Saturday, June 16, 2018

The French Connection: Volume 9

Hello everyone and welcome to the ninth edition of The French Connection. Now those of you that have read the first eight articles will known that thus far, every article has had the same layout. There would be a single game with some discussion on certain themes learned from that game. Some of them would be GM games from the past (Volumes 1, 4, 5, 6) while the others would be games by Amateurs. Some would be successful blockades by White (Volumes 2, 6, 7) while the others would be successful breakthroughs for victory by Black. We have also already seen four of the five main responses by White, including 3.Nc3 (Volumes 1, 2, 5), the Tarrasch (Volume 4), the Advance (Volumes 3, 6, 7), and the Exchange (Volume 8), the only one not showing up yet being the King's Indian Attack. Don't worry, they will come too.

However, every now and then, I will be slightly altering the format of the article to better suit the topic at hand. For example, maybe sometime down the road, there may be an article on French miniatures, which in that case, it wouldn't make sense to extensively cover a single game, but rather, the theme would be more geared toward typical errors made in the opening phase of the game as that would be necessary to win a game that quickly. I am sure that there are other scenarios besides a miniatures article and what we have here that would also force a slight change in the format. Fear not, the vast majority of these articles will take on the same format as the first eight.

But what we have today is a topic where covering a single game extensively from start to finish would be a waste of time. This go round, we are going to talk about a couple of garbage lines that you might have to face that have actually occurred over the board. This theme is likely not a one-time occurrence in this series, so let me lay out what you can expect, and then in future cases, I'll likely simply subtitle those articles as something along the lines of beating garbage lines. Because I do not condone playing garbage lines from either side, I can tell you right now that every garbage line I cover will result in a loss for the player playing the garbage.

So what is a garbage line? I classify variations of openings under three categories:
  • Main Lines - These would be all of the legitimate lines that make up over 95% of all games. Against the French Defense, there are five of them. 3.Nc3, which can be broken down further into the Winawer, Steinitz, Classical, MacCutcheon, Burn, Rubinstein, and Fort Knox, and then there is the Tarrasch (3.Nd2), Advance (3.e5), Exchange (3.exd5) and the King's Indian Attack (2.d3 and 3.Nd2).
  • Offbeat Lines - These would be the lines that are rarely played and somewhat off the beaten path, but are not just outright bad. A couple of examples would be 2.b3 and the Wing Gambit (1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 c5 4.b4). These lines lead to nothing more than equality, but White should not be lost in these lines simply because Black knows what he's doing.
  • Garbage Lines - This is everything else. These lines serve no purpose other than to try to trick the opponent. If the opponent knows what they are doing, then there is no recourse and the player trying to get a cheap shot out of their opponent instead ends up with a lousy position that is probably already lost.

So that said, I am going to cover two garbage lines in this article. When covering garbage lines, there is going to be far more emphasis on the opening, comparing what is right to what is wrong. The purpose is to illustrate why it is important to understand the ideas behind the opening moves and not just to memorize them. When people start trying to beat you with garbage, they are in essence trying to take the lazy way out, figuring that you won't know what to do and they will get an easy advantage without having to resist a major fight in the main lines. Well, if you understand the themes of what's right, it should help you pave the way through proving why what they played against you is wrong.

That said, once you are past the opening and maybe early middle game stages, with correct execution, you likely have, simply put, a won game. There are many books out there on how to win the won game. That is not the intent of this series. Therefore, to be able to cover multiple games without making this article a mile long, I will be extensively covering the opening, and then simply supplying the moves to complete the game once there should be no question about who is winning.

Garbage Line Number One: 2.f4

Here we are going to look at a game where White violates just about every principle possible in the French Defense. Let me first tell you about the nature of the player. He thinks that chess is all about ramming down the opponent's throat, and that no matter what lines you play as White or Black that he can charge after your King. He's a huge advocate of the King's Gambit, and thinks that these early f4 ideas and ramming the pawn down Black's throw will work against any Defense, and while you might be able to take this approach against 1...e5 via a King's Gambit or 1...c5 via a Grand Prix Attack, we are soon going to see that this approach does not work against the French Defense. White pays zero attention to the center, loosens his King, and even trades away his most valuable minor piece from the start. Now let me also say that White does not follow up with the best moves after move two either, which doesn't help his cause, but let's compare what happens here to some of the main lines of the French Defense.

