Saturday, October 20, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 16

Hello and welcome to the sixteenth edition of The French Connection. In the previous edition, we talked about the problems with playing 4.c3 against the Open Tarrasch (3...c5). Here, we will be looking at another game from the same tournament that features another sideline of the Open Tarrasch where White temporarily goes up a pawn, but we will also see that White can't hold on to it. This line is not nearly as bad as 4.c3, but it also has its own issues. The challenge for Black to prove those problems is far more difficult here, and even in the game, I was unable to take advantage and rather than maintaining a better position, I ended up barely squeaking a draw out of it. Let's take a look at this sideline that you will need to know to play the French Defense successfully.

Washington Chess Congress, Round 1
W: Gil Holmes (1782)
B: Patrick McCartney (2069)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Bb5+

So here we have the starting position of the sideline in question. If Black wants to play the old main line that normally arises from 5.Ngf3 Nc6 6.Bb5 Bd6 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.O-O Nge7 9.Nb3 Bd6, then 5...Nc6 is fine here. However, since the repertoire given last fall covers the more modern 5...Nf6, and that is also what I play, I interpose with the Bishop instead. This will lead to a temporary pawn sacrifice, but White can't hold onto it without destroying his own position.

5...Bd7 6.Qe2+ Be7

Interposing with the Queen, looking to trade Queens and avoiding the loss of the pawn, is inferior. After 6...Qe7 7.Bxd7+ Nxd7 8.Qxe7+ Bxe7 9.dxc5, we get an IQP position with a bunch of pieces traded off, including the Queens. The idea behind playing with the IQP is to get active piece play, not to quickly reach an endgame. That said, Black can usually hold in this position, but he is basically playing for two results as winning chances for Black are non-existent. Only White really has a chance of winning as the isolated pawn becomes more of a weakness than a strength in the endgame. The main reason Black can usually hold is that it's his only real weakness, and it's hard to win against a single weakness. Normally two weaknesses are needed to stretch out the defense, but if White can successfully create a second one, it's almost lights out for Black, and since Black is spending all of his time defending the single weakness on d5, counterplay for Black is virtually non-existent.

Therefore, Black is better off interposing with the Bishop. The loss of the pawn is only temporary for tactical reasons.

7.dxc5 Nf6 8.Ngf3 O-O 9.O-O

White realizes that he can't hold the pawn and gets his King out of dodge. Both attempts to hold the pawn fail.

A) After 9.Nb3, Black can immediately take the pawn anyway. After 9...Bxc5 10.Nxc5 Re8 11.Be3 Qa5+, Black regains the piece and he has equalized.

B) Even worse is 9.b4 as once again, Black can take the pawn immediately, and after 9...Bxc5 10.bxc5 (10.Bxd7 Nbxd7 11.bxc5 Re8 is even worse for White) Re8 11.Ne5 Bxb5 12.Qxb5 Rxe5+ 13.Kf1 Nc6 14.Qxb7 Re6 15.Nf3 Rb8 16.Qa6 Ne4 17.Be3 d4 18.Bf4 Rb2 and White's position is in complete disarray.

9...Bxc5 10.Nb3 Re8 11.Qd3


This is a very passive square for the Bishop. I played it mainly to get it out of the way of my other pieces for the time being, but it turns out that Black is best off putting the Bishop on b6 in this line. For example, after 11...Bb6 12.Bg5 Bxb5 13.Qxb5 Nbd7 14.Rad1 Qc7 (to get out of the pin and now the f6-Knight defends d5) 15.c3 Re4!, Black has a very active position in return for the isolated pawn. This is precisely what you are looking for when playing with the IQP. Notice the difference between this and the position we saw in the line with 6...Qe7. There, Black could deal with the weakness, but no more. Here, Black maintains an active position in return for the weaker pawn structure, and three results are still possible here!

12.Bg5 Bc6

Here, Black should play 12...Nc6 in order to be able to connect the Rooks in time. Black should not fear the loss of the pawn here as 13.Bxf6 Qxf6! 14.Qxd5 Rad8 is horrible for White. Sure, he's a pawn up, but Black is completely developed, and White's soon going to have to move the Queen again, and neither White Rook has been developed. Black has more than enough compensation here for the pawn, and his position is already significantly better than White's. White should, of course, decline the offer of the pawn, and rather than take on f6, move one of the Rooks to e1.

