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!

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