Monday, October 14, 2019

Game Analysis: Know Your Endgames!

Hello everyone. Here I'm going to be covering the first of three articles on games from the South Carolina Championship. They won't be covered in order as I felt this game from the third round perfectly illustrates how critical it is to understand and know your endgames. Usually, if I'm not in severe time trouble, I can normally execute drawn positions to a draw and won positions to a win if I have gotten the game down to an endgame. However, what we are going to see here is a game where there really isn't much to say about it prior to the endgame, but we will be seeing a number of errors made by both sides once the endgame is reached. Various endgame topics can be seen in this game alone, including things such as the King being inside versus outside the box of an opposing passed pawn, the importance of King activity and how the King can be used as an active piece in the endgame, the importance of counting moves and finding the quickest way to execute what you are trying to achieve, how to handle pawn majorities and the fact that smaller majorities are better (i.e. a 2-on-1 majority is better than a 3-on-2 majority which in turn is better than a 4-on-3 majority), and the importance of calculating to the end, unlike in middle games where multiple sources will tell you not to try to count all the way to the very end of the line as you will land in severe time trouble more often than not that way, but in an endgame, calculating to a conclusive point, where you can definitively say that the position is winning for one side or the position is drawn, can often be critical.

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


South Carolina Championship, Round 3
W: Patrick McCartney (2018)
B: Gene Nix (1855)
Italian Game

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3

One advantage to the Slow Italian as opposed to the old traditional Italian where White's pawn goes to d4 instead of d3 is that while it normally arises via 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3, it can also be reached if Black plays a Two Knights Defense because after 3...Nf6 4.d3, while Black does have other options, there really is nothing better than 4...Bc5, leading back to the traditional Italian Game and pretty much avoiding all of that Two Knights Defense theory. Just something to keep in mind if you are an e4 player.

4...Bc5 5.c3 O-O 6.O-O d6 7.b4 Bb6 8.a4 a6 9.a5 Ba7 10.Na3 h6 11.Re1 Re8 12.Ra2 Be6 13.h3 d5 14.exd5 Bxd5 15.Qb3 Bxc4 16.Qxc4 Qd5 17.Rae2 Rad8 18.Qxd5 Nxd5 19.Bd2 Nf6 20.Nc4 Rxd3 21.Nfxe5 Nxe5 22.Rxe5 Rxe5 23.Rxe5 Kf8 24.Kf1 Rd5 25.Re1 Rf5 26.Be3 Bxe3 27.Nxe3 Re5 28.Rd1 Ke7 29.Rd4 c5 30.Rc4 Kd6



So here we have our first real position of interest. Right now, the position is dead equal, but it is important to note all the features of the position, and which ones favor White and which ones favor Black as that is usually what will determine needs to be done here. You should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who has the better placed pieces?
  • Who has the better pawns?
  • Who has the better King?

Now in some ways, that can be a loaded question. For example, what makes one side's pawns better or worse? That said, let's look at the answers one by one.

First the pieces. This goes to White. His Knight is better placed than Black's and keeps the Rook from getting active. The Rook has no useful lateral or vertical move. Until he rearranges his pieces, he constantly has to look out for Nf5, forking the King and g-pawn, and Rxc5, if he retreats the Rook backwards in order to get it onto the d-file. Advancing the g-pawn for Black weakens the Knight and the pawn on f7. White, on the other hand, can easily play g4 as the Knight remains protected, it covers the f5 square that the White Knight wants to go to, and f2 is covered by his own King. White's biggest weakness is the pawns on the Queenside, which for now the Rook covers, and so White has the better placed pieces for now.

Now the pawns. This goes to Black. There is nothing special about the Kingside pawns other than the fact that Black has to keep a closer monitoring of the f-pawn and g-pawn as his King is not there to protect them, unlike White. However, White's Queenside pawns are farther advanced, and when there is no majority and no passed pawn, advanced pawns can be more of a liability in an endgame than an asset because they are easier to access and the Black King can get at the White pawns a lot easier than the White King can get at the Black pawns that are much farther back into Black's territory.

As for the Kings, that should be fairly obvious. While Black's King may not be covering his Kingside pawns, this is by no means the most important factor. The most important factor is that the King is active and centralized and is acting more like a normal piece and not hiding back behind his own pawns as the material is reduced and mate is highly unlikely at this point. It's all about getting a passed pawn and promoting it.

So now that we considered all of this, what should be White's next move?

31.Rf4?

This move is terrible. He has moved his Rook away from the c-pawn that it was guarding. It removed all pressure off the c5-pawn. It is doing nothing special on f4 as Black is under no obligation to move the Knight. And the threat of the Knight going to c4 is a cheap, one-move threat. The main reason I played this was not for the cheapo threat, but I was looking to relocate the Knight and get the Knight closer to Black's pawns, but it allows Black to be active, and with the better placed King, this favors Black. The only moves White should be considering at all are 31.g4 and 31.Ke2, and the latter is what White should have done here. He needs to get his King into the game. After 31.Ke2 cxb4 32.cxb4 Nd5 33.Rd4 (otherwise Black can force an isolated pawn in a King and pawn endgame) Kc6 34.Rxd5 Rxd5 35.Nxd5 Kxd5 36.Kd3 and despite Black being on his fourth rank, it isn't enough and the position is a dead draw with correct play.

31...Kc6 32.Nc4?

One bad move is followed by another. Relatively best was 32.g4, trying to make something out of the Kingside while Black still has trouble getting to the weak c3 pawn and a trade on b4 moves the weakness to b4 where the Rook on f4 continues to guard.

32...Re4!

Now Black is winning.

33.Rxe4 Nxe4 34.Ne5+ Kb5 35.Nxf7


Black to Move and Win


35...Nxc3?

Clearly, with the location of the King's, Knights, and pawns, this is a foot race. Black should be figuring out the fastest way to get all of White's Queenside pawns and maintain having his King and Knight in ideal spots.

The correct way to do this is via 35...cxb4!, which White is then forced to recapture with 36.cxb4, and then 36...Kxd4 and the next time that Black has time to make a free move, he will take the a5-pawn with his King. That is three moves for Black. All other ways of doing it takes four or more moves, and in some cases, the Knight ends up on c3 instead of the more idea e4. From a timing perspective, this is vital.

After 35...cxb4 36.cxb4 Kxb4 37.f4 (37.Nd8 Nc5!, stopping both Nxb7 and Ne6) 37...Kxa5 38.Ke2 b5 39.Kd3 Nc5+ 40.Kc2 b4 41.Nd6 Ka4 42.Nc4 Ne4 43.g4 a5 44.Kb2 Kb5 45.Ne3 a4 46.Nd5 Nd2 47.g5 hxg5 48.fxg5 Kc5 49.Nc7 Nc4+ 50.Kb1 b3 51.Na6+ Kd4 and Black wins. Aside from reacting to threats, like 37.Nd8, it took only three moves to scoop up the three Pawn. With the game move, it will take a minimum of four moves, and the Knight needs time to relocate to a more centralized post.

36.bxc5

The correct move, elongating Black's process to scoop up the Pawns.

36...Ne4?

Black should have taken on c5 via the King with 36...Kxc5 and a clean victory. Now, with the White pawn on c5 and a tactic, White is able to stir up trouble.

37.Nd6+!

The only move that gives White a chance, but he is reliant on one more blunder by Black. Despite being a pawn up for the moment, all other moves lose more easily as they are too slow. White must go into the King and pawn endgame and hope for one more error by Black.

37...Nxd6 38.cxd6 Kc6 39.f4

By computer standards, this is not the best move for White, but no matter what, White has to be reliant on an error by Black, and so therefore, sometimes the best computer move is the worst move over the board because it does not open the room for error. By playing 39.f4, White is hoping that Black makes what would normally look like a very natural move, but turns out is a horrible mistake.

Now Black has to find the correct move. After failing to play the best move and taking the cleanest approach to victory on move 36, one and only one more wins for Black. Can you find it?


Black to Move and Win


39...Kxd6??

This natural looking move outright loses! There is one move the wins, one move that draws, and all other moves win the game for White.

The drawing line is 39...b5, to which White should not take en passant. Instead, 40.d7 Kxd7 41.Ke2 Ke6 42.Ke3 Kd5 43.Kd3 b4 44.g4 g6 45.f5 gxf5 46.gxf5 b3 47.Kc3 Ke5 48.Kxb3 Kxf5 49.Kc4 Kf4 50.Kc5 Ke5 (Trying to go running to grab the h-pawn loses for Black as White gets his pawn to a8 long before Black gets his to h1.) 51.h4 h5 and White cannot win this as the Black King will get to f8 just in time, which is the drawing square against a Rook pawn. 52.Kb6 Kd6 53.Kxa6 Kc6 54.Ka7 Kc7 55.a6 Kc8 56.Kb6 Kb8 57.Kc6 Ka7 58.Kd6 Kxa6 59.Ke6 Kb6 60.Kf6 Kc6 61.Kg5 Kd6 62.Kxh5 Ke7 63.Kg6 Kf8 and the Black King gets there just in time to draw.

The winning move, however, is pushing the b-pawn half as far. After 39...b6!, Black wins via 40.d7 (40.axb6 Kxb6 41.Ke2 Kc6 42.Kd3 Kxd6 43.g4 Kd5 44.g5 hxg5 45.fxg5 Ke5 46.Kc4 g6 47.Kb4 Kf5 48.Ka5 Kxg5 is also winning for Black) 40...Kxd7 41.axb6 Kc6 42.b7 Kxb7 43.Ke2 Kc6 44.Kd3 Kd5 45.g4 a5 46.h4 a4 47.h5 a3 48.Kc2 Ke4 49.g5 Kxf4 50.gxh6 gxh6 51.Kb3 Kg5 52.Kxa3 Kxh5 53.Kb3 Kg4 and Black wins as the White King can't get to the drawing square, namely f1.

40.g4 Kc5

Now it's White's turn to find the win. Which pawn should White push? The f-pawn, g-pawn, or h-pawn? Be careful, only one of them actually wins!



41.f5??

This is only good enough for a draw with correct play.

The winning move is 41.g5!!. After 41...Kc6, (41...hxg5 42.fxg5 g6 43.h4 Kd6 44.Kf2 Ke6 45.Kg3 Kf7 46.Kg4 Kg7 47.h5 gxh5+ 48.Kxh5 Kh7 49.g6+ Kg7 50.Kg5 Kg8 51.Kf6 Kf8 52.g7+ Kg8 53.Kg6 b6 54.axb6 also wins for White) White wins via 42.Ke2 hxg5 43.fxg5 g6 44.h4 Kd5 45.Kf3 Ke6 46.Ke4 Kf7 47.Kf4 Ke6 48.Kf3 Kf7 49.Kg4 Kf8 50.h5 Kg7 51.h6+ Kg8 52.Kf4 Kf8 53.Ke4 Kg8 54.Kd5 Kf8 55.Ke6 Kg8 56.Kf6 Kh7 57.Kf7.

41.h4 fails for the same reason as 41.f5, simply inverting moves 41 and 43.

41...b5 42.axb6 Kxb6 43.h4



Last chance for Black. Do you advance the pawn? Or do you move the King towards the Kingside? One draws. The other loses. What's your move?

43...Kc5??

