Sunday, February 24, 2019

Game Analysis: Charlotte Open, Round 7

Hello everyone and welcome as we continue with game analysis from the Charlotte Open, and quite frankly, it has been more of a bashing of my own attacking skills than anything else, and this final round is no different.

First, a recap of what happened the first six rounds:

Was simply outplayed
After vastly inferior play by opponent, complete misjudgment of which pieces to trade and which to keep on the board cost half the point.
Opponent was simply outplayed
Passive play with the Bishop when the advantage was his, playing more in fear of White's pawn advances rather than continuing my own attack, and lastly time trouble at the end.
Passive play by Black gave me the advantage, and passive play is what threw a good chunk of the advantage away, but the ultimate straw that broke the Camel's back was a horrific endgame blunder in time trouble in what should be a routine win.
Failure to take full advantage of White's passive opening play followed by late middle game errors lead to a winning endgame for White, and low and behold, passive play and fear of my inside passer rather than focusing on his own outside passer cost him half the point.

So why am I recapping this? When you have a bad tournament, you need to analyze the root cause. Sometimes, the issue is a one time occurrence. Other times, the issue is what is called a TREND! When you reach the expert level, good and bad tournaments are not judged by score. I finished with a .500 record, but how I finished with that .500 record was horrible. Five games out of the seven ended up draws, and none of them should have. Now had these been lost positions that I converted to draws, particularly against higher rated opposition, I'd feel really good about that .500 score. But when you are blowing advantages left and right, it turns into a really bad ".500 performance".

Looking at the table above, we see one instance of misjudgment of what to trade and what to keep on the board. A one time problem is not a trend. But take a look at what is mentioned repeatedly. Fear! Passive! Time Trouble! This is called a trend, and when you have a trend that is negative, this is something that needs to be fixed.

What we are about to see in the seventh and final round is a continuation of that TREND!

Charlotte Open, Round 7
W: Patrick McCartney (2061)
B: Venkata Pullabholta (1901)
Torre Attack

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 d5 4.Nbd2 Be7 5.e3 b6

Once again, we see that word again. Passive! Black's last two moves fit that category here as well. Black should be striking at White's center at once with the move ...c5, probably best done back on move 4. The lack of anything active allows White free reign to smooth development.

6.Bd3 Bb7 7.O-O Nbd7 8.Qe2 Ne4 9.Bxe7 Qxe7


White should be expanding on the Queenside here as that's where his pieces point, and the Rook on f1 has easy access to that side. A move like 10.a4, or possibly 10.c3, was better here.


Black misses his opportunity to open up the Bishop. 10...Nxe5 11.dxe5 might even give Black a slight edge.

11.Nxd7 Qxd7 12.Rad1 Rfd8 13.f3 Nxd2 14.Rxd2 c5 15.c3 Qa4 16.Rdd1 Rac8

So now, after a trade of all the Knights and some maneuvering of the pieces, we see that with Black's piece arrangement and throwing of the Queen out into la-la-land, the situation has changed, and White's play is now on the Kingside, and White correctly recognizes it as the following moves will show.

17.f4 f5 18.g4 g6 19.Kh1 Rc7 20.Rg1 Rg7 21.Rg3 Bc8 22.Rdg1 Kf7 23.h4 Rh8 24.Qg2

The position is slightly better for White. The Black Queen is out of play and White's space advantage allowed him to easily triple on the g-file while Black's pieces are scattered. Black has to be very careful here not to reach a completely lost position.


This move should lose outright! The pawn grab is Black's best hope: 24...Qxa2 25.h5 Rgg8 26.gxf5 exf5 27.c4 Be6 28.dxc5 bxc5 29.Be2 Qxb2 30.cxd5 Bc8 31.Rd1 Rd8 32.Qf1 and White's advantage is minimal.

After the move played, White should win.


And instead of pulling the trigger, White plays a passive move. White wins immediately with 25.gxf5 exf5 26.Rg5 and due to the unfortunate location of the Black Queen combined with the inability to both move the Queen and have it protect the Black Rook on g7, White will play 27.Bxf5 pretty much no matter what Black does. For example, 26...Qd8 27.Bxf5 Bxf5 28.Rxf5+, winning.

The rest of the game is basically equal except one spot where White decides to blunder, but Black misses the minor detail.

25...Rgg8 26.gxf5 exf5 27.Kh2 Qe6 28.b3 Qf6 29.c4 cxd4 30.cxd5 dxe3 31.Rxe3 Re8 32.Rge1 Rxe3 33.Qxe3 Bd7 34.Kg3 Re8

And now it is White's turn to find the only drawing move.


And that is not it! 35.Qc1 is the only move here.


Black has a significant advantage in the endgame after 35...Qd4 36.Rxe8 Bxe8 37.Qe2 Kf8 38.Bc4 Qg1+ 39.Qg2 Qxg2+ 40.Kxg2 b5. The game is now a draw.

36.Qxe1 Qe7 37.Qf2 h6 1/2-1/2

So once again, passive play did both sides in, and yet another draw that should never have happened.

This concludes what was clearly a bad tournament for me, and since then, I have paid very close attention to the main issues that repeated themselves in this tournament. Passitivity and fear. Since then, I have paid very close attention to those issues, and have played 21 tournament games in that stretch, going 9, 10, and 2. Clearly not the greatest start, but when you try to alter your game and put emphasis on a specific weakness, it will often start off bad before the problem is totally fixed and results start getting better.

