Saturday, March 28, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 35

Hello everyone and welcome to the thirty-fifth edition of The French Connection. This time, we are going to cover a game from this week's Friday night rapid event that the Charlotte Chess Center has been running since shutting down temporarily due to COVID-19. This was the final round, and we will be seeing another Advance French, but this time, Black goes with the 6...c4 line (most of what we've covered lately has been 6...Nh6). This tends to be the more positional approach, but after some questionable development by Black, White goes for an attack in the center. We will see the importance of the Knights in this line. Granted, what White did on move 19 was a little over-zealous, giving up a Rook for the second Knight after having his Light-Squared Bishop all set up to pop the other Black Knight the moment it moves into the line of fire, and this gave Black a chance, but it was too complicated for him to execute, and we will see the White Knights and Queen dominate.

Without further ado, let's look at the feature game. This was played on chess.com, and so the names are user handles, White being myself. In case you are wondering where I got the handle from, when I first joined 9 years ago, the other thing I did a lot of besides playing chess was read a lot of thriller novels, especially political thrillers and espionage. That lasted until about 2014 when I then spent a year or so reading Bizarro and since then have pretty much quit reading fiction all together, and so these days, the handle has no real meaning. The time control was game in 15 minutes with a 2 second increment per move.


Friday Night Rapid, Round 3
W: ThrillerFan
B: bcooke01

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.a3 c4

This is the main alternative to 6...Nh6. The idea behind it is that White has weakened b3 as a result of his last move, and so rather than attack d4, Black figures to leave White with the hole on b3 and the weak pawn on b2. If this gets down to an endgame, and especially if Black reaches it with the Bishop pair, White could have a really hard time stopping Black from attacking the pawn chain at the base. Black can also try to infiltrate through the a4-d1 diagonal. Black will typically castle Queenside in this line, and White Kingside, despite the fact that each player is likely to attack on the side in front of their own King. With the closed nature of the position, this is often possible.

7.Nbd2



So we have a position where it is critical that Black plays the right move. There are two factors here. The first is that we just talked about Black keeping control of b3. If White is able to play the move b3 at no cost, Black is probably dead. However, the good news for Black is that there are three ways to counter the b3-idea for White. The thing is, only one of those three works at this very moment, but as the game goes on, Black should keep all three of the following ideas in mind:
  • The first way to prevent b3 by White is to outright control the b3-square more times than White does, leading to it simply losing a pawn for White, and leaving the c3-pawn weak as well.
  • The second way to prevent b3 by White is to visualize that if the c4-pawn were to capture on b3, can Black invade the White position via the weak c3-pawn and break through with an overwhelming attack. Note that simply winning the c3-pawn is not enough if Black is going to get pushed back after that. All that would do is open up lines for the White pieces at the Black King, and so if Black is going to take this approach, he has to make sure that he has a full-fledged break through, and not just a grabbing of a pawn followed by a retreat.
  • The third way to prevent b3 is to set up a fatal pin along the a4-d1 diagaonal. If White has no moved his Queen yet from d1, or if he places it on c2, it can be difficult to get in b3 because after a capture on b3 with either the pawn on c4 or the Knight on a5, when White takes Black with his Knight on b3, sometimes a move like ...Ba4 can be the trick to wind up winning a pawn, opening up the c4 square for a Black piece or an infiltration along the f1-a6 diagonal, and White also has to worry about what is now a passed Pawn on b3. This is often enough to be winning for Black, and therefore making the push of the b3-pawn a blunder sometimes for this exact reason of the pin with ...Ba4. This is why the Bishop is usually developed to d7 fairly early in this line.

The second thing to keep in mind is that Black has to watch out for walking into cheap shot tactics. Here, the beginners move 7...Nge7?? would be a huge mistake, and White gets an overwhelming position by sacrificing his Bishop due to the Knight tricks that result from it. After 8.Bxc4! dxc4 9.Nxc4, the Queen is attacked, and after the Queen moves, White has 10.Nd6+ followed by 11.Nxf7 with an overwhelming advantage.

Therefore, to avoid this cheap shot, and to control b3 (the only way out of the three right now to stop White is the first bullet, controlling b3 more times than it's attacked), Black's next move is forced.

7...Na5

Now it is White that has to make a decision. There are two different ways to proceed. White can play 8.Be2 and 9.O-O, with the idea being to attack the center and Queenside, trying to break through with b3. The alternative, which we see in this game, is to play 8.g3 and 9.h4, and develop the Bishop on either g2 or h3, and attack the center and Kingside. White goes for the latter approach here.

8.g3 Bd7 9.h4 h5?

This move is a mistake. All it does is weaken Black's Kingside. Two alternatives are both improvements. The first is to simply go ahead and castle Queenside immediately and follow up with 10...f5. The alternative is to develop the Knight first with 9...Ne7 when 10.Ng5 should be answered by 10...h6!, driving the Knight back, and after 11.Nh3, only then castle with 11...O-O-O.

10.Bh3 Nh6 11.Rb1

This is a multi-purpose move. First off, it adds a piece to the threat of advancing b3. Despite the line chosen by White to attack the center and Kingside, if Black simply gives White the green light to play b3, he should still do it. Second, White plans to castle, get the Knight out of the way, and try to trade off his bad Bishop on g5 since White weakened the dark square already with 9...h5. Without this Rook move first, that would all result in the b2-pawn hanging. Lastly, White doesn't have to worry about any ...Nb3 tricks. Attacking the Rook by itself is not an issue, but if it allows the Knight a gain of tempo to then either infiltrate on d2 or sacrifice itself on d4 at a time when it would work, White doesn't want to make the tempo gain a possibility for Black.

11...Rc8?!

I don't like this move for Black at all. The King should be going that way. In fact, Black should probably have castled here and now with 11...O-O-O.

12.O-O Be7 13.Re1

This move does solidify the White Center, and if Black ever plays something like ...f6, White can capture on f6 and the Rook comes to life. Also, any sacrifices on d5 or f5 could divert the e6-pawn away, and backing up the advancement of the White pawn on e5 is another possibility. But really for now, this move was to get out of the way of the Knight on d2, going to f1 to relocate itself.

13...Qc7 14.Nf1 Nb3

I'm not so sure that this move serves much purpose as the Bishop is now on the run, leaving the Knight out there to dry.

15.Bg5 Ba4



Quite frankly, I don't like what Black has done the last half-dozen moves or so at all. Before you knee-jerk and say that White has to get his Queen out of dodge, you must ask yourself, "Is Black actually threatening anything?", to which the answer should be "not much, if anything at all." Let's consider all the possible discoveries that Black may have at some point. For now, anything other than 16...Nc5 would outright hand the Bishop with check, but even we assume Black protects the Bishop first, what would that mean in terms of possible discoveries? Let's take a look with the assumption that the Bishop on a4 is protected when any of these discoveries occur:
  • 16...Nc1, 16...Nd2, and 16...Nxd4 are all just outright idiotic. In all three cases, White will simply capture the Knight with the Queen and Black has absolutely nothing for it.
  • 16...Na1 also seems pretty dumb. After a simple move like 17.Qe2, what is the Knight going to do? Return to b3? Go to c2 and risk getting the Knight trapped after something like 17.Rec1? That move makes no sense.
  • 16...Na5 - Sure Black can play this move, but is it anything more than a 1-move threat where White simply moves the Queen?
  • That leaves 16...Nc5, a square normally not available to the Knight, and so this is really the only move that we have to consider.

So since we determined that there is only one move to even remotely consider, again, if it were Black to move, what would 16...Nc5 achieve? The answer, truthfully, is not much. One could argue that Black intends to play 17...Ne4 next, but in reality, the Knight is not stable here, and Black must spend time making sure it doesn't get trapped. For example, if White moves the Knight on f3 to say, h2, away from everything, White has the immediate threat of pushing the pawn to f3, trapping the Knight in the middle of the board! Therefore, I can't see this being much of an issue.

Therefore, at least for now, we can outright ignore the threat of discovery on the Queen, and except for ...Nc5, we can literally wait multiple moves before even thinking about the other possibilities as right now the Bishop would hang with check. This concept of being able to ignore threats is a very important one. If you always knee-jerk to everything that has the appearance of being a threat, you will often miss out on some very strong moves made available to you in your games.

16.Bxe7 Qxe7 17.Ng5

Now going to c5 and e4 with the Knight would simply drop a pawn, and so the Queen continues to sit on d1 for now.

17...g6

The h-pawn was of course hanging. The alternative, 17...Nf5, is actually not an option at all to Black. After 18.Bxf5! exf5 19.Ne3, Black is in serious trouble.

18.Ne3 Rc7



19.Qf3

While there is a logical idea behind this move, it is going a little too far over the top for White. The idea is as follows:
  • The Bishop on h3 is waiting for the h6-Knight to move, either to f5 or g4. In both cases, White will snap the Knight with his Bishop.
  • The Queen and the two Knights will place pressure on the Black pawns and the light squares around the Black King, with one of the Knights sacrificing itself, especially on d5. Also note that if Black ever moves the h6-Knight to f5, and White captures, it's highly likely that Black will be forced to take back with the g-pawn, making h5 a target as well as d5.
  • The Rook on b1 will continue to guard b2 if need be, and if the Black pieces get distracted to cover the attack by the White Queen and Knights, then the b3 idea might still be in play.
  • With the Black pawn already on g6, and the Queen on e7, the likelihood of an ...f6 advance any time soon is almost zero. The sacrifice of a Knight might open up the e6-square for the pawn to advance, but that's a long shot. I decided that I didn't really need the e1-Rook, and that the elimination of the Black Knights was more important.

Now you might be wondering about that last bullet, and why I say that I didn't really need the e1-Rook. Isn't it the other one that's going away? Well, yes and no. While the capture by Black will be of the Rook on b1, White is simply going to recapture, where there is still a Rook on b1, and no Rook on e1, and so in reality, you are getting the Knight, and removing your own Rook from e1, and so you have to think about it this way. Sure, it's the e1-Rook that survives, but it survives by residing on b1 after capturing the Knight.

All of that said, it would have been better for White to play a simple move like 19.Ng2 with a clear advantage. The Knight will eventually go to f4, and the Queen will come in in due time. There was no need to rush the attack, and now, instead of being clearly better for White, it is unclear instead.

19...Nd2

Black takes up the offer.

20.Qg2 Nxb1 21.Rxb1 Nf5

Already Black offers the other Knight as well. It probably would have been better to play 21...Kf8 intending to go to g7 with the King.

22.Bxf5 gxf5

Of course, 22...exf5?? loses pretty much on the spot. After 23.Nxd5 Bc6 24.Nxc7+! Qxc7 25.d5, White has an overwhelming position, and after 25...Bd7 26.f4, Black could safely resign.

So as we noted in the second bullet earlier, White now has the added target on h5.

23.Nh3

Immediately heading for f4, combined with Qf3, to target the h-pawn.

