Saturday, May 26, 2018

Game Analysis - Material Imbalances

This week, we are going to take a look at an interesting game that illustrates the concept of dealing with positions with a material imbalance. Many beginners judge a position by what is known as the "Material Count", meaning if one side has a Rook (5), Bishop (3), and 5 Pawns (5), and the other side has a Queen (9) and 3 Pawns (3), that the side with the Rook is "ahead 13 to 12".

As you get higher in rating, you soon realize that chess isn't that simple. Pieces are not shares of stock with a fixed value. The value of a piece is extremely fluid. There are many factors that can determine the true value of a piece or combination of pieces:
  • Is the piece active or passive? - A centralized Knight, a Bishop on a long, open diagonal, or a Rook on an open file is going to be worth a lot more than a Knight in the corner, a Bishop that is sitting behind pawns of the same color stuck on the same color squares, looking more like a "Tall Pawn", or a Rook on its original square blocked in by the Pawn in front and one of the minor pieces to its side where the minor piece can't get out.
  • Is the piece actually doing anything - An active Knight or active Bishop must actually be doing something to be worth anything. If it is just hanging out there in the center of the board, but otherwise doing nothing and the opposing pieces can just work around it, you have what Steve Mayer in his excellent book "Bishop V Knight: The Verdict" would call an "overrated piece". On the flip side, if the piece is passive, is it at least playing a major defensive role and holding your position intact, which in the "French Connection" articles, we often see Black's bad light-squared Bishop often doing that, or is that bad piece truly doing nothing at all?
  • Do the pieces remaining coordinate well? - Material count is often irrelevant if the pieces remaining on one side coordinate well together while the pieces on the opposite side are scattered about, looking like the pieces were just plopped on the board randomly and otherwise do not work well as a unit. The side better coordinated will usually have the advantage regardless of the "point count", within reason.
  • Are there short term, tactical threats? - Often times, a material imbalance may work or not work for the player down material because of a short term tactical threat. Usually when you hear the term "temporary sacrifice", it is because the player is not truly sacrificing a piece. It just looks that way because a tactical threat, such as mate, may force the opposing size to return the material a few moves later. On the flip side, a sacrifice may fail because of a tactical shot that the side gaining the material has where he is able to keep the extra material without costing himself coordination (see previous bullet) or King safety.

So I am going to show you a game that I played recently where starting at move 15, the material count was rarely equal until the very end, and even in the endgame, the position is sharp such that if either player had one extra move, the game would be decisive in their favor. This game will also show how sharp a game can get despite playing an opening that is stereotyped as being somewhat boring. With that said, let's look at the game.

USCF Correspondence, 2018
W: Patrick McCartney (1959)
B: Rama Gitananda (1910)
Torre Attack

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 h6

In the e6-Torre, Black has four main options. He can defend with an early ...d5 combined with ...c5, ...Nc6, etc, in similar fashion to the main line defense against the Colle System. He can fianchetto the Queenside Bishop with ...c5, ...b6, and ...Bb7, in similar fashion to the Queen's Indian Defense. Or he can play one of two fairly forcing type of lines. The first is 3...c5 4.e3 Qb6, going for the b2-pawn and usually grabbing it at the cost of development, or the move played in the game, which will either result in Black getting the Bishop pair if White trades on f6 in return for a misplaced Queen, or if White retreats the h4, Black can either proceed with the radical 4...g5 and 5...Ne4, chasing down the Bishop, or else attack the White center, figuring the Bishop is misplaced on h4.

4.Bh4 c5 5.e3 b6 6.Bd3 Bb7

Black goes for the final approach, and now takes on the fianchetto structure, figuring that the added moves of ...h6 and Bh4 would benefit him based on the thought that the White Bishop on h4 is misplaced.


White takes the classical approach here, maintaining control of the dark squares, whether that be via a recapture if Black dares give up his Bishop for the Knight on f3, or possibly headed to c4 later on to dominate e5. The more modern approach is to continue focus on completing Kingside development with 7.O-O Be7 8.c4 O-O and developing the Knight via 9.Nc3, fighting for control of the central light squares.


It is probably a tad too early to make this trade. The reason for keeping the tension is to see how White develops his pieces before signaling to him that his e-file will be open. Wait for White to commit to a piece formation before deciding whether to trade or not. 7...Be7 is a better move.

8.exd4 Be7 9.O-O O-O 10.Qe2 d6 11.Rfe1 Nd5?!

A radical move that gives White the opportunity at a small endgame advantage after a very long sequence of virtually forcing moves. The more calm 11...Nbd7 was called for, maintaining the balance.

After looking at the diagram, we see what Black is after with his last move. He wants to remove White's most active minor piece, the light-squared Bishop. He has the dual threat of 12...Nf4, forking the Queen and Bishop, and after a move like 12.Bg3, he has 12...Nb4 where the light-squared Bishop has no useful place to go, and he basically has to allow Black to trade his Knight off for it. Therefore, White's next move is the start of a fairly lengthy forcing sequence that is going to lead to a massive material imblance.


The only move that maintains White's best minor piece.

I would also like to take the time to point something else out here. There are many chess players in this generation that judge a move by what Artificial Intelligence has to say about it. Artificial Intelligence often is not good at evaluating positions of the type that we will see in this game because computers are often reliant on tactics and material count. Also, I have seen many cases where if you put the same position on multiple machines, one will say White or Black is winning and the other will say that White or Black barely has a microscopic advantage. For example, here, one computer claims White is up two-and-a-half points, but after recognizing every move played in this game up through Black's 23rd move as best, White has roughly a three-tenths of a pawn advantage. As you go back and have it analyze the positions again, it recognizes the 0.33 advantage for White at 13...Bxh4 below, but still doesn't see it here at move 12. There is also no proof that the moves played in the game through move 23 are actually the best. See White's 21st move, for example.

