Saturday, June 16, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 9

Hello everyone and welcome to the ninth edition of The French Connection. Now those of you that have read the first eight articles will known that thus far, every article has had the same layout. There would be a single game with some discussion on certain themes learned from that game. Some of them would be GM games from the past (Volumes 1, 4, 5, 6) while the others would be games by Amateurs. Some would be successful blockades by White (Volumes 2, 6, 7) while the others would be successful breakthroughs for victory by Black. We have also already seen four of the five main responses by White, including 3.Nc3 (Volumes 1, 2, 5), the Tarrasch (Volume 4), the Advance (Volumes 3, 6, 7), and the Exchange (Volume 8), the only one not showing up yet being the King's Indian Attack. Don't worry, they will come too.

However, every now and then, I will be slightly altering the format of the article to better suit the topic at hand. For example, maybe sometime down the road, there may be an article on French miniatures, which in that case, it wouldn't make sense to extensively cover a single game, but rather, the theme would be more geared toward typical errors made in the opening phase of the game as that would be necessary to win a game that quickly. I am sure that there are other scenarios besides a miniatures article and what we have here that would also force a slight change in the format. Fear not, the vast majority of these articles will take on the same format as the first eight.

But what we have today is a topic where covering a single game extensively from start to finish would be a waste of time. This go round, we are going to talk about a couple of garbage lines that you might have to face that have actually occurred over the board. This theme is likely not a one-time occurrence in this series, so let me lay out what you can expect, and then in future cases, I'll likely simply subtitle those articles as something along the lines of beating garbage lines. Because I do not condone playing garbage lines from either side, I can tell you right now that every garbage line I cover will result in a loss for the player playing the garbage.

So what is a garbage line? I classify variations of openings under three categories:
  • Main Lines - These would be all of the legitimate lines that make up over 95% of all games. Against the French Defense, there are five of them. 3.Nc3, which can be broken down further into the Winawer, Steinitz, Classical, MacCutcheon, Burn, Rubinstein, and Fort Knox, and then there is the Tarrasch (3.Nd2), Advance (3.e5), Exchange (3.exd5) and the King's Indian Attack (2.d3 and 3.Nd2).
  • Offbeat Lines - These would be the lines that are rarely played and somewhat off the beaten path, but are not just outright bad. A couple of examples would be 2.b3 and the Wing Gambit (1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 c5 4.b4). These lines lead to nothing more than equality, but White should not be lost in these lines simply because Black knows what he's doing.
  • Garbage Lines - This is everything else. These lines serve no purpose other than to try to trick the opponent. If the opponent knows what they are doing, then there is no recourse and the player trying to get a cheap shot out of their opponent instead ends up with a lousy position that is probably already lost.

So that said, I am going to cover two garbage lines in this article. When covering garbage lines, there is going to be far more emphasis on the opening, comparing what is right to what is wrong. The purpose is to illustrate why it is important to understand the ideas behind the opening moves and not just to memorize them. When people start trying to beat you with garbage, they are in essence trying to take the lazy way out, figuring that you won't know what to do and they will get an easy advantage without having to resist a major fight in the main lines. Well, if you understand the themes of what's right, it should help you pave the way through proving why what they played against you is wrong.

That said, once you are past the opening and maybe early middle game stages, with correct execution, you likely have, simply put, a won game. There are many books out there on how to win the won game. That is not the intent of this series. Therefore, to be able to cover multiple games without making this article a mile long, I will be extensively covering the opening, and then simply supplying the moves to complete the game once there should be no question about who is winning.


Garbage Line Number One: 2.f4

Here we are going to look at a game where White violates just about every principle possible in the French Defense. Let me first tell you about the nature of the player. He thinks that chess is all about ramming down the opponent's throat, and that no matter what lines you play as White or Black that he can charge after your King. He's a huge advocate of the King's Gambit, and thinks that these early f4 ideas and ramming the pawn down Black's throw will work against any Defense, and while you might be able to take this approach against 1...e5 via a King's Gambit or 1...c5 via a Grand Prix Attack, we are soon going to see that this approach does not work against the French Defense. White pays zero attention to the center, loosens his King, and even trades away his most valuable minor piece from the start. Now let me also say that White does not follow up with the best moves after move two either, which doesn't help his cause, but let's compare what happens here to some of the main lines of the French Defense.

Tuesday Night Action 43, Round 2
W: Ali Shirzad (1827)
B: Patrick McCartney (2049)

1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5

Just because White decides not to fight for the center doesn't mean Black shouldn't. The whole purpose of 1...e6 is to contest the e-pawn with 2...d5 without having to recapture with the Queen if White were to take, and so Black continues with his normal moves.

3.e5 c5 4.Nf3

Already White has a problem. He would like to play d4 to fight for control of the center, but it's already too late. After 4.d4 cxd4 5.Qxd4, Black can develop his pieces with tempo, chasing the Queen away.

4...Nc6



5.Bb5

If White has to resort to this, he has already failed. The Light-Squared Bishop is White's most valuable minor piece in the French Defense. In the main lines of the French, with the pawns on d4 and f2 instead of d2 and f4, if White can achieve getting his Bishop to d3 without losing the d-pawn (the Bishop blocks the Queen from guarding d4), then White has a major advantage because with all the Black pawns on light squares, blocking in his counter-part on c8, White has an uncontested piece going after Black's Kingside. Here, however, White is using the Bishop to try to control d4 by pinning the Knight on c6. Note that 5.d4?! is highly dubious here. I could write an entire book on the position after 5.d4 and what is wrong with it, but to illustrate White's problems, I'm going to show you one line and compare it to a similar situation where White is better if he doesn't play f4.

After 5...Qb6 6.c3 Nh6 (with the pawn on f4, this move is strong as White can't capture) let's compare what we have to a normal position after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc3 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 Bd7?.


Position after 6...Bd7?!



Position after 6...Nh6


In the first diagram, White has an advantage after 7.dxc5 Bxc5 because he is ready to castle with 8.O-O and White has the major positional threat of 9.b4 with a huge advantage for White, and if 8...a5, then Black has many weaknesses, most notably b5. This is why it is well known that in the Milner-Barry Gambit, which is what the first diagram is, Black should play 6...cxd4 first, and only after 7.cxd4 does he play 7...Bd7.

In the second diagram, however, taking on d4 is unnecessary and Black is getting ready to play 7...Nf5, creating massive pressure on d4, and castling for White is even borderline dangerous because of his second move, f4, opening up the long diagonal towards the King which the Black Queen resides on. If White tries to remove the pressure on d4 by taking on c5, it does not work like it did in the Milner-Barry Gambit. After 7.dxc5? Bxc5 8.b4? Bxf2+, White is not in a position to trap the Bishop. After 9.Ke2, there is no immediate escape for the Bishop, but there is also no way to attack it as white's pieces are a complete mess. After something like 9...O-O 10.g3 Ng4 11.Bh3 h5 12.Qd3 f6 13.exf6 e5 14.Qxd5+ Kh8 15.fxg7+ Kxg7 16.a4 Bxg3, Black is completely winning. Already we are seeing major problems with White's early f4 advance.

5...Qb6

Already raising question to White's best minor piece.

6.Nc3



6.c4 is probably a slight improvement, but after 6...a6, the question is once again raised to White's best minor piece and he is probably forced to trade it away anyway. That said, Black's next move requires some understanding. Under normal circumstances, Black has to be careful about early advancements of the d-pawn as it would normally open up e4 for a White Knight and eyeing a weakness in Black's position, the d6-square. Here, however, if we advance the pawn, the Knight is under attack, and the Knight is the only thing covering the Bishop, and so White can't move the Knight to e4 right away as the Bishop hangs, and since then the Bishop is forced to capture the Knight with check, when we recapture with the Queen, e4 will be covered and the White Knight will be forced to a passive position. Therefore, advancing the pawn in this case is a strength and not a weakness.

6...d4! 7.Bxc6+ Qxc6 8.Ne2 Ne7 9.d3 Nf5 10.O-O Be7 11.c3



And here we have another theme that explains what is wrong with 2.f4. It looks like the d-pawn is under attack and that Black needs to take on c3 and relieve all tension. Yes, White is behind in development, but Black is not fully developed, and so there is no reason to let White off the hook, and we aren't ready for a kill on the White King. That said, tactics are available to Black based on the advancement of the f-pawn, and the d-pawn is actually not even threatened at this point.

11...O-O

If Black is willing to gambit a pawn, he can also achieve a strong attack with 11...b6 12.cxd4 Bb7 13.dxc5 Bxc5. There is nothing wrong with the move played in the game though either.

12.Qe1

It appears as though d4 is under-defended, but tactics allow Black to keep the advantage. White can play 12.cxd4, but he can't win the pawn, but Black also has to be careful here. Correct is 12...Nxd4! 13.Nexd4 cxd4 and Black maintains the advantage. Note that the d-pawn can't be taken because after 14.Nxd4?? Bc5 15.Be3 Qb6 16.Qa4 Rd8, White loses a piece. Note that 12...cxd4 would be a mistake. After 13.g4! Ne3 14.Nexd4! Nxd1 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.Rxd1 and White's better.