23...Rg8?

This move is a complete waste of time. There is no threat to the h-pawn as there is a White Queen on g2, meaning that White would win a Rook if Black took on h4, and White is about to attack the h5-pawn, which there is no way to cover except via ...Rh8, and so Black's last move was non-productive.

24.Nf4 Rh8 25.Qf3

The h5-pawn is toast.

25...Qf8 26.Nxh5 Qh6 27.Nf6+



As it is, despite being up a Rook for Knight and Pawn, Black's position is possibly beyond salvageable. That said, Black manages to find the worst of the three squares that the King could go to.

27...Ke7??

The absolute worst of the three possible squares to put the King. White is still significantly better, but Black can at least continue to fight on after 27...Kd8, after which 28.h5 is an advantage for White.

From here, Black is going to lose, at minimum, another pawn and the Exchange, putting White up two clear pawns.

28.Nfxd5+

Black could resign here as 28...Kd8 (or 28...Kd7) 29.Nxc7 is completely winning for White, but here, Black does the unthinkable.

28...exd5 29.Nxf5+ 1-0

Winning the Queen and the game.


So we saw a game where the White Knights completely overwhelmed Black. Yes, Black could have defended better, and the sacrifice by White on move 19 was not the best, but the game still illustrates that the relative values that beginner books assign to pieces are exactly that, relative. In a completely blocked position like this, which is not at all unusual in the 6...c4 line of the French Advance, we saw what little value the Rooks and the Bishops held. It was all about the Knights combined with the Queen, two pieces that tend to work well in tandom to begin with, but with a pair of unopposed Knights and a Queen, combined with some shotty defense, it was enough for just those three pieces alone to overwhelm the Black King. While you should probably think twice before giving a Rook away for one of those Knights, I wouldn't blink an eye before giving away a Bishop for a Black Knight, especially the dark-squared Bishop, which in this game we saw was traded for Black's DSB, which at least is his good Bishop and White's bad one, but the value of each of the pieces was nowhere near what the beginner books will tell you. The Black Bishop on a4 was almost totally useless while the Rooks for both sides were not quite as bad as the Bishop, but they were still virtual bystanders.

The other thing that should be noted is that while White would still have an attack on the center and Kingside with the line he played, had Black castled Queenside, we wouldn't have seen the problems that Black had with his King as he would be tucked away safely at b8 or a8 (after castling and moving the King a time or two to get off the diagonal that the Bishop on h3 would be eying.

We will conclude this edition of the French Connection here. Until next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Game Analysis: Taking the Bait

Hello everyone and welcome. While the whole country is virtually on lock down during this pandemic, there clearly won't be a whole lot of competition going on in the next couple of months. I will continue to publish articles periodically (though I may skip a week here or there if nothing good comes up), but most of it is going to be either games from the past, or else blitz or rapid games. While blitz and rapid tend to be of lower quality than classical chess, every now and then one comes up worth covering, and that's what we have today. Black takes a hot pawn early on that is not "refuted", but typically White gets more than enough compensation for the pawn. That said, we will see White attack down the center after a few errors by Black, and in the end, Black loses a piece and therefore the game.

Let's take a look at the feature game.


Internet Blitz (5 Minute)
W: Patrick McCartney (1983)
B: Trivedi Jindal (1962)
Alekhine's Defense, Chase Variation

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.c5

This is the defining point of a not-so-popular line called the Chase Variation. The naming of the line is simple. White continuously chases the Knight around to gain a space advantage. The question becomes is Black suffocating, or is White over-extended?

5.Bc4 e6 6.Nc3



Now we are at the crossroads where Black must make a decision.

6...Nxc3

This move is playable, though not theoretically best. Black's strongest reply here is 6...d6!, when 7.Nxd5 exd5 8.Bxd5 is best answered by 8...c6!. Now, if White replies with 9.Bc4, then 9...d5! followed by 10...Bxc5 gives Black an excellent game, and so White is forced to go all-in with 9.Bxf7+, when after 9...Kxf7 10.cxd6 Qe8 11.Qe2 c5 12.Nf3, we have the following diagram:



And now 12...Bxd6!. White cannot take the Bishop as Black gets a very dangerous attack after 13.exd6? Qxe2+ 14.Kxe2 Re8+ 15.Kd1 Bg4 followed by 16...Nc6. Therefore, White should reply with 13.Ng5+ Kg6 14.Qd3+ Kxg5 15.Qxd6 and while it may look very ugly for Black, he is actually ok after 15...Nc6.

7...dxc3 Bxc5?!

This is a very dangerous pawn grab. While there does not appear to be a direct refutation, play is going to be very difficult for Black. It is better to play 7...Nc6, forcing 8.Qh5 before taking the pawn on c5, with the problem being that 8.Bf4 allows 8...g5!. Now the Queen goes to a better square.

8.Qg4 g6

Slightly stronger is 8...Kf8, but White still has more than enough compensation for the pawn after 9.Bf4 followed by castling Queenside.

9.Bh6

Black is going to have major problems on the dark squares.

9...Nc6 10.f4 d6

Possibly better was the immediate 10...d5, but after 11.Bd3, White is still better. Now, actually, White makes a mistake.

11.O-O-O?!

Because of a tactical shot available to Black, which he misses, White should first play 11.Bg7 Rg8 12.Bf6, and only now, after 12...Qd7, should he castle queenside with a close to winning advantage.

11...Ne7?

Missing 11...Be3+ 12.Kb1 Nxe5! with a slight advantage for Black.

12.Bg7 Rg8 13.Bf6 c6 14.Nf3 Qc7 15.Rhe1 d5 16.Bd3 Nf5?

This is a mistake. Black should be focused on completely development while the position is somewhat blocked. Better would be 16...h5 17.Qh3 Bd7 with ideas of castling Queenside. Instead, he allows White to break open down the center.



17.Bxf5?

Stronger is not to take the Knight right away and playing 17.Qh3 h5 18.Ng5 Be7 19.Nh7 Nh6 20.Bxe7 Qxe7 21.Nf6+ Kf8 22.Nxg8 Kxg8 23.Qf3 with a winning advantage for White. 17...exf5

Forced due to the pin of the g-pawn to the Rook.

18.Qh4 Be7?

Missing the opportunity to equalize with 18...h5!

19.Ng5! h5??

Too little, too late. Black had to play 19...Be6 here. White is still winning after 20.Qxh7, but the game move just made things a lot easier for White to put Black away.

20.e6!

Black is in no way ready to see the center break open.

20...fxe6 21.Nxe6 Bxe6 22.Rxe6 1-0

Black has no way to avoid dropping a full piece and therefore resigned.


Maybe not the best game ever analyzed, but it does show some ideas both behind finding the right move when attacking, and finding the right defensive ideas when they are available. Both sides made their mistakes, White on moves 11 and 17, Black several times in the teens, but it was Black that made the fatal error on move 18, not realizing that he needed to attempt to block the position as much as possible and getting his King castled rather than simply trying to trade the White pieces off.

I also wonder if any Alekhine players out there would be brave enough to play the 6...d6 line all the way through. Black is fine, but it could be viewed as too scary for the normal human being. Mikenas actually played it once against Nezhmetdinov in 1948, but he played the wrong move on move 15 and got blown away, but had he played 15...Nc6, he'd have been ok. Just curious to see if any amateur would ever take up that line.


Til next time, good luck in whatever games you are able to play during this time of crisis.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 34

Hello everyone and welcome to the thirty-fourth edition of The French Connection. In the previous edition, we saw a game played by Wolfgang Uhlmann from the Black side of the King's Indian Attack where because of a very aggressive move by White, Black had to play a strong defensive move where if he didn't actually understand the position, and simply played routine moves without paying attention to what White was doing, and played the "automatic" 13...a4, his position would have been worse.

This time, we are going to see another game played by Uhlmann with yet another line where a different 13th move by Black is possible, and better, than the automatic 13...a4.

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


Potsdam 1988
W: Ralf Lau
B: Wolfgang Uhlmann

1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 c5 5.g3 Nc6 6.Bg2 Be7 7.O-O O-O 8.Re1 b5 9.e5 Nd7 10.Nf1 a5 11.h4 Ba6 12.N1h2 b4 13.Ng4



13...Nd4

It is critical to understand why this move works. White's other main option back on move 13 is 13.Bf4, against which, I would suggest the stereotyped move, 13...a4. The difference has to do with the Knight on f3. With his counterpart being on h2, the move 13...Nd4 is not as effective because after 14.Nxd4 cxd4, White can immediately apply pressure with 15.Nf3, hitting d4, and also preparing to eventually go to g5, which we saw in the previous article can be very aggressive and dangerous.

With the Knight on g4, White instead has to make a critical decision. Does he take on d4 to try to damage Black's pawns? Or does he ignore the Black Knight and play a normal move?

14.c3

White can also take on d4, which does double Black's pawns. However, they are covering many important squares and can be hard to get to. It should also be noted that Black has the semi-open c-file, and White has to be on the constant lookout for his c-pawn. A good example featuring 14.Nxd4 would be Dragan Glavis - Ladislav Havas, Croatian Championship 1999. The move order is slightly different, but it directly transposes to 14.Nxd4 cxd4 15.Bf4. It isn't like the entire game is centered around the c2-pawn, but Black probes weaknesses, such as enticing b3 from White, weakening the dark squares, which he uses to infiltrate with his Queen, and then once White pushes c4, Black relies on his more active pieces from the time he gained in the middlegame to win the heavy piece endgame.

14...Nxf3

Black decides to remove the Knight that is likely to want to go to g5 eventually, which can be a dangerous piece to the Black King.

An alternative is 14...Nf5, keeping pieces on, and having the Knight act as a strong defender. For instance, it becomes harder for White to advance g4 as the h4-pawn will hand in most cases unless it has previously advanced further up the board, but then the White King could also get a little airy with an extra Black piece on the Kingside that normally wouldn't be there. If White tries to play normal moves, such as 15.Bf4, it won't get him anywhere. There is no real way for White to make progress without contesting that Knight on f5. If White plays 15.Bf4, and eventually follows up with a later Ne3, given that a trade on e3 would likely cause the Bishop to recapture, since recapturing with the Rook would in most cases look silly with the given pawn structure, it would lead to the Bishop simply wasting a move. This leads to the question of the immediate contesting of the Knight with 15.Nd3. Play could follow with 15...Nxe3 16.Bxe3 h6 17.Rb1 Rb8 18.Qd2 Qb6 and Black is perfectly fine as sacrifices don't work here for White. After 19.Bxh6? bxc3 20.bxc3 Qxb1 21.Rxb1 Rxb1+ 22.Kh2 gxh6 23.Qxh6 Bxd3, Black is winning as White has no breakthrough and Black has a significant material advantage, despite lacking the Queen.