This should illustrate why analysis of any game should be done with the brain and without an engine first, and only then use the engine to check for blunders or possibly find hidden combinations that were missed, but don't just assume that because your analyzed move shows as "+0.8" and artificial intelligence says another move is "+1.0" that your move wasn't best. It might very well be better and AI only realizes that after a number of moves are physically made.

12...g6 13.c4 Bxh4

Forced! 13...Nb4 14.Qxb7 Bxh4 15.Be4 N8c6 16.Bxc6 Rc8 17.Ba4 and 13...Nc6 14.cxd5 exd5 15.Bxe7 dxe4 16.Bxd8 exd3 17.Be7 both drop a piece for basically nothing.

14.Nxh4 Nb4 15.Qxb7 N8c6

So White is currently a piece up, but the Bishop on d3 is under attack, the Knight on h4 is under attack, and the Queen is threatened to be trapped with ...Rab8. What does White do?


The only move!


And this move is also forced.
  1. Black can't take the Knight as after 16...fxg6 17.Bxg6, Black can't keep the Queen trapped and is lost.
  2. Black also loses after 16...Nxd3 17.Nxf8 Rc8 18.Re3 Rc7 19.Qa6.
  3. After 16...Rab8, White has 17.Ne7+! where 17...Qxe7 18.Qxe7 Nxe7 19.Be4 and 17...Nxe7 18.Qf3 both see White emerge a pawn up with no real compensation, and any King move on move 17 loses instantly to 18.Nxc6.


There is no way to salvage the Queen and so White must continue to attack the other Black pieces as White does still have a Knight on g6 and Bishop on d3 hanging once the Queen is taken. Here, White attacks a piece that can't afford to move as otherwise the Queen does get out, and for the moment, White is up a piece and a pawn, and so the absolute top priority for Black is not to let the White Queen out. Otherwise, he's immediately lost.


Now neither side has any in-between moves, and so the completion of the trade down is forced for both sides.

18.Qxb8 Qxb8 19.axb3 fxg6 20.Bxg6 Re7

So now we have the material imbalance of Rook, Bishop, and two Pawns for the Queen. That said, multiple White Pawns are under attack, and so again, judging by points would say "White is up 10 for 9 plus balanced pieces", but chess is not that simple, and White must remain active here. There are only two moves here for White and most other moves would be borderline worse or even losing for White.


This move works based on the tactical shot that the Black King and Queen are both on the back rank and White controls e8. The alternative is 21.Re4 where 21...Nxb4 would be answered by 22.d5 and after 22...Qf8 23.dxe6 Qf6 24.Bf7+ Kh7, the position is unclear, and the same can be said if Black tries to break up White's pawn phlanx first via something like 21...b5 22.c5 and then taking the b-pawn. Is this better than 21.d5? Even the answer to that is very unclear, but what is clear is that White must remain active as otherwise, given time, the Queen will come into the game and start plucking off one White pawn after another, and eventually, Black would be winning.

21...exd5 22.cxd5

This is better than 22.Rxe7 as once the Knight recaptures, the Bishop on g6 is under attack, gaining a vital tempo for Black.

22...Rxe1+ 23.Rxe1

And now, due to the threat of Re8+, Black doesn't have time to take the b-pawn.



This is good enough to draw. Another move that should lead to the same result is 24.Be4, keeping control of d3 rather than e8. That said, after 24...Qc8, there is no way to keep the Queen out, and the Queen and Knight combination can often be lethal. White can hold the position, but he will be playing defense here to do it, and so the move played makes the most sense because White here forces the issue by attacking the Black King. Since there is no way to keep the Queen out in the long run, figure out if you have time to force the issue. If you are going to be on the defensive anyway, a draw is not a bad result, and if a draw is what you are going for, doing it in the most forcing and quickest way possible leaves the least room for error. By placing the Bishop on h5, Black can't, at least for now, move the Knight because of the fork on e8.


Now the key is understanding which threats are real and which ones are fake. What is Black threatening? At first glance, it appears as though the threat is 25...Qg5, forking the Knight and Bishop. After some thought, 25...Qh4 also appears to be very annoying for White. This would lead one to think that the best move here is 25.Nf3, but it turns out that 25.Nf3 is a mistake as after 25...Nxf3+ 26.Bxf3 Qf6 that it is very difficult for White to hold the position together given how weak his Queenside pawns are.

Looking a little deeper, one can see that one of the two "threats" is really a fake threat. If it were Black to move, and he played 25...Qg5 in this position, White has the resource 26.Ne4! and the Bishop is poison due to a royal fork on f6. Therefore, seeing that only one of the two moves is a problem lead to White's next move.


Since the only real concern was the Queen arriving on h4, this move is probably White's best. It not only stops 25...Qh4, but also gives the King an escape square in the case of back rank issues, and also prepares f4, forcing the Knight out of the way of the Rook and allowing the Rook to come in. Turns out, the advancement of the f-pawn also plays a part in White's execution of the draw.


This move is actually an error and gives White potential winning chances. 25...Qc7 or 25...Qg5, intending to answer 26.Ne4 with 26...Qf5, maintains the balance. Just like White, Black has to act fast as well. Slow down and the other side gets that vital tempo.