12...Rd8 13.g4 Ne3

This move maintains a small advantage, but safer may have benn 13...Nh6 with a clear advantage for Black.

14.Bxe3 dxe3



15.d4?

White has to play 15.Nc1, which will win the e-pawn, but at the cost of having his pieces very passively placed, and Black's Bishops are also better than White's Knights. After 15...b5 16.Qxe3 Bb7, Black has definite compensation for the pawn and probably a little more, but his advantage is small here and is the reason why 13...Nh6, taking a more patient approach, was stronger.

15...b6!

This is how Black stops White from taking easy street of simply moving the Knight to the active g3-square and scooping up the pawn. Black will counter by hitting the Rook, where White will have to either retreat the Knight back to e2 and remaining bottled up, or giving up the exchange. White gave up the exchange, and Black proceeds to win with the material advantage.

The rest of the game went as follows:

16.Ng3 Ba6 17.Qxe3 Bxf1 18.Rxf1 cxd4 19.Nxd4 Bc5 20.f5 Bxd4 21.cxd4 Qa4 22.fxe6 fxe6 23.Ne2 Rf8 24.Nf4 Rad8 25.d5 Rxd5 26.Nxd5 Qxg4+ 27.Qg3 Qxg3+ 28.hxg3 Rxf1+ 29.Kxf1 exd5 30.Ke2 Kf7 31.Kd3 Ke6 32.Kd4 h5 33.a4 g5 34.b4 h4 0-1

So we see here why 2.f4 is a bad idea for White and Black's play is predominantly executed in the center of the board, hitting hard on the d4-square, and using the opening of the diagonal to the White King, especially after White castles, to his own advantage.


Garbage Line Number Two: White Plays an Inferior Version of an Already Inferior Gambit

Theory evolves over time. Evolution is a science that applies to more things than just one. While human beings have evolved from apes, the Milner-Barry Gambit has evolved into a highly dubious gambit for White. For a while, Black would try to grab the two White pawns in the center and then either try to hold on to both and place the Queen on d6 or he would give one back and place the Queen on b8. I myself used to play the latter of the two. It was later determined that Black is best off not grabbing the second pawn, and instead playing the line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3?! cxd4 7.cxd4 Bd7 8.O-O Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.Nc3 a6!


Black is better, but it's tricky


Black's behind in development and his Queen is out there in the open early on, but he is a pawn up. With very careful defense, Black has a small advantage here. The garbage line we are about to see is going to be an offshoot of the Milner-Barry Gambit, and a version where Black will win a pawn, not have his Queen displaced, is able to develop smoothly, and pretty much executes a complete walkover.

A word about the player playing White in this game. He is well known locally as an e4-player. Literally plays nothing else. He is adamantly against closed positions. He has expressed multiple times before that his choice of openings, 1.e4 as White, Dutch Leningrad and Alekhine as Black, are specifically because he wants a more open position. The other fact about him is that he is all about trickery. He does not believe in playing the main line of anything. He is always looking for that odd ball move that he figures his opponent won't know and is banking off of that to win his games. A prime example is against the Caro-Kann Defense. I've seen him play often 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Qf3, including once against me and I got smashed! He has won a number of games against players using this method, myself included, but never in the French Defense. Most gambits against the French, trying to force the position open, simply don't work. Playing an inferior version of these gambits will make matters even worse for White provided Black knows what he is doing, and that's exactly what happens here.

Tuesday Night Action 43, Round 4
W: Patrick Sciacca (2148)
B: Patrick McCartney (2049)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6

The previous time that I played the French Defense against the same opponent, I played 4...Nc6, which is the main move. For those with intention of playing the 5...Qb6 line against the normal move, 5.Nf3, can play this move order to prevent an offbeat line available to White. After 4...Nc6, White can play 5.Be3, which is what he played against me the previous time, and this game can be found in Volume 3 of The French Connection. By playing 4...Qb6, White can't play 5.Be3 because of 5...Qxb2!. That said, will we see normal here? Of course not!

5.Bd3?!

Other than possibly to transpose to the Milner-Barry Gambit, this move has no purpose.

5...Nc6 6.Ne2?!



Here, let's compare once again the "normal" position in the Milner-Barry Gambit to the position we have here. In the normal position, shown in the previous game (first of the two small analysis diagrams), we saw that 6...Bd7? is a mistake because of 7.dxc5! and that after 7...Bxc5 8.O-O that White had the positional threat of 9.b4. What is different about that position versus this one? The Knight! Why might theory believe that the Knight belongs on f3 and not on e2? Well, if White is going to take on c5, something needs to cover e5. Normally this is the Knight on f3, and this is what creates the positional threat of 9.b4! Here, on the other hand, the Knight does nothing to cover e5, and so if White plays 7.dxc5 Bxc5, he does not have time to play 8.O-O as the pawn on e5 will hang. After 8...Nxe5!, we don't care if we face 9.b4 as we can put the Bishop on the active d6-square now instead passively on e7. It is understanding the little idiosyncrasies like this that matter when you face a garbage line. It is not about memorizing reams of garbage. Therefore, Black has no reason to release the tension early on d4 and open up the c3-square for the White Knight early on. Might as well play the necessary move that threatens to win the pawn on d4, and we now understand why here it gets an exclamation point while with the Knight on f3, it would get a big fat question mark!

6...Bd7! 7.O-O cxd4 8.cxd4 Nxd4



So here, White has one last chance to correct himself and enter into the Milner-Barry Gambit with 9.Nxd4 Qxd4. But again, let's look at what we are dealing with here. A player that relies on trickery. If you don't know the opening you are playing thoroughly and don't have a true understanding of the big picture and all of the little details, you will likely get killed, but the downside to this approach is that if Black does know what he's doing, what White does here is alarmingly worse than the already dubious main line, and so when you face players like this, playing something you know well is far better than "experimenting" with another opening.

9.Nbc3?

So now you need to ask yourself the question. Why isn't this normally played? What is wrong with this picture compared to the normal line? Well, for starters, the Black Queen isn't dragged to d4 where it can be attacked with tempo. If we don't give White the time to capture on d4, then our Queen will be safer comparatively speaking, and we will be able to spend that time that we normally spend saving the Queen, such as 10...a6, preventing tricks on b5, and Queen moves when she is attacked, we are spending that time developing our other pieces. So the first thing that this says is that Black should move the Knight on d4. Now the question becomes, do we retreat back to c6, or do we take on e2? Playing 9...Nc6 might look tempting as White can't play 10.f4 due to the pin on the King, but then 10.Be3 gains time on the Queen and then allows 11.f4 and it pushes Black backwards. However, let's look at 9.Nxe2+. In the normal Milner-Barry Gambit, White has a Knight on c3 and Bishop on d3, eyeing b5, in many cases with there being b5 tricks. In addition, the White Queen can then come to a4, adding pressure to the a4-e8 diagonal. Along with pressure on b5, White's active Bishop also rakes the Kingside. Well, with the capture on e2, White is going to be forced to misplace one of his pieces. If he takes with the Knight, there is absolutely no threat on b5 and Black doesn't even have to spend time playing pawn moves like ...a6. If he takes with the Bishop, Black may have to watch for b5 tricks, but the Bishop is passive on e2 compared to d3 and doesn't have to worry about Kingside issues without White spending another move to bring the Bishop back to d3. Lastly, if White takes with the Queen, the Queen is mis-placed compared to the normal Milner-Barry Gambit. So what does this amount to? It means that Black should take on e2 with check and compared to the normal Milner-Barry, Black will gain one move from the mis-placed White piece and another move from not having to retreat the Queen from d4, and so by taking on e2, Black has, for all intents and purposes, an extra two tempi compared to the already dubious Milner-Barry Gambit.

9.Nxe2+! 10.Nxe2 Rc8 11.Be3 Bc5

With Black being up a protected passed pawn with no pressure on the King, all piece trades are going to favor Black.

12.Bxc5 Rxc5 13.Nc3 Ne7 14.Re1 a6 15.Na4 Bxa4 16.Qxa4+ Qc6 17.Qg4



17...O-O!

Unlike the 7...Qg4 lines of the Winawer, there is nothing for Black to be afraid of here. He dominates the c-file, and the reduced number of pieces along with the wrong color Bishop for White in this case makes defending the King easy here. For example, if 18.Qh5, then 18...Ng6 stops everything, and if 19.Bxg6, Black should actually capture away from the center with 19...fxg6, opening up the Rook for an attack on the f-file and giving the King a nice hiding place. Black will, at some point, play ...h6 and ...Kh7 with a little safe cubby-hole for the King.

