Monday, August 20, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 13

Hello and welcome to the thirteenth edition of The French Connection. Here, we will be looking at the second of three McCutcheons, and continuing coverage of the Potomac Open, a tournament I took part in during the third weekend of July in Rockville, Maryland, just northwest of Washington, DC.

In the previous edition, we saw White follow the main line through the first 10 moves, and then deviate. Here, we are going to see White deviate two moves earlier. We will be looking at what White's odd 9th move does from a theoretical perspective, and we will see two very important concepts. The first sees Black falling for an enticement tactic which lead to an advantage for White, but later on, we see White trying to get too cute, and surrenders his light-squared Bishop. As you might recall in the previous edition of the French Connection, we saw Black have total control of the light squares through the use of his central pawn chain. This time, we will see Bishops of opposite color on the board with the heavy pieces still in action, leading to an important concept on color complexes. We will see White have near total control of the dark squares while Black will have total domination over the light squares. Given the initial positioning of the Black pawns combined with the frequent surrendering of the Dark-Squared Bishop in the McCutcheon and Winawer Variations, along with the White central pawns occupying dark squares, this combination of dark-square domination by White and light-square domination by Black is nothing unusual in the French Defense.

So without further ado, let's take a look at the game.

Potomac Open, Round 2
W: Michael Kats (1921)
B: Patrick McCartney (2050)

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

Thus far, everything is identical to the previous McCutcheon game played in Kansas the previous weekend.


This raises major question as to whether or not White can claim any kind of advantage. In Felgaer - Moskalenko, Barcelona 2005, White played 9.Be3, and had problems after losing the vital tempo. This move, 9.Bc1, can't be any better, especially in the 8...g6 lines. If Black played 8...Kf8, there might be more validity in preserving the Bishop, but here it's a waste of time.

9...c5 10.Bd3


Accepting the pawn with 10...Nxc3 followed by 11...Qa5 is interesting, but even stronger is a concept that a McCutcheon player needs to know. When White does not pressure the Knight on e4 immediately, such as in the main line with 9.Bd3, when Black is forced to take on d2, he should take advantage of the fact that the Knight covers g5 and play 10...h5! 11.Qf4 g5! 12.Qf3 and then taking on c3 with 12...Nxc3 with a strong position.

11.Ne2! cxd4 12.Bxe4 dxe4 13.Qxe4 Nc6 14.Bf4 dxc3 15.O-O


Black realizes that e5 is well covered, and that there is no future for the Black Knight at d4 or b4, and nothing to really prevent on those squares, and so the Knight on c6 is actually a poorly placed piece, and so Black proceeds to relocate it to a better square on d5 or f5.


This is a sneaky move by White, enticing Black to do what he intended to do.


And Black falls right into it. A Black Knight on d5 or f5 is much stronger than a Black Knight on c6. However, White's last move gets the Bishop out of the way of the f4-square for the Knight. White's idea is simple. He wants to keep his Knight on e2 until Black decides to put the Knight on d5 or f5, and then White immediately wants to set the stage to trade the Knights off, and so if the Black Knight goes to d5, White will play Nf4, and if it goes to f5, White will play Nd4. So both side need to try to keep their Knight in place in Mexican Standoff fashion. Try to make the other player move his Knight first.

That said, the downside to White's 16th move is that it weakens the pawn on e5, and so Black should have played 16...Bd7! here where 17.Qxb7 can be answered by 17...Bc6 followed by 18...Qxe5, regaining the pawn with a slightly better position.

17.Nf4! Nxf4 18.Qxf4 Bd7 19.Qf6 Rh7 20.Bxh6

Much stronger would be for White to realize that with the Opposite Colored Bishops and all the heavy pieces, this is a case where White is primed for an attack on the dark squares. It also doesn't help that Black's h7-Rook is out of play while the a8-Rook is undeveloped and the Black King is still in the center. The move 20.Rad1! is very strong, and Black doesn't have time to be grabbing pawns as 20...Qxh2?? leads to fatal consequences on the dark squares after 21.Bc5!!.

