Saturday, June 30, 2018

Reverse Angle 85

51 players entered the CCCSA's 85th Reverse Angle Tournament, held in Charlotte, the US Chess City of the Year.

USCF Rated Results

Top Section
Reverse Angle 85

SwissSys Standings. Reverse Angle 85: TOP

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1Daniel Cremisi2400W9W5W3 3.0175.00
2Klaus Pohl2203W14W12D4 2.575.00
3Chris Mabe2279W7W11L1 2.0 
4Mark Biernacki2213H---W16D2 2.0 
5Kireet Panuganti2151W13L1W8 2.0 
6Pradhyumna Kothapalli2025D16D8W15 2.0 
7Austin Chuang1933L3W17W12 2.050.00
8Neil Deshpande1997W15D6L5 1.5 
9Adharsh Rajagopal1987L1D14W16 1.5 
10Donald Johnson1829L12D13B--- 1.5 
11Patrick Sciacca2118W17L3 --- 1.0 
12Vishnu Vanapalli2013W10L2L7 1.0 
13Ernest Nix1888L5D10D14 1.0 
14Carson Cook1857L2D9D13 1.0 
15Robert Moore1709L8B---L6 1.0 
16Rohan Iyer1830D6L4L9 0.5 
17Luke Harris1830L11L7U--- 0.0 

Under 1800
Reverse Angle 85

SwissSys Standings. Reverse Angle 85: Under 1800

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1Chacha Nugroho1746W17W5W7 3.0112.50
2Alexander Moreno1511W15W9W6 3.0112.50
3Arjun Rawal1503D10W11W12 2.550.00
4Danny Cropper1565W18L6W14 2.0 
5Lukas Kolmel1516W14L1W15 2.0 
6Triya Venkataraja1489W12W4L2 2.0 
7Pranav Swarna1403W16W13L1 2.0 
8Saanchi Sampath1373L13W19W16 2.0 
9Ethan Liu1301W19L2W13 2.0 
10Nikhil Kamisetty1340D3L12W18 1.5 
11Brian Miller1313H---L3W19 1.5 
12Jaiden Chuang1643L6W10L3 1.0 
13Paige Cook1562W8L7L9 1.0 
14Dan Boisvert1368L5W17L4 1.0 
15Smayan Ammasani1347L2B---L5 1.0 
16Jeff Prainito1602L7D18L8 0.5 
17Debs Pedigo1484L1L14H--- 0.5 
18Henry Chen1377L4D16L10 0.5 
19Aarush Chugh1502L9L8L11 0.0 

Under 1400
Reverse Angle 85

SwissSys Standings. Reverse Angle 85: Under 1400

#NameRtngRd 1Rd 2Rd 3TotPrize
1Akshay !!!1280W15W9W4 3.0112.50
2Aditya Krishna1066W7W8W3 3.0112.50
3Rudransh Tyagi1250W11W10L2 2.012.50
4Lingaa Venkataraja1237W6W5L1 2.012.50
5Pranava Kumar1083W14L4W12 2.012.50
6Logan Gately929L4W14W9 2.012.50
7Erol Eskinaziunr.L2W11W10 2.0 
8Bradley Juopperi1388H---L2W13 1.5 
9Sarvajith Nalaneelan1102W12L1L6 1.0 
10Senthil Muthusamy1095W13L3L7 1.0 
11Henry Nguyen938L3L7W15 1.0 
12Abhiram Parimi863L9W15L5 1.0 
13Richard Trela846L10B---L8 1.0 
14Rishik Raavi482L5L6H--- 0.5 
15Ellen Rosenfeld1009L1L12L11 0.0 

UPSETS - 150 points or more
Under 1400, Round 2 - Aditya Krishna (1066) def. Bradley Juopperi (1388) - 322 points
Under 1800, Round 3 - Ethan Liu (1301) def. Paige Cook (1562) - 261 points
Under 1800, Round 3 - Saanchi Sampath (1373) def. Jeff Prainito (1602) - 229 points
Under 1800, Round 1 - Ethan Liu (1301) def. Aarush Chugh (1502) - 201 points
Under 1800, Round 1 - Pranav Swarna (1403) def. Jeff Prainito (1602) - 199 points
Under 1800, Round 3 - Brian Miller (1313) def. Aarush Chugh (1502) - 189 points
Under 1400, Round 3 - Aditya Krishna (1066) def. Rudransh Tyagi (1250) - 184 points
Under 1400, Round 3 - Logan Gately (929) def. Sarvajith Nalaleelan (1102) - 173 points
Under 1800, Round 2 - Pranav Swarna (1403) def. Paige Cook (1562) - 159 points
Under 1800, Round 1 - Triya Venkataraja (1489) def. Jaiden Chuang (1643) - 154 points

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Chess Psychology: Know Your Locals

This past Tuesday Night, GM Aman Hambleton gave a lecture on the topic of players memorizing versus understanding openings, and how he took advantage of opponents that he recognized relied on memory and had many opening "habits" instead of true understanding. He displayed a number of games where he took advantage of his opponent, even if what he played wasn't totally correct, but his opponents played common moves that just didn't work in the lines he played. He played the opponent.

Well, there are other aspects where psychology can play an important rule, and can also impact many decisions you make not only with opening selection, but in-game decisions. In addition, when you start facing players multiple times, or face players that live in the same area as you and you have observed a number of their games, you can establish a mental database of the players in your local area. This is possible because you see them and play against them all the time, contrary to say, going on a 500 mile road trip and playing against players you have never played before, and since they are not GMs, it's not like you can find their games in a database and research their play. In such a case, you are playing more of a pure game of chess.

So what factors should you be looking for when analyzing other players in your local area?

1. Opening Repertoire

When preparing to play against a local player, it is important to know their repertoire. Is it narrow or diverse? If it's narrow, what openings are they? Is there a specific line or move order that might disrupt their typical play? Do they play moves rather than openings? For example, do the play 1.e4, and feel that no matter what you play that 2.f4 and 3.Nf3 must be good moves? For those with a diverse opening repertoire, which openings might get under their skin? These are all questions that must be answered, and some of them might also lead to the answers of subsequent questions.

2. Strengths and Weaknesses

The next question you have to ask yourself is what is that player's strengths and weaknesses? Which types of pawn centers (Closed, Static, Open, Mobile, or Dynamic) are they strong or weak at executing? Are they strong or weak at endgames? Being able to answer these questions can impact many decisions during the game.

3. Antics

What are the player's antics? Are they attentive to detail? Do they take a very long time to make moves such that maybe an overly complicated position might get them into time trouble? Do they fail to use their time? Do they lose interest after a certain period of time or when it reaches an endgame? Again, all questions that must be asked if you want to take advantage of your opponent.

So those that have known me and seen me play will know that in terms of openings, I have my preferences, but it's not narrow. For example, against 1.e4, I have a strong preference for the French Defense, but also play the Petroff and even the Caro-Kann on rare occasion. Against 1.d4, my primary weapon is the King's Indian, but also play the Dutch, and even on rare occasion the Nimzo-/Queen's Indian. My biggest weakness is the Mobile pawn center, and hence why you don't ever see me play an early c4 against the Alekhine, and why I avoid openings like the Grunfeld, and we will see that the game in this article is actually an Anti-Grunfeld. I have no objection to playing an endgame, and as for antics, I do get up and observe other games, but my mind is always on my own game, and focus is retained throughout the game with thorough attention to detail.

In my previous article before this one, The French Connection: Volume 9, many of these questions were answered in the introduction to each of the two games about the two opponents, and this knowledge was used to my advantage as well.

All of this might also explain why I travel more now to go to tournaments that are fairly small in size. When you have played 2716 tournament games of a standard time control, and you want the chance to play a pure game of chess, you have to often go long distance to do so as my list of "locals" has expanded tremendously. For example, there are 31 players that I have played 16 times or more, the highest of which being 96 games against a single player. So in many ways, playing locally for me is a totally different ball of wax that playing long distance. I have two long distance tournaments coming up next month. One of them is in Lenexa, Kansas while the other is in Rockville, Maryland. I will likely post a few of the games on this blog in one way, shape, or form.