Instead, White tries to advance the h-pawn, which Black answers with a typical idea seen in the 7...O-O line of the Winawer, opening up the f-file and defending along the 6th rank combined with a direct attack on f2. White's busted! The rest of the game went as follows:

18.h4 f5 19.exf6 Rxf6 20.Rab1 Qd6 21.Qh5 Ng5 22.Rbc1 Qf4 23.Bxg6 hxg6 24.Qg5 Qxf2+ 25.Kh1 Rf4 26.g3 Rxc1 27.Rxc1 Qf3+ 28.Kh2 Qe2+ 29.Kh3 Rf2 30.Rh1 Qf3 31.Rg1 Qf5+ 32.g4 Qf3+ 0-1


So in this edition we saw two garbage lines and how to beat them through the use of comparison, comparing both to the already dubious Milner-Barry Gambit. This comparison method is often useful when facing garbage lines in the French Defense. When you face something odd like this, make sure that you follow the checklist below:
  • First and foremost, don't freak out!
  • Take a minute to mentally go through your mental database of ideas and lines that you already know from normal, well-established lines, and look for comparisons of how the garbage line is weaker than the normal lines. Often times, this could be the weakening of a file, rank, or diagonal, similar to what we saw in the 2.f4 line where the a7-g1 diagonal is weakened and we had tactical resources available to us that we wouldn't have in normal lines. Other times, this could be under-protection of a pawn or piece, like the e5-pawn in the second example, or the improved position of our own pieces comparatively speaking where time that we normally spend fixing our own problems after doing something like grabbing a pawn can now be spent on continuing development that we normally wouldn't be able to do, and saying thank you to our opponent and taking full advantage of the extra tempi, putting them to good use.
  • Always keep an eye out for tricky tactics. For example, in the first game, on the 12th move, how to recapture on d4 if White does take the pawn really does matter in this case. Don't be afraid to spend some extra time checking for these types of issues.
  • Study your endgames! Many times, these positions can lead to dead won endgames. For example, in the second game, if White trades Queens late rather than walking into a mate in 2, knowing your Rook endgames would make it so that it would be an easy win for Black even if Black had one second left with five second delay given the number of pawns Black was up at that point. It turned out in that game, White had a minute and Black had 37 minutes, but the same thing can happen the other way around if you take the extra time in the middle game.
  • Don't let annoyance take over when you face something strange. I love facing garbage! Sure, it may mean that I need to take a few extra minutes early on compared to just reeling out 20 moves of French theory in under 5 minutes, but correct execution will usually lead to positions that are only fun for you, not for your opponent. Take the second game displayed above. By move 10, I was having fun playing the game. Sure I had to be careful about a few things, and had to figure out that castling on move 17 was perfect safe and very strong, but not once was I ever afraid of the situation and stress levels were extremely low, which is what we want when White plays garbage! If White wants to play garbage, he fully deserves to have his blood boil for the rest of the game, not the other way around!



Well, that concludes this article. Until next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White, unless you play garbage of course!

Monday, June 11, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 8

Hello and welcome to the eighth edition of The French Connection. For the first time in this series, we are going to be covering a game involving the Exchange Variation. However, that said, for those of you that have not read the repertoire I presented back in the fall of 2017, I would like to suggest looking at specifically the first half of the article on the Tarrasch Variation (Click here to get to that article) as you will see that this game has many of the characteristics of the line covered there about a third of the way into the game. From that article, you can also get to the article on the Exchange Variation via the links at the bottom for those of you interested in reviewing that as the line played here is exactly the same as that of the game shown in Section 2 of the article on the Exchange.

Now I'm sure some of you are probably wondering why I would suggest reading half of the article on the Tarrasch Variation when we have a game involving the Exchange Variation, like this is some kind of cross contamination. The reason is simple. In the French Defense, while White has four main options after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5, namely 3.Nc3, 3.Nd2, 3.e5, and 3.exd5, the ideas behind the four main lines are not mutually exclusive, and often times ideas from one line trickle into games resulting from other lines. This game, we'll be seeing ideas from the Exchange Variation, the Tarrasch Variation, and then for most of the second half of the game, if you came into the room for the first time at that moment and saw the board, you'd probably never guess the opening was a French at all to begin with.

So that said, let's take a look at the feature game.


2018 Carolinas Classic, Round 5
W: Arya Kumar (1945)
B: Patrick McCartney (2049)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bd3 Bd6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.O-O O-O 7.Bg5 Bg4 8.c3 c6 9.Nbd2 Nbd7 10.Qc2 Qc7 11.h3 Bh5



Up to this point, the same is exactly the same as the game shown in Section 2 of the Exchange Variation article written in September of last year.

12.Nh4

White figures that whether it be due to lack of a more productive move or being forced to do so if White ever plays g4, the Black Bishop will at some point have to go to g6, and White is ready to chop it off. That said, possibilities of an upcoming Nf5 by White also has to be considered.

12...Rfe8 13.Rfe1

If White tries to play 13.Nf5 immediately, Black can force the White King further away from the center and follow up with exchanging Dark Squared Bishops via 13...Bh2+ 14.Kh1 Bf4.

13...Bg6

Black contests the battery that White has on the b1-h7 diagonal. It is critical to note that the only reason this is possible is because Black never played ...h6, unlike White's playing of h3. This is where asymmetry starts occurring and this is where the game really begins.

14.Nxg6 hxg6 15.Nf3 Bf4

Black offers his good Bishop in order to eliminate White's Bishop pair. Note that here, unlike the situation after 13.Nf5, it is ineffective for Black to flick in the check first because the King can go to f1 rather than h1 since the Rook has moved to e1.

16.Bxf4 Qxf4 17.b4

White starts trying to execute something similar to the Minority Attack in the Carlsbad Pawn Structure, a pawn structure commonly seen in the Exchange Queen's Gambit Declined, but also crops up at times in other openings like the Nimzo-Indian Defense. The downside here though compared to the Carlsbad structure is that with White having a c-pawn instead of an e-pawn, the pawn on c3 and the c4-square both become fairly week, and if White ever advances c4, then White is looking at an Isolated Queen Pawn. The isolated pawn is not the end of the world, but it tends to get weaker the more pieces that are traded off. Two sets of minor pieces are already eliminated, and so therefore, Black decides that in order to maintain the weakness for White, it's time to take the Rooks off as well so that if White ever dares to advance the c-pawn, the d-pawn will be weakened.

17...Rxe1+ 18.Rxe1 Re8 19.Rxe8+ Nxe8 20.b5 Nef6 21.Nd2



In this position, White offered a draw. Do you take it?

Let's look at the position and assess the specifics about the position. First off, I don't like White's last move at all. The Knight moves to a more passive square, blocking the Queen away from going to the open file. In addition, what was the purpose of b4 and b5 if you are not going to take on c6. By playing 21.bxc6 bxc6, White saddles Black with the same weak c-pawn and isolated a-pawn that White himself has. The other move that White could consider would be 21.a4. So far, it sounds like Black should not be accepting any draw offers from White.

But what specifically should Black do? Well, the first think to recognize is that White's move places two minor pieces on the d-file and that the White Knight is three squares away from the d5-pawn. This is a very similar pattern to that of the Tarrasch Variation. So from that angle, it sounds like Black should be ok with an IQP on d5, which brings up the candidate move of 21...c5. However, we need to look at the consequences of this move.

The first thing to consider is that a lot of material is traded off, and so saddling yourself with an IQP is not a good idea if there is no legitimate follow up and all you are going to do is enter a worse endgame, particularly once the Queens come off. Well, that's one negative aspect, but let's look at what Black has going for him with this move.

First, Black controls the squares g6, f5, and e4. Therefore, by playing the move 21...c5, Black actually poses a major threat in 22...c4, knocking the Bishop away to a very passive position on e2 or f1. Sure, the Bishop will be able to get into the game eventually, but Black always has an active Queen, and the Knights are headed into White's camp next. Black would have a major advantage.

Therefore, the only real critical response is for White to 22.dxc5. When Black recaptures via 22...Nxc5, what moves might White consider? First there is re-activating the Knight. How can White do that? Well, he can try 23.Nb3, but then 23...Nxd3 24.Qxd3 Qa4 leaves White tied up and he's going to have a very hard time keeping his Queenside from falling apart. He can try 23.Nf3, trying to blockade with an upcoming Nd4, but makes the Black-dominated square e4 even more dominant for Black, and he will plop a Knight there with Black's pieces very well placed and White's not so much. Black can try to re-route the Knight via 23.Nf1 intending to go to e3 and pressure the isolated pawn, but this is very slow. White can try to play 23.f3, to avoid a Black Knight from coming into e4, but then the dark squares around the King are extremely weak with h3 also already pushed. A move like 23.g3 doesn't push the Queen out of action as she can simply go to e5 and White's King is further weakened. This leaves 23.c4 as the most critical response, threatening to win the d-pawn as there would be a discovery on the Knight on c5. But then you look at the position and see that Black has a very aggressive move, 23...Nfe4, that creates many problems for White. The f2-pawn is threatened. The Knight on d2 is threatened. Passive moves will just continue to give Black his way, and so White is almost forced to play 24.Nxe4, which Black can then respond with 24...dxe4, saddling White with the c4-weakness and giving Black a permanent outpost on c5 as the Bishop will never be able to contest that square. Black will also gain a tempo as White will be forced to retreat what will be a bad bishop in a passive position. Also note that if White takes on e4 via 24.Bxe4, the Knight on d2 doesn't have any great places to go either. That said, it might still be the lesser evil comparatively speaking to what happened in the game.