15.Bxf3 Rb8 16.Bf4 a4

Now that Black has eliminated the dangerous White Knight that could go to g5 at any time combined with his loose Knight on c6, and having moved his Rook off of a8, he has eliminated all tactics for White along the long diagonal, and now continues with his queenside operations.

17.Qd2 a3

This assures at least some form of opening of the Queenside.

18.b3

White tries to keep it shut down as much as possible.

18...bxc3

Of course Black cannot allow a subsequent 19.c4. The main alternative to the game move is for Black to play 18...c4 himself. White can easily get into trouble here as well. For example, after 19.bxc4, Black can play 19...bxc3 20.Qxc3 Bb4 21.Qd4 Bxe1 22.Rxe1 dxc4 23.h5 (White has to accelerate his Kingside attack or he is in trouble. He doesn't have time for lame recaptures of pawns.) 23...Qa5 24.Rd1 Rfd8 and White's in bad shape.

19.Qxc3 Rb4 20.Rad1?

White misses the tactical point behind Black's last move. Relatively best is probably 20.Qd2 with still a small advantage for Black.

20...Bxh4! 21.Bc1

White is busted after 21.gxh4 Rxf4!.

21...Be7 22.Bxa3


White has regained the pawn, but the fun has just begun for Black. See if you can find Black's next move.

22...Bb7! 23.Qc2

The tactical point behind Black's last move is that 23.Bxb4 can be answered by 23...d4! White may be best off taking the Bishop and giving up the Queen. Instead, if White moves his Queen, Black gets all of his material back starting with 24...Bxf3, subsequently gaining another exchange. Otherwise, 24.Ba5 Qb8 and White has the same problem. This is why White didn't take the Rook.

Now that the Queen has moved, Black must move the Rook, right?

23...d4!

No! We still have the scenario where if White takes the Rook, then 24...Bxf3 gains the full Rook back (or else two minor pieces).

24.Be4 Rb6

Black now proceeds to shuffle his pieces to better locations. The way to figure out how to go about this is to figure out what Black ultimately is trying to achieve. The first thing to identify is Black's biggest weakness, which in this line is typically the King, and in this specific position, it's h7. Therefore, he wants to swing the Knight to the Kingside, either to f8 to guard h7, or to g6 to block h7. The attack is still on the Queenside, and so if the Knight along with the Bishop on e7 can take care of the defensive tasks, then the heavy pieces can be used for the Queenside attack. He starts by attacking a2. Once it moves, b3 becomes weak. If he can get in on the 3rd rank, and grab the b- and d-pawns, he will have connected passers, and then the only important thing is to be able to defend the Black King and Black will win.

25.Bc1 Bxe4

Black first eliminates one of the attackers of h7. It's not like Black's Bishop was doing much beyond contesting the White counterpart. We will see this followed up by combining an attack on the Queenside pawns, and relocating the Knight for defensive purposes on the Kingside.

26.Rxe4 Ra6 27.Qe2 Re8

Opening up f8 for the Knight!

28.Kg2 Nf8 29.Rh1 Ng6 30.Rh5 Qa8



Mission Accomplished! The Knight is in the way of White's attack, and the pressure is applied down the a-file. Next thing to consider is how else can White attack the Black King? The only way that could maybe cause a few headaches for Black is down the h-file.

31.a3 Rb6

It might look tempting to play 31...f5?, but it doesn't work. After 32.exf6 gxf6, there is the perception that White has to worry about 33...f5 due to the pin of the Rook on e4, and the fork of the Rook and Knight on g4. Closer observation would see that only one of them is really a threat, and that's the pin of the Rook. Therefore, White can answer with 33.Kh2! when 33...f5 34.Nh6+ (Oops!) followed by 35.Nf7+ or 35.Rxe6, depending on where the King goes, and White is winning. Therefore, Black instead continues to pressure the Queenside.

32.Kh2 Rxb3 33.Bh6

White uses tactics and tricks to validate his move.

33...Qa6

Going for the d-pawn. This is far safer than trying to grab the Bishop. It turns out, Black still wins after 33...gxh6, but only after a very complicated situation where he has to dodge many potential landmines. After 34.Nxh6+ Kg7 35.Nxf7 Rf8 {35...Kxf7?? loses to 36.Rxh7+ Kg8 37.Qh5} 36.Rxh7+ Kxh7 37.Qh5+ Kg8 38.Rg4 and now Black must find the only move that wins as all other moves lose outright! 38...Bg5!! 39.Rxg5 Kxf7 40.Qxg6+ Ke7 and there is no way to mate the Black King. Black is winning, but this is extremely difficult for the human mind to calculate. The move in the game may take longer to execute the win, but it's far simpler.

34.Bxg7 Qxd3!

34...Kxg7?? loses to 35.Qd2!

35.Qxd3 Rxd3 36.Bf6 Bf8 37.Re1



Time for another re-assessment. The Queens are gone, which helps in defending the Black King. White clearly wants to double up on the h-file since if White can grab the pawn, and completely open the h-file, h8 is covered only once, and so White can mate the Black King with an open h-file if everything else remains as it is. The Bishop covers any checks with the Knight, and the Knight covers h8 once. Therefore, if Black can get rid of one set of Rooks, and have the Knight on g6 not be disrupted, the connected passers on the c- and d-files should be what wins the game for Black. Therefore, how do we get rid of one set of Rooks?

37...Rf3

Headed for f5, offering the trade of a set of Rooks.

38.Kg2 Rf5 39.Rh3

Of course White has no interest in trading.

39...h5!

Under normal circumstances, it is said that you do not advance pawns on the side in which you are weak. However, here we have determined that all we need to do to defend our King is exchange one set of Rooks, even if that means giving up a pawn as long as it's not one of our two connected passers. Therefore, with only one White Rook, the h-pawn is unimportant.

40.Reh1 c4

Black goes on with his own business and sacrifices the meaningless h-pawn. For White to take it, he must offer a trade of one set of Rooks, which is all Black needs.

41.Rxh5

White offers the Rook trade because without taking the pawn, what progress can he ever make if the h5-pawn is a permanent block of the h-file?

41...Rxh5 42.Rxh5 c3 43.Kf3 d3 44.Bg5

Seeing that he is getting nowhere with his current setup, White has to do something. Black, of course, cannot blindly advance the pawns and must stop all cheap threats, and therefore he takes the time to relocate the Bishop to cover f6.

44...Bg7 45.Ke3 d2 46.Ke2



Clearly Black is winning, but the pawns can't do it alone. Last phase is to get the pieces in without getting his own King killed. The Rook is clearly free to move, and once the White Rook is forced back to defend, the Knight will come into play as well while the Bishop stays with the King for defense.

46...Rc7 47.Rh1 Nxe5 48.Nf6+

Now White plays a series of checks, but there is no perpetual.

48...Kf8 49.Nh7+ Ke8 50.Nf6+ Bxf6 51.Bxf6 Rc5

It is basically game over at this point.

52.f4 Nf3! 0-1

White resigned as there is no stopping ...c2 on the next move and promotion cannot be stopped. White will lose his Rook, and subsequently the game.


So once again we see the connected passers on the c- and d-files decide the game. This is not unusual in scenarios of the KIA vs French in cases where Black wins. The connected passers is a fairly common goal for Black in this line. But the important thing to keep in mind, just like what was emphasized in a number of other recent articles, is that you cannot play on auto-pilot and expect to succeed. Once again, Black delayed the common 13...a4 move in favor of an idea that was mainly possibly because Black understood that consequences of White moving that h2-Knight to g4 that quickly. In addition to it once again showing the importance of paying attention to what your opponent is doing, even in openings normally thought of as openings where you can go on auto-pilot for the first dozen moves or so, it also once again illustrates the importance of understanding the opening you play, not just memorizing it. We saw two fairly uncommon 13th moves in the last two articles, namely 13...Qe8 and 13...Nd4, but it also needs to be understood that these are not additional options any time White plays the King's Indian Attack. They are very specific to what White did in the two games covered in the previous article and this one. The early disconnection of the two Knights and not leaving the second one on h2 is specifically what opened up the 13...Nd4 idea in this game. If White can retake on f3 with the Knight, then playing ...Nd4 isn't a very good idea as White can trade on d4 and apply immediate pressure on d4 after that with the other Knight coming to f3.


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

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 33

Hello everyone and welcome to the thirty-third edition of The French Connection. Let's start by going back to Volume 1. Those of you that have read all 32 of the previous editions will know that in Volume 1, I had said that this would be a combination of GM and Amateur games. Has anybody done a tally? Now many GM games have been covered? Two! Volumes 1 and 5! I'd say we are long overdue. With not much activity on my end until I go to Reno in April combined with the fact that we have been talking about the importance of paying attention, even in the opening, to all 32 pieces on the board, and not to just your own 16 pieces, and how players can easily fall victim to that in certain openings, such as the Sicilian Defense (Covered in the article "Chess is a Game with 32 Pieces"), London System, and King's Indian Attack vs French (Covered in "The French Connection, Volume 32", where we saw White playing the game very similar to how one should in the KIA vs Sicilian), I decided now was an excellent time to cover a couple of GM games in the French Defense.

Well, believe it or not, in the KIA vs French, Black can just as easily fall victim to the same problem as White can if he isn't paying attention. This is where studying the games of one of my favorite players in history comes into play, Wolfgang Uhlmann. A GM from Germany who will be 85 years old later this month and is now retired from serious competition, he will always be a major piece of history when it comes to the French Defense. We saw one of his games in Volume 1. Actually, that game, at least to this date, is my favorite. Uhlmann has played the French his entire life, and even someone like myself has not seen every Uhlmann French game in his career given how many there are, though I have seen a lot of them! For example, on Chessgames.com, if you search only for Uhlmann games where he specifically had Black, and combined the searched for the French Defense (C00-C19) and A07 (The ECO Code that just about all of his KIA vs French games came from), you get a whopping 371 games! In addition to that, at the GM level, it is very difficult for Black to win, even before the computer era, where draw frequency was lower, but White tended to score better than Black, and still does overall. Uhlmann had a significant plus record in those 371 games, including 129 wins to only 97 losses, the remaining 145 games being draws. Of course, keep in mind that this is simply what is in this database, and likely does not cover every game of Uhlmann's excellent career. That said, with a score of over 54% as Black amongst the 371 games here, nobody can argue against his games being an excellent source for those looking to master the French with the Black pieces.

In the current article and the next one, I will be covering a couple of Uhlmann's games against the King's Indian Attack, and we will see how he correctly reacts to White's deviations, and how it is critical to pay attention to such detail in your own games against the King's Indian Attack. These deviations we will be looking at will be various setups that White can execute at moves 12 and 13.

The game in this article is against a GM that many have heard of. The late Walter Browne was born in Australia in 1949 and moved to the United States. He gained his GM title in 1970, and the game that we will be looking at was played only a couple of years after that. His final tournament was the National Open in 2015, where he finished in a tie for 9th thru 15th, and just suddenly passed away unexpectedly shortly after that. The blitz tournament at the National Open is now dedicated under his name.

