to 1.e4 (the French is), I play the position like it's a Pirc, and not a King's Indian, and I would play 6...c6 in this position.

Now that we see what the title is all about, the game that is featured in this article will see Black, via a different opening, do something very similar to the fake incident illustrated above, and what we will see is a game where White has the advantage throughout the entire game. We will see White playing a few sub-par moves that allow Black the opportunity to hold his disadvantage to a minimum, but after continued failure of believing he's playing "his opening" rather than what is actually featured on the board, he gets blasted in short order via a strong exchange sacrifice by White.

Without further ado, let's look at the feature game.


Land of the Sky XXXIII, Round 2
W: Patrick McCartney (2087)
B: Peter Liotino (1878)
Sicilian Defense, Prins Variation

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3



Those that have seen previous articles, such as the first two rounds of the tournament in Georgia that I played in October and covered here in late 2019, will know that I play this system regularly, and I have covered many ideas for White, and will continue to do so, but I want to spend a moment here explaining what options Black legitimately has here. In essence, there are three approaches to defending this line.
  • The first option is to play an early 5...e5. This drives the White Knight to b3, and after 6.Nb3 (6.Bb5+, known as the Venice Attack, is another line, but it is not good for White, and a little research by Black would be valuable because with correct play, Black gets a small advantage here), there are three possibilities for Black.
    • He can play an early 6...d5, beating White to control of the d5-square, but this often leads to miserable positions for Black. An example can be found in round 2 of the mentioned tournament in Georgia in October, which I covered here. This is not meant to imply the line is bad. It is fine for Black, and with correct play, he should be able to draw it, but despite the high draw ratio, Black has very few winning chances, if any at all, and do you really want to play for two results as Black? If you are in the final round and need only a draw, I would recommend this line for Black. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't.
    • The second option is a positional approach. 6...a5. The idea here is to harass the Knight before White has time to set up the Maroczy Bind, and White should now play either 7.Nc3 or 7.Bb5+ instead of 7.c4?!.
    • The third option, and by far the most popular in this line, is the combative 6...Be6. Follow that up with 7...Nbd7 and 8...Rc8 and White is left with a choice to play the materialistic, though passive 9.Na3, or the pawn sacrifice line with 9.Nc3.
  • The second option is to play 5...Nc6, leading to dragon structures. After 6.c4, Black has two options. The first is to play 6...g6 and directly transpose to the main lines of the Accelerated Dragon, Maroczy Bind. The other is a tricky line with 6...Qb6. After 7.Nc2 g6 8.Nc3 Bg7 9.Re1, Black can continue to proceed with normal development, or he can try the very tricky 9...Ng4. The idea is that 10.fxg4? Bxc3+ is winning for Black. Instead, after 10.Qd2 Bh6 11.Qe2 Bxc1 12.Nd5!, White gets a small advantage in what turns out to be a fairly quiet game.
  • The third and final option is to play it similar to an English opening, which can also lead to the Maroczy Bind position, and defend the position with a hedgehog setup.

Outside of these three lines of defense, Black will usually get into a lot of trouble, and what happens here in this game is no different.

5...a6

This is the first sign that Black is both a Najdorf player, and also a player that likely doesn't understand the idea behind 5.f3. They probably assume, or at least hope, for a transposition to the 6.f3 Najdorf, which can also lead to lines of the English Attack. This move itself is not losing, and Black can still easily play the hedgehog setup, but since those that intend to play that line tend to play an early ...e6 rather than an early ...a6, probably means you aren't getting a transposition, although I have occasionally seen it happen where Black has played this move and lead to a hedgehog setup.

6.c4 e6 7.Nc3 Be7 8.Be3 Qc7 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.Be2



Ok, so Black is going to go for a hedgehog setup, right? Fianchetto the Bishop with ...b6 and ...Bb7, castle Kingside, and play ...Ne5, right?

10...Ne5

Ok, so Black goes for this move first. Possibly a tad early, but it shouldn't hurt Black. White plays a move that shows why Black usually completes development first.

11.Rc1!

The c-pawn is currently poisoned!

11...Bd7?!

Ok, so now it is clear that Black thinks he's playing a Najdorf, and doesn't get that this position, with White pawns on c4 and e4, is not a Najdorf, and that Black cannot just blindly play his desired line of defense against the main line Open Sicilian. This is just like the hypothetical example in the introduction of a King's Indian player trying to play King's Indian moves and apply King's Indian ideas to what was actually a Pirc Defense. Now we see Black with the delusional idea that he can just blindly play the Black side of the English Attack lines of the Najdorf, which Black's 13th move will confirm, when what we have is not an English Attack. Sure, White played f3, Be3, and Qd2, but that doesn't make it an English Attack. The Yugoslav Attack along with the Maroczy Bind, whether via the English or Sicilian, also feature these moves, and just like how the difference between the King's Indian and the Pirc is the c-pawn, where the King's Indian sees the c-pawn on c4 while the Pirc sees the c-pawn at home on c2. The English Attack sees the White c-pawn on c2 while the Maroczy Bind sees the White c-pawn on c4, and the differences in the two positions is alarming.

12.O-O Rc8 13.b3

After Black's 12...Rc8, the c-pawn was threatened.

13...h5?

Even further confirmation that Black doesn't understand the position. In the English Attack, White castles Queenside in most lines, and goes for a direct attack on the Kingside. In the Maroczy Bind, White might occasionally attack the Kingside, but that can often be dangerous with his own King sitting on that side of the board. Notice that White castled short, which is normal in this line. Now had Black fianchettoed his Queen's Bishop and set up a Maroczy Bind, then with the Bishop raking down the long diagonal, the Queen coming in, the Knight coming to e5, could raise major questions to White playing a move like g4. He might be able to eventually, but he has to be able to defend the weakening of his Kingside and the cover on his own King to do it.

In the game, we will see White's attack come down the middle of the board, especially now given that it's clear that Black's King will remain in the center, but even in the normal lines of the Maroczy Bind, White will often use things like the loose Bishop on e7 as a tactical resource to attack in the center.

14.Rfd1 Qb8 15.Kh1 h4 16.f4 Neg4



17.Bxg4

This is the first time that White made a slight error. It would have been better to immediately retreat with 17.Bg1, and after 17...b5, reply with 18.h3, chasing the Knight away. We will see this ultimately happen in the game, but by trading the Bishop for the Knight, it alleviates Black's cramp a little. Without the trade, Black wouldn't be able to retreat back to f6 as his other Knight sits there.

17...Nxg4 18.Bg1 g6?

Black shows fear of an f5-push, and hands the advantage right back to White. Black would be near equal by simply retreating 18...Nf6 and then 19.Nf3 h3 or else playing 18...h3 straight away.

19.Nf3 Bc6

Now 19...h3 is answered by 20.c5! and Black is in trouble.

20.h3 Nf6 21.Re1 Rd8



22.Qe3

This was to set up the next move, but this move isn't necessary. White can blast the position open now with 22.Nd5! Black cannot win material safely. If he tries to grab the Knight and keep the material via 22...exd5 23.exd5 Bd7, he will get blasted via 24.Qd4 Kf8 25.Ng5 Qc8 26.Rxe7 Kxe7 27.c5 Bf5 28.Re1+, and other lines of defense from move 24 onward are only worse, and so Black cannot safely hold on to the material, and would have to give the Bishop up on c6, or else not take on d5 in the first place.

22...Nh5 23.Nd5 Ng3+ 24.Kh2 exd5 25.exd5 Nf5 26.Qc3

Stronger was 26.Qe2!, where once again, Black pays the price if he tries to hold the material. For example, after 26...Bd7? 27.Nd4 Qc7 (other moves, like 27...O-O, drop the Bishop after a Knight trade) 28.Nxf5 Bxf5 29.Bb6! and Black is dead. Instead, 26...O-O would be relatively best, but White is still winning.

26...Rh5?

The only move that remotely keeps Black in the game is 26...O-O.