So now we are going to look at my 2717th career tournament chess game of a standard time control, and we are going to see how psychology and knowledge of my Opponent's habits have lead to a win. I will say in advance that this game is way far away from being anything resembling my best play. White's play is in no way spectacular, but White wins this game because I used the items described above. Let's see what we have here.

Tuesday Night Action 44, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (2091)
B: Luke Harris (1890)


So a little word Black and everything about him. As for opening repertoire, it is very narrow. As one that doesn't play much 1.e4, I can't say with absolute certainty which variation of the Sicilian he plays, but I'm almost sure that he plays nothing but the Sicilian against 1.e4. Against 1.d4, he plays the Grunfeld, another wild, dynamic, tactical opening. As White, it's all about 1.e4 and reckless openings like the King's Gambit. As for his style, he thrives on the dynamic center. Static centers and closed positions are those which appear to be position that he loathes. He also severely loses interest in endgames, and tends to make a lot of careless errors at that point in the game, assuming the game is decided. His antics are also extremely poor. More on that as we go through the game and I mention the specifics of what went on during the game. For the moment, let's take a look at the opening selection made against him.

1...Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5

For Grunfeld players, this move is necessary. If 3...Bg7, then White can completely prevent the Grunfeld and force a King's Indian by Black by playing 4.e4 first and only after that play 5.d4. Of course, 3...Bg7 4.d4 would allow a pure Grunfeld via 4...d5.

4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.dxc3

And here is the main difference between the Anti-Grunfeld and the main lines of the Grunfeld. After 6.bxc3, you would likely see a direct transposition to the main lines of the Grunfeld after say, 6...Bg7 7.d4 c5. White does not allow this, and now Black has nothing better than to trade Queens and head into a Queenless middlegame that will feature a symmetrical pawn structure that is not totally static, but dynamic play is pretty much avoided here.

6...Qxd1+ 7.Kxd1

Not exactly the position a Grunfeld player envisions as exciting

7...Bg7 8.Bf4 c6 9.Kc2 O-O 10.Bc4 Nd7 11.Nd2

Stronger here is 11.a4. The idea behind it is to execute a clamping effect on Black's Queenside via an upcoming a5 by White, which because Black was forced to advance the c-pawn back on move 8, it's a little harder for Black to break the clamp with a move like ...b6 because of the weakening of the c-pawn that would result from it.

11...Ne5 12.Bb3 b6 13.Nc4 Nd7 14.Be3 Nf6 15.f3 Be6 16.Rad1 Rfd8

So here another psychological factor and observation occurs during the game. None of the last nine moves involved any trading or anything particularly exciting, but no move played by White took more than three minutes, and almost all of Black's moves took virtually no time to less than a minute with the lone exception of a five-minute think on the fourteenth move. But now, White has two major options here. One is to trade the Rooks off. The other is to play 17.Ne5 since the attempt at the tactic 17...Nxe4 doesn't do Black anything because of 18.Nxc6 and White has strong pressure on Black. I spent 11 minutes making my decision on what to do at this juncture. During those 11 minutes, the following observations were made:
  • Black's antics showed signs of losing interest in the position as nothing has happened for quite a while now.
  • There are a White Pawn, White Knight, and White Queen that constitute the capture pieces. The three pieces were off to his right. There is a small, open area to his right on the table. Black starts physically moving the pieces on the table like as if there were imaginary squares on the table. He was moving the pawn forward the distance of a single square. He would move the Knight like an L. He would move the Queen horizontally, vertically, and diagonally along the table. He would continue to make random moves until one piece crashed into another, implying capture. Then he would reset the three pieces and continue doing it again. I am not a doctor, and am not making any medical assessment, but what he was doing showed the appearance of behavior similar to the behavior of a typical person with ADD, like as if maybe a fidget spinner would've helped him, and that the boredom of the position had to be killing him. As it turns out, 17.Ne5 and 17.Rxd8 are White's best two moves, and one is not really all that much better than the other, and so after long calculation and not finding anything concrete in either variation, I decided to trade off the Rooks, looking to bore the position even more and drive Black even more crazy!

17.Rxd8+ Rxd8 18.Rd1

18.Ne5 is stronger and gives White the advantage. After the trade of the second set of Rooks, White's advantage is minimal.

18...Rxd1 19.Kxd1 Nd7 20.Kc2 Ne5 21.Nxe5 Bxb3+ 22.Kxb3 Bxe5

So we have reached a single-piece endgame as early as 22 moves into the game. At this point, another trend is observed from Black's play. He moves way too fast, and many of his moves are made is such a manner that Black believes that as long as he avoids the obvious traps that one move is just as good as any other and we will see that it is just not the case here. Also, just to give an indication of the level of focus between White and Black, after 22 moves, White has 52 minutes left on the clock to Black's 61 minutes. At move 51, where Black finally falters and walks into a losing trap due mainly to carelessness, White has 21 minutes to Black's 52 minutes, and only on move 32 does Black spend 3 minutes. All other moves are shorter, predominantly under a minute per move. White is going to take advantage of this in this game. The position itself, for all intents and purposes, is merely equal.

23.h3 Kf8 24.a4 Ke8 25.a5 Bc7 26.c4 Kd7 27.a6

For now, the only weakness for Black is that his Bishop is tied down to guarding b6. If the Bishop were to move away from b6, White could sacrifice his Bishop on b6 and then advance a7, winning. Otherwise, there is no other weakness for Black, and a single weakness can easily be guarded.

27...Ke6 28.Bd4 Kd7 29.Kc2 Ke6 30.b4 Kd7 31.Kd3

Since a single weakness can't win the game for White, White attempts to create play on the Kingside to try to create a second weakness.

31...Ke6 32.Ke3 f6 33.f4 Kf7 34.g4 e5 35.fxe5 fxe5 36.Bc3 Kf6 37.Kf3 h6

Here Black offers a draw. That said, he proceeds to physically make his 37th move, then hits the clock, and only after he hits the clock, he offers a draw. There's the first violation. You must offer on your time and then hit the clock. The second issue I took was that he starts holding his hand out over the board like I am obligated to accept the draw. Keep your hand back and if I choose to accept, then I'll offer my hand when both have agreed, and then you shake hands. So here I combine the fact that I am annoyed now by his distraction of offering the draw improperly and also sticking his hand over the board, blocking my view, and combine that with the fact that he is spending no time on his moves and his clear disinterest in the game, and decide to play on. Against many others, I would have accepted the draw at this point, but here, I'm going to look for every possible cheap shot threat and/or trap just to see if he falls for one and I gain an extra half a point. This is once again using chess psychology and my own knowledge of the locals in the area to my advantage!

38.Bd2 g5 39.Be3 Kg6 40.Bf2 Kf6 41.h4 Kg6 42.Ke2 Kf6 43.Kd3 Kg6 44.Kc3 Kf6 45.Kb3 Kg6

So we know that with best play, this position should be drawn. What traps might be available for White that don't lose? Well, White's idea is to move the King to a4, sacrifice the Bishop on b6, which Black will be forced to recapture with the Bishop, not the a-pawn, and then White will follow up with c5, which will force the Bishop to retreat to c7 again, and then b5, which Black will be forced to take as he can't allow b6 by White. Then White will take back with the King. He then wants to chase the Bishop with Kc6 followed by Kb7, take on a7, and come back to b7. So White has to make sure that Black cannot get the King across on time to block the White King. So Black's first free move comes after Kxb5. Then on Kc6, Black must move his Bishop and then when he goes to b7, Black can move his King, and then when he takes on a7, Black can move his King again. If, at this point, the King gets to the c-file, hemming the White King in on the a-file, Black wins. That was three free moves by the Black King. Therefore, for this execution to work, the Black King must be on the g- or h-file. If it's on the f-file, it's too close.

The next factor to look at is that if White does all this now, Black can take on h4 and run the pawn to promotion. Therefore, White must first trade or advance the h-pawn. If he trades, Black can take with the King and White has problems on the Kingside. Therefore, White must advance.