I would highly recommend the same exercise be done by all of those that have read these seven articles pertaining to the Charlotte Open (including The French Connection, Volume 17). Think about the last time that you had a bad tournament. This doesn't mean a bad score, necessarily. Just one of those tournaments where almost every round, you had a real bad taste in your mouth. Go through each game, and assess what you did wrong, and I would wager that you will also see a consistent trend. It may not be passive play or signs of fear and an overly defensive mentality, it might be tactical blunders or pawn play or piece coordination or one of many other possibilities. Once it is identified, look for books that cover the topic and put your time toward studying that. Many say study endgames, study middle games, study openings, study this, study that, etc. The real truth is, take a look back at your own games and assess what your own weakness is, and that's what you should be putting your emphasis on. It may not be the same answer for everyone, and so those blanket statements you hear about studying tactics or studying endgames are useless. The answer is taking serious time to look back at yourself and your own games and do a through and honest assessment. Don't knee-jerk based on a single game (i.e. My round 2, which was an isolated incident), or think that you can assess your problem in 5 minutes. Taking your time and being honest with yourself are crucial as otherwise you will get nowhere with it.

This concludes the coverage of the Charlotte Open. Starting next week, we will be looking at various topics along with games from 2019. Until then, good luck in all of your games.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The French Connection: Volume 17

A Tale of Two Bishops

Hello and welcome to the Seventeenth edition of The French Connection. Here, we are going to be looking at the 6th round of The Charlotte Open, which featured one of the main lines of the French Advance. As the subtitle might indicate, there is a critical point in the opening where Black must make a decision between two Bishop moves, one of which is played in this game. White responds with an inferior move, and I will be showing how White should respond to each of Black's replies. Then as the game proceeds, Black makes multiple errors in the middle game, and allows White to reach a winning position in the endgame. Then, White shows that he is not up on his Rook endings, and allows Black to draw the game.

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

The Charlotte Open, Round 6
W: James Dill (2019)
B: Patrick McCartney (2061)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.a3 Nh6 7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2

Thus far, both sides have followed the line given against 6...Nh6 in my article on Beating the French with the Advance Variation from back in November, 2017 (Click here if you want to view that article).

The problem at this point is that both sides are starving for progress. Black has three pieces attacking d4, namely the Queen on b6, Knight on c6, and Knight on f5. White has three pieces guarding it, namely the Bishop on b2, Queen on d1, and Knight on f3. White has a problem though. How does he get the rest of his pieces out? If he moves the Queen's Knight, it will block either the Bishop or the Queen from guarding d4. How does the Light-Squared Bishop get out? Does he resort to the passive Be2 and then Castle?

That said, it's not all roses for Black either! His Queen suffers from having much scope, which for a piece like the Queen, the lack of scope is a major drawback. His Light-Squared Bishop is bad. White's Pawns impede the Dark-Squared Bishop. Also, with f6 well in control by White, castling Kingside can be very dicey, especially early on.

So how does either side make progress? Well, it is Black to move, and it really is his choice how the game progresses. In looking at the position, only two moves really make sense, and that's two different Bishop moves:

The first option is 9...Be7. Black plays a solid move and is ready to castle. In addition, if his Knight gets harassed by 10.g4, then he has the h4-square in which to place the Knight and exchange a set of minor pieces. With White having the space advantage, this would favor Black. That said, similar to trap in the Milner-Barry Gambit (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 cxd4 7.cxd4 Nxd4? 8.Nxd4 Qxd4?? 9.Bb5+), the a4-e8 diagonal is open if the Knight is traded off, and so White has the opportunity to play 10.Bd3! for similar reasons. Black can't take on d4 three times as his Queen will then hang to a discovered check. After 10.Bd3!, Black can try a couple of different responses, including developing the other Bishop to d7, which might be better than Moskalenko's idea of 10...a5. After 10...a5, 11.Bxf5 is well-known to favor Black, but White has 11.Qa4 Bd7 12.b5 O-O 13.O-O g6 and Moskalenko claims equality based on the fact that 14.Bc3? fails to 14...Na7! with advantage to Black. This may be true, but I think White has the advantage after 14.Ra2 Na7 15.Nc3. It is not clear how Black is going to get his pieces out.

Instead, after 10...Bd7, the important thing is not to be tempted by the immediate pawn snatch. After 11.O-O, the move 11...Nfxd4 is dubious because of 12.Nxd4 Nxd4 13.Qg4 with advantage to White. However, Black should be fine after 11...g6, and now if White doesn't do something about it and plays something like 12.Nc3, only now should Black snatch the pawn with 12...Nfxd4 13.Nxd4 Nxd4 14.Qg4 as now Black can reply with 14...Nb3 intending 15...a5 with advantage. Instead, 12.Bxf5 gxf5 would lead to a position with play for both sides. White should still have a slight advantage, but it's not unbearable for Black.

In the game, Black plays the other option.


My personal preference is for this move over the other Bishop move. There are a couple of major differences between this move and moving the other Bishop to e7. The first is that White does not have the discovered attack on the Queen if Black goes pawn grabbing once one of the three defenders is blocked, and so 10.Bd3 is no longer possible because it simply drops the d-pawn. On the flip side, with no Bishop on e7, the move 10.g4! is more attractive for White. It dislodges the f5-Knight without allowing Black to trade it off for the counterpart on f3, and therefore allows White to develop his pieces more freely, albeit at the cost of a more exposed King. White, however, fails to take advantage of this move, and instead plays an overly passive move that should be of no harm to Black.

10.Be2 Be7

Now 11.g4 is once again totally ineffective because of 11...Nh4.