27.dxc6 bxc6 28.Bf2 Kf8 29.Kg1 Qc7 30.Rcd1 a5 31.Nd4 Ng7??

The only moves that remotely keep Black in the game are 31...Kg8 and 31...Nxd4, but either way, Black is hurting.


White to move and Win


32.Rxe7!!

This move and the next move are interchangeable. 32.Nxc6!! also works, followed by 33.Rxe7, so if you tried to figure out the move from the diagram, and came up with this, you'd also be correct!

32...Ke7

32...Qxe7 33.Nxc6 followed by 34.Nxd8 leads to a position where White emerges a pawn up and Black's remaining position is shattered. With the game move, Black emerge ahead in material temporarily, but the resulting attack on the back rank is fatal.

33.Nxc6+ Qxc6 34.Qxg7

And so now the main threat is 35.Re1+ followed by 36.Qxf7, completely shredding Black's position. Only two moves stop that, and Black plays one of them, but they don't work.

34...Rd7

The idea here is that f7 will be protected following the check, but it leads to fatal issues on the back rank, and even the Bishop on f2 plays a role! The other move that doesn't drop the pawn immediately is 34...Re8 because 35.Re1+ Kd8 would be attacking the e1-Rook, making 36.Qxf7 impossible. This defense is probably the most resistant as it would force White to find a slightly more complicated winning line. The winning line for White after 34...Re8 is 35.Bxh4+!, when after 35...Rxh4 36.Re1+ and now 36...Kd7 37.Qxf7+ and one of the Rooks will fall or 36...Kd8 37.Qf6+ followed by 38.Qh4, protecting e1, and in both cases, emerging up multiple pawns.

35.Re1+ Kd8 36.Qf8+ Kc7 37.Re8

Black is dead here. The main threat, which Black doesn't prevent, is of course to skewer the King to the Queen, but even after a move like 37...Qb7, this is where the usefulness of the Bishop comes into play. White responds with 38.Ra8! and the Queen can't be saved. If she moves away, like 38...Qb4, then 39.Qc8 is mate while a move like 38...Kc6 allows 39.Rc8+ and the Queen must take as 39...Rc7 40.Qe8 is also mate.

37...Qa6 leads to the same problem after 38.Ra8, and so the Queen cannot be saved no matter what Black does anyway.

37...Rc5 38.Rc8+ Kb7 39.Rxc6 Rxc6

White emerges with a Queen, Bishop, and pawn for two Rooks, and more pawns are about to fall. Black can safely resign here.

40.Qe8 Rdc7 41.Bxh4 d5 42.cxd4 Rc1+ 43.Kh2 1-0


Despite a few minor errors by White on moves 17, 22, and 26, what we saw here was Black getting blasted mainly because Black treated the position as though White's pawns didn't exist, and just continued playing moves blindly like as if he was playing a completely different opening. Black was determined to play a Najdorf Sicilian, despite the fact that the game never was a Najdorf Sicilian. There should be two vital lessons learned from this article:
  • The first is that the opening is determined by the moves made by both players, not by one. At the start of the game, you have 16 pieces, but the board features 32, and what both sides do matters, not just what you do with your own pieces. We saw in the hypothetical the scenario of a King's Indian player ending up in a Pirc Defense, and here we saw a Najdorf Sicilian player ending up in a Maroczy Bind. Recognizing the differences is vital.
  • Do not get trapped into matching the opening with the middlegame ideas. There may be common ideas that happen time and time again in the main lines of a given opening, like an attack on a specific pawn or square, but this repetition results from positions where the 16 pawns are aligned in similar fashion, keeping in mind that some of those 16 pawns may be traded off. In the game we saw, Black thought because White played 3.d4 that he could apply his Najdorf Sicilian ideas regardless of how White followed up, but the Najdorf Sicilian, English Attack and the Maroczy Bind do not feature the same pawn structure, and so the same ideas cannot be repeated. The former sees White's pawns on a2, b2, c2, e4, f3, g2, h2, and White is about to advance the Kingside pawns with his King castled Queenside. In the Maroczy Bind, the White pawns are usually on a2, b3, c4, e4, f3, g2, and h2 with White often looking to attack in the center, timing a Nd5 move, and if Black trades his Bishop, White will recapture with either the c-pawn or e-pawn, depending on the position, and attack down either the open c-file or semi-open e-file rather than storm his Kingside pawns, mainly because he King sits on that side of the board. So the moral of the story is to match pawn structure with idea, not opening with idea. You can get different openings that lead to the same pawn structure, such as the English Hedgehog, certain lines of the 5.c4 variation of the Kan Sicilian, and certain lines of the Sicilian Prins Variation, just to name one example. The 2...Qxd5 and 3...Qa5 lines of the Scandinavian and the 3.Nc3 lines of the Caro-Kann are another example.


As a final thing I'd like to mention, this is also a common problem with Queen Pawn openings. Many players like to play "systems", and think they are good against all Black responses, not even paying attention to what Black is doing. The London is no good against the Modern Defense. The Torre is no good against early d5 lines (e.g. 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6). The Colle is no good without ...e6 played while the Bishop is still behind the pawn chain, and if Black does throw his Bishop out there, an early c4 becomes necessary (e.g. 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 Bf5 (or 3...Bg4) and now 4.c4 is necessary) to attack the slightly weakened Queenside caused by the early development of the Bishop by Black. The list goes on and on, but many amateurs think that playing these lines can ease their burden, and they get the false perception that they can play the game like there are 16 pieces on the board and virtually ignore what the opposing side is doing. Always remember, there are 32 pieces on the chess board when the game begins!


This concludes this article on the importance of paying attention to what your opponent is doing and not just yourself, and until next time, good luck in your games.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 30

Hello and welcome to the thirtieth edition of The French Connection. With this one, before we get to the main topic, I would like to bring up a topic covered recently. Those of you have have read Volume 27 of The French Connection that came out last month, the one subtitled "A Trap Worth Knowing", do you recall that trap? (Those of you that haven't read that article can click HERE to get to it.) Well, just recently, I had it come up again, and I would like to start by suggesting that you attempt to analyze yourself the moves played. I will briefly touch on it, but consider this to be more of a review of what was covered three articles ago, and I encourage you to try to calculate the moves in advance, especially up through move 27. Moves 28-onward are nothing more than winning a won endgame.

Land of the Sky XXXIII, Round 1
W: Graydon Eggers (1839)
B: Patrick McCartney (2087)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.a3 Nh6 7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Be3 Bd7 10.Nc3?? Nxe3 11.fxe3 Nxb4 12.axb4 Bxb4 13.Rc1 Rc8 14.Qb3 Qa5 15.Kd2 O-O 16.Bd3 Rc7

I had mentioned 16...f6 here in TFC 27, but Black has numerous winning options as White is already dead. The idea of this one is to threaten to double up, and entice White to retreat his Knight before breaking the center. White's next move is not forced, but notice he went right for it!

17.Ng1 f6 18.exf6 Rxf6 19.Nge2 Ba4 20.Qb2 Rf2 21.Rhg1 Bb5

Basically the game ender! White is dead, despite the game being another 22 moves.

22.Bxb5 Qxb5 23.Kd1 Qd3+ 24.Qd2 Rxc3 25.Rxc3 Qxd2+ 26.Kxd2 Bxc3+ 27.Kxc3 Rxe2 28.Kd2 Ra2 29.Rb1 b6 30.g4 Rxh2 31.Ra1 Rg2 32.Rxa7 Rxg4 33.Re6 Rg6 34.Rb7 h5 35.Rxb6 Kf7 36.Ke2 Rg3 37.Kf2 h4 38.Rb8 Kf6 39.Rf8+ Kg5 40.Re8 Kf5 41.Rf8+ Kg4 42.Re8 Rf3+ 43.Ke2 Rf6 0-1

So as we can see here, that trap from TFC 27 really is one worth knowing. I had spent very little time in the opening phase of the game, and spent a grand total of 42 minutes for the entire game.