Tuesday Night Action 43, Round 2
W: Ali Shirzad (1827)
B: Patrick McCartney (2049)

1.e4 e6 2.f4 d5

Just because White decides not to fight for the center doesn't mean Black shouldn't. The whole purpose of 1...e6 is to contest the e-pawn with 2...d5 without having to recapture with the Queen if White were to take, and so Black continues with his normal moves.

3.e5 c5 4.Nf3

Already White has a problem. He would like to play d4 to fight for control of the center, but it's already too late. After 4.d4 cxd4 5.Qxd4, Black can develop his pieces with tempo, chasing the Queen away.



If White has to resort to this, he has already failed. The Light-Squared Bishop is White's most valuable minor piece in the French Defense. In the main lines of the French, with the pawns on d4 and f2 instead of d2 and f4, if White can achieve getting his Bishop to d3 without losing the d-pawn (the Bishop blocks the Queen from guarding d4), then White has a major advantage because with all the Black pawns on light squares, blocking in his counter-part on c8, White has an uncontested piece going after Black's Kingside. Here, however, White is using the Bishop to try to control d4 by pinning the Knight on c6. Note that 5.d4?! is highly dubious here. I could write an entire book on the position after 5.d4 and what is wrong with it, but to illustrate White's problems, I'm going to show you one line and compare it to a similar situation where White is better if he doesn't play f4.

After 5...Qb6 6.c3 Nh6 (with the pawn on f4, this move is strong as White can't capture) let's compare what we have to a normal position after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc3 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 Bd7?.

Position after 6...Bd7?!

Position after 6...Nh6

In the first diagram, White has an advantage after 7.dxc5 Bxc5 because he is ready to castle with 8.O-O and White has the major positional threat of 9.b4 with a huge advantage for White, and if 8...a5, then Black has many weaknesses, most notably b5. This is why it is well known that in the Milner-Barry Gambit, which is what the first diagram is, Black should play 6...cxd4 first, and only after 7.cxd4 does he play 7...Bd7.

In the second diagram, however, taking on d4 is unnecessary and Black is getting ready to play 7...Nf5, creating massive pressure on d4, and castling for White is even borderline dangerous because of his second move, f4, opening up the long diagonal towards the King which the Black Queen resides on. If White tries to remove the pressure on d4 by taking on c5, it does not work like it did in the Milner-Barry Gambit. After 7.dxc5? Bxc5 8.b4? Bxf2+, White is not in a position to trap the Bishop. After 9.Ke2, there is no immediate escape for the Bishop, but there is also no way to attack it as white's pieces are a complete mess. After something like 9...O-O 10.g3 Ng4 11.Bh3 h5 12.Qd3 f6 13.exf6 e5 14.Qxd5+ Kh8 15.fxg7+ Kxg7 16.a4 Bxg3, Black is completely winning. Already we are seeing major problems with White's early f4 advance.


Already raising question to White's best minor piece.


6.c4 is probably a slight improvement, but after 6...a6, the question is once again raised to White's best minor piece and he is probably forced to trade it away anyway. That said, Black's next move requires some understanding. Under normal circumstances, Black has to be careful about early advancements of the d-pawn as it would normally open up e4 for a White Knight and eyeing a weakness in Black's position, the d6-square. Here, however, if we advance the pawn, the Knight is under attack, and the Knight is the only thing covering the Bishop, and so White can't move the Knight to e4 right away as the Bishop hangs, and since then the Bishop is forced to capture the Knight with check, when we recapture with the Queen, e4 will be covered and the White Knight will be forced to a passive position. Therefore, advancing the pawn in this case is a strength and not a weakness.

6...d4! 7.Bxc6+ Qxc6 8.Ne2 Ne7 9.d3 Nf5 10.O-O Be7 11.c3

And here we have another theme that explains what is wrong with 2.f4. It looks like the d-pawn is under attack and that Black needs to take on c3 and relieve all tension. Yes, White is behind in development, but Black is not fully developed, and so there is no reason to let White off the hook, and we aren't ready for a kill on the White King. That said, tactics are available to Black based on the advancement of the f-pawn, and the d-pawn is actually not even threatened at this point.