46.h5+ Kf6 47.Be3 Bd8

Black has to make sure that he doesn't waste his time moving the King to the g-file to cover the Kingside pawns. If White ever sacrifices on g5, all Black has to do is be in the box of the h-pawn, and so as long as the King doesn't go past the e-file, Bxg5 will NEVER be a threat. Since that threat is fake, and the issues on b6 are more serious, there is no reason to move the King back to a place like g7. The move played in the game is fine, and also covers both b6 and g5. That said, White now tries for another trap on the basis that Black might think that he really needs to cover g5. Again, the sacrifice on g5 is a completely fake threat unless the Bishop is on c7 instead of d8 AND (not OR) the Black King is on the d-file or further away from the h-file. Therefore, White tests Black by advancing the King to a4 and then losing a tempo.

48.Ka4 Ke6 49.Bf2 Bc7 50.Bg1 Bd8 51.Be3

So we now have the same position as after Black's 48th move, but now with Black to move instead of White. If Black realizes that his King is ideally placed and within reach of the h-pawn if White were to sacrifice on g5 and well within range of the Queenside if White tries to sacrifice on b6, then he would realize that the simple 51...Bc7 with a toggle between c7 and d8 would give White no choice but to offer the draw back to Black. However, Black finally falters with a very careless move that if he had taken his time, he would never have made this blunder.

51...Kd6?? 52.c5+

The fact that this is with check does Black in. If it weren't check, then the simple 52...b5 would draw the moment that White pushes the c-pawn, but here, it allows White to pry open the Queenside, and with every Black pawn sitting on a dark square, White will grab the pawns on the Kingside while Black is busy stopping the a-pawn.


Or 52...bxc6 53.Bxc6+, winning the a-pawn and the game.

53.cxb6+ axb6 54.b5 Be7 55.a7 Kb7 56.Bxb6!! 1-0

Black can never take the Bishop on b6 and White will intrude the Kingside with his King. Because of this, Black resigned.

So to summarize, the following should always be kept in mind when playing against locals or other players at tournaments that you face frequently:
  • Use the additional information about the opponent and maintain flexibility in your own game in order to select openings that don't fit well with your Opponent's style of play and habits.
  • Use your Opponent's habits to determine certain types of decisions. For example, if two moves appear to be of equal benefit, such as White's 17th move in the game, play the move that is more likely to annoy the opponent. In the endgame, understand your opponent's habits, weaknesses, and antics before deciding whether to give in when playing a drawn position. In the game, all the Black pawns were on the color square as that of the Bishops, which opened up ways for Black to falter, and he eventually did. Had he been a player of endgame strength and shows signs of being able to focus in long, drawn out positions, I'd have accepted the draw offer on move 37.
  • Take your time and consider everything. Don't rush, and often times, if you look for hidden secrets, your opponent may fall for one of them. In the game, White had four of them. The Bishop sacrifice on b6 if the Black Bishop leaves the a5-d8 diagonal. The Bishop sacrifice on g5 if the Black Bishop is still on c7 and the Black King is on the d-file or further to White's left. The Bishop sacrifice on b6 if the White King is on the g- or h-file after White locks the h-file. And then lastly, the one that killed Black in the game which was the trap of Black playing his King on the poisoned d6-square, leading to White being able to advance the c-pawn without Black being able to block the position due to a check.

This concludes the article. The next time that you play someone that you've either observed or played against repeatedly, think about the many factors that GM Aman Hambleton explained on June 26th (for those of you that attended his lecture) along with the other psychological factors explained here. It may sound crazy, and it won't work every time, (you will lose games) but it might amaze you how much it does alter your overall results in your favor!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 9

Hello everyone and welcome to the ninth edition of The French Connection. Now those of you that have read the first eight articles will known that thus far, every article has had the same layout. There would be a single game with some discussion on certain themes learned from that game. Some of them would be GM games from the past (Volumes 1, 4, 5, 6) while the others would be games by Amateurs. Some would be successful blockades by White (Volumes 2, 6, 7) while the others would be successful breakthroughs for victory by Black. We have also already seen four of the five main responses by White, including 3.Nc3 (Volumes 1, 2, 5), the Tarrasch (Volume 4), the Advance (Volumes 3, 6, 7), and the Exchange (Volume 8), the only one not showing up yet being the King's Indian Attack. Don't worry, they will come too.

However, every now and then, I will be slightly altering the format of the article to better suit the topic at hand. For example, maybe sometime down the road, there may be an article on French miniatures, which in that case, it wouldn't make sense to extensively cover a single game, but rather, the theme would be more geared toward typical errors made in the opening phase of the game as that would be necessary to win a game that quickly. I am sure that there are other scenarios besides a miniatures article and what we have here that would also force a slight change in the format. Fear not, the vast majority of these articles will take on the same format as the first eight.

But what we have today is a topic where covering a single game extensively from start to finish would be a waste of time. This go round, we are going to talk about a couple of garbage lines that you might have to face that have actually occurred over the board. This theme is likely not a one-time occurrence in this series, so let me lay out what you can expect, and then in future cases, I'll likely simply subtitle those articles as something along the lines of beating garbage lines. Because I do not condone playing garbage lines from either side, I can tell you right now that every garbage line I cover will result in a loss for the player playing the garbage.

So what is a garbage line? I classify variations of openings under three categories:
  • Main Lines - These would be all of the legitimate lines that make up over 95% of all games. Against the French Defense, there are five of them. 3.Nc3, which can be broken down further into the Winawer, Steinitz, Classical, MacCutcheon, Burn, Rubinstein, and Fort Knox, and then there is the Tarrasch (3.Nd2), Advance (3.e5), Exchange (3.exd5) and the King's Indian Attack (2.d3 and 3.Nd2).
  • Offbeat Lines - These would be the lines that are rarely played and somewhat off the beaten path, but are not just outright bad. A couple of examples would be 2.b3 and the Wing Gambit (1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 c5 4.b4). These lines lead to nothing more than equality, but White should not be lost in these lines simply because Black knows what he's doing.
  • Garbage Lines - This is everything else. These lines serve no purpose other than to try to trick the opponent. If the opponent knows what they are doing, then there is no recourse and the player trying to get a cheap shot out of their opponent instead ends up with a lousy position that is probably already lost.

So that said, I am going to cover two garbage lines in this article. When covering garbage lines, there is going to be far more emphasis on the opening, comparing what is right to what is wrong. The purpose is to illustrate why it is important to understand the ideas behind the opening moves and not just to memorize them. When people start trying to beat you with garbage, they are in essence trying to take the lazy way out, figuring that you won't know what to do and they will get an easy advantage without having to resist a major fight in the main lines. Well, if you understand the themes of what's right, it should help you pave the way through proving why what they played against you is wrong.

That said, once you are past the opening and maybe early middle game stages, with correct execution, you likely have, simply put, a won game. There are many books out there on how to win the won game. That is not the intent of this series. Therefore, to be able to cover multiple games without making this article a mile long, I will be extensively covering the opening, and then simply supplying the moves to complete the game once there should be no question about who is winning.

Garbage Line Number One: 2.f4

Here we are going to look at a game where White violates just about every principle possible in the French Defense. Let me first tell you about the nature of the player. He thinks that chess is all about ramming down the opponent's throat, and that no matter what lines you play as White or Black that he can charge after your King. He's a huge advocate of the King's Gambit, and thinks that these early f4 ideas and ramming the pawn down Black's throw will work against any Defense, and while you might be able to take this approach against 1...e5 via a King's Gambit or 1...c5 via a Grand Prix Attack, we are soon going to see that this approach does not work against the French Defense. White pays zero attention to the center, loosens his King, and even trades away his most valuable minor piece from the start. Now let me also say that White does not follow up with the best moves after move two either, which doesn't help his cause, but let's compare what happens here to some of the main lines of the French Defense.

Tuesday Night Action 43, Round 2
W: Ali Shirzad (1827)
B: Patrick McCartney (2049)

1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5

Just because White decides not to fight for the center doesn't mean Black shouldn't. The whole purpose of 1...e6 is to contest the e-pawn with 2...d5 without having to recapture with the Queen if White were to take, and so Black continues with his normal moves.