I figured it was important to mention this game with it happening literally 23 days after the first occurrence, but did not feature a full article on it as it would feel like I was merely re-writing the first one.


So now we move on to the feature game of the article. Here we will see Black play an early ...Bd7, which I am not in favor of at all. In this game, White decided to directly transpose to a line in the 5...Nge7 variation where Black plays ...Bd7 as a waiting move on move 8, but there is another idea for White which will be mentioned in the game.

After that, the game takes on a bit of a turn where Black focuses on getting certain pieces of White's off the board, and it leaves White with his Bishop that is on the same color as most of his pawns, but we shall see that this Bishop plays a vital defensive roll, especially after Black misses his one chance. First, it assists White in taking over the only open file, and then it follows up by keeping the Black pieces out while White proceeds to attack. Eventually, White infiltrates, and Black's position falls apart. With that said, let's take a look at the main game of the article.


TACO 101, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (2087)
B: Paul King (1888)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bd7

I don't like this move at all for Black. With moves like 5...Qb6 or 5...Nge7 or the more modern 5...Nh6, Black is going for his main target, the d4-pawn. This Bishop move does very little at the moment. We shall see that the Black Rook doesn't get to the c-file until move 15. There is no threat of d4 any time soon, even with a discovered check if White plays Bd3 at any point, and with it being the light-squared Bishop, it has no way to directly contribute to the attack on d4. Does this move get played eventually? Sure! But White give White extra time to get his King to safety and consolidate his position before Black goes after d4?

6.Be2 Nge7 7.Na3

This move leads to what will become a transposition to a line of the 5...Nge7 variation, namely 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Nge7 6.Na3 cxd4 7.cxd4 Nf5 8.Nc2 Bd7 and now 9.Be2 directly transposes to what will result in the game.

That said, White has a stronger move. 7.O-O!, the main point being that after spending time with 5...Bd7, Black's attack on d4 is too slow. With White's King already tucked away, he has the advantage if Black goes for d4 now via 7...cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Nc3! Qb6 10.Na4.

7...cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Nc2



So we now have the position from the 5...Nge7 line mentioned in the note to White's 7th move. This position is normally thought of as being somewhat balanced.

9...Qb6 10.g4

More normal here is to castle first, bringing the King to safety, via 10.O-O. That said, with the Queen having moved, I decided to kick the knight immediately since it does not have Queen to cover h4, and so he will have to retreat. Now this is not a glorified intervention that gives White brownie points, as Black can, and should, re-route the Knight via e7 to g6. Black does not do this, and instead goes out of his way to try to re-post the Knight on f5, and goes out of his way on a mission to eliminate all of the White minor pieces that can harass f5. It makes the Knight look good, but the rest of Black's position will be very passive. But if Black goes to g6 with the Knight, even after the upcoming ...h5 push, Black should have a fully equal position, and so don't think that 10.g4 is some great novelty. It's merely another move that leaves the position roughly balanced.

10...Nfe7 11.h4 h5 12.g5 g6?!

This is the square the Knight belongs on.

13.Bd3 Na5 14.Ne3 Bb5

Here is where Black starts his mission of eliminating both the White minor pieces that cover f5. He is going to be spending a lot of valuable time doing it. Meanwhile, White will be completing his development. That said, with White's long term weakness of the pawns being locked on the dark squares, Black will have one opportunity to take over the position.

15.O-O Rc8 16.Re1 Bxd3 17.Qxd3 Nc4 18.b3 Nxe3 19.fxe3 Nf5



Now artificial intelligence highly prefers Black here, and I agree to an extent, but not to the same degree. Yes, Black has an attractive Knight on f5. Yes, White's pawns on the ones on the color of the Bishops, not Black's. However, there are a number of pluses for White.
  • He is ahead in development. Black hasn't castled yet.
  • While the Dark-Squared Bishop looks bad, it has the ability to cover a key square, specifically c1. This is important as the Black Bishop cannot cover c8, which means it's going to be easier for White to take over control of the c-file than it will be for Black. The best Black can hope for is a standoff.


20.Bd2 Be7 21.Rac1 O-O 22.Rc2

Now a crucial decision for Black!

22...Ng3?

The wrong move order. Here, Black must trade Rooks first. After 22...Rxc2, White is forced to take back with the Queen, opening up the a6-f1 diagonal. After 23.Qxc2 Ng3, White cannot double up on the c-file due to a fork, and after the time spent playing 24.Kg2, Black can play 24...Ne4 as now 25.Rc1 leads to major problems for White after 25...Qa6! and after 25.Qd3, Black can play 25...Rc8, contesting the c-file.

With the move order played, White will take over the c-file, and this will just add headaches to Black.

23.Rec1 Rxc2

Too late!

24.Rxc2

Of course not 24.Qxc2?? Ne2+ -+.

24...Ne4

The Knight should go back to f5, tying White down to the defense of h4. From there, the Knight might look good, but it does not do the job it needs to do, and eventually, White will force it off the board, and overtake the game. Black's advantage is now gone!

25.Kg2 a6 26.Be1



26...Qd8?

Black must be dreaming up some sacrifice on g5. Here, 26...Bb4 had to be played. Now, the Black Knight has no way to avoid being traded off after White's next move.

27.Nd2! +/=

And suddenly White is better!

27...Bb4

Again, too late!

28.Nxe4! dxe4

This pawn is now a major weakness for Black! He should have taken the Bishop on e1 instead, which was the lesser evil. White is still better after 29.Nf6+ Kg7, but it's hard to see how he will take advantage if Black sits patient. Yes, he has the e4-lever, but it is very hard to imagine that being enough to outright win the game for White.

29.Qf1 Be7 30.Bg3 Qa5 31.Qf4 Qd5

Given the pawn structure, this is actually a very passive square for the Black Queen, and all it is doing is merely protecting the e4-pawn for now. That is about to change.

32.Be1 b6 33.Rc7

White infiltrates to the 7th rank. This is just the tip of the ice burg of Black's upcoming problems.

33...Bd8

Go away Rook! We don't want you here!



It is White to move. What do you do here?

34.Ra7!

Now you listen to me! I am not going away any time soon! Careful analysis shows that there is no way to trap the Rook from here! Black may be able to untangle at some point and trade the Rook for his own Rook, but with Black having to cover e4, he doesn't have time for something like Qd5-c6-c8-b8 as once it goes to c8 and abandons e4, White can play Qxe4 and then come in with the Queen as well. In addition, if Black does that immediately via 34...Qc6??, White wins material with 35.Bb4! since the Rook can't move to e8 as it would then be mate in two from that point!

34...a5

So Black proceeds to stop 35.Bb4 with this move. That said, it opens up the light squares for the Queen, and the Queen can come in via a6 if he has to, and so there clearly is no way to trap the Rook.

35.Qf1!

The Queen did its job on f4, keeping the Black Queen at bay on d5 until Black voluntarily weakens his pawn structure. Now the Queen is coming around the back and coming in.

35...Qc6 36.Qc4!

White has no objection here to a Queen trade. If Black decides to go that route, White will have a central pawn roll eventually, combined with the more dominant Rook. This is sufficient to say that White would be clearly winning.

36...Qe8

And so Black doesn't trade Queens. However, it cannot be a good sign when you are retreating backwards. While Black is stuck for moves, White takes his sweet time now to collect the e-pawn.

37.Kg3 Be7 38.Kf4 Bd8 39.Kxe4 Be7 40.a4

Immobilizing Black's Queenside pawns.

40...Qd8 41.Kf1

Not allowing any sacrifices on g5.

41...Ba3

It would have been cute to see Black try 41...Bc5. All White has to do here is play a simple move like 42.Ke4!. Note that 42.dxc5?? blunders away the win after 42...Qd1! and White has to give the Bishop back with Black improving his position as he also threatens 43...Qg4#.

42.Qc6

White continues to infiltrate, slowly but surely.

42...Bb2 43.Bc3 Bc1 44.Rb7 Qc8 45.Qc7

Virtually forcing the Queen trade, but in such a manner that White continues to control the only open file. Black could safely resign here.