13.Rfe1 Nbd7 14.Rad1

White should try to gain the time on Black to maintain equality. After 14.Rxe8 Qxe8 15.Re1 Ne4 16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.Be3, the position is roughly equal, though admittedly, White's position seems to be the easier one to play here. Black should have probably played one of the alternatives at move 11 or 12, preferably move 11 as it leads to the exact kind of position Black is looking for in IQP positions.

14...Qb6 15.Bxc6 bxc6 16.c4?

This move fails tactically. 16.Rxe8 Rxe8 and only then 17.c4 keeps Black's edge to a microscopic one.

16...Rxe1+ 17.Rxe1

The alternative is no better. After 17.Nxe1 Ne5 18.Qf5 Nxc4 19.Bxf6 gxf6 20.Rd3 (20.Qxf6 Bg7 -/+) Ne5 21.Rg3+ Bg7 22.Qxf6 Ng6 23.Qf5 Re8, Black has a significant advantage for Black.


And this is the trick. Two White Pawns are under attack, and they can't both be saved. Note that White cannot trap the Black Queen by saving the c-pawn with a move like 18.Rc1 and expecting to answer 18...Qxa2 with 19.Ra1 as the b2-pawn is then hanging.

18.Qc2 dxc4 19.Nbd2 Qxa2 20.Nxc4

So Black is still a pawn up, but it's not the healthiest of pawns. He has two isolated pawns to White's one, and an extra pawn island. His extra pawn is worth roughly three-quarters of a pawn. Therefore, to maintain the advantage, Black still has to follow up correctly, which is not easy to do in this position.


This is the wrong idea for Black. Black is looking to trade Queens by playing ...Qb3 on the next move, but given the weaknesses, Black needs to keep the Queens on for the time being. Instead, the move to maintain the advantage was 20...Nd5. After this, White has a couple of options, some trickier than others, but they should all lead to an advantage for Black. For example:

A) After 21.Nd4, Black can respond with 21...Qa6, where 22.Nf5 Nc5 23.Qe2 Ne6 24.Bc1 Rd8 leaves Black with the advantage.

B) After the cute 21.Nd6, with the idea of answering 21...Bxc6 with 22.Qxc6 which forks all three minor pieces, Black has 21...N7b6!, where if White tries to grab the pawn with 22.Qxc6, Black gets a winning position after 22...Nb4 23.Qc7 Nd3 and the b-pawn is going to fall. Otherwise, if White can resist the temptation to take the pawn, then after 22.Nf5 h6 23.Be7 Qc4 24.Qd2 Bxe7 25.Nxe7+ Nxe7 26.Rxe7 a5 27.h3 a4 28.Qe1 Qb3, Black has the better position.

So as we can see, maintaining an advantage can often be harder to achieve than getting the advantage in the first place. A lot of complicated moves that Black must find, starting with the first one, 20...Nd5.

21.g3 Qb3 22.Qxb3 Rxb3 23.Kg2 h6 24.Be3 c5

And now we see the consequences of trading the Queens. Black's last move was pretty much necessary to protect the a-pawn and to limit the scope of the f3-Knight. That said, it also takes a lot of the sting out of Black's position. For starters, the Bishop on f8 is now extremely passive. It's blocked by his own pawn on c5. The d6-square is controlled by the White Knight on c4, which also conveniently blocks the c5-pawn, and it's even difficult to get the Bishop to e7. Advancing the g-pawn and moving the Bishop to g7 will simply cost Black the c-pawn. Lastly, with White's next move, if Black wants to hold on to the extra pawn, he has to make his Rook super passive as well. All of this comes via an incorrect idea at move 20.

25.Ra1 Nb6

Passive as it looks, 25...Rb7 was still Black's best move here, despite the extra maneuvering needed to untangle himself, and the constant lookout Black must be on just to maintain the pawn and not allow White's more active pieces to overwhelm the Black position. The move played in the game completely removes any advantage Black has. The position is now equal.

26.Nfd2 Rb4 27.b3 Nxc4 28.bxc4 Ng4

One of many options for Black, but they all lead to a dead equal position with correct play.


Correct here was 29.Rxa7, when 29...Nxe3+ 30.fxe3 Rb2 31.Rd7 Be7 32.Kf3 Kf8 is equal.