So therefore, seeing no good line for White, we decline the draw offer, and proceed with our plan of advancing the c-pawn.

21...c5!

And it turns out, all subsequent moves went exactly as planned above.

22.dxc5 Nxc5 23.c4 Nfe4 24.Nxe4 dxe4 25.Bf1



So our first mission has been acomplished. Now what? Well, the first thing to consider is that one of Black's pieces is not ideally placed. While the Queen looks active on f4, it does not coordinate well with the Knight on c5. For starters, it does not control d3, which is Black's likely entry point to the attack when he is ready. In addition, Black has to consider threats that White might have. For example, do we want White to own the only open file? It is often difficult to find retreating moves when you know that you have the initiative, but it turns out that Black's best move is exactly that, a Queen retreat.

25...Qd6!

Owning the only open file on the board.

26.Qc3 b6

Completely plugging up the Queenside until Black is ready to release it by moving the Knight.

27.Qe3 f5 28.Qa3 Qd7

There is nothing that White can do and so Black should be in no rush to take action and re-locate his King first to cover the only real weakness for Black on the board, the pawn on g6.

29.Qg3

This move was made possible by Black's last move, but where is the Queen coming into? b8? It may look active there, but the Queen and Knight do a good job of preventing anything useful by the White Queen by herself.

29...Kf7 30.Qf4 Nd3 31.Qe1 Qd6

Returning the Queen to her most useful square. What this maneuver did was allow Black to move his King from g8 to f7 and otherwise maintaining his position while White squirms around with the Queen. The other thing this move does is give Black tactical tricks if White tries to break the Black pawn chain.

32.f3

And trying to break the pawn chain is precisely what White does.

32...Qc5!

When White has one active piece and Black has two active pieces, the first thing Black wants to do is trade off White's only active piece, and this accomplishes exactly that.

33.Qxc5 Nxc5



And low and behold, how convenient that the Black Knight is back on his outpost where it will sit while Black gets the King and Kingside Pawns into the game. This is an absolutely miserable endgame situation for White to be in.

34.Kf2 Ke6 35.Ke3 Ke5

Black now threatens 36...f4+ and 36.f4 leaves White completely lost with both the worse minor piece and giving Black a protected passed Pawn. Therefore, White's next move is virtually forced.

36.fxe4 Nxe4 37.Bd3 Nc5 38.Bc2 Ne6 39.h4 f4+ 40.Kd2 g5 41.hxg5 Nxg5 42.Kc3 Ne6 43.Bb1 g5 44.Bc2 g4



Black has a major threat that White must be very careful about.

45.Bd3

45.Bd1?? loses instantly to 45...f3 46.gxf3 g3! 47.f4+ Kxf4 and the pawn cannot be stopped.

45...Nd4 46.a4 Ne6 47.Be2 g3 48.Kb4

This allows the Black King in and frees the duties of the Knight to stop the White pawn majority. That said, trying to sit put and toggle a piece doesn't work as Black threatens 48...Nd4 and 49...f3. The only way to stop it is putting the Bishop on f1, but that leads to other problems.

48...Kd4 49.a5 Nc5 50.axb6 axb6 51.Ka3 Kc3

Black also wins with 51...Nd3 52.Bxd3 Kxd3 53.c5 f3 54.cxb6 fxg2 55.b7 g1=Q 56.b8=Q g2, but why complicate the issue with Queens on the board?

52.Ka2 Kb4 53.Kb2 Ne6 54.Kc1 Nd4 55.Bf1 f3 56.gxf3 Nxf3 57.Kc2 g2

White must lose his Bishop to a Knight fork, or else allow Black to promote. The rest requires no comment.

58.Bxg2 Ne1+ 59.Kd2 Nxg2 60.Kd3 Kc5 61.Kc3 Ne3 62.Kb3 Nxc4 0-1

For a line of the French Defense that is normally thought of as being dull and drawish, a lot was required of Black to pull off this victory, including an understanding of IQP positions, deep calculations, the concept of the outpost, and executing the strong side of the "Good Knight vs Bad Bishop" ending. The next time you think that the Exchange French is drawish, and particularly symmetrical variations like this one was, remember games like this one and realize that while the odds of some spectacular sacrifice is not likely to happen, there is still a lot that can happen in these positions, and one of the biggest keys to success is understanding how and when to alter the pawn structure.

Till next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 7

Hello and welcome to the seventh edition of the French Connection. In the previous edition, we saw Nimzowitsch's idea of the Classic Blockade, found most commonly in the Advance Variation. Here, we will be looking again at an Advance French, but in this case, we will be looking at a line where normally one of the two pawns remains on the board, but after a very common error by White, it turns out the wrong pawn is maintained. However, Black then plays a few inferior moves himself, and White dominates in the center. He starts out with a tactical shot against Black's weak e6-pawn (normal for the French Defense), and after that, White's Knights dominate the center over Black's Bishops, despite the open nature of the position. The heavy pieces come in and Black falls victim to a mating attack. Those of you that studied Part Seven of the French Repertoire that I published in November should find both this game and the one from the previous edition extremely useful. Also, those of you that read the Material Imbalances article published last week might notice that this game came from the same tournament.


USCF Correspondence, 2018
W: Patrick McCartney (1959)
B: John Badger (1808)

1.d4 e6 2.e4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Nh6



Despite seeing this move played in the last edition of The French Connection in a game from the late 1980s, this move didn't have its popularity grow exponentially until about 10 years ago, along with the line 5...Qb6 6.a3 Nh6, which is the line I have been playing as Black as of late myself. Ever since the 2006/2007 time period, many ideas in the older main lines, such as 5...Bd7 or 5...Qb6 6.a3 c4, were starting to shift into White's favor. So much so that some of you may recall that back in last August, I recommended 4...Bd7 and 5...a6 against the French Advance, which is another little explored sideline with chances for both sides. Prior to this period, the ...Nh6 ideas were also so rare that this line with 5...Nh6 even made an appearance into the book Dangerous Weapons: The French that came out about a decade ago. If you play the White side of the French Advance, be ready for these ...Nh6 ideas.

6.Bd3

While this move may be the most popular line, it is actually not very good for White. In Moskalenko's excellent book The Even More Flexible French, he points out that White has basically nothing in this line (see the note to Black's 7th move), and that according to both Sveshnikov, an expert on the French Advance, and Korchnoi, a French specialist himself, White's best move is 6.dxc5, when after 6...Bxc5 (6...Ng4? 7.Qa4!) 7.b4 Bb6 8.b5, the position is very unclear after both 8...Ne7 and 8...Ng4 9.bxc6 Nxf2 10.cxb7 Bxb7 10.Qa4+ Kf8. Also, if you go back to The French Connection: Volume 6, published about two weeks prior to this one, you will see Sveshnikov himself playing 6.dxc5!, although he did switch it up and played 8.Bxh6 rather than 8.b5.

6...cxd4 7.cxd4 f6

The line that Moskalenko claims makes 6.Bd3 not very good for White is 7...Nf5 8.Bxf5 exf5 9.Nc3 Be6. To a beginner, this makes no sense, as Black has an Isolated Queen Pawn, doubled f-pawns, and a Bishop on e6 that can be viewed as a "tall pawn". But in reality, Black's Light-Squared Bishop is no worse than Black's Dark-Squared one. Black also has the Bishop pair. Lastly, there is no good way for White to actually proceed against this structure, and as Moskalenko points out, after 10.Ne2 Be7 11.h4 h6 12.Nf4 Qb6 13.Rh3 g6 (13...O-O-O?! 14.h5!) 14.Kf1 O-O-O 15.Kg1 g5! with an attack for Black.

8.Bxh6 gxh6 9.O-O Bg7

This raises an interesting point. Often times, whether or not to take on h6 in these ...Nh6 lines depends on the Black Dark-Squared Bishop. If the Bishop still remains on f8, then Black can play ...Bg7 later on, pressuring the e5-pawn almost to the breaking point where White is going to need to take on f6 and aim to occupy e5 with a piece, presumably a Knight. If there has been a capture on c5 and the Black Bishop is then on c5 or b6, then most of the time ...f6 won't involve White capturing away from the center and using the central blockade theory discussed in the previous French Connection article. None of this is a hard and fast rule, but just something to keep in mind when planning the development of your other pieces, and hence White's decision on his next move.

10.Nbd2

I like this move better than 10.Nc3. From d2, White can occupy e5 with the Knight on f3 and then back it up with the other Knight on d2 going to f3, or that knight can go to b5 and aiming for c5, trying to entice a push of the b-pawn by Black, weakening the c6-square. Note that the only square that can be easier to access with a Knight from c3 than from d2 is the d6-square, but with Black blowing up the White center, White will not maintain control of d6 anyway. Therefore, this move makes more sense.



10...O-O

If Black wants to trade once on e5 via 10...fxe5 11.Nxe5, he can, and it's a matter of taste as it is no better and no worse than the move played. That said, Black cannot win a pawn despite the 3 attackers versus 2 defenders on e5 for tactical reasons. After 11...Nxe5?? (or 11...Bxe5?? 12.Qh5+ winning) 12.Nxe5 Bxe5 13.Qh5+, White wins.