Lifetime, these two faced each other 6 times (4 with Uhlmann as Black), and Uhlmann had a lifetime record of two wins and four draws (one and three with Black) against Walter Browne. This game is one of the two that Uhlmann won.

Without further ado, let's get started on the topic with an overly aggressive line by White:


IBM Amsterdam 1972, Round 6
W: Walter Browne
B: Wolfgang Uhlmann

1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.Ngf3 c5 5.g3 Nc6 6.Bg2 Be7 7.O-O O-O 8.Re1 b5 9.e5 Nd7 10.Nf1 a5 11.h4 b4



So far, so good. Everything is totally normal. However, Black must be really cautious here and not turn a blind eye on White. The White pawn on e5 is everything for him. It is the main thing on the board that is keeping Black's pieces away from his own King, and is the only thing on the board that is causing such a debilitating cramping effect on Black. If White loses this pawn without getting something substantial in return, like the Black King, he's usually going to be as good as dead.

This is why moves like 12.Bf4 are so common in this line, preceded by h4. The h4-push allows the Knight to come in to g4 via an alternative route, that being h2, along with e3. The downside to putting the Knight on e3 is that it blocks the Rook from guarding e5, and so if White is going to use the e3-square the transport the Knight on f1, then 12.Bf4 is a must! Otherwise, White can also get the f1-Knight in the game quickly with 12.N1h2 and 13.Ng4, and this is precisely what we will be covering in the next article.

After the "normal" plan of 12.Bf4 and 13.Ne3 or 13.N1h2, Black can proceed with his "normal" development of 12...Ba6 and 13...a4, and here I would suggest at looking at a game like Savon - Uhlmann, Skopje 1968.

However, what we will see here is not "normal", but rather, a very aggressive idea for White, and Black needs to react accordingly.

12.Bf4 Ba6

Ok, and so now if White moves the f1-Knight to e3 or h2, Black will simply play 13...a4.

13.Ng5

Ok, so what is so different about this versus something like 13.Ne3 or 13.N1h2? White's idea is extremely aggressive, and not available to him unless this f3-Knight moves. Black's response is actually necessary!

13...Qe8!

So let's say that Black just goes on his merry way and plays 13...a4. Why is this not such a good move? Well, let's start with the obvious idea for White. After 14.Qh5!, there is of course the cheap shot mate threat in 1 on h7, and Black, of course, has to do something about that. There are only two moves that stop that immediate threat. The first option is 14...Bxg5, and after 15.hxg5, White's idea is to bring the Knight into g4. From there, Black has to really watch out for sacrifices on f6 or h6. If necessary, White can move the Bishop to f3, the King to g2, and swing the Rooks to the open h-file. He can bring a lot or artillery over there and overwhelm the Black King. After a sequence of moves like 15...Qa5 16.Ne3 Nd4 17.Rac1 Rfd8 18.Ng4 Nf8, Black might be holding on if a computer is playing Black, but he is walking on egg shells, and even one minute slip-up and it is game over for Black. White, on the other hand, has a safe King with very few losing chances at all. I would not want to have to play the Black side of this.

The alternative is probably even worse. After 14...h6 15.Nf3, computers tend to like Black, but it isn't until a few moves are played that it suddenly flips and realizes that White is significantly better. Let's see a couple of examples:

  • After a move like 15...b3 16.c4 a3 17.axb3 axb2 18.Rab1 Nb4 19.Ne3 d4 20.Ng4 Nxd3, artificial intelligence finally realizes that White is on top after 21.Nxh6+ gxh6 22.Bxh6 Bb7 23.Qg4+ Bg5 24.Bxg5 Bxf3 25.Qxf3 Nxe1 26.Qh5 Ra1 27.Bxd8 Nf3+ 28.Bxf3 Rxb1+ 29.Kh2 Rh1+ 30.Bxh1 b1=Q 31.Be7 Re8 32.Bd6 with a big advantage for White.
  • Even worse is 15...c4, which after 16.dxc4 dxc4, White can immediately go for the kill shot with 17.Bxh6! gxh6 18.Qxh6 with the major threat of 19.Re4. If Black tries to stop that with 18...Nc5, then the Knight comes in instead with 19.Ne3 c4 20.Ng4, winning.

And so we see a common theme here. The move ...h6 creates a major hook for White. In this case, it's mostly used to sacrifice a piece rather than advancing the g-pawn, but it's still a problem either way. There is little that Black can do to avoid the creation of the hook, and so what is the next best alternative? What piece of White's has caused all the headaches for Black? The Queen! This explains the biggest reason behind Black's latest and subsequent moves. If White is going to force Black to weaken his Kingside by forcing him to advance a pawn, then he wants the Queens off the board in return.

14.Qh5

Very much the move that Black anticipated.

14...Bxg5

Both moves here are fine for Black after playing the defensive move on move 13. The alternative is to get the Queens off immediately via 14...h6 15.Nf3 f5!, which immediately forces the Queens off the board as there is nowhere for the Queen to go, and en passant is not possible because the Queen on h5 is currently hanging, and after 16.Qxe8 Raxe8, Black is fine. This might even be a slight improvement over what Uhlmann did due to an alternative for White not played in the game that is not available to him here.

Uhlmann's move was not "bad", but after an idea that I saw for White given below, I personally think that 14...h6 is even stronger than 14...Bxg5. That said, he does get rid of another pair of pieces before eliminating the Queens, but he does have to watch out for White's alternative 15th move.

15.Qxg5

Interesting is 15.hxg5. Here, with the retreat available along the h-file, Black can no longer force the Queens off, which is why I actually prefer 14...h6 and 15...f5 for Black. After a line like 15...Rc8 16.Ne3 Bb7 17.Qh3! (17.Ng4? would be a mistake, returning the favor to Black with 17...f5!, forcing the Queens off as the Queen and Knight are both hanging) 17...Qd8 18.Ng4, I actually would prefer White here.

After the move played in the game, the position is totally fine for Black.

15...a4 16.Ne3



16...Kh8!

Absolutely necessary if Black is going to go for the mission of eliminating the Queens. Note that doing it immediately doesn't work because of a check. After 16...h6? 17.Qh5 (17.Qg4? hangs the pawn on e5) 17...f5 18.Qxe8 Raxe8 19.Nxd5! and now we see the problem. After 19...exd5 20.Bxd5+, the Knight on c6 hangs and White is simply up two pawns. Of course, Black doesn't have to take the Knight, but then he's still down a pawn for nothing. Note that in the 14...h6 line, the Knight had nowhere to go but f3, and so the Bishop was blocked from d5, and the other Knight wasn't on e3 yet, and so the idea worked there. Here, as long as there is no check on d5, Black can hold on to the piece and then it becomes a true sacrifice, and a bad one at that! So after this move, Black's idea is to play ...h6 and ...f5, which is what we shall see happen.

17.Rad1 h6 18.Qh5 f5 19.Qxe8

Unlike in the 14...h6 line, White does have the option to retreat the Queen, but it isn't an option that White should take up because after 19.Qe2?! Nd4 20.Qf1 Rb8, White's position has suddenly become extremely passive. White avoids this by going ahead and accepting the Queen trade.

19...Raxe8 20.Nc4 Nd4

White's last move works tactically as Black is busted after 20...dxc4? 21.Bxc6 +-

21.Nd6 Nxc2!

Black invests a small amount of material in order to break through on the Queenside. Just like how Black has to watch out for his King with all of his pieces on the Queenside, if Black can survive, which getting the Queens off has gone a long way to achieving that, then White could have similar problems with stopping Black's pawns on the Queenside. If Black is able to promote a pawn, he will almost certainly win.

22.Nxe8 Rxe8

Black can also get away with 22...Nxe1, but that will likely lead to nothing more than a draw after 23.Nc7 Nxg2 24.Kxg2 Rc8 25.Nxe6 d4 26.Kf1 Kg8 27.Ke2 Nf8 (Note that 27...Kf7? allows 28.Nc7! with advantage to White.) 28.Nxf8 Kxf8 29.e6 Ke7 30.Kd2 Kxe6 31.Re1+ Kf6 32.Bd6 b3 33.axb3 axb3 34.Be5+ and while Black is technically a pawn up, the opposite colored Bishops combined with how weak the extra pawn is should give White no problems at all with drawing the game.

The game move shows that Black is trying to win.

23.Re2 b3 24.axb3 axb3 25.Red2



25...Bb5

This is more of an "excuse me" move than anything else. The Bishop does nothing different at the moment from b5 than he does from a6. However, it's not all about the Bishop. The first thing to recognize is that the Knight on c2 controls the a1-square. If it didn't, this move would be a complete waste of time as White can move his Rook to a1, taking over the a-file. However, with a1 under Black's control, Black recognizes that he has the time to achieve getting his Rook to a2, and this all starts with the Bishop simply getting out of the way of the Rook, and since there is nothing that White can do to stop it, Black has the ability to give White the free tempo before taking over the a-file.

26.Rc1

White's idea is to try to get rid of the Knight once and for all. Not via sacrificing the exchange back, but rather via the Bishop on g2 going to f3 and d1, which we are about to see. Like Black's Bishop move, White's move is simply to get out of the way of the piece that needs to be coming into action.

26...Ra8 27.Bf3 Ra2 28.Bd1



28...Ba4!

Taking the b-pawn is nothing more than a draw. After 28...Rxb2? 29.Bxc2 bxc2 30.Rdxc2 Rxc2 31.Rxc2 Bxd3 32.Rb2 c4 33.Rb7 Nc5 34.Rc7 Nb3 35.f3, the position is dead equal.

The game move is also equal, but with more pieces still on the board, and that advanced pawn still being present, there is far more room for White to go wrong, and he does!

29.Rb1 Kg8 30.g4 fxg4 31.Bxg4 Kf7 32.Kg2 Bb5

Both sides are preparing for the inevitable tradedown by bringing their Kings into the game. Now White makes a passive move that is inexplainable.

33.Bg3?

Probably just a waiting move, looking to see what Black thinks he has. White needs to continue to bring the King forward with 33.Kg3 or 33.Kh3 with an equal position. After something like 33.Kg3 Ra4 34.h5 Nb4 35.Be2 Ke7 36.Rc1 Nc2 37.Bg4 Kf7, it's hard to see either side making progress.

33...Nb6



34.Bd1??

White's position was already worse after the last move, but this does White in. He fails to realize the mis-fortune of the square that his King currently sits on, and now proceeds to block his own Rook from covering e1, which in turn allows Black a tactical shot. Better was getting the King off this square with a move like 34.Kh2 or 34.Kh3. Black is still better, but there is still work to be done.

34...Bxd3! 35.Rxd3

Black saves the Bishop after 35.Bh5+ via interposing with 35...Bg6!.

