Friday, November 3, 2017

Opening Preparation: The French Defense - Steinitz Variation

So now we have finally reached what I consider to be the most critical response to the French Defense. We saw in the last article the first part of what to do against 3.Nc3, which after 3...Nf6, included all viable fourth move responses by White aside from 4.e5. Well, that leaves just one remaining thing to cover, and that's 4.e5!, known as the Steinitz Variation. After 4...Nfd7, we have the following position:

From here, the main line is 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 and from here, Black has a wide range of options, all the way from the extremely popular 7...cxd4 to the highly risky 7...Qb6. That said, the move that I will be covering will be 7...a6.

That said, a brief word on two side lines that White has that we need to be aware of.

The first is a variation known as the Jackal Attack. There was a lot of hype five to ten years ago, but it has basically been figured out to a slight edge for Black. After 5.Nf3 c5 6.Bg5, it was determined that Black's best move is 6...Qb6! (6... Be7?! 7. Bxe7 Qxe7 8. Nb5 Kd8 9. c3 is better for White while 6...f6?! 7.exf6 Nxf6 8.Bb5+ Nc6 9.Qe2 and again White is to be preferred). After 7.dxc5 Bxc5 8.Qd2 Nc6! 9.O-O-O, and now, after 9...Bxf2 10.Na4 Qb4 11.Qxf2 Qxa4 12.Kb1, does White have enough for the pawn? I personally believe that White does not have the compensation, and after 12...O-O! 13.Bd3 Ndxe5 14.Qg3 Nxd3 15.Bf6 g6 16.cxd3 e5! 17.Nxe5 Nxe5 18.Bxe5 Bf5, Black has the advantage.

The second is an attempt by White to steer the game more towards a Closed Tarrasch (3.Nd2 Nf6). As you may recall in the Tarrasch article, we looked at 3...c5 rather than 3...Nf6, and would only transpose into the Closed Tarrasch if White was forced to play the Korchnoi Gambit, but in this case, we would be looking at the ideal knight setup for White with the Knights on e2 and f3 rather than d2 and f3. Fortunately for Black, he is not forced to play into White's hand, and can achieve equality after 5.Nce2 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.f4 b5 (7...Qb6 8.Nf3 would be a direct tranposition to the line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ndf3 Qb6 8.Ne2) 8.a3 cxd4 9.Nxd4 Nxd4 10.cxd4 b4 11.a4 a5 12.Nf3 Be7 13.Bd3 Ba6 14.O-O Qb6. For example, in the game Kuzmin - Chuprikov, Alushta 2005, a draw was agreed after 15.Be3 O-O 16.Rc1 Rfc8 17.Qe2 Bd3 18.Qxd3 Qb7 19.Nd2 Rxc1 20.Rxc1 Rc8 21.Rxc8+ Qxc8 22.Nb3 Bd8 23.Qb5 Nf8 24.Nc5 h5 25.Qe8 Qc7 26.Kf1 Be7 27.Ke2 g6 28.b3 Kg7 29.Bf2 g5 30.g3 gxf4 31.gxf4 Ng6 32.Kf3 Nxe5+ 33.fxe5 Bxc5 34.dxc5 Qxe5 35.Kg2 Qe4+ 36.Kg1 1/2-1/2

This brings us back to the main line. After 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6, the most natural moves are 8.Qf2 b5, after which White has numerous options, and this will be the main dividing point between the four games covered below. While White can almost play any move that doesn't outright drop a piece, there are five moves that are the most critical. Game 1 will cover the aggressive 9.h4. Game 2 will cover 9.a3. Game 3 will cover 9.Be2. Game 4 will cover the most popular move, 9.dxc5. The other major option for White is 9.Qf2. For this, I am going to refer the reader to Game 3 of the article on the Charlottesville Open from July.

Game 1 - White Plays 9.h4
W: Viswanathan Anand (2766)
B: Alexander Morozevich (2732)
Monte Carlo, 2004

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5 9.h4

This move is somewhat of a sham. Yes, White's attack is on the Kingside as indicated by which direction the blocked pawns are pointing, but White has more important things to do first, such as developing another piece via 9.Be2 (see Game 3) or else slow down Black's pawn storm as seen in Games 2 and 4.


White's last move brings no scare to Black, and he continues his pawn storm on the Queenside.


10.Na4 doesn't make logical sense. White's attack is on the Kingside, and after 10...Qa5, White either has to trade on c5, accelerating Black's development, or else waste more time with a move like 11.b3 and Black just continues his attack. Even if White castles Kingside, as he does in the game, the fact that Black is continuing at full speed is what matters most as both sides have a pre-determined side to attack no matter where the Kings sit.