45...Qxc7 46.Rxc7 Rb8 47.Ke4 b5 48.Bxa5 axb4 49.Rxc1 1-0


Here's what can be picked up from this game.
  • Black should not develop his Bishop too early. It is a waste of time, and allows White to consolidate and castle before any pressure is put on d4. Even if Black attacks via the e5-square, this is the best approach when Black wastes time with the move 5...Bd7?!. For example, after 6.Be2 f6 (a move that became somewhat popular recently), White should just calmly castle, and after 7.O-O fxe5 8.Nxe5 Nxe5 9.dxe5 Qc7, White can play the positional move, 10.f4, or take the more dynamic, and probably stronger, approach of playing 10.c4. Black should not take the pawn. If he does, after 10...Qxe5 11.Bh5+ g6 12.Bf3 O-O-O 13.Re1, Black is up a pawn, but he is not ready to withstand White's attack.
  • As demonstrated in the note to White's 7th move, Black's attack on d4 is too slow if White castles immediately, and so 7.O-O was far better than the game move, 7.Na3. After White's opening mistake, Black fully equalized immediately, and it just got worse for White through the teens after trying to execute the novelty with 10.g4 instead of the normal 10.O-O, the latter of which would lead to an equal position.
  • Black had one opportunity on move 22 to take over the advantage, but once he failed to do that, despite the appearance of White's Bishop, it wasn't a bad piece as it covered key squares to keep particularly the Black Queen out of White's camp. After that, White's King felt little to no pressure at all. Avoidance of a sacrifice or two and White's King was totally safe.
  • Often times, the key to keeping an advantage (Black's move 22) or avoiding falling into a worse position (Black's move 26), is prevention. Black needed to prevent White from taking over the c-file, not try to scratch and claw at it after it was too late. Same with Black's 26th move. He needed to prevent White from playing Nd2 and forcing the Knights off, not force White to trade the Knight after the fact since that is what White wanted to do anyway! Do not force your opponent to make moves he wants to make anyway. Instead, prevent them in the first place!

Well, that concludes this edition of The French Connection. Til next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 29

Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-ninth edition of The French Connection. Here we will be covering the third of four straight games featuring the Advance Variation of the French Defense and discussing a number of different lines. Here, we will see Black make a very bad and anti-positional move in the opening. Combine that with an early blunder, and White has a clearly won position. However, what we will see is White failing to execute the win many times, but each time, Black fails to find the tactical shot that completely negates White's advantage, or even in some cases, claim an advantage for himself. From White's perspective, we'll be looking at the concept of prioritizing. When you have a won position early in the game, with many pieces, the challenge is getting priorities straight. Do you shore up your weaknesses? Or do you, without hesitation, go after the King? Or do you simply try to trade everything down to a winning endgame? This can often be a tough question to answer. On the flip side, after a number of errors by White, Black fails to find the move, and hands the advantage back to White. Then, in the endgame, where White has two minutes to Black's thirty-five minutes, White gives Black one last opportunity, which was again missed, and then the door is slam shut on Black and White proceeds to execute a long but simple endgame sequence to force the King to resign.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the feature game.


Charlotte Open, Round 5
W: Patrick McCartney (2087)
B: Ganchimeg Batsaikhan (1867)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 f5?



Unusual moves are played in chess all the time. This is where novelties come from. That said, if you understand the main ideas of the French Defense, you would soon realize the problems with this move. Yes, occasionally ...f7-f5 is played later on in the game as a source of defense, but here is it simply too early and too committal. In most cases, Black has two pawn levers in the French Defense. The first is ...c5, which was played on move 3, and the other is ...f6, hitting the pain chain from the front. By playing an early ...f5, Black loses that later pawn lever.

Now another thing to note is that taking en passant cannot be recommended here. It relieves the cramping effect for Black, and when he takes back on f6, White has to constantly look out for ...e5. By leaving it there, Black still has to deal with a major cramping effect.

6.Be2 Nge7 7.a3 Ng6 8.h4 Qc7 9.b4 c4?!

Black relieves all tension from the White d4-pawn. Normally, if this move is played, it would be played immediately following White's move a3, looking to prevent b4 by White as Black would take en passant and win a pawn. Here, the Queen is passively placed on c7 instead of b6, and all pressure on the White center is gone. This gives White the green light to start attacking the Kingside.

10.Ng5 Be7 11.Bh5 Bd7?

Just flat out overlooking White's tactical threat. Better was to take the Knight with 11...Bxg5. Now White wins a pawn.

12.Nxh7 Kf7

The only move as after 12...Rxh7 13.Bxg6+, the Rook falls.

13.Ng5+ Bxg5 14.Bxg5 Be8



So here we have our first real area of interest in the game. White is a pawn up. White also has the Bishop pair. White has a winning position. That said, White still has work to do to maintain that winning position. White needs to ask himself the following questions once he realizes that his position is likely winning:
  • First and foremost, does he have a direct attack on the Black King that immediately ends the game?
  • Assuming the first bullet is "No", what potential threats might Black have? Keep in mind that these may be short term or long term threats.
  • What positional improvements can White make that might lead to a direct attack on Black?
  • Is simply trading down the best solution?

The first thing to realize is that the first and last bullets are out of the question. While it may appear that the Black King is not safe, it is not easy for White to execute any direct attack on the King as only the Bishops are near the Black King, and the Black King will be able to escape to g8 without any real issues. Also, with Black's pieces scattered and uncoordinated, it doesn't make sense to trade everything off, and this early in the game, it would be very difficult to do anyway.

So instead, we should be looking at the position from the perspective of what threats by Black should be prevented, and what improvements can be made in White's position.

So first, what are Black's potential threats, short or long term?
  • The first thing to consider is the possibility of Black sacrificing a Knight for two pawns on e5 in order to execute a quick attack at the White King, which doesn't really have a safe haven with all of the advanced pawns, including all the pawns on the Queenside along with the h-pawn on the Kingside. So White must really watch out for this.
  • Black might also be able to crack open the Queenside with a move like ...b5, blocking the b-pawn, and then playing ...a5, intending ...axb4, opening up the a-file. This might be most effective if White decides to walk the King to the Queenside, and try to put all his pieces on the Kingside to attempt to execute a direct attack on the Black King. Therefore, White might want to think about closing the Queenside.
  • With the Bishop all the way on h5, the light squares on the Queenside could be weak if something isn't done about them.

So what should White do? The answer is to do something about Black's two main threats. The sacrifice is a short term threat. The ...b5 and ...a5 idea, to break open the a-file, is a long term threat. White should take care of both of these on the next two moves.

15.g4?!

This move by itself does not cost White his advantage, but it is a step in the wrong direction. White's King can claim some level of safety residing on f1 or g1, and it also removes any checks if Black decides to sacrifice on e5. With the g4 advance, this shield for the White King is gone. The other move that White needs to play is a4. This takes the a4-square away from Black, and if he advances ...b5 at any point, it's now White's choice whether to open the a-file by capturing or closing it by advancing the pawn to a5, and if Black plays ...a5, White can play b5, opening up the dark-squared diagonal, the color complex where Black's Bishop is missing. Therefore, White would be better off playing 15.a4 or 15.Kf1, and in reality, it doesn't matter which as White should play both in the next two moves while the Black King is likely to go to g8, and so here, White should play either 15.a4 Kg8 16.Kf1 or 15.Kf1 Kg8 16.a4 and White maintains a dominating position.

15...Kg8

Now that the Knight on g6 is no longer pinned, White must watch out. Black has a nasty tactical threat.

16.gxf5?? =/+

From winning to slightly worse in one move! White needed to play 16.Kf1, the reason to which will be explained in the note to Black's next move.

16...exf5??