26.f4 Nd3 27.Re6 Qc7


White bails out and takes the draw. Turns out, White has a very strong move here due to Black's errant 25th move. After 28.Ne4! Qc1+ 29.Kg2 Qxb2+ 30.Kh3 Qd4 31.Nf6, Black is forced to give up the Queen via 31...Qxf6 32.Rxf6 Kxf6 33.b5 and only White has winning chances. Note that 31...Nxf4+ fails to 32.gxf4 Qxf4 33.Re7+ Kxf6 34.Rf7+ winning while something like 31...Nxb4 loses to the same sequence by White, only in that case it would be checkmate rather than a winning of the Queen.

After the game move, neither side can avoid the draw.

28...Qc1+ 29.Nf1 Qxc2

And now the lethal threat of 30...Qf2+ forces White to take the perpetual check.

30.f6+ Kh8 31.Re8+

And Black can't escape perpetual check. 1/2-1/2

A very interesting game indeed, and one where every move mattered, especially from moves 12 onward. There were numerous opportunities for either side to go wrong, and Black actually did it once, but White missed out on the opportunity to enter the favorable minor piece ending with excellent winning chances. The moral of the story is, play the position that is on the board, don't count what is off the board!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Simple Chess: A Lucky Win

Hi fellow chess players!

With the 3rd annual Carolina's Classic quickly approaching I debated if I should continue to play in the next Tuesday Night Action tournament. The debate was strictly for selfish reasons: I did not want a poor performance to impact my potential great performance at the Carolina's Classic. Well, I snapped myself out of it by deciding that I needed to tournament practice more than I needed the rating points.

Of course this first round did not help my original thoughts about not playing. I was paired against someone rated over 200 points lower than me. Winning means some rating points gained, losing or drawing would mean a lot of rating points lost. Again, I'm already thinking ahead to my rating after the Carolina's Classic.

Alright, enough about rating points. Who cares about those anyway? The goal is to get better, not get higher rated. I have already had to come to terms with myself that I will probably miss my goal of reaching 2000 by the time I'm 30 years old. I have less than a year for that now and I have one weekend tournament in my future. Yep, you probably guessed it: the Carolina's Classic.

So first and foremost, I did not deserve to win this game. Secondly, I never post games to show off. Thirdly, I am posting this game because I think it has several good lessons for those below 2000. Finally, I am posting this because it is clear that I need a lot of work if I want to perform well at the Carolina's Classic this year.

Key Takeaways:

  • When ahead in material, development should be a priority over grabbing pawns.
  • When behind in material but ahead in development, grab as much of the initiative as you can to not give your opponent time to use the extra material. 
  • Don't grab pawns that open lines of attack to your king. 
  • It is important to work on both calculation and visualization. Although closely related, they are not the same thing as you will see in this game. I calculated but failed to visualize positions correctly. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Milestones earned at Reverse Angle 84

Forty seven of the Carolina's most contemplative calculators converged upon the Charlotte Chess Center this Saturday, May 19, to compete in the 84th Reverse Angle tournament, the strongest and one of the most time-honoured monthly events this side of the Mississippi.  The always guaranteed $850 prize fund and long (G/90) time control ensured a competitive turnout in all three sections: Top, Under 1800, and Under 1400.

Top Section
The Top section was the largest of the day, featuring twenty players.  Top seeds Tianqi "stephen" Wang (2350) and Klaus "I beat Bisguier twice" Pohl (2200) were the two masters in the field, followed closely by Neo "the matrix" Zhu (2170) and Berkeley's finest, Kireet "giggles" Panuganti (2148).  Notably missing were Daniel "2400" Cremisi and Dominique "flat tire" Myers, as they were undoubtedly either recovering emotionally from the #RoyalWedding, or celebrating the twenty-first birthday of Mark "treasure hunter" Biernacki.

After the proverbial dust settled, a royal trio remained at the top with 3-0: Tianqi Wang (2350), Patrick "please watch my stuff" Sciacca (2134) and rising talent Advaith "late but not forgotten" Karthik (1791), the latter of whom scored three upsets against Expert and Master opposition.  Each of these three musketeers earned a fresh Ben Franklin note for their efforts.

Congratulations to Advaith Karthik who crossed 1900 for the first time, and to Adharsh Rajagopal and Aditya Shivapooja, North Carolina's newest Experts (2000+).

Reverse Angle 84

Reverse Angle 84: TOP

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1Tianqi Wang2350W13W8W6 3.0100.00
2Patrick Sciacca2134W10W14W7 3.0100.00
3Advaith Karthik1791W20W12W11 3.0100.00
4Neo Zhu2170L14W16W13 2.0 
5Kireet Panuganti2148W9L7W14 2.0 
6Aditya Shivapooja1974W18W11L1 2.0 
7Adharsh Rajagopal1951W19W5L2 2.0 
8Pradhyumna Kothapalli2016W17L1D9 1.5 
9Carson Cook1861L5W19D8 1.5 
10Xiaodong Jin1816L2W20H--- 1.5 
11Klaus Pohl2200W15L6L3 1.0 
12Sulia Mason2020D16L3D18 1.0 
13James Dill1938L1W17L4 1.0 
14Ernest Nix1888W4L2L5 1.0 
15Curtis Ianni1866L11D18D16 1.0 
16Luke Harris1805D12L4D15 1.0 
17Donald Johnson1741L8L13W20 1.0 
18Andrew Jiang1715L6D15D12 1.0 
19Daniel Romm1707L7L9B--- 1.0 
20Vishnu Vanapalli2019L3L10L17 0.0 

Under 1800
The U1800 Section featured an impregnable turnout of thirteen players.  The top seeds were John "jeremy lin" Xia (1753), Ian "big mac" MacNair, and Jeff "no nickname available" Prainito (1641).

