Thursday, January 23, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 29

Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-ninth edition of The French Connection. Here we will be covering the third of four straight games featuring the Advance Variation of the French Defense and discussing a number of different lines. Here, we will see Black make a very bad and anti-positional move in the opening. Combine that with an early blunder, and White has a clearly won position. However, what we will see is White failing to execute the win many times, but each time, Black fails to find the tactical shot that completely negates White's advantage, or even in some cases, claim an advantage for himself. From White's perspective, we'll be looking at the concept of prioritizing. When you have a won position early in the game, with many pieces, the challenge is getting priorities straight. Do you shore up your weaknesses? Or do you, without hesitation, go after the King? Or do you simply try to trade everything down to a winning endgame? This can often be a tough question to answer. On the flip side, after a number of errors by White, Black fails to find the move, and hands the advantage back to White. Then, in the endgame, where White has two minutes to Black's thirty-five minutes, White gives Black one last opportunity, which was again missed, and then the door is slam shut on Black and White proceeds to execute a long but simple endgame sequence to force the King to resign.

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

Charlotte Open, Round 5
W: Patrick McCartney (2087)
B: Ganchimeg Batsaikhan (1867)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 f5?

Unusual moves are played in chess all the time. This is where novelties come from. That said, if you understand the main ideas of the French Defense, you would soon realize the problems with this move. Yes, occasionally ...f7-f5 is played later on in the game as a source of defense, but here is it simply too early and too committal. In most cases, Black has two pawn levers in the French Defense. The first is ...c5, which was played on move 3, and the other is ...f6, hitting the pain chain from the front. By playing an early ...f5, Black loses that later pawn lever.

Now another thing to note is that taking en passant cannot be recommended here. It relieves the cramping effect for Black, and when he takes back on f6, White has to constantly look out for ...e5. By leaving it there, Black still has to deal with a major cramping effect.

6.Be2 Nge7 7.a3 Ng6 8.h4 Qc7 9.b4 c4?!

Black relieves all tension from the White d4-pawn. Normally, if this move is played, it would be played immediately following White's move a3, looking to prevent b4 by White as Black would take en passant and win a pawn. Here, the Queen is passively placed on c7 instead of b6, and all pressure on the White center is gone. This gives White the green light to start attacking the Kingside.

10.Ng5 Be7 11.Bh5 Bd7?

Just flat out overlooking White's tactical threat. Better was to take the Knight with 11...Bxg5. Now White wins a pawn.

12.Nxh7 Kf7

The only move as after 12...Rxh7 13.Bxg6+, the Rook falls.

13.Ng5+ Bxg5 14.Bxg5 Be8

So here we have our first real area of interest in the game. White is a pawn up. White also has the Bishop pair. White has a winning position. That said, White still has work to do to maintain that winning position. White needs to ask himself the following questions once he realizes that his position is likely winning:
  • First and foremost, does he have a direct attack on the Black King that immediately ends the game?
  • Assuming the first bullet is "No", what potential threats might Black have? Keep in mind that these may be short term or long term threats.
  • What positional improvements can White make that might lead to a direct attack on Black?
  • Is simply trading down the best solution?

The first thing to realize is that the first and last bullets are out of the question. While it may appear that the Black King is not safe, it is not easy for White to execute any direct attack on the King as only the Bishops are near the Black King, and the Black King will be able to escape to g8 without any real issues. Also, with Black's pieces scattered and uncoordinated, it doesn't make sense to trade everything off, and this early in the game, it would be very difficult to do anyway.

So instead, we should be looking at the position from the perspective of what threats by Black should be prevented, and what improvements can be made in White's position.

So first, what are Black's potential threats, short or long term?
  • The first thing to consider is the possibility of Black sacrificing a Knight for two pawns on e5 in order to execute a quick attack at the White King, which doesn't really have a safe haven with all of the advanced pawns, including all the pawns on the Queenside along with the h-pawn on the Kingside. So White must really watch out for this.
  • Black might also be able to crack open the Queenside with a move like ...b5, blocking the b-pawn, and then playing ...a5, intending ...axb4, opening up the a-file. This might be most effective if White decides to walk the King to the Queenside, and try to put all his pieces on the Kingside to attempt to execute a direct attack on the Black King. Therefore, White might want to think about closing the Queenside.
  • With the Bishop all the way on h5, the light squares on the Queenside could be weak if something isn't done about them.

So what should White do? The answer is to do something about Black's two main threats. The sacrifice is a short term threat. The ...b5 and ...a5 idea, to break open the a-file, is a long term threat. White should take care of both of these on the next two moves.


