Saturday, March 3, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 1

No, this is not an article about a 1971 film where a New York detective and his partner hunt down a French heroine smuggler. Instead, those of you that have been following the blog since I started writing for it in early 2017 will know that I wrote a highly detailed seven part series on a French repertoire for both Black and White. Those that haven't seen it or wish to go back and review it can click HERE, which will take you to the first of the seven articles and then the links to the other six can be found at the bottom of the page.

In this series, each article will feature a game involving the French Defense. Some of them will be historic GM games while others will be games played by amateurs. They will not necessarily be lines discussed in the French Repertoire I wrote, but rather, are intended to show a diverse variety of games. The French Defense features a wide enough choice of options for Black such that you could diversify your repertoire and reach different positions without ever having to play a different defense against 1.e4.

The game we will be covering here is a classic, and is one of my favorite French games from the past. White gets the bishop pair, a protected passed pawn, and even a material advantage, but it's not enough!

W: Robert Fischer
B: Wolfgang Uhlmann
Buenos Aires, 1960

1.e4 e6

Wolfgang Uhlmann is an International Master from Germany born in 1935 and has been an advocate of the French Defense his entire life. While he has been mildly active as recent as 2016, which includes a rapid match against the late Korchnoi in 2015, his primary years of activity were from the early-50s to the mid-90s. Here we will see the 25-year old take down the 17-year old Fischer.

2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4

The repertoire I gave in the fall involved Black playing 3...Nf6 here, leading to the classical lines of the French Defense. The move played in the game is Black's major alternative, known as the Winawer variation. Notice that just like after 3...Nf6, Black again threatens to grab the e4-pawn. This time, instead of directly attacking the pawn, Black pins the primary guard of the e4-pawn. More often than not, when Black plays this move, he is more often than not giving White the message that he is out to pick a fight and is usually looking for more than just equality. That said, it does carry its share of risks, the biggest one being the parting of the dark-squared bishop, which can come back to bite black if he isn't careful, especially on the dark squares.

4.e5 Ne7 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5

This is the main position of the French Winawer. White's main trumps are the space advantage and the bishop pair. Black's main trumps are the better pawn structure and the slight lead in development.

Here White has a number of options. The main line, and most aggressive move, is 7.Qg4, taking advantage of the lack of the Black dark-squared Bishop. Other responses by White tend to be more positional in nature.


White's idea behind this move is fairly simple. He wants to get his dark-squared bishop to a3 and place it in front of the pawn chain. If it's going to be his bad bishop, the thought it at least it will be active.

7...Nbc6 8.Nf3 Bd7

8...Qa5 is more normal here, after which White has a decision to make and that is whether to put the Bishop on d2, which changes its role compared to going to a3, which then raises the question about the purpose of 7.a4, or to put the queen on d2 which can be a bit passive. This game was in 1960, and back then, playing the queen there was more common. In more modern times, the move 9.Bd2 is more popular. All of that said, this will simply transpose to the 9.Qd2 line one move later.

9.Qd2 Qa5 10.Bd3

White is trying to force Black to expose his plan. As a general rule of thumb, when playing these positional lines of the Winawer, like 7.a4 or 7.Nf3, what Black does with the c-pawn often dictates what he does with his King. If Black advances the pawn to c4, note how the position is completely closed, and with the White pawns on c3 and c2, his position is almost split in two, with the c1-square the major bottle neck that all of the pieces have to go through to get to the queenside. Because of this, Black will castle long. If instead, Black trades the pawn on c4 and plays an early f6, signs point to Black breaking open the center, in which case, going queenside can be very dangerous for Black, and he will likely castle Kingside.


Black exposes his intentions, and we will see a few moves later that Black does castle long in this game. If Black were intending to open the position up and castle Kingside, then he could play 10...cxd4, or possibly even better would be 10...f6 when White has a choice. he can play 11.exf6, but that accelerates Black's development. The other possibility is to castle and after 11.O-O fxe5 12.dxe5 O-O 13.Re1 and now, rather than the main move 13...h6, which weakens squares around the King and encourages 14.Nh4, I would suggest the exchange sacrifice via 13...Rxf3 14.gxf3 Rf8 and Black has compensation for the exchange. For example, in the game Pritchett - Timoscenko, Decin 1978, which continued 15.f4 Be8 16.c4 Qd8 17.cxd5 Nxd5 18.Be4 Nd4 19.Qd3 Bg6 20.Bxg6 hxg6 21.c3 Nb3 22.Qxg6 Qd7 23.Ra2 Nxc3 24.Rb2 Nd4 25.Qg2 b6 26.Be3 Qxa4 27.Rd2 Qc4 28.Kh1 b5 29.Rg1 Rf7 30.h4 Nce2 31.Rgd1 Nxf4 32.Qa8+ Rf8 33.Qe4 Nfe2 34x.Bxd4 Nxd4 35.Kg2 b4 36.Rxd4 cxd4 37.Rxd4 Qc5 38.f4 Rb8 39.Rd7 b3 and White resigned. Of course, this isn't a forced win, but it shows the potential in Black's position.

