Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The French Connection: Volume 22

Hello and welcome to the twenty-second edition of The French Connection. We will be looking at the third round of the Des Moines Open, the first of the two tournaments I played in my annual July road trip. The variation played in this game was the Exchange Variation. Those of you that have read my article from September, 2017, covering a repertoire for Black against the Exchange Variation, will know what my take is on the Exchange Variation. Mimic White's play until he does something undesirable, and take advantage of it. It does possibly increase the chances at a draw, and wins tend to be long (this one's no different at 65 moves), but I can tell you that since taking up that strategy, I have yet to lose a game, and roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of them have been wins. In this game, we see White going about as far as physically possible of playing moves that we would mimic, and so like round two, we will be seeing a symmetrical position late into the opening. All of that said, this game should be a valuable lesson on endgame play as there are many winning opportunities missed. That said, all of those opportunities were Black's!

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

Des Moines Open, Round 3
W: Nathan Otten (1832)
B: Patrick McCartney (1996)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bd3 Bd6 6.O-O O-O 7.c3 Bg4 8.Bg5 c6 9.Nbd2 Nbd7 10.Re1 Qc7 11.Qc2 Rfe8

So we have a totally symmetrical position. White played a slightly unusual move order, and notice that say, on move 7, Black played 7...Bg4 rather than copying White, but expected, and got, a mimic response by White. The normal move order to reach this position would be 7.Bg5 Bg4 8.Nbd2 Nbd7 9.c3 c6 10.Qc2 Qc7 11.Rfe1 Rfe8. Black saw no reason to mimic 7...c6 immediately since the Knight is developed to f3 and Black wants to play his Bishop to g4 anyway, pretty much no matter what White does, and so getting the Bishop out there so that the Queen's Knight can be developed to d7 without blocking the Bishop can be done quickly, but notice that we got back to the symmetrical position anyway.

And so now the ball is in White's court. White developed his minor pieces. Black did the same. White created the battery on the diagonal, and Black responded with his own on the corresponding diagonal. White moves his Rook to the open file, and Black does the same. All of White's moves thus far have been easy, automatic, and non-committal moves. The reason I say that they are non-committal is that you can always retreat a piece back to its original square if you need to. The same cannot be said about Pawns. You move a pawn forward, it can't come back. So unless White can find a non-committal move that Black can't play for tactical reasons, White is going to have to commit first. Let's look at what White can do here:

  • White can move a Queenside Pawn, but note that that would be a committal move, and Black can react accordingly, whether that be to continue to copy, or take advantage if you feel like White's move is weakening. For example, pushing 12.a3 would weaken the light squares on the queenside.
  • White can play a move like 12.Bf5, but that would just accelerate Black's desire to trade light-squared Bishops. Yes, it's not locked in like it would be in the advance variation, but with a pawn locked on d5, the light-squared Bishop is still Black's bad Bishop.
  • White can retreat the other Bishop to e3, but he is merely making his position more passive, and Black can proceed with his own attempts at an attack, or if he feels like White hasn't committed enough, he can continue to mimic.
  • White can toggle his Queen's Rook, but for what? To see if Black will commit? He can if he wants, or he can mimic White and take a draw if White literally refuses to make a committal move and does nothing. A draw for Black is not a bad thing.
  • White can lift the Rook, but Black will then trade before White is able to double up.
  • White can trade Rooks, reload, and in this one case, Black should initiate the trade because White will be forced to recapture in an undesirable manner. After 12.Rxe8+ Rxe8 13.Re1 Rxe1+ 14.Nxe1. After this, White has to spend another move to bring the Knight back to life, and so White wastes two moves bringing the Knight back and forth, and so he goes from being one tempo up by going first to Black having a full extra move. Black's situation becomes what White's situation would be at move 12 if you simply took all the Rooks off the board and told White he could now move twice! This can't be good for White at all.
  • The other option is to move 12.h3, which is what he does in the game.


While this move may be the least of the evils for White, it has its own problems. First off, it doesn't appear to do much other than force Black to do what he wants to do. Move the Bishop to h5 and g6 to contest the White battery. Notice that Black can no longer do the same thing on g3 because now only one Pawn covers g3 whereas both of Black's pawns continue to cover the g6-square, allowing Black to contest the battery.

12...Bh5 13.Re2 Rxe2

As noted in the list of possible twelfth moves for White, Black needs to trade before White can double up.

14.Bxe2 Bg6 15.Bd3 Re8

There is no reason for Black to take on d3 at this time. Let White initiate the trade and use his extra time to develop another piece while White is busy taking pieces off the board. White immediately complies.

16.Bxg6 hxg6 17.Re1 Rxe1+

Again, because White has to take with a minor piece, this is one of the few times to initiate the trade because a Knight on e1 is not desirable for White, and White is not gaining time by moving his Knight to the back rank.

