The Charlotte Chess Center & Scholastic Academy (CCCSA), founded in March of 2014, serves as a place where members of all ages and skill levels can congregate and enjoy the royal game of chess. The CCCSA also sells basic chess supplies and has an open library of over 500 books. The CCCSA serves as an educational hub for chess in the Charlotte area; offering camps, classes and lectures year round.
Hello everyone. July is just around the corner and those that have been following the blog since its inception in 2017 might remember what that means. What I like to call the "Summer Tour" is coming up, and so with that said, this will likely be the last post of mine prior to that Summer Tour, but once I get back in late July, analysis from those games is what will be covered.
For those unfamiliar with what I'm referring to, each year in July, I usually will travel long distance to play in a couple of tournaments outside both of the Carolinas. When you have played as many tournament games as I have (over 2900), it's hard to get opponents you haven't played before, and so in 2017, I went to New Hampshire (The New Hampshire Open) and Virginia (The Charlottesville Open) while in 2018 I went to Kansas (The Kansas Open) and Maryland (The Potomac Open), and both years I followed that up with coverage of those games in late July, August, and possibly into September, depending on how many of those games were worth covering. The only tournament of those four where not every round was covered was the Kansas Open, if that gives you an idea how bad that one was compared to the others. So in the coming weeks starting with the end of July, be on the lookout for that. This year's stops will be in Iowa and Michigan. For those of you that haven't seen the previous two years, you can go to the archives in the late Summer of 2017 and late Summer of 2018 and you can find them there.
So then the question became, what would I cover in the final article before then? Well, we are going to be looking at a game with many missed opportunities where those opportunities were literally available once and only once each, where literally every move mattered. This may be anything from a favorable trade to a raging attack, and chances were available for both sides in this game, and so without further ado, let's see what both players missed!
Tuesday Night Action 53, Round 4 W: Patrick McCartney (2051) B: Jeff Prainito (1711) King's Gambit Accepted
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 d6
This is a very passive move, and probably not a good one as we are going to see that White is the one with all the shots early on. Far more common are the tempting 3...Qh4+, although this move isn't very good as after 4.Kf1, White will gain time in development by attacking the Queen when he develops his Knight, making Black move the Queen again, and the stronger moves, 3...Nf6 and 3...d5. In the former, 3...Nf6, Black gets on with his development and intends to build a strong center via ...c6 and ...d5 while White is spending time getting his Pawn back on f4. With the latter idea, 3...d5, Black is willing to give the Pawn back immediately to free up his minor pieces and try to achieve easier development.
4.d4 Nf6 5.Nc3
Some might be wondering "Why not the fork trick with 5...Nxe4?". The answer is that the Black King on the open file is a problem here, and Black is not ready to take on e4. White is better after 5...Nxe4? 6.Qe2 f5 7.Bxf4 Qe7 8.Nd5 Qd7 9.Bd3 Nc6 10.Bxe4 fxe4 11.Qxe4+ Kd8 (11...Ne7 12.O-O-O Kd8 13.Nc3) 12.O-O-O Qf5 13.Qf3 g5 14.g4! Qg6 15.Bd2 Bg7 (15...Nxd4 16.Qc3! is even worse) 16.Ne2 Rf8 17.Qg2 Nxd4 18.Nxd4 Bxd4 19.Rhf1 Rxf1 20.Qxf1 Qg7 21.Kb1 Be5 (21...Bxb2?? is losing due to the extra tempo given to White to move the Rook to the e-file after 22.Bxg5+ Qxg5 23.Qf8+ Kd7 24.Qf7+ Kd8 25.Re1 Be5 26.Qxc7+ Ke8 27.Qxd6 and Black's busted.) 22.Qb5 (Now taking on g5 would only be enough for equality) 22...a6 23.Qb3 b6 24.Nb4 and the weaknesses induced around the Black King combined with the better development gives White a clear advantage.
And here the fork trick once again doesn't work as White wins a Pawn because the Rook is still on h8 with no threats of going to e8 on White. Therefore, after 6...Nxe4?!, White gets the advantage with 7.Nxe4 d5 8.Bxc7 Qxc7 9.Bxd5 Qa5+ 10.Nc3 and now 10...O-O 11.Ne2 or 10...Bb4 11.Qe2+ Be6 (Or 11...Kd8 12.Qf3!) 12.O-O-O Bxc3 13.Bxe6!.
Now is the best time for this move, but as we will see, White will maintain an advantage due to Black's passive 3rd move. Already we are seeing a case of one move spoiling it for Black. This is not unusual in such a sharp opening like the King's Gambit.