The wrong move! Black must advance the pawn in order to draw. After 43...a5!, White has nothing better than mutual promotion. After 44.g5 hxg5 45.hxg5 a4 46.f6 gxf6 47.gxf6 a3 48.f7 a2 49.f8=Q a1=Q+, it's an obvious draw. If White tries to use the trick used in the game, matters are worse. After 44.g5 hxg5, if White plays 45.f6??, then 45...gxf6 46.h5 a4 47.h6 a3 48.h7 a2 49.h8=Q a1=Q+, Black is winning with the extra two pawns. Therefore, the only other option is 44.Ke2, getting out of the check at the time of promotion. Here, Black promotes with check and one pawn rather than two via 44...a4 45.Kd2 a3 46.Kc2 Kc5 47.g5 hxg5 48.f6 gxf6 49.h5 a2 50.Kb2 a1=Q+ (This move is important in order to invoke the check when Black promotes the g-pawn.) 51.Kxa1 g4 52.h6 g3 53.h7 g2 54.h8=Q g1=Q+ and while this is not a blatant win like the case with two pawns, it is Black that has the only shot at winning.

By not advancing the pawn first, White gets to make the one necessary pawn advance to win by one move, and advancement of the passed a-pawn can be ignored as it will only get to a2.

44.g5 hxg5 45.f6!

45.hxg5?? would be a blunder as Black can then draw with 45...Kd5 and the King is inside the box. After 46.f6 gxf6 47.gxf6 and the Black King is in the box, and even if White tries to advance with 47.g6, which actually loses, the Black King is still in reach with 47...Ke6.

The move played in the game creates a passed h-pawn that is out of the reach of the Black King.

45...gxf6 46.h5! a5 47.h6 1-0

Black resigned as after 47...a4 48.h7 a3 49.h8=Q a2 50.Qxf6 and the pawn is stopped.


A lot can be learned from this endgame. Everything from how critical an active King is in an endgame, to the fact that advanced pawns that are not passed and not part of a majority can actually be viewed as a weakness, particularly if they are on the opposite side of that player's King, to the idea of sacrificing multiple pawns in order to create a passer on the outside, away from the reach of the opposing King, to the importance of piece placement when very few pieces remain. This is why studying endgames is one of the most important aspects of chess. And even when you think you know your endgames, which generally speaking, the endgame tends to be a strength of mine in most cases, you still probably haven't mastered it as you see duds like this one. Yes, White won, but it sure wasn't pretty!


That concludes this article on "Know Your Endgames". In the next couple of articles, we will be looking at two other games from the South Carolina Championships. Until then, good luck in your tournament games.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The French Connection: Volume 25

Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-fifth edition of The French Connection. The featured game of this article comes from a fast time control tournament - Game in 60 minutes with a 5 second delay - during the weekend following the long road trip that the previous 10 articles, and those of you that read all 10 will know that I have been involved in some very topsy-turvy chess of late. See in particular rounds 2 and 5 from the Des Moines Open. So if this game features more of the same wildness, why am I featuring it? Well, it makes a lot of points that are contradictory to many of the stereotypes that are given to the French Defense, and in particular, the Advance variation. I hear many French players utter that the Advance Variation is overly simplistic for Black. They don't believe that White is busted, but that their own play is very easy. I hear many non-French players, depending on their strength and maturity in chess, uttering a wide range of things, all the way from the French being a tough nut to crack to the French being boring because the center is blocked and there is no immediate blast for White to the French is one big annoying minefield with traps everywhere that must be avoided, all the way down to the French being a terrible opening that loses because of that horrible Bishop!

Well, this game is going to put the kibosh on all of that nonsense, except maybe the one point about the minefield and traps, which in some ways is actually true. We will see in the game below the advantage wildly going back and forth between White and Black, which will disprove the stereotyped "simplicity" in the Advance French, and we will see at one point which Bishop it really is that Black should be keeping, at least in some cases!

Without further ado, let's take a look at the featured game.


Master Trek CXLV, Round 2
W: Patrick McCartney (1996)
B: Craig Jones (2251)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Nc6

Here we see Black using the move order that I advocate, playing the Queen before the Knight to avoid the 5.Be3 option for White and at no cost to Black provided his intention was to play the 5...Qb6 line all along.

6.a3 Nh6 7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2



Again, we have one of the main positions of the Advance French. Black has to make a choice here. Which Bishop to develop. For those of you playing White, here's the main thing to remember:
  • If Black plays 9...Be7, the Bishop covers h4, and advancing the g-pawn is feeble as after 10.g4?!, Black can reply with 10...Nh4, trading pieces, which typically favors the player with less space. That said, White should instead take the opportunity to develop his Light-Squared Bishop actively with 10.Bd3 because the d4-pawn is poison since after 10...Nfxd4?? 11.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 Qxd4, White has the Bishop check with the discovered attack on the Queen.
  • If Black plays 9...Bd7, he is preventing White from developing the Bishop actively on d3 because the d-pawn now really does hang because the Bishop on d7 prevents any checks to the Black King. However, it does nothing to cover h4, and it is here that White needs to play 10.g4, forcing the Knight to a passive position, either on h6 or e7. Anything other passive move, like 10.Be2, would allow Black to have the best of both worlds and play 10...Be7 with at worst, equality.

9...Bd7 10.g4!

The correct move based on the above checklist.

10...Nh6 11.Rg1 f6

This has always been considered the main response for Black. That said, a more modern idea that I would be more inclined to play if I'm Black is 11...Rc8 12.Nc3 Na5 13.Na4 Qc6 14.Nc5 Nc4 15.Bc1 Ng8 16.Bd3 Bxc5 where now Moskalenko in his book "The Even More Flexible French" only mentions 17.dxc5 b6 and claims that Black has the advantage, which in this case is accurate, but White can maintain the advantage by taking the other way with 17.bxc5 instead. The position is by no means winning for White and Black's position is still manageable, but White is still able to maintain that small edge that he gets for going first.



12.g5?

In certain situations, this move can be useful when Black tries to undermine with ...f6, the idea being to deflect the f-pawn away from White's center and keeping the intact permanently since the g-pawn also attacks the Knight, forcing Black to capture away from the center. That said, in this particular situation, it doesn't work because White ends up too far behind in development and Black gets a raging attack at the d-pawn and down the f-file. Instead, White should play 12.exf6 gxf6 13.Nc3 Nf7 14.Na4 Qc7 (14...Qd8 is worse - 15.Nc5 b6 16.Nxd7 Qxd7 17.Rc1 Ncd8 18.h4 Bd6 19.Rc3 with a clear advantage for White) 15.Rc1 Qf4 16.Nc5 Bxc5 17.dxc5 Nce5 18.Nxe5 Nxe5 19.Rg3 with advantage to White.

12...fxg5 13.Nxg5 Nf5 14.Nf3 Be7 15.Nc3

White's last move is desperation more than anything, but it doesn't come without its tricks.

15...O-O

This move is ok, and Black still maintains a clear advantage, but even stronger is to take the d-pawn, but you have to capture correctly both times. For example, 15...Nfxd4? is pretty much losing on the spot after 16.Na4 and White has a clear advantage after 16...Nxf3+ 17.Qxf3 Qc7 18.Rxg7. Note that neither 17...Nxe5 18.Qh5+ nor 17...Nd4 18.Qh5+ g6 19.Rxg6 Nc2+ 20.Kd1 Bxa4 21.Rxe6+ Kd8 22.Rxb6 Nxa1+ 23.Ke2 axb6 24.e6! work for Black at all. In the latter case, just about everything of Black's is hanging, including the Rook on h8, Knight on a1, and Pawn on d5.

That said, 15...Ncxd4! works for Black, and after 16.Nxd4, once again Black must execute the correct capture, which is 16...Qxd4!, and after 17.Qxd4 Nxd4 18.O-O-O Nf5, Black is basically up a Pawn for nothing and winning. That said, once again, taking with the f5-Knight is losing. After 16...Nxd4??, White has a winning advantage with 17.Nxd5! as Black again has too many pieces hanging. For example, 17...Nf3+ 18.Qxf3 exd5 19.Rxg7 and White's winning.

16.Na4 Qd8 17.Nc5



Now the moment of truth. Black to move. How does he keep his winning advantage?

17...b6?

Black goes from winning to dead equal with a single move. The d7-Bishop is often stereotyped as a bad Bishop, and many players are often glad to see it go. If Black can get the White Light-Squared Bishop for this Bishop, that is often good for Black, but here, he should not give up this Bishop for the White Knight. White gets an uncontested Light-Squared Bishop, the ability to add unnecessary pressure to e6, and let's think about the opposite scenario that is often seen in the French. White has a bad Bishop as well. It's the Dark-Squared Bishop on b2. In the French, Black often has to watch out for trades of the White Light-Squared Bishop for his Knight, often times the Bishop going to d3 and then capturing a Knight on f5, leaving Black with his bad Bishop being uncontested and instead White has a Knight that he will park on a dark square like d4, and the Black Bishop sits there like a tall pawn, often on e6, for the rest of the game.

Black here should have executed the same mentality, and played 17...Bxc5!, which leaves White with the horrible Bishop, and the Bishop was more in the way of Black's Queen from coming into action than anything else, and so trading off the Dark-Squared Bishop for the annoying White Knight was the correct approach. After 18.dxc5 (taking the other way hems in the Bishop even more) Nh4, Black's heavy pieces come in. If 19.Nd2, Black can respond with 19...Rf4 while a trade of Knights, whether on h4 or f3, allows the Queen to come in via h4 and Black maintains a winning attack.

18.Nxd7! Qxd7 19.Rc1 Nh4

Now a simple move like 20.Rg3 is equal. Instead, White plays an unsound sacrifice.

20.Rxg7+? Kxg7 21.Nxh4



What should Black play to achieve a winning advantage?

21...Rf4??

Once again, relinquishing his advantage completely! Correct was 21...Bxh4! Once again, getting his Bishop out of his own way, and leaving White with that rotten piece on b2. The Knight, however, needs to go. After 22.Qg4+ Kh8 23.Qxh4 Ne7 24.Bd3 Rf7 25.Bc3 Nf5 26.Bxf5 Rxf5, White has no compensation for the sacrificed material, and the Rook is far better than the Bishop and Pawn.

22.Ng2 Re4+ 23.Be2 Bg5 24.Rc2 Rf8 25.Qd3 Kh8 26.f3



Now it is a question of survival for Black. Black has to give back the exchange, but how should he do it? One move maintains equality and the rest are losing. What do you play?

26...Rh4?

The Knight is not Black's biggest problem. It's the Light-Squared Bishop! Black should take the Bishop on e2. After 26...Rxe2+ 27.Kxe2 a5 28.b5 Ne7 29.Bc1 Bxc1 30.Rxc1 Nf5 31.Rc6 Qg7 32.Ne3 Nxe3 33.Qxe3 Qg2+ 34.Qf2 Qh1 35.Qf1 Qxh2+ 36.Qf2 Qh1 37.Rxe6 Qc1 38.Rf6 Rg8 39.Rxb6 Qxa3 40.Re6 Qb3 41.Rd6 Qc2+ 42.Ke3 Qc1+ 43.Kd3 Qd1+ 44.Ke3, the position is equal.

27.Nxh4 Bxh4+ 28.Kd1 Ne7 29.Kc1 Nf5 30.Kb1 Bg5



Now it's White's turn to find the winning idea. Do you see it?

31.Bc1?

