Friday, March 15, 2019

Evaluating Pawn Weaknesses

We all know what the books say. A clean pawn structure with fewer pawn islands is better than extra pawn islands, ragged pawns, doubled pawns, isolated pawns, and backward pawns, but is that always true? We will be looking at a game today that features various types of pawn weaknesses, specifically in a situation where the queens were traded off early, and so going "pawn hunting" won't be an option. In each of these cases, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
  • How easy is it for the opponent to get at the weakness, either by direct attack, or indirectly by taking advantage of the Opponent's immobility due to his having to cover the weakness?
  • Is the weakness compensated by something else, such as piece activity? For example, in the Scotch Game, after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6, Black has doubled pawns, but he gets an open b-file for his heavy pieces.
  • Is the weakness easily repairable, or permanent?

In the game we will be looking at, we will see how evaluation of the weaknesses is more important than just blindly assuming that pawn structure appearance says it all. I won't be going through the opening phase as this article is not on opening theory, but I'll include the opening moves for those that are interested, which is a fairly unusual way to reach the Queen's Gambit Declined, Exchange Variation.

With all of that said, let's take a look at the position.


Taco 90, Rd 1
W: Alexandre Blangy (1887)
B: Patrick McCartney (2070)
Raleigh, NC, January 19, 2019

After the moves 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Bf5 7.Qb3 Qb6 8.Qxb6 axb6 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.e3 Nd7 11.Nh4 Bg6, we have the following position:



So if somebody told you that you had to sit down to this position with White to move, but you could choose which side you want, which side would you take? Do you take White with the two pawn islands and no doubled or isolated pawns? Or do you take Black with three pawn islands, two sets of doubled pawns, one of those sets doubled and isolated along with an isolated h-pawn, but an open a-file for the rook, and open g-file potentially for the other rook, and the bishop pair?

Believe it or not, this position is equal, and would remain equal if White played a move like 12.Kd2, intending 13.Bd3, contesting the Black Bishop. White probably wouldn't trade it off, and would wait for Black to do so, but it removes Black's control over the diagonal.

Instead, White makes a mistake here.

12.Nxg6?

White is probably saying to himself "sure, I have reduced Black's pawn islands from 3 to 2 and the f-pawns and h-pawn are no longer isolated, but Black still has doubled b-pawns, and his bishop pair is knocked out, and so I must be better", when in reality, White will actually be worse in this position. Why you say? Let's first see how Black recaptures.

12...hxg6

What? I must be smoking something very strong here. Why did Black not take back with the f-pawn? All that leaves him with is the doubled b-pawn! The answer is actually fairly simple. While taking with the f-pawn is ok, Black had something very specific in mind when he took with the h-pawn. Yes, he has two sets of doubled pawns. However, the front f-pawn is going to advance itself to f5 in the very near future. Both sides have opposite colored Bishops. By placing his pawns on f5, g6, and f7 rather than f6, g6, and h7 (or f5, g6, and h7), Black keeps control of key light squares, particularly e6 in this case, and he gives both his rooks on open avenue to go along with the semi-open e-file, while White has just the semi-open c-file that he will be able to do nothing with. Why? Because Black always has the option, while not obligatory (and in the game we don't see it happen), Black can always answer b4 with ...b5, not allowing the minority attack and tying White's pawn down to b4, a dark square, which can't be covered by White's bishop but can be attacked by Black's. So from a piece activity perspective, Black has the advantage. As for the pawns, White has to worry about the a-pawn and h-pawn, and advancing them will weaken other squares. Also, it's going to be very difficult for White to advance in the center with ...f5 coming. In addition, with the queens off the board, how exactly is White going to get at Black's weaknesses? What are Black's weaknesses? b6 and f7? Good luck getting to them. White's pawn structure may look prettier, but it's Black with the clear cut plan and the piece activity.

13.Bd3 f5 14.Kd2 Nf6 15.f3



I don't like this move at all for White. He weakens the e-pawn with no real ready plan to advance e4 as there are many ways for Black to stop it. Now let's look at the weaknesses again. Black has a weakness on f7, which is hard to get to. He has potential weaknesses on b7 and b6. The b7-pawn is hard to get to, and the b6-pawn can always advance to b5. White, on the other hand, now has a glaring weakness on e3, and unlike the weak Black pawns, this one is by no means difficult to get at. It is glaring in the wide open on the semi-open e-file. At initial glance, White's pawns look better because they are not doubled, but the immobility and glaring weakness on e3 actually makes White's position significantly worse. That said, it's really hard to recommend a move for White, and his best move might very well be 15.h3, releasing the h1-Rook for more useful duties, and to control g4 before Black is able to use it for the Knight to attack e3.

15...Bg7

It might be better for Black to play 15...Bh6, putting pressure on e3 and pinning it for now to the King. The idea behind 15...Bg7 is that it stops 16.e4 in the sense that it drops a pawn after 16...dxe4 17.fxe4 fxe4 17.Nxe4 Nxe4 18.Bxe4 Bxd4, but with the reduced material and the extra pawn a doubled pawn in a more open position, and the opposite colored Bishops, such a trade down makes the extra pawn less valuable and White should, with proper defense, be able to draw the position.

16.b4 Kd7 17.a4 Nh5?

This move is a mistake because it gives White the opportunity to expose Black's weakness and also releases some pressure off of the e4-square. Better is 17...Bh6 with the same idea of 18...f4. If 18.f4, then after 18...Bf8 19.Rab1 Bd6, White has a permanent hole on e4 and a permanent weakness on e3, and with the b1-rook tied down covering b4, the knight stuck covering a4, and the bishop unable to cover e3 at all, Black is ready to bring the h8-rook to the e-file and lift it to e7 before releasing White's pieces from the duties of covering weak pawns while Black builds up on e3. The game would then have literally two possible results, and a White win is not one of them!

18.b5?

White missed the opportunity to level the position with 18.g4! fxg4 19.fxg4 Nf6 20.Raf1 with pressure now on the far more exposed f7 weakness, giving Black a lot more to worry about. Again, what matters more than the existence of weaknesses is the exposure of them. Can you actually get to them? White had that opportunity and missed it.

18...f4

Now Black got what he wanted!

19.Ne2



19...fxe3+!

So we have to look at the situation and figure out why this is the right move. First of all, White is threatening the f-pawn, and it would be utter nonsense to play 19...g5 as that would open up the light squares for the White bishop, starting with a check on f5. However, the other thing to look at is that we have the opportunity to execute what I like to call a "Transition of Weaknesses". The e3-pawn has been White's main weakness since advancing the f-pawn to f3. Now, however, it's time to change that. Instead of just continuing to pound on e3, we see the BlackbBishop in line with the White rook on a1, the only thing separating it being the d-pawn. White has advanced b5, which means we can advance ...c5, putting pressure on d4, and winning an exchange if White takes on c5. It does leave the b6 and b7 pawns behind, but they were never going to be used as part of the attack, and doubled pawns are actually very strong at stopping the opposing side's pawns from advancing, and so the doubled b-pawns are doing their job. The other thing to recognize is that now we have determined d4 to be a weakness for White, trading on e3 removes the guard to d4. While the king may guard it for now, it is easier to push a king away from the defense of another piece, often via a check, than it is to get a pawn to move away. Therefore, the correct idea here is to trade on e3, eliminating any threats to the f4-pawn and weakening the d4-pawn. Also note that with the White knight now on e2, and a king about to capture on e3, White is nowhere near ready to contest the Black rooks from coming down the e-file.

20.Kxe3 c5

As mentioned prior, taking advantage of the pin.

21.Bc2 Rhe8+ 22.Kd3 c4+ 23.Kd2



So now let's look at the situation again. Black's weaknesses, namely the b6- and b7-pawns, are hard to get to. The f-pawn isn't much of a weakness any more as it can advance to f5 if need be, and unlike the opportunity White had on move 18, here the White f-pawn still remains on f3 and so there is no real exposure to the f7-pawn, and so while Black can advance it, why bother until you have to? White, on the other hand, is littered with weaknesses. There are three in particular that are glaring, and all of them are highly exposed. Those are the a4-pawn, the d4-pawn, and the e3-square. Not to mention, Black also has a protected passed pawn on c4 that White must deal with, and virtually all of White's pieces are extremely passive whereas Black's are all active, though granted, the a8-Rook is a bit less active than the rest of Black's pieces, but with that said, we will see that all of Black's pieces will be even more active very quickly, and so Black is completely in the driver's seat, and probably from here on out, it would never be too early to say that White could safely resign.

23...Bh6+ 24.Kd1 Re7 25.g3 Rae8

So while White moved his king backwards and made a pawn move, all of Black's pieces have become extremely active. What you are about to see is a domino effect, with one threat leading to another and constantly making White react to everything and never be able to fight back Black's onslaught.

26.Re1 Be3

With threats to the Knight and Rook via ...Bf2, hence White's next move.

27.Nc3 Bxd4

But now the consequence of White having to move the Knight is losing the d-pawn and getting put in yet another pin.

28.Rxe7+

And now, with the White rooks not connected, White is forced to initiate the rook trade, giving away his only slightly active piece. Note that trying to connect the rooks with 28.Kd2?? would fail to a deflection tactic, 28...Bxc3+, deflecting the king away, and after 29.Kxc3, Black wins a rook with 29...Rxe1.

28...Rxe7 29.Kd2 Kd6 30.Rf1 Bxc3+

Now that White released the pin, Black eliminates the Knight while up a pawn, specifically avoiding all possibilities of an opposite colored bishop ending.

31.Kxc3 Kc5 32.Kd2 d4

The connected passers spell death for White.

33.g4 c3+! 34.Kd1

34.Kd3 allows mate in one with either piece. I was going to do it with the knight if he went that way. Either way, it's game over, and Black uses a technique to eliminate all of the pieces and gets down to a dead won pawn ending. Why be cute when the game can be won with total simplicity, and once you see a winning method, don't try to get cute and look for a faster one.

34...Nf4 35.Be4 d3 36.Re1 Ng2 37.Rg1 Ne3+ 38.Ke1 Kd4

The idea behind Black's last move is to threaten to eliminate all pieces from the board, which White allows. The fact that White is still playing on has gotten to the point of ridiculous.