11.O-O Rc8

This move is not bad, but given his lack of space and White's ultra-passive approach, Black should think about expanding on the Kingside with 11...h5 12.Qd3 g5 13.b5 Na5 14.Nfd2 Rc8 15.a4 with an unclear position.

In the game, Black will be lacking space, and despite a few inferior moves by White, the moment Black tries to expand and open up, his position gets worse this game, and so now was the time to take that opportunity.

12.Qd3 Na5 13.Nbd2 Nc4 14.Nxc4 dxc4 15.Qd2 Bc6


White misses the opportunity to at minimum maintain equality and possibly be able to claim a very slight edge by playing 16.g4! on the basis that Black can't play 16...Nh4 because of 17.Nxh4 Bxh4 and now 18.Bxc4! as there is no knight to take on f3, which would normally lead to Black winning a piece, and 18...Bf3 would be answered by 19.Rac1! with a big advantage for White. In order to maintain the c4-pawn, Black would have to retreat with a move like 16...Nh6.

16...O-O 17.Qf4?

Once again, 17.g4 was relatively best, but this time, White can't grab the c-pawn as now 17...Nh4! 18.Nxh4 Bxh4 19.Bxc4? would fail to 19...Bf3 as White no longer has the ability to guard the Bishop with the Rook as the other Bishop on c3 is now blocking that operation. White loses time and Black takes over. Instead of 19.Bxc4, a normal move like 19.f4 would keep the position roughly even.

17...Bd5 18.Rfd1 f6?!

This move is very ill-timed. Now that Black got the long diagonal open and the passed c-pawn, he should help promote both causes and play 18...Qc6 with advantage. White's pieces are slowly coming to the Kingside, and so why open up at this point? Black's pieces are not ideally placed yet, and so given the closed nature of the position, the most important thing is to get the pieces on their best squares before breaking open the position.

19.Qg4 fxe5 20.Nxe5 Qd8

And yet another inferior move by Black, but not enough to totally kill the advantage. The Bishop on e7 was passive and should be relocated via 20...Bd6, maintaining an advantage for Black.

21.Bf3 b5 22.Bxd5 exd5 23.Re1 Bd6 24.Re2 Qf6??

And now Black blunders. Black is better after 24...Qh4 25.h3 h5 26.Qf3 Ne7 27.Qe3 Qf4 28.Nf3 Qxe3 29.Rxe3 Ng6 30.g3 Rf6 as White has the inferior Bishop and also still has to keep an eye on the protected passed Pawn on c4.

After the move played in the game, White has a big advantage with correct play.


White misses the opportunity. Correct is 25.Nd7! This probably was not played in fear of Black getting out of it with 25...Qh6, threatening mate, but after 26.g3! Rf7 27.Rae1! g6 (27...Rxd7 28.Qxf5 is winning for White) 28.Ne5, White has a dominant position.

25...Rcd8 26.Rae1 Qh4 27.Qxh4 Nxh4 28.Nc6 Rd7 29.Ne7+ Bxe7 30.Rxe7


This was Black's final opportunity to maintain the advantage. After 30...Rd6! 31.R1e6 (31.Rxa7?? Rg6 is winning for Black) 31...Rxe6 32.Rxe6 Rf6 33.Re8+ Kf7 34.Rb8 Rb6 35.Rc8 Kf6 36.Rc5 Ng6 37.Rxd5 Nf4 38.Re5 Re6 39.Rxe6+ Kxe6 40.Kf1 Kd5, despite being a pawn down, Black has the slightly better endgame and would be the one pushing for the win due to the good Knight against the horrible Bishop.

Instead, now White has the better endgame.

31.Rxd7 Rxd7 32.Re8+ Kf7 33.Rb8 a6 34.Rb6 Nf5

The passive 34...Ra7 was relatively best, but Black's position is extremely passive and very difficult to play.

35.Rxa6 Nd6 36.f3 Nc8 37.Rc6 Ne7 38.Rb6 Ra7 39.Bb2 c3 40.Bxc3 Rxa3 41.Be1 Rd3 42.Bf2 Rd1+ 43.Kh2 Nf5 44.Rxb5 Nxd4 45.Rb7+

Of course, 45.Rxd5?? loses to 45...Nxf3+.

45...Kg6 46.b5 Rd2 47.Bxd4 Rxd4

White has the farther advanced passed pawn, the outside passed pawn, and an extra pawn. This position is winning for White.


A more direct win would result from the line 48.b6 Rb4 49.Kg3 Kf6 50.Rb8 Ke6 51.b7 Kd6 52.Rd8+ Kc7 53.Rg8 Kxb7 54.Rxg7+ and 55.Rxh7 with a winning advantage.

48...h6 49.b6 Rb4 50.Rd6+

White is going the wrong way with this, and is able to get into a 3-on-2 endgame all on one side of the board with a Rook each, which should give Black better draw opportunities. White should play 50.b7! and maintain the 7th rank pressure for as long as possible to better arrange the rest of his pieces to win the ending on the Kingside.

50...Kf7 51.Rxd5 Rxb6 52.g4 Kg6 53.Kg3 Ra6 54.h4 Rb6 55.h5+ Kf7 56.f4 Rb3+ 57.Kh4 Rb6 58.g5

White put himself in a far more difficult position than he had to back when he focused too much on Black's d-pawn rather than his own b-pawn, but if he wants any hope of winning, he had to try 58.Rd7+, but it would still be difficult. After 58.g5, all hopes of victory are slam shut. The position is drawn. The Black Rook will just stay on the 6th rank until forced off, and then attack the King from behind. The rest of the moves is one demonstration of how to draw a Rook ending a pawn down. It doesn't work exactly the same as K+R+P vs K+R, as it's not a straight-up Philidor's position, but observe and try to understand each move, particularly for Black. Every move Black plays from here on out, the position is 0.00.

