Thursday, January 23, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 29

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

10.Ng5 Be7 11.Bh5 Bd7?

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

12.Nxh7 Kf7

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

13.Ng5+ Bxg5 14.Bxg5 Be8



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

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

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

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

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

15.g4?!

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

15...Kg8

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

16.gxf5?? =/+

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

16...exf5??

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

17.Bxg6?!

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

17...Bxg6 18.Qf3 Re8



Can White take the pawn on d5?

19.Kd2?!

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

19...Qf7 20.Bf4?!

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

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



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

23...Kh7?

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

24.Kc2 a5 25.Nd2 Nd8

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

26.Bg5

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

26...f4

Black goes for the attack on the light squares.

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

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

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



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

33.Qg2!

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

33...Bd3 34.e6

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

34...Qe7 35.Qg5?!

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

35...Re8?

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

36.Qh5+! Kg8 37.Re1 g6



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

38.Qg4?

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

38...Qf6?

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

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

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

42.Rxe6

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

42...Qxe6 43.Qe5+ Kf7?

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

44.Qxe6+ Kxe6 45.Na3

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

45...Be2 46.f4 Bh5



47.Kc1?

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

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

47...Kf5??

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

48.Nb5!

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

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


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


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

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 28

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


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

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

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

6...Nh6

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

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

7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2



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

9...Bd7

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

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

10.g4!

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

10...Nh6

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

11.h3 Nh5?!

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

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

12.Nc3?!

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

12...Nc4?!

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

13.Qb3?

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

13...a5 14.b5

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



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

14...a4!

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

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

15.Nxa4 Qa5+ 16.Nc3

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

16...Nxb2

The Bishop now must be removed.

17.Qxb2 Bxa3!

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

18.Qb3

The only move that maintains the pressure on the Bishop.

18...O-O!

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

19.Nd2 Qb4

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

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

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



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

23...f6!

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

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

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

27...Bb6 28.Kd2

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

28.Kd2 Bxd4 29.Nxd4 Rxa3 30.Bd3

On move 30, the Bishop finally comes into play.

30...Nf7 31.Re1



31...Ng5?!

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

32.Rc1! Nxh3?

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

33.Rc7

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

33...Nf2?

Relatively best was 33...Ra4 +/=



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

34.Be2??

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

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

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



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

36...Be8??

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

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

37.Rxb7??

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

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

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

37...Nc5+ 0-1


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


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


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

Friday, January 10, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 27

A Trap Worth Knowing!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

9.Be3

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

9...Bd7



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

10.Nc3??

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

10...Rc8?!

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

11.Rc1?

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

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

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

14.Qd3 Qa5 15.Kd2



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

15...a6

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

16.Ke2 Rxc3 17.Rxc3 Bxc3

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

18.Kf2 O-O

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

19.Ng5 f5 20.g3



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

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

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

25...Qa6

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

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



Can you find Black's best move?

29...gxf4!!

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

30.Rg1

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

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

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

33.Kf2 Qf3# 0-1


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

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

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Game Analysis: Atlanta Class Championship, Round 5

Hello everyone and welcome. Here we will be concluding the coverage of my games from the Atlanta Class Championship. Before getting to the game, a little word on the tournament situation and the player I faced in the final round. Going into the final round, one player had 3.5 points, and that was the player that I lost to back in the third round, in which the game was covered two articles ago. I was then the only player with 3, and then there was a number of players with 2.5, two of which had to face us on the top two boards. So going into this round, I know that a win will at worst put me in clear second, and with a loss or draw by the tournament leader, I could end up in clear first or tied for first, respectively, and so this game was critical as a loss, or even a draw for that matter, was totally worthless and out of the question.

A word about my opponent. I had observed throughout the tournament that he moved extremely fast in all of his games. With a time control of 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by sudden death in 30 minutes with a 10 second delay, I have observed cases where the number of moves made was in the 30s, and Frank's clock would still have over 80 minutes on it. It resulted in his 2.5 score coming in the form of three draws and a win. What that told me was that he was probably very good at well known tactical patterns. Before the round, I had looked him up on the USCF Website and noticed that he had played well over 1400 tournament games, which just, to me, confirmed the likelihood that a lot of what he did came in the form of repetition. The fact that this dates back to late 1991, which is as far back as the USCF records, and so he could easily have played hundreds more before that. So, to me, the solution was simple. I am looking at your typical "expert" who probably hit a wall because he shows no sign of patience at the board, and if he just took his time, probably a lot of his draws and losses would have results in victories.

So what do you do against such an opponent? You play something extremely unusual. An opening that does not result in your "typical" types of pawn structures, like blocked centers that result from the French or King's Indian, or IQP centers that result from many Queen Pawn openings, or open type centers that result from say, the Petroff or the Berlin. I needed something really odd. As it turns out, there is this system called the Elshad System. There is a version of it for Black, which is intended to be a defense to specifically 1.d4, and then there is the version for White, which starts with the move 1.c3, and then subsequent play can be vastly different depending upon which way White chooses to play it. The game below is one of many options for White, and I have taken other approaches in different games, so don't think that this game is "the line". I have no intention of giving away any secrets in that opening, and those that want to know them will have to invest the money and the time themselves. While I mainly play 1.e4, this 1.c3 line is my sideline that I use against players in certain situations. For example, a player that I might be playing for the umpteenth time, throw a curve ball at them. In this case though, with it literally being the second time we ever faced and the first time since 2007, that was not my reason for playing it. It strictly had to do with the fact that he plays too fast, and so if I can throw him off his stride, it is at minimum a psychological advantage for me. It did force him to slow down a little, but even at game's end, he spent a grand total of 28 minutes to my 64.

Without further ado, let's see how playing too fast can get you destroyed.


Atlanta Class Championship, Round 5
W: Patrick McCartney (2018)
B: Frank Johnson (2021)
Elshad System

1.c3 c5 2.d3 Nc6 3.g4 d5 4.h3 e5 5.Bg2 Be6 6.Nf3 Qc7 7.Ng5 O-O-O 8.Nxe6 fxe6 9.Nd2 Be7 10.Nf1 Bh4 11.e4 dxe4 12.Bxe4 Nf6 13.Qe2 Rhf8 14.Ng3 Bxg3 15.fxg3 Nxe4 16.dxe4 h6



So this is where we are going to start the analysis. I should start by saying that White, who has played this opening before, has 77 minutes left to Black's 87 minutes, and so Black is still rushing moves. So who is better?