3.e5 c5 4.Nf3

Already White has a problem. He would like to play d4 to fight for control of the center, but it's already too late. After 4.d4 cxd4 5.Qxd4, Black can develop his pieces with tempo, chasing the Queen away.



If White has to resort to this, he has already failed. The Light-Squared Bishop is White's most valuable minor piece in the French Defense. In the main lines of the French, with the pawns on d4 and f2 instead of d2 and f4, if White can achieve getting his Bishop to d3 without losing the d-pawn (the Bishop blocks the Queen from guarding d4), then White has a major advantage because with all the Black pawns on light squares, blocking in his counter-part on c8, White has an uncontested piece going after Black's Kingside. Here, however, White is using the Bishop to try to control d4 by pinning the Knight on c6. Note that 5.d4?! is highly dubious here. I could write an entire book on the position after 5.d4 and what is wrong with it, but to illustrate White's problems, I'm going to show you one line and compare it to a similar situation where White is better if he doesn't play f4.

After 5...Qb6 6.c3 Nh6 (with the pawn on f4, this move is strong as White can't capture) let's compare what we have to a normal position after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc3 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 Bd7?.

Position after 6...Bd7?!

Position after 6...Nh6

In the first diagram, White has an advantage after 7.dxc5 Bxc5 because he is ready to castle with 8.O-O and White has the major positional threat of 9.b4 with a huge advantage for White, and if 8...a5, then Black has many weaknesses, most notably b5. This is why it is well known that in the Milner-Barry Gambit, which is what the first diagram is, Black should play 6...cxd4 first, and only after 7.cxd4 does he play 7...Bd7.

In the second diagram, however, taking on d4 is unnecessary and Black is getting ready to play 7...Nf5, creating massive pressure on d4, and castling for White is even borderline dangerous because of his second move, f4, opening up the long diagonal towards the King which the Black Queen resides on. If White tries to remove the pressure on d4 by taking on c5, it does not work like it did in the Milner-Barry Gambit. After 7.dxc5? Bxc5 8.b4? Bxf2+, White is not in a position to trap the Bishop. After 9.Ke2, there is no immediate escape for the Bishop, but there is also no way to attack it as white's pieces are a complete mess. After something like 9...O-O 10.g3 Ng4 11.Bh3 h5 12.Qd3 f6 13.exf6 e5 14.Qxd5+ Kh8 15.fxg7+ Kxg7 16.a4 Bxg3, Black is completely winning. Already we are seeing major problems with White's early f4 advance.


Already raising question to White's best minor piece.


6.c4 is probably a slight improvement, but after 6...a6, the question is once again raised to White's best minor piece and he is probably forced to trade it away anyway. That said, Black's next move requires some understanding. Under normal circumstances, Black has to be careful about early advancements of the d-pawn as it would normally open up e4 for a White Knight and eyeing a weakness in Black's position, the d6-square. Here, however, if we advance the pawn, the Knight is under attack, and the Knight is the only thing covering the Bishop, and so White can't move the Knight to e4 right away as the Bishop hangs, and since then the Bishop is forced to capture the Knight with check, when we recapture with the Queen, e4 will be covered and the White Knight will be forced to a passive position. Therefore, advancing the pawn in this case is a strength and not a weakness.

6...d4! 7.Bxc6+ Qxc6 8.Ne2 Ne7 9.d3 Nf5 10.O-O Be7 11.c3

And here we have another theme that explains what is wrong with 2.f4. It looks like the d-pawn is under attack and that Black needs to take on c3 and relieve all tension. Yes, White is behind in development, but Black is not fully developed, and so there is no reason to let White off the hook, and we aren't ready for a kill on the White King. That said, tactics are available to Black based on the advancement of the f-pawn, and the d-pawn is actually not even threatened at this point.


If Black is willing to gambit a pawn, he can also achieve a strong attack with 11...b6 12.cxd4 Bb7 13.dxc5 Bxc5. There is nothing wrong with the move played in the game though either.


It appears as though d4 is under-defended, but tactics allow Black to keep the advantage. White can play 12.cxd4, but he can't win the pawn, but Black also has to be careful here. Correct is 12...Nxd4! 13.Nexd4 cxd4 and Black maintains the advantage. Note that the d-pawn can't be taken because after 14.Nxd4?? Bc5 15.Be3 Qb6 16.Qa4 Rd8, White loses a piece. Note that 12...cxd4 would be a mistake. After 13.g4! Ne3 14.Nexd4! Nxd1 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.Rxd1 and White's better.

12...Rd8 13.g4 Ne3

This move maintains a small advantage, but safer may have benn 13...Nh6 with a clear advantage for Black.

14.Bxe3 dxe3


White has to play 15.Nc1, which will win the e-pawn, but at the cost of having his pieces very passively placed, and Black's Bishops are also better than White's Knights. After 15...b5 16.Qxe3 Bb7, Black has definite compensation for the pawn and probably a little more, but his advantage is small here and is the reason why 13...Nh6, taking a more patient approach, was stronger.


This is how Black stops White from taking easy street of simply moving the Knight to the active g3-square and scooping up the pawn. Black will counter by hitting the Rook, where White will have to either retreat the Knight back to e2 and remaining bottled up, or giving up the exchange. White gave up the exchange, and Black proceeds to win with the material advantage.

The rest of the game went as follows:

16.Ng3 Ba6 17.Qxe3 Bxf1 18.Rxf1 cxd4 19.Nxd4 Bc5 20.f5 Bxd4 21.cxd4 Qa4 22.fxe6 fxe6 23.Ne2 Rf8 24.Nf4 Rad8 25.d5 Rxd5 26.Nxd5 Qxg4+ 27.Qg3 Qxg3+ 28.hxg3 Rxf1+ 29.Kxf1 exd5 30.Ke2 Kf7 31.Kd3 Ke6 32.Kd4 h5 33.a4 g5 34.b4 h4 0-1

So we see here why 2.f4 is a bad idea for White and Black's play is predominantly executed in the center of the board, hitting hard on the d4-square, and using the opening of the diagonal to the White King, especially after White castles, to his own advantage.

Garbage Line Number Two: White Plays an Inferior Version of an Already Inferior Gambit

Theory evolves over time. Evolution is a science that applies to more things than just one. While human beings have evolved from apes, the Milner-Barry Gambit has evolved into a highly dubious gambit for White. For a while, Black would try to grab the two White pawns in the center and then either try to hold on to both and place the Queen on d6 or he would give one back and place the Queen on b8. I myself used to play the latter of the two. It was later determined that Black is best off not grabbing the second pawn, and instead playing the line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3?! cxd4 7.cxd4 Bd7 8.O-O Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.Nc3 a6!

Black is better, but it's tricky

Black's behind in development and his Queen is out there in the open early on, but he is a pawn up. With very careful defense, Black has a small advantage here. The garbage line we are about to see is going to be an offshoot of the Milner-Barry Gambit, and a version where Black will win a pawn, not have his Queen displaced, is able to develop smoothly, and pretty much executes a complete walkover.

A word about the player playing White in this game. He is well known locally as an e4-player. Literally plays nothing else. He is adamantly against closed positions. He has expressed multiple times before that his choice of openings, 1.e4 as White, Dutch Leningrad and Alekhine as Black, are specifically because he wants a more open position. The other fact about him is that he is all about trickery. He does not believe in playing the main line of anything. He is always looking for that odd ball move that he figures his opponent won't know and is banking off of that to win his games. A prime example is against the Caro-Kann Defense. I've seen him play often 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Qf3, including once against me and I got smashed! He has won a number of games against players using this method, myself included, but never in the French Defense. Most gambits against the French, trying to force the position open, simply don't work. Playing an inferior version of these gambits will make matters even worse for White provided Black knows what he is doing, and that's exactly what happens here.

Tuesday Night Action 43, Round 4
W: Patrick Sciacca (2148)
B: Patrick McCartney (2049)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6

The previous time that I played the French Defense against the same opponent, I played 4...Nc6, which is the main move. For those with intention of playing the 5...Qb6 line against the normal move, 5.Nf3, can play this move order to prevent an offbeat line available to White. After 4...Nc6, White can play 5.Be3, which is what he played against me the previous time, and this game can be found in Volume 3 of The French Connection. By playing 4...Qb6, White can't play 5.Be3 because of 5...Qxb2!. That said, will we see normal here? Of course not!