Black has the tactical shot 16...Ngxe5!!. The Bishop on h5 is under attack. Therefore, White must do something about the Bishop, but with the King still on e1, if White takes the Bishop on e8, Black has an in-between move, and after 17.Bxe8, Black responds with 17...Nd3+! before recapturing on e8 and Black won his pawn back with interest! Therefore, White probably needs to play 17.Be2 to minimize Black's advantage, and then Black should play 17...Nf7, gaining a tempo on the Bishop on g5 due to the pin of the h-pawn to the Rook on h1, and therefore, Black will have time to recapture the pawn on f5.

17.Bxg6?!

While this removes the Knight and gives Black one less piece to be able to pull off a tactic on e5, it is not best. White should play 17.Bf3!, and now, if Black tries to take on e5, White has the capture of the d-pawn with check, and so Black has no in-between check as he has to get himself out of check first.

17...Bxg6 18.Qf3 Re8



Can White take the pawn on d5?

19.Kd2?!

This move isn't very good. The answer to the question about taking on d5 is Yes, White CAN take on d5, but it also leads to a very hairy mess after 19.Qxd5+ Bf7 20.Qg2 (only move) Nxe5 21.dxe5 Qxe5+ 22.Kd1 and while White is technically winning, it is more complicated than it needs to be. The simply 19.Nd2 is best. If Black goes for the sacrifice, the walk to d1 is safer, and if he doesn't, White can go to f1 as there is no mate on e1 since the Knight is out of the way of the Rook.

19...Qf7 20.Bf4?!

White is possibly overreacting to the possibility of ...f4 by Black. He should probably move his King via 20.Kc1, getting out of the way of his undeveloped Queenside pieces. If White wants to block the pawn, he probably should do it with the Queen, keeping the Bishop active, and avoiding a Knight blockage on e6 - if the Knight goes to d8, White can trade Bishop for Knight.

20...Bh5 21.Qg3 Re6 22.f3 Rg6 23.Qe2



Now Black has a move that would equalize. Do you see it?

23...Kh7?

Black should take the opportunity to play 23...Nd8! as White has no way to avoid the blockading move, 24...Ne6!, which is the ideal square for the Knight.

24.Kc2 a5 25.Nd2 Nd8

Now we see a number of issues for White. Black is ready to blockade on e6. He is also ready to open the a-file, an issue we talked about earlier as a long term asset for Black if White doesn't do anything about it, which he hasn't. White realizes that his Bishop is too passive on f4, and therefore, activates it, realizing the Black will get one of his two desired goals, but not both!

26.Bg5

Now Black has a choice to make. If he moves the Knight, he gets the desired blockade, but White will play 27.f4, avoiding the opening of the light squares. Otherwise, if Black advances the f-pawn, White will trade the Bishop for the Knight on d8.

26...f4

Black goes for the attack on the light squares.

27.Bxd8 Rxd8 28.Rhg1 Qf5+ 29.Kb2 Rxg1?

This hands the advantage back to White. Black can maintain equality with 29...Ra8! Remember we talked about the opening of the a-file. If the file opens, Black wants a Rook on a8 before the trade even occurs.

30.Rxg1 Bg6 31.Nb1 axb4 32.axb4 Qd7



Only one move maintains the advantage for White here. Do you see it?

33.Qg2!

White must immediately attack down the g-file before Black gets time for moves like ...Qa4.

33...Bd3 34.e6

The simpler 34.Na3 is strong here, but this also works if White follows it up right.

34...Qe7 35.Qg5?!

The wrong followup. Black is tied down after 35.Qg4! Rd6 36.Re1!

35...Re8?

Trading Queens first before this Rook move is the right approach for Black. White's advantage, if any, is minimal in that case. Here, White has a winning advantage again.

36.Qh5+! Kg8 37.Re1 g6



Once again, only one move is winning for White. Which move is it?

38.Qg4?

The correct answer is 38.Qxd5 and now if 38...Qxh4, then 39.e7+ Kg7 40.Qe5+ Kf7 41.Qe6+ Kg7 42.Nd2 Qf6 43.Qd7 Kf7 44.Qd5+ Kg7 45.Re6 is winning for White.

38...Qf6?

38...Qd6 is equal. The difference is that from d6, the weak d5-pawn is covered.

39.h5 Kg7 40.hxg6 Qxg6 41.Qxf4 Rxe6

And now, with only 2 minutes for the rest of the game versus Black's 35 minutes, White falters once again.

42.Rxe6

This move should only draw. The winning move was 42.Qc7+ when 42...Qf7 43.Qxf7+ Kxf7 44.Rxe6+ Kxe6 45.Na3, where the White d-pawn isn't dragged to the e-file, closer to the Black King.

42...Qxe6 43.Qe5+ Kf7?

After 43...Qxe5! 44.dxe5 Kg6, the position is equal.

44.Qxe6+ Kxe6 45.Na3

Returning to the same position that arises from the 42.Qc7+ line.

45...Be2 46.f4 Bh5



47.Kc1?

This was the final time that White faltered, and once again, Black fails to take advantage. 47.Nb5 was necessary. The idea is that the Knight needs to get into the queenside to distract the King. If the King must both prevent Knight intrusions and contest f4, it will be overworked. For example, 47.Nb5 Kd7 48.Kc2 Ke6 49.Kd2 Bg4 50.Ke3 Ke7 51.Nc7 Kd6 52.Na8! Kc6 53.Kf2 b5 54.Kg3 Bd7 55.Kh4 Kb7 56.Kg5 Kxa8 57.f5 Kb7 58.f6 Be8 59.Kh6 Kc7 60.Kg7 Kd8 61.f7 Bxf7 62.Kxf7 Kd7 63.Kf6 Kd6 64.Kf5 and White wins.

The game move gives Black one final opportunity at a draw.

47...Kf5??

Necessary is 47...Be8, keeping the Knight out. Now, after 48.Kd2 Kf5 49.Ke3, the White King is stuck there. The Knight alone cannot make progress as the Black King will always be on f5 or g4. For example, 49...Ba4 50.Nb1 b6 51.Nd2 Be8 52.Nf3 Kg4 53.Ne5+ Kf5 and White cannot make progress.

48.Nb5!

Now, due to tactics, Black has no way to avoid losing the b-pawn, and with the White pawns on dark squares, there is no way to stop White from winning. It will take some maneuvering by the Knight, but the game is, for all intents and purposes, over. The rest needs no commentary.

48...Kxf4 49.Nd6 b6 50.Nc8 Kf5 51.Nxb6 Ke6 52.Na4 Be8 53.Nb2 Kf5 54.Kd2 Kf4 55.Nd1 Ke4 56.Ne3 Bd7 57.Nc2 Kf5 58.Ke3 Ke6 59.Kf4 Kd6 60.Ne3 Bc6 61.Kf5 Bd7+ 62.Kf6 Bc8 63.Nf5+ Kc7 64.Ke5 Bb7 65.Ne7 Kb6 66.Nxd5+ Kb5 67.Ne3 Bc8 68.d5 Bd7 69.Kd6 Bh3 70.Kc7 Ka4 71.d6 Kb3 72.Nd5 Bg2 73.d7 Bxd5 74.d8=Q Kxc3 75.Qxd5 Kxb4 76.Qd1 1-0


In the end, White won, but many opportunities for Black were missed. The following can be gotten from this game:
  • If Black plays an early ...f5, it is almost never right to take en passant. It would allow Black to open up the position and remove the cramp of his pieces, especially the bad Bishop on c8.
  • When you have a winning advantage, more often than not, it's not about executing an attack, but rather, playing defense in the form of removing all desperation tricks for the opponent. White needed to prioritize Black's two main ways to get at White, and he should have played a4 and Kf1 early on to avoid the opportunities offered to Black in the game.
  • Black's biggest mistake was that she was playing too simplistically. When you are down material with a losing position, as in you lack the necessary compensation to survive, playing normal moves and reacting to minor threats is not the approach to take. Black should be looking for any crazy opportunity given to him, such as taking on e5 on move 16! If you just play "normal" chess, things will eventually trade down to a lost ending for the player down in material. Therefore, a sense of urgency was necessary for Black, and she needed to look for more desperate, tactical means to distract White. Black has multiple chances to draw, but almost all of them were by dynamic means, not routine play.
  • Even in an endgame, priorities must be taken seriously. White's 47.Kc1 gave Black one final opportunity to draw. It was more critical to get the Knight deep into Black's Queenside territory, which would overwork the Black King and win for White.


