Saturday, March 28, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 35

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

8.g3 Bd7 9.h4 h5?

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

10.Bh3 Nh6 11.Rb1

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


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

12.O-O Be7 13.Re1

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

13...Qc7 14.Nf1 Nb3

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

15.Bg5 Ba4

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

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

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

16.Bxe7 Qxe7 17.Ng5

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


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

18.Ne3 Rc7


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

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

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


Black takes up the offer.

20.Qg2 Nxb1 21.Rxb1 Nf5

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

22.Bxf5 gxf5

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

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


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


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

24.Nf4 Rh8 25.Qf3

The h5-pawn is toast.

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

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


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

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


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

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

Winning the Queen and the game.

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

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

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

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Game Analysis: Taking the Bait

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

Let's take a look at the feature game.

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

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

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

5.Bc4 e6 6.Nc3

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


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

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

7...dxc3 Bxc5?!

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

8.Qg4 g6

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


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

9...Nc6 10.f4 d6

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

18.Qh4 Be7?

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

19.Ng5! h5??

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 34

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

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

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

Potsdam 1988
W: Ralf Lau
B: Wolfgang Uhlmann

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


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

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


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


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

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

15.Bxf3 Rb8 16.Bf4 a4

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

17.Qd2 a3

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


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


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

19.Qxc3 Rb4 20.Rad1?

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

20...Bxh4! 21.Bc1

White is busted after 21.gxh4 Rxf4!.

21...Be7 22.Bxa3

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

22...Bb7! 23.Qc2

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

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


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

24.Be4 Rb6

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

25.Bc1 Bxe4

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

26.Rxe4 Ra6 27.Qe2 Re8

Opening up f8 for the Knight!

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

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

31.a3 Rb6

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

32.Kh2 Rxb3 33.Bh6

White uses tactics and tricks to validate his move.


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

34.Bxg7 Qxd3!

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

35.Qxd3 Rxd3 36.Bf6 Bf8 37.Re1

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


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

38.Kg2 Rf5 39.Rh3

Of course White has no interest in trading.


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

40.Reh1 c4

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is basically game over at this point.

52.f4 Nf3! 0-1

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

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

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

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The French Connection: Volume 33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.Bf4 Ba6

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


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


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

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

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

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


Very much the move that Black anticipated.


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

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


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

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

15...a4 16.Ne3


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

17.Rad1 h6 18.Qh5 f5 19.Qxe8

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

19...Raxe8 20.Nc4 Nd4

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

21.Nd6 Nxc2!

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

22.Nxe8 Rxe8

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

The game move shows that Black is trying to win.

23.Re2 b3 24.axb3 axb3 25.Red2


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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



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

34...Bxd3! 35.Rxd3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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