Saturday, November 9, 2019

The French Connection: Volume 26

Hello and welcome to the twenty-sixth edition of The French Connection. In this one, we are going to look at a line in the Closed Tarrasch, a line that hasn't been featured much in my columns, mainly because I still to this day view the Tarrasch as nothing more than a draw attempt by White, and because I find 3...c5 to be the automatic equalizer for Black. That said, I occasionally will play the Closed Tarrasch, and did so here as I was playing someone that I have played numerous times before, and was looking to change it up on him. That said, while I do see 3...c5 as Black's strongest response to the benign 3.Nd2, I'm here to show you that Black has very little, if anything, to be afraid of with 3...Nf6, and we will be discussing a little Closed Tarrasch theory.

The other reason I am featuring this game is to talk about a topic that French players must always be on the lookout for, as the Colle System and the French Defense are the two most frequent cases where this tactic can be found, in both cases against the Black King. It is a well-known tactic known as the Greek Gift Sacrifice. The Greek Gift Sacrifice is a sacrifice of the Bishop on h7 against the castled King (h2 if Black is executing it), usually followed by the Knight going to g5 followed by the Queen coming in on d3 or h5. We will talk in more detail about this when we get to the position in the game.

So without further ado, let's see what we have here.


Tuesday Night Action 57, Round 1
W: Vishnu Vanapalli (2122)
B: Patrick McCartney (2018)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6



This is a well-known position in the Closed Tarrasch. Sure there are early deviations, like White can play 5.f4, or Black can play an early 7...Qb6, but this position will occur in probably 90% of Closed Tarrasch games. While White plays the main response here, I'm about to show you why I don't play the Closed Tarrasch often. White has a sideline here, namely 9.Nf4!?. This line, in theory, isn't supposed to cause Black any issues if he knows it, but there are numerous places where Black needs to know the precise move or else he is worse, he won't be able to castle, and really only one spot that he can even think about deviating. The whole idea of why this line is ok for Black is the big pawn center he achieves, but after 9...Nxd4 10.Qh5+ Ke7 11.exf6+! (This should be played first before grabbing the exchange) Nxf6 12.Ng6+ hxg6 (12...Kd7 13.Ne5+! and 12...Ke8 13.Qh4! are both significantly worse for Black) 13.Qxh8 Kf7 (Another critical move - all other moves are significantly worse for Black) 14.Qh4 e5 15.Nf3 and here is the only spot where I think Black actually has a choice:

  1. The main line is 15...Nxf3+ 16.gxf3 Bf5 17.Bxf5 gxf5 18.Bg5 and this is supposed to be equal, but again, Black has to find a lot of moves just to hold on. After 18...Qa5+ 19.Kf1, the move 19...g6 is a critical move to find. After 20.Bxf6 Qa6+ 21.Kg2 Qxf6 22.Qa4 (White has no interest in trading Queens here) Qc6 23.Qb3 Bh6 (Another move that must be found by Black) 24.Rad1 Rd8 25.Rd3 Kf6 (Another critical move for Black) 26.Rc3 Qd7 27.Qc2 d4 and only now can one safely say that Black is ok. In the game Miroshnichenko - Firman, Alushta 2002, the game finish with White giving perpetual check after 28.Rc7 Qd5 29.Rh7 Bg7 30.h4 Qg8 31.Qc7 Re8 32.Rc1 Qxh7 33.Qd6+ Re6 34.Qd8+ Re7 35.Qd6+ Re6 36.Qd8+ with a draw.
  2. The one sideline option for Black, and probably the line I would be inclined to play if faced with this, is 15...e4 16.Nxd4 Bb4+ 17.Kf1 (17.Bd2 Bxd2+ 18.Kxd2 exd3 19.Kxd3 Qb6! 20.b3 Bf5+ 21.Nxf5 Qa6+ 22.Kc2 Rc8+ 23.Kb2 Qe2+ 24.Ka3 Rc6! and White can't avoid the perpetual) exd3 18.Bg5 Qb6 19.Bxf6 Qxf6 20.Qxf6 gxf6 and the unopposed Bishop pair, extra Pawn, and slightly better King now that the Queens are gone should compensate for being the exchange down.

This just feels like a lot of theory to know just to survive. In correspondence chess, this is a non-issue, but over the board, I would prefer to avoid this headache. Here is a prime example where the best move theoretically may be different than the best move in a practical manner. The move played in the game is the "main line", but I find 9.Nf4 to cause far more unnecessary headaches for Black than the main line, and this is the main reason why I advocate 3...c5 more than 3...Nf6. I think that the above analysis proves that I make no claim that Black is ever worse in the 9.Nf4 line of the Closed Tarrasch, just that it leads to too many headaches and sleepless nights for Black. In the grand scheme of things, I fully agree with Evgeny Sveshnikov's assessment that 3.Nd2 is vastly inferior for White compared to 3.Nc3 or 3.e5, but that doesn't mean Black task to prove it is simple, unlike in the Exchange Variation where White gets nothing after a very simple defense by Black. It's this extra necessary theoretical knowledge that gives Tarrasch supporters the false sense of security that they can actually achieve something substantial with this line.

Going back to the position after 8...f6 (first diagram) ...

9.exf6 Nxf6 10.O-O Bd7 11.Nf3

Here Black has a decision to make.

11...Qc7

The other main options are 11...O-O and 11...Qb6. After 11...O-O, the move 12.Bf4, trading off Black's good Bishop, is known to give White a slight advantage, but Black should still have enough to hold the position together after 12...Bxf4 13.Nxf4 Ne4 and there are a number of options for White here, but they shouldn't be too big of an issue for Black, and many French books will show you what to do here. The main downside to 11...O-O is that while it is solid, Black's winning chances are minimal. The biggest issue with 11...Qb6, while it does continue to pressure d4, is that the Queen is somewhat misplaced after either 12.Nc3 or 12.b3, both of which lead to a very strong score for White. Part of the problem is, even in the 12.Nc3 lines, the White Bishop is not tied down to the defense of the b-pawn as Black can almost never take it anyway. With the Knight able to go to b5, there are problems with threats of the Queen getting trapped and loose pieces, such as the Bishop on d6, hanging. Therefore, White can invite Black to take the b2-pawn, which is usually poisonous. Black, of course, doesn't have to take the Pawn, but then the Queen on b6 can get in the way of the other pieces along with the b-pawn.

With the move played in the game, Black's idea is to delay White's ability to trade off dark-squared Bishops for as long as possible, but he does have to make sure that he remains active. If Black starts playing passive moves, White will trade off the Bishops and then dominate the e5-square, and Black will end up with a miserable game.

12.h3

I don't like this move for White. It feels extremely slow and artificial, and is only White's 4th most popular move here. To me, there are two moves that are far superior to the move played in the game, and one that is actually inferior, amongst the three more popular moves by White:
  1. The main line for White, and in my opinion, White's best move as well, is 12.Bg5. The idea is simple. White wants to contest the Bishop on d6 and trade off dark-squared Bishops, but since 12.Bf4 has been eliminated by Black's 11th move, White is intending to go Bc1-g5-h4-g3 to contest the Bishop. Black usually follows up with 12...O-O, and after 13.Rc1, Black has four main options. He can play a conservative game with 13...a6 or 13...Bd7, looking to simply complete development, or he can play one of the active Knight moves, which is what I would advocate. I think it is a matter of taste whether you would prefer 13...Ng4 14.h3 (14.Ng3 Qb6!) Rxf3! 15.hxg4 Rf7 or 13...Nh5 14.Bh4 and now Black can decide between 14...Rxf3 15.gxf3 Bxh2+ 16.Bh1 Bd6, 14...g6 15.Qd2 Rxf3 16.gxf3 Bxh2+ 17.Kg2 Bf4 18.Nxf4 Nxf4+ 19.Kh1, or simply taking a more positional approach with 14...g6 15.Qd2 a6, stopping Bb5 by White. In the last line, the critical thing is to fight for e5. Black may never advance ...e5, but he can't allow a White piece to settle on e5, especially a Knight. Which line Black plays is a matter of taste, but he should be ok in each of the options displayed.
  2. With the Queen on c7 instead of b6, hence protecting the Bishop, 12.Nc3 doesn't have the sting it has in the 11...Qb6 line, and I don't think this is a very good line for White at all. Black can stop all activity for White with 12...a6, and then proceed as normal after 13.Bg5 O-O 14.Bh4 Nh5 15.Re1 g6 16.Rc1 Bf4 17.Rc2 Qg7 et cetera. This points out another key defensive idea in the 11...Qc7 line that is not available to Black in the 11...Qb6 line. This idea of advancing the g-pawn to g6 and moving the Queen to g7 is a common defensive mechanism for Black. The Queen continues to eye e5 like it does from c7, but also gives more support to the Black King. Black should have no issues what-so-ever in this line.
  3. The other alternative for White is 12.g3, which I think is really his only other legitimate try aside from 12.Bg5. The idea again is to contest the Bishop on d6. After 12...O-O 13.Bf4, I like the exchange sac idea for Black. After 13...Ng4 14.Rc1 Bxf4 15.Nxf4 Rxf4 16.gxf4 Qxf4 17.Be2 Nf6, Black has sufficient compensation for the slight material investment.

12...O-O 13.Be3 Nh5

I like this move for Black here. It illustrates one of the major problems with advancing the h-pawn too early. When you advance a Rook pawn one square, it weakens the square that is a Knight's move away from that pawn. So here, the move h3 weakens the f4-square, mainly because it is hard to dislodge something like a Knight as then the h3-pawn hangs, and even if a different piece resides on f4, it weakens h3 and other squares around the King. With the pawn still on h2, a move like g3 is not difficult to execute. The same goes for the other Rook pawns, where a3 weakens c4, ...a6 weakens c5 for Black, and ...h6 weakens f5 for Black.

Therefore, these moves should only be made when there is a necessary reason for them. For example, in the Ruy Lopez (after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O), the move 9.h3 is necessary because White wants to play d4 without the Knight on f3, a major supporter of the d4-push, being pinned by the Bishop, and so the h3-push there prevents the pin.

But here, I see no good reason for the move, and the only other game I could find with 13...Nh5 was Savinel - Hodot, France 1998, which was a game that Black won via 14.Nc3 Bf4 15.Ng5 g6 16.Nb5 Qe7 17.Nf3 Bd7 18.a3 a6 19.Nc3 Rf7 20.Qd2 Raf8 21.Rae1 Qf6 22.Ne2 g5 23.Bxf4 gxf4 24.Kh2 Kh8 25.Rg1 Qh6 26.Ne5 Nxe5 27.dxe5 Rg7 28.Nd4 Rfg8 29.f3 Rg5 30.b4 Qg7 31.b5 Rxe5 32.Nb3 Rxe1 33.Rxe1 e5 34.Qb2 Qg3+ and White Resigned.

Black should also be ok after something like 14.Nc3 a6 15.Rc1 Nf4 16.Bb1 g6 17.h4 Qg7 18.g3 Nh5.

But in the game, we are going to see White try a completely different idea on the basis that the Knight moved away from f6.

14.Nc3 a6



15.Bxh7+?