John Xia and Alexander Moreno (1456) both scored 2.5/3, good for $112.50 each.  Sampath Kumar (1535), Paige Cook (1485), and Gautam "got em" Kapur (1407) all earned $17 for a tie of the U1600 prize.

Reverse Angle 84

Reverse Angle 84: Under 1800

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1John Xia1753W10W8D3 2.5112.50
2Alexander Moreno1456D3W13W8 2.5112.50
3Ian Macnair1679D2W11D1 2.0 
4Sampath Kumar1535H---W12D5 2.016.67
5Paige Cook1485D13W7D4 2.016.67
6Gautam Kapur1407L8B---W9 2.016.67
7Saanchi Sampath1409H---L5W11 1.5 
8Jeff Prainito1641W6L1L2 1.0 
9Danny Cropper1604L11W10L6 1.0 
10Grisham Paimagam1473L1L9W13 1.0 
11Pranav Swarna1339W9L3L7 1.0 
12Hassan Hashemloo1372H---L4 --- 0.5 
13Dan Boisvert1324D5L2L10 0.5 

Under 1400
Fourteen unswerving players entered the U1400 section, with Adam "curly" Lipshay (1267), Ethan "polo ridge's finest" (1258), William "bill" Merritt (1256), and Akshay "!!!" Rajagopal (1222) leading the pack.

Senthil Muthusamy (1095) scored 3-0, good for $150.  Adam Lipshay and Ethan Liu split second place money with 2.5/3, each earning $37.50.  Raamcharan Puttagunta (1041) and Richard Trela (1028) received $25 for their share of the U1200 prize.

Reverse Angle 84

Reverse Angle 84: Under 1400

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1Senthil Muthusamy1095W13W8W7 3.0150.00
2Adam Lipshay1267W9W6D3 2.537.50
3Ethan Liu1258W10W5D2 2.537.50
4William Merritt1256L8W13W9 2.0 
5Raamcharan Puttagunta1041W14L3W10 2.025.00
6Richard Trela1028W11L2W12 2.025.00
7Akshay !!!1222H---W12L1 1.5 
8Henry Nguyen902W4L1D13 1.5 
9Meet Doshi943L2W11L4 1.0 
10Pranava Kumar934L3W14L5 1.0 
11Rohan Chugh809L6L9B--- 1.0 
12Ronald Futerman1083H---L7L6 0.5 
13Ramya Puttagunta871L1L4D8 0.5 
14Ellen Rosenfeld861L5L10H--- 0.5 

UPSETS - 150 points or more
Top Section, Round 3 - Advaith Karthik (1791) def. Klaus Pohl (2200) - 409 points
Under 1400, Round 1 - Henry Nguyen (902) def. William Merritt (1256) - 354 points
Top Section, Round 1 - Ernest Nix (1888) def. Neo Zhu (2170) - 282 points
Top Section, Round 3 - Donald Johnson (1741) def. Vishnu Vanapalli (2019) - 278 points
Under 1800, Round 1 - Pranav Swarna (1339) def. Danny Cropper (1604) - 265 points
Top Section, Round 2 - Advaith Karthik (1791) def. Sulia Mason (2020) - 229 points
Top Section, Round 1 - Advaith Karthik (1791) def. Vishnu Vanapalli (2019) - 228 points
Top Section, Round 2 - Aditya Shivapooja (1974) def. Klaus Pohl (2200) - 226 points
Top Section, Round 2 - Xiaodong Jin (1816) def. Vishnu Vanapalli (2019) - 203 points
Top Section, Round 2 - Adharsh Rajagopal (1951) def. Kireet Panuganti (2148) - 197 points
Under 1800, Round 3 - Gautam Kapur (1407) def. Danny Cropper (1604) - 197 points
Under 1800, Round 3 - Alexander Moreno (1456) def. Jeff Prainito (1641) - 185 points

USCF Rating Report

Until next time,

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 6

Hello and welcome to the sixth edition of The French Connection. This go round, we are going to look at an extremely critical concept in French theory, and that is the concept of the blockade. The blockade can come in many shapes and sizes, but here we are going to look at the classic case of the blockade. Specifically a concept that Aron Nimzowitsch came up with. The concept is simple, though the execution may not be. The idea is that Black will be chipping away at White's center via the moves ...c5 and ...f6. Nimzowitsch's idea was that rather than trying to hold the central pawn structure together, he voluntarily would capture these pawns himself, relinquishing his central pawns, but then maintain control of the d4 and e5 squares by occupying them with pieces, not allowing Black to advance the central pawns and keeping his light-squared Bishop passive, and often times this can have a ripple effect on the rest of his pieces.

For example, the following is a position that Aron Nimzowitsch composed himself to illustrate the rippling effects of the blockade:

It is Black to move here, with Black up an exchange and a pawn. Despite all of that, Nimzowitsch claimed that White is better here, and if you spend enough time looking at the position, you will soon realize that he is absolutely right. Black can hold on to the draw here, but there is also room for Black to lose. Simply blocking the h6-pawn and toggling the Rook between a8 and b8 is probably sufficient, but a more dramatic illustration comes from the line 1...Kg7 2.Kg4 Kf6 3.Kf4 Ke7 4.h6 Bd7 5.h7 Rf8+ 6.Kg5 Be8 7.Kh6 Rf1 8.h8=Q Rh1+ 9.Kg7 Rxh8 10.Kxh8 and the position is equal.

