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.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 30

Hello and welcome to the thirtieth edition of The French Connection. With this one, before we get to the main topic, I would like to bring up a topic covered recently. Those of you have have read Volume 27 of The French Connection that came out last month, the one subtitled "A Trap Worth Knowing", do you recall that trap? (Those of you that haven't read that article can click HERE to get to it.) Well, just recently, I had it come up again, and I would like to start by suggesting that you attempt to analyze yourself the moves played. I will briefly touch on it, but consider this to be more of a review of what was covered three articles ago, and I encourage you to try to calculate the moves in advance, especially up through move 27. Moves 28-onward are nothing more than winning a won endgame.

Land of the Sky XXXIII, Round 1
W: Graydon Eggers (1839)
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 9.Be3 Bd7 10.Nc3?? Nxe3 11.fxe3 Nxb4 12.axb4 Bxb4 13.Rc1 Rc8 14.Qb3 Qa5 15.Kd2 O-O 16.Bd3 Rc7

I had mentioned 16...f6 here in TFC 27, but Black has numerous winning options as White is already dead. The idea of this one is to threaten to double up, and entice White to retreat his Knight before breaking the center. White's next move is not forced, but notice he went right for it!

17.Ng1 f6 18.exf6 Rxf6 19.Nge2 Ba4 20.Qb2 Rf2 21.Rhg1 Bb5

Basically the game ender! White is dead, despite the game being another 22 moves.

22.Bxb5 Qxb5 23.Kd1 Qd3+ 24.Qd2 Rxc3 25.Rxc3 Qxd2+ 26.Kxd2 Bxc3+ 27.Kxc3 Rxe2 28.Kd2 Ra2 29.Rb1 b6 30.g4 Rxh2 31.Ra1 Rg2 32.Rxa7 Rxg4 33.Re6 Rg6 34.Rb7 h5 35.Rxb6 Kf7 36.Ke2 Rg3 37.Kf2 h4 38.Rb8 Kf6 39.Rf8+ Kg5 40.Re8 Kf5 41.Rf8+ Kg4 42.Re8 Rf3+ 43.Ke2 Rf6 0-1

So as we can see here, that trap from TFC 27 really is one worth knowing. I had spent very little time in the opening phase of the game, and spent a grand total of 42 minutes for the entire game.

I figured it was important to mention this game with it happening literally 23 days after the first occurrence, but did not feature a full article on it as it would feel like I was merely re-writing the first one.


So now we move on to the feature game of the article. Here we will see Black play an early ...Bd7, which I am not in favor of at all. In this game, White decided to directly transpose to a line in the 5...Nge7 variation where Black plays ...Bd7 as a waiting move on move 8, but there is another idea for White which will be mentioned in the game.

After that, the game takes on a bit of a turn where Black focuses on getting certain pieces of White's off the board, and it leaves White with his Bishop that is on the same color as most of his pawns, but we shall see that this Bishop plays a vital defensive roll, especially after Black misses his one chance. First, it assists White in taking over the only open file, and then it follows up by keeping the Black pieces out while White proceeds to attack. Eventually, White infiltrates, and Black's position falls apart. With that said, let's take a look at the main game of the article.


TACO 101, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (2087)
B: Paul King (1888)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bd7

I don't like this move at all for Black. With moves like 5...Qb6 or 5...Nge7 or the more modern 5...Nh6, Black is going for his main target, the d4-pawn. This Bishop move does very little at the moment. We shall see that the Black Rook doesn't get to the c-file until move 15. There is no threat of d4 any time soon, even with a discovered check if White plays Bd3 at any point, and with it being the light-squared Bishop, it has no way to directly contribute to the attack on d4. Does this move get played eventually? Sure! But White give White extra time to get his King to safety and consolidate his position before Black goes after d4?

6.Be2 Nge7 7.Na3

This move leads to what will become a transposition to a line of the 5...Nge7 variation, namely 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Nge7 6.Na3 cxd4 7.cxd4 Nf5 8.Nc2 Bd7 and now 9.Be2 directly transposes to what will result in the game.

