Hello and welcome to the fourth edition of The French Connection. This one will be the first to feature a miniature, and like the first one, this is another gem played in 1951 by a GM that played the French Defense religiously, Wolfgang Uhlmann (1935-). The main theme here is the Greek Gift Sacrifice. The French Defense, along with the Colle System, are the two most common openings for the Greek Gift Sacrifice to occur, but what makes this game very unique is that normally it is Black that has to be careful not to allow White to execute the sacrifice, but in this game, it's Black that pulls the trigger, and while Black's attack may not be the cleanest one available to him, White's errors make Black's mate visually pleasing.
W: Wolfram Bialas
B: Wolfgang Uhlmann
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6
It was actually pretty rare for Uhlmann to play the Closed Tarrasch, and was more traditionally known for playing the "old" main line of the Open Tarrasch via 3...c5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Ngf3 Nc6.
4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 Qb6
The normal move order for this line is 7...cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.Nf3 Bd6 11.O-O where Black has the choice between 11...O-O, 11...Qc7, or 11...Qb6, the last of which this can transpose to and is normally followed by 12.b3 or 12.Nc3, which Black will usually answer with 12...O-O. Those that intend to play the 11...Qb6 line are often recommended to play 7...Qb6 or 8...Qb6 because it avoids one sideline by White, but allows another. After 7...cxd4 8.cxd4 f6, White can play 9.Nf4 instead of taking on f6, which Black should answer with 9...Nxd4 and there is some additional theory in this line. With 7...Qb6, Black avoids that line, but there's another one that is very rarely played that Black has to watch out for on move 10. After 7...Qb6 8.Nf3 cxd4 9.cxd4 f6, White can play 10.Nc3, sacrificing a pawn via 10...fxe5 11.dxe5 Ndxe5 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Qh5+ Nf7 14.Bb5+ which is very dangerous and possibly losing for Black. A move that was never seen in books that I actually came up with myself and consider to be the only novelty that I ever truly came up with myself is 10...a6 intending 11.O-O and only now 11...fxe5 12.dxe5 Ndxe5 13.Nxe5 Nxe5 14.Qh5+ Nf7 when 15.Bb5 is not possible here. The line is still very dangerous for Black, but in the two times I have ever played the Black side of this line, I have a win and a draw.
8.Nf3 cxd4 9.cxd4 Bb4+
Keep in mind that this game was played in the early 50's, and theory was not as well established. These days, the move played in the game, while not refuted, is considered to be slightly inferior compared to the main line, 9...f6, leading to the lines mentioned in the note to Black's 7th move.
10.Bd2 f6 11.exf6 Nxf6 12.O-O O-O 13.a3 Bd6
So now let's compare the main line given in the notes to Black's 7th move with the position we have now. Black's position is exactly the same as it would be after move 12 in the main line. White, on the other hand, has played Bd2 and a3 instead of either b3 or Nc3. So White has gotten an extra move out of all of this because of Black's Bf8-b4-d6, but it does alter White's options.
This move is not White's best option due to Black's next move, which he threatened after making his previous move. White needs to increase the coverage of e5, or else put pressure on d5, making it impossible to advance the e-pawn for Black as the d-pawn would then hang. This is what 12.Nc3 would do in the main line.
That said, 14.Nc3 here would be a mistake because of the Bishop on d2. Here, Black can grab the pawn with 14...Nxd4 15.Nxd4 Qxd4 because there is no discovery for White. Without the Bishop on d2, blocking the Queen, White would have 16.Bxh7+, winning the Queen on d4, but with the Bishop in the way on d2, this is not possible. Therefore, the best move here is 14.Bc3, adding another guard of e5 and preventing Black's next move in the game.
With no pressure on d5 and insufficient coverage of e5, Black is immediately able to achieve this freeing move, opening up what is normally the "bad bishop" on c8. It is no longer bad at this point!
15.dxe5 Nxe5 16.Nxe5 Bxe5
Too late! The situation is not the same as it was on move 14. White had to find a very difficult idea just to minimize Black's advantage. It involved sacrificing the exchange via 17.Be3 Qd8 18.f3 (to avoid the Greek Gift Sacrifice) 18...Bxa1 19.Qxa1 Re8 20.Bd4 a5 21.bxa5 Rxa5 22.Qc3 Bf5 23.Bxf5 Rxe2 24.Bd3 Re8 25.Rc1, keeping Black's advantage to a minimum. In return for the minimal material investment, White has an unopposed pair of Bishops.
17...Bxh2+ 18.Kxh2 Ng4+ 19.Kg3
White is forced to come out as 19.Kg1? Qh6! is curtains for White.
There is only one move here for Black, but it's a very strong one!
White cannot take the Rook as 20.Rxf2 leads to mate in four for Black starting with 20...Qxf2+. That said, all this Bishop move does is block White's own king escape. White must play either 20.Qc1 or 20.Bxh7+.
This move is cute, but stronger and more direct is 20...h5
21.Rxf2 Qd6+ 22.Kf3??
This allows mate in 3. White had to try 22.Nf4, but after 22...Nxd1 23.Rxd1 g5, Black should be able to score the full point anyway.
22...Bg4+ 23.Kxe3 Qe5+ 0-1
The final position deserves a diagram!
The White pieces are there to accompany their master, but all they are able to do is betray him by blocking his escape! After 24.Be4 Qxe4, it's mate.
What should be gotten out of this game is two things.
First, the slightest of changes in the opening can make a significant difference, as we saw that because Black flicked in the ...Bb4+ move before retreating back to d6, the relocation of the White dark-squared Bishop from c1 to d2 completely altered what White needed to do, where in this case 14.Bc3 was correct and not 14.Nc3, nor was the move played in the game correct, namely 14.b4. So don't just think that by memorizing moves that you have an opening nailed. You need to understand when and why certain moves are possible, and that for White, it was all about needing to prevent e5 by pressuring either the e5 or d5 square, but at the same time, not allowing d4 to hang.
Second, always be on the lookout for tactical shots. The move 19...Rxf2 is ultimately what made 17...Bxh2+ playable, and while White may have still had the opportunity at that time to maintain the balance, the position was far more difficult for White to handle than Black as the ball was in White's court to find either 20.Qc1 or 20.Bxh7+, both of which would still require White to play at a very high level of accuracy just to survive.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this miniature. Until next time, good luck in all your French games, whether that be with Black or White.