Black misses his chance. He can regain the advantage with 29...Nxh2+! There is no way to trap the Knight. For example, after 30.Kf4, Black can simply play 30...Bd6+ 31.Ke4 Ng4 32.Rxa7 Nxe3 33.Kxe3 Be5 34.Ke4 Bc3 35.Nf3 Bd4 36.Nxd4 Rxc4 where Black is winning because he will either be up two pawns, or if 37.Kd5, attempting to win the c-pawn, then after 37...Rxd4+ 38.Kxc5, the White King is cut off on the wrong side of the Black Rook and the extra pawn will win. Also, 30.Kg2 simply leads to the same position as the 29.Ra7-line via 30...Ng4 31.Rxa7, except Black now has an extra pawn, and the Rook ending is no longer drawn. Therefore, White would have to try 30.Ke4 or 30.Ke2, at which point Black doesn't have to worry about his Knight getting trapped and he has the advantage.

30.Ke4 Nxc4 31.Nxc4 Rxc4+ 32.Kd5 Rc2 33.Rxa7 g5 34.Ra8 Kg7 35.Rc8 f6

This move looks ugly, but without it, Black can barely move. The position is still drawn, and Black had numerous options here that all still draw.

36.Ke6 c4

Here is where Black starts making mistakes and White is starting to get an advantage here. Any quiet move like 36...h5, 36...Rc3, 36...Re2, or even 36...Ra2, is still dead equal, but this move gives the Bishop the d4-square and access to c5.

37.Bd4 Re2+ 38.Kf5 Kf7 39.Rxc4 Be7 40.Be3 Ra2

This was Black's last chance to maintain equality with 40...h5. Now White is better.

41.Rc7 1/2-1/2

White offered a draw here, which I took, but White is actually better here. Enough to win? That may be questionable, but White isn't losing, and both players just got 30 minutes added to their clock, so there was no reason to offer the draw here. For instance, after 41...Ra5+ (Black can't allow 42.Bc5) 42.Kg4 f5+ 43.Kh5, Black can likely draw with 43...f4 44.Ba7 Ke6 45.Kxh6, but it is Black that has to come up with the accurate moves, given that he's a pawn down, starting with 45...g4! A half point is still the likely result for White, but why not make Black find it when you've got nothing to lose?

So the following is what should be picked up from this game:
  • First and foremost, make sure you know the tricks for Black if White tries to hold on to the pawn. In most cases, because of the threat of the pin of the Queen to the King with Re8, Black can usually respond to any guarding of the c-pawn with 9...Bxc5 anyway for tactical reasons! Not knowing these tricks will simply allow White to consolidate and hold on to the extra pawn and have the advantage.
  • Remember that this line is different from the main line. For starters, Black should have developed his Bishop to b6 on move 11, leading to the active position for Black. After failing to do that, Black tried to develop his pieces in the same manner as the modern main line (5.Ngf3 Nf6) by moving his Bishop and placing the Knight on d7, but with this being a different position, a different approach was better, placing the Knight on c6 instead of the Bishop, and connecting the Rooks in time to counter White's 13.Rfe1 rather than allow him to gain the tempi necessary to equalize the position, which White had the opportunity to do on move 14.
  • In positions where you have the IQP, you do not want to trade Queens until you have gotten a big enough advantage to better than offset the isolated pawn that becomes more of a weakness than an asset in an endgame. Being up an "unhealthy" pawn is not enough to trade Queens.
  • When you have an advantage, always consider all possibilities of how to try to hold the advantage, rather than trying to follow "generalizations" that were written for the typical 1200-player, like trade pieces when you are up material. This is exactly what Black did at move 20, set up for the Queen trade as he was up a pawn, but this was not the time and place for that, and you must take every position individually, as when you get to the higher levels, like 1800 and above, generalizations can often be thrown right out the window.
  • Always be on the lookout for positional liabilities. The fact that White was able to get Black to play 24...c5 pretty much completely deflated any possibilities that Black had at holding the advantage, despite the opportunity due to White's error on move 29.
  • If a position looks drawish, but there is no risk against you and there are possibilities for your opponent to fail that are not completely obvious, play it out. Not saying play out K+R vs K+R due to a possible skewer that only an idiot would fall into, but here we saw that White could basically win the h-pawn by force, and then ask Black how he was going to defend the pawn-down endgame. If he responds correct, then offer the draw. If he doesn't, you might be able to sneak the full point out of your opponent.