This concludes this edition of The French Connection. Next time, we'll look at one more Advance French where this time, the topic will be trading off the wrong pieces, and the deception of bad Bishops. A Bishop that looks bad will end up being a key piece in the victory. That's next time, and until then, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 28

Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-eighth edition of The French Connection. A slight correction from the previous article. The day before this article was written, yet another instructive Advance French game occurred on the board, and so rather than this being the second of three straight articles on the advance variation, this will actually be the second of four! In this game, played in the second round of The Charlotte Open, we will be looking at one of the two main lines in the ...Qb6 lines of the Advance French. We will see two points in the opening where Black has a decision to make, and we will talk about a few ideas for White that are critical to know. Also, while the end of the game finishes abruptly via a gross blunder, we will look at what could have happened in a very difficult position. Without further ado, let's take a look at the game.


2020 Charlotte Open, Round 2
W: Robert Stewart (1910)
B: Patrick McCartney (2087)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.a3

Here, Black has to make a decision. There are four main responses here, of which I think two of them are stronger than the other two.

6...Nh6

This is the more dynamic approach of the two lines that I would suggest. The other options for Black are:
  1. 6...c4. This is the more positional approach. White's last move is to prepare 7.b4. This move stops it in its tracks. If White now plays 7.b4?, Black will take en passant. That said, this also takes all pressure off of the d4-pawn. Therefore, if Black does this, he has to commit to it. Therefore, after 7.Nd2, Black must play 7...Na5. He cannot allow b3 to be played by White without there being a cost. Now some people might wonder about 8.Rb1, and how does Black stop b3? It comes via a pin. After 8...Bd7!, the move 9.b3 is a mistake. After 9...cxb3 10.Nxb3?, Black can play 10...Ba4, winning material. For example, Black wins the exchange after 11.Nxa5 Bxd1 12.Rxb6 axb6 and now if White takes the Bishop, Black takes the Knight. If Black takes on b7, Black saves the Bishop by going to a4. After the most accurate reply by White, 13.Bb5+, Black has the advantage after 13...Kd8 14.Nb7+ Kc7 and the Knight is still under attack if White grabs the Bishop on d1. Therefore most White players are not going to do this, and after 7.Nd2 Na5, they will proceed as normal with 8.Be2 or 8.g3, and play for an attack on the Kingside while Black goes for the Queenside in what is often a long game with a lot of maneuvering.
  2. 6...Bd7?!. This move was popular back in the 90s, but it does not serve any real purpose. With the Knight already on c6, it's not like Black is going to be quick to exchange the light-squared Bishops. It does not stop b4. It does not contribute to the attack of the d4-pawn, unlike the Knight on h6, which will come to f5 in short order to put pressure on d4. It opens up Queenside castling, but Black usually castles Queenside in lines where Black plays ...c4, whether that be in the Advance or the Winawer, and so if Black is going to do that, he should play 6...c4, as mentioned above, to avoid 7.b4 by White. Yes, it is a move that Black will almost certainly make at some point in time, but for the moment, it does not serve a true purpose. White should continue on his merry way with 7.b4.
  3. 6...a5?!. This move also prevents 7.b4, but it weakens a very critical square, b5. I normally do not suggest the Milner-Barry Gambit for White, which is normally arrived at via 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3, and the reason for that is that Black has a slight advantage after 6...cxd4 7.cxd4 Bd7 (This time it serves a purpose - to allow Black to take twice ond 4 without a discovered attack on the Queen via a Bishop check) 8.O-O Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.Nc3 and now the very strong move for Black is 10...a6! with a slight advantage for Black. With 6.a3 a5 thrown in there, the difference benefits White, and 7.Bd3! is now a strong move, since if Black proceeds to grab the pawn, he no longer has the ...a6 resource, and White will get very strong compensation for the pawn given the glaring hole on b5.

And so therefore, I would highly suggest that those playing Black stick to 6...c4 or 6...Nh6 (which was the move played in the game), and those of you playing White, while playing against 6...Bd7 is fairly self-explanatory as Black does nothing to stop what you were doing anyway, make sure that you know and understand the idea against 6...a5, and that you understand the major differences between this position after 7.Bd3 versus the Milner-Barry Gambit proper.

7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2



In the previous article, The French Connection: Volume 27, I expressed my disdain for White's alternative move, 9.Be3, and I still think that move is vastly inferior, even if White doesn't walk into the trap that he walked into that game. The move played in this game is the main reply, and is the move I would also play when I am White, and I have had this position many times from both sides. Black now has a critical choice to make here on move 9, and White needs to understand the point behind both of Black's moves.

9...Bd7

This move is my personal preference, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with Black's other main alternative, 9...Be7. In other words, I do not express the disdain I have for 9.Be3 on Black playing 9...Be7 here. The idea behind each move is different, and it is critical that White understand the differences, or else he could end up in a lot of trouble. I am almost certain I have covered this before, but for those new to reading the articles on this site along with a refresher for those who have read the ones in the past, I feel this is an important thing to reiterate to those playing White. In the case of 9...Be7, Black's idea is that the center is closed, and White won't be afraid to advance the g-pawn, since there is no easy access to the White King. If the center were fluid, playing moves like 10.g4 would do nothing but open up the White King to attack. But here, Black is aware of this, and figures that if White tries to kick the knight away from pressuring d4, then Black can play 10...Nh4, looking to trade a set of pieces in a position where Black is the one lacking space. So the main point behind 9...Be7 is to try to discourage White from playing g4 since what he gets out of it is virtually nothing, and allows Black to relieve his cramp. Therefore, White needs to understand what 9...Be7 doesn't do that 9...Bd7 does do, and that once again comes down to having knowledge of the Milner-Barry Gambit. In the Milner-Barry Gambit, you have that common trap where if Black takes three times on d4 immediately White wins with Bb5+ and the Queen on d4 is lost. What 9...Be7 doesn't do is block that check, and so instead of 10.g4?!, White should play 10.Bd3! since Black cannot take three times on d4 for the exact same reason that he can't do it in the Milner-Barry Gambit. After 10.Bd3, if Black tries to plug that hole up with 10...Bd7, threatening to take three times on d4, White should immediately play 11.Bxf5!. Yes, this does give Black the Bishop pair, but it compromises his pawn structure, including an isolated pawn on d5 along with the doubled f-pawns, and the uncontested Bishop is still a bad Bishop, and will not be raking down at White's King anytime soon, and White should not be worries about any monster attack on the light squares. I would much rather have White in this position, and instead of 10...Bd7 with a cheap one move threat, Black should focus on more important things, and should instead play 10...a5 with play for both sides.

The point behind 9...Bd7 is that White can no longer play the active move, 10.Bd3, as Black now can take three times on d4. However, the downfall to this move is that Black has nothing covering h4, and so the move played in the game is critical.

10.g4!

This move must be played and it must be played now! After a passive move like 10.Be2, Black has 10...h5!, stopping g4 and maintaining the outpost for the Knight on f5, which is hard to get at since White can't play Bd3 any more.

10...Nh6

Black's other main option is 10...Nfe7, where from here it will usually go to g6, both taking advantage of some weakened dark squares on the Kingside along with possibly pressuring the e5-pawn with a timely ...f6. The move in the game makes White take time with another pawn move.

11.h3 Nh5?!

This move is slightly inaccurate. Black should play either 11...f6, immediately pressuring e5, or continuing his Queenside development with 11...Rc8, and after 12.Nc3, only now should Black play 12...Na5!, when 13.Na4 does not win the Knight on a5 because 13...Qc6 attacks the a4-Knight, and after 14.Rc1 Nc4, both sides have play.

The problem with 11...Na5 is that White has not committed his Knight yet, but he fails to take advantage.

12.Nc3?!