39.g5 d2+

Now the trade down can't be avoided. Sure, Black can also win with follow-up moves like 40...Nc4 or 40...Rxe4, but why complicate matters when you've already figured out the win?

40.Ke2 d1(Q)+ 41.Rxd1 Nxd1 42.Kxd1 Rxe4 43.fxe4 Kxe4 44.Kc2 Kd4 45.h4 Kc4 0-1

White has nothing. He can advance the pawns, dropping them, but he can't create a passer, and there is no stalemate, and so White resigned.


Remember, don't just assume that all weak pawns are equally weak. In fact, sometimes a pawn structure that is often viewed as weak, such as doubled pawns or an isolated pawn, can be very strong, especially if they cover key squares and can't be attacked easily. Also, doubled pawns usually means the opening of a file, which can be useful for your rooks. That's what happened here in the game we looked at. Black had what appeared to be ugly pawns, but it allowed for harmonious piece activity. White's pawns looked great, but there was nothing he could ever do with them, and the moment he tries to start advancing them, such as when he played 15.f3, trying to break through with e4, all he would up doing was weaken his own pawns and give Black exposed targets to hit on, unlike the targets in Black's camp that were unexposed and very difficult to get to.

Till next time, good luck in your games.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The French Connection: Volume 18

What Matters Most?

Hello and welcome to the eighteenth edition of The French Connection. It has been a while since covering the Winawer Variation, last seen in Volume 1. The one thing that can be said about the Winawer that is vastly different from most other lines is that the concept of "General Principles" almost never applies here. We will be looking at a game played in January where moves that don't appear to make a whole lot of sense turn out to be the best moves. This is where the concept of asking yourself the question "What matters most?" comes into play. We will be asking ourselves this question many times throughout the game.

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


Tuesday Night Action 49, Round 1
W: Walter Smiley (1954)
B: Patrick McCartney (2070)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Qa5

This is known as the Portisch-Hook Variation, named after two advocates, Lajos Portisch (1937-) and Bill Hook (1925-2010). The idea behind the line is simple. Black has given up his dark-squared Bishop for a White Knight. White would like to be able to make use of his Bishop pair. Against the more common 6...Ne7, while 7.Qg4 is the main line, many positional players have preferred the line 7.a4, which opens up the a3-square for the unopposed dark-squared Bishop so that White can get it to be in front of his pawns, which reside mostly on dark squares, rather than behind them.

With the move 6...Qa5, Black takes advantage of the fact that the c3-pawn is hanging and must be defended, and will follow that up with 7...Qa4, blocking the a-pawn and now allowing White to advance it. Then, depending on how White reacts, the main idea is to bottle up the Queenside and then castle in that direction. For example, the main line runs 7.Bd2 Qa4 8.Qb1 c4 9.Ne2 Nc6 10.Nf4 Bd7 11.g3 O-O-O with play for both sides.

7.Bd2 Qa4 8.Qg4

White tries to take another approach, attacking the g7-pawn before Black is ready to fight. Black has to make the decision of whether to weaken the dark squares with 8...g6, or surrender castling rights by moving the King.

8...Kf8

This was Bill Hook's preference, and mine as well!

9.Qd1 Ne7

This is a direct transposition to a line of the 7...Kf8 Variation of the main line Winawer, which is reached via 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Kf8 8.Qd1 Qa5 9.Bd2 Qa4. The alternatives are 9...b6, intending ...Ba6 to trade the Bishops, and 9...Nc6.

10.Nf3 b6 11.dxc5

This move is not particularly good. Better is 11.Bd3 Ba6 12.dxc5 bxc5 13.O-O Nd7 14.Rb1 h6 with play for both sides.

11...bxc5 12.Qb1



This brings us to the main question for the first time. What matters most? For Black, it should be easy to answer. His main trump is his pawn structure. If this were an endgame, Black would be better. However, it is not, and Black has many problems to solve. He lacks development as all three of his Queenside pieces are still on their original square. His Rook on h8 is blocked and so he should be aiming to get that piece out. Also, White has the Bishop pair, which seeks an open position. So should Black be hunting down Pawns such as the one on e5? Is Black ready to attack the White King?

12...Qe4+

The answer is no! Black should be focused on getting his pieces out and at the same time, eliminating White's Bishop pair specifically by trading his bad Bishop for White's good one. Black already has a small advantage, and he can maintain that small advantage by playing 12...Ba6! 13.Bxa6 Nxa6 on the basis that 14.Qb7?? doesn't work because after 14...Rb8 15.Qxa7 Nc8, the Queen is trapped.

13.Be3 c4 14.Be2 Nbc6



Once again, the question must be asked. What matters most here for White?

15.Bd4

White answers incorrectly. Black went for an aggressive idea before his pieces are developed. White needs to actively pressure Black before Black is able to get his pieces coordinated. He needs to make it as hard as possible for Black to get his Rook on h8 out. In order to do this, White must play actively and with extreme aggression. If he allows Black to coordinate, Black's better because Black's has the long term advantage of having the better pawn structure. So while Black tries to attack and potentially gobble up pawns before his position is ready to do so, White, on the other hand, plays slowly in order to try to protect his pawns when, in reality, he should be happy if Black takes the pawn because it opens up his pieces to attack Black before Black is ready. Therefore, White should abandon the e-pawn and play 15.O-O!. After 15...Nxe5 16.Re1 N5c6 17.Qb5 Rb8 18.Qc5 Rb7 19.Nd4 Nxd4 20.Bxd4 Qxc2 21.Qa5, a draw is virtually forced as Black has nothing better than 21...Nc6, and after 22.Qc5+, 22...Ne7 is forced. Then after 23.Qa5, we are back at the original position and neither side has better than to repeat the position once more.

15...Rb8 16.Qc1



So again, what matters most for Black?

16...h6

Black's idea was to prevent Ng5 from White and enable himself to play ...Nf5 without running the risk of getting the Queen trapped. This is too slow. Black should eliminate White's Bishop pair and then play on the Kingside, despite the straightening of White's pawns. After 16...Nxd4 17.cxd4 g5!, Black has an active game. 18.Nxg5? fails to 18...Qxd4 while 18.Qxg5? fails to 18...Rg8, both leading to a significant advantage for Black. This leaves just 18.h3 and Black gets an active position.

17.O-O Nf5 18.Bc5+ Kg8 19.Re1 Nxe5



If you think about what matters most, White can get an advantage here.

20.Nxe5

Remember what we said before? White's job is all about not allowing Black to coordinate. He needs to act fast, not trade off. White actually gets a slight advantage after 20.Nd4! Nxd4 21.cxd4 (attacking the Knight, which gains time) 21...Nd7 22.Bxc4 (attacking the Queen, which gains time) 22...Qh4 23.g3 Qd8 24.Bd3 and with Black unable to get his King to h7 for the time being, he still can't get his Rook out yet, and White is slightly better.

20...Qxe5 21.Bxa7 Ra8 22.Bc5 Qxc3 23.Bg4



The previous discussion of what matters most for Black should make his next move easy to determine, right?

23...e5

Apparently not! Once again, Black is trying to attack without all of his pieces. Better is 23...Kh7! The doubling of the pawns is a non-issue, and Black is better after 24.Bxf5 exf5 25.Qd1 Be6 26.Bd4 Qa5.

So now, what should White play?

24.Ra2

And once again, White fails to equalize after being given yet another opportunity. He must tie Black down before Black gets coordinated. After 24.Bb4! Qd4 25.h3 c3 26.Rd1 Qc4 27.Rd3 d4 28.Qe1 Qe6 29.f4 exf4 30.Qf2, White has equalized as 30...g5 fails to 31.Rxd4 while 30...Qg6 31.Re1 h5 32.Bf3 Rb8 33.Be4 maintains equality via continuing to tie Black down.

After the move played, Black finally starts playing correctly. Pay close attention to Black's technique in the following moves. There are multiple ways to win this, but Black's play is clean up through move 37. He secures h7 for the King, gets his Rooks connected, maintains the extra pawn and gets the connected passer rolling. He also does not flinch to White's passed a-pawn until it is absolutely necessary.

24...Nh4 25.Bxc8 Rxc8 26.Re3 Qa5 27.Bb4 Qc7 28.Qe1 Ng6 29.c3 Kh7 30.Qb1 Rhe8 31.a4 Kg8 32.a5 d4 33.cxd4 exd4 34.Rxe8+ Rxe8 35.a6 Qc6 36.f3 Ra8 37.Qe4 Qxe4 38.fxe4



So Black's play the last 14 moves has been beautiful. But it's not over yet! He has one more hurdle to get over, and must ask the question one more time. What matters most? Is it eliminating the a-pawn? Advancing his passers? Or centralizing the Knight?

38...Ne5

Black makes the wrong choice this move and the next move, and gave White one more opportunity to draw. The correct answer is to advance the passers. But which one? Well, 38...d3? 39.Kf2 is equal, but after the correct 38...c3 39.Kf1 Nf4 40.a7 Nd3 41.Bd6 Nc1 42.Ra1 d3, Black's winning!

39.Bc5 Nc6

Black's last chance was 39...d3, but after 40.Bb4 Nc6 41.Bd2 Na7 42.Kf2 Rc8 43.Bc3 Nb5 44.Bb4 Rd8 45.Ke1 c3 46.a7 Ra8 47.Ra5 c2 48.Bd2 Nc3 49.e5 Nb1 50.g4 Kf8 51.Bc1 Ke7 52.Ra6 Kd7 53.Rd6+ Kc7 54.Rxd3 Rxa7, converting the win is significantly more difficult than the position that could have been reached after 38...c3!.

Now White draws.

40.Ra4?

And then again, maybe he doesn't! After 40.Kf2! c3 41.Ke2, the position is equal as the Black pawns can be stopped. For example, after 41...c2 42.Kd2 d3 43.Ra1 f6 44.a7 Ne5 45.Bd4 Kf7 46.Bxe5 fxe5 47.Kxd3 c1=R 48.Rxc1 Rxa7 49.Ke3 Ra3+ 50.Kf2 Kf6 51.h4 Ra6 52.Rc5 g6 53.g4 Ra2+ 54.Kf3 Ra4 55.Rc6+ Kg7 56.h5 Ra3+ 57.Kf2 gxh5 58.gxh5 Ra2+ 59.Kf3 Ra3+ 60.Kf2, the position is a dead draw.

