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!


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!


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


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


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!


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.


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

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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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#.


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!

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