11.Re1 Bd7

A possible improvement for Black is to take on e5 at this point. After 11...fxe5 12.dxe5 Rf7 13.Qc2 Bf8, White is still better and Black should make the adjustment at move 7, but even here, the position is at least manageable for Black. The pawn on e5 acts as a shield to the weakness on e6, and long term, Black has the Bishop pair if he can crack open the position in a scenario where White's Knights aren't all over the Black King like they will be in this game.

Note that 11...Nxd4 fails as after 12.Nxd4 fxe5 13.N4f3 e4 14.Nxe4 dxe4 15.Rxe4, Black is positionally busted due to the wrecked pawn structure and the severe lagging behind in development.

12.exf6

Seeing how Black takes back before deciding what to do with the d2-Knight.

12...Qxf6

Taking with the Queen is probably Black's best option, but it has its own consequences in that the Bishop on d7 is now loose, and so White is able to gain time.

13.Nb3

With the idea of Nc5, forcing the Bishop to either move again or protect it. Knights are typically slower than Bishops, but if you can re-position Knights in a way that they attack loose pieces on the way to their final destination, they can get from point A to point B at a very rapid pace, even if A and B are on opposite sides of the board.

13...Be8

Now we start to see why Black should have taken on e5 back on move 11, creating the shield on the Black e6 pawn. What was once a shielded weakness is now a backwards pawn on an open file. White will start the process by dominating the square in front of the backwards pawn, and then re-position his pieces until he is ready to go after the weakness on e6 rather than simply controlling e5.

14.Qd2 Rf7



So White's plan is to take over e5 first. How does White do that? Well, the first think to understand is how many pieces from each side can have influence over e5. If White's can outnumber Black's, White can take control barring tactical shots available to Black, which there are none here. Both sides have the three heavy pieces, and White has the two Knights while Black has the Knight and the Dark-Squared Bishop. So that's five apiece. The Light-Squared Bishops, due to their restriction to light squares, are unable to influence the e5-square, right? Or are they? It turns out that only the White Bishop can due to Black's last move, and White pounces on the opportunity.

15.Bb5!

This is the idea! A Bishop on light squares can only attack an object that sits on a light square. For Knights, however, it's the exact opposite. A Knight sitting on a light square only controls dark squares, and a Knight sitting on dark squares only controls light squares. Therefore, if a Light-Squared Bishop captures a Knight sitting on a light square, this capture has influence over the dark squares. It removes one of the Black pieces that can directly control dark-squares in return for a piece that can only control the dark squares indirectly, and it will give White an extra piece that can control e5. Therefore, seeing this idea, we now see the point behind White's previous move. If White had played 14.Bb5, Black could counter with 14...Bh5, since the Rook hadn't moved to f7 yet, blocking the Bishop, and the White Knight on f3 would be in a pin. Of course, Black can spend time here to preserve the Knight, but then it moves away from the e5-square, giving control of it to White in a different manner.

15...Re7

Too little, too late. White is immediately ready to eliminate the Knight, and any time that Black tries to play ...Bh5, White can simply move the Knight to e5.

16.Bxc6 Bxc6 17.Ne5

The first mission is accomplished. White controls and occupies e5 and hence keeping the weak Black pawn stuck on e6 and this is White's next target.

17...Be8 18.Rac1 h6 19.Rc3 Bh6 20.Rg3+ Rg7 21.Rxg7+ Qxg7

So, in essence, the last four moves saw White trading his passive a1-Rook for Black's e7-Rook. Yet another minor detail that enhances White's advantage.

22.Qb4 b6 23.Qd6 Qf6 24.Nf3 Bf7



What is White's worst placed piece?

Where does White want that piece to land?

25.Nc1

With the move 22...b6 played by Black, White can no longer place the Knight on c5, and so it is now misplaced on b3. White would certainly love it if Black were to trade his better Bishop for the Knight on c1, and so White surely shouldn't be worried about that. Provided Black doesn't do White the favor, the Knight is headed for c3. The reasoning is fairly simple. White wants to eliminate the pawn on e6, and once he does, the d5-pawn will be very weak, and a Knight on c3 would be attacking this pawn directly.

25...Bf4 26.Qb4?!

This retreat is too passive and gives Black the opportunity to equalize the position. Stronger is 26.Qc6 when after 26...Qd8, in this case, the Knight should actually go for d3 instead of c3, and after 27.Nd3 Rc8 28.Qa4 Bb8 29.Nfe5, White has the advantage as both Black Bishops are very passive.

26...Bg6 27.Ne2 Bh6 28.Nc3 Bf5 29.Qd6 Qf8?

The only move that equalizes for Black is 29...Rf8! when after 29.Qg3+ Qg7 30.Qxg7+ Kxg7, the position is equal.



30.Rxe6!

Ripping apart the Black center and breaking through.

30...Bg7

The best Black's got is 30...Bxe6 31.Qxe6+ Kh8 32.Qxd5 with a significant advantage for White.

31.Re7 Kh8 32.Ne5 Bf6



At first glance, it appears as though White has just blundered in the last two moves. The Rook is attacked by the Bishop. The Rook appears to be pinned the Queen, and the other Bishop covers both the squares that the Rook can go to in order to keep the Queen protected, thinking that White is about to drop the exchange. At further glance, it can be seen that White can simply move the Rook away, like maybe to b7, since if Black takes the Knight, then the recapture with the Queen is check, and if Black takes the Queen, then there is a Royal Fork with Nf7+, regaining the Queen. The problem with this, however, is that while White is currently up a pawn, the board is open and White does have weaknesses, such as the pawn on d4, and so the two Bishops would be clearly better than the two Knights in an endgame, and so the Knight fork tactic is also undesirable. Therefore, White needs to find a "loud move", or another way to think of it is that White needs action immediately and that quiet moves are going to do nothing but allow Black to get his inactive Rook on a8 into the game and to trade the heavy pieces off, leading to Black's most desirable endgame here, a minor piece ending with the two Bishops against the two Knights on an open board. The good news is, White has such a move, and it is actually fatal to the Black King!

33.Nf7+! Kg7 34.Qg3+ Bg6

34...Bg4 is no better. White will respond with the same move as that played in the game with similar issues dealing with the pins and discoveries.

35.Rb7 Bxd4 36.Nxd5 Qc5??

A blunder in a bad position. Black could safely resign here, but if he isn't going to, about the best move he has is 36...Re8, but even then, White wins another exchange with 37.Nd6+. The game move allows a forced mate in 7.

37.Ne5+! Kh8

This loses even faster, but nothing saves Black.

A) 37...Kf8 prolongs the game the longest, but rather than forking the King and Queen, White can end it with 38.Qf3+ Ke8 (or 38...Kg8 39.Nf6+ Kf8 leading to the same thing) 39.Nf6+ Kf8 (or 39...Kd8 40.Rd7+ Kc8 41.Qxa8#) 40.Nxh7+ Ke8 (or 40...Kg8 41.Nf6+ and 42.Ng6#) 41.Nf6+ Kd8 42.Rd7+ Kc8 43.Qa8#.

B) 37...Kg8 leads to a Queen Sacrifice for mate. 38.Qxg6+!! hxg6 39.Nf6+ and the Rook will deliver mate on the next move depending on which of the two legal moves Black plays.

38.Rxh7+! 1-0

Black resigned as it's mate no matter what he does. 38...Kg8 leads to the double knight mate we saw in the previous note with 39.Nf6+ Kf8 40.Nxg6# while 38...Kxh7 39.Qxg6+ Kh8 40 Nf7# and 38...Bxh7 39.Nf7# are all mate as well.


So what have we learned from this game?

  • First off, just like in the 2nd and 6th editions of The French Connection, the other two articles thus far where White has won, White's success has come from domination of the dark squares in the center of the board, and blockading the Black pawns on d5 and e6. Notice that this blockade is not always done with pawns, but sometimes White is willing to trade off the pawns provided Black can't recapture with a pawn, where White keeps control of d4 and e5 with his pieces, usually one or both of the Knights.
  • While this game didn't technically reach an endgame like the other two games that White won had, the early focus is still not a direct attack on the King. Unlike say, the King's Gambit or the sacrificial attacks executed in the Najdorf Sicilian, success against the French comes in the form of domination of squares and blockading the Black pieces, paralyzing Black's position. Only after such paralysis or a well prepared breakthrough, such as the pawn capture on e6 in this game, is White ready to go for the kill shot. Trying to blow the Black King off the board immediately will do nothing but blow up in White's face, as we will likely see instances of in future articles where Black wins.
  • When everything is under control and all of White's pieces are ideally placed, and White is ready for the kill shot, it is not the time to back off. Once you start, you can't afford to stop, as we saw twice in the game above. White played the wrong move on move 26, giving Black one opportunity to balance the position, but then on move 33, White slammed the door and didn't allow Black back in, and in the case of the latter scenario, despite being up a pawn, there may have been scenarios where Black might even gain the upper hand if White doesn't take action quickly.
  • Lastly, we have seen a scenario where even on a fairly open board, the pair of Knights completely dominated the pair of Bishops. While many resources will tell you that the Bishop pair is extremely powerful, even in open positions, there are always exceptions to any rule, and no blanket statement in chess can be taken as gospel. Always look at each game individually and don't let generalities get in the way of the truth on the board in front of you.