Remember Black's mistake on move 17, figuring it's such a great thing to get rid of the Bad Bishop? Well, White proceeds to make the same mistake here, looking to trade off his bad piece. That said, the Bishop was playing a vital role, especially after seeing White's idea, it holds together White's position by covering a3 and d4. White can, if he wants, continue the King walk with 31.Ka2 Bf4, but whether he decides to do this first or not doesn't alter the ultimate move that White needs to make, and that is b5! After 31.b5! (or 31.Ka2 Bf4 32.b5!), the idea is to bring the Rook in via c6, which after a move like 31...Qe7 or 31...Qg7, White would play 32.Rc6 with a strong position. The only way to avoid it is by trading Rooks, which may be Black's best line of defense as after 31...Rc8 32.Rxc8+ Qxc8 33.Bf1 Nh4 34.Bh3 Kg7 35.Qd1 Ng6 36.Qg1 Bf4 37.Qg4 Kf7 38.a4, White's position is clearly better, but it's not over.

31...Bxc1 32.Rxc1 Rg8?

Black should move his Queen to d8 or e7. The move played abandons the coverage of the Knight, and with correct play by White, Black will have to go back to f8.

33.Rc2

Both sides are in time trouble, though Black far worse than White, but the poor play shows. White should play 33.Bf1, keeping the Rook from coming in on g2, and preparing Bh3, attacking the Knight on f5, which will need the extra coverage and the Rook will have to go back to f8.

At this point, White has 12 minutes for the rest of the game. Black has 2 minutes.

33...Qe7 34.Qc3 Qh4 35.Bd3?

35.Rd2 would maintain status quo.

35...Nxd4 36.Rb2 a5?

The position is back to being dead equal. The only move that wins for Black is taking on f3, intending on going to e1, immediately. After 36...Nxf3 37.Qc7 Ne1 38.Be2 Qe4+ 39.Ka2 Nd3 40.Bxd3 Qxd3, Black is in the driver's seat being a Pawn up with no compensation.

37.bxa5 bxa5 38.Qxa5 Nxf3 39.Qc7 Ne1 40.Rb4 Qxh2 41.Qe7 Qf2??

At this point, Black had seconds on the clock to White's two minutes, and blunders a mate in one. Of course, White threatened 42.Qf6+ with mate in 4, and the only move that stops mate is 41...Qh6 when after 42.Be2 Qg6+ 43.Kh2, numerous moves now draw for Black.

42.Qxh7# 1-0


A roller-coaster ride of a game, but a couple of vital facts can be learned from this game. The first is that the Advance Variation is not a simplistic line for Black to defend. But more importantly, we saw multiple instances of playing being excited to trade off their Bad Bishop, but in both cases, Black on move 17, White on move 31, they were serious mistakes. A Bad Bishop can play a vital role in the position, especially from a defensive perspective. You do not ever want to enter an endgame with just the Bad Bishop, such as the dreaded "Good Knight versus Bad Bishop" endgame, but with heavy pieces still on the board, they can often be relieved from defensive duties if that "Bad Bishop" of yours is holding the pawn structure together. When White traded off that Bishop on c1, sure he got rid of what looked like his worst piece, but we saw how White's position started to collapse when the Knight took the Pawn on d4, and it was a pair of follow-up time trouble blunders by Black on moves 36 and 41 that won the game for White.

Watch out before you give away that Bad Bishop, and that goes for both Black (the Light-Squared Bishop) and White (the Dark-Squared Bishop).


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

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The French Connection: Volume 24

Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-fourth edition of The French Connection. Here we will be covering the final round of the 2019 Summer Road Trip which was also the final round of the Bottom Half Class Championship in Lansing, MI. Like the third round, we will be seeing another Advance Variation of the French, but unlike that one, White's play is extremely poor, and the line played is very similar to the second game played in The French Connection: Volume 9 published back in June 2018. Black plays slightly differently here than in that game, going for the b-pawn instead of the e-pawn. White had one chance at compensation in this case and to maintain balance, but after missing that opportunity, White is virtually lost for the entire game, and here we will see Black just dominate the position, and constantly giving White the option to either trade down to a lost ending, or else try to avoid trades, but it eventually leads to the further loss of material and then lastly followed by a blunder for mate in a dead lost position. Another thing that should be said about this game is that despite my two losses to start the tournament, I'm looking at prize money with a win here. A draw would have been insufficient, and so I had to maintain a must-win attitude while playing this game.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the featured game.


Bottom Half Class Championship, Round 5
W: Mikhail Korenman (1975)
B: Patrick McCartney (1996)

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

Those that have read my previous articles will know that I favor this move order if your intention is to play the 5...Qb6 line anyway as it avoids the sideline 5.Be3, which can be played after 4...Nc6. Here, White has nothing better than 5.Nf3, after which Black should play 5...Nc6. We saw in the previous edition of The French Connection that the line with 5...Bd7 and 6...Bb5 isn't very good for Black these days.

5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Ne2?

Just like we saw in Volume 9 of The French Connection, this is a very bad version of the Milner-Barry Gambit because the Knight does nothing on e2 to cover e5, and advancing f4 too early leads to problems on the g1-a7 diagonal and potential tactical shots on either d4 or e5 due to the pin.

6...cxd4

This move is not bad, but as we will see here, White gets one opportunity to equalize, and so while this move is ok, 6...Bd7, as shown in The French Connection: Volume 9, is even stronger. Details behind this idea are covered there.

7.cxd4 Bd7 8.Be3 Qxb2



So now we see the difference between trading first and not trading first. By doing 6...Bd7 first, 7.Be3 is just bad because of the capture on b2, and White cannot put his Knight on c3. As we will see below, that was White's opportunity on his next move. Therefore, when he castled in The French Connection: Volume 9, Black was able to capture twice on d4 and White couldn't cover d4, making e5 extremely weak given that there was no Knight on f3. Here, instead, Black will still get a pawn, but it's the b-pawn, and generally speaking, grabbing the b-pawn is stronger for Black when c3 is unavailable for the Knight. Here, that square is open due to the early trade on d4.

8...Qxb2 9.Nd2?

In The French Connection: Volume 9, this move was bad because Black had the opportunity to exchange off a pair of Knights where no recapture was attractive for White and his remaining pieces were disco-ordinated, which isn't good when you gambit a Pawn. Here, it's the right move as yes, Black can still trade a set of minor pieces with 9...Nb4 10.O-O Nxd3 11.Qxd3, but White has a well-coordinated group and major lead in development in return for the pawn investment. After 11...Qa3 12.Rfb1 Qa6, the position is balanced. White still has no advantage, but neither does Black here. This is why playing 6...Bd7, as displayed in Volume 9, is stronger than trading on d4 immediately when the Knight goes to e2. Remember, when White plays correct and goes to f3, then it is necessary to trade first on d4 as playing 6...Bd7 there allows 7.dxc5!, which is strong because the f3-Knight covers e5, something it doesn't do from e2.

So in summary, when White plays the Bishop to d3, whether the main line Milner-Barry Gambit or some weak sideline like this one, it all depends on the White King's Knight. If he goes to f3, you need to trade on d4 first before putting the Bishop on d7. If he goes to e2, play the Bishop move first before exchanging Pawns.

After the game move, White is already lost! He has zero compensation for the lost Pawn. Black's next move gains yet another tempo as the Bishop on d3 is now loose due to the Knight blocking the Queen's guarding of the Bishop with its last move, and with White not castled, he won't even have an in-between move to attack the Queen as taking the Bishop will be with check. So with all of that said, Black's next move should be obvious.

9...Qa3?

This move doesn't lose all of the advantage, but a good chunk of it. Very strong is 9...Nb4! and now what? Artificial Intelligence gives 10.Nb3 as best, but after 10...Rc8 11.O-O Nxd3 12.Qxd3 Qc2!, Black just has a dead won Queenless middlegame.

10.Bc2?

Another terrible move by White. 10.Nb3 =/+ was the least evil.

10...Nb4! 11.O-O Nxc2 12.Qxc2 Rc8 13.Qb1 Qa6 14.Ng3



Here, there are two good moves for Black. When you have an advantage like this, active play is critical to maintain the advantage, but active play doesn't always mean a King hunt.

14...h5!

The other strong move is the restrictive 14...Ba3, stopping White from contesting the c-file. The idea with the game move is to force White to either weaken his Kingside with h4, or else threaten to play h4 himself and force the g3-Knight to return back to a passive position. When you have a dominating position, the first thing to do is harass and shoo away the active pieces, not try for pipe dream scenarios of trapping the passive ones, such as the Rook on a1. Sometimes you can't force them to go away, but then other weaknesses are created as a result of preventing the initial goal.

15.Rc1 Ne7 16.h4

And here you go, White has weakened his Kingside. Now you might try to argue that Black has as well with his advancement of the h-pawn on move 14, but Black has not castled, unlike White, and Black can also play ...g6 at any point in time. For White to play g3, he must move the Knight, but to where? White's problems are not resolved!

16...Nc6 17.f4 g6

Taking the time out to prevent any counterplay by White. Pushing the f-pawn to f5 is a common Pawn break in this position, and so Black stops it. There is no problem with the slight weakening of the dark squares on Black's kingside for two reasons. One, he still has his dark-squared Bishop, and Two, none of White's pieces are positioned to take advantage of the Kingside dark squares.

18.Nf3

Ok, so the Knight can get in to g5, but then what? There is no fire power on e6, f7, or any other square that a Knight on g5 can attack, and nobody else from the White army will be able to join him if he does step in on g5. Therefore, any effectiveness with this move is purely defensive in nature, covering squares around his own King.

18...b6

Meanwhile, Black continues operations on the Queenside.

19.Bd2 Be7

Played to give Black the opportunity to castle if he ever needs to, and also to tie down the f3-Knight as moving it to anywhere other than g5 would result in the h4-pawn hanging. Also, with the Black pawn on h5, the weakness is fixed and it can't move.

20.Bc3

White is showing that he has no real productive moves and is tied down. This gives Black the extra time to get the rest of his pieces into the game.

20...Na5

Now White has two choices, neither of which are appealing for White. Give up the other Bishop for the Knight and give Black the completely uncontested Bishop pair, or allow the Knight to slip into his outpost on c4.

21.Bxa5

White chooses the former. Both options are winning for Black, so it really didn't matter which way White went.

21...Rxc1+ 22.Qxc1 Qxa5

Black does not need to worry about the Queen trying to infiltrate on c7. After 23.Qc7, Black has 23...Bd8, amongst many good moves. 23...Qa3 is another. Like a White Knight on g5, the Queen can choose to camp out on c7 or b7, but with nothing to join it and Black's powerful Bishops, do we really care? Hint, you shouldn't!

23.Ng5



White may be only a Pawn down, but just to give you an idea how bad White's position really is with his weaknesses on d4, f4, and h4, Black could even castle here, despite the appearance that White can skewer the Bishops. Actually, castling might even be Black's best move here, not that the game move is bad in any way or alters the result at all, but just look at Black's counter play if White does try to skewer the Bishops. After 23...O-O! 24.Qc7 Bxg5!. With the f-pawn and h-pawn hanging, playing 25.Qxd7 simply drops another pawn, and after 25.hxg5, Black has the powerful move 25...Qd2! with threats of forking the Rook and King such that he can ignore the threat on the Bishop. The airyness of White's position is really felt here, whereas Black's King is perfectly safe and he maintains the material advantage.

23...Qa3

So Black's idea in the game is the Bishops are going to become active, and he is going to constantly harass White into trading into a dead lost endgame, and in the process of doing that, overwork the White Queen, along with the other pieces, and make it so that eventually, avoiding the Queen trade is going to cost White more material.

24.Qe1 Qb2

Hitting d4.

25.Nf3 Bb4

Attacking the Queen and activating the Bishop with tempo.

