Monday, August 13, 2018

Game Analysis: Potomac Open, Round 1

Hello everyone. Those that have read my article on the first round of the Kansas Open know that I took a week-and-a-half long vacation to attend two tournaments. The Kansas Open in Lenexa, KS and the Potomac Open in Rockville, MD. Here, we will be looking at the first round of what was the second of the two tournaments. The first round of the Potomac Open went in very similar fashion to the first round of the Kansas Open. A very positional, grind it out type of game with a fairly lengthy endgame. In this particular game, errors are made by both sides, but in the end, it is Black that makes the fatal move.

The themes to be on the lookout for are positional decision making in the middle game along with two endgame themes, the tempo game and zugzwang. Without further ado, let's see what happened in the game.


Potomac Open, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (2050)
B: Jay Lalwani (1879)
Catalan

1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.O-O O-O 6.d4



Through a slightly unusual move order, we directly transpose into a Catalan, normally reached via a Nimzo-Indian mover order (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 O-O 6.O-O) or a Queen's Gambit Declined move order (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 O-O 6.O-O). With the move order played, the Open Catalan (4...dxc4) is avoided. Black can take on c4, but without d4 played, we reach Reti territory instead of the Catalan. This leaves Black with the option of the Closed Catalan (6...c6) or the Semi-Open Catalan (6...dxc4). Black goes with the former.

6...c6 7.Qc2 Nbd7 8.Rd1 Ne4

This move is not very good for Black. At first glance, it looks like Black is attempting to transition the position into a Stonewall Dutch if he were to play a future ...f5. The main problem is that while the Dutch Stonewall was played over half a decade ago with the Bishop developed to e7, it has since been determined that the more modern idea of putting the Bishop on the active d6 rather than placing it passively on e7 is more accurate, and so a transposition to the Stonewall Dutch here would give White a small but lasting positional advantage.

Instead, Black should try to complete his development rather than lash out with already developed pieces. Similar to the issues in the French, Queen's Gambit Declined, and Stonewall Dutch, Black is dealing with a bad light-squared Bishop. The best idea here for Black is to fianchetto the light-squared Bishop with 8...b6, intending 9...Bb7, and getting in a timely ...c5 push, often preceded by developing the Rook to c8. It is well known that in the Catalan, White's light-squared Bishop is the most dangerous minor piece. If Black can neutralize this piece by contesting the same diagonal, open up the position to eliminate his space disadvantage, and release tension at the right time, Black can defuse any attack White imagined having and a symmetrical endgame with open c- and d-files is not uncommon. Like most symmetrical positions, because White goes first, he will have a slight, nagging advantage, but with correct play, Black should be able to hold the position without much issue.

9.Nc3

Often times in the Catalan, White has to develop the Knight on the more passive d2-square, or else spend time to play b3 before placing the Knight on c3. The reason for this is the c4-pawn would suddenly become unprotected. However, with the Knight on e4, Black can't take the pawn as the Knight would hang.

9...Nxc3 10.Qxc3

So Black spent two moves getting the Knight to e4 versus White taking one move to go to c3, and then Black initiates the trade on c3, which White recaptures with the Queen. Therefore, since the Queen might not be best placed on c3, it can be argued whether White gained two tempi or only one tempo, but either way, that's at minimum one tempo lost by Black in the long run. Another reason why 8...Ne4 should be considered inferior to 8...b6.

10...Bf6

Best here is still 10...b6, against which White's best move would be to return the Queen to c2, and hence gaining only one tempo.

11.Bf4

White correctly ignores the pin on d4, which is meaningless, and instead focuses on control of e5.

11...c5



White has a very strong, positional advantage here. His Rooks are connected with one of them already developed to the two main files in the Catalan (c- and d-). Black's Rooks are both passive and his Bishop and Queen are undeveloped. If White does nothing fancy and just continues to improve his position, he will have an advantage. However, there is absolutely no need to take a tactical approach to the position.

12.cxd5?

There are two simple ideas for White:
  1. The positional approach would be to play 12.Be5 Nxe5 13.dxe5 Be7 14.Qc2 with 15.e3 to come to contest d4 and White has a space advantage thanks to the pawn wedge on e5 and given the nature of the position, the Bishop pair is nothing to shout home about, and does not offset Black's lack of space or development. He would also have to watch out for Kingside attacks.
  2. Also good is the simple 12.e3 where after 12...b6 13.Bd6 Re8 14.Ne5 Bb7 (14...Nf8? 15.dxc5 and White is already winning) 15.Rac1 Nxe5 16.dxe5 Qxd6 17.exd6 Bxc3 18.bxc3 Rad8 19.cxd5, White is to be preferred.

12...cxd4 13.Qc7

The lesser evil was 13.Qc2 e5 14.Bd2 Qe7 with equality.

13...exd5?

This simply leads to an inferior pawn structure for Black. Instead, Black should play 13...e5! when 14.Qxd8 Rxd8 15.Bg5 Bxg5 16.Nxg5 Nb6 is better for Black.

14.Qxd8 Rxd8 15.Nxd4 Nb6 16.Bc7

Once again, an inaccurate decision by White on how to take advantage of a better position. White's idea is obvious. Double the pawns and bank on the better pawn structure. However, instead of taking the Knight to create a wrecked pawn structure, White should put the question to the Knight with 16.b3, questioning Black as to where he thinks that Knight on b6 is going, or what it could possibly do on b6.

16...Rd7 17.Bxb6 axb6 18.Rac1 Rd8 19.a3 Be6

This move is too passive. Black should play 19...Bg4, threatening to win a pawn with 20...Bxd4 followed by 21...Bxe2. This would force White to weaken his Kingside with a move like 20.f3 or 20.h3 to make progress, giving Black a target to play with.

20.e3

Stronger is 20.Rc7 where Black can passively defend b7 with 20...Rab8 or else if Black tries to contest the c-file with 20...Rac8, White can win a pawn after 21.Nxe6 fxe6 22.Rxb7.

20...Rac8 21.b4 Bxd4 22.exd4 Kf8 23.Bf3 Ke7 24.Kg2 Kd6 25.Be2 Ra8 26.Rc3 Rdc8 27.Rdc1 Rxc3 28.Rxc3



28...Rc8?!

White has the advantage in the Bishop ending. Instead, 28...Bd7! is completely equal and a draw could be agreed to right then and there. Black virtually paralyzes White. He completely controls a4, stopping the a-pawn from advancing, and therefore the White Rook is tied down to covering a3. In addition, all entry points on the c-file are covered, and so White isn't coming in anytime soon.

29.Rxc8 Bxc8 30.Bd3 h6 31.Kf3 g5



32.Ke3

It should first be noted that with perfect play by both sides, this game is probably a draw, despite Black's doubled b-pawns or the fact that Black's d-pawn is on the color square of the Bishops. That said, if White wants to dream of winning, he has to play this position very delicately. I have mentioned before, and I will mention again, that computers can rarely be trusted for the best move, and especially in the opening or in an endgame of more than 6 pieces total. Most computers have table bases for 5-piece and 6-piece endgames. However, we have 16 pieces still on the board. An example of inferior analysis by a computer is that of Shredder, the engine used when in analysis mode on chess.com, recommends 32.g4 for White, and claims that White is better. However, that is not the case. 32.g4 creates a well-known blocking pattern. When two sets of pawns block each other three files apart from identical ranks, such as the White and Black pawns on d4 and d5 paired up with a set of White and Black pawns on g4 and g5, it creates a complete barrier for both Kings. The only entry would be on the Queenside, and either player can shut that door with push of their b-pawn. Therefore, despite the bot saying that White's better after 32.g4, that move would merely create an immediate draw. Black should never take any White pawn that goes to f4 or h4. He can merely guard the g-pawn, and he will always have that pawn on g5, and using the Bishop and King to guard d5, White would never break through. Therefore, the move played was to see what Black does while the position is still somewhat mobile.

32...f6

Black cannot afford to advance 32...g4 himself as then White breaks through with 33.Kf4, winning.

33.Kf3 Bd7 34.Bg6

White's idea is to swing the Bishop around to g4, forcing a decision from Black, and trying to entice the f-pawn to advance.

34...Be6 35.Bh5 Bd7 36.Bg4

Now Black has to make a crucial decision. He cannot trade Bishops here as the White King will get in and win at minimum the h-pawn. He also can't allow White to trade Bishops on d7. Therefore, he either has to move the Bishop off the diagonal, which helps White gain control of the light squares, or else advance f5, going right into White's script. Again, this shouldn't be fatal for Black, but gives Black one more thing to think about.

36...f5 37.Bh5 Ke7 38.Ke3 Kd6 39.Be2 Be8 40.Bd3 Bd7 41.Kf3

White should probably think about 41.b5 here, not allowing Black to play 41...b5 himself.

41...Be6

This move allows White to come in to b5 with the Bishop instead of the pawn. Still not losing yet for Black, but why allow White to create more headaches?

42.Bb5 Bd7

I don't agree with trading the Bishops from Black's perspective. Just waiting and playing a more passive move like 42...Bf7 was probably better.

43.Bxd7 Kxd7



Now is when accuracy by both players is at its most crucial stage.

44.Ke3?

To maintain winning chances, White needs to play 44.b5, stopping any b5-advance by Black. It also buys White a tempo that he can use at any point in time via moving his a-pawn. When it comes to King and Pawn endgames, often times having a single tempo gained or the ability to waste a single tempo can often be vital in deciding a win versus a draw or in some cases, a win versus a loss!

44...Ke6?

Black draws instantly with 44...b5, and 44...Kc6 probably works as well, but 44...b5 is the simpler move to execute.

45.h3?

Once again, White needs to play 45.b5 first.

45...Kf6?

And once again Black can shut the door on all hopes of a White win with 45...b5!

46.b5

Finally! This does not sew up the win. Black still has to error for White to win, but it eliminates the instant draw that Black had the previous two moves.