This concludes the 7th Edition of The French Connection. Until next time, good luck in all of your French games, whether playing Black or White!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Game Analysis - Material Imbalances

This week, we are going to take a look at an interesting game that illustrates the concept of dealing with positions with a material imbalance. Many beginners judge a position by what is known as the "Material Count", meaning if one side has a Rook (5), Bishop (3), and 5 Pawns (5), and the other side has a Queen (9) and 3 Pawns (3), that the side with the Rook is "ahead 13 to 12".

As you get higher in rating, you soon realize that chess isn't that simple. Pieces are not shares of stock with a fixed value. The value of a piece is extremely fluid. There are many factors that can determine the true value of a piece or combination of pieces:
  • Is the piece active or passive? - A centralized Knight, a Bishop on a long, open diagonal, or a Rook on an open file is going to be worth a lot more than a Knight in the corner, a Bishop that is sitting behind pawns of the same color stuck on the same color squares, looking more like a "Tall Pawn", or a Rook on its original square blocked in by the Pawn in front and one of the minor pieces to its side where the minor piece can't get out.
  • Is the piece actually doing anything - An active Knight or active Bishop must actually be doing something to be worth anything. If it is just hanging out there in the center of the board, but otherwise doing nothing and the opposing pieces can just work around it, you have what Steve Mayer in his excellent book "Bishop V Knight: The Verdict" would call an "overrated piece". On the flip side, if the piece is passive, is it at least playing a major defensive role and holding your position intact, which in the "French Connection" articles, we often see Black's bad light-squared Bishop often doing that, or is that bad piece truly doing nothing at all?
  • Do the pieces remaining coordinate well? - Material count is often irrelevant if the pieces remaining on one side coordinate well together while the pieces on the opposite side are scattered about, looking like the pieces were just plopped on the board randomly and otherwise do not work well as a unit. The side better coordinated will usually have the advantage regardless of the "point count", within reason.
  • Are there short term, tactical threats? - Often times, a material imbalance may work or not work for the player down material because of a short term tactical threat. Usually when you hear the term "temporary sacrifice", it is because the player is not truly sacrificing a piece. It just looks that way because a tactical threat, such as mate, may force the opposing size to return the material a few moves later. On the flip side, a sacrifice may fail because of a tactical shot that the side gaining the material has where he is able to keep the extra material without costing himself coordination (see previous bullet) or King safety.

So I am going to show you a game that I played recently where starting at move 15, the material count was rarely equal until the very end, and even in the endgame, the position is sharp such that if either player had one extra move, the game would be decisive in their favor. This game will also show how sharp a game can get despite playing an opening that is stereotyped as being somewhat boring. With that said, let's look at the game.


USCF Correspondence, 2018
W: Patrick McCartney (1959)
B: Rama Gitananda (1910)
Torre Attack

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 h6

In the e6-Torre, Black has four main options. He can defend with an early ...d5 combined with ...c5, ...Nc6, etc, in similar fashion to the main line defense against the Colle System. He can fianchetto the Queenside Bishop with ...c5, ...b6, and ...Bb7, in similar fashion to the Queen's Indian Defense. Or he can play one of two fairly forcing type of lines. The first is 3...c5 4.e3 Qb6, going for the b2-pawn and usually grabbing it at the cost of development, or the move played in the game, which will either result in Black getting the Bishop pair if White trades on f6 in return for a misplaced Queen, or if White retreats the h4, Black can either proceed with the radical 4...g5 and 5...Ne4, chasing down the Bishop, or else attack the White center, figuring the Bishop is misplaced on h4.

4.Bh4 c5 5.e3 b6 6.Bd3 Bb7

Black goes for the final approach, and now takes on the fianchetto structure, figuring that the added moves of ...h6 and Bh4 would benefit him based on the thought that the White Bishop on h4 is misplaced.



7.Nbd2

White takes the classical approach here, maintaining control of the dark squares, whether that be via a recapture if Black dares give up his Bishop for the Knight on f3, or possibly headed to c4 later on to dominate e5. The more modern approach is to continue focus on completing Kingside development with 7.O-O Be7 8.c4 O-O and developing the Knight via 9.Nc3, fighting for control of the central light squares.

7...cxd4

It is probably a tad too early to make this trade. The reason for keeping the tension is to see how White develops his pieces before signaling to him that his e-file will be open. Wait for White to commit to a piece formation before deciding whether to trade or not. 7...Be7 is a better move.

8.exd4 Be7 9.O-O O-O 10.Qe2 d6 11.Rfe1 Nd5?!

A radical move that gives White the opportunity at a small endgame advantage after a very long sequence of virtually forcing moves. The more calm 11...Nbd7 was called for, maintaining the balance.



After looking at the diagram, we see what Black is after with his last move. He wants to remove White's most active minor piece, the light-squared Bishop. He has the dual threat of 12...Nf4, forking the Queen and Bishop, and after a move like 12.Bg3, he has 12...Nb4 where the light-squared Bishop has no useful place to go, and he basically has to allow Black to trade his Knight off for it. Therefore, White's next move is the start of a fairly lengthy forcing sequence that is going to lead to a massive material imblance.

12.Qe4!

The only move that maintains White's best minor piece.

I would also like to take the time to point something else out here. There are many chess players in this generation that judge a move by what Artificial Intelligence has to say about it. Artificial Intelligence often is not good at evaluating positions of the type that we will see in this game because computers are often reliant on tactics and material count. Also, I have seen many cases where if you put the same position on multiple machines, one will say White or Black is winning and the other will say that White or Black barely has a microscopic advantage. For example, here, one computer claims White is up two-and-a-half points, but after recognizing every move played in this game up through Black's 23rd move as best, White has roughly a three-tenths of a pawn advantage. As you go back and have it analyze the positions again, it recognizes the 0.33 advantage for White at 13...Bxh4 below, but still doesn't see it here at move 12. There is also no proof that the moves played in the game through move 23 are actually the best. See White's 21st move, for example.

This should illustrate why analysis of any game should be done with the brain and without an engine first, and only then use the engine to check for blunders or possibly find hidden combinations that were missed, but don't just assume that because your analyzed move shows as "+0.8" and artificial intelligence says another move is "+1.0" that your move wasn't best. It might very well be better and AI only realizes that after a number of moves are physically made.

12...g6 13.c4 Bxh4

Forced! 13...Nb4 14.Qxb7 Bxh4 15.Be4 N8c6 16.Bxc6 Rc8 17.Ba4 and 13...Nc6 14.cxd5 exd5 15.Bxe7 dxe4 16.Bxd8 exd3 17.Be7 both drop a piece for basically nothing.

14.Nxh4 Nb4 15.Qxb7 N8c6



So White is currently a piece up, but the Bishop on d3 is under attack, the Knight on h4 is under attack, and the Queen is threatened to be trapped with ...Rab8. What does White do?

16.Nxg6

The only move!

16...Re8

And this move is also forced.
  1. Black can't take the Knight as after 16...fxg6 17.Bxg6, Black can't keep the Queen trapped and is lost.
  2. Black also loses after 16...Nxd3 17.Nxf8 Rc8 18.Re3 Rc7 19.Qa6.
  3. After 16...Rab8, White has 17.Ne7+! where 17...Qxe7 18.Qxe7 Nxe7 19.Be4 and 17...Nxe7 18.Qf3 both see White emerge a pawn up with no real compensation, and any King move on move 17 loses instantly to 18.Nxc6.


17.a3

There is no way to salvage the Queen and so White must continue to attack the other Black pieces as White does still have a Knight on g6 and Bishop on d3 hanging once the Queen is taken. Here, White attacks a piece that can't afford to move as otherwise the Queen does get out, and for the moment, White is up a piece and a pawn, and so the absolute top priority for Black is not to let the White Queen out. Otherwise, he's immediately lost.

17...Rab8

Now neither side has any in-between moves, and so the completion of the trade down is forced for both sides.

18.Qxb8 Qxb8 19.axb3 fxg6 20.Bxg6 Re7

So now we have the material imbalance of Rook, Bishop, and two Pawns for the Queen. That said, multiple White Pawns are under attack, and so again, judging by points would say "White is up 10 for 9 plus balanced pieces", but chess is not that simple, and White must remain active here. There are only two moves here for White and most other moves would be borderline worse or even losing for White.

21.d5

This move works based on the tactical shot that the Black King and Queen are both on the back rank and White controls e8. The alternative is 21.Re4 where 21...Nxb4 would be answered by 22.d5 and after 22...Qf8 23.dxe6 Qf6 24.Bf7+ Kh7, the position is unclear, and the same can be said if Black tries to break up White's pawn phlanx first via something like 21...b5 22.c5 and then taking the b-pawn. Is this better than 21.d5? Even the answer to that is very unclear, but what is clear is that White must remain active as otherwise, given time, the Queen will come into the game and start plucking off one White pawn after another, and eventually, Black would be winning.