It turns out, it is roughly equal with White possibly having an ever so slight advantage. That said, this is soon to change as Black's situation is more critical. White is slightly behind in development, but he has all of long term advantages in the position. He has the better minor piece given that the board is somewhat open, and also given that the c3-pawn covers two key squares that the Knight could get to from c6. He also has the better majority. Both sides have three pawn islands, but Black's majority is doubled e-pawns blocked by a single White e-pawn. White's majority is doubled g-pawns and an h-pawn versus g- and h-pawns. So why is White's version better? It's because Black's last move, which he was fairly quick to make, wasn't very good. It creates a hook for White, and White will play g5 shortly, and when White plays g5, Black can't advance the pawn as it would hang to a capture with the White Queen, and if he trades or allows White to trade, White gets a genuine 2-on-1 majority rather than the useless doubled e-pawns that Black has. Given these facts, we know that endgames would likely favor White. Therefore, three moves make sense for White here. 17.g5, going for the majority, 17.Be3, catching up in development, and the move played in the game.

17.Rf1

White's goal is to trade a set of Rooks and get closer to an endgame. The Rook, of course, was doing nothing anyway on h1.

17...Qa5?

This is not a good square for the Queen. Black has a number of options, including trading Rooks on f1, to avoid having his d8-Rook dragged to the f-file, or a move like 17...Qd7 or 17...Qe7, looking to maintain control of the open d-file. He could also solidify his queenside with 17...b6. But the game move is a waste of time, and very shortly the d-file is actually going to be a problem for Black.

18.Rxf8 Rxf8 19.Bd2

Turns out this move is too passive and allows Black equality. White actually has a large advantage after 19.Be3. My main fear was allowing the Knight to become active with 19...Nd4. However, it fails tactically. White wins after 20.Qc4 Nc2+ 21.Kd2 Nxa1 22.Qxe6+ Kd8 23.Qd6+ Ke8 24.Bxc5 Rf7 25.Qxe5+ Kd7 26.Qd5+ Kc8 (Or 26...Ke8 27.Qe6+ Kd8 28.Qxf7 Qxc5 29.Qd5+ and White wins.) 27.Qxf7 Qxc5 28.Qf5+ Qxf5 29.gxf5 and White wins).

After Black's best play in response to 19.Be3, which is 19...Nb8 20.Qc4 Nd7 21.Rd1 (21.Qxe6? Qb5 =), White has a clear advantage.

19...Qa4 20.b3 Qa3 21.Bc1 Qa5 22.Bd2 Qb6

Black would be advised to put the burden on White and repeat the position with 22...Qa3. White probably has nothing better than to take a draw by repetition.

23.O-O-O Nb8 24.g5

There's that g5 move that was mentioned earlier.

24...hxg5 25.Bxg5 Nd7 26.Qd3

So the d-file has gone from being controlled by Black to being completely owned by White. Black will have problems with the d8-square and his King.

26...Qc6 27.Be7 Rf2?

The lesser evil is 27...Rf7. After 28.Bd6, White still has an attack, but it's not nearly as dire as what happens in the game.

28.Bxc5!

The Bishop is poisoned.

28...Rxa2

28...Nxc5?? is of course mate on move with 29.Qd8. 28...Qxc5? drops the Queen after 29.Qxd7+ Kb8 30.Qe8+ Kc7 (30...Qc8 31.Rd8) 31.Qd8+ Kc6 32.Qd7+ Kb6 33.Rd6+ and Black can take the Rook, block with the Queen, or walk into a pawn fork, all of which drop the Queen.

29.Kb1 Ra5 30.Be7 Rb5 31.c4 Rb6



So after 31 moves, White has used 41 minutes. Black has used 11 minutes. And what do we have here? A position where Black is completely busted thanks to a number of inferior moves, and two really bad moves on moves 17 and 27. This is precisely what I was banking on when playing an odd opening against a rapid player.

32.Rf1!

This move will convert White's positional advantage to a winning material advantage.

32...Kc7

I was expecting 32...Kb8, avoiding White's next move. Even so, 33.c5 is then a problem for Black.

33.Rf8 Rxb3+

Black has nothing better.

34.Qxb3 Nxf8 35.Bxf8 Qe4+ 36.Qc2 Qe1+ 37.Ka2 Qxg3 38.Qd2



38...e4

I was shocked by this move. I had expected 38...Qxh3. It still loses for Black, but it's not the easiest of winning endings to execute. There is not only one way for White to win it, but an example of a line that would lead to a win for White would be 39.Bd6+ Kc8 40.Be7 b6 41.Qd8+ Kb7 42.Qd7+ Ka6 43.Bb4 Qf3 44.Kb2 Qe4 45.Qc8+ Qb7 46.Qxe6 Qe4 47.Bc3 Kb7 48.Qd5+ Qxd5 49.cxd5 e4 50.Bxg7 Kc7 51.Kc3 Kd6 52.Kd4 and White wins easily as the Bishop can drive the King away from d6 with a check.

With the game move, White is able to execute a series of checks that allows him to take the e6-pawn with check.

39.Qa5+ Kc8 40.Qc5+ Kd7 41.Qe7+ Kc6 42.Qxe6+ Kc7 43.Ba3

Bringing the Bishop back to block the Queen from checks temporarily.

43...Qg2+ 44.Bb2 g5

Black actually spent about a minute on this move. I remember him being about ready to play another move, but then realized the g-pawn falls to a Queen check followed by a capture on g7. However, while completely busted, Black made matters really easy because the pawn is now stuck on g5, the same color square as the White Bishop. It would have made more sense to play 44...g6 instead, though White is still completely winning. In the game, this g5-pawn will fall almost immediately after White is successfully able to eliminate the Queens.

Now the only question for White is how to make progress. Turns out, the answer is to walk the King up the board. To keep the King protected, the White pieces need to be near the King. To attack Black, the White pieces need to be near the Black King. Therefore, the White King comes with them!

45.Ka3 Qf3+ 46.Kb4

The best square for the King as Black will have to go far away to check the King again, and the following move, there will be no checks.

Black has spent 17 minutes to play his first 45 moves. He now sits there and proceeds to spend a full six minutes on his 46th move. The problem is, it's way too late for that! He should have been spending his time earlier. Let me once again emphasize bad moves by Black such as 17...Qa5 and 27...Rf2. In the meantime, White has spent 57 minutes on his first 46 moves, and so with 63 minutes left for the game, White is in no threat to run out of time, or even feel pressured to the point where it would impact his judgement in the position.

46...Qf8+ 47.Ka4!

While 47.c5 is also still winning, why give Black any hope at all? He can play 47...a5+, which just complicates the matter. Sure, White still wins, but why deal with a high pressure situation, such as 48.Kb5 Qf1+ 49.Kxa5. The game move is simply easier for White.

47...b6 48.Qxe4 a5

So Black goes for desperation by threatening a cheap shot mate in 1. That said, it took me a matter of a minute to confirm that Black has no way to avoid the trade of Queens here.

49.Bxe5+ Kd7

Or 49...Kd8 50.Qa8+ also eliminates the Queens.

50.Qd5+

And now if 50...Ke7, then a skewer occurs with 51.Bd6+. Therefore, Black is forced to the back rank and the Queens are gone.