After 40.Ra4, Black doesn't look back.

40...d3 41.Be3 c3 42.Ra2 d2 43.Ra1 Rxa6 0-1

White threw in the towel as his only distraction to Black is now lost, and there is no stopping the Black pawns.


The moral of the story is that general concepts only go so far. Both sides tried to use concepts to play this game, and we saw both sides making inferior moves. If you are going to play the Winawer Variation of the French Defense, you must throw concepts out the window, and this is why I recommended 3...Nf6 in the repertoire I wrote in 2017, because it's an easier line to play because Black's ideas are based on common sense. This is also why it is always preached that the first two openings one should learn are the Ruy Lopez and Queen's Gambit. The ideas in both follow most in line with general concepts.

But for a line like the Winawer, concepts must be thrown right out the window, and taking a "What Matters Most?" approach is the way of thinking that is necessary for this variation of the French Defense. Material count and pawn structure, two "concepts" often taught early on, mean nothing here. We saw in this game that what mattered most was neither material count nor pawn structure for either player. For White, it was Time! He needed to play "fast" moves, not pawn-saving moves, in order to keep Black from taking advantage of the better pawns. For Black, it was Harmony! Sure his pawns were better than White's the whole game, and he was even up a pawn for much of the game, but the pawn structure and the extra pawn meant absolutely nothing until his pieces were coordinated. Compare Black's position after move 13 to Black's position after move 30. After move 30, his Rooks are connected, his Queen is in a good spot, and his pawns are ready to roll. After 13 moves, Black's Queen is the only active piece and in line to be harassed by White's pieces. His Knight on e7 is passive, and his entire Queenside is undeveloped. None of his pieces worked together at all at that point, and hence why it was Harmony, or Coordination, that mattered most for Black.

While the Winawer is an extreme case of how critical it is to ask the question "What Matters Most?", this question can and just as much should be asked in any game you play, no matter what the opening is.

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

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Game Analysis: Charlotte Open, Round 7

Hello everyone and welcome as we continue with game analysis from the Charlotte Open, and quite frankly, it has been more of a bashing of my own attacking skills than anything else, and this final round is no different.

First, a recap of what happened the first six rounds:

ROUND
RESULT
SHOULD HAVE
ROOT CAUSE
1
Lost
Lost
Was simply outplayed
2
Drew
Won
After vastly inferior play by opponent, complete misjudgment of which pieces to trade and which to keep on the board cost half the point.
3
Won
Won
Opponent was simply outplayed
4
Drew
Won
Passive play with the Bishop when the advantage was his, playing more in fear of White's pawn advances rather than continuing my own attack, and lastly time trouble at the end.
5
Drew
Won
Passive play by Black gave me the advantage, and passive play is what threw a good chunk of the advantage away, but the ultimate straw that broke the Camel's back was a horrific endgame blunder in time trouble in what should be a routine win.
6
Drew
Lost
Failure to take full advantage of White's passive opening play followed by late middle game errors lead to a winning endgame for White, and low and behold, passive play and fear of my inside passer rather than focusing on his own outside passer cost him half the point.


So why am I recapping this? When you have a bad tournament, you need to analyze the root cause. Sometimes, the issue is a one time occurrence. Other times, the issue is what is called a TREND! When you reach the expert level, good and bad tournaments are not judged by score. I finished with a .500 record, but how I finished with that .500 record was horrible. Five games out of the seven ended up draws, and none of them should have. Now had these been lost positions that I converted to draws, particularly against higher rated opposition, I'd feel really good about that .500 score. But when you are blowing advantages left and right, it turns into a really bad ".500 performance".

Looking at the table above, we see one instance of misjudgment of what to trade and what to keep on the board. A one time problem is not a trend. But take a look at what is mentioned repeatedly. Fear! Passive! Time Trouble! This is called a trend, and when you have a trend that is negative, this is something that needs to be fixed.

What we are about to see in the seventh and final round is a continuation of that TREND!


Charlotte Open, Round 7
W: Patrick McCartney (2061)
B: Venkata Pullabholta (1901)
Torre Attack

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 d5 4.Nbd2 Be7 5.e3 b6

Once again, we see that word again. Passive! Black's last two moves fit that category here as well. Black should be striking at White's center at once with the move ...c5, probably best done back on move 4. The lack of anything active allows White free reign to smooth development.

6.Bd3 Bb7 7.O-O Nbd7 8.Qe2 Ne4 9.Bxe7 Qxe7



10.Ne5?!

White should be expanding on the Queenside here as that's where his pieces point, and the Rook on f1 has easy access to that side. A move like 10.a4, or possibly 10.c3, was better here.

10...O-O

Black misses his opportunity to open up the Bishop. 10...Nxe5 11.dxe5 might even give Black a slight edge.

11.Nxd7 Qxd7 12.Rad1 Rfd8 13.f3 Nxd2 14.Rxd2 c5 15.c3 Qa4 16.Rdd1 Rac8

So now, after a trade of all the Knights and some maneuvering of the pieces, we see that with Black's piece arrangement and throwing of the Queen out into la-la-land, the situation has changed, and White's play is now on the Kingside, and White correctly recognizes it as the following moves will show.

17.f4 f5 18.g4 g6 19.Kh1 Rc7 20.Rg1 Rg7 21.Rg3 Bc8 22.Rdg1 Kf7 23.h4 Rh8 24.Qg2



The position is slightly better for White. The Black Queen is out of play and White's space advantage allowed him to easily triple on the g-file while Black's pieces are scattered. Black has to be very careful here not to reach a completely lost position.

24...Qd7??

This move should lose outright! The pawn grab is Black's best hope: 24...Qxa2 25.h5 Rgg8 26.gxf5 exf5 27.c4 Be6 28.dxc5 bxc5 29.Be2 Qxb2 30.cxd5 Bc8 31.Rd1 Rd8 32.Qf1 and White's advantage is minimal.

After the move played, White should win.

25.Qh3?

And instead of pulling the trigger, White plays a passive move. White wins immediately with 25.gxf5 exf5 26.Rg5 and due to the unfortunate location of the Black Queen combined with the inability to both move the Queen and have it protect the Black Rook on g7, White will play 27.Bxf5 pretty much no matter what Black does. For example, 26...Qd8 27.Bxf5 Bxf5 28.Rxf5+, winning.

The rest of the game is basically equal except one spot where White decides to blunder, but Black misses the minor detail.

25...Rgg8 26.gxf5 exf5 27.Kh2 Qe6 28.b3 Qf6 29.c4 cxd4 30.cxd5 dxe3 31.Rxe3 Re8 32.Rge1 Rxe3 33.Qxe3 Bd7 34.Kg3 Re8



And now it is White's turn to find the only drawing move.

35.Qd2?

And that is not it! 35.Qc1 is the only move here.

35...Rxe1?

Black has a significant advantage in the endgame after 35...Qd4 36.Rxe8 Bxe8 37.Qe2 Kf8 38.Bc4 Qg1+ 39.Qg2 Qxg2+ 40.Kxg2 b5. The game is now a draw.

36.Qxe1 Qe7 37.Qf2 h6 1/2-1/2


So once again, passive play did both sides in, and yet another draw that should never have happened.

This concludes what was clearly a bad tournament for me, and since then, I have paid very close attention to the main issues that repeated themselves in this tournament. Passitivity and fear. Since then, I have paid very close attention to those issues, and have played 21 tournament games in that stretch, going 9, 10, and 2. Clearly not the greatest start, but when you try to alter your game and put emphasis on a specific weakness, it will often start off bad before the problem is totally fixed and results start getting better.

I would highly recommend the same exercise be done by all of those that have read these seven articles pertaining to the Charlotte Open (including The French Connection, Volume 17). Think about the last time that you had a bad tournament. This doesn't mean a bad score, necessarily. Just one of those tournaments where almost every round, you had a real bad taste in your mouth. Go through each game, and assess what you did wrong, and I would wager that you will also see a consistent trend. It may not be passive play or signs of fear and an overly defensive mentality, it might be tactical blunders or pawn play or piece coordination or one of many other possibilities. Once it is identified, look for books that cover the topic and put your time toward studying that. Many say study endgames, study middle games, study openings, study this, study that, etc. The real truth is, take a look back at your own games and assess what your own weakness is, and that's what you should be putting your emphasis on. It may not be the same answer for everyone, and so those blanket statements you hear about studying tactics or studying endgames are useless. The answer is taking serious time to look back at yourself and your own games and do a through and honest assessment. Don't knee-jerk based on a single game (i.e. My round 2, which was an isolated incident), or think that you can assess your problem in 5 minutes. Taking your time and being honest with yourself are crucial as otherwise you will get nowhere with it.


This concludes the coverage of the Charlotte Open. Starting next week, we will be looking at various topics along with games from 2019. Until then, good luck in all of your games.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The French Connection: Volume 17

A Tale of Two Bishops

Hello and welcome to the Seventeenth edition of The French Connection. Here, we are going to be looking at the 6th round of The Charlotte Open, which featured one of the main lines of the French Advance. As the subtitle might indicate, there is a critical point in the opening where Black must make a decision between two Bishop moves, one of which is played in this game. White responds with an inferior move, and I will be showing how White should respond to each of Black's replies. Then as the game proceeds, Black makes multiple errors in the middle game, and allows White to reach a winning position in the endgame. Then, White shows that he is not up on his Rook endings, and allows Black to draw the game.

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


The Charlotte Open, Round 6
W: James Dill (2019)
B: Patrick McCartney (2061)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.a3 Nh6 7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2



Thus far, both sides have followed the line given against 6...Nh6 in my article on Beating the French with the Advance Variation from back in November, 2017 (Click here if you want to view that article).

The problem at this point is that both sides are starving for progress. Black has three pieces attacking d4, namely the Queen on b6, Knight on c6, and Knight on f5. White has three pieces guarding it, namely the Bishop on b2, Queen on d1, and Knight on f3. White has a problem though. How does he get the rest of his pieces out? If he moves the Queen's Knight, it will block either the Bishop or the Queen from guarding d4. How does the Light-Squared Bishop get out? Does he resort to the passive Be2 and then Castle?