If Black is willing to gambit a pawn, he can also achieve a strong attack with 11...b6 12.cxd4 Bb7 13.dxc5 Bxc5. There is nothing wrong with the move played in the game though either.


It appears as though d4 is under-defended, but tactics allow Black to keep the advantage. White can play 12.cxd4, but he can't win the pawn, but Black also has to be careful here. Correct is 12...Nxd4! 13.Nexd4 cxd4 and Black maintains the advantage. Note that the d-pawn can't be taken because after 14.Nxd4?? Bc5 15.Be3 Qb6 16.Qa4 Rd8, White loses a piece. Note that 12...cxd4 would be a mistake. After 13.g4! Ne3 14.Nexd4! Nxd1 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.Rxd1 and White's better.

12...Rd8 13.g4 Ne3

This move maintains a small advantage, but safer may have benn 13...Nh6 with a clear advantage for Black.

14.Bxe3 dxe3


White has to play 15.Nc1, which will win the e-pawn, but at the cost of having his pieces very passively placed, and Black's Bishops are also better than White's Knights. After 15...b5 16.Qxe3 Bb7, Black has definite compensation for the pawn and probably a little more, but his advantage is small here and is the reason why 13...Nh6, taking a more patient approach, was stronger.


This is how Black stops White from taking easy street of simply moving the Knight to the active g3-square and scooping up the pawn. Black will counter by hitting the Rook, where White will have to either retreat the Knight back to e2 and remaining bottled up, or giving up the exchange. White gave up the exchange, and Black proceeds to win with the material advantage.

The rest of the game went as follows:

16.Ng3 Ba6 17.Qxe3 Bxf1 18.Rxf1 cxd4 19.Nxd4 Bc5 20.f5 Bxd4 21.cxd4 Qa4 22.fxe6 fxe6 23.Ne2 Rf8 24.Nf4 Rad8 25.d5 Rxd5 26.Nxd5 Qxg4+ 27.Qg3 Qxg3+ 28.hxg3 Rxf1+ 29.Kxf1 exd5 30.Ke2 Kf7 31.Kd3 Ke6 32.Kd4 h5 33.a4 g5 34.b4 h4 0-1

So we see here why 2.f4 is a bad idea for White and Black's play is predominantly executed in the center of the board, hitting hard on the d4-square, and using the opening of the diagonal to the White King, especially after White castles, to his own advantage.

Garbage Line Number Two: White Plays an Inferior Version of an Already Inferior Gambit

Theory evolves over time. Evolution is a science that applies to more things than just one. While human beings have evolved from apes, the Milner-Barry Gambit has evolved into a highly dubious gambit for White. For a while, Black would try to grab the two White pawns in the center and then either try to hold on to both and place the Queen on d6 or he would give one back and place the Queen on b8. I myself used to play the latter of the two. It was later determined that Black is best off not grabbing the second pawn, and instead playing the line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3?! cxd4 7.cxd4 Bd7 8.O-O Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxd4 10.Nc3 a6!

Black is better, but it's tricky

Black's behind in development and his Queen is out there in the open early on, but he is a pawn up. With very careful defense, Black has a small advantage here. The garbage line we are about to see is going to be an offshoot of the Milner-Barry Gambit, and a version where Black will win a pawn, not have his Queen displaced, is able to develop smoothly, and pretty much executes a complete walkover.

A word about the player playing White in this game. He is well known locally as an e4-player. Literally plays nothing else. He is adamantly against closed positions. He has expressed multiple times before that his choice of openings, 1.e4 as White, Dutch Leningrad and Alekhine as Black, are specifically because he wants a more open position. The other fact about him is that he is all about trickery. He does not believe in playing the main line of anything. He is always looking for that odd ball move that he figures his opponent won't know and is banking off of that to win his games. A prime example is against the Caro-Kann Defense. I've seen him play often 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Qf3, including once against me and I got smashed! He has won a number of games against players using this method, myself included, but never in the French Defense. Most gambits against the French, trying to force the position open, simply don't work. Playing an inferior version of these gambits will make matters even worse for White provided Black knows what he is doing, and that's exactly what happens here.

