Sunday, July 29, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.N1h2 b4 13.Bf4 a4

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


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


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

15.bxa3 bxa3 16.c3

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

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

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

White has a strong move here

19.Rxb8! Qxb8?

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

20.Nf6+! Bxf6

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

21.exf6 Qb2 22.fxg7 Rc8 23.Bd6

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

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

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

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

28.Ne1! Nxa2??

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

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

This pawn will be a major problem for Black.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50.Nb3! Kh6

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

51.Bf8+ Kg5 52.Nc5 1-0

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 27, 2018

Game Analysis: Kansas Open, Round 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Already we have a critical position.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

26...Qe6 27.b3

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

27...b6 28.Nd3 h6

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

29.Nb4 g5

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

30.Nc2 Qf6

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


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


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


The time has come!


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


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


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


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


He advances the pawn.


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


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


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

36...gxf4 37.gxf4 Kf6

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

38.Kf3 Qe7

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

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

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

42.axb5 cxb5 43.Kd3

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12...Bd7! 13.Bxh7+?

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

13...Kxh7 14.Ng5+

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

18.Qh8+ Ke7 19.Qh4

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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