Hello everyone and welcome to the thirty-second edition of The French Connection. Two articles ago, I wrote the article "Chess is a Game with 32 Pieces", which talked about specifically not taking a cookie cutter approach to chess. The main game there was a Sicilian Defense, Prins Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3), and we witnessed Black just going on his merry way, playing the game like as if it was still a Najdorf, and paying basically zero attention to what White was doing, and got destroyed via an exchange sacrifice. In the tail end of that article, I mentioned various Queen Pawn openings where one has to watch out and pay very close attention to what their opponent is doing, and once again, not approach the game with a blind eye and just play moves out of habit.
The King's Indian Attack is another one of those openings where one has to be careful if they are going to play it. Are you playing it as a legitimate opening? Do you maybe only play it against a specific defense, like the Caro-Kann, Sicilian, or French? Or are you basically ignoring Black and thinking that you can just play the same dozen moves to start the game and only then pay attention to what is going on?
The game I am covering here is a King's Indian Attack verses the French, and we are going to see White blindly playing moves that work well against the Sicilian, but not against the French. So for those of you that play the King's Indian Attack against the French, this will be a valuable lesson if your reasoning behind playing the KIA is that you think you can take short cuts in the opening and just play blindly. For those of you that are advocates of the Black side of the French, you are about to see how to take advantage of blind play by White, which should in turn help you understand why White plays what he normally plays in the main lines of the KIA vs French.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the feature game.
Tuesday Night Action 59, Round 4
W: Chase Bellamy (1714)
B: Patrick McCartney (2087)
1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.g3 c5 5.Bg2 Nc6 6.Ngf3 Be7 7.O-O O-O 8.Re1 b5 9.e5 Nd7
Thus far, everything played here is totally normal, but before we go any further, I would like to compare this to another position, namely one that typically comes from the King's Indian Attack versus Sicilian after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d3 Nc6 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.O-O Nge7 7.Re1 d6, which leads to the following diagram:
What can you say about the two positions? Are they the same? Absolutely not. Note even close! You might argue that the only difference in White's position is his pawn is on e4 instead of e5 and his Knight is still on b1 rather than on d2, and that if you play 8.Nbd2 in the second diagram, you will just do the same thing that you'd do in the first diagram. That would be one of the worst mistakes that you can make. You also have to look at the differences in Black's position.
Let's start with the second diagram. Black has a fianchettoed Bishop on an open diagonal. That Bishop also does the duty of guarding the King assuming Black will eventually castle Kingside as staying in the center for too long or castling Queenside doesn't make much sense unless White shows his hand too early and blindly tries to blast the Kingside. That said, Black does have to be careful about castling too early in this line. The d-pawn is on d6, which does not block White's Bishop on g2, but does attempt to cover e5, and so the hope is that White won't be able to play e5 all that easily, but Black must always watch out for tactics, particularly along the long diagonal, where White might even give up the e-pawn for other factors, and so Black cannot just blindly advance pawns on the Queenside with caution thrown to the wind for his Queenside pieces, and so in return for his extra defense on his King, he has to be more cautious on the Queenside. For this reason, an all out rampage on the Kingside by White is not a smart idea. Therefore, instead, now that the Knight is passively developed to e7, the Black King is somewhat safe, and Black is about to play moves like ...b6 and ...Bb7, fighting in the center, White should be trying to expand in the center. By moving his Knight to d2, all he is doing is blocking his Queen from guarding d4, and ultimately, it's d4 that White wants to be able to play. Therefore, 8.c3 is best here. Now Black is in the crossroads. Does he play something like 8...b6, allowing 9.d4 by White? Or does he stop 9.d4 with the move 8...e5? Both are legitimate ideas, and White must pay super close attention to what Black does. If he plays 8...b6, then White should be taking the center with 9.d4. If Black plays 8...e5, he has sealed off the diagonal of his Bishop, and White can look at playing an eventual b4, being in no fear of his Rook on a1 since the diagonal has been shut down. But notice that in both cases, White played 8.c3, and his play is predominantly going to be in the center or on the Queenside, depending on Black's reaction.