46...Ke6 47.Kd3

Once again, all moves here should draw except one more that loses for White, but this allows an instant draw opportunity to Black. Better might be 47.Kf3, keeping tension, and make sure that Black knows to stand pat and just toggle the King.

The move 47.h4?? actually loses for White! After 47...f4+ 48.Kf3 fxg3 49.fxg3 gxh4 50.gxh4 Kf5 and White is busted!

47...Kd6

47...g4! draws on the spot. Both 48.h4 f4 49.gxf4 Kf5 50.Ke3 Kg6 and 48.hxg4 fxg4 49.f3 Kf5 50.Ke3 h5 51.fxg4+ Kxg4 52.Kf2 lead to only a draw for White, and all other moves lose!

48.Kc3 Ke6

48...g4 again ends White's hopes at a win!

49.Kb4 Kd6

Yet another missed opportunity at 49...g4 with a draw.

50.a4 Kc7

And yet again 50...g4 draws.

51.a5

This is now officially Black's final opportunity. He can take on a5 first if he wants because it's with check, but now he needs to play g4, either with or without the pawn trade on a5.

51...Kc8??

Now Black is lost!

52.axb6 Kd7 53.Kc5 Ke6


White To Move And Win


54.g4!

Ironically enough, the move that Black had numerous chances to draw with is the only move that wins for White here. Because the d5-pawn takes away the c4-square for the White King, there is no way for White to triangulate and to lose a tempo. Therefore, White must find a move that will lock the position of all the pawns with White himself making the last move so that it will be Black that is forced to move the King. Other moves fail.
  1. 54.h4 gxh4! (Not 54...g4? 55.h5! and White wins) 55.gxh4 f4 and no matter which pawn White moves, Black moves the other pawn and White then must move the King.
  2. 54.f4 h5! and now 55.fxg5?? h4 wins for Black while 55.h4 g4 once again White must move the King and a draw results.
  3. 54.f3 h5! and now 55.g4 is forced as both 55.h4?? f4 and 55.f4?? h4 are winning for Black! After 55.g4, Black draws after 55...hxg4 56.hxg4 f4 and once again, White is the player on move and must move his King, allowing the draw.

54...f4

54...fxg4 55.hxg4 doesn't solve Black's problem either. He will have to move the King and White grabs the d5-pawn.

55.f3

Now it's Black that has to move the King and the d-pawn falls. White will win by stalemating the Black King and force advancement of the h-pawn leading to mate upon promotion.

55...Ke7 56.Kxd5 Kd7 57.Ke5 Ke7 58.d5 Kd7 59.d6 Kd8 60.Ke6 Ke8 61.d7+ Kd8 62.Kd6 h5 63.gxh5 1-0

It's unstoppable mate in three, and so Black resigned.

So the following ideas should be learned from this game:
  • In the middle game, when you have the advantage in the form of a lead in development and a number of positional trumps, there is no reason to rush the issue and get into a tactical mess. Oversights such as Black's opportunity to play 13...e5 can often result. Fortunately for White, Black missed this!
  • When it comes to endgames, and especially Pawn endgames, it is often critical to play for the extra tempo. The ability to "waste a move" is often critical. There are numerous positions in endgames where whoever is to move wins, or if one player is to move, he wins, but if the other player is to move, it's a draw. However, there are a few rare cases where being on the move is bad. There are cases of reciprocal zugzwang, where whoever is to move loses, or slightly more common is a case like we saw in this game where once it gets to the point where only the Kings could move, if Black is to move, he loses, but if White is to move, he only gets a draw. So you can't always look at every position from the "positive" or "forward going" perspective. Sometimes you actually want to force your opponent to move, which is the main theme of the zugzwang tactic, where any move is detrimental to your position, and if you could "pass", you would draw rather than lose, or win rather than draw (or lose). The easiest way to achieve this is to have a move in your pocket that you can make to lose a tempo. In the game, it came in the form of f2-f3 for White, but this could happen on either side of the board. Had the White pawn still been on a3, White could lose a tempo by moving it to a4, hence why you don't want to waste moves like that earlier in the game unless you absolutely have to in order to stop the opponent from conducting a fatal attack or winning material.

Well, that concludes this article. Good luck in all of your games.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Reverse Angle 87

Charlotte Chess Center's 87th Reverse Angle tournament featured a packed house of 66 players.  They were competing in three sections (Top, Under 1800, Under 1400) for the always guaranteed cash prize fund of $850.

USCF Rating Report


Top Section
As always, the championship section was a strong one, with Daniel "9:59am" Cremisi (2413), Emmanuel "sup bruh" Carter (2259), Neo "the matrix" Zhu (2211), Klaus "octogenarian" Pohl (2208), and Mark "outgoing state champ" Biernacki (2189) entering as the top seeds.

Daniel Cremisi and Neo Zhu performed clean sweeps, earning $125 each.  Vishnu "hi" Vanapalli (1960) and Donald "check!" Johnson (1859), each with 2-1, split the Under 2000 prize ($25 each).


CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87

SwissSys Standings. CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87: TOP

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1Daniel Cremisi2413W12W5W4 3.0125.00
2Neo Zhu2211W14W18W8 3.0125.00
3Alain Morais2092W16D8W10 2.5 
4Klaus Pohl2208W15W6L1 2.0 
5Patrick Sciacca2077W7L1W15 2.0 
6Vishnu Vanapalli1960W20L4W17 2.025.00
7Donald Johnson1859L5W14W18 2.025.00
8Emmanuel Carter2259W13D3L2 1.5 
9Mark Biernacki2189H---W11 --- 1.5 
10Daniel Tanco2059D17W19L3 1.5 
11Aditya Shivapooja1975D19L9D13 1.0 
12James Dill1939L1D17D16 1.0 
13Annastasia Wyzywany1909L8D16D11 1.0 
14Arya Kumar1895L2L7W19 1.0 
15Luke Harris1892L4W20L5 1.0 
16Carson Cook1872L3D13D12 1.0 
17Rohan Iyer1839D10D12L6 1.0 
18Robert Moore1700B---L2L7 1.0 
19Sreyas Adiraju1798D11L10L14 0.5 
20Gilbert Holmes1793L6L15 --- 0.0 




Under 1800
The competitive U1800 section featured 25 players, including top seeds Andrew "plain pasta" Chen (1758), Mike "and Ike" Miller (1723) and Patrick "go ravens" Kengsoontra (1722).

Andrew Chen, Patrick Kengsoontra, and Terry Maskin (1690) all scored perfect 3/3, good for $75 each.  Antara Durbha (1446) scored 2.5 points, earning $50 for the Under 1600 prize.


CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87

SwissSys Standings. CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87: Under 1800

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1Andrew Chen1758W9W14W5 3.075.00
2Patrick Kengsoontra1722W11W8W6 3.075.00
3Terry Maskin1690W18W17W7 3.075.00
4Antara Durbha1446H---W15W13 2.550.00
5Ojas Panda1650W12W20L1 2.0 
6Arav Goldstein1625W19W22L2 2.0 
7Asha Kumar1621W25W13L3 2.0 
8Pranav Swarna1565W21L2W18 2.0 
9Andrew Zeng1492L1W19W20 2.0 
10Paige Cook1488L13W25W21 2.0 
11RJ Raynoe1468L2W24W14 2.0 
12Jacob Grinberg1452L5W16W17 2.0 
13Michael Miller1723W10L7L4 1.0 
14Jaiden Chuang1600W24L1L11 1.0 
15Danny Cropper1587L22L4W24 1.0 
16Grisham Paimagam1580L20L12W22 1.0 
17Triya Venkataraja1552W23L3L12 1.0 
18Ethan Liu1457L3W23L8 1.0 
19Saanchi Sampath1445L6L9W25 1.0 
20William Merritt1420W16L5L9 1.0 
21Gautam Kapur1379L8B---L10 1.0 
22Sanjit Pilli1330W15L6L16 1.0 
23Debs Pedigo1327L17L18H--- 0.5 
24Sampath Kumar1444L14L11L15 0.0 
25Venkat Shanmugavadivel1436L7L10L19 0.0 





Under 1400
The 21-player U1400 section was led by rating favourites AJ "ace jack" Miller (1317), Jacob "jake" Stoll (1317) and Aditya "no nickname available" Krishna (1315).


Smayan "lil smay" Ammasani (1298), Lingaaaaaaaa Venkataraja (1194), and Senthil "10:17am" Muthusamy (1114) all scored 3-0, earning $92 each.


CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87

SwissSys Standings. CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87: Under 1400

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1Smayan Ammasani1298W8W6W5 3.091.67
2Lingaa Venkataraja1194W21W9W4 3.091.67
3Senthil Muthusamy1114W18W13W14 3.091.67
4AJ Miller1317W16W7L2 2.0 
5Sahith Tanuboddi1189W10W17L1 2.0 
6Rocky Sun1063W11L1W13 2.0 
7PJ Liotino1021W14L4W15 2.0 
8Samarth Kedari1010L1W19W16 2.0 
9Henry Nguyen932W19L2W21 2.0 
10Ellen Rosenfeld932L5B---H--- 1.5 
11Jason Colomb927L6W20H--- 1.5 
12Ankit Durbha703H---L14W20 1.5 
13Jacob Stoll1317W20L3L6 1.0 
14Aditya Krishna1315L7W12L3 1.0 
15Rudransh Tyagi1253L17W18L7 1.0 
16Rishi Nair1054L4W21L8 1.0 
17Meet Doshi984W15L5 --- 1.0 
18Pranava Kumar963L3L15B--- 1.0 
19Rishi Jasti1115L9L8H--- 0.5 
20Hemadithya Pujari1041L13L11L12 0.0 
21Aaryan Pujari968L2L16L9 0.0 






Upsets - 150 points or  more
Under 1400, Round 3 - Ankit Durbha (703) def. Hemadithya Pujari (1041) - 338 points
Under 1400, Round 1 - PJ Liotino (1021) def. Aditya Krishna (1315) - 294 points
Under 1800, Round 3 - Antara Durbha (1446) def. Michael Miller (1723) - 277 points
Under 1400, Round 1 - Meet Doshi (981) def. Rudransh Tyagi (1253) - 269 points
Under 1800, Round 1 - Sanjit Pilli (1330) def. Danny Cropper (1587) - 257 points
Under 1400, Round 3 - Rocky Sun (1063) def. Jacob Stoll (1317) - 254 points
Under 1400, Round 3 - PJ Liotino (1021) def. Rudransh Tyagi (1253) - 232 points
Under 1400, Round 2 - Senthil Muthusamy (1114) def. Jacob Stoll (1317) - 203 points
Under 1400, Round 3 - Senthil Muthusamy (1114) def. Aditya Krishna (1315) - 201 points
Under 1400, Round 1 - Henry Nguyen (932) def. Rishi Jasti (1115) - 183 points
Under 1800, Round 1 - William Merritt (1420) def. Grisham Paimagam (1580) - 160 points


Until next time,
NTD IA IO FI CM Grant Oen

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 12

Hello and welcome to the twelfth edition of The French Connection. Those of you that have read Part Four of the French Repertoire back in the fall of 2017 will know that I heavily covered the McCutcheon Variation (Click Here to view that article). That said, we have yet to see this line in The French Connection series. That will all change now as we will be seeing it here as well as the following two editions of The French Connection, each featuring different lines and different attempts at attack by White, but we will also see that Black ends up successful every time, and so the near future will be a treat for McCutcheon fans.

In the current edition, we will see White following the absolute main line through the first 10 moves, but then try to play something unusual at move 11, and what we will be seeing in this edition is a display of just enough defense to survive an early sacrificial attack by White which will include the Black King going for a walk. Once the Black King is safe, we will see what Black needs to do when facing passed pawns along with the concept of multiple weaknesses and overworking of the White pieces, particularly the White Queen.

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


Kansas Open, Round 4
W: Cub Rollin-Lloyd Noble (1752)
B: Patrick McCartney (2050)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Ne4 8.Qg4 g6 9.Bd3 Nxd2 10.Kxd2 c5



So what we have here is the absolute main line of the 8...g6 variation (Black could also have played 8...Kf8 = you can find this in many of Korchnoi's games) of the French McCutcheon. Note that Black's last move is absolutely necessary for two reasons. One is that the Black King will suffocate without it as White will sacrifice a piece, likely the Bishop, on g6 and the King will have nowhere to run. The other is that Black must immediately chip at White's center. With the White King on d2, Black would ideally like to get his King castled to the Queenside and have the center broken open. Obviously this isn't going to come easy to Black, but that's the idea.

11.Nh3

This move is extremely odd. Two other moves are far more common:
  1. 11.h4 Nc6 12.Nf3 (or 12.Qf4 cxd4 13.cxd4 Qa5+ 14.c3 b6 15.Qf6 Rg8 16.Ne2 Ba6 17.Bxa6 Qxa6 18.h5 Rc8 with a decent position for Black, Cespedes - Moskalenko, Catalunya 2008) and now Black has a choice between the same idea as after 12.Qf4, trading on d4 and playing for ...Qa5 and ...Ba6, or executing Korchnoi's idea and closing the center with 12...c4 13.Be2 Bd7 14.Qf4 Qe7 and now we see the main reason behind being willing to weaken the Kingside with 8...g6. Black plans to castle Queenside next, and in the game Panov - Korchnoi, Leningrad 1953, after 15.Qf6 O-O-O, Black went on to win.
  2. 11.Nf3 Qc7. (It should be noted that Black should alter course if White plays an early Nf3 and avoid 11...Nc6 because of 12.dxc5. White will set up a blockade with Qf4 and Nd4 and relying on play down the b-file.) Black's idea here is really sneaky. After the standard moves by White, 12.h4 cxd4 (Black should trade pawns here before putting the Knight on c6 for the same reason as the previous move) 13.cxd4 Nc6 14.Qf4, Black can take advantage of the pin on the e5-pawn and play 14...f5!, completely stopping White in his tracks.
  3. It should be noted that 11.dxc5 is no good for White. Black has not committed his Knight to c6 yet, and the move 11...Nd7! is very strong here with already a small advantage for Black and we are only 11 moves into the game!

So now when we encounter an unusual move, we need to think to ourselves what White might be after. We see in just about all the normal lines that White advances his h-pawn to build up an attack on Black's softened Kingside, and eventually, at a time when both ...g5 and ...gxh5 are not good for Black, White wants to play h5. Here, the h-pawn is blocked, and in order to advance it, White will have to move the Knight again. Playing for f2-f4-f5 does not appear to make much sense here, and so it is presumed that White will be moving his Knight to f4 in the near future, with possibly the idea of trying to sacrifice the Knight instead of the Bishop on either e6 or g6. Outside of this idea, 11.Nh3 makes no sense, and so Black's plan must incorporate this idea for White.

11...Nc6

White's last move does nothing to cover d4 or e5, and particularly the latter makes any fears of dxc5 a complete non-issue, and so Black can proceed with normal development and chip away at White's center.

12.Bb5

It is not usually a wise idea to trade away this Bishop for the Black Knight. Yes, it looks like a Good Knight vs Bad Bishop scenario, but that Bad Bishop sets up a very strong light-squared blockade, and with White's dark-squared Bishop gone, Black has little to worry about a dark-square attack. With this Knight gone, Black will shift his focus from attacking d4 to attacking the weak pawns on the c-file along with possibilities of getting the King out of dodge and expanding on the Kingside himself! It is not common for Black to execute play on that side of the board, but when White does something weird, sometimes it is best answered with something weird because that "weird" thing is not possible against the "norm", but White abandoned the "norm" and so other things become possible for Black!

Now we also know pretty much for certain that the Nf4 idea mentioned prior is White's goal with 11.Nh3.

Also note that 12.dxc5 is still no good here. After 12...Nxe5!, we do have to watch out for the pin with 13.Qd4, and realize that there is nothing to fear because after 13...f6, the move 14.Nf4 is ineffective as everything is easily covered, and in order to dislodge the Black Knight from e5, White must play 14.f4, occupying the square the Knight would like to go to, and after 14...Nxd3 15.cxd3, Black gets a slight advantage with 15...O-O! (Once again, we meet the odd with the odd - Black almost never castles Kingside, and I think in all the McCutcheon games that I have ever played, I have literally castled Kingside one time at Foxwoods back in 2004 - a game which I also won.)

12...Bd7 13.Bxc6 Bxc6 14.Nf4



Now we have a similar situation to that of Black's 12th move in The French Connection, Volume 10. We obviously must consider two glaring moves by White. 15.Nxg6 and 15.Nxe6. So here, let's pretend it is White to move. We can easily eliminate the first option as 15.Nxg6?? Rg8 immediately wins a piece for Black as there are no tricks here for White, such as counter-attacking the Black Queen with the Knight to be able to move the pinned piece. So this move can be ruled out. This leaves 15.Nxe6. The way things stand right now, this should not be a scare for Black. After 15.Nxe6 fxe6 16.Qxe6+, Black can safely interpose with 16...Qe7, and after 17.Qxg6+ Kd7, Black is perfectly safe, and to avoid the Queen trade next move, White would have to play 18.f4, but then 18...Rag8 19.Qf5+ Kc7 and Black is perfectly fine. Black can also answer 15.Nxe6 with 15...Qc8 with a fatal pin on the Knight. So as things stand right now, neither is a threat.

However, this is all fine and good if this was all White could do, and sitting back and doing nothing would solve all of Black's problems. That just isn't the case. White can advance the h-pawn to h4, lift the Rook to h3, and bring it into the attack as well. Also, Black must watch out for an eventual h5 by White, and also when the Rook comes into play to aid the Queen, many of these pins that we rely on just don't work. So Black can't sit back. So now we take the question a step further. What do we do as Black? Well, one possibility, and not a bad one, just not what was played in the game, is to continue to chip at White's center with 14...cxd4, because again, no threat by White is fatal to Black right now. After 15.cxd4, Black is looking at attacking down the c-file with moves like ...Rc8 and ...Ba4, in some order. If we can't find anything else for Black, this is likely what I would have played.

Let's take a look at a more adventurous possibility. In our lines of defense against 15.Nxg6 and 15.Nxe6, what did we need to do? Against 15.Nxg6, we had to make sure that either our Queen was covering the King, so a conservative move like 14...Qe7 should be ok as we just grab the Knight and go to d7 with the King. If the Queen is away not guarding the King or if the Queen is passive, like on d8, we have to make sure that a Knight from g6 is not attacking our Queen, and that it can't move to a square that would then attack our Queen or King, and in this case, our fatal pin with 15...Rg8 still works.

But what about 15.Nxe6? Let's say the Black Queen abandons the area. Should we fear 15.Nxe6? For this, let's just mentally assume the Black Queen wasn't there, but that we are not down material. Here, after 15.Nxe6, we can play the move 15...h5 if we want, which White can then play 16.Qh3 and force the same question, does 16...fxe6 17.Qxe6+ hurt us, or if the Queen were to go elsewhere, in which case after taking the Knight, we have to watch out for Qxg6+. Well, clearly we don't want to respond to either check with ...Kf8 as our King is too exposed. We also can never figure to go to d7 as ...Kd7 wouldn't even be legal against Qe6+ and against a Queen check on g6, going to d7 leads to a fatal fork with Qg7+, dropping the Rook on h8. Therefore, all Queen checks by White will result in us playing ...Kd8. From there, a check on d6 we can run to c8 with our King and our King is getting away. Instead, after Qf6, forking our King and Rook, we must lift our King up to c7 (again, Kd7 leads to the fatal Qg7+ fork), and now we see what our King is going to do. If we left the b6-square open for the King to run, we can hide on a6. If White answers Kc7 with a Rook to b1, we have time to get the a8-Rook out to e8, guarding the e6-pawn, and we see now why our Bishop on c6 is so strong, locking a dead bolt on any attacks against d5 or b7. Therefore, we do not need our Queen for defense provided that we do not put her on the b-file, prone to attack by a White Rook, and that we keep the c7 and b6 squares open. Therefore, we have now determined what our 14th move is.