Normally, this late in an endgame, being down an exchange and a pawn is fatal, but this just goes to illustrate how strong of a concept this can be in the right situations.

I would highly recommend going through the following two games, which I put in links to those games so that you can go through them. All you have to do is click on the game itself. These two games, both of which featuring Nimzowitsch as White, clearly illustrate his concept. Both games are also annotated there.

Nimzowitsch - Salwe, Carlsbad 1911
Nimzowitsch - Levenfish, Carlsbad 1911

What I would like to discuss is a more recent game played by a more modern expert of the French Advance, specifically Evgeny Sveshnikov. He is a well known specialist in playing the White side of the c3-Sicilian and the French Advance. This game, played 26 years ago, illustrates how little importance there is in having the Bishop pair is when one of them is completely blocked while the other is staring at nothing except the ability to remove one of the two blockaders. Not only will these Knights block Black's position, but they also have an effect on the Black King, particularly the light squares around the Black King. This game will also illustrate what Black needs to not allow, and also shows that moves that break White's center, like ...f6, are not totally automatic in the French Defense.

W: Sveshnikov
B: Dukhov
Tal Memorial, Moscow 1992

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Nh6

This is one of many options for Black. Others include 5...Qb6, 5...Bd7, and 5...Nge7, along with more offbeat lines like 4...Qb6 and 5...Bd7, or 4...Bd7 and 5...a6 (like I gave in the French Repertoire back in August). None of these moves are refuted, but each one has its own drawbacks.


According to many of the experts on the French, like Korchnoi and Sveshnikov, this move gives Black the greatest challenge in this particular line. Move order is critical as we will see at Black's 7th move. Another word of note about taking pawns away from the center. This should only be considered if Black cannot recapture with a pawn. Here Black is forced to take with a piece.

6...Bxc5 7.b4 Bb6

This is the point of the move order and why White has not captured the Knight on h6 on move 6. If that trade has already happened, then Black might think about retreating the Bishop to f8 in order to relocate to g7, advance f6, and pressure the White e-pawn. Here, White has not taken on h6, and so 7...Bf8 would be ludicrous as White would then be under no obligation to capture the Knight.


Now that the Bishop is not on f8, White decided to take the Knight. This also forces the g-pawn away from g7, making the idea of capturing on f6 when Black advances the pawn more attractive as Black won't be able to take back with the g-pawn, but again will have to recapture with a piece, which will lead to the theme of this game.

8...gxh6 9.b5 Ne7 10.Bd3 Ng6 11.O-O


Black should play 11...Qe7 instead. The move played creates a lot of weaknesses on the Kingside.

12.Bxg6 hxg6 13.Qd3 Kf7

Black would have been better off trying to block the position as much as possible, making 13...f5 the lesser evil.


The clearance of the central dark squares is complete. Black cannot take back with a pawn, and White is able to maintain control of d4 and e5, which is the only reason why this entire idea works.

14...Qxf6 15.Nbd2 Rd8 16.Rae1 a6

Too little, too late! Chipping away at the Queenside isn't going to do Black must good when White is clearly ready to block the center and attack the Kingside.

17.Ne5+ Kg7 18.Ndf3 Bd7 19.Nd4

Sveshnikov analyzes this game himself in a book of his on the French Advance from 2007. Based on what he says, the implication is that he sees White as already winning. I would beg to differ, but White is definitely better here. Black's Bishop pair is nothing resembling the value that many books preach on the Bishop pair.

19...Bxd4 20.Qxd4 axb5?

Sveshnikov states that after 20...Bxb5 21.Re3 Bxf1 22.Rf3 that White is winning. However, the move 22...Qg5, which threatens mate on g2, I think is underestimated by Sveshnikov. After 23.Rg3 Qf5 24.Rxg6+ Qxg6 25.Nxg6+ Kxg6 26.Qg4+ Kh7 27.Kxf1 Re8 28.c4, White is better, and if given the choice of which side I'd want in this position, I'd take White, but there is still a lot of work involved if White plans to get the full point.

21.Re3 Ra4 22.Qb6 Rf4 23.Qc7 g5 24.Nxd7 Qe7 25.Nc5 1-0

If you went through the two games listed at the beginning of the article along with this one, you have seen three examples of the Classic Blockade in the French Defense. Along with the often reiterated "Good Knight versus Bad Bishop" scenario that White is often looking for, this is the other major idea for White in beating the French Defense. There are other forms of the blockade aside from this one involving occupying d4 and e5. In some ways, we have already seen a hybrid form of this in Volume 2 where White uses his Good Knight to occupy the d4-square and block Black's Bad Bishop combined with the pawn still on e5, and we will be seeing many other examples in the coming editions of this, but this one specifically focused on the classic case that Nimzowitsch came up with himself.

Till next time, good luck in all your French games, Black or White!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 5

Hello and welcome to the fifth edition of The French Connection. This time, we are going to look at a game featuring the Steinitz Variation. You might recall that we saw a game between amateurs in the Steinitz Variation in Volume 2 where we saw White take advantage of the Good Knight versus Bad Bishop due to complete domination of the d4-square, a dark square, forcing the d5-pawn to sit on the light square, blocking the Bishop. In that game, White was not quick to trade, and offered the trade of pieces on his own terms, and at times, Black made the mistake of taking the trade, especially the Queen trade, when all it did was favor White.