White should take advantage of Black's miscue with 12.Nbd2! Now Black probably has nothing better than to go back with 12...Nc6. He could try 12...Rc8, but after 13.Rc1 Rxc1 14.Bxc1, any entrance to c4 with the Knight will probably not mean much as the Bishop is no longer attacked since it is back on c1, and there is no problem with it on c1 as it no longer is in the way of the a1-Rook as that has been traded off, and so Black has traded one of his more active pieces, the Queenside Rook, for what can be a problem piece for White, the Queenside Rook, as in many cases, where it goes could pose problems or limitations on the dark-squared Bishop. Now it's completely out of White's way, and White gets a really good game.

12...Nc4?!

Black should transpose back to the correct line with 12...Rc8!

13.Qb3?

This loses all advantage for White, and he might even be slightly worse here. Correct is to take advantage of Black's early leap into c4 without the Rook on c8 yet, and play 13.Bxc4! dxc4, and now, after 14.d5!, White's pieces are far more prepared to open the flood gates in the center than Black's are. Yes, both Kings are still in the center, but White's is easily far safer than Black's.

13...a5 14.b5

Once again, White should probably have taken on c4, or else maybe play 14.Na4, but it's hard to recommend much for White has he has already lost all advantage, but the move played in the game allows Black to take over.



Only one move here works for Black, but it's a very strong move. Can you find it? It does require some deep calculation.

14...a4!

A very strong move, where if White now were to follow up with the relatively best move, 15.Qc2, then the b5-pawn will be forever isolated after 15...Nxb2 16.Qxb2, and Black now has 16...f6! with a strong position.

Instead, White goes for the line that required calculating a very long sequence, but it just flat out works for Black.

15.Nxa4 Qa5+ 16.Nc3

White has no other option. Anything else drops the Knight on a4.

16...Nxb2

The Bishop now must be removed.

17.Qxb2 Bxa3!

It looks like Black is just walking into a fatal pin, but White is too slow at getting to Black.

18.Qb3

The only move that maintains the pressure on the Bishop.

18...O-O!

And now things should be a little clearer as to what Black is doing. Now that he has connected the Rooks, and a8 won't hang, Black's idea is to play ...Qb4, eliminating the Queens and getting the Bishop out of the pin. White must also watch out for pressure on the pinned Knight on c3. Since White can't castle right away, 19...Rfc8 could be a problem, which lead to White's next move, which removes the pin, but otherwise does nothing to improve his position, and he's now massively lagging behind Black in development.

19.Nd2 Qb4

And while I did not necessarily account for every White option on move 19, I knew that there wasn't one that would give Black any problems, and it was this exact position that I visualized back on move 14 when I played 14...a4. Also, if you are like me, and you keep track of time, it can be seen easily that this was figured out then at move 14, because the time for Black, in minutes, was 110 (or an hour and 50 minutes) after 13...a5, 90 after 14...a4 (meaning 20 minutes was spent on this move), and then 90, 90, 90, 90, and 89 for moves 15 thru 19. This is why I am a huge advocate of taking down the time every move. You can see that Black put in a lot of time finding and trying to calculate the semi-forcing sequence played in the game, but once that was done, Black spent almost no time on each move after that. Maybe 10 to 15 seconds per move just for blunder check.

Next, we will see Black's moves continue to flow naturally while White is having to make unusual and non-productive moves just to try to hold the position together. Notice how the Bishop and Rook on f1 and h1 continue to be out of the picture for yet another 10 moves.

20.Ncb1 Qxb3 21.Nxb3 Bb4+ 22.Kd1 Rxa1 23.Nxa1



I had to put up a diagram simply because the position is picturesque, and not in a good way, at least for White that is. I would wager that this is not the position that White would normally envision having in the Advance French!

23...f6!

While White's position is grotesque, Black is not without any problems. His Bishop on d7, given the protected pawn on b5, is extremely difficult to get into the game, and the Knight is passive on h6. The move played looks to break open the position, and especially the f-file for the Rook, and at the same time, give the Knight a route back into the game.

24.Nc2 Ba5 25.f4 fxe5 26.fxe5 Rf3 27.Nba3

After this move, Black may not be able to force the win of material, but White's only defense, which he does not find, would prove that this move is virtually useless.

27...Bb6 28.Kd2

Just flat out surrendering the d-pawn. After 28.Nb1 Rb3, going for the b-pawn, White can once again go 29.Nd2, forcing the Rook to move again, and he should probably stay on the 3rd rank with 29...Rg3 rather than on the file, since White can answer 29...Rb2 with 30.Kc1.

28.Kd2 Bxd4 29.Nxd4 Rxa3 30.Bd3

On move 30, the Bishop finally comes into play.

30...Nf7 31.Re1



31...Ng5?!

Here is where Black starts going astray. Instead of spending time going for the h-pawn, he should get his King closer to the center with 31...Kf8! Now, instead, even with White about to be two pawns down, the position is about to be a really hairy mess that Black did not have to allow.

32.Rc1! Nxh3?

Black needed to go back with 32...Nf7 with still an advantage, though not as great of one.

33.Rc7

What was a horrible position 9 moves ago and still a lost position 3 moves ago is now an advantage for White, despite being two pawns down!

33...Nf2?

Relatively best was 33...Ra4 +/=



White can get a winning position with the correct move here. What should White play?

34.Be2??

After 34.Bc2!! Nxg4 35.Rxd7 Nxe5 36.Rxb7 Nc4+ 37.Kc1 e5 38.Nb3 Ra8 39.Rd7 and now 39...Rc8 40.Rxd5 White is just munching away at the Black pawns while 39...d4 40.Nd2 stops the Black central passers right in their tracks. The are weak, and will ultimately fall. White will not allow his b-pawn to be taken without it costing Black another piece as he clearly wants to avoid something like Rook and Bishop versus Rook with no pawns.

After the move played in the game, the advantage swings back to Black.

34...Ne4+ 35.Kc2 Ra4 36.Kd3



One more problem to figure out. Black to move and win!

36...Be8??

The winning move was 36...b6!, and after something like 37.Nc6, Black can play 37...Kf8 and White has absolutely nothing. If he moves his King, say like 38.Ke3, then 38...Ra3+ followed by 39...Nc5 solves Black's problems and the extra material will prevail.

After the move played in the game, White ends the game abruptly with a blunder, but he had the chance to equalize here.

37.Rxb7??

During post-game analysis, it was thought that maybe 37.Ke3 was the solution, but after 37...Ra3+ 38.Bd3, the move 38...b6 is once again winning for Black.

The drawing move was 37.b6!, stopping Black from making the move he has been needing to make. 37.Rc8 temporarily delays it and still works because of the attack on the Bishop, but the main point is advancing b6 before Black does.

The move played, of course, simply loses to a one-move fork.

37...Nc5+ 0-1


A very wild game for what shouldn't ever have gotten to that point. The following can be gotten from this game:
  • White's critical 10th move. Make sure you understand what to do against each of Black's 9th move options. Failure to understand the downside to each of them will give Black an excellent game.
  • Time Management - When calculating a long, forcing or semi-forcing sequence, spend the time to make sure that you are not overlooking alternatives by the opposing player. One missed move could completely destroy you in situations like this. Notice, however, that once you have assured yourself that it works, do not waste a lot of time executing it. 20 minutes was spent calculating it, but the following five moves saw no more than a minute total spent on the five follow-up moves combined. If you go back and recalculate every time, you'll run yourself out of time in short order.
  • When you have a winning position, like Black does moves 20 to 30, the way to maintain that winning advantage is to prevent the other side from getting any counter-play, rather than wildly going around trying to collect more material. Grabbing the d-pawn got Black the material advantage with the protected passed pawn. Grabbing the h-pawn showed nothing more than greed by Black, and he should have had to pay for that.
  • When your position is bad, always look for ways to stir trouble, and keep your eyes peeled for opportunities, such as the missed 34.Bc2 by White. Now this does not mean play on in a completely unrecoverable position. Being down a pawn or two with pieces still on the board, and especially if the side with the extra material has a bad piece, like the Black Bishop on d7, still allows for opportunities. Being down 3 pawns in a pawn ending, or down a queen for nothing and zero compensation, there is no use trying to play on. Pipe dreams will never happen, but don't give up in situations like White's in this game where Black's winning advantage was fairly obvious after 23 moves, but as was proven here, he still had the opportunity to stir up trouble, and it almost worked!