This move by itself does not cost White his advantage, but it is a step in the wrong direction. White's King can claim some level of safety residing on f1 or g1, and it also removes any checks if Black decides to sacrifice on e5. With the g4 advance, this shield for the White King is gone. The other move that White needs to play is a4. This takes the a4-square away from Black, and if he advances ...b5 at any point, it's now White's choice whether to open the a-file by capturing or closing it by advancing the pawn to a5, and if Black plays ...a5, White can play b5, opening up the dark-squared diagonal, the color complex where Black's Bishop is missing. Therefore, White would be better off playing 15.a4 or 15.Kf1, and in reality, it doesn't matter which as White should play both in the next two moves while the Black King is likely to go to g8, and so here, White should play either 15.a4 Kg8 16.Kf1 or 15.Kf1 Kg8 16.a4 and White maintains a dominating position.


Now that the Knight on g6 is no longer pinned, White must watch out. Black has a nasty tactical threat.

16.gxf5?? =/+

From winning to slightly worse in one move! White needed to play 16.Kf1, the reason to which will be explained in the note to Black's next move.


Black has the tactical shot 16...Ngxe5!!. The Bishop on h5 is under attack. Therefore, White must do something about the Bishop, but with the King still on e1, if White takes the Bishop on e8, Black has an in-between move, and after 17.Bxe8, Black responds with 17...Nd3+! before recapturing on e8 and Black won his pawn back with interest! Therefore, White probably needs to play 17.Be2 to minimize Black's advantage, and then Black should play 17...Nf7, gaining a tempo on the Bishop on g5 due to the pin of the h-pawn to the Rook on h1, and therefore, Black will have time to recapture the pawn on f5.


While this removes the Knight and gives Black one less piece to be able to pull off a tactic on e5, it is not best. White should play 17.Bf3!, and now, if Black tries to take on e5, White has the capture of the d-pawn with check, and so Black has no in-between check as he has to get himself out of check first.

17...Bxg6 18.Qf3 Re8

Can White take the pawn on d5?


This move isn't very good. The answer to the question about taking on d5 is Yes, White CAN take on d5, but it also leads to a very hairy mess after 19.Qxd5+ Bf7 20.Qg2 (only move) Nxe5 21.dxe5 Qxe5+ 22.Kd1 and while White is technically winning, it is more complicated than it needs to be. The simply 19.Nd2 is best. If Black goes for the sacrifice, the walk to d1 is safer, and if he doesn't, White can go to f1 as there is no mate on e1 since the Knight is out of the way of the Rook.

19...Qf7 20.Bf4?!

White is possibly overreacting to the possibility of ...f4 by Black. He should probably move his King via 20.Kc1, getting out of the way of his undeveloped Queenside pieces. If White wants to block the pawn, he probably should do it with the Queen, keeping the Bishop active, and avoiding a Knight blockage on e6 - if the Knight goes to d8, White can trade Bishop for Knight.

20...Bh5 21.Qg3 Re6 22.f3 Rg6 23.Qe2

Now Black has a move that would equalize. Do you see it?


Black should take the opportunity to play 23...Nd8! as White has no way to avoid the blockading move, 24...Ne6!, which is the ideal square for the Knight.

24.Kc2 a5 25.Nd2 Nd8

Now we see a number of issues for White. Black is ready to blockade on e6. He is also ready to open the a-file, an issue we talked about earlier as a long term asset for Black if White doesn't do anything about it, which he hasn't. White realizes that his Bishop is too passive on f4, and therefore, activates it, realizing the Black will get one of his two desired goals, but not both!


Now Black has a choice to make. If he moves the Knight, he gets the desired blockade, but White will play 27.f4, avoiding the opening of the light squares. Otherwise, if Black advances the f-pawn, White will trade the Bishop for the Knight on d8.


Black goes for the attack on the light squares.

27.Bxd8 Rxd8 28.Rhg1 Qf5+ 29.Kb2 Rxg1?

This hands the advantage back to White. Black can maintain equality with 29...Ra8! Remember we talked about the opening of the a-file. If the file opens, Black wants a Rook on a8 before the trade even occurs.

30.Rxg1 Bg6 31.Nb1 axb4 32.axb4 Qd7

Only one move maintains the advantage for White here. Do you see it?


White must immediately attack down the g-file before Black gets time for moves like ...Qa4.

33...Bd3 34.e6

The simpler 34.Na3 is strong here, but this also works if White follows it up right.

34...Qe7 35.Qg5?!

The wrong followup. Black is tied down after 35.Qg4! Rd6 36.Re1!


Trading Queens first before this Rook move is the right approach for Black. White's advantage, if any, is minimal in that case. Here, White has a winning advantage again.

36.Qh5+! Kg8 37.Re1 g6

Once again, only one move is winning for White. Which move is it?