Well, that concludes this edition of The French Connection. Until next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 15

Hello and welcome to the fifteenth edition of The French Connection. The previous three editions covered the McCutcheon Variation and were all played during the time I traveled to two tournament in July in Kansas and Maryland. This article and the sixteenth edition will cover two games played in Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC, at the Washington Chess Congress, and feature two sidelines of the French Tarrasch that are important to know if you are going to follow the repertoire presented back in August thru November of 2017 (Click HERE to see the article on the French Tarrasch).

What we will be seeing here is an inferior fourth move by White, seeking transposition to the Closed Variation of the Tarrasch. While it is highly unpopular at the GM level because it's not very good at all, it's something that must be dealt with at the amateur level, and just because it isn't good doesn't mean that we don't need to know what to do against it. Therefore, let's take a look at the game, which happened to be in the final round of the event.

Washington Chess Congress, Round 7
W: Carissa Zheng (1796)
B: Patrick McCartney (2069)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.c3

So it is actually pretty clear what White is seeking with this move. White is trying to steer the game into what is known as the Closed Tarrasch, which arises from the moves 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2. The Closed Variation, which I don't advocate, is popular because there are very few deviations that White can play. For example, on move 7, he can instead play 7.Ngf3, which is known as the Korchnoi Gambit, a line that if Black accepts, he must tread water very carefully as he winds up far behind in development in return for the pawn. Otherwise, there are many ways to decline the gambit as well. However, outside of the main line, this really is about all White's got, and so many find it to be "simple" for Black. That said, White gets more of a nagging advantage in the Closed Tarrasch than he does in the Open Tarrasch, despite Black then having to decide which open line to play, whether that be 5...Nf6 or 5...Nc6 against 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5 (4...Qxd5 is also possible here, leading to hundreds of additional pages of theory) 5.Ngf3, and then also having to deal with far more deviations from White, such as the move played in this game, or 5.Bb5+, which will be seen in The French Connection: Volume 16.

The key here is not to give in to White's desires. Because of the popularity of the Closed Variation, many players as White will face it with alarming frequency compared to the open lines with 3...c5. This "comfort level" is just what White wants, especially when talking about opponents at the 1800 level where it is highly unlikely that they know any opening inside and out.

All of that said, Black has to be careful as well. Not so much in terms of what moves are safe, but about move order tricks. In the article on the French Tarrasch referenced above, I recommend the 5...Nf6 line after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Ngf3. That said, 5...Nc6 is perfectly fine as well, and still better in my opinion than the Closed Variation after 3...Nf6, but then you need to know what to do if it transposes to that. In addition, even in this game, Black should switch up the move order in order to avoid a potential line for White that could be annoying for Black.

The first thing to think about is why 4.c3 is inferior to the two more normal moves for White here, 4.exd5 and 4.Ngf3. Let's think about the Advance Variation. Let's say that White, hypothetically, was going to advance 5.e5 on the next move, even voluntarily without us placing our Knight on f6. We would be looking at a version of the Advance Variation where White has committed very early to Nd2. This is normally viewed as bad because in the Advance Variation, there is often the battle of White waiting for Black to trade on d4, opening up the c3-square for the White Knight, and so it often sits on b1 for a while, but here, there is no reason to wait on trading on d4. Therefore, White doesn't want to advance e5 if Black doesn't voluntarily play 4...Nf6 and walk into the Closed Tarrasch. So already we know that White doesn't want an inferior version of the Advance Variation. So what else might happen? Well, White often plays c3 in the Rubinstein Variation (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7), and so in addition to us looking to avoid 4...Nf6, we probably also want to avoid 4...dxe4 as it also fails to prove the inferiority of 4.c3. Also, why would we want to remove the tension if we already know that White doesn't want to advance if we don't play 4...Nf6? So that leaves, realistically, two possibilities. Neither are "bad", but due to a move order trick, one is "better" than the other.


This move is better than 4...Nf6 or 4...dxe4, but it is not best. Due to the early commitment of the Knight, 4...cxd4 should come into consideration, and in this case, it is the best move. The reason being that the move 4.c3 does have some use in the line 4...Nc6 5.exd5! exd5 6.dxc5! Bxc5 7.Nb3 Bb6 (and here inlies the difference from the 5...Nc6 variation of the main line - In the main line, the Bishop prefers to go back to d6 instead of b6, which is possible because the d5-pawn is poisoned due to a Bishop check on b4 and the Queen is lost. Here, with the pawn already on c3, there is no check, and so 7...Bd6 simply drops the d5-pawn. In addition, notice on move 9 that White's Bishop is on d3 instead of b5 as it would be in the main line, which is a better spot for the Bishop.) 8.Nf3 Nge7 9.Bd3 and compared to the main line, where White's Bishop is on b5 instead of d3, pawn is on c2 instead of c3, and Black's Bishop is on d6 instead of b6, White has a better version here. Therefore, Black should have played 4...cxd4! here and only then 5...Nc6, virtually transposing to what happened in the game.