26.Qd1 Qa3

Preparing to bring the other Bishop in with tempo on the White Queen.

27.Qe2 a6

The other advantage behind Black's 26th move is that it allows this advance, taking control over b5 as well and threatening once again to activate the Bishop with tempo.

28.Kh2 Bb5

In comes the second Bishop with tempo on the Queen.

29.Qc2 Bc4

Shutting down the c-file before White can infiltrate. We have now gone from a passive pair of Bishops on d7 and e7 to a dominating pair of Bishops on b4 and c4. The one on c4 is anchored there and guarded by the d5-pawn, and so there is no worry of White being able to skewer the Bishops if they ever ended up both being on the c-file, and so Black can safely offer Queen trades on squares like c3 without getting his Bishops skewered to one another after say, a Queen trade on c3 followed by Rc1.

30.Ng5 Qc3

Once again, that annoying Queen trade offer, but now, with the Knight having moved to g5, White must continue to cover d4 or else trade the Queens.

31.Qa4+ Bb5

Uh uh White! Not so fast. You aren't coming in!

32.Qd1 Qd2!

And this puts a bow on it. White must either trade Queens or else drop another pawn as now both the d-pawn and f-pawn are threatened, and White can't cover both without trading the Queens off.

33.Qg1

White decides to keep the Queens on, but what for? Not like it's going to infiltrate into Black's camp anytime soon.

33...Qxf4 34.Nf3

There is no way to harass the Black Queen, despite the appearance that she is short of options of squares to go to. The g3-Knight is pinned, but even if it could move, it opens up f5 for the Queen, and if push came to shove, he can always retreat to h6 and regroup, but it never gets that far. In fact, White gets mated very quickly here after a blunder.

34...Be7 35.Rc1

Black could take the h-pawn here as a subsequent check allows Black to retreat the Bishop to d8, but why bother with that? Get the King safe and eventually get the final piece into the game.

35...O-O

There is no rule as to how early or how late you can castle. I've observed scenarios before where two players are analyzing a game, whether their own or a GM game, and in a scenario where castling is still legal in the 20s or beyond, I've see reactions like "Oh yeah, you still have that move, don't you?" or similar type comments, and so don't forget late in games about this move if it's still available to you (or your opponent when calculating you own attacks).

36.Ng5??

This just drops a piece because of the mate threat on the h-file. White ignores the threat and gets mated in two moves.

36...Bxg5 37.hxg5 Qh4# 0-1


So we saw a demolition of the White position this game. Here's what should be picked up from this article:
  • In these Milner-Barry Gambit positions, it is critical to understand the difference between the real gambit with the White Knight on f3, and this fake garbage seen here and in The French Connection: Volume 9, which explains the differences and understanding when to play the Bishop move first (...Bd7) and when to trade Pawns first on c5. It all has to do with whether dxc5 is good for White or not. If it's not good, there is no reason to trade on d4 until you are ready to execute because there is no threat of dxc5. If it is good for White, like it is when the Knight is on f3 instead of e2, then Black should trade on d4 first. The reason to hold off trading until you have to is not to give White the c3-square for his Knight on b1.
  • Grabbing the Pawn on b2 in the French tends to work best when the Knight has yet to develop and cannot develop itself to c3, or sometimes if it's hanging and the White Knight has already developed itself to the more passive d2-square. In this game, the Pawn was not poisoned, but White could have achieved an equal position if he had put his Knight on c3 instead of d2. Black should instead have played the 6...Bd7 line as mentioned in the first bullet, grab the Pawn on d4, and go for the weak e5-pawn instead of the b2-pawn, but once White put the Knight on d2 instead of c3, it was already lights out for White.
  • When your position is so dominating that not only are you winning, but your opponent has little to no counter play, and no direct counter-threats, don't be in a rush to go for the King. Continue to put pressure on the weaknesses in the opponent's position (in this case, d4, f4, and h4), and harass whatever few active pieces your opponent has, such as the h5-push on move 14, going after the White Knight before it can do anything.
  • Weaknesses in the position are only weak if they can be taken advantage of by the opponent. Black was able to infiltrate on White and attack the weak Pawns on d4, f4, and h4, and eventually the f4-pawn fell. White, on the other hand, was unable to take advantage of Black's weak dark squares on the Kingside, and hence why Black had no problems plugging up the light squares and not allowing moves like f5 by White.
  • If your position is dominating, and your opponent is paralyzed, make your top priority be giving your opponent zero counter play, and only when that is achieved, barge in and blow away the opposing King.

Well, that concludes this edition of The French Connection and it also concludes coverage of the 2019 Summer Road Trip. Until next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Game Analysis: Bottom Half Class Championship, Round 4

Hello everyone and welcome as we continue to cover the games from the 2019 Summer Road Trip. Here we will be covering the fourth round of the Bottom Half Class Championship in Lansing, Michigan. Coming into this game, I started out with a pair of losses before annihilating the French Defense in round 3. Here I have White again, and I walked into the final day with the mentality that I must win the last two games to have an outside chance at anything. Poor opening play will see White get a winning advantage early on with ownership of the center and the Bishop pair. Then White starts making errors, going from won, to better, to equal, to significantly worse and possibly lost, but a fatal error by Black in the endgame turns the tables, and White doesn't look back from that point onward.

Let's see what we have here for the fourth round.

2019 Bottom Half Class Championship, Round 4
W: Patrick McCartney (1996)
B: Brelen Wilkes (1901)
King's Gambit Declined

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d6

A fairly passive way to decline the King's Gambit. More active are 2...d5 and 2...Bc5. With this move, White will set up his pieces in similar fashion to that of the Closed Sicilian, the difference being Black has a pawn on e5 instead of c5. This benefits White as the dark-squared Bishop is blocked, whereas with c5 pushed instead of e5, Black can fianchetto his King's Bishop on the open long diagonal. But here, with ...e5 pushed, what difference does a3-f8 or a1-h8 make for the Bishop? Both diagonals are blocked by his own Pawns. With this closed and passive structure with less space, White has time to pretty much do whatever he wants, and what we will see here is a setup by White that is similar to White's structure in the Closed Sicilian.

3.d3 Nc6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.g3 Bg4

Either now or in the very near future, Black will have to play this move. If White castles and then advances f5 with the light-squared Bishop still back on c8 or d7, Black will have many problems with the cramping effect. In these positions, the light-squared Bishop often has no good place to go, but trading it for a Knight, like in this game, gives White the Bishop pair, which leads to other issues for Black.

6.Bg2 Be7 7.Nc3 Qd7

This move allows White to force Black to give up his Bishop for a Knight.

8.h3 Bxf3

8...Bh5?? drops material after 9.g4.

9.Bxf3 h5 10.Be3 exf4 11.gxf4



At first glance, you are probably thinking that Black is better because of his slight lead in development as he is ready to castle and White is not. However, a closer look will see that White has a significant space advantage, White has the Bishop pair, and White has a strong Pawn phlanx on e4 and f4 that is difficult for Black to disrupt. For example, playing ...d5 simply drops a pawn while a move like 11...Nh7 might appear to threaten 12...Bh4+, but White can simply play 12.Kd2! as the King is perfectly safe there with there being yet another Black piece moving away from the center. Artificial intelligence even goes as far as saying that White has a winning position here!

11...O-O-O 12.Qd2 Nh7 13.O-O-O g6 14.Nd5 Nf6

In essence, Black admits that his 12th move was a total waste of time.

15.Nxe7+ Qxe7 16.Rde1 Qe6 17.Kb1 Kb8 18.Bf2 Nd7 19.Qc3 Ne7



So far, so good, for White at least. While it may be true that not every move White made was the computer's first choice, he hasn't done anything yet to lose the winning advantage, and the difference between say, 1.81 and 2.06 is negligible. However, this is where tables start turning and White fails to execute the attack.

20.Qb3?!

If you think about it, this move makes no sense at all. White's Queen is not inactive on c3, White has a space advantage, White has the pair of Bishops which are both unopposed, his pawn structure is healthy, and other than the connecting of the Black Rooks, all Black's pieces have done nothing more than a meaningless shuffle. Therefore, it makes sense for White to execute the attack, and one good way to do that is with 20.a4. Those of you that attend Peter's Tuesday night lectures will know that he covered this idea recently, only his example was both Kings castling Kingside and advancing the h-pawn. In this scenario, both Kings castled Queenside, but then moved to b1 and b8, leading to a symmetrical scenario to both castling Kingside, and White now advances the Rook Pawn on that side. White's Bishops point to the Queenside, and a timely push of the e-pawn can lead to a fatal attack eventually with the pressure of the Bishops, Queen, and Pawn. Another possibility is to pressure the dark squares with 20.Bh4, pinning the Knight to the Rook with an eventual attack down the center. In either case, White should be going for a full-fledged attack and not be trading down to an endgame, which violates all general principles about what to do with a space advantage and active pieces versus a lack of space and passive pieces.

20...Nc5 21.Qxe6 Nxe6 22.Be3 d5 23.Rd1

Another inferior move by White. What is the point of this move? Even if Black exchanges on e4, there is no entry point for the Black Rook on d8, and so what are we contesting? The Rook would be better on e1 behind the hanging pawns. Instead, White should be improving his worst placed piece with a move like 23.Rhg1.

23...d4

Black would be better off keeping the tension with 23...c6.

24.Bd2 Rhe8 25.f5 Nc5 26.fxg6

Like Black's 23rd move, White should keep the tension on the board and play 26.Rhg1. If Black proceeds to release tension with 26...gxf5 27.exf5 Nxf5 28.Bxh5, the position opens up, which favors the Bishops, and White gets the outside passer, in which passed Pawns are the exception to the rule. While controlling squares with pawns favors central Pawns, passed Pawns favor the one on the outside because it becomes a longer distance for the King to go to chase it down if it comes down to a King and Pawn ending.

26...fxg6 27.Bg5 Ne6



Back on move 20, White went from winning to better, and here, White does something really stupid that eliminates almost all of his advantage.

28.Bd2?

Black is the one with the weaknesses, such as g6 and the space deficiency. Why is White retreating? White can still maintain a fairly significant advantage by remaining active via 28.Bf6! Normally it is not good to have your Bishops lined up on an open file, but here, 28...Rf8 doesn't do anything because of 29.e5.

28...Nc6 29.Rdf1 Ne5 30.Be2 Rf8 31.Rhg1 c5 32.Rxf8?

This move makes absolutely no sense, and hands the advantage to Black. White needs to open the position for his Bishops, not trade more pieces off. 32.b4 is better here, breaking up Black's Pawn chain and opening up lines.

32...Rxf8 33.Rf1 Rxf1+ 34.Bxf1 Nf3 35.Bc1



Under normal circumstances, a pair of Bishops ought to beat a pair of Knights in an open or semi-open position with Pawns on both sides. This, however, is not a normal circumstance as the White Bishops are useless, and are reliant on an error by Black, which it turns out, didn't take long for Black to do.

35...g5 36.c3 g4 37.hxg4 hxg4 38.Be2 Nh2?

Here is Black's first mistake, going from winning to barely better. Black should protect the Pawn the other way with 38...Ne5!, intending 39...g3. The counterpart on e6 keeps the Dark-Squared Bishop out of f4, preventing harassment of the centralized Knights. By the time the Bishop can get to say, g3, the Black King has joined the Knights and Black has a winning position. Here, one has to pay attention to the unfortunate position of the Knight on h2 compared to the King on b8. Now getting the King to d6 does nothing as a Bishop on g3 would still fork the King and Knight, and we are about to see one more error made by Black that turns out to be fatal due to tactical threats involving forks and pins by the Bishops. With 38...Ne5 and proper follow-up, White's Bishops wouldn't come back to life like they do in the game.

