The game we are going to look at is actually very instructive for French devotees as it illustrates some of the pitfalls that Black can fall into. White actually played the game fairly well, and while there were times where Black may have been able to claim a very very slight advantage, there was never a time in the game that Black could ever lay claim that he was winning. That said, the game remained totally balanced with the exception of one point in the middle game where Black makes a very educational blunder, and gave White the opportunity to lay claim to a significant advantage, and after White fails to do so and counters with a mistake of his own, we reach a very instructional endgame where Black first realizes that there are two results in the game, draw or loss, and plays for the draw, and does so brilliantly until one move very late in the game with both sides in time trouble that does him in, and White goes on to victory.
For those of you that haven't seen the previous articles surveying the French Tarrasch and games I've posted where Black won in the Tarrasch, I have included the links at the bottom of the article. Also, for those of you that feel depressed after looking at this game, going back to the wins I've posted will cheer you right back up! :-)
But until then, let's see what happened here that put Black in his misery.
Reverse Angle 80, Round 2
W: Henry Hopson (1891)
B: Patrick McCartney (2080)
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Ngf3 Nf6 6.Bb5+ Bd7 7.Bxd7+ Nbxd7 8.O-O Be7 9.dxc5 Nxc5 10.Nb3 Nce4
For further explanation of the opening moves, see the first two articles from the links at the bottom.
A slightly unusual move but could sometimes transpose into the second most popular line, which is 11.Nbd4. The most common is 11.Nfd4, leaving the other knight on b3 to cover c5 and threaten to corral the bishop with Nf5. Black will usually counter this with 11...Qd7, to prevent Nf5 at least temporarily, and also to give the bishop the d8-square if it doesn't want to trade itself off for a White knight.
Now, after the move played in the game, we enter a stage where both sides are making decent moves. There may be a few cases where there are other options that are equally good, but neither side makes any spectacular moves or commits any blunders, and the position remains level for quite a while.
11...O-O 12.Nbd4 Bc5 13.h3 Rc8 14.Be3 Nd6 15.Nc2 Nc4 16.Bxc5 Rxc5 17.Qd4 Qc7 18.Rab1 Re8 19.Rfe1 Re4 20.Qd3 h6
This move is better than 20...g6 as it weakens fewer squares, but temporarily, it doesn't not solve the back rank issue because of the specific location of the White queen.
We reach a critical position in which White has a very concealed threat. Do you see it?
Black must eliminate the Knight with 21...Nxe3, after which the position remains equal. The move played in the game doesn't resolve the threat.
This move is fairly easy to see. The concealed threat comes if Black takes the pawn on a2.
This exchange sacrifice is necessary. 22...Rxa2?? loses to 23.Nxd5 Rxe1+ (or 23...Nxd5 24.Rxe4 +-) 24.Rxe1 Nb2 (24...Nxd5?? allows 25.Re8 Mate!) 25.Qb1 Qc4 26.Re4 and Black's position would be in ruins.
White's advantage is gone after this move. Instead, 23.Rxe3 Rxa2 24.Re2 and White has a big advantage.
23...Rxa2 24.Re2 Rxe2 25.Qxe2 Ne4 26.Qd3 Qb6?!
Stronger is 26...Qg3 where it could even be argued that Black has a very slight advantage. After a move like 27.Qe2 (other moves aren't any better), the position after 27...Nxc3 28.Qe1 Qxe1+ 28.Rxe1 Kf8, the position is still technically equal, but things have gotten really ugly for White compared to seven moves prior.
27.Re1 Qe6 28.Nd4 Qe5 29.Ne2 g5 30.Qd4 Qxd4
Instead, 31.cxd4 is stronger. After 31...Nxe3 32.b5 a6 33.bxa6 bxa6 34.Ra1 h5 35.Rxa6 Kg7 36.Rb6 f5 37.Nc1 h4 38.Nd3 g4 39.Ne5 gxh3 40.gxh3 f4 41.Rg6+ Kh7, White has the advantage.
After the move played, Black must realize a number of factors in the position:
- First and foremost, Black does not having winning chances barring a total collapse by White. Even a series of inferior moves by White won't be enough for Black to win. His goal must be to draw.
- When you are the one with the minor piece in a minor piece vs rook imbalance, you must play actively, especially when down in material. A fortress approach is not going to work here.
- Don't be afraid to lose another pawn if you can eliminate all the pawns. King and rook versus king and knight is a theoretical draw.
The next series of moves we see Black predominantly responding to White's threats, and when there is no threat, Black makes an active move.
31...f5 32.Kh2 f4 33.Rf1 Ne3 34.Ra1 a6 35.Ra5 Kf7 36.b5 axb5 37.Rxb5 Nd6 38.Rb6 Ke6 39.Nc1 Nec4 40.Rb4 Kf5 41.Nd3 b6 42.Nf2 h5 43.g4+ fxg3+ 44.Kxg3 Ne4+ 45.Nxe4 Kxe4 46.Rb5
We reach another critical position for Black. It first appears as though Black is in zugzwang where any move drops a pawn. However, there is one right move, one other move that might arguably survive for Black, and a bunch of wrong moves.
Perhaps 46...Nd2 would also work for tactical reasons. For example, 47.Kg2 g4 48.h4 Nf3 49.Kg3 Ng1 50.Rxb6 Ne2+ 51.Kf2 Nxc3 52.Rh6 Kxd4 53.Rxh5 Ke4 54.Rg5 Kf4 55.Ke1 and 47.Rxb6 Kd3 48.Rh6 Kxc3 49.Rxh5 Kxd4 both appear to be survivable for Black, but the game move is easier, especially compared to the 47.Kg2 line given that the Black king is cut off from the White pawn.
That said, other moves lose. For example, 46...Kd3 47.Rxd5 h4+ 48.Kf2 Kxc3 49.Rxg5 Kxd4 50.Rh5 and White is winning.
47.hxg4 hxg4 48.Kxg4 Kd3 49.Kf4 Kxc3 50.Rxd5 b5 51.Ke4
This move loses on the spot! The way to draw is via 51...Nd2+ and after 52.Ke3 or 52.Ke5, Black will return the Knight to c4 via 52...Nc4+. If White continues to toggle between the e5, e4, and e3 squares, a perpetual check will occur. The moment that White leaves these three squares, Black will push the b-pawn to b4 and the game would be a draw. Instead, the upcoming pin by the Rook combined with the location of the White King does Black in.
This is one of the problems with doing this while the White King is on e4. Black doesn't have the d3-square to put the King on, and going to b3 blocks the Black pawn and fatally slows down the advancement of the Black pawn on b4.
53.d5 Nb6 54.Kd3 Ka2 55.Rb5 Nxd5 56.Rxd5 b3 57.Rb5 b2 58.Kc2 1-0
This was a painful game for fans of the French Defense, but it also shows some critical pitfalls that Black must look out for. For those of you that have not previously seen my other articles on the French Tarrasch, the links below will take you there. Black does win all four games across the three articles.
The New Hampshire Open (Specifically Round 2)
Opening Preparation: The French Defense, Tarrasch Variation
Game Analysis: NC Closed Championship - Round 3