That said, it's not all roses for Black either! His Queen suffers from having much scope, which for a piece like the Queen, the lack of scope is a major drawback. His Light-Squared Bishop is bad. White's Pawns impede the Dark-Squared Bishop. Also, with f6 well in control by White, castling Kingside can be very dicey, especially early on.

So how does either side make progress? Well, it is Black to move, and it really is his choice how the game progresses. In looking at the position, only two moves really make sense, and that's two different Bishop moves:

The first option is 9...Be7. Black plays a solid move and is ready to castle. In addition, if his Knight gets harassed by 10.g4, then he has the h4-square in which to place the Knight and exchange a set of minor pieces. With White having the space advantage, this would favor Black. That said, similar to trap in the Milner-Barry Gambit (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 cxd4 7.cxd4 Nxd4? 8.Nxd4 Qxd4?? 9.Bb5+), the a4-e8 diagonal is open if the Knight is traded off, and so White has the opportunity to play 10.Bd3! for similar reasons. Black can't take on d4 three times as his Queen will then hang to a discovered check. After 10.Bd3!, Black can try a couple of different responses, including developing the other Bishop to d7, which might be better than Moskalenko's idea of 10...a5. After 10...a5, 11.Bxf5 is well-known to favor Black, but White has 11.Qa4 Bd7 12.b5 O-O 13.O-O g6 and Moskalenko claims equality based on the fact that 14.Bc3? fails to 14...Na7! with advantage to Black. This may be true, but I think White has the advantage after 14.Ra2 Na7 15.Nc3. It is not clear how Black is going to get his pieces out.

Instead, after 10...Bd7, the important thing is not to be tempted by the immediate pawn snatch. After 11.O-O, the move 11...Nfxd4 is dubious because of 12.Nxd4 Nxd4 13.Qg4 with advantage to White. However, Black should be fine after 11...g6, and now if White doesn't do something about it and plays something like 12.Nc3, only now should Black snatch the pawn with 12...Nfxd4 13.Nxd4 Nxd4 14.Qg4 as now Black can reply with 14...Nb3 intending 15...a5 with advantage. Instead, 12.Bxf5 gxf5 would lead to a position with play for both sides. White should still have a slight advantage, but it's not unbearable for Black.

In the game, Black plays the other option.

9...Bd7

My personal preference is for this move over the other Bishop move. There are a couple of major differences between this move and moving the other Bishop to e7. The first is that White does not have the discovered attack on the Queen if Black goes pawn grabbing once one of the three defenders is blocked, and so 10.Bd3 is no longer possible because it simply drops the d-pawn. On the flip side, with no Bishop on e7, the move 10.g4! is more attractive for White. It dislodges the f5-Knight without allowing Black to trade it off for the counterpart on f3, and therefore allows White to develop his pieces more freely, albeit at the cost of a more exposed King. White, however, fails to take advantage of this move, and instead plays an overly passive move that should be of no harm to Black.

10.Be2 Be7

Now 11.g4 is once again totally ineffective because of 11...Nh4.

11.O-O Rc8

This move is not bad, but given his lack of space and White's ultra-passive approach, Black should think about expanding on the Kingside with 11...h5 12.Qd3 g5 13.b5 Na5 14.Nfd2 Rc8 15.a4 with an unclear position.

In the game, Black will be lacking space, and despite a few inferior moves by White, the moment Black tries to expand and open up, his position gets worse this game, and so now was the time to take that opportunity.

12.Qd3 Na5 13.Nbd2 Nc4 14.Nxc4 dxc4 15.Qd2 Bc6



16.Bc3

White misses the opportunity to at minimum maintain equality and possibly be able to claim a very slight edge by playing 16.g4! on the basis that Black can't play 16...Nh4 because of 17.Nxh4 Bxh4 and now 18.Bxc4! as there is no knight to take on f3, which would normally lead to Black winning a piece, and 18...Bf3 would be answered by 19.Rac1! with a big advantage for White. In order to maintain the c4-pawn, Black would have to retreat with a move like 16...Nh6.

16...O-O 17.Qf4?

Once again, 17.g4 was relatively best, but this time, White can't grab the c-pawn as now 17...Nh4! 18.Nxh4 Bxh4 19.Bxc4? would fail to 19...Bf3 as White no longer has the ability to guard the Bishop with the Rook as the other Bishop on c3 is now blocking that operation. White loses time and Black takes over. Instead of 19.Bxc4, a normal move like 19.f4 would keep the position roughly even.

17...Bd5 18.Rfd1 f6?!

This move is very ill-timed. Now that Black got the long diagonal open and the passed c-pawn, he should help promote both causes and play 18...Qc6 with advantage. White's pieces are slowly coming to the Kingside, and so why open up at this point? Black's pieces are not ideally placed yet, and so given the closed nature of the position, the most important thing is to get the pieces on their best squares before breaking open the position.

19.Qg4 fxe5 20.Nxe5 Qd8

And yet another inferior move by Black, but not enough to totally kill the advantage. The Bishop on e7 was passive and should be relocated via 20...Bd6, maintaining an advantage for Black.

21.Bf3 b5 22.Bxd5 exd5 23.Re1 Bd6 24.Re2 Qf6??

And now Black blunders. Black is better after 24...Qh4 25.h3 h5 26.Qf3 Ne7 27.Qe3 Qf4 28.Nf3 Qxe3 29.Rxe3 Ng6 30.g3 Rf6 as White has the inferior Bishop and also still has to keep an eye on the protected passed Pawn on c4.

After the move played in the game, White has a big advantage with correct play.

25.h3?

White misses the opportunity. Correct is 25.Nd7! This probably was not played in fear of Black getting out of it with 25...Qh6, threatening mate, but after 26.g3! Rf7 27.Rae1! g6 (27...Rxd7 28.Qxf5 is winning for White) 28.Ne5, White has a dominant position.

25...Rcd8 26.Rae1 Qh4 27.Qxh4 Nxh4 28.Nc6 Rd7 29.Ne7+ Bxe7 30.Rxe7



30...Rfd8?

This was Black's final opportunity to maintain the advantage. After 30...Rd6! 31.R1e6 (31.Rxa7?? Rg6 is winning for Black) 31...Rxe6 32.Rxe6 Rf6 33.Re8+ Kf7 34.Rb8 Rb6 35.Rc8 Kf6 36.Rc5 Ng6 37.Rxd5 Nf4 38.Re5 Re6 39.Rxe6+ Kxe6 40.Kf1 Kd5, despite being a pawn down, Black has the slightly better endgame and would be the one pushing for the win due to the good Knight against the horrible Bishop.

Instead, now White has the better endgame.

31.Rxd7 Rxd7 32.Re8+ Kf7 33.Rb8 a6 34.Rb6 Nf5

The passive 34...Ra7 was relatively best, but Black's position is extremely passive and very difficult to play.

35.Rxa6 Nd6 36.f3 Nc8 37.Rc6 Ne7 38.Rb6 Ra7 39.Bb2 c3 40.Bxc3 Rxa3 41.Be1 Rd3 42.Bf2 Rd1+ 43.Kh2 Nf5 44.Rxb5 Nxd4 45.Rb7+

Of course, 45.Rxd5?? loses to 45...Nxf3+.

45...Kg6 46.b5 Rd2 47.Bxd4 Rxd4



White has the farther advanced passed pawn, the outside passed pawn, and an extra pawn. This position is winning for White.

48.Rd7

A more direct win would result from the line 48.b6 Rb4 49.Kg3 Kf6 50.Rb8 Ke6 51.b7 Kd6 52.Rd8+ Kc7 53.Rg8 Kxb7 54.Rxg7+ and 55.Rxh7 with a winning advantage.

48...h6 49.b6 Rb4 50.Rd6+

White is going the wrong way with this, and is able to get into a 3-on-2 endgame all on one side of the board with a Rook each, which should give Black better draw opportunities. White should play 50.b7! and maintain the 7th rank pressure for as long as possible to better arrange the rest of his pieces to win the ending on the Kingside.

50...Kf7 51.Rxd5 Rxb6 52.g4 Kg6 53.Kg3 Ra6 54.h4 Rb6 55.h5+ Kf7 56.f4 Rb3+ 57.Kh4 Rb6 58.g5

White put himself in a far more difficult position than he had to back when he focused too much on Black's d-pawn rather than his own b-pawn, but if he wants any hope of winning, he had to try 58.Rd7+, but it would still be difficult. After 58.g5, all hopes of victory are slam shut. The position is drawn. The Black Rook will just stay on the 6th rank until forced off, and then attack the King from behind. The rest of the moves is one demonstration of how to draw a Rook ending a pawn down. It doesn't work exactly the same as K+R+P vs K+R, as it's not a straight-up Philidor's position, but observe and try to understand each move, particularly for Black. Every move Black plays from here on out, the position is 0.00.

58...hxg5+ 59.Kxg5 Ra6 60.Rd3 Rb6 61.f5 Ra6 62.Rd7+ Kg8 63.Re7 Rb6 64.Re6 Rb1 65.h6 Rg1+ 66.Kf4 gxh6 67.Rxh6 Kf7 68.Rh7+ Rg7 69.Rxg7+ Kxg7 70.Ke5 Kf7 71.f6 Kf8 72.Ke6 Ke8 73.f7+ Kf8 74.Kf6 1/2-1/2

The final position is, of course, stalemate.

There are a few things to pick up from this game:
  • When facing the main line of the Advance French, make sure you understand the difference between the two Bishop moves, and play the one you are more comfortable playing. The nature of the game is vastly different between the two options assuming White responds correctly.
  • In the line with 9...Bd7, if White plays passive with 10.Be2, don't forget about the idea of Kingside Expansion.
  • In a closed position, pry it open when the rest of your pieces are ready, not before that.
  • In a Rook ending, having the outside passer is an advantage. If you are the one with the pawn on the outside, you don't want to trade passers unless you absolutely have to. The player with the inside passer wants to trade them off and draw with all the pawns on the same side.