White goes for what is known as the Greek Gift Sacrifice. This is a sacrifice of the Bishop on h7 against the castled King with the idea of a quick mating attack on the Black King. In general terms, it is typically thought that for this to work, White needs at minimum two of the following five items to be going his way (though that isn't always enough, as is the case here), and three is almost always decisive:
  • A Dark-Squared Bishop on the c1-h6 diagonal to discourage ...Kh6 by Black.
  • A second Knight that can reach e4 or f4.
  • A Rook that can get to an open e-file or a semi-open f- or h-file.
  • A secure pawn on e5
  • A pawn on h4 that is backed up by a Rook on h1

Now there are other factors, like whether or not a Black Rook is stuck on f8 to guard f7, or if the Black Queen is on e7 blocking the King's escape (particularly in cases where White does not have the secure pawn on e5, along with other minor factors that are very specific to each position, but those five mentioned are really the big five, and the combination that most frequently leads to success is the first and fourth ones, the Dark-Squared Bishop and the secure pawn on e5 as the f6-square can be a vital escape square for the King, and so if the King can't ever go to f6 and it can't ever go to h6, it's often a dead duck on either the g6- or g8-square.

In this scenario, White does have two of the five bullets, but it's not the best combination. He has the Dark-Squared Bishop, and the c3-Knight that can get to e4. As it turns out, with correct play from both sides, this version of the Greek Gift Sacrifice should end in a win for Black, and so therefore, if White should probably try the 15.Rc1 line mentioned near the end of the note to Black's 13th move above.

15...Kxh7 16.Ng5+ Kg6

Clearly the only defense for Black in this scenario as going backwards to g8 hangs the Knight on h5, and even though Black can prevent mate by pushing his g-pawn, his King is too exposed and he has lost too much material to survive.

17.h4

The correct move for White. After 17.Qd3+ Kf6 18.Qh7 Nf4 19.h4 Bd7 20.g3, the move 20...Rh8 is only enough to draw after 21.Nce4+ dxe4 22.Nxe4+ Kf7 23.Ng5+ Kf6 24.Ne4+ with a perpetual, but Black can rain on White's parade with 20...Rae8!!, threatening 21...Rh8 now that the Black King can walk his way to d8.

17...Rh8

The correct move by Black as all other moves lead to problems after White's next move.

18.Qg4

But after Black's last move, this move doesn't work. Slower moves like 18.Rc1 Bd7! are also no good for White.

The move that creates the greatest challenge for Black is 18.g3, but even here, if Black can get through the extreme complications, he should come out on top after 18...Bd7 19.Qd3+ Kf6 20.Rae1 Rae8 21.Bc1 Nf4 22.Bxf4 (22.gxf4 Rxh4 -+) Bxf4 23.Qf3 Nxd4 24.Qg4 Nf5 25.Rxe6+ Bxe6 26.Nxe6 Kxe6 27.Qg6+ Kd7 28.Qxf5+ Kd8 29.Nxd5 Qe5 30.Qd3 Bxg3 31.fxg3 Kc8 32.Qc4+ Kb8 33.Qf4 Re6 34.Kg2 Rd8 35.Qxe5+ Rxe5 36.Nf4 and Black can now spend the next hour playing through this won endgame as it's not a cakewalk, and so the odds that White resigns any time soon is slim. Black is going to need half a bottle of migraine pills and a really good night's sleep after this, but theoretically speaking, Black's still winning.

The move in the game reduced Black's pain from a severe migraine to maybe a dull ache.

18...Kf6??

And now Black plays the wrong move. The correct move is 18...Nf6 (Black can flick in the check first if he wants with 18...Bh2+ 19.Kh1, but either way, the Knight move needs to come next) and the White Queen can't stay on the g-file, and there are no tactics either. For example, 19.Nxe6+ Nxg4 20.Nxc7 Bxc7 simply drops another piece for a pawn, and simply going back with something like 19.Qd1 just lets Black consolidate. This is where the importance of 17...Rh8 comes into play. Without that move, White has the resource of 19.h5+, which would be winning for White, but with the Rook on h8, this move doesn't work either.

19.Qf3+

White has full compensation for the piece after 19.Rfe1, leading to problems on e6. With the game move, the best White can do is escape with a draw.

19...Ke7 20.Nxd5+??

This was last call for the draw for White. He had to harass the Rook with 20.Nf7 Rh7 21.Ng5 Rh8 22.Nf7 and a perpetual unless Black tries 20...Rf8, but then 21.Qxh5 Rxf7 22.Bg5+ Ke8 23.Rae1 Ne7 24.Bxe7 Bxe7 25.Re3 when both 25...b5 and 25...Qd6 are answered with 26.Rf3 with dynamic equality.

20...exd5



A sacrificed piece for an extra pawn and a massive attack against a stripped King is often more than enough, but here, Black has two pieces for two pawns, and this is just too much for White to be able to cope with. He lacks the fire power, and whenever necessary, Black can return a piece back to White, hopefully for a pawn, and with a bunch of stuff traded off, White won't have the compensation for the missing piece like he did at various points in the middle game.

In fact, it's the White King that gets mated 13 moves later.

21.Rfe1 Nf6 22.Bf4+ Kf8

The correct retreating square for the Black King.

23.Be5 Nxe5

Black gets to trade another set of pieces and yet win one of his pawns back? Of course Black is willing to comply!

24.dxe5 Bxe5 25.Rad1 Bg4 26.Qd3

Of course, White has no interest in the tricky trade as 26.Qxg4 Nxg4 27.Ne6+ Kg8 28.Nxc7 Bxc7 just trades off more material. Sure White can grab the d-pawn, but he's down 2 pieces and completely lost with less material on the board.

26...Rd8

Of course, taking the Rook on d1 drops the Queen to a royal fork.

27.Rc1 Qd6 28.f3 Bh2+ 29.Kf1 Bd7

Re-routing the Bishop to the lethal b5-square.

30.Qg6 Bb5+ 31.Kf2

This leads to an instant mate, but even after 31.Re2 Bxe2+ 32.Kxe2 Re8+ followed by 33...Qd7, Black eliminates the cheapo mate and is completely winning.

31...Qg3+

31...Ng4+, moving the Knight first and mating with the Queen, is a move faster, but this works just as well. If you see a forced mate, there is no reason to go around searching for quicker mates. This was the first one I saw, and so this is what I played. Plus, the mate with the Knight is cuter!

32.Ke2 Qf4+ 33.Kf2 Ng4# 0-1


Except for move 18, a well-played defense by Black. This game illustrates a couple of important points. First of all, if you are looking to play the Closed Tarrasch, the analysis given on 9.Nf4 is critical for you to know because this is one of those lines where if Black doesn't know all the moves, he will get blasted in short order. But the other thing it does is illustrates that when an abnormality happens, like the Greek Gift Sacrifice, you can throw all general concepts, especially that of material count, out the window, and the topic of mating attacks comes into play instead. We saw here that White only had two of the five items on the checklist, which if they are the right two, it is often enough, but White probably had the worst combination of the two, and needed something extra to go with it that he didn't have. While this particular line was not a case where the Greek Gift sacrifice should work, notice that it takes extreme levels of accuracy in defense, especially if White plays all the right moves (See the note to White's 18th move). It should not be that hard to see the correct move on move 18 as calculation should be enough to realize that 19.Nxe6 doesn't work, and if the White pieces are driven away, especially the Queen, then consolidation of Black's position should be simple, and he would maintain the extra piece, and be winning easily. That said, you probably need to analyze the line given in the notes to White's 18th move thoroughly if you are going to play the 13...Nh5 line here. White shouldn't be going for the Greek Gift Sacrifice in this case, but in case he does, it's better to be prepared for it than not.


That concludes this edition of the French Connection. Until next time, good luck in all of your French games, whether Black or White!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Game Analysis: South Carolina Championship, Round 4

In this article we are going to cover the fourth round of the South Carolina Championship. In this game, we are going to see a large quantity of "small factors" that, put together, equate to a very lopsided game. These small factors are very much the items that separate the level of understanding of a B-player and an Expert, which is what White and Black were in this game, respectively. These factors include recognizing transpositions in the opening, chess psychology, pawn structure, knowing which pieces to trade and when, and endgame evaluation. Keep those items in mind when looking at this one.


South Carolina Championship, Round 4
W: Vignesh Sekar (1787)
B: Patrick McCartney (2018)
Closed Sicilian

1.e4 e6

What? Now wait a minute here! I thought you said this was a Closed Sicilian? This looks more like a French! Why aren't we looking at the 26th edition of The French Connection?

2.Nc3 c5

And there's your answer! While I am a die hard fan of the French, I do typically transpose to a Sicilian if White develops either of the Knights on move two. The reason is simple. While the French has been my main weapon for over 20 years, I have played the Sicilian on and off over the course of the years, and contrary to popular belief, the French and Sicilian are actually closely related, and while the French might appear to be this slow, closed, positional opening, it's actually Black's other aggressive idea against e4, and if you've seen some of the McCutcheon and Winawer games that I've published, it can sometimes even get crazier than any Sicilian line.

That said, there are two lines of the French that, while not particularly good for White from a theoretical standpoint, I find extremely annoying. The first is called the Jackal. It arises from the move order 1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.d4 c5 6.Bg5. Note that White can invert moves 2 and 3 as well. Now you can argue that this line can also come from the Classical move order, namely 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 and now instead of White's two main options, 5.f4 and 5.Nce2, White can play 5.Nf3 and transpose into this line. However, I already know at least three people that are a big fan of this line, and against each of them I would play the Winawer, and I know a couple of others that if they were to read this would proceed to do the same themselves, and otherwise, some out-of-towner could get this against me once, but wouldn't get it again. I know the ideas against this line, but I just find it all around annoying. I would rather face the Exchange Variation than this, something not many fans of the French would typically say, but I would. Remember that "annoying" and "bad" are not the same thing, and so this is not a line to be afraid of by any stretch of the imagination.

The other line I like to avoid, again not due to any theoretical benefit for White, but rather another line that I just find outright annoying, is the Wing Gambit. Like the Sicilian Defense, the French has it's version, and I think the Wing Gambit against the French is a little more sound than the Wing Gambit against the Sicilian. It goes as follows: 1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 c5 4.b4, the idea being to deflect the c-pawn away from the pressure on d4, and only after Black takes on b4 does White think about playing d4.

However, what I do, by playing c5, is directly transpose into a Sicilian Defense. This also should send a message to all White players that play Anti-Sicilian and Anti-French lines. Your repertoire needs to mesh. For example, After 1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 or 1.e4 e6 2.Nf3, you might get players like me that play 2...c5. Therefore, if you are one that plays, say, the Grand Prix attack against the Sicilian, and the Wing Gambit against the French, you could be in for a rude awakening after 1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 (I'm going to show Black up by playing the Wing Gambit that he probably doesn't know) 2...c5! (WHAT? I thought you were playing the French! Now look at what you've done to me! I can't play my Grand Prix Attack, and the Closed Sicilian with an early Nf3 is rediculous!). The same can be said for someone that plays the Alapin against the Sicilian, and decides to go for the Two Knights Variation against the French, but plays 2.Nc3 first. After 1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 c5, there is no Alapin! Of course, in either case, White can still play the Open Sicilian, even after 2.Nc3. For example, 1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 c5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 is a Taimanov Sicilian (the line I would play) while 1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 c5 3.Nf3 a6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 is a Kan Sicilian with 5.Nc3 (but notice it eliminates the 5.c4 or 5.Bd3 line - if you play those, you have to play 2.Nf3 instead of 2.Nc3).