50...Ke8 51.Qa8+ Kf7 52.Qxf8+ Kxf8 53.Bf6

Remember the comment back at Black's 44th move, and how this pawn is now stuck on a square that is the color the White Bishop resides on? Now that pawn will fall immediately.

53...g4 54.hxg4 Kf7 55.Bd4 1-0

With another pawn about to fall, Black had enough and threw in the towel.


Mission Accomplished! Black spent a grand total of 28 minutes to White's 64 for this game, and while White's opening selection may not be viewed as the best of openings, and despite White's one real mistake on move 19, the opening, and subsequently the flow of the game, served its purpose. Black played a number of inferior moves, like 16...h6, just to name one, and two really bad moves on moves 17 and 27, and all of this masked White's lone error along with choice of opening. When you clearly know that you are playing against someone that always moves way too fast, the way to take them down is to get them out of their comfort zone. They probably have well known patterns mentally stored that arise from common openings like the Sicilian or Nimzo-Indian, but they can really get thrown off if they face something that is really odd, like the Sokolsky (1.b4), Bird's Opening (1.f4), 1.Nc3 lines, which can transpose to various King Pawn openings or also lead to independent positions, such as the Tubingen Gambit (1.Nc3 Nf6 2.g4), or as was the case here, the Elshad System via 1.c3. Now keep in mind, it needs to be something that you know. Just throwing a random move that you've never played yourself won't do you any good, but while you may be a 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, or 1.Nf3 player, it might be good to have something unusual in your repertoire for White. The fact that White goes first allows for such activity without getting killed. None of these should be your main opening for White, and I say this despite the fact that 1.b4 for a while was indeed my main opening back in 2008 and 2014, having played over 200 games with that opening move. I should add that doing this is not a good idea when you have Black. When you are already at a slight disadvantage because your opponent goes first, you should stick to your bread and butter defenses, and trust your own ability to outplay your opponent in a position that you see in almost half of your Black games while your opponent might face it a couple of times a year as White.


As for the tournament, those of you that recall in the article on round 1 that I had won this tournament, you probably already know what happened on the other board. The leader, Doruk Emir, who beat me in the third round, had to play Alexander Rutten, the kid I defeated in the first round, and Alexander Rutten won that game, leaving both Doruk Emir and Alexander Rutten, along with one other player, with 3.5, which lead to my 4-point performance being a clear first place result.

This concludes the coverage of the Altanta Class Championship. This is also very likely the last article of 2019. I hope everyone enjoys the Holidays, and I will be back after the Charlotte Open to continue to cover games from tournaments, such as the Charlotte Open, along with other articles on endgame play, opening and middlegame topics, and will continue the French Connection series with lots of analysis and ideas in the French Defense with many games featuring that opening.

Best wishes to everyone. See you in 2020!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Game Analysis: Atlanta Class Championship, Round 4

Hello everyone and welcome. Here we will be continuing the analysis of the games I played in the Atlanta Class Championship. After three rounds, the standings were Doruk Emir, the player I lost to in the previous round, with 3 points, and then five of us with 2 points (nobody had 2.5), and then waiting in the wings was the top seed, the guy I beat in the first round, with 1.5, while the second seed, the guy I beat in the second round, lost again in the third and is a non-factor at this point in time. All of this ends up being very significant. The five players with 2 points are the next three in line, the 4-, 5-, and 6-seeds (the last one being me), along with two class A players playing up. Doruk Emir gets the 4-seed in this round while Frank Johnson (the 5-seed) and myself both get the luxury of playing down this round.

The opponent I got was a very young kid who could not have been more than maybe a tween. As I have mentioned many times before, kids, tweens, and even teens, most (and I emphasize, most, and not all,) tend to be impatient, reliant on tactics, and rarely have a deep understanding of positional play as most of them don't study the old fashion way at a three-dimensional board, and instead tend to go for a lot of internet play and using computers to do their analysis, which often leads to passive learning. Passive learning can lead to sharp tactical play, but often results a massive weakness in positional understanding and overall strategy. For this reason, I was completely shocked by the opening selected, but then at the same time, I was not at all shocked by the positional errors that White made in this game early on. By the time tactics started kicking in, Black was already winning, but it lead to a very long series of complicated moves as Black had to stop a lot of White's threats and find the break through in the winning endgame. This did lead to time issues for myself (Black), but luckily, unlike the third round, they did not cost me as I wasn't literally down to my final minute in the first time control, and in the second time control, I was in an endgame when time was short, and so Black's moves were fairly simple at that point. It just turned out to be a long-winded process to convert the win, especially given that I had to go for the simplest way out instead of what was necessarily the fastest way out.

With all of that said, let's take a look at what happened in the game.


Atlanta Class Championship, Round 4
W: Vikram Rajmohan (1942)
B: Patrick McCartney (2018)
London System

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 g6 3.Bf4

Not exactly the opening I expected from a young kid. This is more the opening selection I would expect from a crotchety old man who is well past his prime, looking for simplicity, and wants to play the same position over and over again as rather than having to go through complicated tactics that would require a lot of calculation, which is an area that older people tend to be at a disadvantage, he or she would rather play based on known patterns. This type of play requires positional understanding, which if you study in the manner that people over 60 today studied back in the day, before artificial intelligence took over, this type of opening should be right up their alley.

Now I must also give a word of caution to those of you that incorporate the concept of chess psychology into your game. I did mention before that this concept of how older people study and understand the game versus how younger people study and understand the game at the amateur level is true for the majority of cases, but not all cases. Therefore, Black here has to play on the assumption that White knows precisely what he is doing, and it is only after the subsequent 10 to 12 moves that I was able to confirm that White did not have a strong background in understanding positional concepts, as we shall see shortly.

Lastly, for those of you looking for an answer to the London System that play the King's Indian Defense against 1.d4/2.c4, this double-fianchetto line is well worth looking into. I'm not claiming it's any kind of bust to the London System as there is no refutation to it, but if you want an active game with potential winning chances, this is not a bad line to go with.

3...Bg7 4.e3 d6

If Black wants to maintain the highest level of flexibility, with in some cases the possibility of playing ...d5 instead, then 4...O-O is appropriate here as White hasn't played e4.

5.c4

To me, this move is a mistake. In some ways, it's White committing too early, and in others, it's White mixing openings. To me, if White is going to play the structure with c4, d4, and e3 against the King's Indian Defense, the Bishop should be on g5 rather than f4, and for those looking for an example of this, go back in this forum to August 2019 and go through the 5th round of The Des Moines Open, which featured that exact line. Black won, but in reality, it was White that should have won that game.

On the flip side, there may occasionally be cases in the London System where White does play c4 instead of c3, but he should not commit to that until Black has revealed his hand, like is he going to play for c5 or e5? Will he double-fianchetto and hold both pawns back? I think that White should continue with his Kingside development first and then figure out what to do with the c-pawn. White should probably play 5.h3 or 5.Be2 here.