35...Ne1+ 36.Kf1 Nxd3 37.Bxb3 Rxb2 38.Rxb2 Nxb2



White may have eliminated the far advanced pawn, and he may have gotten the Bishop pair against the Knight pair on an open board, but the cost for this was too great, and the two extra connected passed pawns for Black will prove to be too much for White to handle.

39.Ke2 c4 40.Bc2 d4 41.Be4 d3+ 42.Kd2 N6a4 43.Ke3 Nc5 44.Bf3 Nb3 0-1

White resigned on account of 45.Be4 d2 46.Bc2 d1=Q 47.Bxd1 Nxd1 48.Ke2 Nb2 49.Bf4 c3 50.h5 c2 51.Bd2 Nc4 52.Kd3 Nbxd2 53.Kxc2 Nf3 and Black wins easily.


So what we saw here was a super-aggressive line by White, forcing Black to use his Queen for defense, but after the strong move 13...Qe8!, he defuses White's attack. We also looked at an interesting line that 48 years later may be an improvement for White on move 15, and therefore, I think it would be advisable for Black to immediately exchange Queens with 14...h6 and 15...f5, giving White no opportunity to create havoc for the Black King. Later on in the game, we see Black playing the more dynamic move every time when given the choice between the safe draw and the "go for it" move. By taking the dynamic approach, White eventually buckled on moves 33 and 34. Black then won fairly easily.

But the biggest thing is to keep in mind that you have to watch what White is doing, and that you cannot just automatically play 13...a4. Many times, this move is good, but we see here that Black has to play a defensive move instead, and next time, we will look at another scenario where Black has a better option than advancing the a-pawn with another of Uhlmann's games. And I'll give you a hint - another victory of his!


That does it for this edition of The French Connection. Til next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White!

Saturday, February 29, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 32

Hello everyone and welcome to the thirty-second edition of The French Connection. Two articles ago, I wrote the article "Chess is a Game with 32 Pieces", which talked about specifically not taking a cookie cutter approach to chess. The main game there was a Sicilian Defense, Prins Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3), and we witnessed Black just going on his merry way, playing the game like as if it was still a Najdorf, and paying basically zero attention to what White was doing, and got destroyed via an exchange sacrifice. In the tail end of that article, I mentioned various Queen Pawn openings where one has to watch out and pay very close attention to what their opponent is doing, and once again, not approach the game with a blind eye and just play moves out of habit.

The King's Indian Attack is another one of those openings where one has to be careful if they are going to play it. Are you playing it as a legitimate opening? Do you maybe only play it against a specific defense, like the Caro-Kann, Sicilian, or French? Or are you basically ignoring Black and thinking that you can just play the same dozen moves to start the game and only then pay attention to what is going on?

The game I am covering here is a King's Indian Attack verses the French, and we are going to see White blindly playing moves that work well against the Sicilian, but not against the French. So for those of you that play the King's Indian Attack against the French, this will be a valuable lesson if your reasoning behind playing the KIA is that you think you can take short cuts in the opening and just play blindly. For those of you that are advocates of the Black side of the French, you are about to see how to take advantage of blind play by White, which should in turn help you understand why White plays what he normally plays in the main lines of the KIA vs French.

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


Tuesday Night Action 59, Round 4
W: Chase Bellamy (1714)
B: Patrick McCartney (2087)

1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.g3 c5 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.Ngf3 Be7 7.O-O O-O 8.Re1 b5 9.e5 Nd7



Thus far, everything played here is totally normal, but before we go any further, I would like to compare this to another position, namely one that typically comes from the King's Indian Attack versus Sicilian after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d3 Nc6 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.O-O Nge7 7.Re1 d6, which leads to the following diagram:



What can you say about the two positions? Are they the same? Absolutely not. Note even close! You might argue that the only difference in White's position is his pawn is on e4 instead of e5 and his Knight is still on b1 rather than on d2, and that if you play 8.Nbd2 in the second diagram, you will just do the same thing that you'd do in the first diagram. That would be one of the worst mistakes that you can make. You also have to look at the differences in Black's position.

Let's start with the second diagram. Black has a fianchettoed Bishop on an open diagonal. That Bishop also does the duty of guarding the King assuming Black will eventually castle Kingside as staying in the center for too long or castling Queenside doesn't make much sense unless White shows his hand too early and blindly tries to blast the Kingside. That said, Black does have to be careful about castling too early in this line. The d-pawn is on d6, which does not block White's Bishop on g2, but does attempt to cover e5, and so the hope is that White won't be able to play e5 all that easily, but Black must always watch out for tactics, particularly along the long diagonal, where White might even give up the e-pawn for other factors, and so Black cannot just blindly advance pawns on the Queenside with caution thrown to the wind for his Queenside pieces, and so in return for his extra defense on his King, he has to be more cautious on the Queenside. For this reason, an all out rampage on the Kingside by White is not a smart idea. Therefore, instead, now that the Knight is passively developed to e7, the Black King is somewhat safe, and Black is about to play moves like ...b6 and ...Bb7, fighting in the center, White should be trying to expand in the center. By moving his Knight to d2, all he is doing is blocking his Queen from guarding d4, and ultimately, it's d4 that White wants to be able to play. Therefore, 8.c3 is best here. Now Black is in the crossroads. Does he play something like 8...b6, allowing 9.d4 by White? Or does he stop 9.d4 with the move 8...e5? Both are legitimate ideas, and White must pay super close attention to what Black does. If he plays 8...b6, then White should be taking the center with 9.d4. If Black plays 8...e5, he has sealed off the diagonal of his Bishop, and White can look at playing an eventual b4, being in no fear of his Rook on a1 since the diagonal has been shut down. But notice that in both cases, White played 8.c3, and his play is predominantly going to be in the center or on the Queenside, depending on Black's reaction.

Now, back to the first diagram resulting from the KIA vs French. Black played an early ...d5, supported by the pawn on e6, and basically told White that he can have the e5-square. In return, the d5-pawn is Black's strong point, and there is no reason to fear anything on the long diagonal. White is light years away from having tactics on the long diagonal via the Bishop attacking something like the currently loose Knight on c6 or Rook on a8. For this reason, Black has played the recent 8...b5. Notice that Black has also already castled, and so his King is committed to the Kingside, and there is no fianchetto of his Bishop. This can be good and bad. On the positive side, Black has not advanced any of his three pawns in front of the King, and so there is no hook for White anywhere. On the negative side, all of Black's pieces are far away from the King. The Knight on f6 was pushed away to d7, and the e5-pawn leaves Black slightly cramped, which can make it more difficult to bring the pieces to the defense of the Black King. This explains also explains why Black has played 8...b5 and isn't playing more cautiously on the Queenside. He has nowhere else to go! He will suffocate on the Kingside if he does nothing, and the center is blocked, not fluid, like we saw in the KIA vs Sicilian. This also indicates where White should be attacking. If Black can't get his pieces to the Kingside, White wants to create a local piece superiority, and that can only be done by charging the Kingside.

So now, there should be a better understanding of what has to be done by both players, just because of the slight differences in the position. In the KIA vs Sicilian, it is a balancing act of attack and defense for Black, and he has to decide which trade-offs he wants. Does he want to stop d4 by White? Or does he want his Bishop not to be blocked by his own e-pawn? Does he want to stop e5? Or does he want to allow e5, but in return, owns the d5-square with his own strong pawn occupying it, blocking any play for White on the long diagonal?

In the KIA vs French, it's a whole different story. Black has only one thing to do, and that is storm the Queenside at full force. In return, White has only one idea here, and that's to charge at the Black King, which is for the most part alone and doesn't have his army to defend himself. The KIA vs French requires a much more violent approach by both sides, neither having time to negotiate trades in positional advantages. Almost like what the stock market is doing right now due to the Corona virus. Take action now, or just sit back and watch yourself continue to get scorched!


Now that we understand the differences between the KIA vs Sicilian and KIA vs French, we will see here that White's next move is likely not best.

10.c3?!

Now you might be wondering why I gave it a dubious assessment rather than outright bad. This move, in and of itself, is not by any means a blunder, but it's a step in the wrong direction. There are cases in the KIA vs French where this advancement of the c-pawn can be useful, stopping a Knight or Bishop from coming to b4, or possibly controlling the action of what happens once the Black pawn gets to b4. It is what follows the next few moves that will really show the problem with White's play, which will very much resemble White's ideas in the KIA vs Sicilian where Black allows d4. The problem is, that's not what we have here. Black's pawn is on d5, not d6.

10...a5 11.d4?

So what do we have now? This almost looks like a Closed Tarrasch with White behind in development, spending two moves to get the pawn on d4 instead of one, and fianchettoing the Bishop rather than putting it on the more active d3-square. This move does not make much sense, and simply allows Black to continue his Queenside onslaught with zero disturbance to his lonely King out there on g8.

11...b4 12.Nb3?

Now Black will be able to shut down the long diagonal completely with tempo, drive the Knight back to where it came from, and transition his attack to the c3-square, where Black will likely trade rather than advance. White had to try 12.c4 here, having one last shot at opening up the center since he has arleady failed to attack the Kingside. In essence, all this move does is force Black to do what he wants to do anyway. In addition, with all of this extra time, and no attack on his King, Black will actually end up advancing his f-pawn, attacking the White center from the other side, a move that is almost never played in the KIA vs French because White should be busy blasting the Black King.

12...c4 13.Nbd2 a4



14.Nf1?!

At this point, after losing as many tempi as he has, White should be looking at damage control. Best here is 14.a3, when after 14...bxc3 15.bxc3, Black is only slightly better. White has multiple weaknesses on a3 and c3, but Black does still have to watch out for his King, and he is limited to only one open file on the Queenside.

14...a3! 15.bxa3 bxc3

The correct pawn to capture. The a3-pawn will end up being traded for the c3-pawn where White will have an isolated outside passer while Black has a protected passer, but bearing in mind that the concept of the outside passer mainly applies to endgames, that in this case the pawn is isolated and weak more than it is a benefit, and that it is only on the second rank compared to Black's protected passer that is only three moves away from promotion, Black is significantly better here, if not already winning.

16.Re3 Qa5 17.Qc2 Bxa3 18.Bxa3 Qxa3 19.Rxc3



Black's Queen is under attack. What should Black do here? Should he be thinking offense or defense at this point? White possibly has Ng5 coming, leading to a cheap threat. Does Black need to worry about it? Where should the Black Queen go?

19...Qa7

This is the more aggressive, but also more risky approach. The more solid and defensive option was 19...Qe7, looking to consolidate and trusting the c-pawn to be a long term asset. Here, White has the opportunity to make the position messy, though Black is still better, and so the move played is not bad, but Black has to be careful of the potential consequences.

20.Qd2

This move does nothing to help White's cause. Yes, the weakness for White has transitioned from c3 to d4, and the cheap shot move 20.Ng5 is not good. Black can just play 20...g6, and the creation of the hook is insufficient for White as his attack there is too slow. The d-pawn will fall, and the connected passers for Black will be lethal.