One last note about the inter-connectivity between the Sicilian and the French, if you play the Alapin Sicilian (or "c3-Sicilian"), then after 1.e4 c5 2.c3, Black has 2...e6 as an option, and after 3.d4 d5, White has a decision to make. He can take on d5 on move 4, which leads to typical IQP lines of the French, or 4.e5, which is a direct transposition to the Advance French, so you can also go in the other direction, from Sicilian to French, in some cases.

So those of you that play the White side of various Sicilians, Anti-Sicilians, the French Advance, and Anti-French lines, you will need to make sure that your repertoire accounts for these move order tricks.

3.f4 a6 4.Nf3 b5 5.d3 Bb7 6.g3



So what we have here is a direct transposition into a line of the Grand Prix attack which normally would arrive via 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 a6 (a typical response from a Najdorf or Kan player where 2...Nc6 could be bad news for them after 3.Nf3 intending 4.d4) 3.f4 b5 4.Nf3 Bb7 5.d3 e6 and now 6.g3, recognizing that the Bishop has nowhere better to go after Black's early Queenside expansion, and once Bb5 is impossible, White's best move is to transpose to a Closed Sicilian, and that is how we got here.

Now here is a part of the game that you can't see from this Website. It is recognizing psychology. We are talking a Class B player here. Most Class B players do not understand the concept of bluffing. In many ways, chess psychology is like reading poker faces. White here is a young kid, assisted in getting ready by one of his parents, and has a rating below 1800. Compare this to say, Dominique Myers, a player at the Charlotte Chess Center that is over 2100 and is known for bending the rules of chess strategy and is specifically looking for the trickiest lines possible that don't just outright lose, trying to play head games with his opponent. When Dominique takes extra time to make a move early on in the game, it's a total bluff. He understands the position. He knows what he's doing, and he's playing head games with his opponent. You can also tell sometimes in his demeanor. This was a young child just under Class A level that is working on his game, and probably does not even factor things like psychology when playing. So when I tell you that he played the first move very quickly, and then took 3 minutes to play 2.Nc3, with the facial reactions that he was showing, you could tell he was not very comfortable facing the French, and that it was probably not his favorite opening to face. After my 2...c5, he instantaneously played 3.f4 and 4.Nf3, like you could tell that the Grand Prix attack against the Sicilian was likely his norm, but when faced with an early ...b5 and ...Bb7, he was back to being at a loss. He spent 3 minutes realizing that 5.d3 was probably the only realistic way to guard e4, knowing that 5...Bb7 was coming. Sure you can play moves like Qe2, but the pieces end up not being well placed, and so he realized that 5.d3 was pretty much a must, and then he spent another 6 minutes on 6.g3, finally realizing he had nothing better.

Now, did I do a full blown interview after the game? Absolutely not, and my assessments above may or may not be totally correct, but as you are playing the game, you can usually get at least some idea of your opponent's situation by his antics, demeanor, facial reaction (do they look confused?), etc. Someone that knows what they are doing and are trying to trick you will often have a grin on their face. A person from the North Carolina mountains by the name of Neal Harris does this a lot, and he, like Dominique Myers, is always out looking for tricks. This kid looked confused at this point, and when you see the next 25 moves or so, you will see why as White will end up in a dead lost endgame right around that time after making numerous "small errors". None of it is outright blundering. White doesn't lose any material until he is completely busted positionally, but you will be able to see in the moves in the game that my assessment of him being somewhat lost psychologically was indeed correct.

6...Nf6 7.Bg2 d6 8.O-O Be7

White's last two moves were fairly simple because they were absolutely "normal". Sure there might be times that you play g3 and don't follow it up with a fianchetto of the Bishop, but more often than not, that's the case, and what's unusual about castling? Nothing! But now is when we are going to start seeing White's issues.

9.h3

I don't like this move at all for White. What does it achieve? If White wants to try to storm the Kingside, then get to the chase with 9.f5. Black is ok after this by playing 9...exf5 10.Nh4 fxe4 11.Nf5 O-O 12.Nxe4 Bxe4 13.dxe4 Ra7. White has the initiative, but he also has the weaker pawns and is down a pawn. All endgames should win for Black, but the question is going to be getting there.

The other option is to go for more traditional Closed Sicilian ideas with 9.Qe2 intending Nd1 and Be3.

But 9.h3 is extremely slow and achieves very little. Clearly White's idea is Kingside Expansion, but there is no reason to wait and build up if that is what you are looking to do. The early f5 ideas are fairly common in the Closed and Grand Prix lines of the Sicilian.

9...Nc6 10.g4 Qc7

Notice that Black just continues to develop his pieces while White continues to advance pawns in a very slow and methodical way. Also note that this idea by White would probably be far more relevant if Black had done two things that are often seen in normal lines of the Closed Sicilian, but not this one. In the normal lines of the Closed Sicilian where Black plays ...c5, ...Nc6, ...d6, and fianchettos his Kingside, he typically castles fairly early to the Kingside. With the g-pawn advanced, creating a hook with f5 or h5, and the King committed to the Kingside, the Pawn storm makes more sense, but here, what stops Black from going Queenside after all of this? Actually, in the game, we will see the Black King remain in the center. White's next move makes no sense at all.

11.b3

So White now plans to fianchetto his Queen's Bishop? This goes against White's whole plan in more ways than 1. The move that makes the most sense at this moment is 11.g5, chasing the Knight away and continuing Kingside expansion. By playing 11.b3, White has weakened his dark squares on the Queenside, has advanced a pawn on the side in which he is weaker, which is almost never good as it gives the opponent, who will likely be attacking on that side, more to chew on. Black now sees weak dark squares, a hook for the a-pawn (or c-pawn, but the a-pawn is more likely here), and with the advancement of the pawn, contact can occur faster. Notice how Black has kept all three of his Kingside pawns on their original squares, making White take more time to advance further and further before creating a clash.

11...Nd4 12.Bb2

White should consider 12.Nxd4 here, when after 12...cxd4, White can harass the d4-pawn, enticing ...e5 out of Black, which creates tension with the f-pawn, and White can open the f-file at this leisure as Black can't really prevent the idea. For this reason, 11...Nd4 may not have been Black's best move.

12...Nd7 13.Ne2



Now we see a few trades are going to start happening. It starts with Black trading a set of Knights. Which minor pieces would Black love to eliminate? Well, looking at the two Knights that White has, taking either one is with check, and so there is no worry about in-between moves by White. The Knight on e2 blocks the contact between the Knight on f3 and the Queen, and so if Black takes the more active Knight on f3, White will be forced to take with the Bishop or the Rook. But then what else does Black want to trade off? Well, there is no reason to trade off the other set of Knights, and he can take it or leave it when it comes to trading off the Light-Squared Bishops, but if Black can get rid of White's Dark-Squared Bishop, it will leave White with all kinds of holes on the dark squares, particularly on the Queenside. Therefore, Black starts by taking the correct Knight.

13...Nxf3+ 14.Rxf3

I think the lesser evil was to take with the Bishop. With the Rook on f3, pushing the e-pawn isn't even an option, and Black can easily eliminate the Dark-Squared Bishops.

14...Bf6 15.Bxf6 Nxf6



Thus far, White has done everything that Black has wanted him to do. Black has done nothing special, and has done little more than maintain balance, but everything that Black has done so far has been logical. Sometimes, the most logical move isn't the best move, but more often than not, you won't get killed that way. White, on the other hand, has already made a few illogical moves, and yet, he can maintain equality with a sensible move here. What do you think White should play here?

16.c4?

And yet, White makes another illogical move. Other than possibly the argument of the Rook on a1, which is waiting for the Queen to move first before it swings to the center or Kingside, the Knight on e2 is clearly White's worst placed piece, and it should be moved, and the correct move here is 16.Ng3, continuing his attack on the Kingside. Instead, the move 16.c4 makes no sense at all. What is White trying to do? Prevent ...c4 by Black? Even if it does that, it is expansion on the side in which he is weak. He is advancing the pawn to yet another light-square. The only thing worse than having all your pawns on light squares with the light-squared Bishops remaining is to have advanced pawns all on light squares. Ultimately, this game is going to reach an endgame where it is the Queenside that kills White. He will be forced to defend over there and Black will have a free hand at White's then weakened and advanced Kingside Pawns. With pieces on the board, advancing the pawns can be a strength as it can suffocate the opponent and your pieces come in for the kill. Reaching an endgame often makes advanced pawns that are not passed weak more often than strong. So White, rather than preventing Black from advancing on the Queenside and looking to trade down in the next 10 moves or so, should be getting his pieces to the Kingside and continuing his attack on the side where he has the space.

16...bxc4 17.bxc4 Bc6 18.f5 e5



One last chance for White. What should White play here?

19.Rf2?

White played this move and offered a draw, clearly not understanding what he should be doing in the position. Even if computers claim the position is equal, remember that equal and drawn are not the same thing, and White has shown nothing yet to this point that makes any indication that he understands what he is doing. Again, this was the opportunity to continue his Kingside attack with 19.g5, gaining a tempo on the Knight. Now, retreating the Rook and looking to swing the heavy pieces to the b-file to trade them all off clearly shows that White has no interest in his own attack, and merely fears anything Black might do down that b-file as the Queenside is mainly his. White should not be afraid of this, and needs to keep the initiative.

During the middlegame, you need to make the assessment of whether to attack quickly, or slow and methodically. Typically, this can be figured out by answering two questions:
  1. If we were to trade this down to an endgame, which scenarios, if any, would I be better?
  2. Does my opponent have counterplay?

Let's think about this. Endgames. Who would endgames favor? White's pieces are disco-ordinated. Black simply needs to move his King to connect the Rooks. They can get to the b-file quickly. Therefore, any heavy piece ending is likely to favor Black. Black's pawns are all on dark squares. White's are all on light. Each side has a light-squared Bishop. Any ending for White that features a light-squared Bishop for himself is bad. A same color Bishop ending would be bad enough, but even worse would be a Black Knight against White's Light-Squared Bishop. In fact, this is probably the worst case scenario of all for White when it comes to an endgame. Keep this in mind as you are about to see exactly which endgame arises in this game in a matter of less than 15 moves from now! A Knight endgame might be satisfactory for White, but is the extra spaces needed to maneuver if each side has only one piece? No! If anything, it could weaken the pawns as they are easier for the opposing Knight to reach. Maybe White's best case scenario if an endgame were to arise would be a Knight for him against Black's Bishop.

All of that said, look at White's space on the Kingside, especially after the aforementioned 19.g5. With more space, you want to keep pieces on the board. You don't want an endgame. So it is fairly safe to conclude that it is Black, not White, that wants an endgame.

Now to the second question. Does his opponent, Black in this case, have counterplay? The answer is yes. He can castle or lift the King, bring the Rooks to the b-file, and attack down the b-file. So therefore, White's play needs to be fast. If Black was bottled up and didn't have any counterplay, then White could take his sweet time improving every piece, getting them all, including the King, to their ideal squares, before going for the kill, but White does not have that luxury here, and so the lack of desire to trade down combined with the need to act fast goes to show why 19.g5 is clearly the best move here.

19...h6!

And now Black puts a stop to that!

20.Ng3

Too little, too late. Now that the pawns are immobile, where is the Knight going? h5? Black can trade Knights, completely wrecking White's pawns, advance ...f6 to allow the Queen to cover Black's only weakness on the board, the g7-pawn, and get the other Rook out, possibly by even castling this late in the game. All of that is nonsense for White, and so this Knight move can be virtually ignored, and with no reaction necessary from Black, he continues on the Queenside.