Other than possibly to transpose to the Milner-Barry Gambit, this move has no purpose.

5...Nc6 6.Ne2?!

Here, let's compare once again the "normal" position in the Milner-Barry Gambit to the position we have here. In the normal position, shown in the previous game (first of the two small analysis diagrams), we saw that 6...Bd7? is a mistake because of 7.dxc5! and that after 7...Bxc5 8.O-O that White had the positional threat of 9.b4. What is different about that position versus this one? The Knight! Why might theory believe that the Knight belongs on f3 and not on e2? Well, if White is going to take on c5, something needs to cover e5. Normally this is the Knight on f3, and this is what creates the positional threat of 9.b4! Here, on the other hand, the Knight does nothing to cover e5, and so if White plays 7.dxc5 Bxc5, he does not have time to play 8.O-O as the pawn on e5 will hang. After 8...Nxe5!, we don't care if we face 9.b4 as we can put the Bishop on the active d6-square now instead passively on e7. It is understanding the little idiosyncrasies like this that matter when you face a garbage line. It is not about memorizing reams of garbage. Therefore, Black has no reason to release the tension early on d4 and open up the c3-square for the White Knight early on. Might as well play the necessary move that threatens to win the pawn on d4, and we now understand why here it gets an exclamation point while with the Knight on f3, it would get a big fat question mark!

6...Bd7! 7.O-O cxd4 8.cxd4 Nxd4

So here, White has one last chance to correct himself and enter into the Milner-Barry Gambit with 9.Nxd4 Qxd4. But again, let's look at what we are dealing with here. A player that relies on trickery. If you don't know the opening you are playing thoroughly and don't have a true understanding of the big picture and all of the little details, you will likely get killed, but the downside to this approach is that if Black does know what he's doing, what White does here is alarmingly worse than the already dubious main line, and so when you face players like this, playing something you know well is far better than "experimenting" with another opening.


So now you need to ask yourself the question. Why isn't this normally played? What is wrong with this picture compared to the normal line? Well, for starters, the Black Queen isn't dragged to d4 where it can be attacked with tempo. If we don't give White the time to capture on d4, then our Queen will be safer comparatively speaking, and we will be able to spend that time that we normally spend saving the Queen, such as 10...a6, preventing tricks on b5, and Queen moves when she is attacked, we are spending that time developing our other pieces. So the first thing that this says is that Black should move the Knight on d4. Now the question becomes, do we retreat back to c6, or do we take on e2? Playing 9...Nc6 might look tempting as White can't play 10.f4 due to the pin on the King, but then 10.Be3 gains time on the Queen and then allows 11.f4 and it pushes Black backwards. However, let's look at 9.Nxe2+. In the normal Milner-Barry Gambit, White has a Knight on c3 and Bishop on d3, eyeing b5, in many cases with there being b5 tricks. In addition, the White Queen can then come to a4, adding pressure to the a4-e8 diagonal. Along with pressure on b5, White's active Bishop also rakes the Kingside. Well, with the capture on e2, White is going to be forced to misplace one of his pieces. If he takes with the Knight, there is absolutely no threat on b5 and Black doesn't even have to spend time playing pawn moves like ...a6. If he takes with the Bishop, Black may have to watch for b5 tricks, but the Bishop is passive on e2 compared to d3 and doesn't have to worry about Kingside issues without White spending another move to bring the Bishop back to d3. Lastly, if White takes with the Queen, the Queen is mis-placed compared to the normal Milner-Barry Gambit. So what does this amount to? It means that Black should take on e2 with check and compared to the normal Milner-Barry, Black will gain one move from the mis-placed White piece and another move from not having to retreat the Queen from d4, and so by taking on e2, Black has, for all intents and purposes, an extra two tempi compared to the already dubious Milner-Barry Gambit.

9.Nxe2+! 10.Nxe2 Rc8 11.Be3 Bc5

With Black being up a protected passed pawn with no pressure on the King, all piece trades are going to favor Black.

12.Bxc5 Rxc5 13.Nc3 Ne7 14.Re1 a6 15.Na4 Bxa4 16.Qxa4+ Qc6 17.Qg4


Unlike the 7...Qg4 lines of the Winawer, there is nothing for Black to be afraid of here. He dominates the c-file, and the reduced number of pieces along with the wrong color Bishop for White in this case makes defending the King easy here. For example, if 18.Qh5, then 18...Ng6 stops everything, and if 19.Bxg6, Black should actually capture away from the center with 19...fxg6, opening up the Rook for an attack on the f-file and giving the King a nice hiding place. Black will, at some point, play ...h6 and ...Kh7 with a little safe cubby-hole for the King.

Instead, White tries to advance the h-pawn, which Black answers with a typical idea seen in the 7...O-O line of the Winawer, opening up the f-file and defending along the 6th rank combined with a direct attack on f2. White's busted! The rest of the game went as follows:

18.h4 f5 19.exf6 Rxf6 20.Rab1 Qd6 21.Qh5 Ng5 22.Rbc1 Qf4 23.Bxg6 hxg6 24.Qg5 Qxf2+ 25.Kh1 Rf4 26.g3 Rxc1 27.Rxc1 Qf3+ 28.Kh2 Qe2+ 29.Kh3 Rf2 30.Rh1 Qf3 31.Rg1 Qf5+ 32.g4 Qf3+ 0-1

So in this edition we saw two garbage lines and how to beat them through the use of comparison, comparing both to the already dubious Milner-Barry Gambit. This comparison method is often useful when facing garbage lines in the French Defense. When you face something odd like this, make sure that you follow the checklist below:
  • First and foremost, don't freak out!
  • Take a minute to mentally go through your mental database of ideas and lines that you already know from normal, well-established lines, and look for comparisons of how the garbage line is weaker than the normal lines. Often times, this could be the weakening of a file, rank, or diagonal, similar to what we saw in the 2.f4 line where the a7-g1 diagonal is weakened and we had tactical resources available to us that we wouldn't have in normal lines. Other times, this could be under-protection of a pawn or piece, like the e5-pawn in the second example, or the improved position of our own pieces comparatively speaking where time that we normally spend fixing our own problems after doing something like grabbing a pawn can now be spent on continuing development that we normally wouldn't be able to do, and saying thank you to our opponent and taking full advantage of the extra tempi, putting them to good use.
  • Always keep an eye out for tricky tactics. For example, in the first game, on the 12th move, how to recapture on d4 if White does take the pawn really does matter in this case. Don't be afraid to spend some extra time checking for these types of issues.
  • Study your endgames! Many times, these positions can lead to dead won endgames. For example, in the second game, if White trades Queens late rather than walking into a mate in 2, knowing your Rook endgames would make it so that it would be an easy win for Black even if Black had one second left with five second delay given the number of pawns Black was up at that point. It turned out in that game, White had a minute and Black had 37 minutes, but the same thing can happen the other way around if you take the extra time in the middle game.
  • Don't let annoyance take over when you face something strange. I love facing garbage! Sure, it may mean that I need to take a few extra minutes early on compared to just reeling out 20 moves of French theory in under 5 minutes, but correct execution will usually lead to positions that are only fun for you, not for your opponent. Take the second game displayed above. By move 10, I was having fun playing the game. Sure I had to be careful about a few things, and had to figure out that castling on move 17 was perfect safe and very strong, but not once was I ever afraid of the situation and stress levels were extremely low, which is what we want when White plays garbage! If White wants to play garbage, he fully deserves to have his blood boil for the rest of the game, not the other way around!

Well, that concludes this article. Until next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White, unless you play garbage of course!

Monday, June 11, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 8

Hello and welcome to the eighth edition of The French Connection. For the first time in this series, we are going to be covering a game involving the Exchange Variation. However, that said, for those of you that have not read the repertoire I presented back in the fall of 2017, I would like to suggest looking at specifically the first half of the article on the Tarrasch Variation (Click here to get to that article) as you will see that this game has many of the characteristics of the line covered there about a third of the way into the game. From that article, you can also get to the article on the Exchange Variation via the links at the bottom for those of you interested in reviewing that as the line played here is exactly the same as that of the game shown in Section 2 of the article on the Exchange.