14...Qa5!!

Making the absolute most out of our resources without getting our King killed!

15.Nxe6 h5 16.Qg5 fxe6 17.Qxg6+ Kd8

Once again, as mentioned prior, the only move as 17...Kf8 exposes the King too much and 17...Kd7?? loses on the spot to 18.Qg7+

18.Qf6+ Kc7 19.Qe7+ Kb6 20.Rab1+

Another idea that Black had to consider back on move 14 was 20.Rhb1+ Ka6 21.a4, with the idea that if Black did nothing, like 21...h4, that he would play 22.Rb5+ and Black can't play 22...Bxb5 because after 23.axb5+ Kxb5 (23...Kb6 24.Qxc5#) he is mated in 3 moves. That said, Black has 2 resources to get out of this. The first is that he doesn't have to take the Rook, and can play 21...h4 22.Rb5+ Qd8!. Stronger, however, is 21...Raf8 where now 22.Rb5 doesn't work because of 22...Rxf2+ 23.Ke3 (23.Kd3 c4+) Qxc3+ 24.Kxf2 Qxd4+ 25.Ke2 (25.Ke1 Qxa1+; 25.Kf1 Qxa1+; 25.Kf3 Rg8!) Qxe5+ 26.Kd2 Qd4+ 27.Ke2 Qxa1 and Black's winning.

20...Ka6



And on move 14, this was literally the position I envisioned (or possibly with the Rooks on a1 and b1 rather than b1 and h1). The hard part was figuring out whether or not White had anything better that made this position impossible to reach. We now see the importance of Black's supposed "Bad Bishop" on c6. It literally holds Black's position together. Now all Black really has to do is watch out for tricks on b5, and make sure b7 is amply covered. Otherwise, he can now do operations on the Kingside.

21.Rb3 Rhe8

The more adventurous 21...Rae8 also works, but the idea behind doing it with the h-Rook is that Black is ok with dropping the weak h-pawn, which would give White 3 pawns for the piece. That said, we still have every heavy piece on the board, and so advancing these passers will be very difficult to achieve. If this were an endgame, it would be much more of a problem for Black. Instead, Black wants to keep the other Rook to go to d8 if the White Queen tries to settle on d6, or if she tries to trade off on c5, which after the d-pawn is removed from d4, Black will put a Rook on d8 and advance the d-pawn, going after the White King.

22.Qh4

White goes after Black's h-pawn, but all pressure on b7 is gone. Hence Black's next move.

22...Ba4

This move serves many purposes. The first is to force the Rook to move elsewhere. Note that if the Rook tries to go to a3, then Black has 23...c4 and 24...b5 and the Queen is then free to move, and the Rook is permanently stuck on a3 and basically out of the game, and so going there is not an option. However, this excellent move serves two additional purposes. The first is that it prevents any ideas of pushing a4 by White, and if White can't advance the a-pawn, and Black can plug up the b-file with an eventual b5, White will never break through. Now this wouldn't be so hot, as Black has to use his Bishop to do this, if the Bishop didn't serve a second purpose, but here it does. It attacks the weak c2-pawn. This wouldn't be the end of the world for White to relinquish if it weren't for the fact that Black dominates the light squares with his pawns. Giving up the back pawn of a set of doubled pawns is not the end of the world if you can get a bunch of passed Kingside pawns rolling. However, it's not the pawn that is White's issue, it is the Bishop entering into the game with fatal effects. If Black can get that Bishop to a square like e4, or even d3, it's likely lights out for White. So White is going to have to constantly babysit c2 while trying to operate on the Kingside. With all of this, White doesn't even have time to attack down the b-file even if he could!

23.Rb2 c4 24.Qh5 Qc7!

Black stops all entry points to the 7th rank for the White Queen. The Black heavy pieces are all going to come to the Kingside as there is no need for the Black Queen to babysit the King any more given the blockade Black has built. Note that there is no reason for Black to rush the push of the pawn to b5. Black can always use this as a waiting move if he needs to waste a tempo, and also, if there is no pressure on the b-file, and no way to harass the Bishop on a4, why waste time making a protective move that isn't necessary? Get on with the attack on the Kingside!

25.f4

Now we absolutely cannot allow an f5-push by White without major consequences. Last thing Black wants to do is give White an advanced, protected passer on the e-file.

25...Qg7

But as you will see, prevention is often executed via counter-attack. White can't let the g-pawn fall just to get in f5.

26.Qf3 Rg8

Keep on hitting that g-pawn, forcing it to advance, and hence weakening the light squares.

27.g3 Raf8

Getting the last piece into the game. Now we start getting into the theme of overworked pieces. White wants to get his Kingside rolling, but let's not forget that c2-pawn that has to be babied.

28.Ke3

Trying to use the King as an additional aid to the rolling of the pawns.

28...Qh7

No sir! You get back there and guard that c-pawn!

29.Kc2 Qh3

Immobilizing the White pawns. None of them can advance.

30.Ke3

So once again, White tries to activate the King. Black's idea now will take two moves, giving White one free move, but there is nothing White can do here.

30...Rh8

The start of a tactical mission by Black, using the concept of overworked pieces.

31.a3

Pretty much a waiting move, seeing nothing else productive to play. White can try something like 31.Kf2 or 31.Qf1, but it's really hard to advise a move that actually does anything. Black has a dominating position here and is already winning. It's a matter of technique.

31...Rfg8



Now we see Black with a really nasty threat of 32...Rxg3, winning a pawn and virtually eliminating the only trump for White, which is the connected passers. White can't protect the h1-Rook with 32.Rbb1 as then the c2-pawn goes and the Bishop invades. His Rook can't leave h1 as after something like 32.Rhb1, there is no threat on the Black King, and giving up b7 is a non-issue because of 32...Qxh2 with the fatal threat of 33...Rxg3. Therefore, White tries to use the King to add cover to g3.

32.Kf2 Qf5

And now if it isn't one thing, it's something else. Back to c2 we go. The fact that White has two weaknesses far apart, c2 and g3, is causing his defense to be stretched thin, and the key thing is that with long range pieces, Black can often attack both at the same time. White is now pretty much forced to give up the c-pawn as what happens in the game, trying to cover c2, fails tactically. Here is where we see that the White Queen is over-worked and she can't cover two things at one time, and she needs to as the King doesn't do the job on g3.

33.Qe2?

Probably the best thing White can do is play 33.h4 (or Resign!), but Black's attack is just way too fast after 33...Bxc2.

33...Rxg3!!

This is the straw the broke the Camel's back!

34.Kxg3 Rg8+ 35.Kf2

Nothing works here. 35.Kh4 is mate in 3 after 35...Qxf4+ 36.Kh3 Qh6+ 37.Qh5 Qxh5 while 35.Kf3 fails to 35...Qh3+ 36.Kf2 Rg2+ and Black will take the Queen followed by the c3-pawn. With the move played, Black will tactically get his Rook back after having gained multiple pawns.

35...Qxf4+ 36.Qf3 Qd2+ 37.Kf1

Or 37.Qe2 Rg2+, getting the Queen with check and White's position will continue to fall apart.

37...Qc1+ 38.Kf2 Qxb2

White can safely resign here, but he played it out all the way to checkmate.

39.Re1 Qxc2+ 40.Re2 Qd1 41.Qf7

Black had threatened mate with 41...Qg1, but the move played leads to mate or else the Queen being lost. 41.Re1 might have been the least of the evils, but with the position being -13 according to artificial intelligence, there really is nothing White can do here.

41...Qg1+ 42.Kf3 Qf1+ 43.Rf2

White can prolong the game by four moves by giving up the Queen, but after 43.Ke3 Qxf7 44.Rf2, Black has mate in 5.

43...Qd3+ 44.Kf4 Qe4# 0-1


Wow! That game was a hand full! Here's what should be gotten out of this game:
  • When you encounter a strange move out of the opening (White's 11th move), ask yourself what his plan may be. Think about normal attacking themes in the opening being played, in this case White's normal desire to advance the h-pawn to soften the Black Kingside, and look for sacrifices, usually on g6, and to get at the Black King while he is slightly behind in development. In the game, we made sense out of White's 11th move, and planned accordingly.
  • When your opponent plays something odd, do not just automatically play conceptual moves based on the main line. This is why it is critical to fully understand an opening when you study openings and not just memorize lines. Remember the phrase "Garbage in, Garbage out". Often times garbage must be answered with something that might look like garbage from you as it's not the "normal" theme in the opening you are playing, but White didn't play normal, so why should you?
  • Calculate! Calculate! Calculate! That's what we did on Black's 14th move, and figured out a way to actively develop the Queen without getting our King killed. We figured out that the King needed the d8, c7, and b6 squares to escape, and while a move like 14...Qe7 would have been perfect fine, we went for a direct attack on White's center, forcing White to act quickly, which allowed us to escape with our King and then set up a barrier before shifting gears to the other side of the board.
  • When executing prevention type measures, like we did with placing the Bishop on a4, first determine if we are doing anything else. If all we are doing is stopping the opponent from doing anything, and aren't tying them down to anything else, we are virtually down a piece, especially in this case because any Rb4 move by White would have resulted in a ...b5 push by Black, hemming in the a4-Bishop, and so White could move all his pieces to the other side of the board, and we'd be virtually playing down a few pawns. However, here it played the vital role of attacking the c2-weakness, and distracting White from doing other things as he constantly had to keep c2 covered.
  • The theory of two weaknesses. It is usually fairly easy to cover a single weakness. With a single weakness, White would dispose of the idea of trying to win, and just permanently cover c2, and create a standoff. This is why the second weakness must be created, and the further away the weaknesses are, the better it is. In the game, once Black plugged up the Queenside and created the permanent weakness on c2, he proceeded to force White to weaken his pawn structure by forcing him to advance the g-pawn, putting all the pawns on dark squares and making the light squares weak. Black then used the concept of overworking the White pieces, forcing the h1-Rook to cover h2, the b2-Rook to cover c2, and the Queen to have to cover both g3 for tactical reasons along with c2. The Rooks became immobilized by their duties to cover a weakness each, and the Queen became overworked having to do two jobs at one time, and White's position eventually cracked.