18.Nxe1 Nh7 19.Nef3 Nxg5 20.Nxg5 Nf8

So after a number of trades, let's look at the situation. The following observations should be made:

  • Black has the best minor piece. The Bishop, and it's his good one!
  • White's Knight on g5 might appear to be more active than the Knight on f8. That said, Black's last move actually serves the purpose of at least temporarily keeping the d2-Knight passive. Notice that if White tries to make it active via 21.Ndf3, then Black can trap the other Knight with 21...f6 with a winning position.

21.Qd1 Qe7 22.Ngf3

Notice that White ends up retreating his lone active piece, realizing the trap if White were to activate the other Knight, and also notice the extra time it's going to take White just to contest the e-file and get the Queens off.

22...Bf4 23.Kf1 g5 24.Qe2 Qxe2+ 25.Kxe2 f6

Freeing the Bishop from needing to guard the g5-Pawn, and giving the Black King a path to the center of the board via the light squares.

26.g3 Bc7 27.Ne1 Kf7 28.Kf3 Ne6 29.Nd3 Bd6 30.a3 Kg6 31.Nb3 b6

Taking the c5-square away from the Knights.

32.Nb4 Nd8 33.Nd2 a5 34.Nc2 b5 35.Nb3 a4 36.Nd2

White should prefer 36.Nc5, maintaining equality. Note that if Black tries to create the weak Pawn with 36...Bxc5, then 37.dxc5 Ne6 38.Nb4 sees the c6-Pawn be just as weak for Black as the c5-Pawn is for White, and if the Pawns are traded, Black has an extra Pawn island and White might have a slight advantage. Of course, Black should maintain equality and not capture on c5 in that scenario.

36...Kf5 37.Nb4 Ke6 38.Nf1 Bxb4!

Black correctly times the trade of the Bishop for the White. Black has an advantage no matter how White recaptures.


The fractured Queenside is a problem for White. White has to constantly watch out for tactical shots, especially a Knight sacrifice on c3 if he is unable to chase down the a-pawn prior to promoting.

39...Nf7 40.Nd2 Nd6 41.Kg4??

This move fails tactically. Better tries are 41.Ke3 or 41.g4. Black still has a small advantage in both cases, but the position is manageable for White. The move played should drop at minimum a pawn.


My mind was on a defensive and prevention mentality, figuring the right moment would come for my Knight to charge in and either capture on b2 or sacrifice itself on c3, figuring Black has the long term advantage and should not rush. Normally, this would be good logic, but here it's an exception. Black should play 41...Ne4!!, winning at minimum a Pawn once the White Knight moves and Black is able to capture on f2. Note that 42.Nxe4 would be losing for White. After 42...dxe4, 43.Kh5 would be answered by 43...Kf5 44.g4+ Kf4, winning, while 43.h4 gxh4 44.gxh4 g6 is also winning for Black as White can't stop Black from walking right through the light squares to the b-pawn and win with the a-pawn.


Giving Black yet another opportunity. White must bring the King back and play 42.Kf3.


Once again, the winning move is 42...Ne4!, this time, answering a move like 43.Nb1 with 43...Nf2+ and 44...Nd1, winning a Pawn and the game. Taking on e4 also fails. 43.Nxe4 dxe4 and depending on what White does, the e-pawn or the unstoppable path to the b-pawn by the Black King wins it for Black.

43.Kf4 Kf7

Stronger is 43...g5+ 44.Ke3 f5, and now 45.h4 does not give White an outside passer. Actually, the opposite happens after 45...f4+ 46.gxf4 gxh4 with advantage for Black.

44.h4 Ne8 45.g4 Ng7 46.g5 Ne6+ 47.Kg4 Ng7 48.Nf3

White should repeat the position and play 48.Kf4, questioning Black what he's going to do. White should be able to draw that way.

48...Nf5 49.Kf4 Nd6

Better is 49...Ke6, against which White's best move is 50.gxf6 when after 50...Kxf6, Black still holds the advantage. The game move allows White to equalize.

50.Nd2 f5 51.Nf3 Ne4 52.Ne5+ Kg7

The only move, but enough to draw.


53.Nd3 or 53.Kf3 maintains equality and is safer than the move played. This move doesn't lose, but it causes more trouble for White than it's worth.


Again, the only move. Note that the sacrifice on c3 here would fail. 53...Nxc3?? 54.bxc3 a3 55.Na5 a2 56.Nb3 is winning for White.


This move loses for White. The only moves are 54.Kf3 or 54.c4, the latter being not obvious at all. The former is a more likely defense to actually be found over the board.

54...Nd3+ 55.Kf3 Nxb2 56.Nxb5 Nc4 57.Kf4 a3??

Throwing away the win. There is nothing White can do to stop Black, and he will have to surrender the Knight anyway whenever Black does play ...a3, so why rush it now? The correct answer was to improve the position of the Black King with either 57...Kf7 or 57...Kf8. Only after the King is ideally placed should Black advance the a-pawn.