Now I'm sure some of you are probably wondering why I would suggest reading half of the article on the Tarrasch Variation when we have a game involving the Exchange Variation, like this is some kind of cross contamination. The reason is simple. In the French Defense, while White has four main options after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5, namely 3.Nc3, 3.Nd2, 3.e5, and 3.exd5, the ideas behind the four main lines are not mutually exclusive, and often times ideas from one line trickle into games resulting from other lines. This game, we'll be seeing ideas from the Exchange Variation, the Tarrasch Variation, and then for most of the second half of the game, if you came into the room for the first time at that moment and saw the board, you'd probably never guess the opening was a French at all to begin with.

So that said, let's take a look at the feature game.

2018 Carolinas Classic, Round 5
W: Arya Kumar (1945)
B: Patrick McCartney (2049)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bd3 Bd6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.O-O O-O 7.Bg5 Bg4 8.c3 c6 9.Nbd2 Nbd7 10.Qc2 Qc7 11.h3 Bh5

Up to this point, the game is exactly the same as the game shown in Section 2 of the Exchange Variation article written in September of last year.


White figures that whether it be due to lack of a more productive move or being forced to do so if White ever plays g4, the Black Bishop will at some point have to go to g6, and White is ready to chop it off. That said, possibilities of an upcoming Nf5 by White also has to be considered.

12...Rfe8 13.Rfe1

If White tries to play 13.Nf5 immediately, Black can force the White King further away from the center and follow up with exchanging Dark Squared Bishops via 13...Bh2+ 14.Kh1 Bf4.


Black contests the battery that White has on the b1-h7 diagonal. It is critical to note that the only reason this is possible is because Black never played ...h6, unlike White's playing of h3. This is where asymmetry starts occurring and this is where the game really begins.

14.Nxg6 hxg6 15.Nf3 Bf4

Black offers his good Bishop in order to eliminate White's Bishop pair. Note that here, unlike the situation after 13.Nf5, it is ineffective for Black to flick in the check first because the King can go to f1 rather than h1 since the Rook has moved to e1.

16.Bxf4 Qxf4 17.b4

White starts trying to execute something similar to the Minority Attack in the Carlsbad Pawn Structure, a pawn structure commonly seen in the Exchange Queen's Gambit Declined, but also crops up at times in other openings like the Nimzo-Indian Defense. The downside here though compared to the Carlsbad structure is that with White having a c-pawn instead of an e-pawn, the pawn on c3 and the c4-square both become fairly week, and if White ever advances c4, then White is looking at an Isolated Queen Pawn. The isolated pawn is not the end of the world, but it tends to get weaker the more pieces that are traded off. Two sets of minor pieces are already eliminated, and so therefore, Black decides that in order to maintain the weakness for White, it's time to take the Rooks off as well so that if White ever dares to advance the c-pawn, the d-pawn will be weakened.

17...Rxe1+ 18.Rxe1 Re8 19.Rxe8+ Nxe8 20.b5 Nef6 21.Nd2

In this position, White offered a draw. Do you take it?

Let's look at the position and assess the specifics about the position. First off, I don't like White's last move at all. The Knight moves to a more passive square, blocking the Queen away from going to the open file. In addition, what was the purpose of b4 and b5 if you are not going to take on c6. By playing 21.bxc6 bxc6, White saddles Black with the same weak c-pawn and isolated a-pawn that White himself has. The other move that White could consider would be 21.a4. So far, it sounds like Black should not be accepting any draw offers from White.

But what specifically should Black do? Well, the first thing to recognize is that White's move places two minor pieces on the d-file and that the White Knight is three squares away from the d5-pawn. This is a very similar pattern to that of the Tarrasch Variation. So from that angle, it sounds like Black should be ok with an IQP on d5, which brings up the candidate move of 21...c5. However, we need to look at the consequences of this move.

The first thing to consider is that a lot of material is traded off, and so saddling yourself with an IQP is not a good idea if there is no legitimate follow up and all you are going to do is enter a worse endgame, particularly once the Queens come off. Well, that's one negative aspect, but let's look at what Black has going for him with this move.

First, Black controls the squares g6, f5, and e4. Therefore, by playing the move 21...c5, Black actually poses a major threat in 22...c4, knocking the Bishop away to a very passive position on e2 or f1. Sure, the Bishop will be able to get into the game eventually, but Black always has an active Queen, and the Knights are headed into White's camp next. Black would have a major advantage.

Therefore, the only real critical response is for White to 22.dxc5. When Black recaptures via 22...Nxc5, what moves might White consider? First there is re-activating the Knight. How can White do that? Well, he can try 23.Nb3, but then 23...Nxd3 24.Qxd3 Qa4 leaves White tied up and he's going to have a very hard time keeping his Queenside from falling apart. He can try 23.Nf3, trying to blockade with an upcoming Nd4, but makes the Black-dominated square e4 even more dominant for Black, and he will plop a Knight there with Black's pieces very well placed and White's not so much. Black can try to re-route the Knight via 23.Nf1 intending to go to e3 and pressure the isolated pawn, but this is very slow. White can try to play 23.f3, to avoid a Black Knight from coming into e4, but then the dark squares around the King are extremely weak with h3 also already pushed. A move like 23.g3 doesn't push the Queen out of action as she can simply go to e5 and White's King is further weakened. This leaves 23.c4 as the most critical response, threatening to win the d-pawn as there would be a discovery on the Knight on c5. But then you look at the position and see that Black has a very aggressive move, 23...Nfe4, that creates many problems for White. The f2-pawn is threatened. The Knight on d2 is threatened. Passive moves will just continue to give Black his way, and so White is almost forced to play 24.Nxe4, which Black can then respond with 24...dxe4, saddling White with the c4-weakness and giving Black a permanent outpost on c5 as the Bishop will never be able to contest that square. Black will also gain a tempo as White will be forced to retreat what will be a bad bishop in a passive position. Also note that if White takes on e4 via 24.Bxe4, the Knight on d2 doesn't have any great places to go either. That said, it might still be the lesser evil comparatively speaking to what happened in the game.

So therefore, seeing no good line for White, we decline the draw offer, and proceed with our plan of advancing the c-pawn.


And it turns out, all subsequent moves went exactly as planned above.

22.dxc5 Nxc5 23.c4 Nfe4 24.Nxe4 dxe4 25.Bf1

So our first mission has been acomplished. Now what? Well, the first thing to consider is that one of Black's pieces is not ideally placed. While the Queen looks active on f4, it does not coordinate well with the Knight on c5. For starters, it does not control d3, which is Black's likely entry point to the attack when he is ready. In addition, Black has to consider threats that White might have. For example, do we want White to own the only open file? It is often difficult to find retreating moves when you know that you have the initiative, but it turns out that Black's best move is exactly that, a Queen retreat.


Owning the only open file on the board.

26.Qc3 b6

Completely plugging up the Queenside until Black is ready to release it by moving the Knight.

27.Qe3 f5 28.Qa3 Qd7

There is nothing that White can do and so Black should be in no rush to take action and re-locate his King first to cover the only real weakness for Black on the board, the pawn on g6.


This move was made possible by Black's last move, but where is the Queen coming into? b8? It may look active there, but the Queen and Knight do a good job of preventing anything useful by the White Queen by herself.

29...Kf7 30.Qf4 Nd3 31.Qe1 Qd6

Returning the Queen to her most useful square. What this maneuver did was allow Black to move his King from g8 to f7 and otherwise maintaining his position while White squirms around with the Queen. The other thing this move does is give Black tactical tricks if White tries to break the Black pawn chain.


And trying to break the pawn chain is precisely what White does.


When White has one active piece and Black has two active pieces, the first thing Black wants to do is trade off White's only active piece, and this accomplishes exactly that.

33.Qxc5 Nxc5

And low and behold, how convenient that the Black Knight is back on his outpost where it will sit while Black gets the King and Kingside Pawns into the game. This is an absolutely miserable endgame situation for White to be in.