Here, we are going to see some similar themes, but also we will see a major difference. What lead to me choosing this game to analyze is ultimately what happened in the blitz tournament back on May 3rd. In two of my games as White, I faced lower rated players that are both known for liking to play exciting, attacking, tactical chess. One of them was a King's Indian player while the other was a Grunfeld player. Well, both games started 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3. Now, a King's Indian player would continue with the typical 3...Bg7 while a Grunfeld player would need to play 3...d5 in order to have any hope at transposing after 4.d4 because 3...Bg7 can be answered by 4.e4 which specifically avoids the Grunfeld.

So the first game went 3...Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.d4 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.dxe5 dxe5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Bg5, resulting in the first diagram below, and the second game went 3...d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Qxd1+ 7.Kxd1, resulting in the second diagram below. White went on to win both games.

An Exchange King's Indian

An Anti-Grunfeld

When you normally think about a typical King's Indian or Grunfeld, this isn't exactly what you would normally expect. Well, what happens in the game we are about to look at played between two players formerly amongst the top in the world is very similar to this. Black decided to play a line that forces early exchanges. Just like the two lines shown above for White, what Black played in this game is by no means unsound, but may be ever so slightly inferior to the main lines, but it has a psychological bearing on the opposing player. We will see in this game that most positional factors in the early middle game favor White, but the position will appear to be so dull that it psychologically messes White up, and we will actually see Black weave a mating net. I personally have been asked multiple times how on earth I've been able to make things out of nothing in my own games, and take positions that look highly drawn, and turn them into wins. It's because of studying games like this one.

Without further ado, let's take a look at how Black goes from dull to decisive in a matter of less than 20 moves!

W: John Nunn
B: Victor Korchnoi
World Team Championship, Luzern 1985

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4

Those of you that have gone through the repertoire that I posted back in the fall of 2017 will know that I personally advocate 7...a6 here, but 7...cxd4 is considered the other main option for Black, and until about 20 years ago, 7...cxd4 was ultimately deemed THE main line and was far more popular than 7...a6. Now more players are playing either 7...a6 or alternative options.

8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Qd2 Bxd4

This leads to a number of forced exchanges and an early endgame. If Black wants more of a middlegame type of position, then he should play 9...O-O.

10.Bxd4 Nxd4 11.Qxd4 Qb6

Forcing the trade of Queens as b2 is also under attack.

12.Qxb6 Nxb6

So if we look at the position, we will see that White will have control of d4 and that his Kingside pawns are mobile, espeically with the Queens off the board. One might think that White has a significant advantage, but Black has his trumps too! First off, Black's only real weakness is the dark squares, and especially d6, but with no Queen and no Dark-Squared Bishop for White, is this really a major issue? Black also has the semi-open c-file to work with. This position should probably be deemed as a very slight advantage for White, but with best play by both sides, this is likely a draw. That said, John Nunn was known for being an attacker, and for players like that, even at the top level, dry positions with long and tedious endgames are often a problem for these players, and Korchnoi takes full advantage of it!


A few years later, during the 1990s, it was figured out by Kasparov that 13.h4 is a stronger move here, getting the Kingside attack rolling immediately.

13...Bd7 14.Bd3 h5

For this move, I'm going to directly quote what Korchnoi had to say himself. "Black takes measures to make it difficult for the opponent to advance his kingside pawns. In so doing he loses any possibility of gaining counterplay. Here some players have preferred to prepare play on the kingside by ...h7-h6 and ...g7-g5." - Victor Korchnoi in his classic "My Best Games, Vol 2: Games With Black", a book in which this game can also be found, specifically Game 24 in that book. It can also be found in the update of this classic as it includes the original 100 games from his original two books on his best games as White and his best games as Black plus 5 more of each color, but I couldn't site specifically which game number it would be there as I don't own that source.

15.Ne2 Ke7

With the Queens and half the minor pieces off the board, there is no reason for Black to castle, and so instead he keeps the King in the center and simply lifts it up to the 7th rank in order to connect the Rooks.

16.Nd4 g6


Those that have seen White's Queenside play in the Petrosian King's Indian will know immediately what White is doing here. White wants to push f5. In order to play f5, White needs to get in g4. In order to get in g4, White needs to get in h3. That said, the immediate 17.h3? would be a mistake because of 17...h4!, which eliminates all possibilities of g4 for White as long as Black doesn't allow White to win the h4-pawn as black will chop the pawn via en passant. Because of this, Black would have total control of the f5-square.


And here is the real start of the theme I brought up at the start of the article. The ability to play long, drawn out positions that at first glance appear to be extremely dull. One would normally expect Black in this position to bottle up the position like he has done on the Kingside, play ...a6, re-route his Knight via b6-c8-a7-c6, and make White either move his Knight from his excellent d4-outpost or else allow Black to trade it off, in which case Black is clearly playing for a draw as he then has a completely static position with Black having the bad Bishop and White the good one, which means it would be Black looking to set up the fortress and White trying to break through, which would be very tough to do, but because of the 2-result endgame rather than the 3-result endgame that would arise, White would be slighly better only because he's the only one to have anything to play for.

Well, with the move that Black played here, at first site, it doesn't look like Black is doing much of anything, but there is a very concealed trap that White must be on the lookout for. This is where the psychology comes into play. You are sitting down at the board and have been playing this dull position for at least a good half hour now and likely longer, and you get into this lull that nothing is really happening, and it causes the brain, in some ways, to shut down. I guarantee you that all of you amateurs out there have done it before. I guarantee you that there are times that I have done it myself! And the fact that a well known grandmaster like John Nunn proceeds to fall into this trap as well just goes to show that anyone that denies this ever happening to them is simply lying.