58.Nxa3 Nxa3 59.Ke5 Nb5 60.Kxd5 Nxc3+ 61.Kc4 Na4

White to move and draw


With both sides in time trouble, White buckles. Two moves draw here. 62.d5 and 62.Kd5. All other moves lose!

62...Nb6+ 63.Kc5??

This move makes absolutely no sense as White can no longer stop the f-pawn. That said, even after the more logical 63.Kd3, Black is winning after 63...Kf7.

63...f4 64.Kxb6 f3 65.Ka6 f2 0-1

The Black Pawn is too fast for White and so he resigned.

So once again, we saw a symmetrical position early on, but notice that it put the big question to White as to what he was going to do next. This allowed us to drive how the game would be played. Sure, it took a while to win, and the earliest available win to Black was at move 41, but the fact that Black had five opportunities to win (moves 41, 42, 43, 57, and 62) to White's none should say a little something about the validity of this symmetrical system. Even with a few errors by Black, it was White that had to find perfect moves every move just to avoid losing.

That concludes this edition of The French Connection. Until next time, good luck in your games, especially those that start out as a French Defense!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Game Analysis: Des Moines Open, Round 2

Hello again everyone as we continue to cover the games during the road trip I took in mid-July. In the first game, we saw a fairly well played strategic win for Black. Maybe a slight hiccup or two, such as being under the assumption that trading the Bishop for the Knight was obligatory when it actually wasn't, but there were no blunders by Black, and so I felt pretty good going into this game.

Another story before getting into this game as it is relevant to what you will see in the game below. Literally during this time, while I was in Iowa, there was a thread on titled "Openings against e4 that are Open (except e5)", and the player was asking if there was any way to assure avoidance of a cramped position playing a Semi-Open Defense, to which I responded that no there is not. I also indicated that it does not mean your position will be cramped, but in all the Semi-Open Defenses, White has an option at a variation that specifically focuses on gaining space more than it does getting any kind of lead in development, where White is making a lot of early Pawn moves, for example, the French Advance, Sicilian lines with an early f4 (like Bg5 and f4 against the Najdorf), the Caro-Kann Advance, the Austrian Attack against the Pirc, the Four Pawns Attack against the Alekhine, etc. In no way am I saying these systems are necessarily White's best lines (especially the Alekhine Four Pawns Attack), but if White wants to play it, White can and there is nothing Black can do to prevent it once he's played 1...Nf6 against 1.e4. So my suggestion was to put in the effort to learn 1...e5 if he specifically wants to avoid being cramped, and grab his share of the center immediately.

Then this other user comes in, and diverts the topic, and starts talking about knowing an opening from one level or another, and that lead to this argument about whether it is possible to know openings at varying degrees, where my argument was you either know it or you don't, and used the French in my case as an example versus the Grunfeld. I can regurgitate 13 moves of the Seville Variation of the Grunfeld, but that doesn't mean I understand it. If White deviates, do I know what I'm doing? The answer is No! And I pointed out that there is no "Grunfeld at a 2000 level" versus a "Grunfeld at a 1700 level" and that there are 1700 players out there that know the Grunfeld better than I do. Does that make them better at chess? Absolutely not! Then I went over to the French and claimed that I understand the French as well as a GM, like Caruana, but made the distinct point that there are 4 key aspects to the game, not one. The first is "Understanding", not "Memorizing", the opening. Why are the pieces placed where they are? What are both White's and Black's general plans? It is NOT "What is Black's best move at move 49 in the Winawer?". Do you understand the opening moves, and do you understand both Black's and White's general plans? These questions, I can answer about the French as well as any GM. The problem becomes the other three items. Second, can you, if given a random position and all you are told is who is to move, evaluate the position correctly? At this point, we are not in the opening phase or the general plan phase. We are evaluating a specific position that could have come from any opening. Is White slightly better? Is Black winning? Etc. The third item is the ability to calculate, which is also where tactics come into play. How well can you calculate? How deep? Can you find all legitimate candidate moves? Etc. The fourth and final item is endgame knowledge. And so I specifically pointed out that it is only phase 1 of 4 and it is only the French, not all openings, that I can keep up with any GM. So I would point out that let's say Caruana and I both played the Black side of a French McCutcheon against Carlsen, and we both played the 8...g6 line. By move 12 or so, Caruana and I would likely have the same position and pretty much the same general plan. But by move 25, Caruana's far superior ability to evaluate and calculate is why he will likely have an equal position and I'm likely to be lost. At that point it has nothing to do with the opening. Then the one making the argument was picking at straws, saying things like (paraphrasing) "Well, how long did it take you to learn the French?", and let's say you respond "Two Years", and then he'd ask "Well, can you not have a different level of understanding the French after year 1?", to which I would tell him no, you don't. Let's say in the first year, you mastered the Advance and Exchange. Well, you know the French Exchange and the French Advance. You don't know the French Defense! He kept on trying to twist the question to get the answer he wanted and I wouldn't budge, and he eventually gave up, especially after others were backing up what I was saying. Overall, it got to the point of being funny because the other person was going to the point of stupidity to try to win the argument.

