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.


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.


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?


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?


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?


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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...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.


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


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!


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


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.


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!