Another prime example of this theme can also be found in my opposite colored Bishops article (Click here to go to that article) from December 2017. In that one, White overlooks how lethal it was to allow the Black King to walk into White's camp of Pawns on the Queenside without proceeding to take action on the Kingside, thinking he could just sit back and do nothing and eventually Black would get the clue that there is nothing on the board because the position is too dull for there to be anything, right? Turned out White was wrong there too!

18.Rde1 Nd7 19.c3 Rag8

White's mentality by a player that has been lulled to sleep by the dullness of the position:

"Ok, so now we know what Black is up to. He must be setting up his pieces for the anticipated White f5-break. He is waiting for h3 and g4, which he then trades on g4, and then when we play f5, he'll trade again on f5 and then figure his counterplay is down the h- and g-files, but only after I am ready to break everything open. So I'll just set everthing up so that I am ready to play f5 and maybe even f6 and then potentially sacrifice the Knight on e6 or Bishop on g6 at the right moment to remove the f7-pawn and get my f-pawn promoted. Might take 50 moves to do, but Black's got nothing anyway."

Not saying this was precisely John Nunn's thought process, but this could very easily be the thought process by an amateur playing White in this position, and regardless of whether or not this was actually John Nunn's thought process, he proceeds to blunder in this position, clearly not seeing what it really was that Black was up to.


What you are about to see is a complete slap in White's face!

20...g5! 21.f5

If White plays 21.fxg5, then he has conceded the g-file to Black and his plan all along of breaking through with f5 would be completely extinguished. Black should be extremely happy with the resulting position. That said, Black knew White wouldn't do that, and that he would advance the f-pawn. It was the plan that Black had against this specific move that White clearly overlooked back on move 20.


Only now do we see what Black was setting up back on move 17, and what White had to do on move 20. The idea, all along, was to break open the h-file. The Bishop move was simply to get out of the way of the Knight so that it could go to d7, eyeing e5, which forces a White Rook to babysit the pawn on e5 if he ever were to play f5. Black forces f5 early out of White and now proceeds to pry open the h-file, which even if there were to be a Rook still on h1, Black takes over the h-file as either White would have to trade on h8 or else move away from the h1-square as allowing Black to trade on h1 would drag the Rook away from the e-file and the e5-pawn would fall, hence why it was critical to shuffle the minor pieces first before going with the Rooks to the Kingside and break through with the Pawns.

This also tells us now what White had to play on move 20. That move would be 20.h3! What it would do is allow White to shut down the g- and h-files the moment that Black tries to play either ...g4 or ...h4. But here, with the White pawn on h2, there is no way for White to avoid the opening of at least one file on the Kingside, and here it ends up being the h-file, and this is going to cause more headaches for White than he ever imagined back on move 17.

22.Re2 h4 23.b4 hxg3 24.hxg3 Ba4 25.Kb2 Rh3 26.Rg1


A stereotyped move that in this situation is simply wrong. Black should play 26...Rc8 here which gives White absolutely nothing to work with. Black will be able to take his time building up his attack. Instead, he allows White one more chance to get off the hook.


With the Rook already on c8, this move would be impossible as it would simply drop a pawn after 27...Rxc3+ 28.Kxa4 Rxd3, and the g-pawn would likely be the next to go.


A move too late, but probably the best Black has at this point.


This puts White right back into the position he would have been in had Black played the correct 26th move. Instead, White should take the Bishop here. After 28.Kxa4 Rxc3 29.Bc2! Nb6+ 30.Kb5 and Black has to settle for a draw after 30...Kd7 31.Bb3 Kc7 32.Ka4 Nc4+ 33.Ka4 Nb6+. Note that trying for more loses via White giving up a piece after 30...Ra3? 31.Bb3 Nd7 32.Ba4! a6+ 33.Ka5 b6+ 34.Kxa6 Rxa4+ 35.Kb7 and White wins. For example, after 35...Ke8 36.Rc1! Nc5 (36...Rxg3?? 37.Rc8 Ke7 38.f6 mate) 37.bxc5 bxc5 (37...Rxd4 38.c6 and it's going to cost Black at minimum a Rook to stop promotion) 38.Nb5 and the extra pawn or two is not enough for the piece.

28...a6 29.Rgg2

Intending Rh2 in order to get rid of one of the active Rooks.

29...Bd1 30.Re3?

And this is officially the straw that broke the Camel's back. White had to play 30.Re1, after White Black would have nothing better than 30...Ba4, which would still keep Black in the driver's seat, but trying to force the issue with something like 30...Bf3 31.Rf2 Rxg3 32.fxe6 fxe6 33.Bf5 gives Black nothing.

30...Nb6 31.Rf2

Black to Move and Win

So on move 12, we had a very dry, dull, boring looking position, with the appearance of there being nothing to play for and that the game was going to automatically be a draw, especially at the grandmaster level. But look at what we have now.


A Mating Net! In literally 19 moves, we go from a dull, static position with a micro-advantage for White to a full blown mating net weaved around the White King!

32.fxe6 fxe6 33.Rf1 Na4+ 34.Kc1 Rxc3+ 0-1

White resigned as he is about to lose way too much material.

Black won this game on psychology alone. White was lulled to sleep in a dull position, and even when there appears to be nothing, you have got to keep your eyes pealed at all times as there is often lots of play in these positions, and until you are down to a position that is a known book draw, like a King and Pawn each, or Philidor's Draw, you can't lay back and get lazy as it will cost you as we have seen here. Again, you can see another example of this in my opposite color Bishop endgame article from December, the link to which is in the notes to Black's 17th move above.