So how where does all this tie into the game you are about to see? Well, what you will see here is a game that wasn't as well played as the first one, and both sides had issues. From my perspective, White, I actually saw virtually all but one of the items that Black missed, and so why did I play the moves I played? It was poor evaluation of the position. The second of the four items mentioned in the argument above! Black, on the other hand, continues to miss these strong moves. So now you might ask how this is any different than the stink bomb games I played in the first six months of the year? The difference is, I actually saw what Black missed, whereas in the first six months of 2019, I was constantly blindsided by my Opponent's moves, and many things that my opponent missed were items that I missed as well until I ran it through a bot days later. The problem White has this game is position evaluation, something that is easier to fix than not being able to find threats by the opponent. So while observing this game, think from the perspective that White sees the lines given in the notes, but White's problem becomes the fact that he thinks the resulting position is say, "0.00" (using computer evaluation terms) when really it is "-1.80". For Black, this should be seen as a lesson on finding candidate moves and calculation.

With that said, let's take a look at Round 2 of the Des Moines Open.

Des Moines Open, Round 2
W: Patrick McCartney (1996)
B: Uddhav Aja Kanbur (1862)
Double Fianchetto Opening

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 b6 3.Bg2 Bb7 4.O-O c5 5.b3

So this Double Fianchetto system is actually the first of what is now 15 opening videos (each roughly 10 hours long) by Grandmaster Damien Lemos. One rule of thumb that he gives is that White specifically wants to avoid the c4-d3 vs c5-d4 pawn complex, shutting out the Bishop on b2. One way to avoid this is whenever Black plays either ...d5 or ...c5 to answer with c4. If Black has played ...c5 and you play c4, the moment Black plays ...d5, White must either take or play e3. He cannot allow d5-d4 without e3 already played as then e3 can be answered by ...e5, and if Black plays ...e5 before ...d4, then White can take on d5 and Black will be forced to take back with a piece with a reversed Maroczy structure. The alternative is not to play c4 at all, and play a d3 and e4 setup, similar to a King's Indian Attack but with the Dark-Squared Bishop fianchettoed. Since the Black Knight is already on f6, White wouldn't have problems playing b3 if he plays c4, and so while White's move of 5.b3 is ok, he can also consider 5.c4. The only downside to 5.b3 is that if Black plays an early ...d5, then White needs to go for d3 and e4 instead of c4. Again, neither move is bad, but you have to understand the follow-up ideas in case Black plays an early ...d5.

5...g6 6.Bb2 Bg7 7.c4 O-O

So we now have this purely symmetrical position that is an odd hybrid between the Quadruple Fianchetto and the Symmetrical English. Now we will be talking quite a bit about symmetrical positions as the next game we are going to see also deals with symmetry early on. However, not all symmetry is the same. In certain openings, like the Exchange Slav or Exchange French, Black going purely symmetrical and putting the onus on White to prove his point is legitimate. But in other openings, there may be tactical issues (such as going symmetrical for too long in the Spanish Four Knights) or a legitimate advantage to going first, as would be the case here if White plays the right move.


White should have played 8.d4 here with a slight advantage. Instead, White tries to make a useful waiting move, looking for a reaction by Black, and only then break the symmetry accordingly.

8...d6 9.a3

Often times a useful waiting move in these Double Fianchetto systems as it keeps the Knight out of b4 if developed to c6 and White might also play e3 and use the c2-square as a safe haven for either the Queen, or possibly the Rook and swing the Queen to a1, which is what happens in this game. If Black doesn't develop the Knight to c6 and goes to d7 instead, then possibilities of b4 may come into play at some point, expanding on the Queenside.

9...Nbd7 10.Nc3

So now the symmetry is broken.

10...a6 11.Rc1 Qc7 12.Rc2 e6 13.Qa1

White should take the time out here to play 13.e4, making it more difficult for Black to get in ...d5. For example, if he were to play 13...d5 here, White would have a fairly significant positional advantage after 14.cxd5 exd5 15.e5!

The move played allows ...d5 by Black, which I knew, but underestimated its value.

13...d5 14.e3

And here White should trade on d5 first. After 14.cxd5 exd5 15.e3, White might still be able to claim a slight edge because it's slightly easier for him to attack down his semi-open file (the c-file) than it is for Black to attack down his (the e-file) since White is much closer to breaking with b4 or d4 than Black is with d4 or f4.

14...Rfd8 15.Ne2

One last chance to trade on d5 and White doesn't do it.


The correct move by Black, avoiding any issues down the c-file as White can't legitimate take with the Rook here as 16.Rxc4 Bd5 would be a major problem for White.