20...Rb8 21.Rb1 Ke7

Black connects the Rooks, and with White's 19.Rf2 move earlier combined with 21.Rb1 Black senses that White is looking to trade down the heavy pieces along the b-file, and that he has no interest in dealing with Black's counterplay down that file since he has done nothing earlier to show any desire to attack Black on the Kingside. Therefore, rather than castling, Black prepares for the endgame by placing his King in the center rather than off to the side. If White doesn't trade off the heavy pieces, the locking of the pawns on move 18 provides the Black King enough safety to remain in the center of the board.

22.Rfb2 Rxb2 23.Rxb2 Rb8 24.Rxb8 Qxb8 25.Qb3

White even wants the Queens off!



25...Qb4!

And Black agrees! But only on his own terms. Remember earlier how I said that the Queenside would be White's downfall? Black wants White to take on b4, giving Black a 2-on-1 majority on the Queenside, the side away from the Kings.

26.Kf2

White had to play 26.Qc2 or 26.Qd1. Now the Queen trade can't be avoided, and it will be forced in Black's desired way of doing it!

26...Ba4!

Forcing White to take Black's Queen!

27.Qxb4 cxb4 28.Ne2 Nd7 29.Ke3 Bd1



30.Nc1

The correct move by White, despite the fact that he is already losing. As mentioned earlier, the last thing in the world that White wants is a Good Knight vs Bad Bishop scenario where White is the one with the Bishop. Therefore, the game move puts up the most resistance.

30...a5 31.Kd2 Ba4 32.Nb3??

We literally just got done saying that a Good Knight versus Bad Bishop is the last thing White ever wants, and now this? White needed to try something else, like 32.h4 or 32.d4 or 32.Bf3.

32...Bxb3 33.axb3 Nc5



The blockade is complete. White's pawns are stuck on the same color square as his Bishop, and the only way to open any lines for the Bishop is desperation sacrifices of his pawns. Meanwhile, White will be busy having to cover b3 while Black has that nice open dark-squared g1-a7 diagonal to walk his King down. White is completely busted.

34.Kc2 f6 35.Bf1 Kd7 36.h4 Kc6 37.Kb2 Nd7 38.Bg2 Kc5 39.Kc2 Kd4 40.Bf3

If 40.Kd2, to try to keep the Black King out of e3, then simply 40...Nc5, attacking both the b- and d-pawns.

40...Nc5 41.Be2 Ke3 42.Bf1 Kf2

42...Kf3 also works, but doing it this way, every King move comes with a gain of tempo, allowing absolutely nothing for White.

43.Bh3 Kg3 44.Bf1 Kxg4 45.Be2+ Kxh4 46.Bd1 Kg5 47.Kd2 h5 48.Ke3 h4 49.d4 exd4+ 50.Kxd4 Kf4 51.Kd5 h3 0-1

White threw in the towel as there is no stopping the h-pawn and it's much faster than anything White has in the center.


There really is nothing special that Black did this game, and he didn't always play the best move either, but what we saw here is often what separates an expert from a B-player:
  • Black had a firm grasp on all of the possible transpositions and didn't treat openings like mice in separated cubby holes with no interaction. Many openings can transpose into one another. The French and Sicilian are a prime example. Other common transposition scenarios include the 2...Nf6 Scandinavian and Caro-Kann Panov-Botvinnik Attack, the King's Indian Defense and Modern Benoni, the Nimzo-Indian Defense and Queen's Gambit Declined, the Petroff and Exchange French, and the Alekhine Chase Variation and c3-Sicilian, just to name a few. There are countless transpositional possibilities out there.
  • While not a 100% reliable source, and like poker, you have to sense bluff, but often times, demeanor, pace of play, etc can often times indicate to you what your opponent's comfort level is in a position, and you can often sense if he knows what he's doing or not. Also, from various moves in the game, such as White's lack of aggression on the Kingside after starting what he did, showed Black that White clearly did not understand the position.
  • What each side did with their pawns along with which pieces to trade off clearly indicated that Black had a much firmer grasp of what was going on than White. White proceeded to allow the worst nightmare scenario possible, giving Black the Knight and keeping the Bishop in a fairly closed position with all of White's pawns locked down on the same color square as his Bishop, virtually turning the White Bishop into a tall pawn.
  • Also note that Black's play was nowhere near perfect, but a general understanding of basic concepts won him a fairly easy game. So the next time that you feel like you need to know every move of theory to the 30th move, consider the fact that unless you are facing a Grandmaster, that level of granular opening knowledge is unnecessary. Knowing the basics of opening concepts, understanding that transpositions are out there and that it's not a memorization test on a list of openings, knowing the basics of trading including what you should trade and what you shouldn't, and the basic concepts of pawn play and endgame play will get you a lot further than spending countless hours on rote memorization of openings.


This concludes what I will be covering from the South Carolina Championship. Coming up will be club games and coverage from the Atlanta Class Championship. Until then, good luck in your games.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Game Analysis: South Carolina Championship, Round 2

In Today's article, we are going to cover the 2nd round of the South Carolina Championship. This was the game played immediately before the game played in the endgame article published earlier this month. The game features a rare opening simply known as the Kingside Fianchetto, an opening defined based on White fianchettoing his Kingside and playing d4, but not c4. With both pawns advanced, you are in the territory of mainstream Queen pawn openings, like the Fianchetto King's Indian, Fianchetto Grunfeld, or Catalan, while advancing the c-pawn but not the d-pawn puts you in English/Reti Terrotory. Advancing the d-pawn but not the c-pawn can lead to some difficulty in White developing his pieces, particularly his Queenside pieces. The only sensible way to avoid moving the c-pawn is to fianchetto the dark-squared Bishop, as developing it classically to say, f4 or g5, playing the Knight to say, c3 (with the pawn still on c2), and then maybe advancing the Queen to d2 and the a1-Rook to d1 might get the pieces out, but White's position is severely cluttered and it becomes hard to maneuver the pieces with the lack of space. However, even after fianchettoing the dark-squared Bishop, where does everything else go? The Knight to d2? But then what about the heavy pieces which are now connected, but with nowhere to move then except across the back rank itself? For this reason, this opening can often be viewed as being very slow, and we will see a game where Black doesn't take advantage of this in the opening, allowing White to build an advantage until White errors and loses a Pawn, only to see Black counter with a blunder later on and White has a brief window of winning opportunities, but once he misses Black's trick shot, the game ends up a dead draw, so we'll have a lot cover in this game.

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


South Carolina Championship, Round 2
W: Leo Rabulan (2045)
B: Patrick McCartney (2018)
Kingside Fianchetto

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.O-O d6

Now the move 6.c4 would be a direct transposition to the Fianchetto King's Indian, but White plays a different move.



So here we have the starting position of what is probably deemed the "Main Line" of the Kingside Fianchetto, if such a "Main Line" exists. To understand the best way to respond to this opening requires understanding the main difference between the diagram position and the pawn going to c4 with the move 7.Nc3 coming. With c4 and Nc3, White has greater control over the central light squares, but here, White's passive idea of fianchettoing the dark-squared Bishop leads to a lack of control of e4 and d5, and should be the driver of how Black should follow up here.

6...c6

Against 6.c4, the move 6...c6, intending either 7...Qa5 or 7...Bf5, makes perfect sense. But here, it fails to take advantage of White playing an inferior 6th move. Black should be trying to take advantage of e4 lacking coverage for White. After 6...e5! 7.dxe5 (no other move makes sense here), there follows 7...dxe5 8.Bb2, and here, Black should answer with 8...e4!, when after the fairly forcing sequence 9.Qxd8 Rxd8 10.Ng5 Bf5 11.g4! Bxg4 12.Nxe4 Nxe4 13.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.Bxe4 Nc6, Black has a slight lead in development, but with accurate play, White can probably equalize, but no more.

7.Nbd2 Bf5 8.Bb2 Ne4 9.Nh4 Nxd2

This is the best move available to Black in this position, but it also shows the problem with the line Black played. In the normal fianchetto King's Indian with 6...c6 and 7...Bf5, Black will usually look to trade two sets of minor pieces off, alleviating the cramp. Here there is no cramp as White hasn't claimed territory, and his pieces are tripping over each other.

10.Qxd2 Be6 11.e4 d5 12.e5



And just like that, White has gone from a lack of space to a fairly significant space advantage after inferior play by Black. The next few moves don't change the assessment, and actually, White proceeds to even gain some space on the Queenside as well.

12...Qd7 13.Re1 Bh3 14.Bh1 e6 15.Ng2 Bxg2 16.Bxg2 a5 17.a4 Rc8 18.Bf1 Qd8 19.Rad1 Nd7 20.c4 Nb6



We are now at a critical point of the game. White has maintained his advantage thus far, but now needs to find the right move. What is the right move for White in this position?

21.Bc3?

White's idea is that he thinks he threatens the a5-pawn and is forcing Black to retreat the Knight. The correct move here is 21.c5! This forces the Black Knight back, and with the lack of space, it is very difficult for Black to maneuver and get all of his pieces to the Kingside. This gives White a local piece superiority on the Kingside, and so after 21.c5! Nd7 22.Qf4, White has a Kingside Attack.

21...Bf8?

Black gives White a second chance to play 22.c5. He was correct in ignoring the threat on a5, but the correct way to proceed is 21...dxc4!, eliminating White's c5 possibility. After 22.Bxc4 Nxc4 23.bxc4 b5 24.axb5 cxb5 25.cxb5 a4 26.Rb1 Rcb8, the position is equal. Note that 22.Bxa5 is no good because of 21...cxb3 23.Re3 b2 24.Rb3 Nc4 5. Bxd8 Nxd2 26.Rxd2 Rxd8 27.Rdxb2 Rxd4 28.f4 Rdxa4 29.Rxb7 g5 with a clear advantage for Black.

22.Ra1

Once again, 22.c5 was the answer. Now White's advantage is gone. Note that once again, 22.Bxa5 fails, this time to 22...Nxc4!! with a slight advantage to Black.

22...c5 23.dxc5 Bxc5 24.Red1 dxc4 25.Qf4?

White was forced to play a move like 25.Qe1. Now Black misses a winning idea.

25...Qe7?

Black missed it! 25...Nd5! and sudden Black is significantly better, if not winning.

26.bxc4 Qe8 27.h4 Nxa4 28.Be1 b6



It is now Black that can claim a slight advantage. White doesn't have enough for the missing pawn.

29.h5 Be7 30.Be2 Nc5 31.Kg2 Rd8 32.Bc3 Rxd1 33.Rxd1 Rd8 34.Rh1 g5 35.Qe3 h6 36.Rb1 Qc6+ 37.Kh2 Na4 38.Be1

White's position is virtually frozen, and we will see him toggle his Bishops while Black's position continues to improve.

38...Nc5 39.Bf3 Qc7 40.Be2 Rd7 41.Bc3 Qd8 42.Be1 Kg7 43.Bc3 a4 44.Qf3 Nb3 45.c5 Bxc5 46.Bb5



And now we reach the critical position for Black. He is up two pawns, and so any forced exchanges of equal material benefits Black. Can you find the move that puts White away?

46...Nd4?!