Well, that concludes this article. Until next time, good luck in all your French games, Black or White!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 11

Hello and welcome to the eleventh edition of The French Connection. Here, we are going to look at a game in a highly theoretical line of the King's Indian Attack versus the French. This is the first game in the series featuring the King's Indian Attack, and for those of you that have not read it previously, I reference you to my theoretical article on the KIA vs French from September 2017, which can be reached by clicking here

What we are going to look at here is a game where White tries to get away with not playing the theoretical move a3 and what Black should do in response to it. We will be looking at my Round 2 game played at the Kansas Open two weeks ago.


Kansas Open, Round 2
W: IM Michael Brooks (2375)
B: Patrick McCartney (2050)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.g3 c5 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.Ngf3 Be7 7.O-O O-O 8.Re1 b5 9.e5 Nd7 10.h4 a5 11.Nf1 Ba6

Whether Black plays 11...Ba6 and White plays one of his normal moves first, or if Black immediately goes for the 11...b4 and 12...a4 idea is typically just a transposition, and it's no different here.

That said, there is a model game by Fischer (Fischer - Myagmarsuren, Sousse Interzonal 1967) in the other line where Black's inferior play lead to him putting his f1-Knight on e3 instead of h2, but the more relevant thing about it is White's Kingside Attack. After 11...b4 12.Bf4 a4 13.a3 (the move we are going to look at omitting) bxa3 14.bxa3 Na5? (Better is to play the Rook to b8, possibly preceded by developing the Bishop to a6, and so something like 14...Ba6 15.N1h2 [or 15.Ne3] Rb8 16.Ng4 Nd4 17.h5 Nxf3+ 18.Qxf3 Qb6 with dynamic equality) 15.Ne3 Ba6 16.Bh3 d4 17.Nf1 Nb6 18.Ng5 Nd5 19.Bd2 Bxg5 20.Bxg5 Qd7 21.Qh5 Rfc8 22.Nd2 Nc3 23.Bf6 Qe8 24.Ne4 g6 25.Qg5 Nxe4 26.Rxe4 c4 27.h3 cxd3 28.Rh4 Ra7 29.Bg2 dxc2 30.Qh6 Qf8 31.Qxh7+ and Black Resigned as 31...Kxh7 32.hxg6+ is mate on the following move with either 33.Rh8 or 33.Be4, depending on Black's response.

12.N1h2 b4 13.Bf4 a4



This is the main theoretical position in this line. Here, it is thought that White should play 14.a3 in order to avoid 14...a3 by Black, which opens up the c3-square for a Knight to attack a2 and White is tied down to hold the a2-pawn and keep Black from creating a very dangerous passed pawn. Here, White ignores the threat.

14.Ng4

So White ignores the issue, but this also leads to a dilemma for Black. If you go strictly based on this supposed "theory", then 14...a3 screams to be played. At the same time, as also mentioned in the King's Indian Attack article from September, the early Ng4 also calls for 14...Nd4. Which should Black do?

14...a3

I played the automatic move. This move does not by any means lose, and against most other "non-a3" moves by White, it is probably best. That said, given White's response in the game, while this move may be "OK", it is a little better to execute the other idea. After 14...Nd4!, White has a major decision to make. If White trades on d4 or allows Black to trade on f3, White has one less piece to attack the Black King with. One of the downsides for Black in the KIA vs French is that he has four pieces, the Rook on a8, Bishop on a6, Knight on d7, and Knight on c6, that make no contribution to the defense of the Black King. Therefore, this is a major achievement for Black in that he has removed a potential attacker of the Black King in return for the removal of one of the four Black pieces that was making no contribution to the defense of his master. If White avoids the trade, Black can also place his d4-Knight on f5, adding another contributor to the defense of his own King. An example of a line that could result from this stronger move could be 15.c4 (viewed as best by Shredder) 15...bxc3 16.bxc3 Nxf3+ followed by 17...Rb8, regardless of how White recaptures, and only after that should Black consider pushing the a-pawn to a3. The position is probably still equal, though Black might even be able to claim a very slight edge rather than White in this scenario.

15.bxa3 bxa3 16.c3

So this was White's idea when he ignored the a3-push. This also shows why 14...Nd4 is stronger than 14...a3. We have a very similar position to the 14...Nd4 line with one major difference. The addition of the Knights, and as mentioned, when you compare the f3-Knight to the c6-Knight, you have a useful attacker going up against a useless defender. Hence why a trade of these pieces favors Black.

16...Bb5 17.Rb1 Ba4 18.Qd2 Rb8?

This move fails for tactical reasons. I saw White's idea when I played this, but underestimated its strength. 18...Qa5 was better and any advantage White has is minimal.


White has a strong move here


19.Rxb8! Qxb8?

The lesser evil was 19...Ndxb8, which gives White two free moves for his attack on the Kingside, and after 20.h5 Nd7 21.h6, White has the advantage, but it's not as bad for Black as the game move. Again, I saw White's next move back when I played 18...Rb8, but I highly underestimated its effect.

20.Nf6+! Bxf6

Black has no choice. 20...Nxf6?? 21.exf6 drops the Bishop as 21...Bd6?? 22.Bxd6 Qxd6 23.Qg5 leads to a position where mate can't be avoided, and 20...gxf6? 21.exf6 Qb2 (21...Bd6?? leads to the same mate as in the 20...Nxf6 line) 22.fxe7 Nxe7 23.Qxb2 axb2 24.Rb1 Ng6 25.Bd6 Rc8 26.h5 and Black's position is a train wreck.

21.exf6 Qb2 22.fxg7 Rc8 23.Bd6

Here, the idea of trading Queens and playing Rb1, like in the 20...exf6 line, is inferior. After 23.Qxb2?! axb2 24.Rb1 e5!, the tables turn and Black has the advantage. Best for White is 23.h5! Qxd2 24.Bxd2! Kxg7 25.h6+ and White has the advantage. The move played in the game looks strong as it keeps the Bishop active and appears to tie Black down, but looks can be deceiving. The next few moves lead to a fairly forcing sequence, and believe it or not, this turns out to be Black best line of defense.

23...Qxd2 24.Nxd2 Bc2 25.Bf1 d4 26.Rc1 dxc3 27.Nf3 Nb4

Here is where Black starts falling apart. Better was 27...Bb3! 28.axb3 a2 29.Ra1 c2 30.Bf4 Ra8 and White has to be really careful and is in a very dangerous position. For example, after natural moves like 31.Be3 Nb4 32.d4?, Black gets the advantage after 32...c1=Q! and both 33.Rxc1 Nc2 and 33.Bxc1 Nc2 34.Bb2 Nxa1 35.Bxa1 Rb8 are good for Black.

If White wants to avoid these problems, he could have played 27.Rxc2 instead of the 27.Nf3 that was played, but after 27...cxd2 28.Rxd2 Ra8, any advantage that White has is minimal, if any at all!

28.Ne1! Nxa2??

And now Black loses his shirt. 28...Bb3 is still better than the move played in the game, but it's not nearly as effective. With the Knight off of f3, White has another trick that gives him a clear advantage. After 29.Bxb3, the move 29...a2 can now be answered by 30.Bg2!, stopping Ra8, and the immediate 29...Ra8 is worse as it gives White time to play 30.d4, which means a lot. After 30...a2 31.Ra1 c2 32.Bf4 Ra3 33.Nd3! Rxb3 34.Nxb4 cxb4 35.Rxa2 and White's winning.

29.Rxc2 Nb4 30.Rxc3 Ra8 31.Rc1 a2 32.Ra1 Ra3 33.d4 Rb3 34.dxc5

This pawn will be a major problem for Black.

34...Rb1 35.Nc2 Kxg7 36.c6 Rxa1 37.Nxa1 Nxc6 38.Bb5 Ndb8

After 38...Nde5, the move 39.f4 is a major problem for Black.



Now, what we see is the Black Knights are dominated, and the extra pawn in return for the piece is useless for Black here. White has a simple approach that is extremely slow, but it would have been enough for me to resign immediately. I would, if I was White, trade on b8. After 39.Bxb8 Nxb8, the Knight is completely dominated, and at any point in time, White could play Bc4 and take the pawn, and then play the piece-up endgame. It would take for ever to win, but White will win it with correct play.

Instead, what White does here is actually quite amusing. The Black King is going to get mated by nothing but pawns and minor pieces!

39.Ba4 Kf6 40.f4 Kf5 41.Bc2+ Kg4 42.Kg2 Na6

And now, while Black takes the opportunity to get the Knights out, White drives the Black King back, and weaves a mating net, partially through the help of Black himself.

43.Bd1+ Kf5 44.g4+ Kg6 45.h5+ Kg7 46.Ba4 Nab4 47.Kf2 Kf6 48.Kg3 e5 49.fxe5+ Kg5



50.Nb3! Kh6

I had reached my hand toward the c6-Knight, and right before I touched it, I realized that 50...Nd4 doesn't work because 51.Nxd4!! a1=Q 52.Nf3+ Kh6 53.Bf8# is mate! The move played, trying to escape, doesn't work either as White has other routes for the Knight besides going through d4.