The correct move here was 20.Rxc4 when Black is still better after 20...dxc4 21.Nf5 g6 22.Bxc6 Rb8, but the position is messy and there are tactics that Black has to look out for.

20...f6

With no pressure on the Black King, this normally unthinkable move in the KIA vs French became a reality for Black.

21.Bh3 Ndxe5?!

If there were any true mistakes by Black in the game, this would be it. Yes, Black is still slightly better, but getting cute this like was unnecessary. Patience should be exercised, and after 21...Re8, White has nothing.

22.dxe5 fxe5 23.Ng5 Nd4

Now Black has a major threat that White does not resolve.

24.Qe1?

White had to play 24.Bg2 to give the Knight an escape after Black's next move, minimizing Black's advantage.

24...h6

Once again, White is now dead lost, and there is no going back. White tries for desperation, but winds up allowing a really pretty tactic for Black.

25.Qxe5 hxg5 26.Bg4 Rf6 27.Nd2



Almost any move wins for Black, but do you see the best move?

27...Nb3!!

It should be noted that Black could have, and probably should have played this move a move earlier, but with White's last move, this move is even prettier! The Rook on a1, Knight on d2, and Pawn on f2 are all hanging!

28.Nxb3

While this leads to the saving of the most material for one move, it loses immediately, not that anything else was better. White can safely resign, but if he wants to test Black's defense first, he should try 28.Rf3 Nxd2 (Black could be greedy and take the Rook with 28.Nxa1, but why? Taking the Knight is simpler!) 29.Rxf6 gxf6 30.Qxf6 Ne4 31.Qxg6+ Kf8 32.Qh6+ Qg7 and it's a cakewalk win for Black.

28...Qxf2+ 29.Kh1 Rxa2!

The Rook is poisoned as now 30.Rxa2 Qf1 would be mate, but the attack on the second rank is so lethal that all White can do is delay the inevitable by giving up his Queen, which he does.

30.Qe2 Rxe2 31.Bxe2 Qxe2 0-1

And at this point, White resigned anyway as outside of a couple of one move delay tactics, there is no stopping checkmate.


So what we covered today was mostly a continuation of the idea that one cannot blindly play the opening in such a manner that they totally ignore what their opponent is doing until the middle game is reached, even with openings that one might view as being systematic, such as the London, Colle, or in the case of this game, the King's Indian Attack. You still must keep your eyes open for what your opponent is doing because with a clear understanding of the ideas for both sides, the difference of a pawn move (...d6 vs ...d5) or the relocation of a single piece (...Be7 vs ...Bg7) could have a major impact on how the opening needs to be played. At the same time, we did see Black possibly get a little carried away by sacrificing the Knight for the two pawns when a commanding lead could be held with patience, but White's clear intention of holding onto as much material as possible and not taking advantage of possible dynamic ideas to at least make the position messy is what ultimately did him in. When you are in a desperate situation, conservative moves like 20.Qd2 will never cut it.


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

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 31

Hello everyone and welcome to the thirty-first edition of The French Connection. As you may recall in the previous four editions, we have been heavily covering the Advance Variation, and here, we are going to be digging very deep into the line with 9...Bd7 and 10...Nh6 with pretty much a full explanation of the ideas behind this line for Black. With this explained, readers will be able to understand why such an innocent looking 11th move for Black was not very good at all. It was a move played based on principles more than anything else.

In chess, most people are told to focus on principles over theory and specific lines, and many do that. What they often fail to do is follow the wisdom of starting with the Ruy Lopez and Queen's Gambit from both sides. The reason for this is that the theory of those two openings fall very much in line with opening principles to the letter. The same cannot be said about the French Defense. Just look at the Winawer Variation - 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7. Fischer has always condemned this line, claiming doubt in it's soundness because it is anti-positional and weakens the Kingside. Black has voluntarily surrendered his dark-squared Bishop for what? Doubled pawns for White? It isn't until you fully understand the opening in depth that you appreciate the positives in the position over the negatives. If Black didn't have anything to offset the weakness of the dark squares on the Kingside, the Winawer would be out of business! I think we all know that that is certainly not true, despite Fischer's rant about it! The catch is that principles alone will not get through to survival. The French Defense is one of those openings where if White knows what he is doing, Black also must know what he's doing and must have a complete understanding of all the highly theoretical lines. If White tries to deviate, playing an inferior move, whether it be trying to pull a cheap trick on Black or playing something slow that simply leads to completion of development for White and nothing else, then this is where principles come into play. But the critical lines like the Winawer with 7.Qg4, Universal System in the Tarrasch, or Advance with 5...Qb6 6.a3, just to name a few, it is critical to know more than just principles when playing the French Defense.

Without further ado, let's look at our feature game.


Land of the Sky XXXIII, Round 4
W: Patrick McCartney (2087)
B: Rochan Bakthisaran (1897)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.a3 Nge7

This move can very much lead to the same position as 6...Nh6, and in this case does. The main difference is which sideline you want to deal with. 6...Nh6 allows White to play, if he wishes, 7.b4 cxd4 8.Bxh6 (instead of the immediate 8.cxd4) while 6...Nge7 gives White the added option of 7.dxc5. In this game, the main line is still reached, and is a fully viable option for White.

7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2 Bd7 10.g4 Nh6 11.h3



For details on getting to this point, I refer you to The French Connection: Volume 28.

Now take a minute or two and think to yourself "What would I play here?". First thing you need to do is identify the situation. In The French Connection: Volume 30, we talked briefly about why early developments of the light-squared Bishop to d7 were dubious in the notes to White's 7th move. Why was that? The Bishop move allows White to get his King to safety and maintain the advantage. In the 5...Qb6 line, White cannot tuck his King away and be able to maintain the advantage. Well, this comes at a cost for Black as well. While White's issue is King safety, Black's is piece coordination. Sure, the Knight on c6, Queen on b6, and from a defensive standpoint, avoiding checks, the Bishop on d7 all work together, but what about that Knight out there on h6? These two factors should give a hint as to what Black should do here. There are two acceptable moves. See if you can figure out what one of them is before reading the analysis following the next move.

11...Be7?

So what we have is a clash of King safety versus piece coordination. To continue with the lack of King safety, Black needs to continue to push on the d4-pawn and the Queenside, where it would come at a cost for White to get out of the mess, such as relinquishing his best minor piece, the Light-Squared Bishop, which we are about to see in the analysis here. The alternative is to focus on getting the rest of the pieces into the game. This will take time and allow White to get his pieces into the game as well, but at least Black is fighting with all of his army and not falling behind where all of his pieces get tied down, as we shall see in the game itself.

So the first option for Black is 11...Rc8. Black will continue to bombard the Queenside. After 12.Nc3 Na5 (We saw in The French Connection: Volume 28 why Black needs to wait to play this move until White has already played Nc3) 13.Na4 Qc6 14.Rc1 Nc4, we have a position with play for both sides. That Knight on c4 is a problem for White, and he is virtually forced to relinquish his Light-Squared Bishop for it. After 15.Bxc4 bxc4 16.Nc5, we have the following position:



Now Black must make a critical decision. White's idea is to break through with d5. Black has to figure out whether to block it, which would require the Queen to do that job, or allow it and weather the storm. I think Black's best off allowing the pawn advance with 16...Ng8 where after 17.d5 Qxd5 (17...exd5 is bad due to 18.e6 Bxe6 {18...fxe6 19.Ne5 is winning for White} 19.Nd4 Qd6 20.O-O and now Black has the painful choice of two bad lines, either 20...Nf6 21.Qa4+ Bd7 22.Rfe1+ Ne4 23.Nxe4 dxe4 24.Qc2 or 20...Rxc5 21.bxc5 Qd7 {21...Qxc5 22.Re1} 22.f4 Qc7 23.Kg2 Bxc5 24.Nxe6 fxe6 25.Qe2 Qd7 26.f5, both of which ought to lead to a win for White.) 18.Nxd7 Qxd7 19.Qxd7+ Kxd7 20.Ng5 Nh6 21.b5 c3 22.Rxc3 Rxc3 23.Bxc3 Bxa3 24.Ke2 Be7 25.Ne4 Ra8 (25...Rc8 26.Ra1 and Black has nothing better than 26...Ra8, handing White a free move) 26.Ra1 and the position is basically equal.

The problem with blocking the pawn is that after 16...Qd5 17.Nxd7 Kxd7 18.O-O f5 19.Qe2, White is better after both 19...fxg4 20.hxg4 Nxg4 21.Ne1 Nh6 22.Ng2 where Black cannot prevent White from forcing the Queen off of d5 and pushing through with what is now a Black King stuck in the center, and 19...b5 20.Nd2 Be7 21.Nb1 and once again, Black cannot prevent the Knight from chasing the Queen off of the blockading square.

The second option is to hit the White center from the front and get the Knight into the game with 11...f6 when White can't hold on to the center, and so 12.exf6 gxf6 is played, and now after 13.Nc3, it should first be noted that those tricks with sacrificing the Knight on b4 do not work here compared to what we saw in two recent articles because of the added defense to the Knight on c3 via the Bishop on b2. In those cases where it did work, the White Bishop was developed to e3 rather than b2. Therefore, Black should carry on with 13...Nf7 when 14.Na4 Qc7 15.Rc1 Qf4 16.Rc3 b6 leads to another interesting situation:



Now White's main break is g5, but which way should he go about it? Turns out that white has two roughly equal options. The first is 17.Bc1 when 17...Qd6! 18.c5 Nxb4! 19.axb4 Qxb4 20.Bd2 Qxa4 21.Qxa4 Bxa4 22.gxf6 is roughly equal. The second is 17.Rg1. Here, 17...Nxb4? doesn't work as White is clearly better after 18.axb4 Bxb4 19.Be2 O-O 20.Kf1 Bxa4 21.Qxa4 Bxc3 22.Bxc3, and so therefore, better is 17...Ng5 18.Bb5 Nxf3+ 19.Rxf3 Qh2 20.Kf1, when an unclear position arises. There is no way for White to trap the Queen, and if both players are stubborn enough, this could abruptly end in a draw by repetition. After any move by Black, such as 20...Bg7, White can harass the Queen with 21.Rg2, knowing that if Black doesn't want to retreat, you could end up in a repetition with 21...Qh1+ 22.Rg1 Qh2 23.Rg2 Qh1+ 24.Rg1 Qh2. That said, White is not forced to take this route, and he could even test Black once to see if he retreats, and then do something else after the 2-fold repetition. Both players just need to be aware that this is possible, just like the draw that is available to White in the Zaitsev Variation of the Ruy Lopez.

In the game, Black will soon see himself getting into major trouble. The problem is that this Bishop move doesn't really accomplish anything, and all it does it lose all flexibility. For instance, after the 11...f6 move, forcing the trade of pawns, the Bishop could be better off on d6, which would be a waste of a move by Black, or g7 or h6, squares which can no longer be reached from e7.

