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.

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