51.Bf8+ Kg5 52.Nc5 1-0

Black can't stop 53.Ne4# (or 52...f5 53.Ne6#).

This is the first time in the series that we have seen the King's Indian Attack, and as mentioned in the theory article from September, this line is full of tricks and traps, and this game is no different. Both sides end up playing inferior moves that aren't always obvious. Probably the most astounding is White's 23rd move where 23.Bd6 looked extremely natural, but probably leads to nothing better than equality with correct play by Black, in which Black had that opportunity that he threw away on the 27th move, and then completely went off the handle on move 28.

Another aspect that you should pick up from this game is that when the opposing side violates theory, and two ideas become available to you, weigh both options. Here, the ...Nd4 idea was of dominance over the ...a3 idea because it allows Black to remove a passive piece for an active one, and if White doesn't allow that trade, Black gets an extra piece into the defense of his own King. The move 14...a3 is by no means what cost Black the game, but his life would have been easier if he had played 14...Nd4. When you are familiar with an idea that is supposed to be good, and Black was in totally fine shape until his 18th move, at which point the game went back and forth between better for White and equal, always be on the lookout for an even better move before playing the automatic move.

That concludes this article. Good luck in all of your French games, Black or White!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Game Analysis: Kansas Open, Round 1

Hello everyone. I am back from my week and a half hiatus. During that time, I played in two tournaments, specifically the Kansas Open in Lenexa, KS (immediately below the Kansas side of Kansas City) and the Potomac Open in Rockville, MD (about 5 miles away from the Northwest side of the Capital Beltway that goes around Washington, DC). Here and the articles published for the next couple of months, I will be covering eight of the ten games that I played. The two that I won't be covering are the 3rd and 5th rounds of the Kansas Open. The third round was a 24-move draw that was littered with errors that a 1200 player shouldn't be making from both sides, and the fifth round was a horrible game played by me that doesn't really feature anything that you can learn from analyzing that game. It has nothing to do with the result as the other game not covered was a draw, and you will see a couple of losses by me, but there really is nothing in that game to be learned.

As far as results, I started both tournaments having White and perfectly alternated in both tournaments, and so both times I did have the advantage of having three Whites, but that turned out to be of little help as I scored a mere .500 record at the Kansas Open, scoring 2 1/2 out of 5, and at the Potomac Open, I played better than I did overall at the Kansas Open, but still I ended up scoring 3 1/2 out of 5 which included a perfect record with Black, and so I scored 3 points with each color in the form of 3 out of 6 with White and 3 out of 4 with Black.

Just to give you a heads up of what will be coming in the next two months and what you can be looking forward to, we will be seeing a King's Indian Defense, two Catalans, a Slav, and four Frenches. A word of note that the four French games will come in the form of the 11th thru 14th editions of The French Connection, and what you will see will be variations that have not been covered yet in the series, specific a King's Indian Attack against the French and a trio of McCutcheons. A number of ideas will crop up in these eight games, including lessons on opening ideas, strengths and weaknesses on one color complex versus the other, direct attacks on the King, including a King hunt in one case, along with a number of educational endgames.

One last word of note, these eight games will be published in the order in which they were played, and so you'll get a feel of the roller-coaster type momentum I experienced at these two tournaments.

With all of that said, let's take a look at the first round of the Kansas Open.


Kansas Open, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (2050)
B: Kaustubh Nimkar (1772)
King's Indian Defense

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.d4

So we have the King's Indian Defense, which usually comes from the move order 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3. One of the advantages in this move order is that White can specifically avoid the Nimzo-Indian and the Grunfeld. In the case of the latter, you will notice that White played 4.e4 before 5.d4 and not the other way around as 4.d4 can be answered by 4...d5, which would be a Grunfeld. This line is fine for White, but playing 4.e4 first limits Black's options. If Black wants to play a Grunfeld, he has to play the pawn move a move sooner, but after 3...d5, white can play 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Qxd1+ 7.Kxd1 and Black ends up in a very positional, symmetrical situation, something that Grunfeld players tend to loathe. Of course, there is a cost as well, and that is that White has to be willing to play some lines that he wouldn't have to play against 1.d4. For example, after 1.Nf3, Black can play 1...c5, which then 2.d4 is not best, and Black can already remove a central pawn, while the other options are to play a Symmetrical English (2.c4), Sicilian (2.e4), or possibly something non-committal like 2.g3 but that puts no pressure on Black. Against 1...d5, White can play a Reti (2.c4) or a Queen Pawn Opening (2.d4), but especially in the latter case, having committed to Nf3 already removes the Nge2 possibilities that in many lines can be viewed as stronger for White, particularly the Exchange Variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined. So while both approaches allow the Classical King's Indian, how you choose to get there will determine which side lines you are willing to allow.

5...Nbd7

While there is nothing specifically wrong with this move, it is not often played as Black lacks flexibility. More common is 5...O-O, but Black will end up transposing to the 6...Nbd7 line anyway on the next move. However, if he castles first, he maintains the flexibility to play the 6...e5 line, which is the main line, 6...c5 line, 6...Na6 line, or the 6...Nbd7 line which is what this game becomes anyway.

6.Be2 O-O 7.O-O e5



8.dxe5

Often times, minor details completely alter the assessment of a move and whether a move is best or not. The diagram above sees an added move by White and Black compared to the main line of the King's Indian Defense, which is 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5. The difference here is the added moves of O-O by White and Nbd7 by Black. Without these moves, White has the option of playing the Exchange Variation, which is 7.dxe5 dxe5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Bg5 where the main line leads to a space advantage for White after 9...Re8 10.Nd5 Nxd5 11.cxd5 c6 12.Bc4 cxd5 13.Bxd5. The difference here is that Black can capture on e5 with the Knight, and with the extra trade of Knights, Black removes a set of Knights in a position where he is the one that lacks space, and so this is to Black's benefit.

After a few moves are committed by both sides, trading is fine, but for now, tension should be kept because it makes ...f5 by Black harder to achieve with the mobile pawns in the center, which is vastly different than the lines where White has already played d5, blocking the position, and making ...f5 into an obvious break for Black. Therefore, better is 8.Re1 c6 9.Rb1 a6 10.dxe5 (now that Black has spent time on pawn moves rather than piece development due to the Knight on d7 blocking Black's mobility) 10...Nxe5 11.Nxe5 dxe5 12.Be3 Be6 (12...Qxd1 13.Rexd1 and White is first to the open d-file) 13.Qc2! and now with the threat of a Rook going to d1, Black doesn't really have a good square for the Queen that doesn't simply get in his own way. White is slightly better.

White follows a similar idea, but the earlier release in the center gets the Black Knight out of his own way from development immediately and Black can make more effective moves than the pawn moves played after 8.Re1.

8...Nxe5 9.Nxe5 dxe5 10.Qc2 c6 11.Bg5 Qc7 12.Rad1 Be6 13.Rd2 Rad8 14.Rfd1 Rd4 15.Be3



Already we have a critical position.

15...Rfd8?

Correct is 15...Ng4! 16.Bxg4 (16.Bxd4? exd4 17.Bxg4 dxc3 18.Bxe6 cxd2 is advantageous for Black) Bxg4 17.Bxd4 Bxd1 18.Bxe5 Bxe5 19.Qxd1 Bxh2+ with equality.

16.Bxd4 exd4 17.Rxd4 Rxd4 18.Rxd4 Ng4 19.Bxg4!

The alternative was 19.e5, but it leads to a smaller advantage for White than the game move based on line D below:
  1. 19...Nxe5? 20.Qd2 is winning for White.
  2. 19...Bxe5? 20.Rxg4 Bxg4 21.Bxg4 Bxh2+ 22.Kf1 and White is up a piece.
  3. The move I feared was 19...Nxh2, but after 20.f4! Ng4 21.Qd1, White wins.
  4. Correct would be 19...Qxe5 20.Rd8+ Bf8 21.g3 Qf6! 22.Bxg4 (22.Rxf8+ Kxf8 is completely equal) 22...Qxd8 23.Bxe6 fxe6 and the extra pawn island gives White a slight edge, but White is better off with the game move, maintaining being a pawn up.

19...Bxd4 20.Bxe6 fxe6 21.Ne2!



So White is now a pawn up and has one less pawn island than Black. White also has the better minor piece, especially with the Queens still on the board. The true test for White is a matter of patience. He needs to recognize that there is no way for Black to fix his pawn structure, and White should milk this issue for all it's worth!

21...Qd6 22.g3 e5 23.Nc1

The Knight is headed to d3 where it will continue to eye f4 for a timely f2-f4 push, but from d3, it will also eye c5, which it doesn't do from e2, along with plug up the d-file if Black were ever to try to retreat the Bishop and open up the Queen, and it guards both f2 and b2. Nothing spectacular, but White realizes that Black's weaknesses, including the pawn deficit, are all long term, and so White is going to take the time to relocate his pieces, including his King, before he proceeds to break through with his pawns, most notably the pawn breaks c5 and f4, both of which get played shortly.

23...Kg7

This introduces another item to be on the lookout for. The Black King has just moved in line with the isolated pawn, and that if Black ever moves the Bishop, which the most likely way for that to happen is if White can threaten to get the Knight to a strong square and make Black trade minor pieces, then potential pins along the long diagonal can become a problem for Black which would make the f4-break easier to execute.

24.Kg2

As mentioned already, White wants to get the King to a better location before trying to break through. Ultimately, White would like to get this to a King and Pawn endgame, but before he can do that, he must make sure that Black's King isn't located in such a spot that he can win back a pawn and also claim an actual advantage due to the superior King position. We recognized that White's potential breaks are c5, taking over the Queenside and limiting Black's available tempii, and breaking through the center with f4, either creating a passed e-pawn if Black takes on f4 or advancing to f5 and creating a Kingside majority. What breaks does Black have? None really. If he tries to get the a-pawn to a3 to disrupt White's Queenside, White can simply play a3 whenever the Black pawn gets to a4, and the h-pawn can maybe get to h4 and trade the h-pawns off, but there is little else that Black can do except sit and wait and make sure he doesn't locate his pieces on landmines that allow White to execute tactical breakthroughs.