Now, back to the first diagram resulting from the KIA vs French. Black played an early ...d5, supported by the pawn on e6, and basically told White that he can have the e5-square. In return, the d5-pawn is Black's strong point, and there is no reason to fear anything on the long diagonal. White is light years away from having tactics on the long diagonal via the Bishop attacking something like the currently loose Knight on c6 or Rook on a8. For this reason, Black has played the recent 8...b5. Notice that Black has also already castled, and so his King is committed to the Kingside, and there is no fianchetto of his Bishop. This can be good and bad. On the positive side, Black has not advanced any of his three pawns in front of the King, and so there is no hook for White anywhere. On the negative side, all of Black's pieces are far away from the King. The Knight on f6 was pushed away to d7, and the e5-pawn leaves Black slightly cramped, which can make it more difficult to bring the pieces to the defense of the Black King. This explains also explains why Black has played 8...b5 and isn't playing more cautiously on the Queenside. He has nowhere else to go! He will suffocate on the Kingside if he does nothing, and the center is blocked, not fluid, like we saw in the KIA vs Sicilian. This also indicates where White should be attacking. If Black can't get his pieces to the Kingside, White wants to create a local piece superiority, and that can only be done by charging the Kingside.
So now, there should be a better understanding of what has to be done by both players, just because of the slight differences in the position. In the KIA vs Sicilian, it is a balancing act of attack and defense for Black, and he has to decide which trade-offs he wants. Does he want to stop d4 by White? Or does he want his Bishop not to be blocked by his own e-pawn? Does he want to stop e5? Or does he want to allow e5, but in return, owns the d5-square with his own strong pawn occupying it, blocking any play for White on the long diagonal?
In the KIA vs French, it's a whole different story. Black has only one thing to do, and that is storm the Queenside at full force. In return, White has only one idea here, and that's to charge at the Black King, which is for the most part alone and doesn't have his army to defend himself. The KIA vs French requires a much more violent approach by both sides, neither having time to negotiate trades in positional advantages. Almost like what the stock market is doing right now due to the Corona virus. Take action now, or just sit back and watch yourself continue to get scorched!
Now that we understand the differences between the KIA vs Sicilian and KIA vs French, we will see here that White's next move is likely not best.
Now you might be wondering why I gave it a dubious assessment rather than outright bad. This move, in and of itself, is not by any means a blunder, but it's a step in the wrong direction. There are cases in the KIA vs French where this advancement of the c-pawn can be useful, stopping a Knight or Bishop from coming to b4, or possibly controlling the action of what happens once the Black pawn gets to b4. It is what follows the next few moves that will really show the problem with White's play, which will very much resemble White's ideas in the KIA vs Sicilian where Black allows d4. The problem is, that's not what we have here. Black's pawn is on d5, not d6.
So what do we have now? This almost looks like a Closed Tarrasch with White behind in development, spending two moves to get the pawn on d4 instead of one, and fianchettoing the Bishop rather than putting it on the more active d3-square. This move does not make much sense, and simply allows Black to continue his Queenside onslaught with zero disturbance to his lonely King out there on g8.
Now Black will be able to shut down the long diagonal completely with tempo, drive the Knight back to where it came from, and transition his attack to the c3-square, where Black will likely trade rather than advance. White had to try 12.c4 here, having one last shot at opening up the center since he has arleady failed to attack the Kingside. In essence, all this move does is force Black to do what he wants to do anyway. In addition, with all of this extra time, and no attack on his King, Black will actually end up advancing his f-pawn, attacking the White center from the other side, a move that is almost never played in the KIA vs French because White should be busy blasting the Black King.
12...c4 13.Nbd2 a4
At this point, after losing as many tempi as he has, White should be looking at damage control. Best here is 14.a3, when after 14...bxc3 15.bxc3, Black is only slightly better. White has multiple weaknesses on a3 and c3, but Black does still have to watch out for his King, and he is limited to only one open file on the Queenside.