5.exd5 exd5 6.Ngf3

Leading right back to where we would be after 4...cxd4! 5.cxd4 Nc6 6.exd5 exd5 7.Ngf3. However, once again, 6.dxc5 could take advantage of Black's fourth move.

6...cxd4 7.cxd4 Bd6

For those of you that have read my repertoire article on the French Tarrasch from September 2017, this move might take some explaining. In the 5...Nf6 lines of the Open Tarrasch, we normally see the Bishop go to e7 instead of d6. The reason for that is that our Queen's Knight usually goes via d7, after a trade of Bishops, to c5 and then e4. During that time, with the Knight already on f6, playing the move ...Bd6 is too extravagant because checks down the e-file, with a move like Qe2+, become very annoying and if the Bishop then moves back to e7, we have lost a tempo compared to playing it there in the first place.

However, here things are different. We have already played ...Nc6. That is four moves away from e4, and so the Nb8-d7-c5-e4 idea is gone. At any point, if White really wanted to voluntarily give up his Bishop for the Knight, which he shouldn't do, he could play Bb5. So our Knight is committed now to c6. However, our Kingside Knight has not been developed yet. Therefore, we can answer any annoying checks with ...Nge7, and after a move like 8.Bb5, where the annoying check is still possible via 9.Qe2+, we would answer via 8...Nge7 rather than 8...Nf6. This in turn makes the King's Knight our passive piece instead of the King's Bishop. Black will castle to get out of any annoying checks on the e-file, and then the challenge is to activate the Knight without the rest of the army falling apart instead of trying to activate the Bishop. So either way, we are looking at two active pieces, which are the two Knights in the 5...Nf6 line, and the Queen's Knight and Dark-Squared Bishop in this line, and one passive piece, the Dark-Squared Bishop in the 5...Nf6 line while it is the King's Knight in this line.


However, this move isn't very good. Now, Black does not have to worry at all about any annoying checks on the e-file as the e-file is blocked by White's Bishop. Black only needs one more move before he can castle, and since White can't harm Black on the e-file, he can develop his King's Knight actively as well, giving Black the best of both worlds with his minor pieces.

8...Nf6! 9.O-O O-O 10.Re1 Bf5

So unlike the 5...Nf6 line, we have this Bishop to contend with. Yes, the position is open compared to, say, the McCutcheon or the Advance variation, but with a pawn still stuck on d5, this is still our "bad Bishop", it's just not "as bad" as in other lines. With White not taking over the diagonal earlier, Black looks to actively develop the Bishop.


11.Nh4 should be answered by 11...Bd7, when the White Knight has nothing better to do than go back to f3, either immediately or shortly thereafter. This doesn't appear like much, but in essence, Black will have played Bc8-f5-d7 in the time that White played Nf3-h4-f3, in essence getting the move Bc8-d7 for free. It may not look like much, but it opens up the c8-square for the Rook, which just that alone means something if you are getting it for free. Therefore, White saw no reason to chase the Bishop.

11...Rc8 12.a3

White must have been worried about annoyances on the c2-square if the Knight comes to b4, but instead a more active move like 12.Ne3, questioning the f5-Bishop and covering c2 as well, should be preferred. If you can attack and defend at the same time with a single move, and it doesn't fail to tactics, it's usually a good move.


White's last move has left a number of light squares very weak. Most notably, b3 and c4, and so Black tries to take advantage of this. There is a cheap threat, but the reason for this move has nothing to do with the threat. The threat, which is 13...Bc2 14.Qd2 Nb3, is merely an added bonus. If all this move did was pose a cheap shot threat, or a trap, and once defended, the move means absolutely nothing and the piece would have to return to its original spot, then the move would be useless. However, if it either forces additional weaknesses out of White, or if the Knight intends to move forward anyway, the latter of which is the case here, then the move has merit. Traps should never be the primary focus of a move. They should merely be viewed as added bonuses, and if White fails to pay attention, great, but don't bank on it! Of course, White sees fully well the threat Black has, and stops it immediately.