This move is still winning for Black, but he makes matters far more complicated. It should be noted that at this point in time, White has 12 minutes and Black has 10 minutes for the rest of the game with a 30 second increment per move, and so time is becoming a problem for both players.

The instant win comes via 46...Nd2!, attacking not 1 major piece, but rather, two major pieces, virtually forcing trades. White has nothing better than 47.Qf6+ Kg8 48.Qxd8+ (48.Bxd2 Qxf6 49.exf6 Rxd2) Rxd8 49.Bxd2 Rxd2 50.Bxa4 Rxf2+ 51.Kh3 Re2 and Black's winning.

47.Qf6+ Kh7??

This, however, is a complete blunder and the position goes from winning to dead lost just like that! Correct was 47...Kg8! when both 48.Qxd8+ Rxd8 49.Bxa4 Ne2 50.Be1 Rd5 51.Kg2 Rxe5 and 48.Bxd7 Be7 49.Qxh6 Nf5 50.Qxe6 fxe6 51.Bxe6+ Kg7 52.Bxf5 a3 are winning for Black, despite the latter one featuring an equal material count, the problem being that the a-pawn will tie down White's pieces and Black can attack White's other weaknesses while the White pieces tend to stopping the a-pawn. Both of these lines are far more complicated than if Black had played 46...Nd2 instead of 46...Nd4, but at least Black would still be winning, unlike in the game.

48.Bxd7 Qxd7 49.Bxd4

This doesn't lose the advantage yet, but 49.Rd1 is stronger and wins on the spot. Black could resign immediately as 49...Nf3+ doesn't work because once White takes the Knight with the Queen, the Rook will be protected.

49...Bxd4 50.Rd1

This is still winning for White, but there is now room for error, and an error is exactly what White makes.

50...Bxe5 51.Qf3??

Far simpler is to go into the completely winning endgame after 51.Rxd7 Bxf6 52.Rxf7+ Bg7 53.Rb7 Kg8 (53...a3 54.Ra7!) 54.Rxb6 a3 55.Ra6 Bb2 56.Ra7 and Black's position is hopeless.

After the move played, the position is actually drawn!

51...Qc7 52.Qe4+ Kg7 53.Qxa4



Thus far, since White's blunder on move 51, Black has made all the correct moves to hold the draw. Here is the trickiest one. There are many moves that leave White with only a slight advantage, but only one move completely maintains the balance. Can you find it?

53...b5!!

A deflection tactic! 54.Qb3 can be answered by 54...Qc5 where Black's pieces are active and the material is technically equal, and the position itself is dead equal. Otherwise, it's all about seeing the trick when the White Queen fails to protect the Rook.

54.Qxb5 Bxg3+!!

The Bishop is poisoned!

55.Kg2

55.fxg3?? Qc2+ 56.Kh3 Qxd1 57.Qe5+ and Black avoids perpetual check by going 57...Kg8!, winning. Note that 58.Qb8+ would be answered by 58...Kh7 and White has no legitimate checks.

55...Qc2 56.Rf1

Once again, 56.Kxg3 loses to 56...Qxd1.

56...Qe4+ 57.f3

Or 57.Kxg3 Qf4+ 58.Kh3 Qh4+ 59.Kg2 Qg4+ with a draw by perpetual check.

57...Qf4 58.Qb2+ e5 59.Qe2

Or 59.Qc1 Kf6 with an equal position.

59...Bh4 60.Rg1 Qg3+ 61.Kf1

61.Kh1? loses to 61...Qh3+ 62.Qh2 Qxf3+ 63.Qg2 Qxh5 -+

61...Qh3+ 62.Qg2

This is forced as 62.Rg2?? allows 62...Bg3! and once the Bishop relocates from h4 to f4, Black's winning. Notice that after something like 63.Kg1 Bf4, White has no way to avoid dropping the h-pawn, and the Queen has absolutely no way to harass the Black King. Find a square to safely check the Black King from? It doesn't exist!

62...Qd7

And this move forces the draw! There may be other solutions for Black as well, such as 62...Qf5, but this was the one I saw. If White play 63.Ke2??, he loses after 63...Qb5+ and White has no way to avoid a series of checks leading to the Black Queen on c3 and White King on e2. Once that is achieved, Black can advance the pawns. For example, 64.Ke3 Qc5+ 65.Ke2 Qc2+ 66.Ke3 Qc3+ 67.Ke2 f5 is one way that this could happen.

Therefore, White is forced to stop Black's immediate mate threat by moving his Queen, and regardless of whether that is to e2 or c2 or b2 or any safe square on the second rank, Black will repeat with 63...Qh3+ and then go back to d7 if White blocks with the Queen. One final note is that 63.Qh2 loses to 63...Qd1+ 64.Kg2 Qe2+ 65.Kh1 Qxf3+ and we are back to the same losing position for White that results from 61.Kh1 above.

So given the threats and forced reactions to each of them, there is no way for White to avoid the perpetual check, and that is exactly how the game ends.

63.Qe2 Qh3+ 64.Qg2 Qd7 65.Qe2 Qh3+ 1/2-1/2


Wow! That was a hand full. Three things to note from this game:
  • Understanding (NOT MEMORIZING) the opening is critical. Black failed to realize the weakness on e4, played inferior moves in the opening, and gave White what he wanted, and even allowed White to convert his space issue, which is the typical problem with the Kingside Fianchetto opening, into a space advantage!
  • White's positional mistake at moves 21 and 22 should be noted. The Queenside would be completely shut down, and Black lacks the space to get all of his pieces into the defense on the Kingside, which leads to a local piece superiority for White on the Kingside since his space advantage makes it easy for White to get all of his pieces into play over there whereas Black will have trouble untangling. In all likelihood, Black will be unable to get one of the two Rooks into action quick enough, and White's attack on the Black King is going to be extremely difficult to defend.
  • Black's tactical mistakes on moves 46 and 47 illustrate two critical concepts. First, when you see possibly a good move that attacks an opponent's piece of greater value, such as 46...Nd4 attacking the White Queen, look for a better move that attacks multiple pieces of greater value, even if the square is covered as long as you are looking to force trades. 46...Nd2 attacks the Rook as well as the Queen and forces a trade of pieces, which benefits Black in that case as he was up two pawns at that time. Black's 47th move is also critical as not all safe squares for the King are the same. White should have won after Black's placement of the King on h7 instead of g8 on move 47. Fortunate for Black, White blundered away the advantage four moves later, and Black was able to find the tricky draw after that.


This concludes the coverage of the second round of the South Carolina Championship. Next time, we will look at the fourth round. Till then, good luck in your games.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Game Analysis: Know Your Endgames!

Hello everyone. Here I'm going to be covering the first of three articles on games from the South Carolina Championship. They won't be covered in order as I felt this game from the third round perfectly illustrates how critical it is to understand and know your endgames. Usually, if I'm not in severe time trouble, I can normally execute drawn positions to a draw and won positions to a win if I have gotten the game down to an endgame. However, what we are going to see here is a game where there really isn't much to say about it prior to the endgame, but we will be seeing a number of errors made by both sides once the endgame is reached. Various endgame topics can be seen in this game alone, including things such as the King being inside versus outside the box of an opposing passed pawn, the importance of King activity and how the King can be used as an active piece in the endgame, the importance of counting moves and finding the quickest way to execute what you are trying to achieve, how to handle pawn majorities and the fact that smaller majorities are better (i.e. a 2-on-1 majority is better than a 3-on-2 majority which in turn is better than a 4-on-3 majority), and the importance of calculating to the end, unlike in middle games where multiple sources will tell you not to try to count all the way to the very end of the line as you will land in severe time trouble more often than not that way, but in an endgame, calculating to a conclusive point, where you can definitively say that the position is winning for one side or the position is drawn, can often be critical.

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


South Carolina Championship, Round 3
W: Patrick McCartney (2018)
B: Gene Nix (1855)
Italian Game

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3

One advantage to the Slow Italian as opposed to the old traditional Italian where White's pawn goes to d4 instead of d3 is that while it normally arises via 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3, it can also be reached if Black plays a Two Knights Defense because after 3...Nf6 4.d3, while Black does have other options, there really is nothing better than 4...Bc5, leading back to the traditional Italian Game and pretty much avoiding all of that Two Knights Defense theory. Just something to keep in mind if you are an e4 player.

4...Bc5 5.c3 O-O 6.O-O d6 7.b4 Bb6 8.a4 a6 9.a5 Ba7 10.Na3 h6 11.Re1 Re8 12.Ra2 Be6 13.h3 d5 14.exd5 Bxd5 15.Qb3 Bxc4 16.Qxc4 Qd5 17.Rae2 Rad8 18.Qxd5 Nxd5 19.Bd2 Nf6 20.Nc4 Rxd3 21.Nfxe5 Nxe5 22.Rxe5 Rxe5 23.Rxe5 Kf8 24.Kf1 Rd5 25.Re1 Rf5 26.Be3 Bxe3 27.Nxe3 Re5 28.Rd1 Ke7 29.Rd4 c5 30.Rc4 Kd6



So here we have our first real position of interest. Right now, the position is dead equal, but it is important to note all the features of the position, and which ones favor White and which ones favor Black as that is usually what will determine needs to be done here. You should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who has the better placed pieces?
  • Who has the better pawns?
  • Who has the better King?

Now in some ways, that can be a loaded question. For example, what makes one side's pawns better or worse? That said, let's look at the answers one by one.

First the pieces. This goes to White. His Knight is better placed than Black's and keeps the Rook from getting active. The Rook has no useful lateral or vertical move. Until he rearranges his pieces, he constantly has to look out for Nf5, forking the King and g-pawn, and Rxc5, if he retreats the Rook backwards in order to get it onto the d-file. Advancing the g-pawn for Black weakens the Knight and the pawn on f7. White, on the other hand, can easily play g4 as the Knight remains protected, it covers the f5 square that the White Knight wants to go to, and f2 is covered by his own King. White's biggest weakness is the pawns on the Queenside, which for now the Rook covers, and so White has the better placed pieces for now.

Now the pawns. This goes to Black. There is nothing special about the Kingside pawns other than the fact that Black has to keep a closer monitoring of the f-pawn and g-pawn as his King is not there to protect them, unlike White. However, White's Queenside pawns are farther advanced, and when there is no majority and no passed pawn, advanced pawns can be more of a liability in an endgame than an asset because they are easier to access and the Black King can get at the White pawns a lot easier than the White King can get at the Black pawns that are much farther back into Black's territory.

As for the Kings, that should be fairly obvious. While Black's King may not be covering his Kingside pawns, this is by no means the most important factor. The most important factor is that the King is active and centralized and is acting more like a normal piece and not hiding back behind his own pawns as the material is reduced and mate is highly unlikely at this point. It's all about getting a passed pawn and promoting it.

So now that we considered all of this, what should be White's next move?

31.Rf4?

This move is terrible. He has moved his Rook away from the c-pawn that it was guarding. It removed all pressure off the c5-pawn. It is doing nothing special on f4 as Black is under no obligation to move the Knight. And the threat of the Knight going to c4 is a cheap, one-move threat. The main reason I played this was not for the cheapo threat, but I was looking to relocate the Knight and get the Knight closer to Black's pawns, but it allows Black to be active, and with the better placed King, this favors Black. The only moves White should be considering at all are 31.g4 and 31.Ke2, and the latter is what White should have done here. He needs to get his King into the game. After 31.Ke2 cxb4 32.cxb4 Nd5 33.Rd4 (otherwise Black can force an isolated pawn in a King and pawn endgame) Kc6 34.Rxd5 Rxd5 35.Nxd5 Kxd5 36.Kd3 and despite Black being on his fourth rank, it isn't enough and the position is a dead draw with correct play.