Tuesday Night Action 43, Round 4
W: Patrick Sciacca (2148)
B: Patrick McCartney (2049)

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6

The previous time that I played the French Defense against the same opponent, I played 4...Nc6, which is the main move. For those with intention of playing the 5...Qb6 line against the normal move, 5.Nf3, can play this move order to prevent an offbeat line available to White. After 4...Nc6, White can play 5.Be3, which is what he played against me the previous time, and this game can be found in Volume 3 of The French Connection. By playing 4...Qb6, White can't play 5.Be3 because of 5...Qxb2!. That said, will we see normal here? Of course not!


Other than possibly to transpose to the Milner-Barry Gambit, this move has no purpose.

5...Nc6 6.Ne2?!

Here, let's compare once again the "normal" position in the Milner-Barry Gambit to the position we have here. In the normal position, shown in the previous game (first of the two small analysis diagrams), we saw that 6...Bd7? is a mistake because of 7.dxc5! and that after 7...Bxc5 8.O-O that White had the positional threat of 9.b4. What is different about that position versus this one? The Knight! Why might theory believe that the Knight belongs on f3 and not on e2? Well, if White is going to take on c5, something needs to cover e5. Normally this is the Knight on f3, and this is what creates the positional threat of 9.b4! Here, on the other hand, the Knight does nothing to cover e5, and so if White plays 7.dxc5 Bxc5, he does not have time to play 8.O-O as the pawn on e5 will hang. After 8...Nxe5!, we don't care if we face 9.b4 as we can put the Bishop on the active d6-square now instead passively on e7. It is understanding the little idiosyncrasies like this that matter when you face a garbage line. It is not about memorizing reams of garbage. Therefore, Black has no reason to release the tension early on d4 and open up the c3-square for the White Knight early on. Might as well play the necessary move that threatens to win the pawn on d4, and we now understand why here it gets an exclamation point while with the Knight on f3, it would get a big fat question mark!

6...Bd7! 7.O-O cxd4 8.cxd4 Nxd4

So here, White has one last chance to correct himself and enter into the Milner-Barry Gambit with 9.Nxd4 Qxd4. But again, let's look at what we are dealing with here. A player that relies on trickery. If you don't know the opening you are playing thoroughly and don't have a true understanding of the big picture and all of the little details, you will likely get killed, but the downside to this approach is that if Black does know what he's doing, what White does here is alarmingly worse than the already dubious main line, and so when you face players like this, playing something you know well is far better than "experimenting" with another opening.


So now you need to ask yourself the question. Why isn't this normally played? What is wrong with this picture compared to the normal line? Well, for starters, the Black Queen isn't dragged to d4 where it can be attacked with tempo. If we don't give White the time to capture on d4, then our Queen will be safer comparatively speaking, and we will be able to spend that time that we normally spend saving the Queen, such as 10...a6, preventing tricks on b5, and Queen moves when she is attacked, we are spending that time developing our other pieces. So the first thing that this says is that Black should move the Knight on d4. Now the question becomes, do we retreat back to c6, or do we take on e2? Playing 9...Nc6 might look tempting as White can't play 10.f4 due to the pin on the King, but then 10.Be3 gains time on the Queen and then allows 11.f4 and it pushes Black backwards. However, let's look at 9.Nxe2+. In the normal Milner-Barry Gambit, White has a Knight on c3 and Bishop on d3, eyeing b5, in many cases with there being b5 tricks. In addition, the White Queen can then come to a4, adding pressure to the a4-e8 diagonal. Along with pressure on b5, White's active Bishop also rakes the Kingside. Well, with the capture on e2, White is going to be forced to misplace one of his pieces. If he takes with the Knight, there is absolutely no threat on b5 and Black doesn't even have to spend time playing pawn moves like ...a6. If he takes with the Bishop, Black may have to watch for b5 tricks, but the Bishop is passive on e2 compared to d3 and doesn't have to worry about Kingside issues without White spending another move to bring the Bishop back to d3. Lastly, if White takes with the Queen, the Queen is mis-placed compared to the normal Milner-Barry Gambit. So what does this amount to? It means that Black should take on e2 with check and compared to the normal Milner-Barry, Black will gain one move from the mis-placed White piece and another move from not having to retreat the Queen from d4, and so by taking on e2, Black has, for all intents and purposes, an extra two tempi compared to the already dubious Milner-Barry Gambit.