16.dxc4 Ne8

Black can get a slight advantage if he goes after the weakened long diagonal via 16...Be4 17.Rd2 Qb7 18.Nh4 Bxg2 19.Nxg2 e5 as the Knights look clumsy, especially with f4 unavailable to them.


And here, White should take on g7 for the same reason before going Rd1. After 17.Bxg7 Nxg7 18.Rd1, the Knight looks clumsy on g7.

17...Bxb2 18.Qxb2??

Here is another case of mis-evaluation. When I played this move, I was well aware that I am giving up an exchange, but my thought was that with the juicy holes on the dark squares around the Black King, the Knights were more valuable than the Rooks. This might be true if White had his remaining pieces swarmed around the Black King, like if the Knights were already there, and the other Rook was on the h-file. Then White might have something eliminating the Knight on d7, but here that isn't so. That said, unlike White's mis-evaluation, Black fails to execute it at all!


Black should make White put his money where his mouth is, and play 18...Bxf3!. Here, White is forced to play 19.Rxd7 because the Rook was loose on d1, and so 19.Bxf3?? Ne5 leads to a double attack and White drops a full piece. After 19.Rxd7 Qxd7 20.Bxf3 Rb8, Black's simply winning. Instead, in a single move, we are back to an equal position.

19.Rcd2 Rxd2 20.Qxd2 Ne4

And this move is not good. Attacking the Queenside with 20...b5 or 20...Bc6 would maintain equality.


And once again, White mis-evaluates the situation. I had seen the idea of 21.Qd7, which is the right move, and I saw that after 21...Qxd7 22.Rxd7 Bc6, the Rook is kicked back and that White has nothing better than 23.Rd1 and can't maintain infiltration. However, it's not the infiltration that's important here. It is the total control of the d-file, and we will see in the game that White gets into a bit of a situation where he has to worry about Black infiltrations of the Queen on the d-file.

21...N4f6 22.Nc3 Bc6 23.e4 Nd7 24.Qe3

Once again the wrong idea by White. He should be maintaining his domination on the d-file, and a move like 24.a4, stopping anything from Black over there, would maintain an advantage for White.


Again the wrong idea by Black. Black is going for a trading mission when he should be playing on the Queenside. 24...b5 is roughly equal.

25.Nxe5 Qxe5 26.f4 Qc7 27.e5 Bxg2 28.Kxg2 Rd8 29.Rxd8 Qxd8

In this position, White is in the driver's seat. He has the space advantage with easier ability to maneuver the remaining pieces, the better Pawns, the better Knight. White has a large advantage here, but here is where things really start going south for White because of mis-evaluation of Black's threats.


This is too slow. White should get on with it and play 30.Ne4. The reason I didn't do it was I feared infiltration by the Black Queen on d4, but the Queen alone can't win, and White can avoid tactics that would drop his pawns. For example, after 30.Ne4 Qd1 (30...Kf8 is relatively best), White can play 31.Nf2 with tempo and is ready to play 32.Qd3, either forcing Black to trade off his best piece, or taking over the open file.


This position is still at least equal, but White has more to worry about now. Infiltration by the Knight to f5 and d4 is one issue. The Queen coming in if White stops that is the other issue.


White is willing to sacrifice a Pawn to keep the Knight out. This move would be ok if not for the one move missed by both players. 31.Kg2 with equality should be preferred.


This leads to the Pawn sacrifice that I saw. The move that both missed was 31...h5!! Now White is going to get stripped open because 32.h3 is not possible. After 32...Qh4, Black wins at minimum a Pawn, and you might be saying to yourself "But didn't you say you were sacrificing a Pawn?" The difference is, this drops a Pawn on the Kingside. The Pawn that Black can win by force here is the a-pawn, out in Timbuktu, and that is what he does in the game.

32.Qf2 Qh3+ 33.Qg3 Qf1+ 34.Ke3

If White tries to hold the pawn with 34.Ke4 Qc1 35.a4, then 35...h5! is again a major problem for White, and this one I saw because the Queen is tied down to the Knight. After 36.h3 Qc2+ 37.Qd3, Black has 37...Qxb3.

34...Qc1+ 35.Kd3 h5 36.h3 Qxa3 37.Qh4?

The Pawn sacrifice was right, but now White needed to play 37.Kc2, maintaining equality. Instead, White went for the wrong idea of the mission of the Queen trying to perpetuate the King or else win a Kingside Pawn.


37...Qxb3 is simply winning for Black. Now the position's equal again.

38.Qd8+ Kh7 39.cxb5 axb5

White to Move and Draw

Here White has one move that draws, and the rest lose. Can you find it?


Now White is losing, and Black has many ways to execute it, and so at this point, I'll simply point out times when he could put a complete end to White and then also the point Black blunders in the endgame as all White can do is watch and hope. The only move is 40.Ne4! Because of the mate threats, all Black can do is give perpetual check via 40...c4+ 41.Ke3 Qc1+ 42.Ke2 Qb2+ 43.Ke3 etc.