I would like to conclude this article by pointing out that I am often active and post a lot on Those that have followed the forums on may have noticed that a lot of beginners and players rated 1200 to 1800 are often asking for openings that guarantee a tactical game or an active position. Every time, I respond that there is no such thing. Many openings are stereotyped to lead to a tactical or positional game. I have played roughly 2700 tournament games of a standard time control, meaning not quick or blitz, and I have seen it all. I have had extremely wild games in openings that have a reputation of being extremely positional. For example, I recall a game I played years ago against Sulia Mason in a Slav Defense where I had Black, and he played the 5.e4 gambit line, and while I won, it was a game that was littered with wild tactics, something you don't normally see in a Slav Defense. I have also had many dull games in the Sicilian Defense.

The French Defense has the "reputation" of being the second-most aggressive and tactical defense to 1.e4 behind only the Sicilian Defense. That said, there is no cookie-cutter approach to chess that guarantees anything, and abnormal things are going to happen, and playing a dull game in a French Defense is very well going to be one of them at times. In fact, people stereotype the Exchange Variation to be dull, and there are numerous examples of the Exchange French that have lead to extreme active play, and yet we saw 3.Nc3 here, considered White's most active response to the French, and it was a true test of one's ability to play technical chess rather than a test on tactics.

So I am going to say the same thing that I've said numerous times online. There is no such thing as being a Tactical Player or a Positional Player. You are either a Chess Player or you are a Nothing. A Chess Player must be able to play the position at hand, and do what is right for the situation. It might mean having to watch out for tactics that are 10 or more moves deep on every move, or it might mean shuffling pieces to better positions and finding the hidden gems in what otherwise doesn't look to be much of anything.

I can assure you that in this series, not every game will be like this, but they will crop up again, and even in an active and aggressive defense like the French, you have to be ready for games like this one.

Till next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

May G/60 Action Results

SwissSys Report: CCCSA: G/60 Action

CCCSA: G/60 Action: TOP

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4TotPrize
1Mark Biernacki2204W12W3W2D4 3.5125.00
2Klaus Pohl2200W9W7L1D5 2.510.00
3Pradhyumna Kothapalli2016W6L1D9W8 2.510.00
4Aditya Shivapooja1974L7W8W11D1 2.510.00
5Adharsh Rajagopal1951L10W6W7D2 2.510.00
6Benjamin Webb1796L3L5B---W9 2.010.00
7Donald Johnson1741W4L2L5W11 2.010.00
8Andrew Jiang1715B---L4W12L3 2.010.00
9Luke Harris1805L2W12D3L6 1.5 
10Daniel Cremisi2397W5 --- --- --- 1.0 
11Lendel Robinson1755H---H---L4L7 1.0 
12Xiaodong Jin1816L1L9L8H--- 0.5 

CCCSA: G/60 Action: Under 1700

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4TotPrize
1Paige Cook1485W3W4W2W5 4.0125.00
2Eli Moore1579W11W13L1W9 3.023.33
3Smayan Ammasani1285L1B---W13W7 3.023.33
4William Merritt1256W14L1W8W12 3.023.33
5Aarush Chugh1514D12W6W9L1 2.5 
6Akshay Rajagopal1222H---L5W14W10 2.5 
7Danny Cropper1604L9W14W12L3 2.0 
8Arjun Rawal1443L13W11L4W15 2.0 
9Pranav Swarna1339W7W15L5L2 2.0 
10David Richards1627H---L12W15L6 1.5 
11Nikhil Kamisetty1325L2L8B---D13 1.5 
12Henry Chen1305D5W10L7L4 1.5 
13Ethan Liu1258W8L2L3D11 1.5 
14Caton Tsao1365L4L7L6B--- 1.0 
15Parijat Majumdar1183B---L9L10L8 1.0 

CCCSA: G/60 Action: Under 1200

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4TotPrize
1Nikolai Webb1118W3W4W2L5 3.082.50
2Michael Moore470W6W5L1W8 3.082.50
3Rishi Jasti909L1W8W7H--- 2.515.00
4Ellen Rosenfeld861W7L1W5H--- 2.515.00
5Samarth Kedari911W8L2L4W1 2.0 
6Taran Bellam707L2L7W8B--- 2.0 
7Richard Trela1028L4W6L3 --- 1.0 
8Mason Sims530L5L3L6L2 0.0 

Upsets - 150 points or more
Under 1200, Round 2 - Michael Moore (470) def. Samarth Kedari (911) - 441 points
Under 1700, Round 4 - Akshay Rajagopal (1222) def. David Richards (1627) - 405 points
Under 1700, Round 2 - Henry Chen (1305) def. David Richards (1627) - 322 points
Under 1700, Round 4 - Smayan Ammasani (1285) def. Danny Cropper (1604) - 319 points
Under 1700, Round 1 - Pranav Swarna (1339) def. Danny Cropper (1604) - 265 points
Under 1200, Round 1 - Michael Moore (470) def. Taran Bellam (707) - 237 points
Top Section, Round 1 - Donald Johnson (1741) def. Aditya Shivapooja (1974) - 233 points
Under 1200, Round 4 - Samarth Kedari (911) def. Nikolai Webb (1118) - 207 points
Under 1700, Round 3 - William Merritt (1256) def. Arjun Rawal (1443) - 187 points
Under 1700, Round 1 - Ethan Liu (1258) def. Arjun Rawal (1443) - 185 points
Under 1200, Round 1 - Ellen Rosenfeld (861) def. Richard Trela (1028) - 167 points

USCF Rating Results!