Next time, we will see a game in the Advance French where Black attempts to play something really unusual in the opening, and we will be looking at how White should deal with such oddities.


This concludes this edition of The French Connection. Till next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White.

Friday, January 10, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 27

A Trap Worth Knowing!

Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-seventh edition of The French Connection, and also what is the first article of 2020. This article, and the next two in The French Connection series, will be covering the Advance Variation with differing ideas. In this one, I will be showing you a trap that is actually well worth knowing.

In most cases, when people ask about which openings have the most traps, my response usually is that looking for traps in the opening is not the approach to take to chess. In most cases, trying to set up a trap typically involves making a move that works if they don't see the idea, but otherwise, if they do stop it, the move proves to often be totally useless. What I am about to show you here is an exception to the rule. If you approach opening study from the opposite site, and try to study a system that is fully sound, and that system just happens to have a trap in it that some players not familiar with the French will actually fall for, only then is it worth analyzing, because in this case, you are still playing the best moves.

So if we are playing main lines, what makes this a trap? It's the fact that a natural looking move turns out to be really bad for White, and the only way for Black to take advantage of it is to be willing to execute a piece sacrifice. So if you are not familiar with it, it's not nearly as obvious as say, the well known trap in the Milner-Barry Gambit, where 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 cxd4 7.cxd4 where now 7...Bd7 is correct, and Black should not fall for 7...Nxd4? 8.Nxd4 Qxd4?? 9.Bb5+ where the Black Queen falls.

Without further ado, let's take a look at this trap that Black needs to be familiar with, and White needs to avoid. White was only a 1600-player, but this is precisely the level player that is most likely to fall for this trap. You typical expert or master that is familiar with the French Defense will not play this move when they are White.


2020 Ticks, Round 3
W: Rahul Bammidi (1616)
B: Patrick McCartney (2087)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.a3 Nh6 7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5

We have a well-known position in the Advance French. At this point, White has two main responses. Personally, I think that 9.Bb2 is the far superior option for White, and is the move I would play 100 times out of 100 if I am White. That said, White decided to play the alternative option, and it is only in this line that the trap I am about to show you applies.

9.Be3

It is only with this line that the trap is available.

9...Bd7



Now, relatively best for White is 10.Bd3, but after 10...Nxe3 11.fxe3 Rc8 12.O-O Be7 13.Nbd2 Nd8 14.Qe2 Rc3 and Black has far more counterplay than he deserves. This is why I prefer 9.Bb2. That said, there is a move here that White must avoid.

10.Nc3??

What move could look more natural? Unlike in the 9.Bb2 line, the Knight does not block any defenders of d4, and so White has three defenders to match up against Black's three attackers. So what can possibly be wrong with this move? The issue has to do with the c3-square itself. With the b-pawn and d-pawn advanced, the c3-square is very weak, and Black's attack will be centered around this weak Knight.

10...Rc8?!

This move is not good. In the game, White winds up directly transposing to the line Black should play, but White has a major improvement. Instead of 10...Rc8, Black should immediately take on b4 with the Knight. After 10...Nxe3! 11.fxe3 Nxb4! 12.axb4 Bxb4 13.Rc1 Rc8 14.Qb3 Qa5 15.Kd2 O-O 16.Bd3 f6! and it is Black with the initiative.

11.Rc1?

White was given the opportunity to get out of it by playing 11.Na4, attacking the Queen! Instead, White simply transposes to the line above.

11...Nxe3 12.fxe3 Nxb4! 13.axb4 Bxb4

Now, instead of 14.Qb3, White tries a different move, but it doesn't work, nor does any other move. White is already lost!

14.Qd3 Qa5 15.Kd2



So Black is down a piece for two pawns at the moment, but White's pieces are all tied up. To untangle, White needs two moves with the Knight (Nf3-g1-e2), two more for the Bishop (g2-g3 and Bf1-h3 or Bf1-g2), and then getting the h1-Rook in the game, such as via Rc2 and Rhc1. This all takes way too long, and there are many ways for Black to win back the piece, maintaining the extra pawns. Black plays one of those moves here.

15...a6

This quiet looking move isn't so quiet. The King on d2 is stuck where it is. If it goes to c2, it blocks the Rook and Black can take on c3. If it goes anywhere else, there aren't enough pieces covering c3 and Black can take. If he moves the Queen to c2, the Queen is in front of the Rook, and Black can take on c3 as White would have to recapture with the Queen since the Rook can't, and Black can take a second time, but avoid the third, and he wins White's Queen. The Queen going anywhere else once again abandons the pinned Knight on c3. Therefore, if the King can't move, and the Queen can't move, then this move sets up the fatal threat of ...Bb5. Because of this, White decided to move the King and jettison the Knight.

16.Ke2 Rxc3 17.Rxc3 Bxc3

This move is winning, but even stronger is 17...Bb5! After 18.Rxc8+ Kd7 19.Rxh8, Black wins in crushing fashion with 19...Qa2+ 20.Nd2 (20.Kd1 Ba4+ with mate two moves later) Qxd2+ 21.Kf3 Bxd3.

18.Kf2 O-O

Because the King is on the f-file now, I played this move on the basis that I can stop the cheap-shot mate with the f-pawn instead of the g-pawn because taking en passant will be check!

19.Ng5 f5 20.g3



Ordinarily, I would say that Black is up two pawns with zero compensation, and end it there, but the way that Black finishes the execution is quite attractive.

20...h6 21.Nh3 Bb5 22.Qb1 g5 23.Bxb5 axb5 24.Kg2 b4 25.g4

White tries for one last cheap shot. Black will not comply!

25...Qa6

Of course not 25...fxg4?? 26.Qg6+, when after 26...Kh8 27.Qxh6+ Kg8 28.Qxg5+, it is actually White that is winning.

26.gxf5 Qe2+ 27.Kg1 Qg4+ 28.Kf2 Rxf5+ 29.Nf4



Can you find Black's best move?

29...gxf4!!

Wait a minute? Doesn't this lose the Queen? Not so fast! It's actually the only move that forces mate!

30.Rg1

While this is the obvious move, 30.Qxf5, while impractical, is the move that prolongs the mate the longest possible. Now a series of forced checks, each of which White has only one legal move, unpins the Queen and mates the White King.

30...fxe3+ 31.Kxe3 Rf3+ 32.Ke2 Rg3+

Now White technically has two legal moves, but they both lead to mate in one with the same response by Black for both moves.

33.Kf2 Qf3# 0-1


An absolute crush! All of this happened because of an innocent looking Knight move that is actually a blunder. Black did give White one opportunity to get out of it and should have taken on e3 followed by b4 immediately, but White failed to take advantage of it. The difference between this trap and the vast majority of other opening traps is that this trap does actually occur at the amateur level, and it results from Black playing best moves, not going out of his way to play an odd move simply to trick White. If that were the case, I would highly advise against playing in such a way because all you'd do is hurt yourself, but in this case, it's simply an added bonus to what is already best play for Black. Just remember, always assume that White will not fall for this, and be prepared to play the main lines with best play, whether that be 9.Bb2 or 9.Be3 followed by 10.Bd3. What we saw here is simply an added bonus that you might be able to pull off once in a blue moon against B-level players. Experts and Masters will not fall for this, and those below B-Level players often won't even get this far into the opening and likely do something inferior earlier on, such as 7.Bxh6, or even 3.exd5.

This was the first of three advance French games played in the first week of 2020. We will be looking at the other two in the near future, and the other two will not see White falling for this in the opening.

This concludes this edition of The French Connection. Good luck to all of you in your future French games, whether playing Black or White!