40...Qxb3+ 41.Nc3 Qa3 42.Qd7 Qc1 43.Qxf7 Qf1+ 44.Kd2 c4 45.Ne2 Qxh3 46.gxh5 Qd3+ 47.Ke1 gxh5 48.Qc7 Kg6 49.Qc5 Nf5 50.Qg1+ Kh7 51.Qa7+ Kh6 52.Qc5 Ng7 53.Qc8 Kg6 54.Qc5 Qb1+ 55.Kd2 Qa2+ 56.Ke1 Nf5 57.Qg1+ Kh7 58.Qg5 Ng7 59.Qg3 Qb1+ 60.Kd2 Nf5 61.Qg5


Black missed on outright win here with 61...Qb4+, winning the Knight. If 62.Nc3, then 62...Qb2+ picks up the Knight. If 62.Kc1, then 62...Qe1+ picks up the Knight, and if 62.Kd1 or 62.Kc2, then 62...Ne3+ forces the King to c1 and then 63...Qe1+ picks up the Knight.

62.Qf6 Qd5+ 63.Ke1 h4 64.Qf7+ Ng7 65.Qf6 Qh1+ 66.Kd2 Qh3 67.Qe7 Qg4 68.Qc7 h3 69.Qxc4 Qg2

Here instead, 69...h2 is far stronger. Sure White can stop it with 70.Qe4+ and 71.Qh1, but the Queen is a horrible blockader and she is extremely restricted. Black is still winning there, despite White regaining the lost pawn. With Queens in an endgame, it's not a question of how many Pawns, but who has the best one! In this case, it's Black.

70.Qd3+ Kh6 71.Qg3

Last chance Black! One move maintains a winning advantage, the rest don't!


The game is now a draw. The only way to maintain the advantage was by trading Queens. 71...Qxg3! 72.Nxg3 Nf5 (using the tactic that the King is outside of the box) 73.Ne4 Kh5 and Black has a winning Knight ending.

72.Qxg2 hxg2 73.f5!

And here inlies the problem. Black cannot allow 74.f6 as then White is the one winning. So he must either surrender the g-pawn via promotion to drive the Knight back to g1, or else be forked and the White Knight will be on g2. Both of them lead to a draw as by the time Black gets both of White's pawns, he can't stop White from sacrificing the Knight for his final Pawn.

73...Nxf5 74.Nf4+ Kg4 75.Nxg2 Kf3 76.Ne1+

The Knight is headed for c5, from where it will sacrifice itself for the final Black Pawn.

76...Ke4 77.Nd3 Nd4 78.Nc5+ 1/2-1/2

Once Black responds with taking the Pawn, White will immediately grab the Pawn on e6 and K+N vs K is a draw.

So as mentioned in the introduction, we saw White mis-evaluate many of his moves. He also overlooked Black's possibility at move 31, and missed the draw at move 40, but otherwise, everything else explained in the game I physically saw while playing over the board. The problem was, I often saw it as being fine for White, when in actuality, it was far from that. As for Black, I'm not sure what to say. If I played Black in this game, I'd still be kicking myself now, two full weeks later. Call it a moral victory for White if you want, but to me it was more of a dirty draw. White did well to achieve the f5-push on move 73, but it was by no means forced. Oddly enough, while I do feel a little dirty about this game, the fact that I was able to see the vast majority of Black's winning ideas, with the lone exception of 31...h5, shows a sign that I at least played better than I was the first six months of the year. Sure, I should have lost this game, but how you lose does have a psychological impact. When my opponent is hitting me in the head with a baseball bat by playing strong moves that I never even considered, that's a sign of bad vision, and that can be far harder to fix than mis-evaluating positions.

I'll take the lucky draw, and next time, we'll be looking at the third round, where again, we will be looking at the theme of symmetry in the opening. Until then, good luck in your games.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Game Analysis: Des Moines Open, Round 1

I am officially back from my 2019 summer vacation, which included two weekend tournaments, the first being in Des Moines, IA and the second being in Lansing, MI. This article and the next nine that I write will cover the ten games that I played in this year's "Summer Tour".

First a little background information and statistics. The Tuesday before I left, July 2nd, there was a friendly argument between Peter (the head of the Charlotte Chess Center) and myself about whether or not outside circumstances factor into one's ability to play decent chess. My argument was that it does, and the GMs that operate the Quality Chess publishing site even go as far as saying physical exercise and being in shape factors in as well as mental state, and Peter's argument was that it does not. Well, in the first six months of 2019, I have dealt with my best friend (and best man at my wedding 13 years ago) suffering an aneurysm and a stroke, where it wasn't even known if he would make it (I'm proud to say that he's recovering far more rapidly and successfully than expected), physical pain in the calves and feet with 2 months of physical therapy, three trips to the ER for my daughter (two due to health, one due to injury), and extreme stress at work in March, May, and June. It has been an extremely stressful first half of the year, and my performance over the board has been horrible the first six months of 2019. I played pathetically at Land of the Sky in January, bad in all games but one in the Charlotte Open in June, and numerous other one day tournaments and games at the club Tuesday night where playing well was the exception, not the rule. About the only strong performance I've had in the first half of the year was the Club Championship in April. Keep in mind, only the player really knows how he did. You can play well and lose, you can play lousy and win, and if you need proof of that, just look at the last article I wrote before this one, a game that I won that was littered with errors, and I remember that night walking away with a bad taste in my mouth that night, despite the win.