The correct answer is 38.Qxd5 and now if 38...Qxh4, then 39.e7+ Kg7 40.Qe5+ Kf7 41.Qe6+ Kg7 42.Nd2 Qf6 43.Qd7 Kf7 44.Qd5+ Kg7 45.Re6 is winning for White.


38...Qd6 is equal. The difference is that from d6, the weak d5-pawn is covered.

39.h5 Kg7 40.hxg6 Qxg6 41.Qxf4 Rxe6

And now, with only 2 minutes for the rest of the game versus Black's 35 minutes, White falters once again.


This move should only draw. The winning move was 42.Qc7+ when 42...Qf7 43.Qxf7+ Kxf7 44.Rxe6+ Kxe6 45.Na3, where the White d-pawn isn't dragged to the e-file, closer to the Black King.

42...Qxe6 43.Qe5+ Kf7?

After 43...Qxe5! 44.dxe5 Kg6, the position is equal.

44.Qxe6+ Kxe6 45.Na3

Returning to the same position that arises from the 42.Qc7+ line.

45...Be2 46.f4 Bh5


This was the final time that White faltered, and once again, Black fails to take advantage. 47.Nb5 was necessary. The idea is that the Knight needs to get into the queenside to distract the King. If the King must both prevent Knight intrusions and contest f4, it will be overworked. For example, 47.Nb5 Kd7 48.Kc2 Ke6 49.Kd2 Bg4 50.Ke3 Ke7 51.Nc7 Kd6 52.Na8! Kc6 53.Kf2 b5 54.Kg3 Bd7 55.Kh4 Kb7 56.Kg5 Kxa8 57.f5 Kb7 58.f6 Be8 59.Kh6 Kc7 60.Kg7 Kd8 61.f7 Bxf7 62.Kxf7 Kd7 63.Kf6 Kd6 64.Kf5 and White wins.

The game move gives Black one final opportunity at a draw.


Necessary is 47...Be8, keeping the Knight out. Now, after 48.Kd2 Kf5 49.Ke3, the White King is stuck there. The Knight alone cannot make progress as the Black King will always be on f5 or g4. For example, 49...Ba4 50.Nb1 b6 51.Nd2 Be8 52.Nf3 Kg4 53.Ne5+ Kf5 and White cannot make progress.


Now, due to tactics, Black has no way to avoid losing the b-pawn, and with the White pawns on dark squares, there is no way to stop White from winning. It will take some maneuvering by the Knight, but the game is, for all intents and purposes, over. The rest needs no commentary.

48...Kxf4 49.Nd6 b6 50.Nc8 Kf5 51.Nxb6 Ke6 52.Na4 Be8 53.Nb2 Kf5 54.Kd2 Kf4 55.Nd1 Ke4 56.Ne3 Bd7 57.Nc2 Kf5 58.Ke3 Ke6 59.Kf4 Kd6 60.Ne3 Bc6 61.Kf5 Bd7+ 62.Kf6 Bc8 63.Nf5+ Kc7 64.Ke5 Bb7 65.Ne7 Kb6 66.Nxd5+ Kb5 67.Ne3 Bc8 68.d5 Bd7 69.Kd6 Bh3 70.Kc7 Ka4 71.d6 Kb3 72.Nd5 Bg2 73.d7 Bxd5 74.d8=Q Kxc3 75.Qxd5 Kxb4 76.Qd1 1-0

In the end, White won, but many opportunities for Black were missed. The following can be gotten from this game:
  • If Black plays an early ...f5, it is almost never right to take en passant. It would allow Black to open up the position and remove the cramp of his pieces, especially the bad Bishop on c8.
  • When you have a winning advantage, more often than not, it's not about executing an attack, but rather, playing defense in the form of removing all desperation tricks for the opponent. White needed to prioritize Black's two main ways to get at White, and he should have played a4 and Kf1 early on to avoid the opportunities offered to Black in the game.
  • Black's biggest mistake was that she was playing too simplistically. When you are down material with a losing position, as in you lack the necessary compensation to survive, playing normal moves and reacting to minor threats is not the approach to take. Black should be looking for any crazy opportunity given to him, such as taking on e5 on move 16! If you just play "normal" chess, things will eventually trade down to a lost ending for the player down in material. Therefore, a sense of urgency was necessary for Black, and she needed to look for more desperate, tactical means to distract White. Black has multiple chances to draw, but almost all of them were by dynamic means, not routine play.
  • Even in an endgame, priorities must be taken seriously. White's 47.Kc1 gave Black one final opportunity to draw. It was more critical to get the Knight deep into Black's Queenside territory, which would overwork the Black King and win for White.