5...O-O 6.Bd3

And here we have another positional mistake by White. Against the King's Indian, it is extremely rare that d3 is the best place for the Bishop as it bites on granite with the strong g6-h7 pawn structure. Also, as we will see, White's Bishop will come under attack, and actually end up taken. This is White's better bishop, and a piece that he should be holding on to with his pawn structure. This piece is far better placed on e2.

6...Nbd7 7.Nc3 b6 8.O-O Bb7



So it is only now that Black exposes his hand as he went for a double-fianchetto setup with a delay in advancing ...c5. This keeps c5 from being a target for White, doesn't give White b4 as a lever, and still allows for ...e5 instead of ...c5 if the position calls for it. White's next move cannot be good.

9.d5

The idea behind this move is very shallow. Yes, it blocks the Bishop that Black just put on b7. However, it costs White the dark squares, which Black control rapidly as White's poor development of his Light-Squared Bishop will gain Black a tempo.

9...Nc5 10.Rc1

Wh-wh-what????? No, this cannot be right at all. White has two options here, and everything else is just outright bad. The first, and the one that I expected White to do, was retreat the Bishop to c2 or e2. I am guessing that White expected to be able to play 11.Bb1 on the next move only after getting the Rook out, going on the assumption that I would play the standard 10...a5 to secure the outpost for the Knight on c5. If White had played something like 10.Be2 or 10.Bc2, that is precisely what I would have done. But here? Absolutely not!

Before going to the game and seeing Black's reaction to this, it should also be mentioned that White does not have to secure the Bishop. He could transform the pawn structure and play 10.e4, against white Black should play 10...Nfd7, not allowing White to advance e5. For the moment, he should have no fear in White advancing b4 as he can then take the Bishop on d3, despite it being the bad Bishop now, and disrupt White's Queenside activity with a timely ...a5 immediately after the trade on d3.

10...Nxd3

Black is not allowing White to have his cake and eat it too. The Bishop is now gone, and Black, with in unopposed light-squared Bishop, should not have the issues on the light squares that he often has in the King's Indian Defense with all his pawns sitting on dark squares. How White follows up in the next couple of moves is even more alarming.

11.Qxd3 Nd7

Once again, to control the dark squares e5 and c5.

12.b4?

Probably played in fear of ...Nc5, but this doesn't solve any problems. It only creates more problems. Black isn't likely looking to play ...Nc5 just to get a cheap tempo unless he is going to play ...a5, but with the Knight for Bishop trade, Black can instead go for ...e5 and a Kingside attack without fearing weaknesses on the light squares resulting from the advancing of the pawns in front of his King. White had to play 12.e4 here, and after 12...e5 13.Bg5, it is still a game.

12...a5

With b4 played pre-maturely, White now has to choose between giving Black an open a-file for his Rook, or else lose control of c5 again.

13.b5

13.a3 was White's best move here with approximate equality.

13...Nc5 14.Qe2 e5



White is now between a rock and a hard place. He clearly cannot afford to take enpassant. It does nothing to weaken Black. It would open up Black's unopposed Bishop on b7. It would also heavily expose the weak pawn on c4. However, other moves simply give Black a ready-made attack. White's got two minor pieces on the Kingside that Black can gain tempos on via pawn moves, and everything for Black points to an attack on the White King. The Rook on a8 can be swung across to the Kingside, and the Bishop re-routed via c8 to a better diagonal. Meanwhile, the Queenside is virtually slammed shut, and there is absolutely nothing White can do there. So aside from having to watch out for cheap tactics by White, Black should feel very comfortable in this position, and doesn't even need to rush the attack as there is virtually nothing that White can do with the pawns the way they are.

Remember at White's third move when I said that you can't just "assume" the majority of cases matches your situation? Remember how I said at first, you have to assume that he knows what he's doing? Well, now it can be safely said that White did not understand London System strategy at all, and that White is positionally busted. Now keep in mind that positionally busted does not mean that Black will have this rapid fire attack that blows White off the board in a matter of a few moves. Oh, no way! In fact, it's 86 moves later when White resigns, despite the fact that he probably could have safely resigned sooner, as we shall see later on.

15.Bg3

The least of the evils for White, but even according to artificial intelligence, Black's position is up a full pawn in value already, and we are only 15 moves into the game.

15...f5 16.h3

Another sad necessity that really shows how dire a situation White's position really is. Normally, the old adage is not to advance pawns on the side of the board in which you are weak, but in this case, if White doesn't advance that pawn now or soon, his Bishop is going to get trapped by the Black pawns.

Anybody that play the King's Indian Defense against 1.d4 would also probably recognize at this point that Black has an improved version of the typical attack that he gets in the Classical King's Indian. This illustrates why it is very important to understand ideas and strategies when studying an opening, not just memorizing moves. Those that memorize would see this position as probably good for Black, but would need to figure out for themselves how to go about it. With the blocked queenside, they will likely recognize that Black's attack is on the King, but might think a little over-cautiously, thinking that his King is exposed because White has not played f3. A King's Indian player who doesn't merely memorize but understands what is going on realizes that the main reason Black wants f3 played by White before he plays ...f4 in the normal King's Indian has to do with White's light-squared Bishop, not King exposure, and with White's Bishop gone, this is not an issue at all, and so as you will see in the game, Black is playing for ...f4 the moment White advances his e-pawn.

16...f5 17.e4



So here we have the situation we just talked about. A player that memorizes might think about leaving the tension here, or possibly trading twice on e4 and then going ...Bc8, trying to gain a tempo on f5 with the Bishop. This idea though is not best. Black should instead recognize two things. The first, once again, is that White's Light-Squared Bishop is gone. There is no issue with exposing the g4-square, and so Black does not need f3 to be played to advance his pawn. However, another thing to recognize is that advancing the pawn creates another major headache for White. What does he do with that Bishop on g3? He only has two choices, and both lead to bad situations for White, and so therefore, Black should not even contemplate another move, and instead, proceeds to advance the pawn.

17...f4!

This shuts out any play by White that might result from opening up the b1-h7 diagonal by trading on e4 or f5, and the Bishop now has to move in a way that benefits Black. Normally, Black doesn't gain this tempo, and normally, White's Bishop is on either d2 (in the 10.Nd3 variation of the Mar Del Plata) or f2 (in the 10.Be3 line of the Mar Del Plata). Here, it either has to go to h2, which will virtually put White down a piece. The Bishop is completely useless, and by the time White is able to get it out with something like Kh1, Bg1, N-somewhere, and f3, Black's pawns and pieces have already swarmed around the White King. Not to mention, the moment White moves the Knight, he must watch out for tactical shots by Black of playing ...f3, even if it's a pawn sacrifice, it could fatally open routes to the White King.