21...exd5 22.cxd5

This is better than 22.Rxe7 as once the Knight recaptures, the Bishop on g6 is under attack, gaining a vital tempo for Black.

22...Rxe1+ 23.Rxe1

And now, due to the threat of Re8+, Black doesn't have time to take the b-pawn.

23...Ne5



24.Bh5

This is good enough to draw. Another move that should lead to the same result is 24.Be4, keeping control of d3 rather than e8. That said, after 24...Qc8, there is no way to keep the Queen out, and the Queen and Knight combination can often be lethal. White can hold the position, but he will be playing defense here to do it, and so the move played makes the most sense because White here forces the issue by attacking the Black King. Since there is no way to keep the Queen out in the long run, figure out if you have time to force the issue. If you are going to be on the defensive anyway, a draw is not a bad result, and if a draw is what you are going for, doing it in the most forcing and quickest way possible leaves the least room for error. By placing the Bishop on h5, Black can't, at least for now, move the Knight because of the fork on e8.

24...Qd8

Now the key is understanding which threats are real and which ones are fake. What is Black threatening? At first glance, it appears as though the threat is 25...Qg5, forking the Knight and Bishop. After some thought, 25...Qh4 also appears to be very annoying for White. This would lead one to think that the best move here is 25.Nf3, but it turns out that 25.Nf3 is a mistake as after 25...Nxf3+ 26.Bxf3 Qf6 that it is very difficult for White to hold the position together given how weak his Queenside pawns are.

Looking a little deeper, one can see that one of the two "threats" is really a fake threat. If it were Black to move, and he played 25...Qg5 in this position, White has the resource 26.Ne4! and the Bishop is poison due to a royal fork on f6. Therefore, seeing that only one of the two moves is a problem lead to White's next move.

25.g3

Since the only real concern was the Queen arriving on h4, this move is probably White's best. It not only stops 25...Qh4, but also gives the King an escape square in the case of back rank issues, and also prepares f4, forcing the Knight out of the way of the Rook and allowing the Rook to come in. Turns out, the advancement of the f-pawn also plays a part in White's execution of the draw.

25...Kg7?

This move is actually an error and gives White potential winning chances. 25...Qc7 or 25...Qg5, intending to answer 26.Ne4 with 26...Qf5, maintains the balance. Just like White, Black has to act fast as well. Slow down and the other side gets that vital tempo.

26.f4 Nd3 27.Re6 Qc7



28.f5

White bails out and takes the draw. Turns out, White has a very strong move here due to Black's errant 25th move. After 28.Ne4! Qc1+ 29.Kg2 Qxb2+ 30.Kh3 Qd4 31.Nf6, Black is forced to give up the Queen via 31...Qxf6 32.Rxf6 Kxf6 33.b5 and only White has winning chances. Note that 31...Nxf4+ fails to 32.gxf4 Qxf4 33.Re7+ Kxf6 34.Rf7+ winning while something like 31...Nxb4 loses to the same sequence by White, only in that case it would be checkmate rather than a winning of the Queen.

After the game move, neither side can avoid the draw.

28...Qc1+ 29.Nf1 Qxc2

And now the lethal threat of 30...Qf2+ forces White to take the perpetual check.

30.f6+ Kh8 31.Re8+

And Black can't escape perpetual check. 1/2-1/2

A very interesting game indeed, and one where every move mattered, especially from moves 12 onward. There were numerous opportunities for either side to go wrong, and Black actually did it once, but White missed out on the opportunity to enter the favorable minor piece ending with excellent winning chances. The moral of the story is, play the position that is on the board, don't count what is off the board!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Simple Chess: A Lucky Win



Hi fellow chess players!

With the 3rd annual Carolina's Classic quickly approaching I debated if I should continue to play in the next Tuesday Night Action tournament. The debate was strictly for selfish reasons: I did not want a poor performance to impact my potential great performance at the Carolina's Classic. Well, I snapped myself out of it by deciding that I needed to tournament practice more than I needed the rating points.

Of course this first round did not help my original thoughts about not playing. I was paired against someone rated over 200 points lower than me. Winning means some rating points gained, losing or drawing would mean a lot of rating points lost. Again, I'm already thinking ahead to my rating after the Carolina's Classic.

Alright, enough about rating points. Who cares about those anyway? The goal is to get better, not get higher rated. I have already had to come to terms with myself that I will probably miss my goal of reaching 2000 by the time I'm 30 years old. I have less than a year for that now and I have one weekend tournament in my future. Yep, you probably guessed it: the Carolina's Classic.

So first and foremost, I did not deserve to win this game. Secondly, I never post games to show off. Thirdly, I am posting this game because I think it has several good lessons for those below 2000. Finally, I am posting this because it is clear that I need a lot of work if I want to perform well at the Carolina's Classic this year.

Key Takeaways:

  • When ahead in material, development should be a priority over grabbing pawns.
  • When behind in material but ahead in development, grab as much of the initiative as you can to not give your opponent time to use the extra material. 
  • Don't grab pawns that open lines of attack to your king. 
  • It is important to work on both calculation and visualization. Although closely related, they are not the same thing as you will see in this game. I calculated but failed to visualize positions correctly. 



Saturday, May 19, 2018

Milestones earned at Reverse Angle 84

Forty seven of the Carolina's most contemplative calculators converged upon the Charlotte Chess Center this Saturday, May 19, to compete in the 84th Reverse Angle tournament, the strongest and one of the most time-honoured monthly events this side of the Mississippi.  The always guaranteed $850 prize fund and long (G/90) time control ensured a competitive turnout in all three sections: Top, Under 1800, and Under 1400.



Top Section
The Top section was the largest of the day, featuring twenty players.  Top seeds Tianqi "stephen" Wang (2350) and Klaus "I beat Bisguier twice" Pohl (2200) were the two masters in the field, followed closely by Neo "the matrix" Zhu (2170) and Berkeley's finest, Kireet "giggles" Panuganti (2148).  Notably missing were Daniel "2400" Cremisi and Dominique "flat tire" Myers, as they were undoubtedly either recovering emotionally from the #RoyalWedding, or celebrating the twenty-first birthday of Mark "treasure hunter" Biernacki.

After the proverbial dust settled, a royal trio remained at the top with 3-0: Tianqi Wang (2350), Patrick "please watch my stuff" Sciacca (2134) and rising talent Advaith "late but not forgotten" Karthik (1791), the latter of whom scored three upsets against Expert and Master opposition.  Each of these three musketeers earned a fresh Ben Franklin note for their efforts.

Congratulations to Advaith Karthik who crossed 1900 for the first time, and to Adharsh Rajagopal and Aditya Shivapooja, North Carolina's newest Experts (2000+).


Reverse Angle 84

Reverse Angle 84: TOP

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1Tianqi Wang2350W13W8W6 3.0100.00
2Patrick Sciacca2134W10W14W7 3.0100.00
3Advaith Karthik1791W20W12W11 3.0100.00
4Neo Zhu2170L14W16W13 2.0 
5Kireet Panuganti2148W9L7W14 2.0 
6Aditya Shivapooja1974W18W11L1 2.0 
7Adharsh Rajagopal1951W19W5L2 2.0 
8Pradhyumna Kothapalli2016W17L1D9 1.5 
9Carson Cook1861L5W19D8 1.5 
10Xiaodong Jin1816L2W20H--- 1.5 
11Klaus Pohl2200W15L6L3 1.0 
12Sulia Mason2020D16L3D18 1.0 
13James Dill1938L1W17L4 1.0 
14Ernest Nix1888W4L2L5 1.0 
15Curtis Ianni1866L11D18D16 1.0 
16Luke Harris1805D12L4D15 1.0 
17Donald Johnson1741L8L13W20 1.0 
18Andrew Jiang1715L6D15D12 1.0 
19Daniel Romm1707L7L9B--- 1.0 
20Vishnu Vanapalli2019L3L10L17 0.0 


Under 1800
The U1800 Section featured an impregnable turnout of thirteen players.  The top seeds were John "jeremy lin" Xia (1753), Ian "big mac" MacNair, and Jeff "no nickname available" Prainito (1641).

John Xia and Alexander Moreno (1456) both scored 2.5/3, good for $112.50 each.  Sampath Kumar (1535), Paige Cook (1485), and Gautam "got em" Kapur (1407) all earned $17 for a tie of the U1600 prize.

Reverse Angle 84

Reverse Angle 84: Under 1800

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1John Xia1753W10W8D3 2.5112.50
2Alexander Moreno1456D3W13W8 2.5112.50
3Ian Macnair1679D2W11D1 2.0 
4Sampath Kumar1535H---W12D5 2.016.67
5Paige Cook1485D13W7D4 2.016.67
6Gautam Kapur1407L8B---W9 2.016.67
7Saanchi Sampath1409H---L5W11 1.5 
8Jeff Prainito1641W6L1L2 1.0 
9Danny Cropper1604L11W10L6 1.0 
10Grisham Paimagam1473L1L9W13 1.0 
11Pranav Swarna1339W9L3L7 1.0 
12Hassan Hashemloo1372H---L4 --- 0.5 
13Dan Boisvert1324D5L2L10 0.5 




Under 1400
Fourteen unswerving players entered the U1400 section, with Adam "curly" Lipshay (1267), Ethan "polo ridge's finest" (1258), William "bill" Merritt (1256), and Akshay "!!!" Rajagopal (1222) leading the pack.