That does it for this edition of The French Connection. Good luck in all your future French Games, Black or White.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Game Analysis: Charlotte Open, Round 5

Hello every and welcome as we continue the analysis of games from the Charlotte Open. Here we will be looking at the fifth round, where the constant theme to the game is that of fear. This is a common problem in amateurs. They learn basic "principles", such as getting your pieces developed, getting your King to safety, maintain a healthy pawn structure, not advancing pawns on the side you are weak, not advancing pawns in front of your King unless the center is stable, etc. Well, many amateurs take this advice too far and it becomes a religion. The game starts with White making an inadvisable trade, and Black is better for the next dozen moves or so. However, during that time, he plays passively, and allows White to get a critical pawn break. When is then winning, but instead of putting the nail in the coffin, he "plays it safe", and allows Black to equalize once again. Black fails to coordinate his pieces properly in the endgame, and once again White's winning until he makes an awful blunder on move 62 before the game ends peacefully.

So with the idea of playing too passively in mind, let's see what happened in the fifth round.


Charlotte Open, Round 5
W: Patrick McCartney (2061)
B: Sudarshan Sriniaiyer (2010)
Torre Attack

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5 Bg7 4.Nbd2 d5 5.c3 O-O 6.e3 b6 7.Bd3 c5 8.O-O Ba6 9.Bxa6 Nxa6



So we have the starting point of the double-fianchetto line, which I think is a tad weaker than 6...c5 or 6...Nbd7 intending 7...Re8 and 8...e5, the reason being that Black's Knight is out on the rim, and his pieces are not ideally coordinated.

10.Ne5

Better here is 10.Qe2 Nc7 11.Rad1 with pressure on the d-file. If Black takes via 11...cxd4, White will recapture via 12.Nxd4, despite the fact that it allows 12...e5 by Black on the basis of the pressure down the d-file. Otherwise, if Black sidesteps with 11...Qc8, White is already prepared to play 12.e4!, breaking the position open before Black is ready.

10...Nc7 11.Bxf6?

This trade is bad for White. Better here is either 11.Bh4, avoiding any pawn forks after the Knight on f6 moves, or 11.Qe2.

11...exf6

The correct way to take back. Black will advance f5 and use the semi-open e-file to place a Rook on e8 and look to prevent e4 by White.

12.Nd3 Ne6 13.a4 a5

A complete waste of time. What are you stopping? a5? 13...Re8 or 13...f5 is better. In the time it takes to advance the pawn, trade it, and try to get pieces to attack b6, Black could have gotten to the moon and back, and so there is no reason to fear White's pawn advance.

14.f4 f5 15.Nf3 Re8 16.Nf2

Unfortunately, active moves like 16.Nde5 aren't any good because the square is not stable for White because of Black's extra f-pawn. After 16...c4, White would be forced to retreat the f3-knight via 17.Nd2 as otherwise, the e5-Knight is about to get trapped by ...f6. So instead, White tries to stir up trouble on the Kingside rather than down the middle.

16...Qd6 17.g4 fxg4 18.Nxg4 f6

Another passive move by Black, preventing Ne5 for unnecessary reasons. If White ever plops a Knight on e5, it hits nothing immediately, and Black can then kick it back with ...f6. With the looming threat readily there, why prevent the issue when it's unnecessary? 18...Rac8, with ideas of opening the c-file, is a better move.

19.Qd3 c4 20.Qc2 Nf8 21.Rae1 Ra7 22.Nd2 Rae7



After passive play by Black, guess what move White is about to play?

23.e4!

This move is tactically possible because of the location of the Black Queen. If Black plays 23...f5, banking on the pin of the e-pawn and thinking he'd win it, White has 24.e5! before moving the Knight on g4.

23...dxe4

Despite the pin not totally working, 23...f5 was still Black's best move with an equal position.

24.Nxc4

Suddenly, White's got a winning position!

24...Qc6 25.Nge3 f5 26.Qb3 Kh8 27.Qxb6 Qxa4 28.Ra1 Qd7 29.Rxa5 Re6 30.Qa7 Qd8 31.d5 Rf6 32.Qb7 Bh6 33.Ra7 g5



Up to this point, White has been conducting the attack in a very sound manner. So White keeps going, right?

34.Kh1?

This does not surrender the entire advantage, but it is a major step in the wrong direction. The Black g-pawn was advanced and is about to take on f4. This does not automatically mean the White King needs to get off the g-file. Until absolutely necessary, White should avoid defensive moves and continue the attack. Here, 34.Ne5 was very strong. Now 34...gxf4 can be countered by 35.Nf7+ while a defensive move like 34...Nd7 does open up the heavy pieces on the back rank to the g-file and White should then play 35.Kh1, but then Black won't have available the defensive Rook move that trades off White's intruders on the 7th rank.

34...gxf4 35.Rxf4 Re7!

White is still technically winning, but now it is going to be far more difficult to execute, and White ends up failing in the long run.

36.Qxe7 Qxe7 37.Rxe7 Bxf4 38.d6

And one error is followed by another. 38.b4 is stronger here.

38...Bxe3 39.Nxe3 Rxd6 40.Nxf5 Rd1+ 41.Kg2 Rd2+ 42.Kg3 Rxb2 43.Rxe4



Now White is stuck in a pawn-up endgame rather than the raging attack he had 10 moves earlier.

43...Kg8 44.c4 Rc2 45.h4 Kf7 46.Nd6+

46.Ne3 is stronger, blocking the 3rd rank and covering the c-pawn. White has to slowly coordinate the advance of the pawn as there is no attack on the King at this point.

46...Kf6 47.Kf3 Ne6 48.Nb5

White's advantage is gone! 48.Re3 maintains a slight edge, but not much more than that.

48...Rb2?

Black blows his chance. 48...Rc1 49.Nd4 Nxd4 50.Rxd4 Ke5 is equal.

49.Nd4 Nc5 50.Rf4+ Ke5 51.Nc6+ Kd6 52.Rf6+ Kd7 53.Ne5+ Ke8 54.Rc6 Nd7 55.Rc8+ Ke7 56.Rc7 Kd6 57.Rxd7+ Kxe5 58.Rxh7 Rc3 59.Rh5+ Kf6 60.c5 Kg6 61.Rd5 Rc4



This is an easy win for White.

62.Rd6+??

This is a huge mistake. This is an ending one ought to know like the back of their hand. Two pawns widely separated on the 5th rank with the Rook in between them is always a win, no matter where the Black Rook or King are provided they can't immediately capture the Rook or win the Rook via a skewer, neither of which are available to Black after 62.h5!. After 62...Kg7 (62...Kf6 63.h6 Kg6 64.Rd6+ and 65.c6 does nothing for Black but allow White to advance both pawns a square further.) 63.Ke3 and White will either be able to cross the 4th rank with his King if the Black Rook moves vertically once attacked or else Black will have to abandon the c-file if he moves laterally to keep the King cut off, and then White can advance the c-pawn and place the Rook on c5, behind the passed pawn while the King is busy stopping the h-pawn.

After the move played, the position is a draw, despite being up two pawns.

62...Kf7 63.c6 Rxh4 64.Ke3 Ke7 65.Rd7+ Ke8 66.Rd5 Rc4 67.Rd6 1/2-1/2


A horrible end to what should have been a routine win for White after he got e4 in on move 23 and Black failed to respond correctly. The other two things to get out of this game is that passive play (Black's 13th move, Black's 18th move, and White's 34th move) should be avoided until such a move is absolutely necessary. This can easily be seen in particular with White's 34th move. There were even scenarios where he would need to play the King move even one move later, but that one move made all the difference between a direct attack at the Black King, and Black being able to drag White into a pawn-up endgame, leaving White with more room to error, and low and behold, that's exactly what White did! Lastly, know your endgames! You might have to execute well known endgame patterns with 30 seconds on your clock! This could mean the difference between a win and a draw!

The next round will be covered as part of the "French Connection" series. Until then, good luck in your games.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Game Analysis: Charlotte Open, Round 4

Hello every and welcome as we continue the analysis of games from the Charlotte Open. We are at the middle round of the tournament and I'm sitting at a .500 record after my only win in the previous round. This game, the main theme is going to be winning the won position, something that Black failed to do here.

The game starts out as a London System. Those that know me will already know my take on the London System, and that my level of respect for it is about the same as my level of respect for criminals, drug dealers, college students that plagiarize, or the current POTUS. In other words, ZERO! White places no pressure on Black, and I am going to show you an excellent system to counter the London System with little to no risk. Of course, you still need to play the game correctly, and Black does not do that here, partially due to a positional error made in the middle game, and time trouble near the end, but we will see that Black had most of the opportunities in this game to convert the full point.

The problem with the London System is that it pressures nothing. It achieves nothing. Even the other systematic Queen Pawn openings, some of which I play myself, serve a purpose.
  • The Colle System sees the goal of getting in e4. White executes rapid development to get that other central pawn pushed to the fourth square that Black spent that time trying to prevent with say, 1.d4 d5 (stopping e4) 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.c3 Nc6 etc. White has a simple goal in mind. Pushing e4.

  • The Torre Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 or 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5) sees White create pressure along the h4-d8 diagonal, which is where the Black Queen resides to start the game. This pin in the case of 2...e6, or pressure along the diagonal in the case of 2...g6, can be very annoying for Black. Trying to run away from it by swinging the Queen over to the Queenside can often leave the Black King under-protected on the Kingside. Remaining in this pin can lead to tactical issues.

    A prime example of the latter was in a correspondence game I played recently on chess.com where I had White and the game went 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5 Bg7 4.Nbd2 O-O 5.c3 d5 6.e3 Nbd7 7.Bd3 Re8 8.O-O e5 9.e4 exd4 10.cxd4 dxe4 11.Nxe4 h6 12.Qb3! hxg5? 13.Nexg5 Rf8 14.Bxg6 and already Black Resigned. If this were over the board rather than correspondence, he may have played on, but it would be futile. White's already winning.

    The point being, this Bishop move pressures Black, and White is not forced to play additional prep moves to give the Bishop an escape. White will move this Bishop on his own time, or when Black harasses it, but Black is also spending time harassing the Bishop with weakening pawn moves, and so it is not like White is losing time, and once again, he is playing to get in his key break, e4, or in a few cases, he'll play Ne5 and try to break with f2-f4-f5 (particularly in the 2...e6 lines). More on "wasting time" when we get back to the London System.

  • The Trompowsky Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5) sees White threaten to damage Black's Pawn structure, and if 2...Ne4, the Knight will be harassed and White will be aiming for a lead in development if he doesn't achieve the structural damage. Sometimes a tricky idea to understand, but the opening serves a purpose.