31...Kc6 32.Nc4?

One bad move is followed by another. Relatively best was 32.g4, trying to make something out of the Kingside while Black still has trouble getting to the weak c3 pawn and a trade on b4 moves the weakness to b4 where the Rook on f4 continues to guard.

32...Re4!

Now Black is winning.

33.Rxe4 Nxe4 34.Ne5+ Kb5 35.Nxf7


Black to Move and Win


35...Nxc3?

Clearly, with the location of the King's, Knights, and pawns, this is a foot race. Black should be figuring out the fastest way to get all of White's Queenside pawns and maintain having his King and Knight in ideal spots.

The correct way to do this is via 35...cxb4!, which White is then forced to recapture with 36.cxb4, and then 36...Kxd4 and the next time that Black has time to make a free move, he will take the a5-pawn with his King. That is three moves for Black. All other ways of doing it takes four or more moves, and in some cases, the Knight ends up on c3 instead of the more idea e4. From a timing perspective, this is vital.

After 35...cxb4 36.cxb4 Kxb4 37.f4 (37.Nd8 Nc5!, stopping both Nxb7 and Ne6) 37...Kxa5 38.Ke2 b5 39.Kd3 Nc5+ 40.Kc2 b4 41.Nd6 Ka4 42.Nc4 Ne4 43.g4 a5 44.Kb2 Kb5 45.Ne3 a4 46.Nd5 Nd2 47.g5 hxg5 48.fxg5 Kc5 49.Nc7 Nc4+ 50.Kb1 b3 51.Na6+ Kd4 and Black wins. Aside from reacting to threats, like 37.Nd8, it took only three moves to scoop up the three Pawn. With the game move, it will take a minimum of four moves, and the Knight needs time to relocate to a more centralized post.

36.bxc5

The correct move, elongating Black's process to scoop up the Pawns.

36...Ne4?

Black should have taken on c5 via the King with 36...Kxc5 and a clean victory. Now, with the White pawn on c5 and a tactic, White is able to stir up trouble.

37.Nd6+!

The only move that gives White a chance, but he is reliant on one more blunder by Black. Despite being a pawn up for the moment, all other moves lose more easily as they are too slow. White must go into the King and pawn endgame and hope for one more error by Black.

37...Nxd6 38.cxd6 Kc6 39.f4

By computer standards, this is not the best move for White, but no matter what, White has to be reliant on an error by Black, and so therefore, sometimes the best computer move is the worst move over the board because it does not open the room for error. By playing 39.f4, White is hoping that Black makes what would normally look like a very natural move, but turns out is a horrible mistake.

Now Black has to find the correct move. After failing to play the best move and taking the cleanest approach to victory on move 36, one and only one more wins for Black. Can you find it?


Black to Move and Win


39...Kxd6??

This natural looking move outright loses! There is one move the wins, one move that draws, and all other moves win the game for White.

The drawing line is 39...b5, to which White should not take en passant. Instead, 40.d7 Kxd7 41.Ke2 Ke6 42.Ke3 Kd5 43.Kd3 b4 44.g4 g6 45.f5 gxf5 46.gxf5 b3 47.Kc3 Ke5 48.Kxb3 Kxf5 49.Kc4 Kf4 50.Kc5 Ke5 (Trying to go running to grab the h-pawn loses for Black as White gets his pawn to a8 long before Black gets his to h1.) 51.h4 h5 and White cannot win this as the Black King will get to f8 just in time, which is the drawing square against a Rook pawn. 52.Kb6 Kd6 53.Kxa6 Kc6 54.Ka7 Kc7 55.a6 Kc8 56.Kb6 Kb8 57.Kc6 Ka7 58.Kd6 Kxa6 59.Ke6 Kb6 60.Kf6 Kc6 61.Kg5 Kd6 62.Kxh5 Ke7 63.Kg6 Kf8 and the Black King gets there just in time to draw.

The winning move, however, is pushing the b-pawn half as far. After 39...b6!, Black wins via 40.d7 (40.axb6 Kxb6 41.Ke2 Kc6 42.Kd3 Kxd6 43.g4 Kd5 44.g5 hxg5 45.fxg5 Ke5 46.Kc4 g6 47.Kb4 Kf5 48.Ka5 Kxg5 is also winning for Black) 40...Kxd7 41.axb6 Kc6 42.b7 Kxb7 43.Ke2 Kc6 44.Kd3 Kd5 45.g4 a5 46.h4 a4 47.h5 a3 48.Kc2 Ke4 49.g5 Kxf4 50.gxh6 gxh6 51.Kb3 Kg5 52.Kxa3 Kxh5 53.Kb3 Kg4 and Black wins as the White King can't get to the drawing square, namely f1.

40.g4 Kc5

Now it's White's turn to find the win. Which pawn should White push? The f-pawn, g-pawn, or h-pawn? Be careful, only one of them actually wins!



41.f5??

This is only good enough for a draw with correct play.

The winning move is 41.g5!!. After 41...Kc6, (41...hxg5 42.fxg5 g6 43.h4 Kd6 44.Kf2 Ke6 45.Kg3 Kf7 46.Kg4 Kg7 47.h5 gxh5+ 48.Kxh5 Kh7 49.g6+ Kg7 50.Kg5 Kg8 51.Kf6 Kf8 52.g7+ Kg8 53.Kg6 b6 54.axb6 also wins for White) White wins via 42.Ke2 hxg5 43.fxg5 g6 44.h4 Kd5 45.Kf3 Ke6 46.Ke4 Kf7 47.Kf4 Ke6 48.Kf3 Kf7 49.Kg4 Kf8 50.h5 Kg7 51.h6+ Kg8 52.Kf4 Kf8 53.Ke4 Kg8 54.Kd5 Kf8 55.Ke6 Kg8 56.Kf6 Kh7 57.Kf7.

41.h4 fails for the same reason as 41.f5, simply inverting moves 41 and 43.

41...b5 42.axb6 Kxb6 43.h4



Last chance for Black. Do you advance the pawn? Or do you move the King towards the Kingside? One draws. The other loses. What's your move?

43...Kc5??

The wrong move! Black must advance the pawn in order to draw. After 43...a5!, White has nothing better than mutual promotion. After 44.g5 hxg5 45.hxg5 a4 46.f6 gxf6 47.gxf6 a3 48.f7 a2 49.f8=Q a1=Q+, it's an obvious draw. If White tries to use the trick used in the game, matters are worse. After 44.g5 hxg5, if White plays 45.f6??, then 45...gxf6 46.h5 a4 47.h6 a3 48.h7 a2 49.h8=Q a1=Q+, Black is winning with the extra two pawns. Therefore, the only other option is 44.Ke2, getting out of the check at the time of promotion. Here, Black promotes with check and one pawn rather than two via 44...a4 45.Kd2 a3 46.Kc2 Kc5 47.g5 hxg5 48.f6 gxf6 49.h5 a2 50.Kb2 a1=Q+ (This move is important in order to invoke the check when Black promotes the g-pawn.) 51.Kxa1 g4 52.h6 g3 53.h7 g2 54.h8=Q g1=Q+ and while this is not a blatant win like the case with two pawns, it is Black that has the only shot at winning.

By not advancing the pawn first, White gets to make the one necessary pawn advance to win by one move, and advancement of the passed a-pawn can be ignored as it will only get to a2.

44.g5 hxg5 45.f6!

45.hxg5?? would be a blunder as Black can then draw with 45...Kd5 and the King is inside the box. After 46.f6 gxf6 47.gxf6 and the Black King is in the box, and even if White tries to advance with 47.g6, which actually loses, the Black King is still in reach with 47...Ke6.

The move played in the game creates a passed h-pawn that is out of the reach of the Black King.

45...gxf6 46.h5! a5 47.h6 1-0

Black resigned as after 47...a4 48.h7 a3 49.h8=Q a2 50.Qxf6 and the pawn is stopped.


A lot can be learned from this endgame. Everything from how critical an active King is in an endgame, to the fact that advanced pawns that are not passed and not part of a majority can actually be viewed as a weakness, particularly if they are on the opposite side of that player's King, to the idea of sacrificing multiple pawns in order to create a passer on the outside, away from the reach of the opposing King, to the importance of piece placement when very few pieces remain. This is why studying endgames is one of the most important aspects of chess. And even when you think you know your endgames, which generally speaking, the endgame tends to be a strength of mine in most cases, you still probably haven't mastered it as you see duds like this one. Yes, White won, but it sure wasn't pretty!


That concludes this article on "Know Your Endgames". In the next couple of articles, we will be looking at two other games from the South Carolina Championships. Until then, good luck in your tournament games.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The French Connection: Volume 25

Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-fifth edition of The French Connection. The featured game of this article comes from a fast time control tournament - Game in 60 minutes with a 5 second delay - during the weekend following the long road trip that the previous 10 articles, and those of you that read all 10 will know that I have been involved in some very topsy-turvy chess of late. See in particular rounds 2 and 5 from the Des Moines Open. So if this game features more of the same wildness, why am I featuring it? Well, it makes a lot of points that are contradictory to many of the stereotypes that are given to the French Defense, and in particular, the Advance variation. I hear many French players utter that the Advance Variation is overly simplistic for Black. They don't believe that White is busted, but that their own play is very easy. I hear many non-French players, depending on their strength and maturity in chess, uttering a wide range of things, all the way from the French being a tough nut to crack to the French being boring because the center is blocked and there is no immediate blast for White to the French is one big annoying minefield with traps everywhere that must be avoided, all the way down to the French being a terrible opening that loses because of that horrible Bishop!

Well, this game is going to put the kibosh on all of that nonsense, except maybe the one point about the minefield and traps, which in some ways is actually true. We will see in the game below the advantage wildly going back and forth between White and Black, which will disprove the stereotyped "simplicity" in the Advance French, and we will see at one point which Bishop it really is that Black should be keeping, at least in some cases!

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


Master Trek CXLV, Round 2
W: Patrick McCartney (1996)
B: Craig Jones (2251)

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

Here we see Black using the move order that I advocate, playing the Queen before the Knight to avoid the 5.Be3 option for White and at no cost to Black provided his intention was to play the 5...Qb6 line all along.

6.a3 Nh6 7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2



Again, we have one of the main positions of the Advance French. Black has to make a choice here. Which Bishop to develop. For those of you playing White, here's the main thing to remember:
  • If Black plays 9...Be7, the Bishop covers h4, and advancing the g-pawn is feeble as after 10.g4?!, Black can reply with 10...Nh4, trading pieces, which typically favors the player with less space. That said, White should instead take the opportunity to develop his Light-Squared Bishop actively with 10.Bd3 because the d4-pawn is poison since after 10...Nfxd4?? 11.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 Qxd4, White has the Bishop check with the discovered attack on the Queen.
  • If Black plays 9...Bd7, he is preventing White from developing the Bishop actively on d3 because the d-pawn now really does hang because the Bishop on d7 prevents any checks to the Black King. However, it does nothing to cover h4, and it is here that White needs to play 10.g4, forcing the Knight to a passive position, either on h6 or e7. Anything other passive move, like 10.Be2, would allow Black to have the best of both worlds and play 10...Be7 with at worst, equality.