34.Kf2 Ke6 35.Ke3 Ke5

Black now threatens 36...f4+ and 36.f4 leaves White completely lost with both the worse minor piece and giving Black a protected passed Pawn. Therefore, White's next move is virtually forced.

36.fxe4 Nxe4 37.Bd3 Nc5 38.Bc2 Ne6 39.h4 f4+ 40.Kd2 g5 41.hxg5 Nxg5 42.Kc3 Ne6 43.Bb1 g5 44.Bc2 g4

Black has a major threat that White must be very careful about.


45.Bd1?? loses instantly to 45...f3 46.gxf3 g3! 47.f4+ Kxf4 and the pawn cannot be stopped.

45...Nd4 46.a4 Ne6 47.Be2 g3 48.Kb4

This allows the Black King in and frees the duties of the Knight to stop the White pawn majority. That said, trying to sit put and toggle a piece doesn't work as Black threatens 48...Nd4 and 49...f3. The only way to stop it is putting the Bishop on f1, but that leads to other problems.

48...Kd4 49.a5 Nc5 50.axb6 axb6 51.Ka3 Kc3

Black also wins with 51...Nd3 52.Bxd3 Kxd3 53.c5 f3 54.cxb6 fxg2 55.b7 g1=Q 56.b8=Q g2, but why complicate the issue with Queens on the board?

52.Ka2 Kb4 53.Kb2 Ne6 54.Kc1 Nd4 55.Bf1 f3 56.gxf3 Nxf3 57.Kc2 g2

White must lose his Bishop to a Knight fork, or else allow Black to promote. The rest requires no comment.

58.Bxg2 Ne1+ 59.Kd2 Nxg2 60.Kd3 Kc5 61.Kc3 Ne3 62.Kb3 Nxc4 0-1

For a line of the French Defense that is normally thought of as being dull and drawish, a lot was required of Black to pull off this victory, including an understanding of IQP positions, deep calculations, the concept of the outpost, and executing the strong side of the "Good Knight vs Bad Bishop" ending. The next time you think that the Exchange French is drawish, and particularly symmetrical variations like this one was, remember games like this one and realize that while the odds of some spectacular sacrifice is not likely to happen, there is still a lot that can happen in these positions, and one of the biggest keys to success is understanding how and when to alter the pawn structure.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 7

Hello and welcome to the seventh edition of the French Connection. In the previous edition, we saw Nimzowitsch's idea of the Classic Blockade, found most commonly in the Advance Variation. Here, we will be looking again at an Advance French, but in this case, we will be looking at a line where normally one of the two pawns remains on the board, but after a very common error by White, it turns out the wrong pawn is maintained. However, Black then plays a few inferior moves himself, and White dominates in the center. He starts out with a tactical shot against Black's weak e6-pawn (normal for the French Defense), and after that, White's Knights dominate the center over Black's Bishops, despite the open nature of the position. The heavy pieces come in and Black falls victim to a mating attack. Those of you that studied Part Seven of the French Repertoire that I published in November should find both this game and the one from the previous edition extremely useful. Also, those of you that read the Material Imbalances article published last week might notice that this game came from the same tournament.

USCF Correspondence, 2018
W: Patrick McCartney (1959)
B: John Badger (1808)

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

Despite seeing this move played in the last edition of The French Connection in a game from the late 1980s, this move didn't have its popularity grow exponentially until about 10 years ago, along with the line 5...Qb6 6.a3 Nh6, which is the line I have been playing as Black as of late myself. Ever since the 2006/2007 time period, many ideas in the older main lines, such as 5...Bd7 or 5...Qb6 6.a3 c4, were starting to shift into White's favor. So much so that some of you may recall that back in last August, I recommended 4...Bd7 and 5...a6 against the French Advance, which is another little explored sideline with chances for both sides. Prior to this period, the ...Nh6 ideas were also so rare that this line with 5...Nh6 even made an appearance into the book Dangerous Weapons: The French that came out about a decade ago. If you play the White side of the French Advance, be ready for these ...Nh6 ideas.


While this move may be the most popular line, it is actually not very good for White. In Moskalenko's excellent book The Even More Flexible French, he points out that White has basically nothing in this line (see the note to Black's 7th move), and that according to both Sveshnikov, an expert on the French Advance, and Korchnoi, a French specialist himself, White's best move is 6.dxc5, when after 6...Bxc5 (6...Ng4? 7.Qa4!) 7.b4 Bb6 8.b5, the position is very unclear after both 8...Ne7 and 8...Ng4 9.bxc6 Nxf2 10.cxb7 Bxb7 10.Qa4+ Kf8. Also, if you go back to The French Connection: Volume 6, published about two weeks prior to this one, you will see Sveshnikov himself playing 6.dxc5!, although he did switch it up and played 8.Bxh6 rather than 8.b5.

6...cxd4 7.cxd4 f6

The line that Moskalenko claims makes 6.Bd3 not very good for White is 7...Nf5 8.Bxf5 exf5 9.Nc3 Be6. To a beginner, this makes no sense, as Black has an Isolated Queen Pawn, doubled f-pawns, and a Bishop on e6 that can be viewed as a "tall pawn". But in reality, Black's Light-Squared Bishop is no worse than Black's Dark-Squared one. Black also has the Bishop pair. Lastly, there is no good way for White to actually proceed against this structure, and as Moskalenko points out, after 10.Ne2 Be7 11.h4 h6 12.Nf4 Qb6 13.Rh3 g6 (13...O-O-O?! 14.h5!) 14.Kf1 O-O-O 15.Kg1 g5! with an attack for Black.

8.Bxh6 gxh6 9.O-O Bg7

This raises an interesting point. Often times, whether or not to take on h6 in these ...Nh6 lines depends on the Black Dark-Squared Bishop. If the Bishop still remains on f8, then Black can play ...Bg7 later on, pressuring the e5-pawn almost to the breaking point where White is going to need to take on f6 and aim to occupy e5 with a piece, presumably a Knight. If there has been a capture on c5 and the Black Bishop is then on c5 or b6, then most of the time ...f6 won't involve White capturing away from the center and using the central blockade theory discussed in the previous French Connection article. None of this is a hard and fast rule, but just something to keep in mind when planning the development of your other pieces, and hence White's decision on his next move.


I like this move better than 10.Nc3. From d2, White can occupy e5 with the Knight on f3 and then back it up with the other Knight on d2 going to f3, or that knight can go to b5 and aiming for c5, trying to entice a push of the b-pawn by Black, weakening the c6-square. Note that the only square that can be easier to access with a Knight from c3 than from d2 is the d6-square, but with Black blowing up the White center, White will not maintain control of d6 anyway. Therefore, this move makes more sense.


If Black wants to trade once on e5 via 10...fxe5 11.Nxe5, he can, and it's a matter of taste as it is no better and no worse than the move played. That said, Black cannot win a pawn despite the 3 attackers versus 2 defenders on e5 for tactical reasons. After 11...Nxe5?? (or 11...Bxe5?? 12.Qh5+ winning) 12.Nxe5 Bxe5 13.Qh5+, White wins.

11.Re1 Bd7

A possible improvement for Black is to take on e5 at this point. After 11...fxe5 12.dxe5 Rf7 13.Qc2 Bf8, White is still better and Black should make the adjustment at move 7, but even here, the position is at least manageable for Black. The pawn on e5 acts as a shield to the weakness on e6, and long term, Black has the Bishop pair if he can crack open the position in a scenario where White's Knights aren't all over the Black King like they will be in this game.

Note that 11...Nxd4 fails as after 12.Nxd4 fxe5 13.N4f3 e4 14.Nxe4 dxe4 15.Rxe4, Black is positionally busted due to the wrecked pawn structure and the severe lagging behind in development.


Seeing how Black takes back before deciding what to do with the d2-Knight.


Taking with the Queen is probably Black's best option, but it has its own consequences in that the Bishop on d7 is now loose, and so White is able to gain time.


With the idea of Nc5, forcing the Bishop to either move again or protect it. Knights are typically slower than Bishops, but if you can re-position Knights in a way that they attack loose pieces on the way to their final destination, they can get from point A to point B at a very rapid pace, even if A and B are on opposite sides of the board.


