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 Chessgames.com, 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.
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.
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 +-
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.
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.
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!