58...hxg5+ 59.Kxg5 Ra6 60.Rd3 Rb6 61.f5 Ra6 62.Rd7+ Kg8 63.Re7 Rb6 64.Re6 Rb1 65.h6 Rg1+ 66.Kf4 gxh6 67.Rxh6 Kf7 68.Rh7+ Rg7 69.Rxg7+ Kxg7 70.Ke5 Kf7 71.f6 Kf8 72.Ke6 Ke8 73.f7+ Kf8 74.Kf6 1/2-1/2

The final position is, of course, stalemate.

There are a few things to pick up from this game:
  • When facing the main line of the Advance French, make sure you understand the difference between the two Bishop moves, and play the one you are more comfortable playing. The nature of the game is vastly different between the two options assuming White responds correctly.
  • In the line with 9...Bd7, if White plays passive with 10.Be2, don't forget about the idea of Kingside Expansion.
  • In a closed position, pry it open when the rest of your pieces are ready, not before that.
  • In a Rook ending, having the outside passer is an advantage. If you are the one with the pawn on the outside, you don't want to trade passers unless you absolutely have to. The player with the inside passer wants to trade them off and draw with all the pawns on the same side.

That does it for this edition of The French Connection. Good luck in all your future French Games, Black or White.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Game Analysis: Charlotte Open, Round 5

Hello every and welcome as we continue the analysis of games from the Charlotte Open. Here we will be looking at the fifth round, where the constant theme to the game is that of fear. This is a common problem in amateurs. They learn basic "principles", such as getting your pieces developed, getting your King to safety, maintain a healthy pawn structure, not advancing pawns on the side you are weak, not advancing pawns in front of your King unless the center is stable, etc. Well, many amateurs take this advice too far and it becomes a religion. The game starts with White making an inadvisable trade, and Black is better for the next dozen moves or so. However, during that time, he plays passively, and allows White to get a critical pawn break. When is then winning, but instead of putting the nail in the coffin, he "plays it safe", and allows Black to equalize once again. Black fails to coordinate his pieces properly in the endgame, and once again White's winning until he makes an awful blunder on move 62 before the game ends peacefully.

So with the idea of playing too passively in mind, let's see what happened in the fifth round.

Charlotte Open, Round 5
W: Patrick McCartney (2061)
B: Sudarshan Sriniaiyer (2010)
Torre Attack

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5 Bg7 4.Nbd2 d5 5.c3 O-O 6.e3 b6 7.Bd3 c5 8.O-O Ba6 9.Bxa6 Nxa6

So we have the starting point of the double-fianchetto line, which I think is a tad weaker than 6...c5 or 6...Nbd7 intending 7...Re8 and 8...e5, the reason being that Black's Knight is out on the rim, and his pieces are not ideally coordinated.


Better here is 10.Qe2 Nc7 11.Rad1 with pressure on the d-file. If Black takes via 11...cxd4, White will recapture via 12.Nxd4, despite the fact that it allows 12...e5 by Black on the basis of the pressure down the d-file. Otherwise, if Black sidesteps with 11...Qc8, White is already prepared to play 12.e4!, breaking the position open before Black is ready.

10...Nc7 11.Bxf6?

This trade is bad for White. Better here is either 11.Bh4, avoiding any pawn forks after the Knight on f6 moves, or 11.Qe2.


The correct way to take back. Black will advance f5 and use the semi-open e-file to place a Rook on e8 and look to prevent e4 by White.

12.Nd3 Ne6 13.a4 a5

A complete waste of time. What are you stopping? a5? 13...Re8 or 13...f5 is better. In the time it takes to advance the pawn, trade it, and try to get pieces to attack b6, Black could have gotten to the moon and back, and so there is no reason to fear White's pawn advance.

14.f4 f5 15.Nf3 Re8 16.Nf2

Unfortunately, active moves like 16.Nde5 aren't any good because the square is not stable for White because of Black's extra f-pawn. After 16...c4, White would be forced to retreat the f3-knight via 17.Nd2 as otherwise, the e5-Knight is about to get trapped by ...f6. So instead, White tries to stir up trouble on the Kingside rather than down the middle.

16...Qd6 17.g4 fxg4 18.Nxg4 f6

Another passive move by Black, preventing Ne5 for unnecessary reasons. If White ever plops a Knight on e5, it hits nothing immediately, and Black can then kick it back with ...f6. With the looming threat readily there, why prevent the issue when it's unnecessary? 18...Rac8, with ideas of opening the c-file, is a better move.

19.Qd3 c4 20.Qc2 Nf8 21.Rae1 Ra7 22.Nd2 Rae7

After passive play by Black, guess what move White is about to play?


This move is tactically possible because of the location of the Black Queen. If Black plays 23...f5, banking on the pin of the e-pawn and thinking he'd win it, White has 24.e5! before moving the Knight on g4.


Despite the pin not totally working, 23...f5 was still Black's best move with an equal position.


Suddenly, White's got a winning position!

24...Qc6 25.Nge3 f5 26.Qb3 Kh8 27.Qxb6 Qxa4 28.Ra1 Qd7 29.Rxa5 Re6 30.Qa7 Qd8 31.d5 Rf6 32.Qb7 Bh6 33.Ra7 g5

Up to this point, White has been conducting the attack in a very sound manner. So White keeps going, right?