Just a word of note. While completely committing this early with 10...O-O does not lose on the spot, it is far from best. The Greek Gift Sacrifice though would not work here because the White Queen doesn't cover h5, and after 11.Bxh7+?? Kxh7 12.Ng5 Kg8 13.Qd3, Black gets a winning position after 13...Ng6!. Note that 13...g6?? would lose on the spot to 14.Qh3!. However, White can simply play 11.O-O and would be better.

11.Be2 f6 12.Ba3 Ng6 13.O-O


Grabbing the pawn would be a huge mistake and lose the game for Black pretty much on the spot after 13...fxe5? 14.dxe5 Ncxe5?? 15.Nxe5 Nxe5 16.Qg5! and now White threatens mate on e7, and in the case of both 16...Nc6 and 16...Ng6, White wins with 17.Bh5!

14.Bd6 Nce7 15.Nh4 Rde8

This move was played so that if White trades knights, Black could take with the h-pawn and open up the h-file for his rook without leaving the knight on e7 hanging.

16.Nxg6 hxg6 17.exf6 gxf6 18.h3 Nf5

Putting the question to the bishop on d6.

19.Bh2 g5 20.f4?!

The first of a number of small inaccuracies by White. No one inaccuracy of this minor of a degree is going to lose you the game, but the problem is that we see many of these by White here, and the collection of them combined ends up doing him in.

Instead, White should consider the move 20.Rfe1, when after something like 20...b6 21.Bg4 Kb7, only now should White execute the move 22.f4, when Black can't advance the g-pawn and avoid the trade like he does in the game. After 22...Nh6 23.fxg5 Nxg4 24.hxg4 fxg5, White is slightly better because the pawn is g5 is more exposed than the pawn on g4 and White has total control of the e5-square, which is very important in these French lines. If Black can't ever advance the e-pawn, it will have residual effects on the rest of his position.


Taking advantage of the hole created on e4.


Trying to stop the knight from coming in. That said, he probably needed to take this one opportunity to play 21.fxg5, as what happens to his bishop on h2 in the game is not good at all.


A very strong pawn sacrifice. Either White must let the Knight in, or else completely open the h-file, which Black's pieces are ready to use that file to good effect. In addition, combined with the next move, White Bishop, which was once active on d6, is now completely shut out of the game.

22.hxg4 f5 23.g5

So White has a protected passed pawn for his troubles, and if he could achieve an endgame, particularly a king and pawn endgame, he'd be winning. However, that pawn is going to be very hard to advance as all it will do is expose the White king even more than it is now. Of the two kings, Black's is clearly the safer one right now.


Preparing to double in the h-file.

24.Bg3 Be8 25.Qe3 Ne4

Concealing the weakness on e6.


The knight is too strong to leave there. It must be eliminated. However, this does give Black now a protected passed pawn.

26...dxe4 27.Kf2 Reh7 28.Rfb1 Qd5


Another error by White. Instead, he should have played 29.a5, looking to fix the Black pawn structure on the Queenside. After 29...a6 30.Qe2 Bc6 31.Rg1 (Black threatened 31...e3+) Be8 32.Qd2 Bc6 33.Qc1 Rg7 and one could argue that this is one of those cases where "both sides stand worse", but in reality, White's probably got a very slight advantage.

After the move 29.Qe1?!, do you see the break through for Black?

29...Rh1 30.Qxh1 e3+! 31.Kg1

White absolutely cannot take the e-pawn. After 31.Kxe3 Qe4+ and now both 32.Kf2 Rxh1 33.Rxh1 Bc6 and 33.Kd2 Rxh1 33.Rxh1 Qxg2+ are winning for Black.

31...Rxh1+ 32.Kxh1 e2


And here White does it again, and this time, it's probably the straw the broke the Camel's back. Either way, Black is better, but at least after 33.g6 Bxg6 34.Rb5 Qe4 35.Re1 Bh5 36.Kh2 Qxc2 37.d5 exd5, there is still a fight. Now Black just wins.

33...Bxb5 34.axb5 Qxb5 35.Re1 a5 36.Re2 a4 37.Rxe6

Or 37.Re5 Qb6 38.Kh2 a3 39.Bh4 Qd8 40.Kg3 Kd7 41.g6 Qg8 and Black's winning.

37...a3 38.g6 Qd7

Stop the White pawn first, then worry about promoting your own.

39.Re5 b6!

A key move that doesn't allow White to get behind the passed pawn, and rather, has to go in front.

40.Bh4 a2 41.Re1 Qg7 42.Ra1 Qxg6 0-1

White resigned as after the forced sequence 43.Rxa2 Qh5 44.g3 Qd1+ 45.Kg2 Qb1 46.Ra8+ Kb7 47.Rf8 Qxc2+ 48.Kh3 Qxc3 49.Rxf5 Qxd4 50.Bf6 Qd3 51.Kg4 c3, White is going to have to surrender a piece to stop the c-pawn and the remaining queen and pawn beats rook and two pawns.

This is the first of many French games I'll be posting. Some by GMs, some by amateurs. Also, Black won't be winning all of them! I'll also post other content at times, but for all you French fanatics, and for all of you that will hopefully, one day, turn into French fanatics, be on the lookout for many French games to come.

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