This concludes this edition of The French Connection. Next time, we'll look at one more Advance French where this time, the topic will be trading off the wrong pieces, and the deception of bad Bishops. A Bishop that looks bad will end up being a key piece in the victory. That's next time, and until then, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 28

Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-eighth edition of The French Connection. A slight correction from the previous article. The day before this article was written, yet another instructive Advance French game occurred on the board, and so rather than this being the second of three straight articles on the advance variation, this will actually be the second of four! In this game, played in the second round of The Charlotte Open, we will be looking at one of the two main lines in the ...Qb6 lines of the Advance French. We will see two points in the opening where Black has a decision to make, and we will talk about a few ideas for White that are critical to know. Also, while the end of the game finishes abruptly via a gross blunder, we will look at what could have happened in a very difficult position. Without further ado, let's take a look at the game.

2020 Charlotte Open, Round 2
W: Robert Stewart (1910)
B: Patrick McCartney (2087)

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

Here, Black has to make a decision. There are four main responses here, of which I think two of them are stronger than the other two.


This is the more dynamic approach of the two lines that I would suggest. The other options for Black are:
  1. 6...c4. This is the more positional approach. White's last move is to prepare 7.b4. This move stops it in its tracks. If White now plays 7.b4?, Black will take en passant. That said, this also takes all pressure off of the d4-pawn. Therefore, if Black does this, he has to commit to it. Therefore, after 7.Nd2, Black must play 7...Na5. He cannot allow b3 to be played by White without there being a cost. Now some people might wonder about 8.Rb1, and how does Black stop b3? It comes via a pin. After 8...Bd7!, the move 9.b3 is a mistake. After 9...cxb3 10.Nxb3?, Black can play 10...Ba4, winning material. For example, Black wins the exchange after 11.Nxa5 Bxd1 12.Rxb6 axb6 and now if White takes the Bishop, Black takes the Knight. If Black takes on b7, Black saves the Bishop by going to a4. After the most accurate reply by White, 13.Bb5+, Black has the advantage after 13...Kd8 14.Nb7+ Kc7 and the Knight is still under attack if White grabs the Bishop on d1. Therefore most White players are not going to do this, and after 7.Nd2 Na5, they will proceed as normal with 8.Be2 or 8.g3, and play for an attack on the Kingside while Black goes for the Queenside in what is often a long game with a lot of maneuvering.
  2. 6...Bd7?!. This move was popular back in the 90s, but it does not serve any real purpose. With the Knight already on c6, it's not like Black is going to be quick to exchange the light-squared Bishops. It does not stop b4. It does not contribute to the attack of the d4-pawn, unlike the Knight on h6, which will come to f5 in short order to put pressure on d4. It opens up Queenside castling, but Black usually castles Queenside in lines where Black plays ...c4, whether that be in the Advance or the Winawer, and so if Black is going to do that, he should play 6...c4, as mentioned above, to avoid 7.b4 by White. Yes, it is a move that Black will almost certainly make at some point in time, but for the moment, it does not serve a true purpose. White should continue on his merry way with 7.b4.
  3. 6...a5?!. This move also prevents 7.b4, but it weakens a very critical square, b5. I normally do not suggest the Milner-Barry Gambit for White, which is normally arrived at via 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3, and the reason for that is that Black has a slight advantage after 6...cxd4 7.cxd4 Bd7 (This time it serves a purpose - to allow Black to take twice ond 4 without a discovered attack on the Queen via a Bishop check) 8.O-O Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.Nc3 and now the very strong move for Black is 10...a6! with a slight advantage for Black. With 6.a3 a5 thrown in there, the difference benefits White, and 7.Bd3! is now a strong move, since if Black proceeds to grab the pawn, he no longer has the ...a6 resource, and White will get very strong compensation for the pawn given the glaring hole on b5.

And so therefore, I would highly suggest that those playing Black stick to 6...c4 or 6...Nh6 (which was the move played in the game), and those of you playing White, while playing against 6...Bd7 is fairly self-explanatory as Black does nothing to stop what you were doing anyway, make sure that you know and understand the idea against 6...a5, and that you understand the major differences between this position after 7.Bd3 versus the Milner-Barry Gambit proper.

7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Bb2

In the previous article, The French Connection: Volume 27, I expressed my disdain for White's alternative move, 9.Be3, and I still think that move is vastly inferior, even if White doesn't walk into the trap that he walked into that game. The move played in this game is the main reply, and is the move I would also play when I am White, and I have had this position many times from both sides. Black now has a critical choice to make here on move 9, and White needs to understand the point behind both of Black's moves.