It should also be noted that White must avoid cheap shots as well, and that moving the King to g2 also allows White to contest the d-file from virtually anywhere, and that while 24.Qd2 may be ok, 24.Qd3? would be a mistake as it allows 24...Qb4 with counterplay and equality and 24...Qd1?? would lose outright to 24...Bxf2+.

24...Qd7 25.Qd2 Qg4 26.f3

Here we see another reason for 24.Kg2. If the King were on g1, rejecting the Queen's entry in this manner wouldn't be possible.

26...Qe6 27.b3

Removing all pressure from the Black Bishop, and also Black's last move prevents the combination of Knight activity and a c5-push as the a2-pawn would hang if the Knight moves away and the diagonal opens up. Once again, Black has no way to improve his position, and so White is ever so slowly improving his own. The next phase for White is to relocate the Knight from the passive c1-square.

27...b6 28.Nd3 h6



Black's position has been bad for a while, and now he finally cracks. White has a defined role for the Knight. With this advancement of the h-pawn, White wants to get the Knight to e3. From there, he threatens to go to g4, and getting Black to advance one of the Kingside pawns. ...h5 would weaken the dark squares while ...g5 would invite White to retreat back to e3 and enter in on f5, at which point Black would be virtually forced to trade the minor pieces, and in a Queen endgame, Black will have a hard time fighting for the open file and covering his e5-weakness at the same time.

29.Nb4 g5

Accelerating White's idea. Now the Knight has a defined target square. f5!

30.Nc2 Qf6

Now the question must be asked. Is White ready to put his Knight on e3, virtually forcing the minor piece trade due to the threats of landing on f5?

31.a4

Not yet! White wants to immobilize the Queenside before doing this. White has ideas of either b4 or a5, and so it entices Black into his next move.

31...a5

This creates an added problem on b6. So now let's look. We have a weakness on b6. We have a weakness on e5. We have the f5 outpost for the Knight. Let's not also forget about the fact that the Black King still sits on the same diagonal as the e5-pawn, potentially creating tactical ideas of an f4-break. There is not much improvement that White can achieve and so therefore.

32.Ne3

The time has come!

32...Bxe3

Black of course doesn't allow the Knight to f5.

33.Qxe3

White now threatens the b6-pawn and to take over the only open file. Therefore, Black's next move is virtually forced.

33...Qd8

However, this removes the guard from the weak e5-pawn. First things first, White will not allow Black to solidify the Queenside with ...c5, and so what does he do?

34.c5!

He plays the move himself! If Black takes on c5, his pawn structure will be severely weakened, and so therefore...

34...b5

He advances the pawn.

35.Qc3

Now Black has that e5-pawn to deal with, and notice that the pawn is also pinned to the King, and for the King to get to the pawn the fastest, he has to remain in the pin by going to f6. All other routes to guarding the pawn take an extra move for Black.

35...Qc7

Played to guard e5 and try to keep White from winning on the Queenside, but this now abandons the open file. Black can't have everything!

36.f4

White uses that pin we have talked about multiple times to break through. Another possibility for White that also works is 36.axb5 cxb5 37.c6, using the idea that in Queen endgames, pawn quality matters far more than pawn quantity, and the player with the furthest advanced passed pawn is almost always the side that is winning, and that would be the case here. Here, White instead goes for a winning pawn endgame.

36...gxf4 37.gxf4 Kf6

Black has no way to stop either the loss of the e-pawn or else the trade of Queens, granted the choice of which is Black's, but both would very easily make White's life easier, whether that be going up two pawns instead of one or enter the Pawn endgame. The point being, White has no reason to rush to take on e5, and should improve the position of his King first.

38.Kf3 Qe7

Once again, White is still not forced to resolve the issue, but aside from possibly 39.axb5, there isn't much reason to wait at this point, and therefore...

39.Qxe5+ Qxe5 40.fxe5+ Kxe5 41.Ke3 h5

The fact that White's pawn is on h2 will always allow White to win the tempo game. If 41...bxa4, then 42.bxa4 h5 43.h3 and Black is in zugzwang. If 41...b4, then 42.h3! h5 43.h4 and Black is in zugzwang! With the move played, White makes his c-pawn into a passed pawn since the King is within range of the Black majority that results from it.

42.axb5 cxb5 43.Kd3

This is a pawn structure worth knowing. The two White passers guard each other two files apart. If Black ever takes on e4, the c-pawn promotes. If Black goes back with ...Ke6 and ...Kd7, then White advances the e-pawn to e5, and then whichever way the King goes, the other pawn advances. Therefore, if ...Kc6, then we play e6 and if ...Ke6, we play c6, and now you have the exact same scenario a file further up, and you just repeat this process until one of the pawns promotes. Of course, the way to force their advancement is to remove all other moves from Black, whether that be blocking the rest of the pawns or removing them. Black, on the other hand, has nothing that he can achieve with his majority as the White King is inside the box, and he doesn't have time to go running for White's h-pawn.

43...h4 44.Kc3 h3 45.Kd3

White is simply waiting and asking Black "now what?".

45...a4

Black makes White's task extremely easy. That said, if Black tries to create a Mexican Standoff by not advancing either pawn, the White King will get in to d5. Note that White can't advance his King beyond the 5th rank or else ...a4 then by Black will create an unstoppable passer. After 45...Ke6 46.Kd4 Kd7 47.Kd5 Ke7, White must be accurate. Now 48.c6?? would be a horrible blunder as Black can then draw with 48...a4! 49.bxa4 bxa4 50.Kc4 Kd6!, but the simple 48.e5! Kd7 and only now 49.c6+! and White can completely abandon the stopping of the Black pawns and instead mate the Black King in certain cases. If 49...Kd8, then White can simply play 49.Kc5 and grab the Black pawns, but if 49...Kc7, then instead of 50.Kc5, White should simply play 50...e6! with fatal threats of 51.e7, and if 50...Kd8, then 51.Kd6! and White will mate Black long before Black is able to Queen.

46.bxa4 bxa4 47.Kc4 a3 48.Kb3 1-0

Once again, the White Pawns guard each other and so there is no reason to play on, and so Black resigned!

The main thing to get out of this game is understanding the difference between long term and short term advantages, and that when your opponent's weaknesses are not repairable, and of the long term garden variety, the top priorities are to not give him counterplay, and to methodically set up all of your pieces into their ideal positions before trying to execute. If there is nothing that he can do other than watch anyway, why rush? You don't get anything extra by winning in 25 moves compared to 50 moves, and it's not like you are racking you brain with these extra moves. When your position is completely winning and the opponent has no counterplay, it's usually very simply, low stress ideas that you have to come up with, and simply ask the question constantly "Are my pieces ideally placed for the attack?". This is very different than sitting in a high-pressure situation where you may be winning, but one slight error could cost you the game. Here, outside of something egregious, even a small error might just simply mean a few extra moves you have to make if all your opponent can do is sit there and watch!

That concludes this article. Next time, we'll look at the second round of the Kansas Open which will come in the form of the 11th edition of The French Connection. Until then, good luck in your games.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 10

Hello everyone and welcome to the tenth edition of The French Connection. This time, we are going to talk about the subject of calling your opponent's bluff. Reading fake threats, in other words.

There is a well-known tactical shot that Black most notably must watch out for in the French Defense and Colle System, and that is something called the Greek Gift Sacrifice. The Greek Gift Sacrifice is where White gives up his Bishop on h7 to try to drag the King out and then mate the King with his other pieces. This is why a Knight on f6 (or f3 for White) is often viewed as the most valuable defensive piece, but in the French Defense, White often pushes his pawn to e5, removing the f6-square from Black, and this is why that sacrifice must always be something that Black pays attention to when he is castled Kingside. The game we will look at this time, played by a well-known advocate of the French Defense, will discuss what Black must look out for in this sacrifice, and how to read when the threat is artificial or fake.


W: John Van der Wiel
B: Viktor Korchnoi
Amsterdam, 1991

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7 7.f4 O-O 8.Qd2 c5 9.Nf3 Nc6 10.O-O-O Nb6 11.dxc5 Qxc5 12.Bd3



So now we reach a critical decision by Black. His King is pretty bare with not a lot of support around it to defend against mate. The first question he must ask himself is "Can White execute the Greek Gift Sacrifice?" One thing to note that is playing Ng5 first does nothing because Black can play the simple ...h6 in response, not allowing White to open the h-file, and so if White is going to try to break through, he must give up the piece. But is he really ready to do such a thing? The first thing is to understand what White needs in order for the Greek Gift Sacrifice to work. Generally speaking, White needs at least two additional assets amongst the following:
  • The dark-squared Bishop with open access to h6. The reason for this is that in the Greek Gift Sacrifice, after 1.Bxh7+ Kxh7 2.Ng5+, Black has four possible squares for the King. You have g8, h8, g6, and h6. Generally speaking, h8 is rarely ever a good square for the King due to the opening of the h-file. If White has his dark-squared Bishop, say on c1, then h6 is typically not an available square for the Black King as fatal discoveries occur as a result of moving the Knight from g5. That leaves only g8 and g6 as available squares to the Black King. Without this Bishop, the h6-square must be considered as well.
  • A second Knight that can easily reach e4 or f4 rapidly.
  • A Rook that can easily be lifted to the third or fourth rank to reach the Kingside to attack the King.
  • A secured pawn on e5, keeping f6 under control and not allowing a Black Knight ever to safely occupy f6.
  • A pawn on h4 backed up by a Rook on h1. This is either to support the Knight on g5 where any capture of the Knight results in the Rook opening up on the h-file, or, if the Knight is protected in another manner or if tactics are available should Black capture it, then the h4-asset can also be used to advance h5, which if the King went to g6 in response to the Knight check, this would be with check and a gain of tempo.