9...Bd7 10.g4!

The correct move based on the above checklist.

10...Nh6 11.Rg1 f6

This has always been considered the main response for Black. That said, a more modern idea that I would be more inclined to play if I'm Black is 11...Rc8 12.Nc3 Na5 13.Na4 Qc6 14.Nc5 Nc4 15.Bc1 Ng8 16.Bd3 Bxc5 where now Moskalenko in his book "The Even More Flexible French" only mentions 17.dxc5 b6 and claims that Black has the advantage, which in this case is accurate, but White can maintain the advantage by taking the other way with 17.bxc5 instead. The position is by no means winning for White and Black's position is still manageable, but White is still able to maintain that small edge that he gets for going first.



12.g5?

In certain situations, this move can be useful when Black tries to undermine with ...f6, the idea being to deflect the f-pawn away from White's center and keeping the intact permanently since the g-pawn also attacks the Knight, forcing Black to capture away from the center. That said, in this particular situation, it doesn't work because White ends up too far behind in development and Black gets a raging attack at the d-pawn and down the f-file. Instead, White should play 12.exf6 gxf6 13.Nc3 Nf7 14.Na4 Qc7 (14...Qd8 is worse - 15.Nc5 b6 16.Nxd7 Qxd7 17.Rc1 Ncd8 18.h4 Bd6 19.Rc3 with a clear advantage for White) 15.Rc1 Qf4 16.Nc5 Bxc5 17.dxc5 Nce5 18.Nxe5 Nxe5 19.Rg3 with advantage to White.

12...fxg5 13.Nxg5 Nf5 14.Nf3 Be7 15.Nc3

White's last move is desperation more than anything, but it doesn't come without its tricks.

15...O-O

This move is ok, and Black still maintains a clear advantage, but even stronger is to take the d-pawn, but you have to capture correctly both times. For example, 15...Nfxd4? is pretty much losing on the spot after 16.Na4 and White has a clear advantage after 16...Nxf3+ 17.Qxf3 Qc7 18.Rxg7. Note that neither 17...Nxe5 18.Qh5+ nor 17...Nd4 18.Qh5+ g6 19.Rxg6 Nc2+ 20.Kd1 Bxa4 21.Rxe6+ Kd8 22.Rxb6 Nxa1+ 23.Ke2 axb6 24.e6! work for Black at all. In the latter case, just about everything of Black's is hanging, including the Rook on h8, Knight on a1, and Pawn on d5.

That said, 15...Ncxd4! works for Black, and after 16.Nxd4, once again Black must execute the correct capture, which is 16...Qxd4!, and after 17.Qxd4 Nxd4 18.O-O-O Nf5, Black is basically up a Pawn for nothing and winning. That said, once again, taking with the f5-Knight is losing. After 16...Nxd4??, White has a winning advantage with 17.Nxd5! as Black again has too many pieces hanging. For example, 17...Nf3+ 18.Qxf3 exd5 19.Rxg7 and White's winning.

16.Na4 Qd8 17.Nc5



Now the moment of truth. Black to move. How does he keep his winning advantage?

17...b6?

Black goes from winning to dead equal with a single move. The d7-Bishop is often stereotyped as a bad Bishop, and many players are often glad to see it go. If Black can get the White Light-Squared Bishop for this Bishop, that is often good for Black, but here, he should not give up this Bishop for the White Knight. White gets an uncontested Light-Squared Bishop, the ability to add unnecessary pressure to e6, and let's think about the opposite scenario that is often seen in the French. White has a bad Bishop as well. It's the Dark-Squared Bishop on b2. In the French, Black often has to watch out for trades of the White Light-Squared Bishop for his Knight, often times the Bishop going to d3 and then capturing a Knight on f5, leaving Black with his bad Bishop being uncontested and instead White has a Knight that he will park on a dark square like d4, and the Black Bishop sits there like a tall pawn, often on e6, for the rest of the game.

Black here should have executed the same mentality, and played 17...Bxc5!, which leaves White with the horrible Bishop, and the Bishop was more in the way of Black's Queen from coming into action than anything else, and so trading off the Dark-Squared Bishop for the annoying White Knight was the correct approach. After 18.dxc5 (taking the other way hems in the Bishop even more) Nh4, Black's heavy pieces come in. If 19.Nd2, Black can respond with 19...Rf4 while a trade of Knights, whether on h4 or f3, allows the Queen to come in via h4 and Black maintains a winning attack.

18.Nxd7! Qxd7 19.Rc1 Nh4

Now a simple move like 20.Rg3 is equal. Instead, White plays an unsound sacrifice.

20.Rxg7+? Kxg7 21.Nxh4



What should Black play to achieve a winning advantage?

21...Rf4??

Once again, relinquishing his advantage completely! Correct was 21...Bxh4! Once again, getting his Bishop out of his own way, and leaving White with that rotten piece on b2. The Knight, however, needs to go. After 22.Qg4+ Kh8 23.Qxh4 Ne7 24.Bd3 Rf7 25.Bc3 Nf5 26.Bxf5 Rxf5, White has no compensation for the sacrificed material, and the Rook is far better than the Bishop and Pawn.

22.Ng2 Re4+ 23.Be2 Bg5 24.Rc2 Rf8 25.Qd3 Kh8 26.f3



Now it is a question of survival for Black. Black has to give back the exchange, but how should he do it? One move maintains equality and the rest are losing. What do you play?

26...Rh4?

The Knight is not Black's biggest problem. It's the Light-Squared Bishop! Black should take the Bishop on e2. After 26...Rxe2+ 27.Kxe2 a5 28.b5 Ne7 29.Bc1 Bxc1 30.Rxc1 Nf5 31.Rc6 Qg7 32.Ne3 Nxe3 33.Qxe3 Qg2+ 34.Qf2 Qh1 35.Qf1 Qxh2+ 36.Qf2 Qh1 37.Rxe6 Qc1 38.Rf6 Rg8 39.Rxb6 Qxa3 40.Re6 Qb3 41.Rd6 Qc2+ 42.Ke3 Qc1+ 43.Kd3 Qd1+ 44.Ke3, the position is equal.

27.Nxh4 Bxh4+ 28.Kd1 Ne7 29.Kc1 Nf5 30.Kb1 Bg5



Now it's White's turn to find the winning idea. Do you see it?

31.Bc1?

Remember Black's mistake on move 17, figuring it's such a great thing to get rid of the Bad Bishop? Well, White proceeds to make the same mistake here, looking to trade off his bad piece. That said, the Bishop was playing a vital role, especially after seeing White's idea, it holds together White's position by covering a3 and d4. White can, if he wants, continue the King walk with 31.Ka2 Bf4, but whether he decides to do this first or not doesn't alter the ultimate move that White needs to make, and that is b5! After 31.b5! (or 31.Ka2 Bf4 32.b5!), the idea is to bring the Rook in via c6, which after a move like 31...Qe7 or 31...Qg7, White would play 32.Rc6 with a strong position. The only way to avoid it is by trading Rooks, which may be Black's best line of defense as after 31...Rc8 32.Rxc8+ Qxc8 33.Bf1 Nh4 34.Bh3 Kg7 35.Qd1 Ng6 36.Qg1 Bf4 37.Qg4 Kf7 38.a4, White's position is clearly better, but it's not over.

31...Bxc1 32.Rxc1 Rg8?

Black should move his Queen to d8 or e7. The move played abandons the coverage of the Knight, and with correct play by White, Black will have to go back to f8.

33.Rc2

Both sides are in time trouble, though Black far worse than White, but the poor play shows. White should play 33.Bf1, keeping the Rook from coming in on g2, and preparing Bh3, attacking the Knight on f5, which will need the extra coverage and the Rook will have to go back to f8.

At this point, White has 12 minutes for the rest of the game. Black has 2 minutes.

33...Qe7 34.Qc3 Qh4 35.Bd3?

35.Rd2 would maintain status quo.

35...Nxd4 36.Rb2 a5?

The position is back to being dead equal. The only move that wins for Black is taking on f3, intending on going to e1, immediately. After 36...Nxf3 37.Qc7 Ne1 38.Be2 Qe4+ 39.Ka2 Nd3 40.Bxd3 Qxd3, Black is in the driver's seat being a Pawn up with no compensation.

37.bxa5 bxa5 38.Qxa5 Nxf3 39.Qc7 Ne1 40.Rb4 Qxh2 41.Qe7 Qf2??

At this point, Black had seconds on the clock to White's two minutes, and blunders a mate in one. Of course, White threatened 42.Qf6+ with mate in 4, and the only move that stops mate is 41...Qh6 when after 42.Be2 Qg6+ 43.Kh2, numerous moves now draw for Black.

42.Qxh7# 1-0


A roller-coaster ride of a game, but a couple of vital facts can be learned from this game. The first is that the Advance Variation is not a simplistic line for Black to defend. But more importantly, we saw multiple instances of playing being excited to trade off their Bad Bishop, but in both cases, Black on move 17, White on move 31, they were serious mistakes. A Bad Bishop can play a vital role in the position, especially from a defensive perspective. You do not ever want to enter an endgame with just the Bad Bishop, such as the dreaded "Good Knight versus Bad Bishop" endgame, but with heavy pieces still on the board, they can often be relieved from defensive duties if that "Bad Bishop" of yours is holding the pawn structure together. When White traded off that Bishop on c1, sure he got rid of what looked like his worst piece, but we saw how White's position started to collapse when the Knight took the Pawn on d4, and it was a pair of follow-up time trouble blunders by Black on moves 36 and 41 that won the game for White.

Watch out before you give away that Bad Bishop, and that goes for both Black (the Light-Squared Bishop) and White (the Dark-Squared Bishop).


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

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The French Connection: Volume 24

Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-fourth edition of The French Connection. Here we will be covering the final round of the 2019 Summer Road Trip which was also the final round of the Bottom Half Class Championship in Lansing, MI. Like the third round, we will be seeing another Advance Variation of the French, but unlike that one, White's play is extremely poor, and the line played is very similar to the second game played in The French Connection: Volume 9 published back in June 2018. Black plays slightly differently here than in that game, going for the b-pawn instead of the e-pawn. White had one chance at compensation in this case and to maintain balance, but after missing that opportunity, White is virtually lost for the entire game, and here we will see Black just dominate the position, and constantly giving White the option to either trade down to a lost ending, or else try to avoid trades, but it eventually leads to the further loss of material and then lastly followed by a blunder for mate in a dead lost position. Another thing that should be said about this game is that despite my two losses to start the tournament, I'm looking at prize money with a win here. A draw would have been insufficient, and so I had to maintain a must-win attitude while playing this game.

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


Bottom Half Class Championship, Round 5
W: Mikhail Korenman (1975)
B: Patrick McCartney (1996)

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

Those that have read my previous articles will know that I favor this move order if your intention is to play the 5...Qb6 line anyway as it avoids the sideline 5.Be3, which can be played after 4...Nc6. Here, White has nothing better than 5.Nf3, after which Black should play 5...Nc6. We saw in the previous edition of The French Connection that the line with 5...Bd7 and 6...Bb5 isn't very good for Black these days.

5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Ne2?