So therefore, White goes the other route with his Bishop, but we shall soon see that it is not roses for White either.

18.Bh4 Bf6!

What is the one really bad piece for Black in lines of the King's Indian where the center is completely blocked? The Dark-Squared Bishop! What has Black just done here? Forced the trade of Dark-Squared Bishops! With Black's attack, he absolutely does not want an endgame, but if there is literally one piece that Black should be more than thrilled to trade off, it's the dark-squared Bishop. Again, we are seeing many ideas in the King's Indian Defense in an improved version here. This is why ideas and understanding are so much more important than memorizing reams of lines. You can end up in a completely different opening - Remember, this game was a London System, not a King's Indian Defense - and yet wind up in a position just like something else that you play, or in this case, like that but with interest!

19.Bxf6 Qxf6 20.Nd2 Bc8

Re-routing the Bishop as once again, White has virtually nothing, and Black can take his sweet time to arrange everything.

21.Qf3?

This is a horrible move. The Queen is not a good blocking piece. Yes 21.f3 does weaken dark squares, and advances another pawn on the side White's weak, but this was by far the lesser evil. All White can do is sit back and make Black prove that he can bust through, but sometimes you have to admit that you are playing for 2 results, and do whatever you can to try to draw the position. The move played does not achieve that.

21...Rf7 22.Rfd1

Possibly trying to give a little extra breathing room to the White King, but don't think that the White King can just run away to the Queenside. Let's not forget that Knight on c5. Just because he's not on the Kingside doesn't mean he isn't taking part in the attack.

22...Rg7 23.Nf1 Bd7 24.g4

Possibly trying to take advantage of the fact that en passant would hang the Black Queen, but rather, all this does is give Black another hook that is even easier to latch on to, and does nothing but weaken the White King even further.

24...Qh4 25.Nh2 h5!

White's position is coming apart at the seems.

26.Qg2 hxg4 27.Nxg4 Rf8 28.f3 Rh7 29.Kh2 Kg7 30.Rh1



Black's pieces can hardly be improved. That usually means it's time for the kill shot. How should Black proceed?

30...Bxg4!

Removing a key defender, and forcing White to give Black a protected passer on f4.

31.fxg4

This move is forced as 31.Qxg4?? results in mate in 4 after 31...Qf2+ 32.Qg2 Rxh3+!! 33.Kxh3 Rh8+ 34.Kg4 Qxg2 mate.

31...Nd3!

And now in comes the Knight, which will win material due to tactics.

32.Rcf1

Anything else allows ...Nf2 and ...f3, leading to a making attack.

32...Nb2

This move is cute, and still winning, but unnecessary. Black had 28 minutes to make 9 moves, and probably should have looked a little longer at the direct attack, and maybe he would have seen that significantly stronger is 32...f3! 33.Rxf3 Rxf3 34.Qxf3 Nf4 and White is busted.
33.Rf3

Of course not 33.Qxb2?? Qg3 mate!


33...Nxc4

Chomp!

34.Nd1 Rfh8

Playing this move requires Black to see a tactic, otherwise White would have an winning invasion on the Queenside.

35.Qc2

This doesn't work for tactical reasons, but the White Queen was already being overworked as it was.



Do you see the move for Black here?

35...Qxg4!

The main point is not that the pawn was hanging. If that's all it was, White could take the Knight and threaten to invade on c7. The point is that the Knight can't be taken because of a double capture on h3 with mate.

36.Qc3

So instead of taking the Knight, the Queen is stuck guarding the weak h3-pawn.

36...Qd7

Attack and defense at the same time. Black continues to eye h3, but also guards the c6 and c7 squares so that he can move his Knight once White gets rid of the mate threat. Note that White still can't take the Knight on c4 as 37.Qxc4 Rxh3+ 38.Rxh3 Qxh3+ 39.Kg1 Qxh1+ 40.Kf2 Rh2 is mate.

That said, Black did have a tactical shot that would have put White away quicker. After 36...Rxh3+!! 37.Rxh3 f3!!, White has to part with his Queen and after 38.Qxf3 Qxf3, due to the pin on the Rook, Black's winning easily.

37.Nf2 Ne3 38.Rc1 Kg8

A clever way to add defense to the c7-pawn, and also gets Black out of the pin, preventing any Rxf4 tricks.

39.Rg1 Rh6 40.Rc1 R8h7

Shuffling the Rooks so that both are doing a task.

41.Rg1 Qxb5

There goes a second pawn!

42.Re1 g5 43.Rexe3

White goes for desperation by sacrificing yet another exchange to try to open up lines to the Black King. With proper defense, this shouldn't work.

43.fxe3 44.Qxe3 Rg6 45.Ng4



45...Rf7 46.Rg3

Two other move worth noting:

A) 46.Nh6+ fails to 46...Rxh6 47.Qxg5+ Rg7 and now if 48.Qxh6, then 48...Qe2+ is mate in 3.

B) 46.Rxf7 Kxf7 47.Qf2+ Kg7 48.Qc2 Qd7 and Black is safe.

46...Rf4

The point behind Black's previous move.

47.Qg1 Qe2+

Winning yet another pawn.

48.Rg2 Qxe4 49.Nh6+ Kh7

Black could also take the Knight, but why risk it and why give White any satisfaction at all?

50.Ng4 Rf3 51.Nf2 Qf4+ 52.Kh1 Rh6 53.Qb1+ Qf5 54.Qc1



54...Rhxh3+

One can hardly criticize what Black did. It does eliminate the White Queen after all, and wins easily, and with only 7 minutes left for the game, it might be the best way to go if you don't immediately see that taking the Knight was possible, and of course wins faster. After 54...Rxf2 55.Qxc7+ Kg6 56.Qxd6+ Kh5, there are no more checks.

55.Nxh3 Rf1+ 56.Qxf1 Qxf1+ 57.Kh2



So Black will have three pawns and a Queen for Rook and Knight (the pawn on g5 is dead for those of you that think I can't count). The main thing now for Black is not to allow any knight forks of the King and Queen, and allowing a discovered check is fine as long as the piece moving out of the way of the discovering piece isn't able to attack the Black Queen in doing so.

57...Qc4

And so I went here, anticipating a capture on g5, and if it's with the Knight with check, I'll be able to cross the g-file and not be stuck on the h-file.

58.Nxg5+

Of course, taking with the Rook does keep the Black King on the h-file, but then I can scoop up both remaining White pawns as I can take the first one on a2 with check.

58...Kg6 59.Ne6+ Kh6

59...Kf6 was also possible.

60.Ng7 Qf4+

Black should simply grab the d5-pawn here.

61.Kg1 e4

Now we see what Black is after. Rather than simply cleaning house and getting rid of the White pawns, Black tries to promote one of his own.