This move is my personal preference, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with Black's other main alternative, 9...Be7. In other words, I do not express the disdain I have for 9.Be3 on Black playing 9...Be7 here. The idea behind each move is different, and it is critical that White understand the differences, or else he could end up in a lot of trouble. I am almost certain I have covered this before, but for those new to reading the articles on this site along with a refresher for those who have read the ones in the past, I feel this is an important thing to reiterate to those playing White. In the case of 9...Be7, Black's idea is that the center is closed, and White won't be afraid to advance the g-pawn, since there is no easy access to the White King. If the center were fluid, playing moves like 10.g4 would do nothing but open up the White King to attack. But here, Black is aware of this, and figures that if White tries to kick the knight away from pressuring d4, then Black can play 10...Nh4, looking to trade a set of pieces in a position where Black is the one lacking space. So the main point behind 9...Be7 is to try to discourage White from playing g4 since what he gets out of it is virtually nothing, and allows Black to relieve his cramp. Therefore, White needs to understand what 9...Be7 doesn't do that 9...Bd7 does do, and that once again comes down to having knowledge of the Milner-Barry Gambit. In the Milner-Barry Gambit, you have that common trap where if Black takes three times on d4 immediately White wins with Bb5+ and the Queen on d4 is lost. What 9...Be7 doesn't do is block that check, and so instead of 10.g4?!, White should play 10.Bd3! since Black cannot take three times on d4 for the exact same reason that he can't do it in the Milner-Barry Gambit. After 10.Bd3, if Black tries to plug that hole up with 10...Bd7, threatening to take three times on d4, White should immediately play 11.Bxf5!. Yes, this does give Black the Bishop pair, but it compromises his pawn structure, including an isolated pawn on d5 along with the doubled f-pawns, and the uncontested Bishop is still a bad Bishop, and will not be raking down at White's King anytime soon, and White should not be worries about any monster attack on the light squares. I would much rather have White in this position, and instead of 10...Bd7 with a cheap one move threat, Black should focus on more important things, and should instead play 10...a5 with play for both sides.

The point behind 9...Bd7 is that White can no longer play the active move, 10.Bd3, as Black now can take three times on d4. However, the downfall to this move is that Black has nothing covering h4, and so the move played in the game is critical.


This move must be played and it must be played now! After a passive move like 10.Be2, Black has 10...h5!, stopping g4 and maintaining the outpost for the Knight on f5, which is hard to get at since White can't play Bd3 any more.


Black's other main option is 10...Nfe7, where from here it will usually go to g6, both taking advantage of some weakened dark squares on the Kingside along with possibly pressuring the e5-pawn with a timely ...f6. The move in the game makes White take time with another pawn move.

11.h3 Nh5?!

This move is slightly inaccurate. Black should play either 11...f6, immediately pressuring e5, or continuing his Queenside development with 11...Rc8, and after 12.Nc3, only now should Black play 12...Na5!, when 13.Na4 does not win the Knight on a5 because 13...Qc6 attacks the a4-Knight, and after 14.Rc1 Nc4, both sides have play.

The problem with 11...Na5 is that White has not committed his Knight yet, but he fails to take advantage.


White should take advantage of Black's miscue with 12.Nbd2! Now Black probably has nothing better than to go back with 12...Nc6. He could try 12...Rc8, but after 13.Rc1 Rxc1 14.Bxc1, any entrance to c4 with the Knight will probably not mean much as the Bishop is no longer attacked since it is back on c1, and there is no problem with it on c1 as it no longer is in the way of the a1-Rook as that has been traded off, and so Black has traded one of his more active pieces, the Queenside Rook, for what can be a problem piece for White, the Queenside Rook, as in many cases, where it goes could pose problems or limitations on the dark-squared Bishop. Now it's completely out of White's way, and White gets a really good game.


Black should transpose back to the correct line with 12...Rc8!


This loses all advantage for White, and he might even be slightly worse here. Correct is to take advantage of Black's early leap into c4 without the Rook on c8 yet, and play 13.Bxc4! dxc4, and now, after 14.d5!, White's pieces are far more prepared to open the flood gates in the center than Black's are. Yes, both Kings are still in the center, but White's is easily far safer than Black's.

13...a5 14.b5

Once again, White should probably have taken on c4, or else maybe play 14.Na4, but it's hard to recommend much for White has he has already lost all advantage, but the move played in the game allows Black to take over.

Only one move here works for Black, but it's a very strong move. Can you find it? It does require some deep calculation.


A very strong move, where if White now were to follow up with the relatively best move, 15.Qc2, then the b5-pawn will be forever isolated after 15...Nxb2 16.Qxb2, and Black now has 16...f6! with a strong position.

Instead, White goes for the line that required calculating a very long sequence, but it just flat out works for Black.