13.Ne3 Be4 14.Bd2 Nc4

It's a little too early for this move. Black should instead play 14...Re8, developing all of his pieces before jumping in. If White wants to trade the Bishop for the Knight, let him! Black's idea is that if White ever takes on c4, he gets a Queenside Pawn Majority and White is still saddled with the isolated pawn, but it's too early for this.


This move is a mistake, but the consequences are not as obvious as they initially look. Instead, White can maintain a level position after 15.Nxc4 dxc4 16.Ne5! or 15.Bxc4 dxc4 16.Ne5!


This move is "OK", but Black has better. Keeping the tension with 15...b5 is interesting as White can't take it because the tactical trick is no longer there once the Queen is off the third rank, and therefore, Black would win a piece after 16.Qxb5?? Bxf3 as the Bishop on d2 hangs and the Queen doesn't cover f3 like it does in the game after 17.Nxc4, and so Black nets a piece. Best, however, is 15...Bxh2+, winning a pawn. The idea is that in the game, after 15...Bxf3, White plays 16.Nxc4, and if 16...Bxe2, then 17.Nxd6, and it all just ends up an even trade. Of course, there is the line that happens in the game which is also an even trade. But instead of giving White the Bishop on d6 for nothing, Black can grab the pawn on h2, and after 15...Bxh2+ 16.Kxh2 Bxf3, now 17.Nxc4 Bxe2 wins a pawn for Black, regardless of whether White trades off or keeps the minor pieces on the board as there is no Nxd6.

16.Nxc4 dxc4

Black had one more opportunity to play 16...Bxh2+ followed by 17...Bxe2. After the game move, it's actually White with the small advantage.

17.Qxf3 b5 18.Bg5

It is better to either block the dark squares with 18.g3 or else play a move like 18.Qf5, which is far more annoying for Black than the move played. Black will not go out of his way to avoid the doubled f-pawns. In return for it, back rank issues are resolved as Black will have the g7-square as a flight square.

18...Re8 19.Qb7

Better is 19.Bf1, virtually forcing Black to give White the e-file with 19...Rxe1 20.Rxe1 as otherwise, the Queen is overworked, covering both e8 and f6.


This move is a little too extravagant and Black should not be able to get away with this. Instead, Black can take advantage of White's pieces not being well placed to coordinate with each other. The move 19...h6! leads to a level position after 20.Be3 Nd5! 21.Bf3 (21.Qxd5?? Bxh2+ -+) Nxe3 22.Rxe3 Rxe3 23.fxe3 Qe8 24.e4 Bf4 25.Rd1 Rc7. Note that White can ill-afford to go pawn grabbing as after 20.Bxf6? Qxf6 21.Qxa7 Qf4 22.g3 Qd2, Black has way more compensation than that of a pawn. White's pieces are scattered and his Bishop is threatened.

20.Bxf6 gxf6 21.Qd5

White misses the opportunity. After 21.Qd7!, White is better after either 21...Rcd8 22.Qg4+ or 21...Bf8 22.a4.

21...Bf8 22.Qf5 Rc6

Yet another error by Black that was missed by White. Once again, Black can equalize, this time with 22...Rcd8, pressuring the isolated pawn. The idea behind the move played was to cover f6, and at the same time, get ready to double up on the e-file and attempting to use the pin of the Bishop to his advantage. The problem is, both players overlook a major tactical flaw in Black's idea.


White misses the opportunity. He should get out of the pin immediately! Both 23.Red1 and 23.Rf1 lead to a clear advantage for White. The Bishop does not hang because after 23...Rxe2??, White wins with 24.Qg4+, netting the exchange. The move 23.d5 does, of course, prevent Black from doubling on the e-file, but it's only enough for equality.

23...Rce6 24.d5 Re5 25.Qxf6??

White does not have time for this. 25.Qg4+ Bg7 26.Rad1 or 25.Qf4 was necessary, preventing Black's next move.

25...Qd2! 26.Qf3 Qxb2 27.Rad1

Black was threatening 27...Rxe2. Slightly more resistant is 27.Qg3+ Kh8 28.Bg4, but after 28...Rxe1+ 29.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 30.Kxe1 Bxa3, Black is still winning after 31.Qb8+ Kg7 32.Qg3 Bb4+ 33.Kf1 Qc1+ 34.Bd1+ Kf6 35.Qf3+ Ke5 36.Qg3+ Kxd5 37.Qf3+ Ke5 38.Qg3+ Kf5 39.Qh3+ (39.Qf3+ Qf4!) Kf6 40.Qh4+ Qg5 41.Qxh7 a5 -+.