62.Ne6 Qe5

Do note that for the moment, like if White were to move the a-pawn or the King, the d5-pawn is poisoned and it is therefore not a threat to be taken. If the Black Queen were on d5 right now, 63.Rh2+ followed by 64.Nf4+ would win the game for White.

63.Rh2+

White proceeds with the check anyway instead of maybe waiting and seeing if Black falls for the trap. There is nothing else White can do except weasel out with a cheap trap, so why not try it? Turns out I was fully aware of the situation.

63...Kg6 64.Nf8+ Kf7 65.Rf2+ Ke8 66.Ne6 e3 67.Re2

Black, of course, still can't take the pawn on d5 due to a Knight fork on c7. Therefore ...

67...Qg3+ 68.Rg2

Any other move allows mate in 9.

68...Qe1+ 69.Kh2 Qh4+

Due to the increment time control, I played this just to gain an extra minute on the clock. The real move comes at move 71.

70.Kg1 Qe1+ 71.Kh2 Qc3

Covering all bases, including c7 and e3.

72.Ng7+ Kf7

The best square for the King as there is no way to give a Knight fork with a King on f7 and a Queen on d5.

73.Nf5 Qe5+ 74.Ng3 Qxd5

The pawn is now safe to take, and with connected passers, White position is hopeless. With d5 gone, White can safely resign here. The rest of the moves are simply given for completeness.

75.Ne2 Qf3 76.Kg1 d5 77.a4 d4 78.Kh2 d3 79.Ng3 Qxg2+ 80.Kxg2 d2 81.Kf3 d1=Q+ 82.Kxe3 Qxa4 83.Ne4 Qxe4+ 84.Kxe4 Ke6 85.Kd4 c6 86.Kc4 Ke5 87.Kc3 Kd5 88.Kb3 Kd4 89.Ka3 Kd3 90.Ka2 c5 91.Kb2 Kd2 92.Kb3 b5 93.Ka3 c4 94.Ka2 c3 95.Ka3 c2 96.Kb3 c1=Q 97.Ka2 Qc2+ 98.Ka1 Qc3+ 99.Ka2 Qb4 100.Ka1 Kc2 0-1

Literally one move before mate, after 100 moves, White Resigned.


So we just witnessed a 100-move game with a ton of tactics from about move 30-onward. Can you name what the opening was? While many will recall it was a London System, the main point being made is that one cannot use a linear one-to-one relationship between opening and type of game. If all you did was memorize openings, you would think this game was baloney for a London System, but after White failed in many ways to play sound, positional moves in an opening not known for being wild and tactical, the game steered more in the direction of a King's Indian Defense, and what Black got was a souped up, more favorable version of it. It still required general knowledge of the King's Indian Defense for Black to weave his way through. Trying to memorize lines and compartmenalize openings like they are rats in separated mazes where they never meet together is a major flaw often made by amateurs. Many amateurs might be aware of certain well-known direct opening transpositions, like someone that plays the Scandinavian Gambit is probably well aware of the transposition to the Panov-Botvinnik Attack, a line against the Caro-Kann, and an Accelerated Dragon player might transpose directly to the Regular Dragon, or a Modern player might transpose to the Pirc, but the necessity to actually understand the ideas behind the openings you play goes far beyond direct transpositions. This game was not a direct transposition to the King's Indian Defense, but with tons of similarities to the King's Indian, knowing the ideas behind the opening is what was critical, and Black executed it beautifully. He may not have found every opportunity at playing the really flashy move every time, but simply being able to continue to play sound moves that maintain the winning advantage is all that is necessary. The difference between -4 and -8 is not important. What you don't want to do is get into the massive time issues that Black got into back in the third round (see the previous article).


So now an interesting twist occurred in the fourth round. The 4-seed was able to draw against the leader, Doruk Emir, giving the leader now 3.5. The other game between the players with two ended up in a draw, and the top seed, Alexander Rutten, won his game. The 4-seed, for some reason, withdrew after this. This gave Doruk Emir the lead at 3.5, myself alone in second at 3, Alexander Rutten, Frank Johnson (the 5-seed) and two others all had 2.5. I could not play Doruk in the final round as we had already faced. That meant that Doruk was going to have to play the top 2.5 player, which was the top seed in the tournament, and I was going to have to play Frank Johnson in the final round. All other games were irrelevant at this point. I am still in must-win mode, and with a win, I end up in clear second if Doruk wins, a tie for first if he draws, and clear first to myself if he loses.

The result of that game, along with coverage of my game in the final round against Frank Johnson, will be the topic of my next post, which may not come until after Christmas. I will try, but can't promise. Until then, good luck in your games.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Game Analysis: Atlanta Class Championship, Round 3

Hello everyone and welcome as we continue to analyze the games that lead to my victory of the Expert Section (which was also the top section) of the Atlanta Class Championship. In the previous two articles, we saw myself getting White against the top two players of the section, and taking both of them down. So what do I get as an opponent for my first game of the tournament as Black? The three seed! Of course!

In this game, we are going to see Black taking full advantage of the fact that White showed zero understanding of the opening. Black achieves a winning position, and keeps it until the one dark spot in the tournament hits for me. The time control was 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by sudden death in 30 minutes with a 30 second increment. Black, for the final 12 moves of the first time control, gets into severe time trouble, and we will see the entire position turn from a win for Black to a win for White in a mere matter of 12 moves. Even on move 40, Black has a shot at equality and salvaging half the point, but after move 40, Black is busted, and we will see the game conclude with correct technique by White, showing how to execute a winning Rook endgame with passed pawns for both sides.

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

Atlanta Class Championship, Round 3
W: Doruk Emir (2096)
B: Patrick McCartney (2018)
King's Indian Defense, Saemisch Variation

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3.e4

This is a common idea in the English Opening. White has no good way to play for an advantage without directly transposing to the King's Indian Defense. There are two common ways to do it. One of them is to transpose to the Fianchetto Variation via 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.Nf3 d6 6.O-O and following up Black's 6th move with 7.d4 as 7.d3 gives White nothing more than equality. The other approach is what happens this game, and playing 3.e4 has one major advantage over playing the fianchetto line. In the Fianchetto line, after 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.Nf3, Black can also play 5...d5, leading to either the Grunfeld if 6.d4, or anti-Grunfeld positions after 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.O-O, avoiding d4, which gives Black very few problems. By taking a more classical approach and playing either the Classical, Saemisch, Four Pawns, or any other line that involves an early e4, normally reached via 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6, White can specifically avoid the Grunfeld by playing 3.e4 before 4.d4. With 3.e4, the move ...d5 is taken out of the picture. White is basically saying that he has no objection to playing against a King's Indian, but no Grunfeld for you, sir! That said, those that know me know that I'm a King's Indian player, and despise the Grunfeld, and so it's no skin off my nose, but for those of you playing White, this is worth knowing.