Senthil Muthusamy (1095) scored 3-0, good for $150.  Adam Lipshay and Ethan Liu split second place money with 2.5/3, each earning $37.50.  Raamcharan Puttagunta (1041) and Richard Trela (1028) received $25 for their share of the U1200 prize.

Reverse Angle 84

Reverse Angle 84: Under 1400

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1Senthil Muthusamy1095W13W8W7 3.0150.00
2Adam Lipshay1267W9W6D3 2.537.50
3Ethan Liu1258W10W5D2 2.537.50
4William Merritt1256L8W13W9 2.0 
5Raamcharan Puttagunta1041W14L3W10 2.025.00
6Richard Trela1028W11L2W12 2.025.00
7Akshay !!!1222H---W12L1 1.5 
8Henry Nguyen902W4L1D13 1.5 
9Meet Doshi943L2W11L4 1.0 
10Pranava Kumar934L3W14L5 1.0 
11Rohan Chugh809L6L9B--- 1.0 
12Ronald Futerman1083H---L7L6 0.5 
13Ramya Puttagunta871L1L4D8 0.5 
14Ellen Rosenfeld861L5L10H--- 0.5 



UPSETS - 150 points or more
Top Section, Round 3 - Advaith Karthik (1791) def. Klaus Pohl (2200) - 409 points
Under 1400, Round 1 - Henry Nguyen (902) def. William Merritt (1256) - 354 points
Top Section, Round 1 - Ernest Nix (1888) def. Neo Zhu (2170) - 282 points
Top Section, Round 3 - Donald Johnson (1741) def. Vishnu Vanapalli (2019) - 278 points
Under 1800, Round 1 - Pranav Swarna (1339) def. Danny Cropper (1604) - 265 points
Top Section, Round 2 - Advaith Karthik (1791) def. Sulia Mason (2020) - 229 points
Top Section, Round 1 - Advaith Karthik (1791) def. Vishnu Vanapalli (2019) - 228 points
Top Section, Round 2 - Aditya Shivapooja (1974) def. Klaus Pohl (2200) - 226 points
Top Section, Round 2 - Xiaodong Jin (1816) def. Vishnu Vanapalli (2019) - 203 points
Top Section, Round 2 - Adharsh Rajagopal (1951) def. Kireet Panuganti (2148) - 197 points
Under 1800, Round 3 - Gautam Kapur (1407) def. Danny Cropper (1604) - 197 points
Under 1800, Round 3 - Alexander Moreno (1456) def. Jeff Prainito (1641) - 185 points


USCF Rating Report


Until next time,
GO

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 6

Hello and welcome to the sixth edition of The French Connection. This go round, we are going to look at an extremely critical concept in French theory, and that is the concept of the blockade. The blockade can come in many shapes and sizes, but here we are going to look at the classic case of the blockade. Specifically a concept that Aron Nimzowitsch came up with. The concept is simple, though the execution may not be. The idea is that Black will be chipping away at White's center via the moves ...c5 and ...f6. Nimzowitsch's idea was that rather than trying to hold the central pawn structure together, he voluntarily would capture these pawns himself, relinquishing his central pawns, but then maintain control of the d4 and e5 squares by occupying them with pieces, not allowing Black to advance the central pawns and keeping his light-squared Bishop passive, and often times this can have a ripple effect on the rest of his pieces.

For example, the following is a position that Aron Nimzowitsch composed himself to illustrate the rippling effects of the blockade:



It is Black to move here, with Black up an exchange and a pawn. Despite all of that, Nimzowitsch claimed that White is better here, and if you spend enough time looking at the position, you will soon realize that he is absolutely right. Black can hold on to the draw here, but there is also room for Black to lose. Simply blocking the h6-pawn and toggling the Rook between a8 and b8 is probably sufficient, but a more dramatic illustration comes from the line 1...Kg7 2.Kg4 Kf6 3.Kf4 Ke7 4.h6 Bd7 5.h7 Rf8+ 6.Kg5 Be8 7.Kh6 Rf1 8.h8=Q Rh1+ 9.Kg7 Rxh8 10.Kxh8 and the position is equal.

Normally, this late in an endgame, being down an exchange and a pawn is fatal, but this just goes to illustrate how strong of a concept this can be in the right situations.

I would highly recommend going through the following two games, which I put in links to those games so that you can go through them. All you have to do is click on the game itself. These two games, both of which featuring Nimzowitsch as White, clearly illustrate his concept. Both games are also annotated there.

Nimzowitsch - Salwe, Carlsbad 1911
Nimzowitsch - Levenfish, Carlsbad 1911

What I would like to discuss is a more recent game played by a more modern expert of the French Advance, specifically Evgeny Sveshnikov. He is a well known specialist in playing the White side of the c3-Sicilian and the French Advance. This game, played 26 years ago, illustrates how little importance there is in having the Bishop pair is when one of them is completely blocked while the other is staring at nothing except the ability to remove one of the two blockaders. Not only will these Knights block Black's position, but they also have an effect on the Black King, particularly the light squares around the Black King. This game will also illustrate what Black needs to not allow, and also shows that moves that break White's center, like ...f6, are not totally automatic in the French Defense.


W: Sveshnikov
B: Dukhov
Tal Memorial, Moscow 1992

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Nh6

This is one of many options for Black. Others include 5...Qb6, 5...Bd7, and 5...Nge7, along with more offbeat lines like 4...Qb6 and 5...Bd7, or 4...Bd7 and 5...a6 (like I gave in the French Repertoire back in August). None of these moves are refuted, but each one has its own drawbacks.

6.dxc5

According to many of the experts on the French, like Korchnoi and Sveshnikov, this move gives Black the greatest challenge in this particular line. Move order is critical as we will see at Black's 7th move. Another word of note about taking pawns away from the center. This should only be considered if Black cannot recapture with a pawn. Here Black is forced to take with a piece.

6...Bxc5 7.b4 Bb6

This is the point of the move order and why White has not captured the Knight on h6 on move 6. If that trade has already happened, then Black might think about retreating the Bishop to f8 in order to relocate to g7, advance f6, and pressure the White e-pawn. Here, White has not taken on h6, and so 7...Bf8 would be ludicrous as White would then be under no obligation to capture the Knight.

8.Bxh6

Now that the Bishop is not on f8, White decided to take the Knight. This also forces the g-pawn away from g7, making the idea of capturing on f6 when Black advances the pawn more attractive as Black won't be able to take back with the g-pawn, but again will have to recapture with a piece, which will lead to the theme of this game.

8...gxh6 9.b5 Ne7 10.Bd3 Ng6 11.O-O



11...f6?

Black should play 11...Qe7 instead. The move played creates a lot of weaknesses on the Kingside.

12.Bxg6 hxg6 13.Qd3 Kf7

Black would have been better off trying to block the position as much as possible, making 13...f5 the lesser evil.

14.exf6

The clearance of the central dark squares is complete. Black cannot take back with a pawn, and White is able to maintain control of d4 and e5, which is the only reason why this entire idea works.

14...Qxf6 15.Nbd2 Rd8 16.Rae1 a6

Too little, too late! Chipping away at the Queenside isn't going to do Black must good when White is clearly ready to block the center and attack the Kingside.

17.Ne5+ Kg7 18.Ndf3 Bd7 19.Nd4



Sveshnikov analyzes this game himself in a book of his on the French Advance from 2007. Based on what he says, the implication is that he sees White as already winning. I would beg to differ, but White is definitely better here. Black's Bishop pair is nothing resembling the value that many books preach on the Bishop pair.

19...Bxd4 20.Qxd4 axb5?

Sveshnikov states that after 20...Bxb5 21.Re3 Bxf1 22.Rf3 that White is winning. However, the move 22...Qg5, which threatens mate on g2, I think is underestimated by Sveshnikov. After 23.Rg3 Qf5 24.Rxg6+ Qxg6 25.Nxg6+ Kxg6 26.Qg4+ Kh7 27.Kxf1 Re8 28.c4, White is better, and if given the choice of which side I'd want in this position, I'd take White, but there is still a lot of work involved if White plans to get the full point.

21.Re3 Ra4 22.Qb6 Rf4 23.Qc7 g5 24.Nxd7 Qe7 25.Nc5 1-0

If you went through the two games listed at the beginning of the article along with this one, you have seen three examples of the Classic Blockade in the French Defense. Along with the often reiterated "Good Knight versus Bad Bishop" scenario that White is often looking for, this is the other major idea for White in beating the French Defense. There are other forms of the blockade aside from this one involving occupying d4 and e5. In some ways, we have already seen a hybrid form of this in Volume 2 where White uses his Good Knight to occupy the d4-square and block Black's Bad Bishop combined with the pawn still on e5, and we will be seeing many other examples in the coming editions of this, but this one specifically focused on the classic case that Nimzowitsch came up with himself.

Till next time, good luck in all your French games, Black or White!