39.Bd2 g3??

Now Black is lost! The only move that maintains a slight advantage for Black is 39...Kc8, and moves like 39...Nf3 or 39...Kc7 maintains equality, but the game move fails tactically.

40.Be1!

Literally the only move that doesn't lose for White, but not only does it not lose, it wins outright for White! The immediate threat is the fork on g3 and there is no way for Black to save the Knight as it's trapped on the edge of the board.

40...g2

So Black keeps the Pawn, figuring that even down a piece, the g-pawn is his main trump and must be kept.

41.Bg3+ Kc8 42.Bxh2 Ng5

Of course, Black's goal is to keep the Bishop away from g2, not allowing it to go to f3 or h3 (via g4). The Dark-Squared Bishop on h2 can't harass the Knight as then the Pawn promotes. That said, it's not enough as either the King will arrive in time, or else another tactical error by Black will allow White to get at the Pawn.

43.Kc2 Kd8 44.Bg4 dxc3 45.Kxc3 b5 46.Bg1

While the White Bishop can't harass the Knight, it can still harass the loose Pawns on the Queenside as the c5- and a7-pawns lie on the same diagonal as the promotion square, which is the main thing that must remain covered, or occupied, as is the case here.

46...c4 47.Bxa7

Now, even if White has to give up a Bishop for the g-pawn, the extra Pawn for White gives him a winning position in what would become a Bishop vs Knight endgame with two extra Pawns for White. Turns out, it never gets that far as Black is soon about to move the Knight, which will allow White to get the g-pawn for nothing.

47...Kc7 48.Be3 Nf7

There was no real reason to move this piece as it still can't be taken due to promotion. Now the win is extremely easy for White.

49.Bh3 b4+ 50.Kxb4 cxd3 51.Bxg2 1-0


An ugly game to say the least. Here are the main things to get out of this game:
  • When you have an advantage in space, development, and have the better pieces, keep the pieces on and attack. Trading down does nothing but solve the Opponent's problems.
  • Even after the Queen trade, keeping up the pressure with the Bishops being active is better than retreating them into passitivity.
  • The player with the Bishops should be looking to execute Pawn breaks to further open up the position.
  • In the rare case of an endgame featuring 2B vs 2N where the Bishops are inferior, the side with the Knights still has to watch out for tactics and because the Bishops are long-range pieces, it is more about keeping control of certain squares rather than simply trying to race the passed Pawn.


That concludes the coverage of the fourth round. I went into the final round with a score of 2, and actually have a shot at getting money, believe it or not, though it requires a win with Black as I've had three Whites in four games thus far, and coverage of what happens that game is what will come in the next article, which will come under the French Connection series. Till then, good luck in all of your games.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The French Connection: Volume 23

Hello and welcome to the twenty-third edition of The French Connection. Here we will be continuing with the third round of the Bottom Half Class Championship, and it will feature a line of the Advance Variation where Black goes out of his way to trade off the bad Bishop. The main difference between the offbeat line I gave in the repertoire against the French Advance back in 2017 and the line played in the game is that here, Black uses the Queen to cover b5 before playing Bc8-d7-b5, and so if White trades, Black has to take with the Queen. In the line with ...a6 instead of ...Qb6, Black gets the open a-file in return.

The line played in this game was once popular back about 20 to 30 years ago, but today it is thought of as being too slow for Black. White does not respond with one of the two main tricks that makes this line dubious, and part of it is situational. White was playing his third game of the day, and is coming off a painful loss in round 1 and a loss coming from horrible play in round 2, and is now facing an opponent that is almost 350 rating points lower, and so White takes a more conservative approach, figuring he can win via positional understanding, and after passive play by Black, White gets the attack in gear. The main thing to see in this game is that White's attack is not the traditional attack on the Kingside, as would normally be the case with the direction the central, blocked Pawns point, but rather, we will see White execute his attack on the Queenside. When Black plays overly passive in an opening where he starts out with a space disadvantage (normally Black's only real downside to the French Defense), it virtually gives White the entire board to execute his attack.

Without further ado, let's see what happens in our feature game.


2019 Bottom Half Class Championship, Round 3
W: Patrick McCartney (1996)
B: Ashrith Mathiyazhagan (1656)

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

I actually agree with this move order, even in the main line, which normally runs 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6, because it eliminates a possible sideline for White, namely 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 and now 5.Be3 and if 5...Qb6, then 6.Qd2. After 4...Qb6, Black can answer 5.Be3 with 5...Qxb2!. This is one of the few times that taking on b2 is not poisonous nor a move that allows White a forced draw. Instead, Black gets a pawn for nothing. I myself, when playing Black, also now plays this move instead of 4...Nc6, not that there is anything wrong with the Knight move. Of course, if you don't play the 5...Qb6 line, then 4...Nc6 is the way to proceed.

5.Nf3 Bd7?!

Here, however, Black is best off playing 5...Nc6 and returning to the main line. This line was once popular many years ago, but it is now viewed as too slow for Black.



There are four main lines here for White, and given the tournament situation, White goes for the most simplistic, but it should also cause Black the fewest problems.

6.Be2

This is White's main response. White has two other interesting responses here.

A) 6.a3 Bb5 7.Bxb5+ Qxb5 8.b4 cxd4 9.Nxd4 and now 9...Qd7 is unclear, though I personally would rather have White in this position, while trying to be more active with 9...Qc4 should backfire on Black as 10.Bb2 Nc6 11.Nd2 Qd3 12.Nxc6 bxc6 13.c4 gives White a strong attack.

B) 6.Bd3 may look like White is intending to play the Milner-Barry Gambit, but White gets an improved version compared to the dubious line after 5...Nc6 6.Bd3?!. Here 6...Nc6 is bad because of 7.dxc5! Bxc5 8.O-O and Black is forced into a passive position such as 8...Qc7 9.b4, with an attack for White, as 8...Nge7?? 9.b4 traps the Bishop. Another line that is dubious at best is 6...Bb5 7.dxc5! Bxc5 8.b4 and it is advantage White in all lines, including 8...Bxf2+ 9.Ke2!, 8...Be7 9.Be3 Qa6 10.Bc2!, 8...Bf8 9.Be3 Qa6 10.Bc2!, and probably the most realistic response from Black, 8...Bxd3 9.Qxd3 Bf8 10.Be3 Qc7 11.O-O Ne7 12.Na3 a6 13.c4 Nbc6 14.Bc5 Nxe5 15.Nxe5 Qxe5 16.Rfe1 with a dangerous attack for White. This leaves 6...cxd4, but rather than allowing Black to transpose to the Milner-Barry Gambit proper, White should play 7.Nxd4! where 7...Nc6 8.Nxc6! is better for White while trying to win the pawn is very dangerous for Black as he has to use the Bishop to do it in this case. After 7...Bc5 8.O-O Bxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.Nc3 a6 11.Re1 Bc6 12.Ne2 Qg4 (12...Qxe5?? 13.Ng3 Qc7 14.Qg4 g6 15.Qd4 +-) 13.h3 Qh5 14.Bf4 Bb5 15.Qc1 Nc6 16.Ng3 Qh4 17.Be4 Qd8 18.a4 with advantage to White.

6...Bb5 7.O-O

The more challenging option for White is 7.c4! Here, Black can take either way, but White appears to be better in both cases. Almost nobody plays 7...dxc4 any more as Black runs into major problems after 8.d5! exd5 (8...Ne7 9.dxe6 +/=) 9.Qxd5 Ne7 10.Qe4 Qg6 11.Qxg6 Nxg6 12.Na3 Bc6 13.Nxc4 Bc6 14.Nxc4 Nd7 15.O-O Be7 16.Na5 Bd5 17.Rd1 Be6 18.Nxb7 O-O 19.b3 Ngxe5 20.Bb2 Nxf3+ 21.Bxf3 Rab8 22.Na5 Rb6 23.Nc6! Re8 24.Nxa7 Nb8 25.Be5 Nd7 26.Bc6 Nxe5 27.Bc6 Nxe5 27.Bxe8 Bf6 28.Rac1 Ra6 29.Nb5 Rxa2 30.Rxc5 Ng4 31.Nc3 Rb2 32.Bd7 Bxd7 33.Rxd7 h6 34.Nd1 Rxb3 35.h3 Ne5 36.Rdd5 and White proceeded to win the Exchange-up endgame, Szegi - Lyocsa, SVK-ch U18, 1999.

Far more common now-a-days is 7...Bxc4. Now after 8.Bxc4 dxc4 (8...Qb4+ 9.Nbd2 dxc4 10.a3 Qa5 11.O-O and White's massive lead in development more than offsets the pawn deficit), instead of the traditional 9.d5 that is most common here, though I find best only when the Bishops are still on the board, I like 9.Nbd2 for White! For example, after 9...cxd4 10.Nxc4 Qb4+ 11.Ncd2 Nc6 12.a3 Qb6 13.O-O Nge7 14.Nc4 Qc5 15.Nd6+ Kd7 16.Nxf7 Rg8 17.Be3 Nf5 18.N7g5 h6 19.Qb3! Nd8 20.Nxd4 Nxe3 21.Ngxe6! Qc4 22.Nxf8+ Rxf8 23.Qxe3 and White is two Pawns up for nothing with also the safer King.

That said, while the line played in the game may be the least challenging for Black, it is still better for White than the main line with 5...Nc6. Long story short, leave the c8-Bishop at home early on in the game.

7...Bxe2 8.Qxe2 Nc6 9.dxc5! Bxc5 10.b4 Bf8

Or 10...Be7 11.Bf4 h5 12.a4 with an attack.

11.Be3 Qc7 12.Nbd2



12...Nge7

Unfortunately necessary as he is alarmingly behind in development. Trying to grab the e-pawn is no good. After 12...Nxe5?? 13.Nxe5 Qxe5 14.Qb5+ Kd8 15.Qxb7, Black's lost!

13.Bc5 Ng6 14.Bxf8 Nxf8

While White has not completely removed Black's castling rights, he has slown Black down from being able to do so, and he should now break open the center immediately.

15.a3

Unnecessary! This was White's one main error in the game, but we will see Black fail to take advantage of the opportunity. After 15.c4! Ng6 (15...Nxb4 16.cxd5 is strong for White after 16...Nxd5 17.Ne4! or 16...exd5 17.Nd4! Rd8 18.Rad1 Nc6 19.Nb5) 16.cxd5 exd5 17.b5, White is better as Black can't take the e-pawn as 17...Ncxe5?? 18.Nxe5 Qxe5 19.Qxe5 Nxe5 20.Rfe1 f6 21.f4 drops a piece.

15...Ng6 16.c4 Rd8 17.Rfe1 O-O 18.Rac1



18...Qb8

This was Black's one chance to take advantage of White's error on move 15. You need to have a clear positional understanding to see this one. White's main advantage is the Queenside majority. Black shouldn't let White either advance, or else exchange on d5 in circumstances that force him to take an isolated pawn. Black can eliminate both possibilities by playing 18...dxc4! and after 19.Qxc4 Qb8 20.Qc3, Black is slightly better as now it is now all centered around the e5-pawn, which in this case is more of a weakness than a blockading strength. Now White gains a significant advantage.

19.b5!

The only move that keeps the advantage. If White plays 19.c5 first, then 19...a6! ruins the party for White.