That said, White has a stronger move. 7.O-O!, the main point being that after spending time with 5...Bd7, Black's attack on d4 is too slow. With White's King already tucked away, he has the advantage if Black goes for d4 now via 7...cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Nc3! Qb6 10.Na4.

7...cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Nc2



So we now have the position from the 5...Nge7 line mentioned in the note to White's 7th move. This position is normally thought of as being somewhat balanced.

9...Qb6 10.g4

More normal here is to castle first, bringing the King to safety, via 10.O-O. That said, with the Queen having moved, I decided to kick the knight immediately since it does not have Queen to cover h4, and so he will have to retreat. Now this is not a glorified intervention that gives White brownie points, as Black can, and should, re-route the Knight via e7 to g6. Black does not do this, and instead goes out of his way to try to re-post the Knight on f5, and goes out of his way on a mission to eliminate all of the White minor pieces that can harass f5. It makes the Knight look good, but the rest of Black's position will be very passive. But if Black goes to g6 with the Knight, even after the upcoming ...h5 push, Black should have a fully equal position, and so don't think that 10.g4 is some great novelty. It's merely another move that leaves the position roughly balanced.

10...Nfe7 11.h4 h5 12.g5 g6?!

This is the square the Knight belongs on.

13.Bd3 Na5 14.Ne3 Bb5

Here is where Black starts his mission of eliminating both the White minor pieces that cover f5. He is going to be spending a lot of valuable time doing it. Meanwhile, White will be completing his development. That said, with White's long term weakness of the pawns being locked on the dark squares, Black will have one opportunity to take over the position.

15.O-O Rc8 16.Re1 Bxd3 17.Qxd3 Nc4 18.b3 Nxe3 19.fxe3 Nf5



Now artificial intelligence highly prefers Black here, and I agree to an extent, but not to the same degree. Yes, Black has an attractive Knight on f5. Yes, White's pawns on the ones on the color of the Bishops, not Black's. However, there are a number of pluses for White.
  • He is ahead in development. Black hasn't castled yet.
  • While the Dark-Squared Bishop looks bad, it has the ability to cover a key square, specifically c1. This is important as the Black Bishop cannot cover c8, which means it's going to be easier for White to take over control of the c-file than it will be for Black. The best Black can hope for is a standoff.


20.Bd2 Be7 21.Rac1 O-O 22.Rc2

Now a crucial decision for Black!

22...Ng3?

The wrong move order. Here, Black must trade Rooks first. After 22...Rxc2, White is forced to take back with the Queen, opening up the a6-f1 diagonal. After 23.Qxc2 Ng3, White cannot double up on the c-file due to a fork, and after the time spent playing 24.Kg2, Black can play 24...Ne4 as now 25.Rc1 leads to major problems for White after 25...Qa6! and after 25.Qd3, Black can play 25...Rc8, contesting the c-file.

With the move order played, White will take over the c-file, and this will just add headaches to Black.

23.Rec1 Rxc2

Too late!

24.Rxc2

Of course not 24.Qxc2?? Ne2+ -+.

24...Ne4

The Knight should go back to f5, tying White down to the defense of h4. From there, the Knight might look good, but it does not do the job it needs to do, and eventually, White will force it off the board, and overtake the game. Black's advantage is now gone!

25.Kg2 a6 26.Be1



26...Qd8?

Black must be dreaming up some sacrifice on g5. Here, 26...Bb4 had to be played. Now, the Black Knight has no way to avoid being traded off after White's next move.

27.Nd2! +/=

And suddenly White is better!

27...Bb4

Again, too late!

28.Nxe4! dxe4

This pawn is now a major weakness for Black! He should have taken the Bishop on e1 instead, which was the lesser evil. White is still better after 29.Nf6+ Kg7, but it's hard to see how he will take advantage if Black sits patient. Yes, he has the e4-lever, but it is very hard to imagine that being enough to outright win the game for White.

29.Qf1 Be7 30.Bg3 Qa5 31.Qf4 Qd5

Given the pawn structure, this is actually a very passive square for the Black Queen, and all it is doing is merely protecting the e4-pawn for now. That is about to change.

32.Be1 b6 33.Rc7

White infiltrates to the 7th rank. This is just the tip of the ice burg of Black's upcoming problems.