9.Nxe2+! 10.Nxe2 Rc8 11.Be3 Bc5

With Black being up a protected passed pawn with no pressure on the King, all piece trades are going to favor Black.

12.Bxc5 Rxc5 13.Nc3 Ne7 14.Re1 a6 15.Na4 Bxa4 16.Qxa4+ Qc6 17.Qg4


Unlike the 7...Qg4 lines of the Winawer, there is nothing for Black to be afraid of here. He dominates the c-file, and the reduced number of pieces along with the wrong color Bishop for White in this case makes defending the King easy here. For example, if 18.Qh5, then 18...Ng6 stops everything, and if 19.Bxg6, Black should actually capture away from the center with 19...fxg6, opening up the Rook for an attack on the f-file and giving the King a nice hiding place. Black will, at some point, play ...h6 and ...Kh7 with a little safe cubby-hole for the King.

Instead, White tries to advance the h-pawn, which Black answers with a typical idea seen in the 7...O-O line of the Winawer, opening up the f-file and defending along the 6th rank combined with a direct attack on f2. White's busted! The rest of the game went as follows:

18.h4 f5 19.exf6 Rxf6 20.Rab1 Qd6 21.Qh5 Ng5 22.Rbc1 Qf4 23.Bxg6 hxg6 24.Qg5 Qxf2+ 25.Kh1 Rf4 26.g3 Rxc1 27.Rxc1 Qf3+ 28.Kh2 Qe2+ 29.Kh3 Rf2 30.Rh1 Qf3 31.Rg1 Qf5+ 32.g4 Qf3+ 0-1

So in this edition we saw two garbage lines and how to beat them through the use of comparison, comparing both to the already dubious Milner-Barry Gambit. This comparison method is often useful when facing garbage lines in the French Defense. When you face something odd like this, make sure that you follow the checklist below:
  • First and foremost, don't freak out!
  • Take a minute to mentally go through your mental database of ideas and lines that you already know from normal, well-established lines, and look for comparisons of how the garbage line is weaker than the normal lines. Often times, this could be the weakening of a file, rank, or diagonal, similar to what we saw in the 2.f4 line where the a7-g1 diagonal is weakened and we had tactical resources available to us that we wouldn't have in normal lines. Other times, this could be under-protection of a pawn or piece, like the e5-pawn in the second example, or the improved position of our own pieces comparatively speaking where time that we normally spend fixing our own problems after doing something like grabbing a pawn can now be spent on continuing development that we normally wouldn't be able to do, and saying thank you to our opponent and taking full advantage of the extra tempi, putting them to good use.
  • Always keep an eye out for tricky tactics. For example, in the first game, on the 12th move, how to recapture on d4 if White does take the pawn really does matter in this case. Don't be afraid to spend some extra time checking for these types of issues.
  • Study your endgames! Many times, these positions can lead to dead won endgames. For example, in the second game, if White trades Queens late rather than walking into a mate in 2, knowing your Rook endgames would make it so that it would be an easy win for Black even if Black had one second left with five second delay given the number of pawns Black was up at that point. It turned out in that game, White had a minute and Black had 37 minutes, but the same thing can happen the other way around if you take the extra time in the middle game.
  • Don't let annoyance take over when you face something strange. I love facing garbage! Sure, it may mean that I need to take a few extra minutes early on compared to just reeling out 20 moves of French theory in under 5 minutes, but correct execution will usually lead to positions that are only fun for you, not for your opponent. Take the second game displayed above. By move 10, I was having fun playing the game. Sure I had to be careful about a few things, and had to figure out that castling on move 17 was perfect safe and very strong, but not once was I ever afraid of the situation and stress levels were extremely low, which is what we want when White plays garbage! If White wants to play garbage, he fully deserves to have his blood boil for the rest of the game, not the other way around!

Well, that concludes this article. Until next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White, unless you play garbage of course!

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