Well, it was a different story with these two tournaments. My family and I went to Dollywood the first half of the first week, which was a lot of fun, and then while the wife and daughter went to Chicago for a month to see her parents, I went to Iowa on Thursday, gambled a little and otherwise relaxed on Friday. I had been out of work for a full week at this point. I was fully relaxed and actually felt ready to play on Saturday, and my play in these two tournaments showed that compared to the first six months of the year. After Des Moines, I went to gamble and played in a number of poker tournaments in Battle Creek, MI, placing in the money in the Pot-Limit Omaha and No-Limit Holdem hybrid tournament, and finally concluded the two week trip with the tournament in Lansing, MI before coming back home. By no means did I play like a Grandmaster, and probably should have lost four of the ten games I played, but outside of one game out of the ten, which I will leave the suspicion looming until the article for that round is written and you'll get a laugh at how NOT to play chess, I actually feel like I played well by amateur standards. The games I either lost or drew, except one of course, were ones where the mistakes made were "typical amateur mistakes" that you can learn something from, not sheer stupidity like many of my losses were in the previous six months, and so I think one can conclude that exterior factors, especially mental, do play a role in how well one is able to play.

As far as statistics, I finished with a total of seven points in ten games, including six wins, two draws, and two losses. The Black/White split was equal, playing five games with each color. For those of you interested in specific openings, what you will see over the course of this article and the following nine include Three Frenches (which will be published under the French Connection series), Three King's Indians, a Double Fianchetto, a King's Gambit, a King's Indian Attack, and a Scandinavian. There were games with wild tactics, some found and some missed, and there were also a number of positional grinds, with the shortest game being 28 moves and the longest one being 78 moves, and so there will hopefully be something of interest for everyone over the course of these ten articles.

So without further ado, let's take a look at the first round of the Des Moines Open.

Des Moines Open, Round 1
W: Adv Kodipparambil (1660)
B: Patrick McCartney (1996)
King's Indian Defense, Fianchetto Variation

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.Nf3 O-O 5.g3 d6 6.Bg2 c6 7.O-O Bf5 8.b3 Ne4 9.Bb2 Nxc3 10.Bxc3 Be4

So what we have here is a book line of the Fianchetto King's Indian with both sides playing strong moves. Let's take a look at the various factors of the position, which will explain all the main points behind this specific line of the Fianchetto King's Indian.

What can be said about White's and Black's position and why were the moves that each side made played?
  • The first thing to notice is that White has a space advantage. White's Pieces and Pawns span across four ranks whereas Black's span across only three ranks.
  • The lack of space explains Black's idea. He traded off a set of Knights, and with his last move, White has no way to avoid the trade of another set of minor pieces. When you have a space disadvantage, you typically want to trade pieces so that the other pieces are not crowded and tripping over each other. Now it should be added that while Black would like to trade pieces more than White would, there is probably one set of minor pieces that White specifically would benefit from trading, and that's the Dark-Squared Bishops.
  • The downside to Black's idea is notice that he moved his King's Knight twice and then followed that up with initiating the Knight trade on c3. He who initiates a trade always loses a tempo. Then, his Bishop has also moved twice, to f5 and then e4, and Black will likely be the one to initiate that trade. This leads to a loss of time for Black. Yes, as the previous bullet mentions, Black isn't suffering a crowded, cramped position, but because of these extra moves with the two minor pieces, he is behind White in development.

Therefore, White's position is probably slightly better here in this line due to the advantage in space and lead in development, but no more than that.


As mentioned previously, Black would like to trade the Dark-Squared Bishops, but he can't do it yet as advancing the d-pawn would cause the Bishop to hang, and so White is looking to advance d5. Therefore, Black's next move comes to mind. How does one prevent d5 by White on his next move?


By playing 11...d5 himself!


Black weakened e5 with his last move, and White should seriously think about 12.Ne5 Bxg2 13.Kxg2 and White maintains a very slight, but nagging advantage. Note that taking on d5 is not good, and after 12.cxd5?!, Black should respond with 12...Qxd5! There is no easy way to harass the Black Queen, and after 13.Nh4 Bxg2 14.Nxg2 Rd8, Black has fully equalized.

12...e6 13.Rfd1 Re8

Not a bad move, but to keep the c3-Bishop passive, Black should consider 13...a5 here, as it keeps the White Bishop off of b4.