  • The Veresov (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bg5 or 1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5) also serves the purpose of trying to get that second pawn to the fourth rank, namely e4. This leads to Black either having to block his own pieces with the main line, 3...Nbd7, with the sole purpose of trying to hold a Knight on f6 and looking to prevent e4, but White has other ideas with f3 to drive in e4. Sure, this can get a little airy for the White King, and it is risky, but the opening serves a purpose.

Now let me say, before you go around preaching how stupid I am for promoting these openings, that 2.c4 is still White's best move from a theoretical perspective after both 1...d5 and 1...Nf6. That said, the systems mentioned above all have a specific purpose. Outside of the Trompowsky, which is all about structural damage and leads in development, it is usually to get that e-pawn advanced to e4, opening up White's game. But in the London System, there is no motivation for White to do that. He just wants to sit around, plop a few pieces on different squares and pretend that he is developed, wait to see if Black implodes, and if not, shake hands. In addition to Bf4 doing nothing, it also often requires White to play additional moves that do nothing for his fight for the center, such as h3, merely to give the Bishop an escape on h2. Not true in all lines, including the line played in the game, but face the London System enough times or look over enough London System games and you'll see exactly what I mean, especially at the amateur level, where you'll see players playing White flicking in h3 even when it's completely unnecessary. This whole idea doesn't even make any sense if you think about it! White puts his pawns on d4, e3, and f2. That makes this Bishop on f4 his "Bad Bishop". It may be active, but it's still bad, and so why is White spending all this time to preserve something that he'd probably be best off getting rid of anyway, even for a Knight sometimes?

So with that, let's take a look at the game, and I will be pointing out a number of places that Black could have improved, and with this, you should never lose to the London System again. I make no claim that it's refuted, and draws will likely be frequent when facing this system, but there is no reason to ever have to lose to this drivel.


Charlotte Open, Round 4
W: Carter Peatman (2171)
B: Patrick McCartney (2061)
London System

1.d4 e6 2.Bf4 d5



This idea of playing 2.Bf4 instead of 2.Nf3 has risen in popularity mainly due to a cheap trap, which we will look at. If a trap is what people are resorting to, it just confirms my theory that the London System is garbage.

3.Nf3

This defeats the purpose of playing 2.Bf4 and steers back to the ordinary London. What is all the rage today is playing 3.e3. The idea is that White wants to keep the Queen open for Qg4-tricks. The idea is that here, 3...Bd6 is dubious, but not for the reasons that most London players at the amatuer level think. After 3.e3 Bd6?! 4.Bxd6, Black is in a quandry. If he takes with the Queen, then after 4...Qxd6 5.Qg4!, Black does not get the proper compensation if he gives up the g-pawn, and holding it leads to Black compromising his position, either with the weakening 5...g6, getting his King stuck with 5...Kf8, or tangling his pieces with something crazy like 5...Qf8. Many think that this Queen trick works against both captures, but it doesn't. After 4...cxd6 (instead of 4...Qxd6), White gets a positional advantage after 5.c4! dxc4 6.Bxc4 and both sides have many options here. You might ask what is so great for White? It just looks like your normal Exchange Slav type position if Black ever plays ...d5, but the difference is that in the Exchange Slav or in QGD lines, when White gets in the desired trade of Dark-Squared Bishops, he usually has to initiate it where Black can respond with developing a piece, typically the Queen. But here, nothing of Black's is developed, and White still was able to trade the piece he wants traded, and so while White's Bishop on c4 is not a tempo gain as it will have to move once Black plays ...d5, White is still, in essence, a move ahead compared to most normal lines. Note that 5.Qg4 (after 4...cxd6) is not as effective here as it is after the Queen capture because with the Queen still on d8, covering f6, Black can respond with 5...Nf6! 6.Qxg7 Rg8 7.Qh6 Rg6 and now 8.Qf4 Ne4! gives Black full equality with possibly even a miniscule advantage while the better move, 8.Qh4, still gives Black compensation for the pawn after 8...e5!, and so 5.c4 is better than 5.Qg4 here.

So now we see why many play this 3.e3 move order, and why 3...Bd6 against it isn't particularly good for Black. Taking with the Queen leads to tactical problems, and taking with the pawn leads to a lag in development. However, if White ever does this to you, simply play 3...Nf6 first before moving the Bishop to d6.

3...Bd6 4.Bg3

As already mentioned, the Dark-Squared Bishop is White's worst minor piece, so why did we offer to trade it off? Why didn't White take it? The answer is simple. Black has no intention of capturing the White Bishop for him. By retreating to g3, White figures that his Rook will open up if Black takes before he castles (or if he castles Queenside, which is rare, but will actually happen this game). The problem with 4.Bxd6 is the well-known adage that "The initiator of any trade always loses a tempo." Think about that. After 3 moves, White has two pieces developed to Black's one, but he will have to spend time pushing the e-pawn to get the other Bishop out, something Black has already done, so we will soon see that Black isn't really behind in development. He will be in line with White. But if White were to take the Bishop on d6, Black will recapture with the Queen (4...Qxd6). White originally had a developed piece on f4, and now he has nothing there. Black may no longer have his developed Bishop, but he has replaced it with a developed Queen, and so this exchange leads to one less developed piece for White, and the same number of developed pieces for Black, as before the trade. Now you might say "but what if White develops another piece, like 5.Nd2? The problem with that logic is that White now has the same number of pieces developed as before, but now it is Black's move, and before it was White's move, and so that logic doesn't work either. So this is why Black offers a trade that eliminates White's worst piece, and why White doesn't take it. This leads to a well-known concept in chess called tension. More often than not, tension is between pawns, and neither side wants to release it via capturing as it loses time unless it leads to a gain elsewhere, like the winning of a pawn. But as can be seen here, tension can also be between two pieces, such as Bishops here, or Rooks on an open file, or two Knights that attack each other.

This also leads to another issue I have with the London System. When Black plays a move like ...a6 in the Ruy Lopez or ...h6 in the Queen's Gambit Declined or Torre Attack, sure, Black is forcing White to move a piece a second time in the opening. However, the move ...a6 or ...h6 does nothing to get Black closer to castling, and it doesn't develop a piece, and so Black hasn't really gained time. Here, however, Black has developed a piece, and White moves a developed piece again. White is not forced to move the Bishop again, but allowing Black to take it on f4 instead of g3 does lead to a compromised pawn structure. This may be ok for White, and whether or not Black captures and whether this is better or worse is another entire topic to be covered another time. However, in the game, Black has gained time by developing a piece and at the same time, getting White to move an already developed piece a second time. These time-wasting moves such as Bg3 or h3 are another reason why I find the London System to be significantly weaker than the other "Queen Pawn Openings" such as those mentioned in the introduction.

4...Nf6 5.e3 O-O 6.c3

This move makes very little sense. When developing, you should move pieces that you know the destination of before those that you don't. The move 6.c4 would not be bad here, realizing that you need to gain space and looking to not move the Bishop immediately in case Black takes on c4, trying to gain a tempo, but if you are going to use the traditional London setup, why play the pawn first? If Black had played ...c5, this would make sense, giving the Bishop the c2-square if Black advances ...c4. But with the pawn still on c7, why not play 6.Bd3 and prepare to castle or develop the Queen's Knight after that? Wait for Black to play ...c5 before playing c3 unless you have a specific reason, like developing the Queen to c2 or b3, but with the Black King castled, he can easily play ...b6 without any issues on the light squares, and there is no reason to rush the Queen to c2 without developing the Bishop, and so the move 6.c3 makes little sense. Sure, you'll play Bd3, Qc2, Nd2, etc, but if that is what you are going to play anyway, play the least committal move first. This way, if Black does something odd, the move c4 is still an option for White.

Long story short, the best move here probably is 6.c4, but of all the systematic moves akin to the London System, 6.c3 makes the least sense of them all.

6...b6

And here you will see the system that I advocate. Black's idea is simple. He is delaying ...c5 until he is ready to play it on his own time, avoiding certain tactics that White may have on the c-pawn, and getting ready to play ...Bb4 and ...Ne4, occupying the e4-square and preventing the e4-push that White often achieves in other QP Openings. The fact that White plays these time-wasters like moving the Bishop a second time to g3 or time-consuming pawn moves like h3 is what gives Black the time to do this here against the London that can often be viewed as dangerous against other systems like the Colle or Torre.

7.Bd3 Bb7 8.Nbd2 Ne4 9.Qc2 f5

And now the position resembles a good version of the Stonewall Dutch where White's pieces are sub-optimally placed.

10.Ne5 Nxd2

Black's idea here was to avoid 11.Ndf3, which would allow a Knight to continue to occupy the hole on e5 if Black were ever to trade his Knight or Bishop on e5. It also temporarily displaces the Queen. That said, with the Knight on e5 and it only being protected by the pawn on d4, this would be the time for Black to seriously consider the advancement of the c-pawn. After 10...c5, both 11.Ndf3 Qe7 12.Qe2 g5 and 11.f4 Bxe5 12.dxe5 Ba6 give Black a small advantage.

11.Qxd2 Nd7 12.f4 c6 13.Qe2 Rc8 14.Bf2 Nf6 15.Bh4 Qe8 16.h3 Ne4 17.g4



17...Rc7!

Understanding multi-purpose moves like this one are critical in chess. Black sees that White is advancing on the Kingside, which means his King will likely end up on the Queenside or in the center. Black will want to open the c-file at some point. By lifting the Rook, Black is enabling himself to double on the c-file before breaking it open. Secondly, the g-file is likely to open up, and with none of Black's pieces blocking the 7th rank, the Rook is ideally placed to cover the g7-pawn.

18.O-O-O b5 19.Kb1 a6 20.Rhg1 c5 21.Bxe4

With the mounting pressure, White buckles and plays an anti-positional move. Something like 21.Be1 or 21.Rc1 would hold the balance.

21...fxe4 22.Rc1 Bxe5

Now you might be wondering why this is good while White's equivalent move two moves ago was anti-positional. Here, White doesn't have a good way to recapture. If he takes with the f-pawn, then Black owns the open f-file. In the game, he takes the other way, but it's far easier for Black to mobilize his majority than it is for White to mobilize his.

