A Trap Worth Knowing!
Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-seventh edition of The French Connection, and also what is the first article of 2020. This article, and the next two in The French Connection series, will be covering the Advance Variation with differing ideas. In this one, I will be showing you a trap that is actually well worth knowing.
In most cases, when people ask about which openings have the most traps, my response usually is that looking for traps in the opening is not the approach to take to chess. In most cases, trying to set up a trap typically involves making a move that works if they don't see the idea, but otherwise, if they do stop it, the move proves to often be totally useless. What I am about to show you here is an exception to the rule. If you approach opening study from the opposite site, and try to study a system that is fully sound, and that system just happens to have a trap in it that some players not familiar with the French will actually fall for, only then is it worth analyzing, because in this case, you are still playing the best moves.
So if we are playing main lines, what makes this a trap? It's the fact that a natural looking move turns out to be really bad for White, and the only way for Black to take advantage of it is to be willing to execute a piece sacrifice. So if you are not familiar with it, it's not nearly as obvious as say, the well known trap in the Milner-Barry Gambit, where 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 cxd4 7.cxd4 where now 7...Bd7 is correct, and Black should not fall for 7...Nxd4? 8.Nxd4 Qxd4?? 9.Bb5+ where the Black Queen falls.
Without further ado, let's take a look at this trap that Black needs to be familiar with, and White needs to avoid. White was only a 1600-player, but this is precisely the level player that is most likely to fall for this trap. You typical expert or master that is familiar with the French Defense will not play this move when they are White.
2020 Ticks, Round 3
W: Rahul Bammidi (1616)
B: Patrick McCartney (2087)
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.a3 Nh6 7.b4 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5
We have a well-known position in the Advance French. At this point, White has two main responses. Personally, I think that 9.Bb2 is the far superior option for White, and is the move I would play 100 times out of 100 if I am White. That said, White decided to play the alternative option, and it is only in this line that the trap I am about to show you applies.
It is only with this line that the trap is available.
Now, relatively best for White is 10.Bd3, but after 10...Nxe3 11.fxe3 Rc8 12.O-O Be7 13.Nbd2 Nd8 14.Qe2 Rc3 and Black has far more counterplay than he deserves. This is why I prefer 9.Bb2. That said, there is a move here that White must avoid.
What move could look more natural? Unlike in the 9.Bb2 line, the Knight does not block any defenders of d4, and so White has three defenders to match up against Black's three attackers. So what can possibly be wrong with this move? The issue has to do with the c3-square itself. With the b-pawn and d-pawn advanced, the c3-square is very weak, and Black's attack will be centered around this weak Knight.
This move is not good. In the game, White winds up directly transposing to the line Black should play, but White has a major improvement. Instead of 10...Rc8, Black should immediately take on b4 with the Knight. After 10...Nxe3! 11.fxe3 Nxb4! 12.axb4 Bxb4 13.Rc1 Rc8 14.Qb3 Qa5 15.Kd2 O-O 16.Bd3 f6! and it is Black with the initiative.
White was given the opportunity to get out of it by playing 11.Na4, attacking the Queen! Instead, White simply transposes to the line above.
11...Nxe3 12.fxe3 Nxb4! 13.axb4 Bxb4
Now, instead of 14.Qb3, White tries a different move, but it doesn't work, nor does any other move. White is already lost!
14.Qd3 Qa5 15.Kd2
So Black is down a piece for two pawns at the moment, but White's pieces are all tied up. To untangle, White needs two moves with the Knight (Nf3-g1-e2), two more for the Bishop (g2-g3 and Bf1-h3 or Bf1-g2), and then getting the h1-Rook in the game, such as via Rc2 and Rhc1. This all takes way too long, and there are many ways for Black to win back the piece, maintaining the extra pawns. Black plays one of those moves here.
This quiet looking move isn't so quiet. The King on d2 is stuck where it is. If it goes to c2, it blocks the Rook and Black can take on c3. If it goes anywhere else, there aren't enough pieces covering c3 and Black can take. If he moves the Queen to c2, the Queen is in front of the Rook, and Black can take on c3 as White would have to recapture with the Queen since the Rook can't, and Black can take a second time, but avoid the third, and he wins White's Queen. The Queen going anywhere else once again abandons the pinned Knight on c3. Therefore, if the King can't move, and the Queen can't move, then this move sets up the fatal threat of ...Bb5. Because of this, White decided to move the King and jettison the Knight.
16.Ke2 Rxc3 17.Rxc3 Bxc3
This move is winning, but even stronger is 17...Bb5! After 18.Rxc8+ Kd7 19.Rxh8, Black wins in crushing fashion with 19...Qa2+ 20.Nd2 (20.Kd1 Ba4+ with mate two moves later) Qxd2+ 21.Kf3 Bxd3.
Because the King is on the f-file now, I played this move on the basis that I can stop the cheap-shot mate with the f-pawn instead of the g-pawn because taking en passant will be check!
19.Ng5 f5 20.g3
Ordinarily, I would say that Black is up two pawns with zero compensation, and end it there, but the way that Black finishes the execution is quite attractive.
20...h6 21.Nh3 Bb5 22.Qb1 g5 23.Bxb5 axb5 24.Kg2 b4 25.g4
White tries for one last cheap shot. Black will not comply!
Of course not 25...fxg4?? 26.Qg6+, when after 26...Kh8 27.Qxh6+ Kg8 28.Qxg5+, it is actually White that is winning.
26.gxf5 Qe2+ 27.Kg1 Qg4+ 28.Kf2 Rxf5+ 29.Nf4
Can you find Black's best move?
Wait a minute? Doesn't this lose the Queen? Not so fast! It's actually the only move that forces mate!
While this is the obvious move, 30.Qxf5, while impractical, is the move that prolongs the mate the longest possible. Now a series of forced checks, each of which White has only one legal move, unpins the Queen and mates the White King.
30...fxe3+ 31.Kxe3 Rf3+ 32.Ke2 Rg3+
Now White technically has two legal moves, but they both lead to mate in one with the same response by Black for both moves.
33.Kf2 Qf3# 0-1
An absolute crush! All of this happened because of an innocent looking Knight move that is actually a blunder. Black did give White one opportunity to get out of it and should have taken on e3 followed by b4 immediately, but White failed to take advantage of it. The difference between this trap and the vast majority of other opening traps is that this trap does actually occur at the amateur level, and it results from Black playing best moves, not going out of his way to play an odd move simply to trick White. If that were the case, I would highly advise against playing in such a way because all you'd do is hurt yourself, but in this case, it's simply an added bonus to what is already best play for Black. Just remember, always assume that White will not fall for this, and be prepared to play the main lines with best play, whether that be 9.Bb2 or 9.Be3 followed by 10.Bd3. What we saw here is simply an added bonus that you might be able to pull off once in a blue moon against B-level players. Experts and Masters will not fall for this, and those below B-Level players often won't even get this far into the opening and likely do something inferior earlier on, such as 7.Bxh6, or even 3.exd5.
This was the first of three advance French games played in the first week of 2020. We will be looking at the other two in the near future, and the other two will not see White falling for this in the opening.
This concludes this edition of The French Connection. Good luck to all of you in your future French games, whether playing Black or White!