15.Nxa4 Qa5+ 16.Nc3

White has no other option. Anything else drops the Knight on a4.


The Bishop now must be removed.

17.Qxb2 Bxa3!

It looks like Black is just walking into a fatal pin, but White is too slow at getting to Black.


The only move that maintains the pressure on the Bishop.


And now things should be a little clearer as to what Black is doing. Now that he has connected the Rooks, and a8 won't hang, Black's idea is to play ...Qb4, eliminating the Queens and getting the Bishop out of the pin. White must also watch out for pressure on the pinned Knight on c3. Since White can't castle right away, 19...Rfc8 could be a problem, which lead to White's next move, which removes the pin, but otherwise does nothing to improve his position, and he's now massively lagging behind Black in development.

19.Nd2 Qb4

And while I did not necessarily account for every White option on move 19, I knew that there wasn't one that would give Black any problems, and it was this exact position that I visualized back on move 14 when I played 14...a4. Also, if you are like me, and you keep track of time, it can be seen easily that this was figured out then at move 14, because the time for Black, in minutes, was 110 (or an hour and 50 minutes) after 13...a5, 90 after 14...a4 (meaning 20 minutes was spent on this move), and then 90, 90, 90, 90, and 89 for moves 15 thru 19. This is why I am a huge advocate of taking down the time every move. You can see that Black put in a lot of time finding and trying to calculate the semi-forcing sequence played in the game, but once that was done, Black spent almost no time on each move after that. Maybe 10 to 15 seconds per move just for blunder check.

Next, we will see Black's moves continue to flow naturally while White is having to make unusual and non-productive moves just to try to hold the position together. Notice how the Bishop and Rook on f1 and h1 continue to be out of the picture for yet another 10 moves.

20.Ncb1 Qxb3 21.Nxb3 Bb4+ 22.Kd1 Rxa1 23.Nxa1

I had to put up a diagram simply because the position is picturesque, and not in a good way, at least for White that is. I would wager that this is not the position that White would normally envision having in the Advance French!


While White's position is grotesque, Black is not without any problems. His Bishop on d7, given the protected pawn on b5, is extremely difficult to get into the game, and the Knight is passive on h6. The move played looks to break open the position, and especially the f-file for the Rook, and at the same time, give the Knight a route back into the game.

24.Nc2 Ba5 25.f4 fxe5 26.fxe5 Rf3 27.Nba3

After this move, Black may not be able to force the win of material, but White's only defense, which he does not find, would prove that this move is virtually useless.

27...Bb6 28.Kd2

Just flat out surrendering the d-pawn. After 28.Nb1 Rb3, going for the b-pawn, White can once again go 29.Nd2, forcing the Rook to move again, and he should probably stay on the 3rd rank with 29...Rg3 rather than on the file, since White can answer 29...Rb2 with 30.Kc1.

28.Kd2 Bxd4 29.Nxd4 Rxa3 30.Bd3

On move 30, the Bishop finally comes into play.

30...Nf7 31.Re1


Here is where Black starts going astray. Instead of spending time going for the h-pawn, he should get his King closer to the center with 31...Kf8! Now, instead, even with White about to be two pawns down, the position is about to be a really hairy mess that Black did not have to allow.

32.Rc1! Nxh3?

Black needed to go back with 32...Nf7 with still an advantage, though not as great of one.


What was a horrible position 9 moves ago and still a lost position 3 moves ago is now an advantage for White, despite being two pawns down!


Relatively best was 33...Ra4 +/=

White can get a winning position with the correct move here. What should White play?


After 34.Bc2!! Nxg4 35.Rxd7 Nxe5 36.Rxb7 Nc4+ 37.Kc1 e5 38.Nb3 Ra8 39.Rd7 and now 39...Rc8 40.Rxd5 White is just munching away at the Black pawns while 39...d4 40.Nd2 stops the Black central passers right in their tracks. The are weak, and will ultimately fall. White will not allow his b-pawn to be taken without it costing Black another piece as he clearly wants to avoid something like Rook and Bishop versus Rook with no pawns.

After the move played in the game, the advantage swings back to Black.

34...Ne4+ 35.Kc2 Ra4 36.Kd3

One more problem to figure out. Black to move and win!


The winning move was 36...b6!, and after something like 37.Nc6, Black can play 37...Kf8 and White has absolutely nothing. If he moves his King, say like 38.Ke3, then 38...Ra3+ followed by 39...Nc5 solves Black's problems and the extra material will prevail.

After the move played in the game, White ends the game abruptly with a blunder, but he had the chance to equalize here.


During post-game analysis, it was thought that maybe 37.Ke3 was the solution, but after 37...Ra3+ 38.Bd3, the move 38...b6 is once again winning for Black.