33...Bd8

Go away Rook! We don't want you here!



It is White to move. What do you do here?

34.Ra7!

Now you listen to me! I am not going away any time soon! Careful analysis shows that there is no way to trap the Rook from here! Black may be able to untangle at some point and trade the Rook for his own Rook, but with Black having to cover e4, he doesn't have time for something like Qd5-c6-c8-b8 as once it goes to c8 and abandons e4, White can play Qxe4 and then come in with the Queen as well. In addition, if Black does that immediately via 34...Qc6??, White wins material with 35.Bb4! since the Rook can't move to e8 as it would then be mate in two from that point!

34...a5

So Black proceeds to stop 35.Bb4 with this move. That said, it opens up the light squares for the Queen, and the Queen can come in via a6 if he has to, and so there clearly is no way to trap the Rook.

35.Qf1!

The Queen did its job on f4, keeping the Black Queen at bay on d5 until Black voluntarily weakens his pawn structure. Now the Queen is coming around the back and coming in.

35...Qc6 36.Qc4!

White has no objection here to a Queen trade. If Black decides to go that route, White will have a central pawn roll eventually, combined with the more dominant Rook. This is sufficient to say that White would be clearly winning.

36...Qe8

And so Black doesn't trade Queens. However, it cannot be a good sign when you are retreating backwards. While Black is stuck for moves, White takes his sweet time now to collect the e-pawn.

37.Kg3 Be7 38.Kf4 Bd8 39.Kxe4 Be7 40.a4

Immobilizing Black's Queenside pawns.

40...Qd8 41.Kf1

Not allowing any sacrifices on g5.

41...Ba3

It would have been cute to see Black try 41...Bc5. All White has to do here is play a simple move like 42.Ke4!. Note that 42.dxc5?? blunders away the win after 42...Qd1! and White has to give the Bishop back with Black improving his position as he also threatens 43...Qg4#.

42.Qc6

White continues to infiltrate, slowly but surely.

42...Bb2 43.Bc3 Bc1 44.Rb7 Qc8 45.Qc7

Virtually forcing the Queen trade, but in such a manner that White continues to control the only open file. Black could safely resign here.

45...Qxc7 46.Rxc7 Rb8 47.Ke4 b5 48.Bxa5 axb4 49.Rxc1 1-0


Here's what can be picked up from this game.
  • Black should not develop his Bishop too early. It is a waste of time, and allows White to consolidate and castle before any pressure is put on d4. Even if Black attacks via the e5-square, this is the best approach when Black wastes time with the move 5...Bd7?!. For example, after 6.Be2 f6 (a move that became somewhat popular recently), White should just calmly castle, and after 7.O-O fxe5 8.Nxe5 Nxe5 9.dxe5 Qc7, White can play the positional move, 10.f4, or take the more dynamic, and probably stronger, approach of playing 10.c4. Black should not take the pawn. If he does, after 10...Qxe5 11.Bh5+ g6 12.Bf3 O-O-O 13.Re1, Black is up a pawn, but he is not ready to withstand White's attack.
  • As demonstrated in the note to White's 7th move, Black's attack on d4 is too slow if White castles immediately, and so 7.O-O was far better than the game move, 7.Na3. After White's opening mistake, Black fully equalized immediately, and it just got worse for White through the teens after trying to execute the novelty with 10.g4 instead of the normal 10.O-O, the latter of which would lead to an equal position.
  • Black had one opportunity on move 22 to take over the advantage, but once he failed to do that, despite the appearance of White's Bishop, it wasn't a bad piece as it covered key squares to keep particularly the Black Queen out of White's camp. After that, White's King felt little to no pressure at all. Avoidance of a sacrifice or two and White's King was totally safe.
  • Often times, the key to keeping an advantage (Black's move 22) or avoiding falling into a worse position (Black's move 26), is prevention. Black needed to prevent White from taking over the c-file, not try to scratch and claw at it after it was too late. Same with Black's 26th move. He needed to prevent White from playing Nd2 and forcing the Knights off, not force White to trade the Knight after the fact since that is what White wanted to do anyway! Do not force your opponent to make moves he wants to make anyway. Instead, prevent them in the first place!

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