10...Be7 11.dxc5 Nxc5 12.Ng3 h5

In Bronznik's "Techniques of Positional Play", a book I HIGHLY recommend if you haven't read it already, one of the ideas he talks about is restricting a Knight on b3, b6, g3, or g6, and that this can be done by moving the Rook pawn two squares and the Knight pawn one square, removing all effective squares from the Knight and not allowing the side with the misplaced knight with an effective way to break the pawn chain. With the move h4 already played by White, it also makes it harder to break effectively with g4, which White would have to retreat the Knight first before he could do it anyway.

Also note that the h-pawn should be moved first in this particular case rather than the g-pawn in order to prevent White from responding to 12...g6 with 13.h5 before Black gets in h5 himself.

13.Be2 g6

Completing the defensive scheme, making it very difficult for White to execute any breaks such as f5 or g4, and questioning the g3-Knight what it thinks it's doing there. After this, Black will continue his Queenside attack and only make a move on the Kingside when necessary. This is critical that Black remain as active as possible on the Queenside to offset any attack White might stir up on the Kingside, which Black's last two moves will significantly slow down.

14.O-O Na4 15.c3

With the Kingside effectively Blocked for now and Black already threatening to grab a pawn on the Queenside, the initiative at the moment belongs to Black.

15...bxc3 16.bxc3 Qa5 17.Rac1 Bd7 18.Rc2 Na7?!

A slight error by Black. The idea is simple. He is trying to continue to pile on the c-pawn with Nc6-a7-b5, but as we will see in a couple of moves, this fails to a tactical shot by White. More effective would be a simple move like 18...Rb8.

19.Ng5 Nb5


Based off a tactic that would not be available to White had the Knight remained on c6.


An unfortunate necessity. Black would like to take with the e-pawn, but with the Knight on b5 instead of c6, 20...exf5 21.Qxd5! would be a major problem for Black with threats on both f7 and a8. With the Knight on c6, there is no threat on the Rook, and only having to defend f7 is simple.

21.Nxf7!! d4

The Knight is poison! After 21...Kxf7? 22.Nxf5! with a massive attack for White, and if 22...exf5, then 23.Qxd5+ and White regains at minimum a piece as the d7-Bishop is hanging and 23...Ke8 is answered by 24.Qxa8+ while 23...Be6 is answered by 24.Rxf5+!

22.Nxf5 exf5

22...dxe3?? 23.Ng7+ Kf8 24.Qxd7 leads to mate.

23.Nxh8 dxe3 24.Qd5 O-O-O 25.c4 Kb8 26.e6??

Oh no! White has just lost all of his advantage with this move. Instead, 26.Nf7 wins on the spot. After 26...Nb6 27.Qd3, Black must lose material as the Rook on d8 and Knight on b5 are both attacked.

26...Nac3 27.Rxc3?

When it rains, it pours! White had to play 27.Qxf5 here. Now Black's better.


And Black proceeds to blunder as well. 27...Bxe6 28.Qxe6 Nxc3 is winning for Black.

28.Qxf5 Qxc3 29.cxb5 Rxh8 30.bxa6 Rf8 31.Rb1+?

The straw that broke the Camel's back. White should have played 31.Qxb1! Now it's Black that wins!

32.Qe4 Qc7 33.Qd4+ Qc5 34.Qe4 Qc7 35.Qd4+ Bc5 36.Rc1 Rf8 37.Qc4 Re5 38.Qb3 Re6 39.a4 Re5 40.Qb5 Qb6 41.Rb1 Qxb5 42.axb5 Bg4 43.Kf1 Rf5+ 44.Bf3 Bxf3 45.gxf3 Rxf3+ 46.Ke2 Rf2+ 0-1

Game 2 - White Plays 9.a3
W: Pavel Smirnov (2629)
B: Valerij Filippon (2630)
Rethymnon, 2003

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5 9.a3

White inserts this defensive move as an attempt to slow down Black on the Queenside. Yes, Black must take a more restrained approach, but as we will see in this game, Black will release the tension early and show that he can still attack the Queenside faster than White can attack the Kingside, even with the Kings not castled yet.

9...Bb7 10.Bd3 Qb6 11.Qf2


11...cxd4 plays into White's hand. White is better after 12.Nxd4 Nxd4 13.Bxd4 Bc5 14.Ne2 and another set of pieces will be traded off. Note the pieces that are being traded versus those that aren't. White gets a set of Knights and the Dark-Squared Bishops off the board, but maintains the pieces that are good for him and bad for Black, such as the Light-Squared Bishops. Therefore, Black shuts down the center and basically tells White that he thinks he can attack White's Queenside quicker than White can get at Black's Kingside.