Now you might ask, what happens after 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5, as many Grunfeld players know that this move order is necessary due to 3.e4, as played in the game. I would suggest a line that Ulf Andersson played, namely 3.cxd5 Nxd5 4.Nf3 g6 (normally, his games would go 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5, reaching the same position) 5.e4 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Qxd1+ 7.Kxd1 and Black has literally one move that leads to a near equal position, and that is the counter-intuitive 7...f6. Other moves lead to an advantage for White, including the "typical" move seen here, 7...Bg7. Those of you interested in learning this position are encouraged to pick up a copy of "How Ulf Beats Black" by Cyrus Lakdawala. Some old books on the English Opening may also cover this line.

3...d6 4.d4 Bg7 5.f3 O-O 6.Be3 e5



So we have the basic starting position of the 6...e5 variation of the Saemisch King's Indian. Black's idea is fairly simple. He wants to take on d4 to open up the diagonal for his Bishop on g7. White has two basic ideas here available to him. The first, and most common idea, is to lock the center with 7.d5. This move gains space for White, and slams shut the diagonal, and Black ends up with a bad Bishop on g7, similar to the bad Bishop on c8 in the French Defense, another opening that I play regularly, and so bad Bishops don't bother me, but again, you have to know how to deal with them to play this line against the Saemisch. If White does this, Black will usually play 7...Nh5 with ideas of either playing 8...f5, going for a Kingside Attack and chipping away at White's center, or there is an interesting line involving a sacrifice of the Queen for two Bishops and two pawns via 8.Qd2 Qh4+ 9.g3 Nxg3 10.Qf2 (10.Bf2? Nxf1 hits the Queen) Nxf1 11.Qxh4 Nxe3 followed by 12...Nxc4.

The second option is for White to allow the trade on d4 and play 7.Nge2, intending to recapture on d4 with the Knight. This leads to more of a Maroczy Bind type of position after Black trades on d4.

In the game however, White plays a bad move.

7.Qd2? exd4 8.Bxd4 Nc6

And here inlies the problem. The move 5.f3 has the downside of weakening the dark squares around White's King. Therefore, the absolute last thing that White can afford to do is give up his dark-squared Bishop for a Knight, leaving Black's dark-squared Bishop on what is now an open diagonal unopposed. Therefore, Black is developing with the gain of tempo. Had White played 7.Nge2 and recaptured on move 8 with the Knight, then 8...Nc6, while a fine move, does not gain time like it does in the game because White should have no objection to trading Knights if Black wishes to do so, but Black is spending time doing it, first developing the Knight, and then trading it off, falling behind in development while White develops his pieces and merely reacts when needed, like re-capturing when Black initiates a trade.

9.Be3

As explained, a sad necessity, losing time.

9...a6 10.Nge2 Rb8 11.Nd4 Bd7 12.Nc2

And so now White has lost time with the Bishop, and spends 3 moves to develop his Knight to c2? Yes, the Knight does often move 3 times in the Saemisch King's Indian, but usually to get to b3 or d3, not c2.

12...Ne5 13.Bg5 h6!



To see this move, Black must know about a very common tactical shot in the King's Indian Defense. When looking for ideas, always consider the possibility of the move ...Nxe4. This can lead to a number of possibilities, especially in lines where the White Queen is on d2, because the Knight directly attacks d2, and White must react to that. This often leads to one of two possibilities. The first is an attack on d4. With the Knight moved out of the way, the Bishop directly attacks d4, and so if that leads to more pieces attacking say, a Knight, on d4 than there are defending d4, this leads to the win of a pawn.

While that is not the case here, instead we have another common idea, this being the situation any time f3 is played, and this shows another downside to the Saemisch if it isn't followed up correctly. I should take a moment to state that this article is not a knock on the Saemisch Variation against the King's Indian, but it does show what happens if White subsequently has no clue what he's doing, which was the case here. In this case, we have a fork with the Queen, giving check to the White King, and that is why this move doesn't drop a pawn. White has three options, none of which are good for White. He can admit the loss of more time, and retreat with 14.Be3 or 14.Bf4, and maybe he thinks that the pawn advance weakens Black's structure. While that may be true in some cases, it is not here, but this may be the least of the evils for White. The second is to trade the Bishop for the Knight, which we already discussed. The third is what happens in the game.

14.Bxh6?

This allows Black to force White to give up the dark-squared Bishop for a Knight, which we mentioned earlier is usually really bad for White in this line.

14...Nxe4!

The fact that this hits the Queen gives Black the tempo needed to get in the check and capture the Bishop on h6. The only move that prevents this is 15.Qf4, but then after 15...Nxc3 16.bxc3 and White's pawn structure is a train wreck.

15.Nxe4 Qh4+ 16.Qf2 Qxh6

This move is stronger than trading Queens and taking back with the Bishop. Black's King is safe, White's is not. Black wants to keep the Queens on the board.

17.Be2 b5 18.c5 d5 19.Nc3 Rfe8 20.O-O

Not 20.Nxd5?? Nd3+, where the Queen falls.

20...c6 21.Rfe1 Qf4 22.Rad1 Nc4 23.Bxc4



Which way should Black take back? 23...bxc4, 23...Qxc4, or 23...Rxe1+ followed by one of the captures on c4?

23...bxc4

While not by any stretch the move that loses the winning advantage, this is the start of heading in the wrong direction. Whether Black trades on e1 first or not, he should recapture on c4 with the Queen rather than the pawn. The reason for this has nothing to do with Black's pieces, but rather White's. Black has a winning position and has two unopposed Bishops. His advantage is a long term one, and one that should not be rushed. The Knights must be contained, and by taking with the Queen, where are the Knights going? After 23...Qxc4, the c3-Knight is cannot move forward due to the Black pawns, and the c2-Knight remains passive as attacking the Queen with 24.Na3 forces White to react to the threat of ...b4 after the Black Queen moves, and trying to come out with 24.Ne3 hangs the pawn on c5. By taking with the b-pawn, White has the a4-square to get to the outpost on b6 for the c3-Knight and can cause Black some issues. In the game, it turns out to be enough to cause Black to run low on time. By the way, in the current position, White has 53 minutes to Black's 38 to make 17 more moves before each side is awarded with an extra 30 minutes.

24.Na4 Be5 25.g3 Qf6 26.Nb6 Bh3 27.b3 cxb3 28.axb3 Bc3 29.Re2 Rbd8 30.Na4



Black has 11 minutes to make 11 moves. Black has a fairly simple way to get a winning position, but the lack of time cost me and I fail to see it.

30...Bf5?

Black achieves a winning position with 30...Rxe2!. After 31.Qxe2 Rb8, White is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If White blocks the b-file with 32.Nb6, then 32...Bf5 33.Kg2 d4 forces 34.Ne1 due to the threat of ...d3, and White's pieces are in complete disarray. Otherwise, after 32.Nxc3 Qxc3, White loses material as 33.b4 is answered by 33...a5! and otherwise, both b3 and c5 are hanging.