So what do we have in this scenario? Well, White has no dark-squared Bishop. The Knight on c3 cannot access e4 or f4. The e4-square is controlled by the Black pawn on d5 while f4 is already occupied by White's pawn. There is no easy access via a Rook lift to get an additional Rook into the attack. White does have a secure pawn on e5. However, his h-pawn is not advnaced.

Therefore, Black only has one additional asset. In addition to being short an asset, with the White Queen on d2 rather than d1, then after 1.Bxh7+ and 2.Ng5+, White's only follow-up would be to check with the Queen on d3 as Qh5+ is not an option with the Queen on d2 rather than d1.

So all signs point to White's threat being artificial, and low and behold, Korchnoi ignores the threat and doesn't waste any time playing moves like 12...h6 or 12...g6.

12...Bd7! 13.Bxh7+?

Correct here is 13.Kb1. There is no need to rush the attack.

13...Kxh7 14.Ng5+

Before scrolling down past the diagram, see if you can figure out the correct defense for Black. Moving the King to h8 is almost never right in defending against the Greek Gift Sacrifice, and going to h6 is almost never right when White still has his Dark-Squared Bishop. However, with the Bishop gone, three candidate moves must be considered. 14...Kg6, 14...Kh6, and 14...Kg8. In this case, only one of them works. Korchnoi found the move that works here. Can you do the same?



14...Kg8!

Despite the lack of the Bishop, 14...Kh6?? loses on the spot to 15.Qd3 (threatening 16.Qh7#) 15...Rh8 (15...f5 and 15...g6 both fail to 16.Qh3+ followed by 17.Qh7#) 16.Nxf7+ Kh5 17.g4+ Kxg4 18.Qg3+ Kf5 19.Qg5#.

The problem with 14...Kg6?? is the location of the Black Queen. A fatal royal fork occurs as all other lines lead to mate after 15.Qd3+ f5 (15...Kh6 16.Qh7# and 15...Kh5 16.Qh3+ Kg6 17.Qh7# both die instantly) 16.exf6+ and now 16...Kf6 17.Nce4+ loses the Queen while 16...Kh5 leads to another mate after 17.g4+ Kxg4 18.Rdg1+ Kxf4 19.Qf3+ Ke5 20.Nxf7+ Rxf7 21.Qg3+ Kxf6 22.Qg5#.

However, what must be recognized in order to play a daring move like 12...Bd7 is that Black can get out with the move played in the game.

15.Qd3 Ref8 16.Qh7+ Kf8 17.Rhe1

So once again, before you scroll past the diagram, another multiple choice question. Which move should Black play here? 17...Qb4, 17...Nc4, or 17...Nd4?



17...Qb4!

The problem with 17...Nd4? is that Black has nothing better than a draw. I haven't seen a game where this is played but this was Stockfish's first choice, hence why I put it as an option. After 18.Qh5+ Ke7 19.Qxg7, Black has to play 19...Rf8 20.Nh7+ Rg8 21.Qf6+ Ke8 22.Ng5 and now the only options are 22...Rf8 23.Nh7, repeating, or 22...Qf8 23.Nh7 (23.Rxd4? Rg6 24.Nxe6 Bxe6 25.Qh4 Rc8 is better for Black) 23...Qb4 24.Ng5 Rf8 25.a3 (25.Nh7?? Nc4 -+) 25...Qc5 26.Nh7 Rg8 27.Ng5 and now the perpetual can't be avoided as after 27...Qf8 28.Nh7, the Queen can't go to b4 and actually threaten anything. Also note that after 19...Kd8 20.Nxf7+ Kc7 21.Nd6, Black is tied up and White is actually better here. Note also that simply trying to run with the King via 17...Ke7 leads to the same problem, only with the Knight passively placed on c6 rather than active on d4, but the White Knight will still park itself on d6.

The move 17...Nc4 has been played multiple times, but has has not ended in victory for Black. The point behind this move can be seen from the last part of the 17...Nd4 line. Black's idea is that with the Knight on c4, White can't park a Knight on d6, and so the line 18.Qh8+ Ke7 19.Qxg7 Kd8! 20.Nxf7+ Kc7 would actually be better for Black. However, the problem with this line is that White has an alternate solution that actually works. After 18.Qh8+ Ke7, instead of taking on g7, White plays 19.Qh4! and after 19...Rh8 (Repeating with 19...Kf8 may be Black's only move here) 20.Nh7+, the game Polgar - Somlai, Budapest 1991 saw White win after 20...Ke8 21.Nf6+ gxf6 22.Qxh8+ Qf8 23.Qxf8+ Kxf8 24.exf6 Kg8 25.Rd3 Kh7 26.f5 d4 27.Rh3+ Kg8 28.Re4 1-0. In Nielsen - Ulibin, Mamaia 1991, Black instead played 20...f6 where after 21.exf6+ Kd8 22.fxg7+ Kc7 23.gxh8=Q, White is ahead in material, but once Black captures the Queen, the attack on b2 is very awkward for White to meet, and so with the compensation, the game ended in a draw.

The move played in the game, with best play, should probably lead to a draw as well, but unlike 17...Nc4, Black does have actual winning chances as he can still maintain a slight edge and White must find a more round-about way to conduct the attack, and this is also where the human factor comes into play. We are going to also see an error made by Black later on, which goes to show that there is inherited risk compared to a quick draw, but would you call the draw we saw in the 17...Nc4 line "simple"? I wouldn't! Therefore, despite the risk, 17...Qb4 is Black's best move here.

18.Qh8+ Ke7 19.Qh4

Now 19.Qxg7? fails to 19...Qxf4! The point behind playing the Queen first instead of the Knight on move 17.

19...Kd8 20.Nxe6+ Kc8 21.a3 Qe7 22.Ng5

So Black now has a Bishop for two Pawns, but his position is awkward. His King separates the connection between the Rooks, and he has a number of weaknesses, including d5, g7, and even f7 (for example, if White were to play Qh7 at some point and Black answered with something like ...g6, to save the g-pawn, the f-pawn would be hanging). Can you find the best move for Black that would leave him with a slight advantage? Korchnoi was unable to do this. See if you can do better than him!



22...f6?

This actually hands the advantage over to White. Black can get a small advantage with the simple 22...Be6 =/+. There is no reason to get cute here. Black needs to buy whatever time he can get to re-arrange his pieces. The most likely way for this to happen is for Black to eventually play ...Kb8, ...a6, and ...Ka7, connecting the Rooks, but that requires time. The simple Bishop move covers the majority of the weaknesses, and if g7 is all Black has to worry about, he can probably get out of the entanglement alive, and possibly even better.

23.e6

White fails to execute. White can get the upper hand by ripping the position open with 23.exf6 Qxf6 24.Rxe8+ Bxe8 25.Nxd5 Nxd5 26.Rxd5 Bd7 27.Qh8+ Kc7 28.Qxa8 Qxf4+ 29.Rd2 Qxg5 30.Qf8.

The move in the game does open things up, but it allows Black to keep the Queen in close proximity with the Rook on e8, not forcing a recapture with the Bishop if White were to take on e8 as is the case in the 23.exf6 line.

23...fxg5 24.exd7+ Qxd7 25.Qxg5 Rxe1+ 26.Rxe1 a6



Black now has time for the plan mentioned earlier of building the safe haven for the Black King on a7. In this case, it's not to connect Rooks, but rather to get that last buried Rook on a8 into the game. Black now has a winning position because once the Black King gets to a7, which really can't be stopped, the compensation White gets with the two pawns in return for being down a piece will be insufficient.

27.f5 Kb8 28.Re6 Ka7 29.Rg6 Re8 30.Rxg7 Re1+ 31.Nd1 Qe8 32.f6 Qe4 33.Qd2 Nc4 34.Qf2+ Ne3! 0-1

Black has the dual threats of the Knight on d1 and the c2-square. White can't save the Knight as 35.Qd2 Nxd1 still nets Black the piece and 35.Qxe1?? allows 35...Qxc2#. Therefore, White resigned.


So what have we learned from this game?
  • While it is critical to always look for our opponent's threats, we must also always check and make sure that those threats are genuine. If we go out of our way to stop "fake threats", we are wasting our time that could be spent preparing our own attack. (See Black's 12th move)
  • When you have a material advantage, but your pieces are uncoordinated, the last thing you want to do is go out of your way to break the position open, such as what Black did on move 22. White failed to execute, but the opportunity was there. Instead, do everything you can to bottle up the position until you get your King in a safe spot (i.e the a7-square in the case of this game), and only when your pieces are also ready to join the attack along with the King being safe do you want to bust open the position.
  • It should also be noted that while the French Defense is often viewed as a "safer" defense than the Sicilian due to the pawn chain along the a2-g8 diagonal that the Black King often resides on, it does often require very strong defensive skills to succeed in the French. Particularly in the 3.Nc3 lines, White will often have a massive frontal attack on the Kingside, but if Black can stop mate, he will often have the better position in the endgame as Black will usually have most of the positional trumps, such as pawn structure, and Queenside pressure. In an endgame, the side away from the Kings tends to matter more than the side the Kings are on if both sides castle the same direction, and if the Kings are on opposite sides, Black's Queenside pawns are usually still intact, leaving very few entry paths for the White King to get at them, whereas White will usually have created some weaknesses of his own in order to try to get at the Black King. This game we looked at never really reached an endgame, but often times it will, and so the most important skills necessary to succeed in the French Defense are Defensive skills and Endgame skills. Outside of one error in this game that wound up not hurting Black, Black showed a strong demonstration of defense in this game.

Well, that concludes this article. Until next time, good luck in all your French games, Black or White!