This wins, but far quicker is 27...c3! 28.Bd3 c2 29.Bxc2 Rxe1+ 30.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 31.Kxe1 Qxc2 with a cakewalk win for Black.


28.Qg4+ is more complicated, but it still loses after 28...Kh8 29.Qf4 f5 30.Qd2 c3 31.Qd3 Qb2 32.Rb1 Qd2 33.Rbd1 Qh6 34.Qxc3 Qxh2 35.f4 Qxf4+ 36.Bf3 b4 -+.

28...Bxa3 29.Bg4

White banks on the Opposite Colored Bishop endgame to draw. However, I will reiterate, not all OCB endings are drawn!

Another prime example where an OCB endgame was decisive can be found HERE, where I won an OCB ending back in December 2017.

29...Rxe1+ 30.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 31.Kxe1

Black's three connected passers on the Queenside far outweigh the isolated passer on d5. Black will force White to use both his King and Bishop to stop the Queenside pawns, and then walk his King toward the Kingside Pawns. The fact that Black's Queenside pawns will be advanced on a5, b4, and c3 as opposed to say, a7, b6, and c5, also plays a significant role.

31...Kf8 32.Bd7

White forces the Black pawns onto dark squares in an attempt to build a light-squared fortress.

32...b4 33.Bb5 c3

Now White must cover c2 for the rest of the game. The moment that it is abandoned, Black wins. The promotion square being the color of Black's Bishop instead of White's is to Black's benefit.

34.Ba4 Ke7 35.Kd1 Kd6 36.Kc2 f6

Of course not 36...Kxd5? 37.Bb3+, netting White the f-pawn and giving White counter-play in the form of a passed f-pawn.

37.Bc6 Kc5 38.Kb3

This allows the Bishop on a3 to come out and take on a more active spot, but what else is White going to do? Black can always toggle his King between c5 and d6 to the end of eternity. Even if White advances the Kingside Pawns, he will eventually run out of tempi.

38...Bc1 39.f3 Bf4 40.h3 Kd4

Now that the Bishop covers d6, the Black King will come in. He can intrude on the Kingside, or if the White King does not retreat to c2, the King can come in on d2 and then deflect the King away from b3 with a timely ...a4+ and White will have to give up his Bishop to avoid promotion. Too many things that Black can do to stop all of them.


White tries to jettison the d-pawn in order to allow his Bishop easier access to guarding his f3-pawn and stopping ...c2 by Black.


Black of course should not allow White to advance it to d7. Sure, Black owns the Bishop that is of the color of the promotion square, but why allow such counter-play?

42.Be4 h6 43.g4 a5


This leads to instant victory for Black, but what else is White going to do? For example, if 44.Bc2, then 44...Ke3 45.Be4 Kd2 followed by 46...a4+ wins for Black.

44...a4 0-1

White has no way to stop 45...b3+ and Black is going to promote one of his pawns, and so White Resigned.

So the following items should be learned from this article:
  • When you face an unusual move, especially a passive one, reason out why it is not typically played at higher levels.
  • Watch out for move order tricks. Black should have taken the pawn on d4 on the 4th move rather than allow White the opportunity to take advantage after her inferior 4th move.
  • When dealing with Bishops of opposite color with all the heavy pieces on the board, one must always account for the fact that the player on defense is "virtually" down a piece as their Bishop cannot cover the color complex that the opponent is attacking on. White needed to aggressively hit the light squares after Black got a little too ambitious with his move 19...Qa5. Instead, White held back, and Black got his attack rolling on the dark squares.
  • Always watch for tactical shots to get out of pins.
  • Opposite Colored Bishop Endings are not an automatic draw. One must always account for other factors beyond just the number of pawns. The number of pawns could be the same and it might still be winning for one side or the other. In this case, the fact that Black had three connected passed pawns that were well-advanced played the major factor in his victory.

Next time, we will look at another minor sideline, namely 5.Bb5+, which is not nearly as inferior as 4.c3, but it also has its issues, which we will see next time.

That concludes this edition of The French Connection. Good luck in all of your French games, Black or White.