31.Ne1?

White can shrink Black's advantage to a minimum after 31.Rxe8+ Rxe8 32.Nxc3 Qxc3 33.Nd4 as trying to grab a pawn via 33...Qxc5 only leads to equality as after 34.Nxf5 Qxf2+ 35.Kxf2 gxf5, Black's pawn structure compensates for the pawn loss.

31...Kg7

Once again, Black should trade Rooks on e2 and follow up with ...Rb8, just like he should have the previous move.

32.Ng2

White again should take the Bishop.

32...Bd4 33.Ne3 Bxe3?

All Black needs to do is move the King to avoid allowing a check by the White Knight and White is dead. A simple move like 33...Kf8 wins for Black.

34.Rxe3 Rxe3 35.Qxe3 Qe6?

What is Black doing? Well, it turns out, Black had under a minute to get to move 40, and went with trying to simplify the position. The problem is, this solves all of White's problems as pressure is removed, and now, the best Black can hope for is an equal endgame, and the next few moves we will see even more errors by Black in time trouble, and the resulting position at time control will be completely busted for Black.

36.Qd4+ Qf6 37.Nb6 Qxd4+ 38.Rxd4 Bc8?

What on earth is this? The only trump card that Black has left is the protected passed pawn on d5. He should play 38...a5, looking to get rid of his one weakness. If White plays 39.b4, he can trade. If 39.Ra4, then 39...d4 and White doesn't have time to pawn grab. Black might still have a slight edge this way.

The move played in the game is completely useless and outright bad for Black.

39.Nc4

Had Black left the Bishop on f5 and played 38...a5, this move would not be possible because Black could take the Knight. After 39...dxc4! 40.Rxd8 cxb3 41.Rd1 b2, the b1-square is covered and White loses his Rook. Here, with the Bishop on c8, White has this possibility.

39...Rf8 40.Nd6



Last chance for Black to keep an equal position, and it's move 40, seconds on the clock. What move do you play?

40...Kf6??

Black must play 40...Be6 here, giving him time, while he can, to get the Rook active via 41...Rb8. Now Black is busted. His position will crack, leading to White gaining a pawn as the Black pieces virtually can't move, and White gains a winning Rook ending which he never gives Black a chance at this point. It took 31 moves to get Black to resign, but it's winning the whole way for White. I encourage all of those with problems in their endgame play to analyze this endgame in depth. This is not an endgame article, and so I will only make a couple of high level points, but I encourage those with endgame issues to take at least an hour to go through the last 31 moves of the game.

41.Ra4 Ke5 42.f4+

Driving the Black King back before proceeding with his own attack.

42...Kf6 43.h4 Ke7 44.Kf2 Bd7

Now, due to a subsequent tactic, Black has to give up a pawn to just be able to move, unlike at move 40 where he could trade the a-pawn for the b-pawn.

45.Rxa6 Rb8 46.Ra7 Rxb3 47.Nxf7

Tactically maintaining the pawn advantage.

47...Rb2+ 48.Ke1 Kxf7 49.Rxd7+ Ke6 50.Rd6+ Kf5 51.Rxc6 Rg2 52.Rc8 Rxg3 53.Kd2 Ke4 54.c6 Kd4 55.c7 Rd3+ 56.Ke2 Re3+ 57.Kf2 Re7 58.Kf3 Kc4 59.Kg4 d4 60.Kg5 d3 61.Kxg6

White is just fast enough in the race to take all draw possibilities away from Black.

61...Kc3 62.f5 d2 63.Rd8 Rxc7 64.f6 Rc4 65.f7! Rf4 66.h5 Rf1 67.h6 Rg1+ 68.Kh5 Rf1 69.h7 Rh1+ 70.Kg4 Rg1+ 71.Kh3 1-0


What a disgusting way to lose a chess game. Often times, it's better to simply get blown away than to have a winning advantage from the get-go just to completely botch it in time trouble. The following items can be picked up from this game:

  • Time management! Black had 11 minutes to make 11 moves, and this cost him. Earlier in the game, a number of moves should have been played faster. Instead, Black was constantly looking for the perfect move. I can recall a few of them I had the candidate in mind long before the move was made, and I spent all that time either looking for pipe dream moves for Black, or else needing to feel 100% positive that there is no counter-play for White. Yes, you do need to blunder-check, but don't spend for ever doing this. Moves with unnecessary time taken include 12...Ne5 (9 minutes), 16...Qxh6 (3 minutes), 17...b5 (5 minutes), 22...Nc4 (9 minutes), 27...cxb3 (7 minutes), and 29...Rbd8 (9 minutes). Some moves do require time to be taken, like the 6 minutes I took for 21...Qf4 as this move impacts the entire idea of what Black is going to do, and I should have spent more time on move 23 than the 1 minute I took there, but of the 42 minutes taken for the 6 moves mentioned, I should easily have been able to preserve 20 minutes of that, giving me the time I needed for moves 23 and 30 thru 40.
  • A word of advice - if you don't already do so, take down the time at every move. Don't try to calculate time taken. Simply write the time remaining. So on my score sheet, I have a 27 beside 26...Bh3 and a 20 beside 27...cxb3, and that's how you figure out that you spent 7 minutes. Don't try to calculate that you took 7 minutes during the game. Simply write the time left at each move, and use that information afterwards when analyzing to determine where you need to better manage your time. Look for long times spent on moves that aren't that complicated, and also look for critical decisions in the game that perhaps you didn't spend enough time on. The only move where I feel I made the latter mistake is the recapture on move 23, but there were numerous times that I spent way more time than I should have, and I only know that by taking down the time at every move. I also take down my opponent's time at each move as well. This can tell you where he spent too much time, but it also gives you the information of whether one player has a major time advantage during a critical point in the game.
  • In the opening, move order matters. The way White handled the opening gave Black extra tempos because White failed to develop his King's Knight, and Black got a winning position less than 10 moves later.
  • When you have the Bishop pair versus a pair of Knights, it's not about rapid fire. It's all about containing the Knights, which capturing with the Queen instead of the pawn on move 23 would have done.
  • Endgame knowledge is vital. If White didn't understand his Rook endings, Black might have been able to pull a draw due to the passed d-pawn, but with best play, it wasn't enough to offset the pawn deficit.


So this loss was a major setback, especially given that I should have won the game. There were 14 players in the section. Going into the round, there were only two players with 2 points, and that was the two featured in this game. There were only two players with 1.5. The first one had a half point bye for round three, and the other one drew. Combine that with the players with one point that won their third round, and you had five players with 2 points and nobody with 2.5. Therefore, Emir was in a prime position to win, and any hope for the other 5 of us had to come via two wins. There was virtually no way to mathematically win outright with a win and a draw. So my work was cut out for the final two rounds, which we will look at in the next two articles.

Till next time, good luck in your games.