This does not surrender the entire advantage, but it is a major step in the wrong direction. The Black g-pawn was advanced and is about to take on f4. This does not automatically mean the White King needs to get off the g-file. Until absolutely necessary, White should avoid defensive moves and continue the attack. Here, 34.Ne5 was very strong. Now 34...gxf4 can be countered by 35.Nf7+ while a defensive move like 34...Nd7 does open up the heavy pieces on the back rank to the g-file and White should then play 35.Kh1, but then Black won't have available the defensive Rook move that trades off White's intruders on the 7th rank.

34...gxf4 35.Rxf4 Re7!

White is still technically winning, but now it is going to be far more difficult to execute, and White ends up failing in the long run.

36.Qxe7 Qxe7 37.Rxe7 Bxf4 38.d6

And one error is followed by another. 38.b4 is stronger here.

38...Bxe3 39.Nxe3 Rxd6 40.Nxf5 Rd1+ 41.Kg2 Rd2+ 42.Kg3 Rxb2 43.Rxe4

Now White is stuck in a pawn-up endgame rather than the raging attack he had 10 moves earlier.

43...Kg8 44.c4 Rc2 45.h4 Kf7 46.Nd6+

46.Ne3 is stronger, blocking the 3rd rank and covering the c-pawn. White has to slowly coordinate the advance of the pawn as there is no attack on the King at this point.

46...Kf6 47.Kf3 Ne6 48.Nb5

White's advantage is gone! 48.Re3 maintains a slight edge, but not much more than that.


Black blows his chance. 48...Rc1 49.Nd4 Nxd4 50.Rxd4 Ke5 is equal.

49.Nd4 Nc5 50.Rf4+ Ke5 51.Nc6+ Kd6 52.Rf6+ Kd7 53.Ne5+ Ke8 54.Rc6 Nd7 55.Rc8+ Ke7 56.Rc7 Kd6 57.Rxd7+ Kxe5 58.Rxh7 Rc3 59.Rh5+ Kf6 60.c5 Kg6 61.Rd5 Rc4

This is an easy win for White.


This is a huge mistake. This is an ending one ought to know like the back of their hand. Two pawns widely separated on the 5th rank with the Rook in between them is always a win, no matter where the Black Rook or King are provided they can't immediately capture the Rook or win the Rook via a skewer, neither of which are available to Black after 62.h5!. After 62...Kg7 (62...Kf6 63.h6 Kg6 64.Rd6+ and 65.c6 does nothing for Black but allow White to advance both pawns a square further.) 63.Ke3 and White will either be able to cross the 4th rank with his King if the Black Rook moves vertically once attacked or else Black will have to abandon the c-file if he moves laterally to keep the King cut off, and then White can advance the c-pawn and place the Rook on c5, behind the passed pawn while the King is busy stopping the h-pawn.

After the move played, the position is a draw, despite being up two pawns.

62...Kf7 63.c6 Rxh4 64.Ke3 Ke7 65.Rd7+ Ke8 66.Rd5 Rc4 67.Rd6 1/2-1/2

A horrible end to what should have been a routine win for White after he got e4 in on move 23 and Black failed to respond correctly. The other two things to get out of this game is that passive play (Black's 13th move, Black's 18th move, and White's 34th move) should be avoided until such a move is absolutely necessary. This can easily be seen in particular with White's 34th move. There were even scenarios where he would need to play the King move even one move later, but that one move made all the difference between a direct attack at the Black King, and Black being able to drag White into a pawn-up endgame, leaving White with more room to error, and low and behold, that's exactly what White did! Lastly, know your endgames! You might have to execute well known endgame patterns with 30 seconds on your clock! This could mean the difference between a win and a draw!

The next round will be covered as part of the "French Connection" series. Until then, good luck in your games.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Game Analysis: Charlotte Open, Round 4

Hello every and welcome as we continue the analysis of games from the Charlotte Open. We are at the middle round of the tournament and I'm sitting at a .500 record after my only win in the previous round. This game, the main theme is going to be winning the won position, something that Black failed to do here.

The game starts out as a London System. Those that know me will already know my take on the London System, and that my level of respect for it is about the same as my level of respect for criminals, drug dealers, college students that plagiarize, or the current POTUS. In other words, ZERO! White places no pressure on Black, and I am going to show you an excellent system to counter the London System with little to no risk. Of course, you still need to play the game correctly, and Black does not do that here, partially due to a positional error made in the middle game, and time trouble near the end, but we will see that Black had most of the opportunities in this game to convert the full point.

The problem with the London System is that it pressures nothing. It achieves nothing. Even the other systematic Queen Pawn openings, some of which I play myself, serve a purpose.
  • The Colle System sees the goal of getting in e4. White executes rapid development to get that other central pawn pushed to the fourth square that Black spent that time trying to prevent with say, 1.d4 d5 (stopping e4) 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.c3 Nc6 etc. White has a simple goal in mind. Pushing e4.

  • The Torre Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 or 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5) sees White create pressure along the h4-d8 diagonal, which is where the Black Queen resides to start the game. This pin in the case of 2...e6, or pressure along the diagonal in the case of 2...g6, can be very annoying for Black. Trying to run away from it by swinging the Queen over to the Queenside can often leave the Black King under-protected on the Kingside. Remaining in this pin can lead to tactical issues.

    A prime example of the latter was in a correspondence game I played recently on where I had White and the game went 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5 Bg7 4.Nbd2 O-O 5.c3 d5 6.e3 Nbd7 7.Bd3 Re8 8.O-O e5 9.e4 exd4 10.cxd4 dxe4 11.Nxe4 h6 12.Qb3! hxg5? 13.Nexg5 Rf8 14.Bxg6 and already Black Resigned. If this were over the board rather than correspondence, he may have played on, but it would be futile. White's already winning.