23.dxe4 Qd7 24.Bg3 Qc6

This move is not right though. After 24...b4, White has nothing better than 25.cxb4 cxb4 26.Rxc7 Qxc7 27.Rc1 Qd7 28.Qd2 a5 29.b3 Ba6 and Black's position is preferable as he has both the initiative and it's easier for him to get his Bishop into play than it is for White to get his going.

25.Rgf1

This move makes no sense. White must get the ball rolling with 25.f5. Attacks on the opposite side is all about who gets there first.

25...Rcf7 26.Rf2 Bc8

Too passive! After 26...a5! 27.h4 b4, Black has a big advantage. His attack will be quicker to break through.

27.h4 c4?!

This move is a positional mistake. Black still has a small advantage after 27...a5, though it's not as great as it would have been the previous move.

28.Kc2

White fails to execute on his lone opportunity prior to the time scramble. 28.h5!, continuing his attack on the Kingside, would actually give White a small advantage. Do note, however, that this advantage does not come from the London System, but rather after back-to-back errors by Black.

28...b4 29.Kd1?

White must play 29.cxb4 here with a roughly equal position. Now suddenly, Black is better once again.

29...Qa4+ 30.Ke1 Qxa2 31.Kf1 bxc3 32.Rxc3 Rb7 33.Ra3 Qb1+ 34.Kg2



34...Rb3?

Black had it all going his way until now. Black needs to get his last piece into the action. After 34...Bd7!, Black plays to bring the other Rook to b8. Black is winning after 35.Qc2 Qxc2 36.Rxc2 Rfb8 37.Ra2 Rb3 38.Bf2 g6 as White is completely tied down, and 35.Rxa6 Rfb8! is even worse for White.

35.Rxb3 cxb3 36.Rf1 Qa2 37.Rc1

Once again, White should have played 37.f5 where Black's advantage is extremely minimal.

37.Bd7 38.Be1 Bb5 39.Qd2 Bc4 40.Qd4 Qa4 41.Bc3 Qe8 42.Kf2 h5! 43.Rg1 Qe7 44.g5 Qf7??

And one more time, Black messes up. At this point, time was becoming an issue with White having 11 minutes for the rest of the game to Black's 6 minutes. Here, 44...Rb8 was correct (44...Rc8 is ok as well), where 45.Kg3 (45.g6? Qxh4+ -+) is answered by 45...g6 and Black has the upper hand. Whether it is enough to win is still in question as it doesn't come close to what Black could have had after 34...Bd7!, but it's better than what was played in the game.

The rest of the game is going to see a significant number of mistakes and probably isn't worth much more than something to laugh at from here on out.

45.Qb6?

And once again, White fails to capitalize. The only move for White is 45.g6! Problem is, that move is actually good enough to give White the advantage!

45...Rc8?

Black needed to play either 45...Qf5 or 45...g6.

46.g6! Qd7 47.Rc1?

47.Rg5! with advantage to White.

47...Qc6?

And here 47...Qe7! is a big advantage for Black as White can no longer block with the Rook on g5.

48.Qb4 Qc5 49.Qb7??

49.Qxc5 is dead equal.

49...Qc7?

With the lack of time on the clock, Black goes for the perpetual. Once again, Black has a huge advantage with 49...Rf8! 50.Bb4 50.Qd7 Rxf4+ 51.Kg2 Bf1+ 52.Rxf1 Rg4+ 53.Kh1 Rxh4+ 54.Kg2 Rg4+ 55.Kh1 Rh4+ 56.Kg2 Qc2+ 57.Rf2 Rh2+ 58.Kxh2 Qxf2+ 59.Kh1 Qh4+ 60.Kg2 Qg4+ 61.Kh2 Qxg6 62.Qxa6 Kh7 and the pawns are better than the piece. Even worse is 50.Qd7 Rxf4+ 51.Kg2 Rg4+ 52.Kh2 Rxg6 and Black's winning.

50.Qb4 Qc5 51.Qb7 Qc7 52.Qb4 Qc5 1/2-1/2


A depressing draw for Black, who had many chances to win. That said, a number of items can be learned from this game:
  • The London System, unlike other QP Openings, involves White playing non-developing moves such as either h3 or moving the Bishop multiple times. This causes White's attack to be slower than in other QP Openings, and hence why Black should have absolutely no problem equalizing.
  • Remember the concept that the initiator of any trade loses a tempo along with the concept of tension. Just because a trade of equal pieces is available does not make it good to execute the trade. Saying "the position will be simpler because there are fewer pieces on the board" is NOT an excuse to trade. Often times, keeping tension on the board is vital.
  • Remember the trick if White doesn't play Nf3 early, and plays the line via d4, Bf4, and e3. Get the Knight out to f6 before contesting the Bishop. If White plays an early Nf3, then contesting the Bishop immediately is best.
  • Delay the move ...c5 until your position is ready to play it, or until a tactical factor makes it good. Playing it too early can often play into White's hand for tactical reasons.
  • One of the main points behind the recommended system is not to allow e4 by White.
  • When castling on opposite wings, focus on the side you are attacking except when absolutely necessary. Slow-playing the position or constantly defending will often lead to disaster.
  • When dealing with a middle game position with Opposite-Colored Bishops, the advantage almost always goes to the side with the initiative.
  • A piece is not always better than three pawns. Typically, the closer you are to an endgame, the better the pawns are. In an early middle game with lots of pieces still on the board, the piece is typically better.
  • Often times, the hardest part about chess is executing in an advantageous position. Just because your position is better does not mean you can get lax or complacent, and you must always pay attention to all details throughout the entire game.

Next time, and pretty much the rest of the games in the tournament, we will be seeing games where White is the one pushing, likely with the advantage, that again result in failed attacks. Until then, good luck in your games.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Game Analysis: Charlotte Open, Round 3

Hello everyone and welcome as we continue the analysis of games from the Charlotte Open. After a rough outing against the GM in round 1 and the painful draw round 2, I was desperate for a win. I had seen the pairing almost an hour before the game began, and so I looked up my opponent prior to the game, and in the limited games online, I noticed one trend. He always went for the same piece placement. As Black, he played the Slav and the Caro-Kann. Structures with a pawn on d5, Bishop on f5, and Knight on f6. He even played this setup in a game against 1.b3. This is usually, though not always, a sign of a player that might have a narrow understanding of pawn structures. Therefore, what we are going to see this game is not the best moves by White in the opening, but rather, playing a slightly inferior line specifically to get Black out of his comfort zone, avoiding his favorite structure of Bishop on f5, Knight on f6, Pawns on d5 and e6, and nothing more beyond that! Therefore, you will not want to use this game for opening prep, but there are many middle game ideas that can be gotten from this game.


Charlotte Open, Round 3
W: Patrick McCartney (2061)
B: Gregory Risk (1929)
Torre Attack

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 d5 3.Bg5

A word about this opening. While this line is covered in ECO (the code is D03), it has been known for the last couple of decades that the Torre Attack is typically ineffective against an early d5, such as 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5. Typically, it is mainly played against Nf6/g6 and Nf6/e6 responses, though it can also be played against Nf6/d6 or Nf6/b6 responses as well. I have always preached to people that these "systematic" openings don't work against everything. The Colle is no good when Black brings his Bishop outside the pawn chain. White then must play c4 to get anything, and play usually transposes to a Slow Slav. The London System doesn't work against the Modern Defense because Black gets in the early e5. The Veresov doesn't work against the Modern (1...g6) or Benoni (1...c5) lines. Well, for the Torre, it's the early ...d5.

As covered in the introduction, I in no way condone my own play in the opening, and this is the only time I have done this since taking up the Torre a couple of years ago. In the past, I would play 3.e3 against the early d5, and if the Bishop comes out, go into the slow Slav lines with 4.c4, or if 3...e6, then I'd play a Colle Zukertort (5.b3) with an occasional Koltanowski (5.c3) thrown in. Now, I play 3.c4 against this early d5. This game, however, was an exception where my sole intent was to get Black out of his comfort zone rather than playing what is necessarily the "best moves". The ONLY time that I would advise this is if you face someone that has absolutely no diversity in their game. For example, you can try a few inferior lines against someone that always plays the King's Indian, Pirc, and some form of Kingside Fianchetto line as White, like the English or King's Indian Attack, just to break their stride. Do not make a habit of this activity against everyone you face. In my almost 2800 games, I can think of two other times that I've done this. I won them both.



3...c5

This move is ok, as are many other moves as Black is not limited in valid options, but let's look at the line that specifically makes the Torre inferior against the early ...d5 that can't be played after Nf6/e6 or Nf6/g6. It starts with 3...Ne4! Now you might be asking how this is any different than the Trompowsky Attack. In the Trompowsky, White saves the Bishop, and then has the opportunity to kick the Knight away with f3, but here, the White Knight is already on f3, making the pawn push impossible and therefore it becomes very hard to harass. After 4.Bh4 (4.Bf4 is even less appealing for White) Qd6! 5.Nbd2 (5.e3? Qb4+!) Qh6!, White must play very accurately just to maintain a balanced game. The only move is the odd looking 6.Qc1! (6.e3? g5 7.Bg3 Nxg3 8.fxg3 g4 drops the e-pawn). Here, Black can either trade Knights, which is roughly equal, or go for a line that contains even more traps for White to watch out for, and even if he avoids them, he still has nothing better than equality. Black can play 6...Nc6 7.c3 Qh5 where White must avoid falling for 8.Nxe4? dxe4 9.Qg5 Qxg5 10.Nxg5 h6 11.Nh3 e5!, which favors Black, and play 8.h3 with equality.

Another word of note is that Black can also play 4...c5 (after 3...Ne4 4.Bh4) when White must play 5.dxc5 with equality. Note that 5.e3? is bad due to 5...Qb6 6.Qc1 cxd4 7.exd4 g5! 8.Bxg5 Nxg5 9.Nxg5 Qxd4 with advantage to Black. This line is critical to note as we end up in something similar on the Queenside, but the lack of the Black Knight and White Bishop, and the change in pawn structure, alters the assessment in the game itself.

I was under the assumption that Black would not find all of this, and he didn't, but just in case you are wrong, you must be prepared for this just in case your opponent does figure out the moves.