Just like we saw in Volume 9 of The French Connection, this is a very bad version of the Milner-Barry Gambit because the Knight does nothing on e2 to cover e5, and advancing f4 too early leads to problems on the g1-a7 diagonal and potential tactical shots on either d4 or e5 due to the pin.

6...cxd4

This move is not bad, but as we will see here, White gets one opportunity to equalize, and so while this move is ok, 6...Bd7, as shown in The French Connection: Volume 9, is even stronger. Details behind this idea are covered there.

7.cxd4 Bd7 8.Be3 Qxb2



So now we see the difference between trading first and not trading first. By doing 6...Bd7 first, 7.Be3 is just bad because of the capture on b2, and White cannot put his Knight on c3. As we will see below, that was White's opportunity on his next move. Therefore, when he castled in The French Connection: Volume 9, Black was able to capture twice on d4 and White couldn't cover d4, making e5 extremely weak given that there was no Knight on f3. Here, instead, Black will still get a pawn, but it's the b-pawn, and generally speaking, grabbing the b-pawn is stronger for Black when c3 is unavailable for the Knight. Here, that square is open due to the early trade on d4.

8...Qxb2 9.Nd2?

In The French Connection: Volume 9, this move was bad because Black had the opportunity to exchange off a pair of Knights where no recapture was attractive for White and his remaining pieces were disco-ordinated, which isn't good when you gambit a Pawn. Here, it's the right move as yes, Black can still trade a set of minor pieces with 9...Nb4 10.O-O Nxd3 11.Qxd3, but White has a well-coordinated group and major lead in development in return for the pawn investment. After 11...Qa3 12.Rfb1 Qa6, the position is balanced. White still has no advantage, but neither does Black here. This is why playing 6...Bd7, as displayed in Volume 9, is stronger than trading on d4 immediately when the Knight goes to e2. Remember, when White plays correct and goes to f3, then it is necessary to trade first on d4 as playing 6...Bd7 there allows 7.dxc5!, which is strong because the f3-Knight covers e5, something it doesn't do from e2.

So in summary, when White plays the Bishop to d3, whether the main line Milner-Barry Gambit or some weak sideline like this one, it all depends on the White King's Knight. If he goes to f3, you need to trade on d4 first before putting the Bishop on d7. If he goes to e2, play the Bishop move first before exchanging Pawns.

After the game move, White is already lost! He has zero compensation for the lost Pawn. Black's next move gains yet another tempo as the Bishop on d3 is now loose due to the Knight blocking the Queen's guarding of the Bishop with its last move, and with White not castled, he won't even have an in-between move to attack the Queen as taking the Bishop will be with check. So with all of that said, Black's next move should be obvious.

9...Qa3?

This move doesn't lose all of the advantage, but a good chunk of it. Very strong is 9...Nb4! and now what? Artificial Intelligence gives 10.Nb3 as best, but after 10...Rc8 11.O-O Nxd3 12.Qxd3 Qc2!, Black just has a dead won Queenless middlegame.

10.Bc2?

Another terrible move by White. 10.Nb3 =/+ was the least evil.

10...Nb4! 11.O-O Nxc2 12.Qxc2 Rc8 13.Qb1 Qa6 14.Ng3



Here, there are two good moves for Black. When you have an advantage like this, active play is critical to maintain the advantage, but active play doesn't always mean a King hunt.

14...h5!

The other strong move is the restrictive 14...Ba3, stopping White from contesting the c-file. The idea with the game move is to force White to either weaken his Kingside with h4, or else threaten to play h4 himself and force the g3-Knight to return back to a passive position. When you have a dominating position, the first thing to do is harass and shoo away the active pieces, not try for pipe dream scenarios of trapping the passive ones, such as the Rook on a1. Sometimes you can't force them to go away, but then other weaknesses are created as a result of preventing the initial goal.

15.Rc1 Ne7 16.h4

And here you go, White has weakened his Kingside. Now you might try to argue that Black has as well with his advancement of the h-pawn on move 14, but Black has not castled, unlike White, and Black can also play ...g6 at any point in time. For White to play g3, he must move the Knight, but to where? White's problems are not resolved!

16...Nc6 17.f4 g6

Taking the time out to prevent any counterplay by White. Pushing the f-pawn to f5 is a common Pawn break in this position, and so Black stops it. There is no problem with the slight weakening of the dark squares on Black's kingside for two reasons. One, he still has his dark-squared Bishop, and Two, none of White's pieces are positioned to take advantage of the Kingside dark squares.

18.Nf3

Ok, so the Knight can get in to g5, but then what? There is no fire power on e6, f7, or any other square that a Knight on g5 can attack, and nobody else from the White army will be able to join him if he does step in on g5. Therefore, any effectiveness with this move is purely defensive in nature, covering squares around his own King.

18...b6

Meanwhile, Black continues operations on the Queenside.

19.Bd2 Be7

Played to give Black the opportunity to castle if he ever needs to, and also to tie down the f3-Knight as moving it to anywhere other than g5 would result in the h4-pawn hanging. Also, with the Black pawn on h5, the weakness is fixed and it can't move.

20.Bc3

White is showing that he has no real productive moves and is tied down. This gives Black the extra time to get the rest of his pieces into the game.

20...Na5

Now White has two choices, neither of which are appealing for White. Give up the other Bishop for the Knight and give Black the completely uncontested Bishop pair, or allow the Knight to slip into his outpost on c4.

21.Bxa5

White chooses the former. Both options are winning for Black, so it really didn't matter which way White went.

21...Rxc1+ 22.Qxc1 Qxa5

Black does not need to worry about the Queen trying to infiltrate on c7. After 23.Qc7, Black has 23...Bd8, amongst many good moves. 23...Qa3 is another. Like a White Knight on g5, the Queen can choose to camp out on c7 or b7, but with nothing to join it and Black's powerful Bishops, do we really care? Hint, you shouldn't!

23.Ng5



White may be only a Pawn down, but just to give you an idea how bad White's position really is with his weaknesses on d4, f4, and h4, Black could even castle here, despite the appearance that White can skewer the Bishops. Actually, castling might even be Black's best move here, not that the game move is bad in any way or alters the result at all, but just look at Black's counter play if White does try to skewer the Bishops. After 23...O-O! 24.Qc7 Bxg5!. With the f-pawn and h-pawn hanging, playing 25.Qxd7 simply drops another pawn, and after 25.hxg5, Black has the powerful move 25...Qd2! with threats of forking the Rook and King such that he can ignore the threat on the Bishop. The airyness of White's position is really felt here, whereas Black's King is perfectly safe and he maintains the material advantage.

23...Qa3

So Black's idea in the game is the Bishops are going to become active, and he is going to constantly harass White into trading into a dead lost endgame, and in the process of doing that, overwork the White Queen, along with the other pieces, and make it so that eventually, avoiding the Queen trade is going to cost White more material.

24.Qe1 Qb2

Hitting d4.

25.Nf3 Bb4

Attacking the Queen and activating the Bishop with tempo.

26.Qd1 Qa3

Preparing to bring the other Bishop in with tempo on the White Queen.

27.Qe2 a6

The other advantage behind Black's 26th move is that it allows this advance, taking control over b5 as well and threatening once again to activate the Bishop with tempo.

28.Kh2 Bb5

In comes the second Bishop with tempo on the Queen.

29.Qc2 Bc4

Shutting down the c-file before White can infiltrate. We have now gone from a passive pair of Bishops on d7 and e7 to a dominating pair of Bishops on b4 and c4. The one on c4 is anchored there and guarded by the d5-pawn, and so there is no worry of White being able to skewer the Bishops if they ever ended up both being on the c-file, and so Black can safely offer Queen trades on squares like c3 without getting his Bishops skewered to one another after say, a Queen trade on c3 followed by Rc1.

30.Ng5 Qc3

Once again, that annoying Queen trade offer, but now, with the Knight having moved to g5, White must continue to cover d4 or else trade the Queens.

31.Qa4+ Bb5

Uh uh White! Not so fast. You aren't coming in!

32.Qd1 Qd2!

And this puts a bow on it. White must either trade Queens or else drop another pawn as now both the d-pawn and f-pawn are threatened, and White can't cover both without trading the Queens off.

33.Qg1

White decides to keep the Queens on, but what for? Not like it's going to infiltrate into Black's camp anytime soon.

33...Qxf4 34.Nf3

There is no way to harass the Black Queen, despite the appearance that she is short of options of squares to go to. The g3-Knight is pinned, but even if it could move, it opens up f5 for the Queen, and if push came to shove, he can always retreat to h6 and regroup, but it never gets that far. In fact, White gets mated very quickly here after a blunder.

34...Be7 35.Rc1

Black could take the h-pawn here as a subsequent check allows Black to retreat the Bishop to d8, but why bother with that? Get the King safe and eventually get the final piece into the game.

35...O-O

There is no rule as to how early or how late you can castle. I've observed scenarios before where two players are analyzing a game, whether their own or a GM game, and in a scenario where castling is still legal in the 20s or beyond, I've see reactions like "Oh yeah, you still have that move, don't you?" or similar type comments, and so don't forget late in games about this move if it's still available to you (or your opponent when calculating you own attacks).

36.Ng5??

This just drops a piece because of the mate threat on the h-file. White ignores the threat and gets mated in two moves.

36...Bxg5 37.hxg5 Qh4# 0-1


So we saw a demolition of the White position this game. Here's what should be picked up from this article:
  • In these Milner-Barry Gambit positions, it is critical to understand the difference between the real gambit with the White Knight on f3, and this fake garbage seen here and in The French Connection: Volume 9, which explains the differences and understanding when to play the Bishop move first (...Bd7) and when to trade Pawns first on c5. It all has to do with whether dxc5 is good for White or not. If it's not good, there is no reason to trade on d4 until you are ready to execute because there is no threat of dxc5. If it is good for White, like it is when the Knight is on f3 instead of e2, then Black should trade on d4 first. The reason to hold off trading until you have to is not to give White the c3-square for his Knight on b1.
  • Grabbing the Pawn on b2 in the French tends to work best when the Knight has yet to develop and cannot develop itself to c3, or sometimes if it's hanging and the White Knight has already developed itself to the more passive d2-square. In this game, the Pawn was not poisoned, but White could have achieved an equal position if he had put his Knight on c3 instead of d2. Black should instead have played the 6...Bd7 line as mentioned in the first bullet, grab the Pawn on d4, and go for the weak e5-pawn instead of the b2-pawn, but once White put the Knight on d2 instead of c3, it was already lights out for White.
  • When your position is so dominating that not only are you winning, but your opponent has little to no counter play, and no direct counter-threats, don't be in a rush to go for the King. Continue to put pressure on the weaknesses in the opponent's position (in this case, d4, f4, and h4), and harass whatever few active pieces your opponent has, such as the h5-push on move 14, going after the White Knight before it can do anything.
  • Weaknesses in the position are only weak if they can be taken advantage of by the opponent. Black was able to infiltrate on White and attack the weak Pawns on d4, f4, and h4, and eventually the f4-pawn fell. White, on the other hand, was unable to take advantage of Black's weak dark squares on the Kingside, and hence why Black had no problems plugging up the light squares and not allowing moves like f5 by White.
  • If your position is dominating, and your opponent is paralyzed, make your top priority be giving your opponent zero counter play, and only when that is achieved, barge in and blow away the opposing King.

Well, that concludes this edition of The French Connection and it also concludes coverage of the 2019 Summer Road Trip. Until next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White!