With the annoying threat of something like 15.Ng5 with dual annoying threats on f7 and the Bishop on e4.


So Black plays the prophylactic move, preventing the White Knight from coming forward.


White specifically goes out of his way to avoid the Bishop trade, but it wastes a lot of time and benefits Black. Preferable was 15.h4, trying to further soften Black's Pawn cover around his King.


At first glance, it looks like this trade is necessary as otherwise, White can move the Knight, and then eventually trap the Bishop. However, it turns out this is not true, and the trade of Bishop for Knight is not necessary. After a move like 15...Nd7, if White tries to trap the Bishop with something like 16.Nd2, intending f3, Black can play 16...g5 with approximate equality.

16.Qxf3 f5

So now the position resembles a Stonewall Dutch type of positon, but with Black's bad Bishop gone. The White Bishop on h3 is mis-placed, but the Bishop pair and lead in development both mean something, and White is slightly better. Therefore, it would have been better for White to not trade off the Bishop for the Knight.

17.Qd3 Nd7 18.Bg2 Rc8

Both sides spent the last two moves relocating the worst placed pieces.


This move is not best. If you observe Black's pieces, they all point at the center, and Black is practically ready to play either ...e5 or ...c5 himself. There is little covering the Kingside. Rather than trying for an e4 break, better would be to play something like 19.h4, or maybe play on the Queenside with 19.a4. There are many options for White that can maintain him a very slight but nagging advantage, but in addition to fighting where Black's strength is, White also weakened the dark squares around the King, particularly the g1-h7 diagonal.


Black also gains full equality after 19...Nf6 20.e4 fxe4 21.fxe4 Nxe4 22.Bxe4 dxe4 23.Qxe4 Qd6.


No better is 20.e4 c5 21.exd5 exd5 22.f4 cxd4 23.Bxd5+ Kf8 as White is now forced to play something like 24.Bb2 with equality. Note that 24.Bxd4?? loses to 24...Bxd4+ 25.Qxd4 Re1+ 26.Kg2 Qxd4 27.Rxd4 Rxc1.

20...c5 21.cxd5?

This tactical mistake is the straw that broke the Camel's back. Better was to keep tension and play 21.e3.

21...cxd4 22.Bb2

22.dxe6 loses to 22...Nc5! 23.Bxd4 Nxe3 while 22.Bxd4 loses to 22...Bxd4 23.Rxc8 Rxc8 24.dxe6 Nf6 25.Qxd4 Qxd4 26.Rxd4 Rc1+ 27.Bf1 Rxf1+ 28.Kg2 Rc1 29.Rd8+ Kg7 and now neither 30.e7 Kf7 nor 30.g4 fxg4 31.fxg4 g5 is sufficient to force Black to return the piece.


White is positionally busted here. The d5-pawn is weak, and there is no real good way to break up the Black Pawn chain. For example, 23.f4 would be answered by 23...e4 24.Qd2 Red8 and White still can't take on d4 for the same reason that 22.Bxd4 didn't work earlier.

23.h3 a6 24.e4 dxe3 25.f4?

White is in trouble and tries to confuse the matter, but this is not the way to do it. A better desperation shot would be 25.d6, but after 25...Red8, Black is still better.

25...exf4 26.Bxg7

This allows a tactical shot by Black, but the best move, 26.Rxc8, does not solve White's problems.


This move works because the capture on d1 comes with check.

27.Rxc8 exd1=Q+ 28.Qxd1 Rxc8 29.Bd4 Qd6 30.gxf4 Qxf4 31.Bb2 Qf2 32.d6

Again, White tries to confuse matters because of the risk of Black's airy King. However, when Black grabs the Bishop, the dark squares become very safe for the Black King.

32...Qxb2 33.Qd5+ Kg7 34.Qxb7

This allows mate in two, but White is lost either way.

34.Rc1+ 35.Kh2 Qe5# 0-1

So we see that the tournament started on a strong note. The following items should be learned from this game:
  • The game as a whole is a good example of identifying which player has the advantage in various categories and trying to identify who has the overall advantage based on the combination of factors.
  • This line with 6...c6 and 7...Bf5 often leads to a trade down of two minor pieces, but Black has to be careful as he will be behind in development.
  • When it looks like you are forced to trade a piece off, first see if there is any way to get it out without trading off a superior piece for an inferior piece. In the game, Black traded off his Bishop for a Knight (15...Bxf3) when continuing development via 15...Nd7 was possible because of the move 16...g5. Trading it off wasn't enough to cost Black the full point, but it did give White a nagging advantage.
  • Always assess the position of not just your pieces, but also your Opponent's. White went for the wrong pawn break because Black already had a ready-made attack in that area of the board.

That concludes the coverage of the first game of the Summer Tour. Next time, we will look at Round 2 of the Des Moines Open. Until then, good luck in your games.