    The point being, this Bishop move pressures Black, and White is not forced to play additional prep moves to give the Bishop an escape. White will move this Bishop on his own time, or when Black harasses it, but Black is also spending time harassing the Bishop with weakening pawn moves, and so it is not like White is losing time, and once again, he is playing to get in his key break, e4, or in a few cases, he'll play Ne5 and try to break with f2-f4-f5 (particularly in the 2...e6 lines). More on "wasting time" when we get back to the London System.

  • The Trompowsky Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5) sees White threaten to damage Black's Pawn structure, and if 2...Ne4, the Knight will be harassed and White will be aiming for a lead in development if he doesn't achieve the structural damage. Sometimes a tricky idea to understand, but the opening serves a purpose.

  • The Veresov (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bg5 or 1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5) also serves the purpose of trying to get that second pawn to the fourth rank, namely e4. This leads to Black either having to block his own pieces with the main line, 3...Nbd7, with the sole purpose of trying to hold a Knight on f6 and looking to prevent e4, but White has other ideas with f3 to drive in e4. Sure, this can get a little airy for the White King, and it is risky, but the opening serves a purpose.

Now let me say, before you go around preaching how stupid I am for promoting these openings, that 2.c4 is still White's best move from a theoretical perspective after both 1...d5 and 1...Nf6. That said, the systems mentioned above all have a specific purpose. Outside of the Trompowsky, which is all about structural damage and leads in development, it is usually to get that e-pawn advanced to e4, opening up White's game. But in the London System, there is no motivation for White to do that. He just wants to sit around, plop a few pieces on different squares and pretend that he is developed, wait to see if Black implodes, and if not, shake hands. In addition to Bf4 doing nothing, it also often requires White to play additional moves that do nothing for his fight for the center, such as h3, merely to give the Bishop an escape on h2. Not true in all lines, including the line played in the game, but face the London System enough times or look over enough London System games and you'll see exactly what I mean, especially at the amateur level, where you'll see players playing White flicking in h3 even when it's completely unnecessary. This whole idea doesn't even make any sense if you think about it! White puts his pawns on d4, e3, and f2. That makes this Bishop on f4 his "Bad Bishop". It may be active, but it's still bad, and so why is White spending all this time to preserve something that he'd probably be best off getting rid of anyway, even for a Knight sometimes?

So with that, let's take a look at the game, and I will be pointing out a number of places that Black could have improved, and with this, you should never lose to the London System again. I make no claim that it's refuted, and draws will likely be frequent when facing this system, but there is no reason to ever have to lose to this drivel.

Charlotte Open, Round 4
W: Carter Peatman (2171)
B: Patrick McCartney (2061)
London System

1.d4 e6 2.Bf4 d5

This idea of playing 2.Bf4 instead of 2.Nf3 has risen in popularity mainly due to a cheap trap, which we will look at. If a trap is what people are resorting to, it just confirms my theory that the London System is garbage.


This defeats the purpose of playing 2.Bf4 and steers back to the ordinary London. What is all the rage today is playing 3.e3. The idea is that White wants to keep the Queen open for Qg4-tricks. The idea is that here, 3...Bd6 is dubious, but not for the reasons that most London players at the amatuer level think. After 3.e3 Bd6?! 4.Bxd6, Black is in a quandry. If he takes with the Queen, then after 4...Qxd6 5.Qg4!, Black does not get the proper compensation if he gives up the g-pawn, and holding it leads to Black compromising his position, either with the weakening 5...g6, getting his King stuck with 5...Kf8, or tangling his pieces with something crazy like 5...Qf8. Many think that this Queen trick works against both captures, but it doesn't. After 4...cxd6 (instead of 4...Qxd6), White gets a positional advantage after 5.c4! dxc4 6.Bxc4 and both sides have many options here. You might ask what is so great for White? It just looks like your normal Exchange Slav type position if Black ever plays ...d5, but the difference is that in the Exchange Slav or in QGD lines, when White gets in the desired trade of Dark-Squared Bishops, he usually has to initiate it where Black can respond with developing a piece, typically the Queen. But here, nothing of Black's is developed, and White still was able to trade the piece he wants traded, and so while White's Bishop on c4 is not a tempo gain as it will have to move once Black plays ...d5, White is still, in essence, a move ahead compared to most normal lines. Note that 5.Qg4 (after 4...cxd6) is not as effective here as it is after the Queen capture because with the Queen still on d8, covering f6, Black can respond with 5...Nf6! 6.Qxg7 Rg8 7.Qh6 Rg6 and now 8.Qf4 Ne4! gives Black full equality with possibly even a miniscule advantage while the better move, 8.Qh4, still gives Black compensation for the pawn after 8...e5!, and so 5.c4 is better than 5.Qg4 here.

So now we see why many play this 3.e3 move order, and why 3...Bd6 against it isn't particularly good for Black. Taking with the Queen leads to tactical problems, and taking with the pawn leads to a lag in development. However, if White ever does this to you, simply play 3...Nf6 first before moving the Bishop to d6.