12.Be2 b4

Black shows no hesitation. Even if the King's aren't actually castled on opposite wings, when the center is completely shut, it's all about who can execute their attack faster, and so once again, defensive moves should only be played when necessary.

13.axb4 Nxb4

And now a fork on c2 is threatened. Black is making progress on the Queenside, and all White can do is react to Black's threats.

14.Rc1 h5

Here we go again with the Light-Squared blockade on the Kingside.

15.Ng5 g6 16.g4?!

Too hasty. White should take a more restrained approach with 16.O-O where he is probably slightly better. Instead, White allows Black to trade on g4 immediately, which creates a permanent outpost on f5 for a Black Knight and opens up the h-file for the Black Rook. After 16.O-O Rc8 17.b3 cxb3 18.cxb3 Qa5 19.Na4 and White can claim a small advantage as his pieces are slightly better coordinated. For example, Black's Rooks are still not connected. That said, if Black realizes that he is on defense and doesn't play hasty, speculative moves, he should still be ok.

17.hxg4 Bxh4 18.O-O Ne7 19.h4 Nf5 20.h5 Be7 21.Ne2 f6!

Black is winning here.

22.hxg6 0-1

White resigned without waiting for Black to take the Knight, which is winning. Note that Black is also winning after 22.Nf3 Nxe3 23.Qxe3 f5 24.Bxh3 Rxh5.

Game 3 - White Plays 9.Be2
W: Norbert Michel (1910)
B: Peter Bombek (2196)
Slovakia 2017

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5 9.Be2

I have chosen a game between two amateurs because this is a line that many amateurs would tend to play. White, with his 9th move, simply wants to continue his development, and is showing signs of castling Kingside, elminating the dynamic nature of opposite side castling and both sides throwing jabs at the Opponent's King. Despite this, the pawn structure still indicates that Black should attack Queenside, and that is exactly what he does.

One other thing to keep in mind is that when the game takes on a slower, more positional nature, that positional factors weigh in more than in other lines. So instead of merely trying to rush the attack on the Queenside, Black observes that he does have a space disadvantage, and in a positional game, the best thing that you can do when you have a disadvantage in space is to trade pieces. The more pieces that are traded off, the less relevant White's space advantage becomes, and if it gets down to a King and Pawn ending, the player with the space advantage would have to start worrying about his pawn structure being over-extended, especially if the Black King can get there before the White King does.

To show that trading off pieces is appropriate for Black, think about a very small, 500 square foot, one bedroom apartment. Now let's take the Dugger family from Alabama. They are the family that was featured on the TV show "19 and Counting", a reality show about the couple and their 19 kids. Now just picture that family of 21 trying to live in a 500 square foot apartment. It would be very crowded, wouldn't it? Now let's imagine that they never had the 19 kids, and just lived their life as a couple. Sure it would be nice to have more space than a 500 square foot apartment, but two people can make due in a small space and not feel like they can't move around the apartment without walking on top of each other.

The idea is the same here. Now you might be wondering why Black goes on a trading mission here but not in the previous two games. Well, in Game 1, White's play was all about trying to accelerate his attack, where the best way to stop White is to build the blockade before continuing his own attack on the Queenside. In Game 2, White spends time on the Queenside in an attempt to slow Black down, and doesn't focus on the accelerated attack that Game 1 featured or ignoring Black on the Queenside and going for a lead in development and attempting to attack Black on the Kingside on the basis of having more pieces on that side of the board than Black has to defend it, and so therefore, we attempt to nullify White's idea by eliminating as many pieces as possible from the board. By doing this, the lead in development and space becomes useless, and the factors more relevant to late middlegame and endgame play prevail, such as weak squares, having the more active King, and King safety.

In fact, what you will see in Game 4 below is White combining the ideas of Games 2 and 3, where he spends the time slowing down Black's Queenside initiative on move 9, and then proceeds to trade down to an endgame himself like Black does here, only in White's case it is to offset Black's Queenside initiative rather than Black's motivation in this game, which is to nullify his disadvantage in space.

9...b4 10.Nd1 Qb6 11.O-O a5 12.Kh1

This prophylactic is the most modern idea here for White. The idea is simple. White wants to get his King off the diagonal that the Black Queen resides on.


The start of Black trying to trade down to an endgame.

13.Nxd4 Bc5

With the way the board is set up, another set of pieces will be traded off. There is no avoiding it for White.