The drawing move was 37.b6!, stopping Black from making the move he has been needing to make. 37.Rc8 temporarily delays it and still works because of the attack on the Bishop, but the main point is advancing b6 before Black does.

The move played, of course, simply loses to a one-move fork.

37...Nc5+ 0-1

A very wild game for what shouldn't ever have gotten to that point. The following can be gotten from this game:
  • White's critical 10th move. Make sure you understand what to do against each of Black's 9th move options. Failure to understand the downside to each of them will give Black an excellent game.
  • Time Management - When calculating a long, forcing or semi-forcing sequence, spend the time to make sure that you are not overlooking alternatives by the opposing player. One missed move could completely destroy you in situations like this. Notice, however, that once you have assured yourself that it works, do not waste a lot of time executing it. 20 minutes was spent calculating it, but the following five moves saw no more than a minute total spent on the five follow-up moves combined. If you go back and recalculate every time, you'll run yourself out of time in short order.
  • When you have a winning position, like Black does moves 20 to 30, the way to maintain that winning advantage is to prevent the other side from getting any counter-play, rather than wildly going around trying to collect more material. Grabbing the d-pawn got Black the material advantage with the protected passed pawn. Grabbing the h-pawn showed nothing more than greed by Black, and he should have had to pay for that.
  • When your position is bad, always look for ways to stir trouble, and keep your eyes peeled for opportunities, such as the missed 34.Bc2 by White. Now this does not mean play on in a completely unrecoverable position. Being down a pawn or two with pieces still on the board, and especially if the side with the extra material has a bad piece, like the Black Bishop on d7, still allows for opportunities. Being down 3 pawns in a pawn ending, or down a queen for nothing and zero compensation, there is no use trying to play on. Pipe dreams will never happen, but don't give up in situations like White's in this game where Black's winning advantage was fairly obvious after 23 moves, but as was proven here, he still had the opportunity to stir up trouble, and it almost worked!

Next time, we will see a game in the Advance French where Black attempts to play something really unusual in the opening, and we will be looking at how White should deal with such oddities.

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

Friday, January 10, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 27

A Trap Worth Knowing!

Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-seventh edition of The French Connection, and also what is the first article of 2020. This article, and the next two in The French Connection series, will be covering the Advance Variation with differing ideas. In this one, I will be showing you a trap that is actually well worth knowing.

In most cases, when people ask about which openings have the most traps, my response usually is that looking for traps in the opening is not the approach to take to chess. In most cases, trying to set up a trap typically involves making a move that works if they don't see the idea, but otherwise, if they do stop it, the move proves to often be totally useless. What I am about to show you here is an exception to the rule. If you approach opening study from the opposite site, and try to study a system that is fully sound, and that system just happens to have a trap in it that some players not familiar with the French will actually fall for, only then is it worth analyzing, because in this case, you are still playing the best moves.

So if we are playing main lines, what makes this a trap? It's the fact that a natural looking move turns out to be really bad for White, and the only way for Black to take advantage of it is to be willing to execute a piece sacrifice. So if you are not familiar with it, it's not nearly as obvious as say, the well known trap in the Milner-Barry Gambit, where 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 cxd4 7.cxd4 where now 7...Bd7 is correct, and Black should not fall for 7...Nxd4? 8.Nxd4 Qxd4?? 9.Bb5+ where the Black Queen falls.

Without further ado, let's take a look at this trap that Black needs to be familiar with, and White needs to avoid. White was only a 1600-player, but this is precisely the level player that is most likely to fall for this trap. You typical expert or master that is familiar with the French Defense will not play this move when they are White.

2020 Ticks, Round 3
W: Rahul Bammidi (1616)
B: Patrick McCartney (2087)

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

We have a well-known position in the Advance French. At this point, White has two main responses. Personally, I think that 9.Bb2 is the far superior option for White, and is the move I would play 100 times out of 100 if I am White. That said, White decided to play the alternative option, and it is only in this line that the trap I am about to show you applies.


It is only with this line that the trap is available.


Now, relatively best for White is 10.Bd3, but after 10...Nxe3 11.fxe3 Rc8 12.O-O Be7 13.Nbd2 Nd8 14.Qe2 Rc3 and Black has far more counterplay than he deserves. This is why I prefer 9.Bb2. That said, there is a move here that White must avoid.


What move could look more natural? Unlike in the 9.Bb2 line, the Knight does not block any defenders of d4, and so White has three defenders to match up against Black's three attackers. So what can possibly be wrong with this move? The issue has to do with the c3-square itself. With the b-pawn and d-pawn advanced, the c3-square is very weak, and Black's attack will be centered around this weak Knight.