3...Bd6 4.Bg3

As already mentioned, the Dark-Squared Bishop is White's worst minor piece, so why did we offer to trade it off? Why didn't White take it? The answer is simple. Black has no intention of capturing the White Bishop for him. By retreating to g3, White figures that his Rook will open up if Black takes before he castles (or if he castles Queenside, which is rare, but will actually happen this game). The problem with 4.Bxd6 is the well-known adage that "The initiator of any trade always loses a tempo." Think about that. After 3 moves, White has two pieces developed to Black's one, but he will have to spend time pushing the e-pawn to get the other Bishop out, something Black has already done, so we will soon see that Black isn't really behind in development. He will be in line with White. But if White were to take the Bishop on d6, Black will recapture with the Queen (4...Qxd6). White originally had a developed piece on f4, and now he has nothing there. Black may no longer have his developed Bishop, but he has replaced it with a developed Queen, and so this exchange leads to one less developed piece for White, and the same number of developed pieces for Black, as before the trade. Now you might say "but what if White develops another piece, like 5.Nd2? The problem with that logic is that White now has the same number of pieces developed as before, but now it is Black's move, and before it was White's move, and so that logic doesn't work either. So this is why Black offers a trade that eliminates White's worst piece, and why White doesn't take it. This leads to a well-known concept in chess called tension. More often than not, tension is between pawns, and neither side wants to release it via capturing as it loses time unless it leads to a gain elsewhere, like the winning of a pawn. But as can be seen here, tension can also be between two pieces, such as Bishops here, or Rooks on an open file, or two Knights that attack each other.

This also leads to another issue I have with the London System. When Black plays a move like ...a6 in the Ruy Lopez or ...h6 in the Queen's Gambit Declined or Torre Attack, sure, Black is forcing White to move a piece a second time in the opening. However, the move ...a6 or ...h6 does nothing to get Black closer to castling, and it doesn't develop a piece, and so Black hasn't really gained time. Here, however, Black has developed a piece, and White moves a developed piece again. White is not forced to move the Bishop again, but allowing Black to take it on f4 instead of g3 does lead to a compromised pawn structure. This may be ok for White, and whether or not Black captures and whether this is better or worse is another entire topic to be covered another time. However, in the game, Black has gained time by developing a piece and at the same time, getting White to move an already developed piece a second time. These time-wasting moves such as Bg3 or h3 are another reason why I find the London System to be significantly weaker than the other "Queen Pawn Openings" such as those mentioned in the introduction.

4...Nf6 5.e3 O-O 6.c3

This move makes very little sense. When developing, you should move pieces that you know the destination of before those that you don't. The move 6.c4 would not be bad here, realizing that you need to gain space and looking to not move the Bishop immediately in case Black takes on c4, trying to gain a tempo, but if you are going to use the traditional London setup, why play the pawn first? If Black had played ...c5, this would make sense, giving the Bishop the c2-square if Black advances ...c4. But with the pawn still on c7, why not play 6.Bd3 and prepare to castle or develop the Queen's Knight after that? Wait for Black to play ...c5 before playing c3 unless you have a specific reason, like developing the Queen to c2 or b3, but with the Black King castled, he can easily play ...b6 without any issues on the light squares, and there is no reason to rush the Queen to c2 without developing the Bishop, and so the move 6.c3 makes little sense. Sure, you'll play Bd3, Qc2, Nd2, etc, but if that is what you are going to play anyway, play the least committal move first. This way, if Black does something odd, the move c4 is still an option for White.

Long story short, the best move here probably is 6.c4, but of all the systematic moves akin to the London System, 6.c3 makes the least sense of them all.


And here you will see the system that I advocate. Black's idea is simple. He is delaying ...c5 until he is ready to play it on his own time, avoiding certain tactics that White may have on the c-pawn, and getting ready to play ...Bb4 and ...Ne4, occupying the e4-square and preventing the e4-push that White often achieves in other QP Openings. The fact that White plays these time-wasters like moving the Bishop a second time to g3 or time-consuming pawn moves like h3 is what gives Black the time to do this here against the London that can often be viewed as dangerous against other systems like the Colle or Torre.

7.Bd3 Bb7 8.Nbd2 Ne4 9.Qc2 f5

And now the position resembles a good version of the Stonewall Dutch where White's pieces are sub-optimally placed.

10.Ne5 Nxd2

Black's idea here was to avoid 11.Ndf3, which would allow a Knight to continue to occupy the hole on e5 if Black were ever to trade his Knight or Bishop on e5. It also temporarily displaces the Queen. That said, with the Knight on e5 and it only being protected by the pawn on d4, this would be the time for Black to seriously consider the advancement of the c-pawn. After 10...c5, both 11.Ndf3 Qe7 12.Qe2 g5 and 11.f4 Bxe5 12.dxe5 Ba6 give Black a small advantage.

11.Qxd2 Nd7 12.f4 c6 13.Qe2 Rc8 14.Bf2 Nf6 15.Bh4 Qe8 16.h3 Ne4 17.g4


Understanding multi-purpose moves like this one are critical in chess. Black sees that White is advancing on the Kingside, which means his King will likely end up on the Queenside or in the center. Black will want to open the c-file at some point. By lifting the Rook, Black is enabling himself to double on the c-file before breaking it open. Secondly, the g-file is likely to open up, and with none of Black's pieces blocking the 7th rank, the Rook is ideally placed to cover the g7-pawn.

18.O-O-O b5 19.Kb1 a6 20.Rhg1 c5 21.Bxe4

With the mounting pressure, White buckles and plays an anti-positional move. Something like 21.Be1 or 21.Rc1 would hold the balance.

21...fxe4 22.Rc1 Bxe5

Now you might be wondering why this is good while White's equivalent move two moves ago was anti-positional. Here, White doesn't have a good way to recapture. If he takes with the f-pawn, then Black owns the open f-file. In the game, he takes the other way, but it's far easier for Black to mobilize his majority than it is for White to mobilize his.