With the move in the game, White has to be very careful. He will win an exchange, but his Queen will be out of play, and the light squares around the White King will be very weak.

20...Rxh6 21.Qg7 Rh5 22.Qg8+ Ke7 23.Qxa8 Qxe5


Out of the four legitimate moves here, this has got to be by far the worst of the four moves. Black has total control of the light squares. The last thing that White can afford to do is weaken the light squares even more. 24.f4 is also bad because of 24...Qe3+. That said, the other two moves draw.
  1. 24.h3 Rxh3 25.gxh3 Qg5+ 26.Kh2 Qf4+ 27.Kg2 Bc6+ 28.f3 Qg5+ 29.Kh1 Qg3 30.Qxa7 Qxh3+ 31.Kg1 Qg3+ 32.Kh1 Qh3+ is a draw.
  2. 24.h4 Bc6 25.Rad1 Qa5 26.Qb8 Rxh4 27.Rfe1 Kf6 28.Qf8 Qh5 29.Rxe6+ Kxe6 30.Rd6+ Kf5 31.Qxf7+ Kg5 32.Qe7+ Kh6 33.Qf8+ Kh7 34.Qe7+ Kh6 is also a draw.

24...Bc6 25.Rad1

White threatens mate in one, but Black was prepared for this, and takes the time to get the Queen off of both the back rank and the light squares.

25...Rh8! 26.Qxa7

The Queen will prove useless here as there is nothing she can do about the light squares around her majesty.


The final nail in the coffin. There is nothing that White can do to stop Black's attack on the light squares. Of course, White can't take the Rook as it's mate in two for Black starting with 27...Qh8+ (or 27...Qh5+).

27.Qa3 Kf6

Now there is absolutely nothing that White can do. When the light squares are a major problem, and an out of play Queen on a dark square does little to cover the light squares near to King.

28.f4 Rg2+ 0-1

It's mate on the next move, and so White Resigned.

The following ideas should be picked up from this game:
  • Remember this idea of ...h5 and ...g5 against the Queen on g4 if White has not taken or forced away the Knight from e4.
  • Be aware of enticement tactics, and take the time to figure out if your opponent has a strong move before just assuming an outpost for your pieces.
  • Initiative is critical when in a middlegame with opposite colored bishops and/or having total control of a particular color complex.
  • When you are weak on either the dark squares or light squares, do everything you can to avoid making those squares even weaker.

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Game Analysis: Potomac Open, Round 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

9...Nxc3 10.Qxc3

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


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


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


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


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

12...cxd4 13.Qc7

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


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

14.Qxd8 Rxd8 15.Nxd4 Nb6 16.Bc7

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

33.Kf3 Bd7 34.Bg6

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

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

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

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

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


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

42.Bb5 Bd7

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

43.Bxd7 Kxd7

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


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


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


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


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


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

46...Ke6 47.Kd3

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

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


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

48.Kc3 Ke6

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

49.Kb4 Kd6

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

50.a4 Kc7

And yet again 50...g4 draws.


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


Now Black is lost!

52.axb6 Kd7 53.Kc5 Ke6

White To Move And Win


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Reverse Angle 87

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

USCF Rating Report

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

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

CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87

SwissSys Standings. CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87: TOP

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

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

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

CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87

SwissSys Standings. CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87: Under 1800

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

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

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

CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87

SwissSys Standings. CCCSA: Reverse Angle 87: Under 1400

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

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

Until next time,

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 12

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

21.Rb3 Rhe8

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


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


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

23.Rb2 c4 24.Qh5 Qc7!

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


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


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

26.Qf3 Rg8

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

27.g3 Raf8

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


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


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

29.Kc2 Qh3

Immobilizing the White pawns. None of them can advance.


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


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


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


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

32.Kf2 Qf5

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


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


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

34.Kxg3 Rg8+ 35.Kf2

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

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

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

37...Qc1+ 38.Kf2 Qxb2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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