14...a3! 15.bxa3 bxc3
The correct pawn to capture. The a3-pawn will end up being traded for the c3-pawn where White will have an isolated outside passer while Black has a protected passer, but bearing in mind that the concept of the outside passer mainly applies to endgames, that in this case the pawn is isolated and weak more than it is a benefit, and that it is only on the second rank compared to Black's protected passer that is only three moves away from promotion, Black is significantly better here, if not already winning.
16.Re3 Qa5 17.Qc2 Bxa3 18.Bxa3 Qxa3 19.Rxc3
Black's Queen is under attack. What should Black do here? Should he be thinking offense or defense at this point? White possibly has Ng5 coming, leading to a cheap threat. Does Black need to worry about it? Where should the Black Queen go?
This is the more aggressive, but also more risky approach. The more solid and defensive option was 19...Qe7, looking to consolidate and trusting the c-pawn to be a long term asset. Here, White has the opportunity to make the position messy, though Black is still better, and so the move played is not bad, but Black has to be careful of the potential consequences.
This move does nothing to help White's cause. Yes, the weakness for White has transitioned from c3 to d4, and the cheap shot move 20.Ng5 is not good. Black can just play 20...g6, and the creation of the hook is insufficient for White as his attack there is too slow. The d-pawn will fall, and the connected passers for Black will be lethal.
The correct move here was 20.Rxc4 when Black is still better after 20...dxc4 21.Nf5 g6 22.Bxc6 Rb8, but the position is messy and there are tactics that Black has to look out for.
With no pressure on the Black King, this normally unthinkable move in the KIA vs French became a reality for Black.
If there were any true mistakes by Black in the game, this would be it. Yes, Black is still slightly better, but getting cute this like was unnecessary. Patience should be exercised, and after 21...Re8, White has nothing.
22.dxe5 fxe5 23.Ng5 Nd4
Now Black has a major threat that White does not resolve.
White had to play 24.Bg2 to give the Knight an escape after Black's next move, minimizing Black's advantage.
Once again, White is now dead lost, and there is no going back. White tries for desperation, but winds up allowing a really pretty tactic for Black.
25.Qxe5 hxg5 26.Bg4 Rf6 27.Nd2
Almost any move wins for Black, but do you see the best move?
It should be noted that Black could have, and probably should have played this move a move earlier, but with White's last move, this move is even prettier! The Rook on a1, Knight on d2, and Pawn on f2 are all hanging!
While this leads to the saving of the most material for one move, it loses immediately, not that anything else was better. White can safely resign, but if he wants to test Black's defense first, he should try 28.Rf3 Nxd2 (Black could be greedy and take the Rook with 28.Nxa1, but why? Taking the Knight is simpler!) 29.Rxf6 gxf6 30.Qxf6 Ne4 31.Qxg6+ Kf8 32.Qh6+ Qg7 and it's a cakewalk win for Black.
28...Qxf2+ 29.Kh1 Rxa2!
The Rook is poisoned as now 30.Rxa2 Qf1 would be mate, but the attack on the second rank is so lethal that all White can do is delay the inevitable by giving up his Queen, which he does.
30.Qe2 Rxe2 31.Bxe2 Qxe2 0-1
And at this point, White resigned anyway as outside of a couple of one move delay tactics, there is no stopping checkmate.
So what we covered today was mostly a continuation of the idea that one cannot blindly play the opening in such a manner that they totally ignore what their opponent is doing until the middle game is reached, even with openings that one might view as being systematic, such as the London, Colle, or in the case of this game, the King's Indian Attack. You still must keep your eyes open for what your opponent is doing because with a clear understanding of the ideas for both sides, the difference of a pawn move (...d6 vs ...d5) or the relocation of a single piece (...Be7 vs ...Bg7) could have a major impact on how the opening needs to be played. At the same time, we did see Black possibly get a little carried away by sacrificing the Knight for the two pawns when a commanding lead could be held with patience, but White's clear intention of holding onto as much material as possible and not taking advantage of possible dynamic ideas to at least make the position messy is what ultimately did him in. When you are in a desperate situation, conservative moves like 20.Qd2 will never cut it.
That concludes this edition of The French Connection. Til next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White.