23.dxe4 Qd7 24.Bg3 Qc6

This move is not right though. After 24...b4, White has nothing better than 25.cxb4 cxb4 26.Rxc7 Qxc7 27.Rc1 Qd7 28.Qd2 a5 29.b3 Ba6 and Black's position is preferable as he has both the initiative and it's easier for him to get his Bishop into play than it is for White to get his going.


This move makes no sense. White must get the ball rolling with 25.f5. Attacks on the opposite side is all about who gets there first.

25...Rcf7 26.Rf2 Bc8

Too passive! After 26...a5! 27.h4 b4, Black has a big advantage. His attack will be quicker to break through.

27.h4 c4?!

This move is a positional mistake. Black still has a small advantage after 27...a5, though it's not as great as it would have been the previous move.


White fails to execute on his lone opportunity prior to the time scramble. 28.h5!, continuing his attack on the Kingside, would actually give White a small advantage. Do note, however, that this advantage does not come from the London System, but rather after back-to-back errors by Black.

28...b4 29.Kd1?

White must play 29.cxb4 here with a roughly equal position. Now suddenly, Black is better once again.

29...Qa4+ 30.Ke1 Qxa2 31.Kf1 bxc3 32.Rxc3 Rb7 33.Ra3 Qb1+ 34.Kg2


Black had it all going his way until now. Black needs to get his last piece into the action. After 34...Bd7!, Black plays to bring the other Rook to b8. Black is winning after 35.Qc2 Qxc2 36.Rxc2 Rfb8 37.Ra2 Rb3 38.Bf2 g6 as White is completely tied down, and 35.Rxa6 Rfb8! is even worse for White.

35.Rxb3 cxb3 36.Rf1 Qa2 37.Rc1

Once again, White should have played 37.f5 where Black's advantage is extremely minimal.

37.Bd7 38.Be1 Bb5 39.Qd2 Bc4 40.Qd4 Qa4 41.Bc3 Qe8 42.Kf2 h5! 43.Rg1 Qe7 44.g5 Qf7??

And one more time, Black messes up. At this point, time was becoming an issue with White having 11 minutes for the rest of the game to Black's 6 minutes. Here, 44...Rb8 was correct (44...Rc8 is ok as well), where 45.Kg3 (45.g6? Qxh4+ -+) is answered by 45...g6 and Black has the upper hand. Whether it is enough to win is still in question as it doesn't come close to what Black could have had after 34...Bd7!, but it's better than what was played in the game.

The rest of the game is going to see a significant number of mistakes and probably isn't worth much more than something to laugh at from here on out.


And once again, White fails to capitalize. The only move for White is 45.g6! Problem is, that move is actually good enough to give White the advantage!


Black needed to play either 45...Qf5 or 45...g6.

46.g6! Qd7 47.Rc1?

47.Rg5! with advantage to White.


And here 47...Qe7! is a big advantage for Black as White can no longer block with the Rook on g5.

48.Qb4 Qc5 49.Qb7??

49.Qxc5 is dead equal.


With the lack of time on the clock, Black goes for the perpetual. Once again, Black has a huge advantage with 49...Rf8! 50.Bb4 50.Qd7 Rxf4+ 51.Kg2 Bf1+ 52.Rxf1 Rg4+ 53.Kh1 Rxh4+ 54.Kg2 Rg4+ 55.Kh1 Rh4+ 56.Kg2 Qc2+ 57.Rf2 Rh2+ 58.Kxh2 Qxf2+ 59.Kh1 Qh4+ 60.Kg2 Qg4+ 61.Kh2 Qxg6 62.Qxa6 Kh7 and the pawns are better than the piece. Even worse is 50.Qd7 Rxf4+ 51.Kg2 Rg4+ 52.Kh2 Rxg6 and Black's winning.

50.Qb4 Qc5 51.Qb7 Qc7 52.Qb4 Qc5 1/2-1/2

A depressing draw for Black, who had many chances to win. That said, a number of items can be learned from this game:
  • The London System, unlike other QP Openings, involves White playing non-developing moves such as either h3 or moving the Bishop multiple times. This causes White's attack to be slower than in other QP Openings, and hence why Black should have absolutely no problem equalizing.
  • Remember the concept that the initiator of any trade loses a tempo along with the concept of tension. Just because a trade of equal pieces is available does not make it good to execute the trade. Saying "the position will be simpler because there are fewer pieces on the board" is NOT an excuse to trade. Often times, keeping tension on the board is vital.
  • Remember the trick if White doesn't play Nf3 early, and plays the line via d4, Bf4, and e3. Get the Knight out to f6 before contesting the Bishop. If White plays an early Nf3, then contesting the Bishop immediately is best.
  • Delay the move ...c5 until your position is ready to play it, or until a tactical factor makes it good. Playing it too early can often play into White's hand for tactical reasons.
  • One of the main points behind the recommended system is not to allow e4 by White.
  • When castling on opposite wings, focus on the side you are attacking except when absolutely necessary. Slow-playing the position or constantly defending will often lead to disaster.
  • When dealing with a middle game position with Opposite-Colored Bishops, the advantage almost always goes to the side with the initiative.
  • A piece is not always better than three pawns. Typically, the closer you are to an endgame, the better the pawns are. In an early middle game with lots of pieces still on the board, the piece is typically better.
  • Often times, the hardest part about chess is executing in an advantageous position. Just because your position is better does not mean you can get lax or complacent, and you must always pay attention to all details throughout the entire game.

Next time, and pretty much the rest of the games in the tournament, we will be seeing games where White is the one pushing, likely with the advantage, that again result in failed attacks. Until then, good luck in your games.