19...Nce7 20.c5!

Now Black is in serious trouble on the Queenside.

20...Rc8 21.g3

White has no reason to rush here, and so he takes away the f4 and h4 squares from the Knight on g6.

21...Qa8

21...Nf5 is probably better, avoiding White's next move.

22.Nd4 a6 23.a4 Rc7?

Black is walking right into a nasty trap. He needed to at least try to create some form of activity before getting suffocated by White. Relatively best was 23...axb5 24.axb3 Qa3, though White still has a significant advantage.

24.N2b3

Just waiting for Black to self-capitulate by simply moving his worst-placed piece rather than trying to make a "loud" move.

24...Rfc8?

Just the move White was waiting for. Relatively best was still to trade pawns on b5, but White has improved his position the last few moves, and Black has not!

25.b6!

Now that the Rook can't retreat to c8 as his counterpart now occupies that square, White wins material.

25...Rd7

Black refuses to sacrifice the exchange with 25...Rc6 with the ability to block White's Pawns in return, but the move played is even worse.



26.c6!!

This forces the break through. There is no way for Black to block the White Queenside Pawns now. If Black ignores the c-pawn with 26...Rdd8, then 27.c7! Re8 28.a5 leads to total paralysis for Black and all he can do is watch White destroy him. However, no matter how many times Black tries to take on c6 without taking via the b-pawn, White will eventually force the issue and the a- and b-pawns will destroy all hopes for Black.

26...Nxc6 27.Nxc6 Rxc6 28.Rxc6 bxc6 29.Nc5

Can you possibly think of a better square for a Knight?

29...Re7 30.Qxa6 Qxa6 31.Nxa6

The White Pawns cannot be stopped now.

31...Rb7 32.a5 Nf8

Not that anything else saves Black, but this officially drops the c-pawn as well. Black can safely resign here.

33.Rc1 Ng6 34.Rxc6 Ne7 35.Rc7 Rxc7 36.Nxc7 Nc6 37.a6 d4 38.a7 Nxa7 39.bxa7 g6 40.a8=Q+ Kg7 41.Ne8+ Kh6 42.f4 d3 43.Nf6 g5 44.Qf8+ Kg6 45.Qg8+ Kh6 46.Qxh7# 1-0


The main thing to get out of this game is understanding that the French Defense cannot be played passively, and attacking the French also cannot be done passively, despite the appearance that both sides have time based on the blocked center. It doesn't take much for Black to gain a positional advantage, and when given the opportunity, sometimes White needs to blow up the center immediately without hesitation. That said, aside from his one mistake on move 15, White took advantage of Black's passive defense. The line with 4...Qb6, 5...Bd7, and 6...Bb5 is already viewed as being under a cloud these days because of its passive nature, and so if you are going to play like this as Black, you have got to be alert and on the lookout for mistakes by White, which Black failed to do on move 15 - his one and only opportunity the entire game.

I would suggest those playing the Black side of the French ought to avoid this line completely, and those of you playing White must find active moves to keep the advantage as while 3.e5 blocks the Bishop in on c8, claims a space advantage, and is easier for White to play than the more theoretical lines with 3.Nc3, White must always remain active as his advantages are short term, not long term. Black, on the other hand, simply needs to remain active enough to keep the pressure on White's center and not allow White to roll him over with Pawns like he did in this game, but get some pieces off the board and eliminate his own weaknesses without getting his King demolished and Black will usually enjoy the better endgame in the Advance French. The only scenario that Black needs to avoid is a White Knight versus his Light-Squared Bishop and all other pieces traded off.


This concludes this edition of The French Connection. Till next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Game Analysis: Bottom Half Class Championship, Round 2

Hello everyone and welcome once again. The first thing you might notice is that this article is unusually short. There is a reason for that. This game was so bad that there really is only one spot in the game worth analysis, and the only reason I included it is because it does point out a very important factor in chess that many amateurs completely ignore. Otherwise, this is by far the worst game of the road trip! Yes, worse than the final round in Des Moines that I showed previously with numerous errors!

We will see a Fianchetto King's Indian, like we did in Round 1 of the Des Moines Open, but this one will be reached via a different move order, which will also illustrate a portion of the main point of the article. Further detail on this can be seen in the note to Black's 12th move.


2019 Bottom Half Class Championship, Round 2
W: Ronald Williams (1858)
B: Patrick McCartney (1996)
King's Indian Defense, Fianchetto Variation

1.c4 g6 2.Nc3 Bg7 3.g3 d6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Bg2 c6 6.e4 O-O 7.Nf3 Qa5

A word of note about move order. In the "normal" King's Indian Defense, this line would typically arrive via the move order 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.Nf3 d6 6.O-O c6 7.Nc3 Qa5 8.e4 on the assumption that White were to castle here on move 8. Notice in the first game of the Des Moines Open, Black played 7...Bf5 rather than 7...Qa5. Both are lines in the Fianchetto King's Indian, but the move order played, with the early e4, does not allow Black to play that line, and so I decided to play the line I used to always play, the 7...Qa5 line. This illustrates one very critical factor when studying an opening. Do not simply select a single line at random, memorize the moves, and then think you are set! You have to look for preventable moves. The move ...c6 is not preventable by White barring doing something completely stupid, but the 7th move options by Black can be prevented, particularly via the English Opening move order, and so when you study an opening, you have to know all the odd move orders that can lead to it, and make sure you have those move orders covered. It is for this reason that I have studied all of the 6...c6 lines of the Fianchetto King's Indian, and not just the 7...Qa5 or 7...Bf5 line. This is why it's critical to understand the ideas behind the 6...c6 lines of the King's Indian (or whatever lines you decide to play) and not just memorize lines, as if all you did was memorize, you'd be clueless at this point if all you did was memorize the 7...Bf5 line.

8.Qe2

White is better off playing 8.O-O, transposing to the main line, and with best play, White can get a slight advantage after 8...Bg4 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Bxf3 e5 (10...Nfd7 used to be more popular, but those lines have since been pretty bleak for Black after 11.Be3 Qb4 12.Qb3 a5 13.Be2 Na6 14.Qc2 Qb6 15.Rad1 c5 16.d5 Nc7 and now Nunn's idea, 17.a4!, has lead to very bad results for Black) 11.d5 cxd5 12.cxd5 Nbd7 13.Bd2 Rfc8 14.Qe2 a6 15.h4 h5 16.Bg2 Qd8 17.Bh3 with a slight advantage for White, though a fully manageable position for Black.

Keep this position in mind when you reach the diagram below after White's 12th move.

8...Bg4 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Bxf3 e5 11.d5 cxd5 12.cxd5



So the difference between the line given in the note to White's 8th move and this position is that here White has played the passive Qe2, and has not castled. He lags behind in development compared to the main line, and the Queen can't come to the active square b3. This often leads to a kind of temptation, and that's what happens to Black here in this game. It is very important to note that in closed, blocked positions, the loss of time is not nearly as critical as wide open positions. Instead, Black should adjust the order of his moves to make White pay for the mis-placement of the Queen. For example, playing 12...a6 here is probably best, preventing the Queen from coming to b5, and follow that up with the ...Nbd7 and ...Rfc8 idea. Black's upcoming 12th move isn't outright losing, but what Black does shortly after that is!

12...Rc8 13.Bd2 Qd8 14.O-O Nbd7 15.a3

White continues to play passively. It is here that Black starts getting into serious trouble.

15...Nc5

Why not 15...a6? Again, the whole idea is to keep White passive. You are not going to successfully blast White simply because he has a passive position. The position is too closed for that.

16.Be3 Nb3

This move is artificial and yes, forces White to move the Rook, but the Knight is not ready to arrive at d4, and it forces White to play a move he wants to make anyway.

17.Rad1 Nd7?

Why? The Knight on f6 is restraining the Bishop from coming to g4 and expanding on the Kingside and along the h3-c8 diagonal. Why is Black moving it over to the Queenside. Again, it was all about temptation. Passive Queen on e2 and lack of activity on the Queenside and Black goes bonkers and tries to blast the Queenside when there is nothing there. Once again, 17...a6 is probably best.

18.Bg4

Of course!

18...Rxc3??

Really? What is Black trying to achieve here? He is not going to blast White on the Queenside simply because the Queen went to e2 rather than b3. White is now winning, and you will see that the moves for White were not hard to find at all. Simple chess wins the game for White.

19.bxc3 Ndc5 20.Qc2 Qa5 21.Rb1 Qxa3 22.Rb2 Na5 23.Rfb1 Na4 24.Ra2 Qxc3 25.Qxa4 b6 26.Rc2 Qd3 27.Be2 b5 28.Rxb5 1-0


A completely rotten game, and one that should never be repeated! The main thing to learn from this article is two-fold. The first is that it is critical to understand an opening and not just memorize a line or two, and move order tricks must be accounted for. I was successful from this aspect. The second thing to learn about this article, and this is where I completely failed, is that closed positions are not the same as open positions. In open positions, a couple of slow and/or passive moves can often lead to a successful blast by the opposing player, but in closed positions, such ideas rarely ever work, and the way to beat a player playing passive moves is to take the extra moves to prevent any possibilities for the opposing side, such as playing ...a6 in the game, which Black never did, and gradually expand as long as the opponent continues to play passive and do nothing. He likely won't see his King get mated in 25 moves, but slow and steady expansion by the opposing side will eventually paralyze and ultimately suffocate the side that is constantly playing passive moves. Do not be tempted into unsound garbage when faced with slow, passive play in blocked positions.

This concludes this article on the second round of the Bottom Half Class Championship. An absolutely rotten start for me, being 0 and 2 after two rounds, but yet I manage to turn things around and win the Under 2000 prize by winning the final three games of the tournament, the first of which is what will be seen next.

Until then, good luck in your games.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Game Analysis: Bottom Half Class Championship, Round 1

Hello everyone and welcome. Those that have followed the previous five posts will know that I am covering the games from my two week road trip. The first of the two tournaments was in Des Moines, IA, and the five games from the Des Moines Open have been analyzed in those five posts. We now move on to the second half of the road trip, which was the 2019 Bottom Half Class Championship in the state capital of Lansing, Michigan. The name of the tournament refers to the geographical bottom half of Michigan, as opposed to the upper peninsula (or "U.P.") of Michigan, not the level of players. Actually, this tournament featured a tougher field of competition. In Iowa, I was the 6th seed out of 39 players in the top section. Here I was the 9th seed out of 16 players in the top section. Overall attendance in Michigan was about double that of Iowa (120 vs 62), but there were also six sections as opposed to only two in Iowa, and so the sections themselves were smaller. So the competition was definitely more of an uphill climb than Iowa was. Turns out, I give my opponent a run for his money but come up short in the first round, and play absolutely horribly in round 2. Those of you that read the articles from the Des Moines Open, you think my play was sub-par in rounds 2 and 5? You haven't seen bad until you see round 2 of this tournament! Then I literally bring up the rear and win the final three games to end up with the Under 2000 prize. We will see rounds 2 thru 5 in the following four articles, but for now, let's take a look at round 1.


2019 Bottom Half Class Championship, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (1996)
B: Manis Davidovich (2255)
Scandinavian Defense, Portuguese Variation

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.d4 Bg4 4.Nf3

White can try 4.Be2, looking for the trade, or the adventurous 4.f3, which plays more into Black's hands where he is looking for White to weaken himself in order to pull off some tactical shot and looking to win in 25 moves or less, but this approach is simply a safe line, and after one more move by each player, reaches a position that can also arise from the 2...Qxd5 variation, specifically via 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Be2 Nf6 5.d4.