12.Nc3 f6 13.exf6 gxf6

Black had to take with the pawn anyway as after 13...Bxf6?? 14.g5, there is no desperado move to get out of the fork, and White simply wins material, and so therefore, again I ask, what did 11...Be7 accomplish?

14.Na4

So, in essence, compared to the 11...f6 line, White is a move ahead with a misplaced Black Bishop on e7.

14...Qd8 15.Nc5 b6



16.Nxd7!

A player who lacks experience in the French would ridicule this move, giving up a Knight for a Bad Bishop in a position where he has a slight advantage in space, but here, it is correct. The Bishop acts as a key defender to e6. With the Bishop removed, combined with the b-pawn advancing to b6, many of the light squares, including e6 itself, become weakened by this trade. Retreating the Knight is vastly inferior. After 16.Nf3 Bd6 17.Rc1 Nf7, White is still better, but the Knight on d3 is merely getting in the way of the rest of White's pieces, and playing in this manner simply gives Black additional time to coordinate his pieces. Just like the Winawer mentioned in the introduction, the French is full of exceptions, and grabbing the "Bad Bishop" for a Knight is sometimes one of them. Keep in mind that you have to evaluate this trade on an individual basis. This trade is not always good, but here, it's the only move that leads to an outright winning position for White.

16...Qxd7 17.Bb5! Nf7 18.Rc1 Rc8 19.Qc2 Nfd8



So we have a position where three White pieces, the Bishop on b5, Queen on c2, and Rook on c1, tie down four Black pieces, the Knight on c6, the Knight on d8, the Rook on c8, and the Queen on d7, and so, in essence, White has an extra piece that is free to move. Now you might be thinking to yourself "sure, it's that horrible Bishop on b2", but that Bishop is doing a critical job. It covers e5! In fact, White's idea is to continue to dominate e5, and to use his pieces when he is ready and not before that. Besides using fewer pieces to tie Black down, it is White that can decide when to release the stranglehold, and will do so on his own time!

Knowing that White is trying to dominate e5, do you see his next move?

20.g5!

Removing the pawn from f6. Whether Black allows White to capture, captures on g5, or advances to f5, the e5-square will be weakened no matter what!

20...Kf7 21.Qe2

Now that the King has come forward toward the Kingside, White shifts his focus from the c6-Knight to the King.

21...a5?

This move serves little purpose. What is Black trying to do? Win a pawn? Does he not realize the danger of his King? As we will see in the game, White could care less about the b-pawn. There is no attack down the c-file for Black, and so he should probably have focused on trying to defend the King with a move like 21...Rg8. This should not work and White is winning no matter what, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

22.gxf6 Bxf6 23.Rg1 axb4



Black has just won a pawn. Does White care? Absolutely not! In fact, he hopes that Black will capture again on a3! With the Rook on g1, a Queen coming to h5, and a Bishop on a3 if Black were to capture a second time, the King is trapped in the crossfires. This extra pawn only means something if Black can reach an endgame, but reaching an endgame is absolutely hopeless for Black in this position. Every White piece plays a role, including the Bishop on b2. What is the Black Knight on d8 doing other than blocking his own Rook on c8 from coming into the game? Sure the h8-Rook can move to an open file, but that will take an extra move that Black does not have time for. The Queen is passive. Outside of being up a pawn, there is literally nothing positive that can be said about Black's position. White has no interest in slowing down, and is ready to blast the Black King!

24.Ne5+! Bxe5 25.Qh5+ Kf8 26.dxe5 Qf7 27.Qh6+ Ke8 28.Be2

This move, and virtually any other move that doesn't outright hang material, should win easily for White. That said, even stronger was 28.Rg7!, when after 28...Qf5 29.Qf6 Qxf6 30.exf6 Kf8 (What other move does he have? Black is virtually frozen!) 31.axb4 Rg8 32.Ba6 Ra8 33.b5 Nb4 34.Ba3 and Black is busted. For example, 34...Rxg7 35.Bxb4+! drops a piece.

28...Rg8

Virtually forced to tactically prevent the pin of the Queen to the King.

29.Rxg8+ Qxg8 30.axb4 Ne7?

This move loses on the spot, but there is no mercy for Black, even after a move like 30...Kd7 as 31.Bb5 continues to tie Black down.

31.Rxc8 Nxc8 32.Bb5+

And now the only way to avoid instant checkmate is to jettison the Knight with 32...Nc6, giving the King the d8-square, but even then, Black's totally busted. Instead, Black fails to play this move, and is instantly mated.

32...Ke7 33.Qf6# 1-0


For anybody that is an advocate of the French Defense, myself included, this game can be very painful to look at. Yes, I had the White pieces in this game, and definitely consider this one of my better played games with the White pieces, but it is still painful as a French advocate to see Black go down like this. That said, if all you do when studying an opening is see the positive side of everything, you will never learn, because one learns a lot more from their mistakes than from their successes. We analyzed in depth Black's ideas at move 11, and rather than just some database dump full of moves, we reasoned it out in both lines, and with thorough analysis, we found the ways for Black to either equalize, or at minimum, create a highly unclear position, and the purpose this game served was to illustrate what could happen after a single move that conceptually looks fine, but turns out to be a very lazy move with horrifying after effects. Probably the biggest thing that you have to deal with in the French Defense, especially the Advance Variation, compared to say, the black side of the Ruy Lopez, is the lack of space, and when you lack space, accuracy becomes more critical. This is one of the main reasons why, when I wrote the 7-part Repertoire for White and Black on the French Defense in 2017, that I gave the Advance Variation as the line covered for White! The Advance Variation is more about understanding, and less about memorization, than say, 3.Nc3. However, actually understanding it, and not just memorizing it, is more critical here than in almost any other opening known to man kind, especially for Black!


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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Chess is a Game with 32 Pieces

Hello everyone and welcome. In the previous article, The French Connection: Volume 30, we previewed the article with the first round from Land of the Sky, a tournament played in the final weekend of January. Here, and the next article, we will be covering two other games from that tournament.

You might be wondering what the title is all about. Have you ever heard someone say, either in person or on a forum, something along the lines of "I have no idea what my opponent was playing, but I was playing the King's Indian", or some other "setup" often played against multiple lines? If they tell you that, they are amongst those that believe that chess is a 16-piece game, and does not understand that the opening is determined by both players, not by one.

For example, let's say you are a King's Indian player. The game starts 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3. Black thinks "Ok, White probably just made a mistake playing the Knight in front of the c-pawn in a Queen pawn opening. I am going to blast him with my King's Indian Defense! So Black plays 3...Bg7. There is nothing wrong with this move. Another option is 3...d5, preventing 4.e4 and leading to what is known as the Barry Attack after 4.Bf4. However, back to 3...Bg7. Now White plays 4.e4 and Black plays 4...d6. What Black now needs to understand is that this is no longer a King's Indian Defense, that 3.Nc3 was not a mistake, and that we are now in a Pirc Defense. Black has done nothing wrong thus far, but let's say that after 5.Be2 O-O 6.O-O, a main line of the Classical Variation of the Pirc Defense, Black, still in a King's Indian mentality, plays 6...e5, a move that has been played in this opening, but 6...c6 is the main line and is far stronger. Black assumes that white will advance the d-pawn, where he can then move his Knight and advance the f-pawn. White, instead, plays the strong 7.dxe5!. Black says "Ok, White is going to play the boring exchange line. This is an easy draw for me! After 7...dxe5 8.Qxd8 Rxd8 9.Bg5 Re8. Ok, so now White is going to play 10.Nd5, right? Once again, this is NOT a King's Indian. White does not have the pawn on c4, and here, 10.Rad1! is strong. This is not a refutation to 6...e5, but White's advantage is greater here than against the stronger 6...c6, with the idea of attacking the e4-pawn via a future ...b5 and trying to attack the Knight on c3, the only piece guarding e4 after 6 moves. There is nothing wrong with a King's Indian player walking into a Pirc Defense, but then he needs to apply the proper ideas of the Pirc rather than just blindly continue to play under the delusion that this is a King's Indian Defense. As a King's Indian player, I've occasionally ended up in a Pirc, and while it's not my main line of defense to 1.e4 (the French is), I play the position like it's a Pirc, and not a King's Indian, and I would play 6...c6 in this position.

Now that we see what the title is all about, the game that is featured in this article will see Black, via a different opening, do something very similar to the fake incident illustrated above, and what we will see is a game where White has the advantage throughout the entire game. We will see White playing a few sub-par moves that allow Black the opportunity to hold his disadvantage to a minimum, but after continued failure of believing he's playing "his opening" rather than what is actually featured on the board, he gets blasted in short order via a strong exchange sacrifice by White.

Without further ado, let's look at the feature game.


Land of the Sky XXXIII, Round 2
W: Patrick McCartney (2087)
B: Peter Liotino (1878)
Sicilian Defense, Prins Variation

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3



Those that have seen previous articles, such as the first two rounds of the tournament in Georgia that I played in October and covered here in late 2019, will know that I play this system regularly, and I have covered many ideas for White, and will continue to do so, but I want to spend a moment here explaining what options Black legitimately has here. In essence, there are three approaches to defending this line.
  • The first option is to play an early 5...e5. This drives the White Knight to b3, and after 6.Nb3 (6.Bb5+, known as the Venice Attack, is another line, but it is not good for White, and a little research by Black would be valuable because with correct play, Black gets a small advantage here), there are three possibilities for Black.
    • He can play an early 6...d5, beating White to control of the d5-square, but this often leads to miserable positions for Black. An example can be found in round 2 of the mentioned tournament in Georgia in October, which I covered here. This is not meant to imply the line is bad. It is fine for Black, and with correct play, he should be able to draw it, but despite the high draw ratio, Black has very few winning chances, if any at all, and do you really want to play for two results as Black? If you are in the final round and need only a draw, I would recommend this line for Black. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't.
    • The second option is a positional approach. 6...a5. The idea here is to harass the Knight before White has time to set up the Maroczy Bind, and White should now play either 7.Nc3 or 7.Bb5+ instead of 7.c4?!.
    • The third option, and by far the most popular in this line, is the combative 6...Be6. Follow that up with 7...Nbd7 and 8...Rc8 and White is left with a choice to play the materialistic, though passive 9.Na3, or the pawn sacrifice line with 9.Nc3.
  • The second option is to play 5...Nc6, leading to dragon structures. After 6.c4, Black has two options. The first is to play 6...g6 and directly transpose to the main lines of the Accelerated Dragon, Maroczy Bind. The other is a tricky line with 6...Qb6. After 7.Nc2 g6 8.Nc3 Bg7 9.Re1, Black can continue to proceed with normal development, or he can try the very tricky 9...Ng4. The idea is that 10.fxg4? Bxc3+ is winning for Black. Instead, after 10.Qd2 Bh6 11.Qe2 Bxc1 12.Nd5!, White gets a small advantage in what turns out to be a fairly quiet game.
  • The third and final option is to play it similar to an English opening, which can also lead to the Maroczy Bind position, and defend the position with a hedgehog setup.