4.Bxf6 exf6 5.e3 Qb6 6.Qc1?!

Far stronger is 6.Nc3! as 6...Qxb2?? loses almost instantly to 7.Nxd5 Bf5 8.Bd3 Bxd3 9.cxd3 Kd8 10.O-O. Black must play 6...Be6, where 7.Bb5+ is roughly equal.

6...Bg4

6...Nc6 or 6...cxd4 7.Nxd4 Nc6 both lead to a slight advantage for Black.

7.Nbd2 Nc6 8.c3 Rc8 9.Qb1 cxd4 10.exd4 Bd6

Black misses his chance to get a slight advantage. The correct move here is 10...Rc7 where after 11.Bd3, the move 11...Re7+ eliminates White's castling rights as he has nothing better than 12.Kf1. Black is slightly better.

From here on out, the rest of the game see the position toggle between equal and better for White. It took some luck, but after going through White's inferior play in the opening, we are ready to roll!

11.Bd3 Bxf3

This trade, giving up the light-squared Bishop for nothing, is completely unexplainable. Better was 11...Qc7 with an equal game.

12.Bxf3 g6 13.O-O O-O 14.Re1 Rfe8 15.Rxe8+ Rxe8 16.Qc2

White manages to unclog his Queenside with a slight advantage.

16...Qc7

This move allows White to pressure the d5-pawn. Better is 16...Na5, heading for c4 with the Knight, or 16...a6.

17.Qb3 Ne7 18.Re1 Rc8 19.g3



So let's assess the position:
  • White has the better pawn structure as it is three pawn islands versus two and Black has an isolated pawn. The doubled pawns are not as big of an issue for Black as they cover critical squares on the e-file.
  • White's Rook is ideally placed. Virtually nothing else on the board is.
  • Black's Knight is virtually stuck on e7.
  • Bishops are of opposite color, which favor the side with the initiative in the middle game. Since Black's Knight is stuck, his heavy pieces are not on an open file, his pawns are worse, it can be safe to say that White is the one with the initiative.

Based on this, we can safely say that White has the advantage. Now we need to figure out what White's "To Do" list is:
  • Prevent the Knight from being able to come to f5.
  • Relocate his Knight, Bishop, and Queen.
  • Build pressure on the d5-pawn and down the e-file.
  • When the dust settles, possibly advance the king side pawns to loosen the coverage of the Black King. This has to be done with caution though as it also opens up the White King.

19...Qd7

The move ...Nf5 is not yet a threat as it would hang the d-pawn.

20.Kg2

And so therefore White prevents any intrusions such as 20...Qh3.

20...a6

Once again, not a move that helps Black get the Knight to f5. Therefore, White needs to figure out what to do next. A common concept in chess is to look for the worst placed piece. This can be the King, but Pawns don't count. Take a minute to look at White's position, and see if you can figure out White's worst placed piece.



So, did you figure out which of White's five pieces (including the King) is the worst placed piece?
  • The Rook is ideally placed on the only open file.
  • The Queen is not ideally placed, but she is pressuring the weak d5-pawn, and so she is not the "worst-placed" piece.
  • The Bishop is doing the task of covering f5.
  • The King is safe on g2
  • The Knight?

I think we have our answer. Now the question becomes, where do we want to put the Knight and do we have time? From f3, the Knight is doing absolutely nothing. However, if he could move himself to e3, he covers the f5-square once again, and also adds an attacker to the d5-pawn. Now you might be wondering about the blocking of the Rook on the open file. With the Black Knight stuck on e7, Black is not going to build up on the e-file. behind the Knight as there is only one square. Therefore, White does not need to concern himself of the Rook being temporarily blocked, but once the Knight moves, he's still ready to contest the file. Also, given what happens in this game, it turns out the Rook will soon be the worst placed piece despite it being the best one at the very moment. The last thing to figure out is whether or not he has time. Black has almost nothing here. Possibly an advancement of the Queenside pawns to try to disrupt White's pawn structure, but that is about it. Therefore, we should have time to maneuver the Knight.

21.Nd2! Qc6 22.Nf1 Kf8 23.Ne3 Rd8



Mission one accomplished. Notice how Black was unable to do much of anything in that time. NOW what is the worst placed piece?

24.Be2!

The Queen has gotten off of f5, and the Knight has taken over the job of covering f5 along with adding an attacker to d5. Now the Bishop needs to be relocated to f3 to add yet another attacker to the d5-Pawn.

24...Bc7 25.Bf3 b5

Ok, so one more time. What is White's worst placed piece? This one is tough!



26.Nc2

Here is where things start turning the other way and White's advantage is about to dwindle. Here, White thought the worst-placed piece was the Knight, that it hasn't gotten to its ideal square yet, and that it really belongs on b4, or else induces Black to advance the a-pawn and slightly weaken the Queenside.

Well, it turns out this is not right. Did anybody say the Queen was the worst placed piece? Well, again, it's not great, but it turns out it's not the worst placed piece, and if you find the correct piece and move it to its correct location, the Queen problem will sort itself out.

It turns out the answer is the Rook! White should have played 26.Ra1!, preparing a4, and after 26...f5 27.a4 bxa4 (Black has nothing better than this move) 28.Qxa4 Qxa4 (Remember I said the Queen problem will sort itself out?) 29.Rxa4 a5 30.Ra3 Rb8 31.b3 Rd8, White has a near-decisive advantage, and once again will relocate his worst placed piece for what is probably the last time, which this time it is finally the King, and he should play 32.Kf1! intending to relocate the King to d3.

26...a5 27.Ne3 Qd7

Now White has to watch out for a few tricks here. For example, White would like to pin the Knight to the Queen with his Bishop if Black ever plays ...Nf5. However, had it been Black's turn, he could very well do it because pinning the Knight fails tactically to ...Nxe3+, getting out of the pin and winning a piece. Therefore, White needs to do something about this trick.

28.Kg1

The first move people think of is not usually a retreating move, but in this case, White does this to make it so that capturing on e3 is not check, which would make the pin effective if Black ever plays ...Nf5. Also, with the Bishop on f3 instead of d3, he can always move the Bishop to g2 if Black ever tries to come in on h3 with the Queen.

28...Kg7 29.Be2

There is no need to relocate the Bishop. Better is 29.Qa3, pressuring the Knight on e7 once White moves his own Knight. Note that now 29...Bd6 would drop the a-pawn, and so Black has nothing better than 29...Qd6, allowing White to trade Queens, the piece that White should really be trying to trade off at this point.

29...Rb8 30.Qd1

Now White has completely thrown his advantage away. Better here was 30.a3, still retaining a small advantage.

Do you see Black's equalizing move?

30...Nf5??

Don't worry, neither did he! Not only did Black fail to find the equalizer, which was 30...b4, but he also outright blundered into a lost position.

31.Nxf5! Qxf5

As much of a train wreck that this is, the lesser evil was probably to take the tripled pawns with 31...gxf5. That said, White's still winning after 32.Bd3. Now the Black Queen doesn't get trapped, but she gets tucked away into a useless area of the board, never to see the light of day until it is way too late.

32.Bg4 Qg5 33.h4! Qh6



What a picturesque position! Black's Queen is deemed totally useless. The Bishop can do nothing to stop White's attack on f7, a light square, and the Rook on b8 isn't of much help either when White is about to bring both his heavy pieces down the e-file, and once the second one goes down, opening up c1 for the Black Queen, White will have the safe haven for the King on g2, a light square! This pretty much spells the end of the game.

34.Re7 Bd6 35.Rd7

Both gaining time on the Bishop and opening up the file for the Queen to come down next!

35...Rb6 36.Qe1

The correct square for the Queen, continuing to cover all three dark squares, c1, d2, and e3, so that the Queen remains stuck on h6.

36...f5 37.Qe8 Qc1+ 38.Kg2! 1-0

The only way to stop immediate mate is with 38...Be7, giving up the Bishop, but even there, White has mate in 8 against the best defense, and so Black resigned.


A few things to pick up from this game:
  • Once again, keep in mind that White's opening play in this game was inferior and should not be repeated. Before playing an inferior line, make sure you do your research on your opponent, and make at least fairly certain that you aren't expecting the best play by your opponent. This is most often successful against players that play the exact same openings and exact same positions over and over and over and over again to the point that they are playing out of habit more than anything else. If these openings also lead to the exact same pawn structures, like the Caro-Kann and Slav or Pirc and King's Indian, all the better!
  • Remember that an inferior move is only bad if the opponent is able to execute. If he can't, the inferior move suddenly went from bad to good. Note that inferior and bad are not the same thing! In many books, bad moves and blunders are pointed out because there is a clear cut path to busting the move played. Inferior simply means that there are better options, and your move is not outright losing, but it can lead to a position that you have to spend the rest of the game defending, which is almost never fun, especially when you have White.
  • When making your To-Do list, always consider two things. First of all, you need a To-Do list whether you are attacking or defending. That To-Do list could be eliminating a key defensive piece, like a Knight on f6 (if you have White that is), and a relocation of your own pieces. But also keep in mind that your To-Do list could also be things you need to make sure you prevent from your opponent. For example, in the same we saw, White had the task of making sure that Black could never move his Knight to f5 without paying the price for it! As it turns out, it never was good for Black. Notice when he did play it in the game, his Queen was immediately put away and sentenced to life on h6.
  • When trying to conduct an attack, always keep in the back of your head the idea of the worst placed piece. Remember, that can very well be the King, and maybe the King needs to go for a walk, but a Pawn is never considered the worst placed piece. Also note how a piece's value can change as the game goes on. The White Rook went from being the best placed piece at move 19 to being the worst placed piece at move 26. Also note that defending threats must take priority over moving the worst placed piece. This idea is something you do when you've determined that your opponent has no immediate threats and you are headed on the offensive. Also, a piece that might look bad may be very well placed for defensive purposes. This is often the case in certain openings, like the Knight on e2 in the Exchange Grunfeld with 7.Bc4 and 8.Ne2, or the Bishop on c8 or d7 in the French Defense, covering the potentially weak e6 pawn.

Next time, we will be looking at round 4, which will probably be in two weeks with Land of the Sky being next weekend. Until then, good luck in your games, and good luck to those attending LOTS.