4...Qxd5 5.Be2 Nc6

This is the more dynamic option for Black, going for an immediate attack on the d-pawn. The more solid approach is 5...e6.

6.O-O

This move is not bad, and by no means what lost the game for White, but it can be viewed as being a tad over-committal, already telling Black where the King is going, and removing an option for White when Black strikes at the center. Better is to over-protect with 6.Be3, answering 6...O-O-O with 7.Nbd2 Qf5 8.c4 e5 with 9.dxe5 Nxe5 10.Qa4 with ideas of castling Queenside. Here we are going to see White not have that option, and have to deal with a Black pawn on e4 the entire game.

6...O-O-O 7.c4 Qf5 8.Be3 e5



So the main difference between the line given at White's 6th move and here is that White is castled rather than having his b1-Knight developed to d2, and this makes a major difference as White is now going to be forced to advance and play with each side having a pawn majority on the side of the opposing King rather than trade the dangerous Black e-pawn off and castling Queenside. That said, White is not by any means worse here, and is actually still better, but he is having to take a riskier approach than if he had played 6.Be3.

9.d5 e4 10.Nd4 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bxe2 12.Qxe2 Bd6



13.Bxf6?!

This move is a positional mistake. White had feared the Greek Gift sacrifice, but it doesn't work. After the far superior 13.Rd1, White has the advantage, and attempts at the sacrifice fail for Black. After 13...Bxh2+? 14.Kxh2 Ng4+ 15.Kg1 Qh5 16.Qxe4 Nxf2 17.Bxf2 Qxd1+ 18.Qe1 and White has a near winning advantage, whether Black trades Queens or not, the two pieces are far superior in this case to the Rook and extra Pawn. For example, after 18...Qxe1+ 19.Bxe1 Rhe8 20.Nc3 followed by 21.Bf2, all critical entry points are covered.

13...Qxf6 14.Nc3 Qe5 15.f4 Qd4+

Better is 15...exf3 and Black is then able to maintain equality and maybe even a small advantage after the forcing sequence 16.Qxe5 Bxe5 17.Rxf3 f6.

16.Kh1 f5 17.Nb5 Qb6



18.a4?

Just about any normal move except this one gives White a slight advantage. He could play 18.Rab1, 18.Rad1, or even a radical pawn sacrifice with 18.b4 Bxb4 19.Rab1 a5 20.a3 with compensation for the Pawn. But here, White is surrendering the b4-square and Black can plug it up instantly and cease White's attack.

18...a6?

Black should play 18...a5 followed by putting the Bishop on b4, sewing the Queenside shut and then attacking the White King. Now White has a clear advantage if he finds the right moves.

19.a5! Qc5 20.b4!! Qxb4

So far so good for White. Now the final hurdle. Only five moves make any sense at all here. Attacking the Queen with one of the Rooks, or one of three Knight moves. One leads to an advantage for White. One leads to an equal position. The rest lose. Which move do you play? 21.Rab1, 21.Rfb1, 21.Na7+, 21.Nd4, or 21.Nxd6+?



21.Na7+?!

This is the move that leads to an equal position. The right move is 21.Nd4!. If Black tries to hold on to the f5-pawn via 21...g6, then White is clearly better after 22.Ne6 Rde8 23.Rfb1 Qc3 24.Rc1 Qf6 (24...Qb4? 25.Rab1 followed by 26.c5, winning) 25.Rab1 +/-.

Other moves lose. 21.Nxd6 Qxd6 puts Black up a Pawn for nothing, and both Rook moves allow 21...Qc5!

21...Kd7

Of course not 21...Kb8?? 22.Nc6+ bxc6 23.Rfb1 with a winning advantage.

22.Rab1

22.Rfb1? Qc3 and White can't grab the b-pawn.

22...Qc3?!

22...Qa3 is equal.

23.Rxb7

White missed his shot with the tempo-gainer 23.Rfc1! Qa3 24.c5 and now both 24...Bxc5 25.Qc4 and 24...Bxf4 25.Qf1 Bxc1 26.Qxf5+ Ke8 27.d6 Qe3 28.Qe6+ Kf8 29.Qe7+ Kg8 30.Qxd8+ Kf7 31.Qe7+ Kg6 32.Qe6+ Kh5 33.Qd5+ Kh6 34.Qd1 are winning for White.

23...Rb8 24.Rxb8 Rxb8 25.Qh5 Qf6



26.g4?

In essence, the losing move for White. White can maintain equality after 26.Nc6 Rb2 27.Qxh7 Rf2 and here many moves draw (but not taking the Rook!). White can also try 26.g3, which should also be equal. The move 26.Qxh7 allows 26...Bxf4 and 26.Qh3 looks tempting, but Black has the advantage if he doesn't fall for 26...Bxf4?? 27.g3, winning for White, and instead plays 26...Rb2 27.Nc6 Rf2, the difference here being the Queen on h3 as opposed to h7 with the h-pawn removed.

26...Qg6 27.Nc6 Rf8 28.Qxg6 hxg6 29.Ne5+ Bxe5 30.fxe5 f4



This endgame is basically won for Black. His pawn phlanx on e4 and f4 is far stronger than White's on d5 and e5. Both sides for the most part play the best moves at this point, one exception being White's 46th move due to time issues, but play through the moves and observe the endgame play and think about the alternatives at each move for White, and you'll realize how helpless White really is in this position.

31.Kg2 g5 32.Re1 e3 33.Kf3 Rh8 34.Kg2 Rb8 35.Kf3 Rb2 36.Re2 Rb1 37.h4 Rf1+ 38.Kg2 Rc1 39.hxg5 Rxc4 40.Kf3 Rd4 41.Re1 c6 42.e6+ Kd6 43.e7 Kxe7 44.dxc6 Kd6 45.Rc1 Kc7 46.Rc3?

White has put up the best resistance until now, but even after the relatively best 46.g6, Black is in the driver's seat after 46...Rd6 47.Kxf4 e2 48.Re1 Re6 49.Kf3 Kxc6 and White can never take on e2 as any trade down and Black will win the foot race, despite White being up a Pawn. For example, 50.Rxe2 Rxe2 51.Kxe2 Kb5 53.Kd3 Kxa5 54.Kc4 and now 54...Kb6 wins, but not 54...Ka4?? 55.Kd5! when it's a draw.

After the game move, Black's task is pretty easy.

46...Rd1 47.Rc4 Rf1+ 48.Ke2 Rf2+ 49.Ke1 g6 50.Re4 Kxc6 51.Re6+ Kd5 52.Rxg6 Rg2 53.Rf6 Ke4 54.g6 Rg1+ 55.Ke2 f3+ 56.Rxf3 Rg2+ 57.Kf1 Kxf3 58.g7 Rxg4 0-1


In some ways, a heartbreaking loss for White after having the opportunity to beat the top seed on moves 21 and 23, but even after that, it was move 26 that killed him. The biggest thing to pick up from this game is that understanding compensation is more important than getting your sacrificed material back. In essence, that's what White in that sequence during which he missed two golden opportunities. He regained his Pawn that he correct sacrificed on move 20. Thorough self-analysis of the final 28 moves by each player along with the line noted at White's 46th move is also a great way to brush up on your Rook endings as every move except White's 46th is pretty much correct. Different engines may give certain other moves in a few cases an extra couple of hundredths of a point, but the difference between say, -1.35 and -1.38, is irrelevant. What's important is that until White's 46th move, Black kept the advantage he had, and White kept Black from widening it and made Black continue to make the best moves, which is all White could do.

So unlike Iowa, I started this tournament with a loss, and next time, we will be looking at what was probably my worst game in the entire road trip. As mentioned before, you think rounds 2 and 5 were bad from Iowa? You haven't seen bad until you've seen this one, and that's what we will be covering next time!

Til then, good luck in your tournament games!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Game Analysis: Des Moines Open, Round 5

Hello everyone and welcome. Here we will continue the road trip with the final round of the Des Moines Open, the first of the two weekend events I attended during this time. First a little on the situation. Oddly enough, in a section of 39 players, there was nobody with more than 3 points in the open section. What happened was the third round game of mine you saw in the 22nd edition of the French Connection, remember that one? French Exchange? Well, if you take the top four boards of round 3 and combine that with the top four boards of round 4, that was literally the only decisive result, and so that has lead to a 10-way tie for first place going into the last round with a score of 3, and then three more players with a score of 2.5. So the top seven boards in the final round were critical. Theoretically, a draw on each of the top five boards, which was very well possible at the rate things were going, combined with a decisive result on board 6 and the player with 2.5 beating the player with 2 on board 7 could have lead to a 12-way tie for first place. Obviously, the top 10 were all hoping for a decisive result in their favor and that the other four boards all draw.

Well, I was on board 5 in that group. It turned out that the top four boards were all decisive, and so all attention was on board 5. A win and you end up in a 5-way tie for first and collect $185. A draw and both of us were walking away, along with one other, with $33. A loss? You're going home with nothing.

Needless to say, this game is littered with missed opportunities, especially for White, but even Black had multiple chances in this game. Without further ado, let's take a look at the game. Be warned, you might need a sanity check after going through this one!


Des Moines Open, Round 5
W: Troy Curfman (1802)
B: Patrick McCartney (1996)
King's Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Nf3 O-O 5.Bg5



This is a sideline available to White in the King's Indian Defense. The idea is simple. White wants a solid setup and not get into a theoretical battle where he constantly has to look out for sacrificial ideas by Black against his King, such as in the Mar Del Plata.

5...c5

Like in many other lines of the King's Indian, Black's main idea is to attack d4 and force White to commit to his pawn structure.

6.d5

White can also play 6.e3, when after 6...cxd4 7.exd4, Black tries to play against the d-pawn.

6...d6

Black has two options here. The move played in the game is the more solid line. Black wants to grab control of the central dark squares and create a mobile Kingside Pawn majority. The other option is the more dynamic Pawn break with 6...b5, the idea being that the d-pawn is weakened after 7.cxb5, in similar fashion to the Benko Gambit. Of course, if the Knight takes, then the e4-Pawn hangs.

7.h3

This move is not very good and a waste of time. It gives Black a hook more than anything else. White should proceed aggressively with 7.e4, to which Black would usually reply with 7...Bg4 8.Be2 Bxf3 to gain control of the dark squares, or else the more cautious 7.e3, against which Black can play 7...h6 8.Bh4 and then Black has two options. He can chase down the Bishop with 8...g5 9.Bg3 Nh5, where attempts to outright refute the line fail. For instance, 10.Nxg5 Nxg3 11.hxg3 hxg5 12.Qh5 Bf5! and Black has a winning position. Of course, White doesn't have to play the sacrificial lines and the position is unclear. The other option is to play 8...Qb6 9.Qc2 e5 with moves like ...Na6 and ...Bf5 coming. That is unless White plays en passant, after which Black will recapture with the Bishop and have the c6-square available to his Knight. Black is ok in both lines and you have a game.

7...Nfd7

This move is odd and probably not very good because in some ways it's too slow. Black was re-routing the Knight to e5 to trade off its counter-part on f3 since White didn't allow the Bishop to do it, but here, better is to play 7...h6 8.Bf4 g5 9.Bh2 Bf5 with a slight advantage for Black. He is getting very active very quickly, and always has that hook that White created on h3.

8.Qd2 Ne5 9.Nxe5 Bxe5 10.e4 Bg7

Black's play is very time consuming and he's lagging behind in development.