14.Nxc6 Qxc6

And with the pawn on f4 and the Queen on d2, there is no way White avoids the Bishop trade either!

15.c3 Ba6 16.Rc1 Bxe2 17.Qxe2 O-O 18.Bxc5 Qxc8 19.Nf2 Rfc8 20.Qd2 Qb5 21.Nd3 bxc3 22.Rxc3 Nb6 23.Rfc1 Rxc3 24.Qxc3 g6 25.Qd4 Rc8 26.Rxc8+ Nxc8

Mission Accomplished! Now the extra space on the Kingside means nothing for White, and it's a 2-on-1 pawn majority versus a 5-on-4 with a protected passed pawn, but it's a central pawn, which in the endgame is of lesser value than a passer on the edge of the board. All told, it's probably slightly better for Black, but White demonstrates the necessary technique to draw this one.

27.Qc3 Nb6

Possibly 27...Ne7 was a better move if Black wants to try to win.

28.h3 Kg7 29.b3 a4 30.Kh2 axb3 31.axb3 h5 32.f5 gxf5

Black can't take the other way as 32...exf5?? 33.e6+ is winning for White.

33.Nf4 h4 34.Qe1 d4 35.Qxh4 1/2-1/2

A draw was agreed here as after 35...Qxe5 36.Qg5+, perpetual check can't be avoided. For example, 36...Kf8 37.Qd8+ Kg7 38.Qg5+ Kh7 39.Qh5+ Kg7 40.Qg5+ etc.

Game 4 - White Plays 9.dxc5
W: Stephan Berndt (2380)
B: Frank Holzke (2410)
Germany 1998

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5 9.dxc5

This is the "main line" if such a thing exists here. White tries to limit the damage with Black's Queenside pawn mass, and opens up the d4-square for a White piece, most likely a Knight.


The correct way for Black to take back, offering the Bishop trade.

10.Bxc5 Nxc5 11.Qf2 Qb6

It may appear as though Black is walking into a self pin, but with the Dark-Squared Bishops gone, White can't take advantage of it, and so Black competes on the diagonal.

12.Bd3 b4 13.Ne2 a5 14.O-O Ba6

Looking to eliminate his bad Bishop, which White has no real way to avoid in this case. White must also be very careful as it appears as though Black is making progress faster on the Queenside than White is on the Kingside. Therefore, White is going to temporarily sacrifice a pawn, the compensation for it being that Black's pawn structure won't be ideal, and White will eventually get the pawn back.

15.f5!? exf5

No matter how Black handles it, he will either have and isolated pawn on d5, or if he ignores the f-pawn, he has to worry about both capturing on e6, which leads to a weakness on e6 instead of d5 or f5, and it also runs the risk of a future f6 by White, which could be a problem for the Black King, especially if he were ever to castle in that direction.

16.Nf4 Ne7 17.e6 f6

Weaker is 17...fxe6 18.Nxe6! Qxe6 19.Qxc5 with an advantage for White as Black's pieces and pawns are all scattered and he has to worry about tricks on the e-file.


White begins the trade down to a drawn endgame.

18...Rxa6 19.Rad1 Nxe6 20.Qxb6 Rxb6 21.Nxd5 Nxd5 22.Rxd5 Ra6 23.Nd4 Nxd4 24.Rxd4 O-O 25.Rxf5

White has regained the pawn and the Rook ending is a draw. If anything, one could try to argue that White is slightly better due to the more active Rooks, but that is easily nullified by Black simply by attacking the weak c2-pawn.

25...Rc8 26.Rd2 Rac6 27.Rxa5 Rxc2 28.Rad5 Rxd2 29.Rxd2 Ra8 30.Rd4 1/2-1/2

Neither the isolated pawn by White nor the Kingside majority by Black is enough to win, and so a draw was agreed here.

So this completes the Black Repertoire with the French Defense. It is a strong defense to 1.e4, and with careful study of the 6 articles presented here and plenty of practice, you should be able to achieve many wins with Black.

The final article will be on how White can fight against the French Defense, and it probably wouldn't be a bad idea for those of you looking to play the French Defense as Black to also read as it will show some of the ideas in the more mainstream lines of the French Advance, just in case you are not a big fan of the side line provided against it in the introduction article. I wish all of you the best of luck with the French Defense.

Links to the rest of the articles.
Introduction and facing the Advance Variation
Part One: The Exchange Variation
Part Two: The Tarrasch Variation
Part Three: The King's Indian Attack
Part Four: The MacCutcheon Variation
Part Six: Beating the French with the Advance Variation

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