This move is not good. In the game, White winds up directly transposing to the line Black should play, but White has a major improvement. Instead of 10...Rc8, Black should immediately take on b4 with the Knight. After 10...Nxe3! 11.fxe3 Nxb4! 12.axb4 Bxb4 13.Rc1 Rc8 14.Qb3 Qa5 15.Kd2 O-O 16.Bd3 f6! and it is Black with the initiative.


White was given the opportunity to get out of it by playing 11.Na4, attacking the Queen! Instead, White simply transposes to the line above.

11...Nxe3 12.fxe3 Nxb4! 13.axb4 Bxb4

Now, instead of 14.Qb3, White tries a different move, but it doesn't work, nor does any other move. White is already lost!

14.Qd3 Qa5 15.Kd2

So Black is down a piece for two pawns at the moment, but White's pieces are all tied up. To untangle, White needs two moves with the Knight (Nf3-g1-e2), two more for the Bishop (g2-g3 and Bf1-h3 or Bf1-g2), and then getting the h1-Rook in the game, such as via Rc2 and Rhc1. This all takes way too long, and there are many ways for Black to win back the piece, maintaining the extra pawns. Black plays one of those moves here.


This quiet looking move isn't so quiet. The King on d2 is stuck where it is. If it goes to c2, it blocks the Rook and Black can take on c3. If it goes anywhere else, there aren't enough pieces covering c3 and Black can take. If he moves the Queen to c2, the Queen is in front of the Rook, and Black can take on c3 as White would have to recapture with the Queen since the Rook can't, and Black can take a second time, but avoid the third, and he wins White's Queen. The Queen going anywhere else once again abandons the pinned Knight on c3. Therefore, if the King can't move, and the Queen can't move, then this move sets up the fatal threat of ...Bb5. Because of this, White decided to move the King and jettison the Knight.

16.Ke2 Rxc3 17.Rxc3 Bxc3

This move is winning, but even stronger is 17...Bb5! After 18.Rxc8+ Kd7 19.Rxh8, Black wins in crushing fashion with 19...Qa2+ 20.Nd2 (20.Kd1 Ba4+ with mate two moves later) Qxd2+ 21.Kf3 Bxd3.

18.Kf2 O-O

Because the King is on the f-file now, I played this move on the basis that I can stop the cheap-shot mate with the f-pawn instead of the g-pawn because taking en passant will be check!

19.Ng5 f5 20.g3

Ordinarily, I would say that Black is up two pawns with zero compensation, and end it there, but the way that Black finishes the execution is quite attractive.

20...h6 21.Nh3 Bb5 22.Qb1 g5 23.Bxb5 axb5 24.Kg2 b4 25.g4

White tries for one last cheap shot. Black will not comply!


Of course not 25...fxg4?? 26.Qg6+, when after 26...Kh8 27.Qxh6+ Kg8 28.Qxg5+, it is actually White that is winning.

26.gxf5 Qe2+ 27.Kg1 Qg4+ 28.Kf2 Rxf5+ 29.Nf4

Can you find Black's best move?


Wait a minute? Doesn't this lose the Queen? Not so fast! It's actually the only move that forces mate!


While this is the obvious move, 30.Qxf5, while impractical, is the move that prolongs the mate the longest possible. Now a series of forced checks, each of which White has only one legal move, unpins the Queen and mates the White King.

30...fxe3+ 31.Kxe3 Rf3+ 32.Ke2 Rg3+

Now White technically has two legal moves, but they both lead to mate in one with the same response by Black for both moves.

33.Kf2 Qf3# 0-1

An absolute crush! All of this happened because of an innocent looking Knight move that is actually a blunder. Black did give White one opportunity to get out of it and should have taken on e3 followed by b4 immediately, but White failed to take advantage of it. The difference between this trap and the vast majority of other opening traps is that this trap does actually occur at the amateur level, and it results from Black playing best moves, not going out of his way to play an odd move simply to trick White. If that were the case, I would highly advise against playing in such a way because all you'd do is hurt yourself, but in this case, it's simply an added bonus to what is already best play for Black. Just remember, always assume that White will not fall for this, and be prepared to play the main lines with best play, whether that be 9.Bb2 or 9.Be3 followed by 10.Bd3. What we saw here is simply an added bonus that you might be able to pull off once in a blue moon against B-level players. Experts and Masters will not fall for this, and those below B-Level players often won't even get this far into the opening and likely do something inferior earlier on, such as 7.Bxh6, or even 3.exd5.

This was the first of three advance French games played in the first week of 2020. We will be looking at the other two in the near future, and the other two will not see White falling for this in the opening.

This concludes this edition of The French Connection. Good luck to all of you in your future French games, whether playing Black or White!