11.Bd3

As is usual in these fianchetto defenses, the Bishop is better placed on e2, and this scenario is no different.

11...Nd7 12.O-O Ne5 13.Rae1?

This move is not good. White has a completely dominating position after 13.Be2! f5 14.exf5 Bxf5 15.Bh6 Bxh6 16.Qxh6 Nf7 17.Qd2. The move played in the game does not lose for White, but he's lost his advantage.

13...Bxh3

Black wins a Pawn, and in the given situation, this is Black's best move, but he is by no means out of the woods and White has compensation for the Pawn as this opens up the h-file for White to attack the Black King.

14.f4?

This move, however, hands the advantage to Black. White had to play 14.Be2 with full compensation for the Pawn.

14...Nxd3 15.Qxd3 Bd7

The more active 15...Bg4 is better. There is no way to trap the Bishop with moves like f5 as any attack on the Bishop, which can't be done with a Pawn, can be covered with an ...h5 push by Black.

16.f5

The wrong Pawn break. White should be breaking with the other Pawn via 16.e5 with a roughly equal game.

16...h6 17.Bd2 Kh7

Black should proceed with 17...g5 immediately!

18.Rf3 Bf6?

This move is just outright wrong. Black should play something like 18...a6 here. Black is trying to over-protect g5 and then play ...g5, but the problem now is h6, even with ...g5 pushed.

19.Rh3 g5 20.Qg3

Far stronger is 20.Kf2, going immediately for the doubling of Rooks on the h-file. This move gives Black time.

20...Kg7 21.Kf2 Rh8 22.Reh1

It is amazing what one move can do. Now, Black is actually better. White had to play 22.Ne2 with a roughly equal position. Take a look at the diagram and see if you can figure out Black's best move.



22...Rh7??

It was a bit of a trick question. There are lots of moves that are good for Black. 22...e6, 22...Be5, and 22...Bd4+, for instance, all give Black the advantage. The move played in the game has got to be about the worst move on the board aside from intentionally hanging stuff. I noticed the mistake about 30 second after my move, or at least I thought I did, but as we will see, Black doesn't fix it for a while.

23.Rh5?

White spent 10 minutes on this move and failed to find the instantly winning move, 23.Bxg5!, when after 23...Bxg5 24.Rxh6! Rxh6 25.Qxg5+ Rg6 (All other moves are forced mate) 26.fxg6 and now the only way to stop mate is to throw away a bunch of material and White will win as 26...fxg6 allows forced mate, the longest variation being 27.Qh6+ Kf7 28.Qh7+ Kf6 29.e5+ (admittedly, when I saw this line, I envisioned 29.Rf1, which is also completely winning, but not as forceful) 29...Kxe5 30.Qg7+ Kf5 31.Qf7+ Ke5 32.Rh4 and Black can't stop the Rook from giving mate on e4.

23...Qh8

Black breathed a sigh of relief, thinking he was ok now, but he wasn't. He missed the equalizer with a move completely away from the action, namely 23...Qb6!! Now the sacrifice on g5 only leads to equality after 24.Bxg5 Bxg5 25.Rxh6 Qxb2+! 26.Ne2 Rxh6 27.Qxg5+ Rg6 28.fxg6 Qf6+!, eliminating the mating attack.

24.Bf4?

White misses it again! This time, it's 24.Bxg5 Bxg5 25.Rxh6 Rxh6 26.Qxg5+ Rg6 27.Rxh7 Rxg5 28.Rxa8 a6 29.Rb8 b5 30.Rb7, winning.

24...Rd8?

And once again Black misses the opportunity to go back on top. 24...Bd4+! answering 25.Be3 with 25...Be5 and any King move with 25...f6, all giving Black the advantage!

25.Ke2?

And yet again, White fails to cash in! 25.Bxg5!! again works here, this time with the sequence 25...hxg5 26.Rxh7+ Qxh7 27.Rxh7+ Kxh7 being Black's best of a bad situation. White has a Queen and Knight for Rook and Two Bishops with equal pawns, but White position is far superior here (computer gives it +3, if that gives you an idea).

25...a6?

Here Black equalizes by running. 25...Kf8 and an equal position arises. Back at the point after White's 22nd move, White had 45 minutes left to Black's 38, plus the 30 second increment per move. Now, White has 21 minutes left and Black has 18, and even after 44 minutes thought plus increment time, neither side has figured this situation out, and by now, all of the other relevant games were done, and all attention was on us two making a fool of ourselves. The top four boards had all been decisive, and so winning was even more critical here as a draw was about as good as a loss.

26.a4?

Once again, White can end it with 26.Bxg5!

26...b5?

And once again, Black fails to properly evaluate the situation. 26...Kf8! is now actually an advantage for Black, point being that the sacrifice no longer works. After 27.Bxg5? Bxg5, the best White has is 28.Qxg5 hxg5 29.Rxh7 Qd4 30.Rh8+ Kg7 31.R1h7+ Kf6 32.Rxd8 Qxc4+ with a winning advantage for Black. Of course, White doesn't have to take on g5, and the position is merely a slight advantage for Black.

27.axb5

Again 27.Bxg5 is best, but this time it's more complicated and drawn out. 27...Bxg5 28.Rxh6 Rxh6 29.Qxg5+ Rg6 30.Rxh8 Rxg5 31.Rxd8 b4 32.Rxd7 bxc3 33.bxc3 Rxg2+ 34.Kf3 Rc2 35.Rxe7 Rxc3+ 36.Kf4 Rxc4 37.a5 and White's winning.

27...axb5?

Again, the correct move is 27...Kf8, this time with an equal position.

28.cxb5 Rb8

Again both sides missing their move, 28.Bxg5 for White and 28...Kf8 for Black.

29.Bxd6??

One last chance for White. This time, a winning endgame results after 29.Bxg5 Bxg5 30.Rxh6 Bxb5+ 31.Kf2 (31.Nxb5 Rxh6 32.Qxg5+ Kf8 is equal) 31...Rxh6 32.Qxg5+ Rg6 33.Rxh8 Rxg5 34.Rxb8 Bd3 with a winning endgame for White. Now Black's totally winning.

29...exd6 30.Qxd6 Bxb5+ 31.Nxb5


Black to Move and Win


31...Rxb5

Yes, this move does lead to a clear advantage for Black, but Black had a far superior move (-9 vs -1.3) with 31...Qe8!!. For example, after 32.Nc3 Rxb2+ 33.Kd3 c4+ 34.Ke3 Rb3 35.Rxg5+ Bxg5+ 36.Kd4 Rxc3 37.Kxc3 Qxe4 and Black is up a full piece with the safer King and zero counterplay for White.

32.e5 33.Kf3 Qa8??

Black jettisons the Bishop, but in the wrong manner. Advantage Black after 33...Qd8! 34.exf6+ Qxf6. It should be noted at this point that both sides have 8 minutes left.

34.exf6+ Kg8 35.Ra1! Qe8 36.Re1! g4+

Or 36...Qa8 37.Qe5 and White's winning.

37.Kxg4 Re2

White has 4 minutes at this point while Black has under a minute with 30 second increment, and White spends 3 of his precious minutes here. Can you find the win?


White to Move and Win


38.Rxe2 Rxe2 39.Kg3

The winning move is 39.Kh4! Black has no perpetual and no way to continue to harass the White King. He is forced to go back with 39...Qe8 and is basically helpless in this position. White should win easily.

39...Qe8

Black had a stronger defense here. 39...Rh8!, getting the Rook active with a subsequent 40...Kh7. Note that this would have been impossible with the King on h4 as opposed to g3 because it would be mate in 3 after 39.Kh4 Rh8 40.Qb8+ Kh7 41.Rxh6+ Kxh6 42.Qxh8 mate. With the King on g3, Black has the g5-square as an escape for the King.

40.Qf4

40.Qe7! is lights out.

40...Qf8 41.Rh1

41.d6 is more straight to the point.

41...Rh8 42.Rb1 Kh7 43.Rh1 Rg8+ 44.Kf3 Rh8 45.g4 Kg8 46.Rh5 Qa8



Both sides are literally working off the increment at this point. White to move and win. You've got 30 seconds, GO!

47.Qe5

White is still winning, but this is not the dagger move. The real winner is in 47.Rg5+!! where 47...Kh7 48.Rg7 and 47...Kf8 48.Qd6+ Ke8 49.Qe7 are both mate while 47...hxg5 Qxg5+ 48.Kf8 Qg7+ 49.Ke8 Qxh8+ followed by 50.Qxa8 wins the Queen.

47...Qa3+ 48.Qe3 Qa8

Now White has the same opportunity again, the only difference being that 49.Rg5+ Kf8 is answered by mate a move quicker, 50.Qe7 mate.

49.Qxc5

He misses it again!

49...Kh7 50.g5 Rc8



Last chance for White. White to move and win, and this time, literally only one move works. Anything else is a draw or worse for White.

51.Qd4??

The win comes in the form of mate in 7 via 51.g6+ Kg8 52.gxf7+ Kh7 53.f8=N+ Kh8 54.Rxh6+ Kg8 55.Qg1+ Kxf8 56.Qg7+ Ke8 57.Qe7 mate.

Now the position is a draw, or at least it should be.

51...Qa3+ 52.Kf4?

The only move is 52.Kg4 with a draw. If 52...Kg8, then 53.Rh3 with advantage. Black should respond with 52...Qa2 or 52...Qc1, both of which draw. Note that 52.Ke4?? is losing. 52...Kg8 53.Rxh6 Rc1 and Black wins. White has no way to avoid mate without losing the Queen.

52...Qb3??

Black can win with 52...Qc1+ in which White's only move is 53.Ke5, then after 53...Qe1+, White must go back to f4 with 54.Kf4. Now 54...Qc1+ merely repeats. If 54...Qf1+, then 55.Kg3 is again only move, and then Black has nothing better than 55...Qe1+ 56.Kf4, and so since 56...Qc1+ and 56...Qf1+ both lead to perpetuals, the last shot is 56...Qe2, which turns out is the winner. After 57.Rg6+ (all other moves lose quickly) fxg6 58.f7+ Kxf7 59.Qf6+ Ke8 60.Qxg6+ Kd7 61.Qe6+ Qxe6 62.dxe6+ Kd6 and White has no way to hold the position. One of many, numerous examples would be 63.Kg4 Rc5 64.g6 Rc1 65.Kg5 Ke7 66.f6+ Kxe6 67.f7 Ke7, winning for Black.

The move played in the game should actually lose for Black!

53.g6+! Kg8 54.Ke5??

Going from completely won to dead lost! After 54.gxf7+ Kf8 55.Rh3 Qc4 56.Qxc4 Rxc4+, there is one move that wins for White, and that's 57.Kd5! The pawns are ugly, but it's enough for White to win the Rook ending.

54...Qg3+

There is now no way out. Everything leads to either mate or loss of the Queen for White.

55.Ke4 Re8+ 0-1

After such a crazy game, Black finished on top and joined the other four that won on the top five board in a five-way tie for first place with 4 points.


WOW! That game was a hand full. A LOT of tactics missed in a very high pressure situation. While an extremely ugly game, it can be an excellent resource if you are looking to work on areas such as tactics, sacrifices and combinations, visualization, dynamic defense, and seeing many insane, sick-looking moves that actually work! Needless to say, this was by far the craziest of the ten games on the entire road trip.

That does it for the Des Moines Open. Beginning with the next article, we will be going through the games I played in Lansing, MI. Until then, good luck in your games.