Outside of these three lines of defense, Black will usually get into a lot of trouble, and what happens here in this game is no different.

5...a6

This is the first sign that Black is both a Najdorf player, and also a player that likely doesn't understand the idea behind 5.f3. They probably assume, or at least hope, for a transposition to the 6.f3 Najdorf, which can also lead to lines of the English Attack. This move itself is not losing, and Black can still easily play the hedgehog setup, but since those that intend to play that line tend to play an early ...e6 rather than an early ...a6, probably means you aren't getting a transposition, although I have occasionally seen it happen where Black has played this move and lead to a hedgehog setup.

6.c4 e6 7.Nc3 Be7 8.Be3 Qc7 9.Qd2 Nbd7 10.Be2



Ok, so Black is going to go for a hedgehog setup, right? Fianchetto the Bishop with ...b6 and ...Bb7, castle Kingside, and play ...Ne5, right?

10...Ne5

Ok, so Black goes for this move first. Possibly a tad early, but it shouldn't hurt Black. White plays a move that shows why Black usually completes development first.

11.Rc1!

The c-pawn is currently poisoned!

11...Bd7?!

Ok, so now it is clear that Black thinks he's playing a Najdorf, and doesn't get that this position, with White pawns on c4 and e4, is not a Najdorf, and that Black cannot just blindly play his desired line of defense against the main line Open Sicilian. This is just like the hypothetical example in the introduction of a King's Indian player trying to play King's Indian moves and apply King's Indian ideas to what was actually a Pirc Defense. Now we see Black with the delusional idea that he can just blindly play the Black side of the English Attack lines of the Najdorf, which Black's 13th move will confirm, when what we have is not an English Attack. Sure, White played f3, Be3, and Qd2, but that doesn't make it an English Attack. The Yugoslav Attack along with the Maroczy Bind, whether via the English or Sicilian, also feature these moves, and just like how the difference between the King's Indian and the Pirc is the c-pawn, where the King's Indian sees the c-pawn on c4 while the Pirc sees the c-pawn at home on c2. The English Attack sees the White c-pawn on c2 while the Maroczy Bind sees the White c-pawn on c4, and the differences in the two positions is alarming.

12.O-O Rc8 13.b3

After Black's 12...Rc8, the c-pawn was threatened.

13...h5?

Even further confirmation that Black doesn't understand the position. In the English Attack, White castles Queenside in most lines, and goes for a direct attack on the Kingside. In the Maroczy Bind, White might occasionally attack the Kingside, but that can often be dangerous with his own King sitting on that side of the board. Notice that White castled short, which is normal in this line. Now had Black fianchettoed his Queen's Bishop and set up a Maroczy Bind, then with the Bishop raking down the long diagonal, the Queen coming in, the Knight coming to e5, could raise major questions to White playing a move like g4. He might be able to eventually, but he has to be able to defend the weakening of his Kingside and the cover on his own King to do it.

In the game, we will see White's attack come down the middle of the board, especially now given that it's clear that Black's King will remain in the center, but even in the normal lines of the Maroczy Bind, White will often use things like the loose Bishop on e7 as a tactical resource to attack in the center.

14.Rfd1 Qb8 15.Kh1 h4 16.f4 Neg4



17.Bxg4

This is the first time that White made a slight error. It would have been better to immediately retreat with 17.Bg1, and after 17...b5, reply with 18.h3, chasing the Knight away. We will see this ultimately happen in the game, but by trading the Bishop for the Knight, it alleviates Black's cramp a little. Without the trade, Black wouldn't be able to retreat back to f6 as his other Knight sits there.

17...Nxg4 18.Bg1 g6?

Black shows fear of an f5-push, and hands the advantage right back to White. Black would be near equal by simply retreating 18...Nf6 and then 19.Nf3 h3 or else playing 18...h3 straight away.

19.Nf3 Bc6

Now 19...h3 is answered by 20.c5! and Black is in trouble.

20.h3 Nf6 21.Re1 Rd8



22.Qe3

This was to set up the next move, but this move isn't necessary. White can blast the position open now with 22.Nd5! Black cannot win material safely. If he tries to grab the Knight and keep the material via 22...exd5 23.exd5 Bd7, he will get blasted via 24.Qd4 Kf8 25.Ng5 Qc8 26.Rxe7 Kxe7 27.c5 Bf5 28.Re1+, and other lines of defense from move 24 onward are only worse, and so Black cannot safely hold on to the material, and would have to give the Bishop up on c6, or else not take on d5 in the first place.

22...Nh5 23.Nd5 Ng3+ 24.Kh2 exd5 25.exd5 Nf5 26.Qc3

Stronger was 26.Qe2!, where once again, Black pays the price if he tries to hold the material. For example, after 26...Bd7? 27.Nd4 Qc7 (other moves, like 27...O-O, drop the Bishop after a Knight trade) 28.Nxf5 Bxf5 29.Bb6! and Black is dead. Instead, 26...O-O would be relatively best, but White is still winning.

26...Rh5?

The only move that remotely keeps Black in the game is 26...O-O.

27.dxc6 bxc6 28.Bf2 Kf8 29.Kg1 Qc7 30.Rcd1 a5 31.Nd4 Ng7??

The only moves that remotely keep Black in the game are 31...Kg8 and 31...Nxd4, but either way, Black is hurting.


White to move and Win


32.Rxe7!!

This move and the next move are interchangeable. 32.Nxc6!! also works, followed by 33.Rxe7, so if you tried to figure out the move from the diagram, and came up with this, you'd also be correct!

32...Ke7

32...Qxe7 33.Nxc6 followed by 34.Nxd8 leads to a position where White emerges a pawn up and Black's remaining position is shattered. With the game move, Black emerge ahead in material temporarily, but the resulting attack on the back rank is fatal.

33.Nxc6+ Qxc6 34.Qxg7

And so now the main threat is 35.Re1+ followed by 36.Qxf7, completely shredding Black's position. Only two moves stop that, and Black plays one of them, but they don't work.

34...Rd7

The idea here is that f7 will be protected following the check, but it leads to fatal issues on the back rank, and even the Bishop on f2 plays a role! The other move that doesn't drop the pawn immediately is 34...Re8 because 35.Re1+ Kd8 would be attacking the e1-Rook, making 36.Qxf7 impossible. This defense is probably the most resistant as it would force White to find a slightly more complicated winning line. The winning line for White after 34...Re8 is 35.Bxh4+!, when after 35...Rxh4 36.Re1+ and now 36...Kd7 37.Qxf7+ and one of the Rooks will fall or 36...Kd8 37.Qf6+ followed by 38.Qh4, protecting e1, and in both cases, emerging up multiple pawns.

35.Re1+ Kd8 36.Qf8+ Kc7 37.Re8

Black is dead here. The main threat, which Black doesn't prevent, is of course to skewer the King to the Queen, but even after a move like 37...Qb7, this is where the usefulness of the Bishop comes into play. White responds with 38.Ra8! and the Queen can't be saved. If she moves away, like 38...Qb4, then 39.Qc8 is mate while a move like 38...Kc6 allows 39.Rc8+ and the Queen must take as 39...Rc7 40.Qe8 is also mate.

37...Qa6 leads to the same problem after 38.Ra8, and so the Queen cannot be saved no matter what Black does anyway.

37...Rc5 38.Rc8+ Kb7 39.Rxc6 Rxc6

White emerges with a Queen, Bishop, and pawn for two Rooks, and more pawns are about to fall. Black can safely resign here.

40.Qe8 Rdc7 41.Bxh4 d5 42.cxd4 Rc1+ 43.Kh2 1-0


Despite a few minor errors by White on moves 17, 22, and 26, what we saw here was Black getting blasted mainly because Black treated the position as though White's pawns didn't exist, and just continued playing moves blindly like as if he was playing a completely different opening. Black was determined to play a Najdorf Sicilian, despite the fact that the game never was a Najdorf Sicilian. There should be two vital lessons learned from this article:
  • The first is that the opening is determined by the moves made by both players, not by one. At the start of the game, you have 16 pieces, but the board features 32, and what both sides do matters, not just what you do with your own pieces. We saw in the hypothetical the scenario of a King's Indian player ending up in a Pirc Defense, and here we saw a Najdorf Sicilian player ending up in a Maroczy Bind. Recognizing the differences is vital.
  • Do not get trapped into matching the opening with the middlegame ideas. There may be common ideas that happen time and time again in the main lines of a given opening, like an attack on a specific pawn or square, but this repetition results from positions where the 16 pawns are aligned in similar fashion, keeping in mind that some of those 16 pawns may be traded off. In the game we saw, Black thought because White played 3.d4 that he could apply his Najdorf Sicilian ideas regardless of how White followed up, but the Najdorf Sicilian, English Attack and the Maroczy Bind do not feature the same pawn structure, and so the same ideas cannot be repeated. The former sees White's pawns on a2, b2, c2, e4, f3, g2, h2, and White is about to advance the Kingside pawns with his King castled Queenside. In the Maroczy Bind, the White pawns are usually on a2, b3, c4, e4, f3, g2, and h2 with White often looking to attack in the center, timing a Nd5 move, and if Black trades his Bishop, White will recapture with either the c-pawn or e-pawn, depending on the position, and attack down either the open c-file or semi-open e-file rather than storm his Kingside pawns, mainly because he King sits on that side of the board. So the moral of the story is to match pawn structure with idea, not opening with idea. You can get different openings that lead to the same pawn structure, such as the English Hedgehog, certain lines of the 5.c4 variation of the Kan Sicilian, and certain lines of the Sicilian Prins Variation, just to name one example. The 2...Qxd5 and 3...Qa5 lines of the Scandinavian and the 3.Nc3 lines of the Caro-Kann are another example.


As a final thing I'd like to mention, this is also a common problem with Queen Pawn openings. Many players like to play "systems", and think they are good against all Black responses, not even paying attention to what Black is doing. The London is no good against the Modern Defense. The Torre is no good against early d5 lines (e.g. 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6). The Colle is no good without ...e6 played while the Bishop is still behind the pawn chain, and if Black does throw his Bishop out there, an early c4 becomes necessary (e.g. 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 Bf5 (or 3...Bg4) and now 4.c4 is necessary) to attack the slightly weakened Queenside caused by the early development of the Bishop by Black. The list goes on and on, but many amateurs think that playing these lines can ease their burden, and they get the false perception that they can play the game like there are 16 pieces on the board and virtually ignore what the opposing side is doing. Always remember, there are 32 pieces on the chess board when the game begins!


This concludes this article on the importance of paying attention to what your opponent is doing and not just yourself, and until next time, good luck in your games.