Now we start to see why Black should have taken on e5 back on move 11, creating the shield on the Black e6 pawn. What was once a shielded weakness is now a backwards pawn on an open file. White will start the process by dominating the square in front of the backwards pawn, and then re-position his pieces until he is ready to go after the weakness on e6 rather than simply controlling e5.

14.Qd2 Rf7

So White's plan is to take over e5 first. How does White do that? Well, the first think to understand is how many pieces from each side can have influence over e5. If White's can outnumber Black's, White can take control barring tactical shots available to Black, which there are none here. Both sides have the three heavy pieces, and White has the two Knights while Black has the Knight and the Dark-Squared Bishop. So that's five apiece. The Light-Squared Bishops, due to their restriction to light squares, are unable to influence the e5-square, right? Or are they? It turns out that only the White Bishop can due to Black's last move, and White pounces on the opportunity.


This is the idea! A Bishop on light squares can only attack an object that sits on a light square. For Knights, however, it's the exact opposite. A Knight sitting on a light square only controls dark squares, and a Knight sitting on dark squares only controls light squares. Therefore, if a Light-Squared Bishop captures a Knight sitting on a light square, this capture has influence over the dark squares. It removes one of the Black pieces that can directly control dark-squares in return for a piece that can only control the dark squares indirectly, and it will give White an extra piece that can control e5. Therefore, seeing this idea, we now see the point behind White's previous move. If White had played 14.Bb5, Black could counter with 14...Bh5, since the Rook hadn't moved to f7 yet, blocking the Bishop, and the White Knight on f3 would be in a pin. Of course, Black can spend time here to preserve the Knight, but then it moves away from the e5-square, giving control of it to White in a different manner.


Too little, too late. White is immediately ready to eliminate the Knight, and any time that Black tries to play ...Bh5, White can simply move the Knight to e5.

16.Bxc6 Bxc6 17.Ne5

The first mission is accomplished. White controls and occupies e5 and hence keeping the weak Black pawn stuck on e6 and this is White's next target.

17...Be8 18.Rac1 h6 19.Rc3 Bh6 20.Rg3+ Rg7 21.Rxg7+ Qxg7

So, in essence, the last four moves saw White trading his passive a1-Rook for Black's e7-Rook. Yet another minor detail that enhances White's advantage.

22.Qb4 b6 23.Qd6 Qf6 24.Nf3 Bf7

What is White's worst placed piece?

Where does White want that piece to land?


With the move 22...b6 played by Black, White can no longer place the Knight on c5, and so it is now misplaced on b3. White would certainly love it if Black were to trade his better Bishop for the Knight on c1, and so White surely shouldn't be worried about that. Provided Black doesn't do White the favor, the Knight is headed for c3. The reasoning is fairly simple. White wants to eliminate the pawn on e6, and once he does, the d5-pawn will be very weak, and a Knight on c3 would be attacking this pawn directly.

25...Bf4 26.Qb4?!

This retreat is too passive and gives Black the opportunity to equalize the position. Stronger is 26.Qc6 when after 26...Qd8, in this case, the Knight should actually go for d3 instead of c3, and after 27.Nd3 Rc8 28.Qa4 Bb8 29.Nfe5, White has the advantage as both Black Bishops are very passive.

26...Bg6 27.Ne2 Bh6 28.Nc3 Bf5 29.Qd6 Qf8?

The only move that equalizes for Black is 29...Rf8! when after 29.Qg3+ Qg7 30.Qxg7+ Kxg7, the position is equal.


Ripping apart the Black center and breaking through.


The best Black's got is 30...Bxe6 31.Qxe6+ Kh8 32.Qxd5 with a significant advantage for White.

31.Re7 Kh8 32.Ne5 Bf6

At first glance, it appears as though White has just blundered in the last two moves. The Rook is attacked by the Bishop. The Rook appears to be pinned the Queen, and the other Bishop covers both the squares that the Rook can go to in order to keep the Queen protected, thinking that White is about to drop the exchange. At further glance, it can be seen that White can simply move the Rook away, like maybe to b7, since if Black takes the Knight, then the recapture with the Queen is check, and if Black takes the Queen, then there is a Royal Fork with Nf7+, regaining the Queen. The problem with this, however, is that while White is currently up a pawn, the board is open and White does have weaknesses, such as the pawn on d4, and so the two Bishops would be clearly better than the two Knights in an endgame, and so the Knight fork tactic is also undesirable. Therefore, White needs to find a "loud move", or another way to think of it is that White needs action immediately and that quiet moves are going to do nothing but allow Black to get his inactive Rook on a8 into the game and to trade the heavy pieces off, leading to Black's most desirable endgame here, a minor piece ending with the two Bishops against the two Knights on an open board. The good news is, White has such a move, and it is actually fatal to the Black King!

33.Nf7+! Kg7 34.Qg3+ Bg6

34...Bg4 is no better. White will respond with the same move as that played in the game with similar issues dealing with the pins and discoveries.

35.Rb7 Bxd4 36.Nxd5 Qc5??

A blunder in a bad position. Black could safely resign here, but if he isn't going to, about the best move he has is 36...Re8, but even then, White wins another exchange with 37.Nd6+. The game move allows a forced mate in 7.

37.Ne5+! Kh8

This loses even faster, but nothing saves Black.

A) 37...Kf8 prolongs the game the longest, but rather than forking the King and Queen, White can end it with 38.Qf3+ Ke8 (or 38...Kg8 39.Nf6+ Kf8 leading to the same thing) 39.Nf6+ Kf8 (or 39...Kd8 40.Rd7+ Kc8 41.Qxa8#) 40.Nxh7+ Ke8 (or 40...Kg8 41.Nf6+ and 42.Ng6#) 41.Nf6+ Kd8 42.Rd7+ Kc8 43.Qa8#.

B) 37...Kg8 leads to a Queen Sacrifice for mate. 38.Qxg6+!! hxg6 39.Nf6+ and the Rook will deliver mate on the next move depending on which of the two legal moves Black plays.

38.Rxh7+! 1-0

Black resigned as it's mate no matter what he does. 38...Kg8 leads to the double knight mate we saw in the previous note with 39.Nf6+ Kf8 40.Nxg6# while 38...Kxh7 39.Qxg6+ Kh8 40 Nf7# and 38...Bxh7 39.Nf7# are all mate as well.

So what have we learned from this game?

  • First off, just like in the 2nd and 6th editions of The French Connection, the other two articles thus far where White has won, White's success has come from domination of the dark squares in the center of the board, and blockading the Black pawns on d5 and e6. Notice that this blockade is not always done with pawns, but sometimes White is willing to trade off the pawns provided Black can't recapture with a pawn, where White keeps control of d4 and e5 with his pieces, usually one or both of the Knights.
  • While this game didn't technically reach an endgame like the other two games that White won had, the early focus is still not a direct attack on the King. Unlike say, the King's Gambit or the sacrificial attacks executed in the Najdorf Sicilian, success against the French comes in the form of domination of squares and blockading the Black pieces, paralyzing Black's position. Only after such paralysis or a well prepared breakthrough, such as the pawn capture on e6 in this game, is White ready to go for the kill shot. Trying to blow the Black King off the board immediately will do nothing but blow up in White's face, as we will likely see instances of in future articles where Black wins.
  • When everything is under control and all of White's pieces are ideally placed, and White is ready for the kill shot, it is not the time to back off. Once you start, you can't afford to stop, as we saw twice in the game above. White played the wrong move on move 26, giving Black one opportunity to balance the position, but then on move 33, White slammed the door and didn't allow Black back in, and in the case of the latter scenario, despite being up a pawn, there may have been scenarios where Black might even gain the upper hand if White doesn't take action quickly.
  • Lastly, we have seen a scenario where even on a fairly open board, the pair of Knights completely dominated the pair of Bishops. While many resources will tell you that the Bishop pair is extremely powerful, even in open positions, there are always exceptions to any rule, and no blanket statement in chess can be taken as gospel. Always look at each game individually and don't let generalities get in the way of the truth on the board in front of you.

This concludes the 7th Edition of The French Connection. Until next time, good luck in all of your French games, whether playing Black or White!