8.Nxe4 d5 9.Bd3
This time, taking on c7 isn't as strong as with the Black King still on e8. Now 9.Bxc7 Qxc7 10.Bxd5 Qa5+ 11.Nc3 Bb4 12.Bb3 Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 Qxc3+ 14.Kf2 Bg4 is equal.
9...dxe4 10.Bxe4 Nd7 11.O-O Nf6 12.Bd3 Bg4 13.c3
The other option for White is to get off the slightly open diagonal by playing 13.Kh1 with maybe a slight pull after 13...Bd6 14.Qd2 Bxf4 15.Qxf4 Bh5 16.Rae1 Bg6 17.Ne5 Bxd3 18.Nxd3 Qd6 (other moves are worse for Black) 19.Qxd6 cxd6 with the better pawn structure in the endgame, but with careful play, Black should survive this.
13...Bd6 14.Qd2 Re8 15.Ne5 Be6 16.Bg5 Be7
Here we have a very critical position, and White has the opportunity to get a clear advantage immediately. Do you see how?
And just like that White's advantage is gone! There are two very strong moves here for White, of which I like the second one because the benefits are more concrete. White can get his last piece into the game with 17.Rae1 with a clear advantage on the basis of space and better development. The other move is 17.Qe2, and the pressure on Black's center and Kingside virtually forces him to jettison a Pawn for virtually no compensation after 17...Ng4 18.Bxe7 Qxe7 19.Nxg4 Bxg4 20.Bxh7+ (20.Qxg4 Qe3+ wins back the piece) 20...Kxh7 21.Qxg4 Qe3+ 22.Rf2 and Black has virtually nothing for the Pawn. White's got a clear advantage in this position.
Both players missed the consequences of this move. Pressuring the White center with the immediate 17...c5 leads to a balanced position.
White missed his only chance at a tactical shot on the Black King. After 18.Bxh6! gxh6 19.Qf2 c5 20.Qg3+ Kf8 (Or 20...Kh8 21.Ng6+ fxg6 22.Qxg6 Bf8 23.Rxf6 Qd7 24.Raf1 Qg7 25.Rxe6 Qxg6 26.Rxg6 cxd4 27.cxd4 Rad8 28.Rf7 Re7 29.Rxe7 Bxe7 30.Rxh6+ and White's up 3 Pawns) 21.Ng6+ fxg6 22.Qxg6 cxd4 23.Qxh6+ Kg8 24.Qg6+ Kf8 25.Rf4 dxc3 26.Raf1 and White's winning.
And when it rains, it pours for White. Better is to fess up that you made a mistake and play out a roughly equal position with either 19.Bb5 or 19.Be3. Black might have a slight pull in the form of initiative, but nothing more. Now instead, Black's in the driver's seat.
This allows Black the additional critical move to make a wild tactical shot work. White should play the immediate 26.Bf5! with only a slight disadvantage after 26...Be6 as here, 26...Nf2+ only leads to an equal position after 27.Kg1 Qb8 28.Kxf2 Bc5+ 29.Nd4 b5 30.Qd1 Qxh2 31.Qg4 Be7.
26...Bc5 27.Bf5 Be6?
Black is winning immediately after 27...Nf2+ 28.Rxf2 Bxf3. The Queen on c8 is poisoned due to make threats on the back rank. With the Black Bishop on c5, going to g1 would never be an option for White, unlike in the previous line where White plays 26.Bf5 immediately.
Once again, White has one move that keeps the balance, and all other moves should lose. Do you see the right move?
Once again, White fails to see the only defense, which was 29.Bg3!, but at the same time, we are going to see Black miss yet another golden opportunity via a sacrificial attack, similar to the opportunity White had on move 18.
Better is 29...Qe2, winning on the spot, but this gets even worse!
Again there was only one move for White, and this time, it was 30.Be5! with a roughly balanced position. Now Black has a beautiful sacrificial combination available that he just outright missed.
This move leads to a better endgame for White. Theoretically, it's equal, but with White having the majority that is away from the Kings, it's Black that has to be extremely careful, far more so than White.
Instead, Black wins after 30...Qxe1+!! 31.Nxe1 Rxe1+ 32.Kh2 Bg1+ 33.Kg3 and now the tricky part of the combination, and the only move that wins for Black, 33...g5!! wins the Bishop as abandoning the c1-h6 diagonal allows mate in 1 via 34...Re3, and going to d2 gives Black a Knight fork, and so the Bishop is lost, and so is the game for White!
White's last move wasn't very good, and Black should now play 36...b5, tying down the White Pawns onto the dark squares, which is the color square the Bishops are on. Instead, Black makes a few inferior moves here, and White will come out with a significant endgame advantage.
This is probably the worst of Black's legitimate options, but none of them are very good. White is still better after 44...Ba3 45.b5 axb5 46.cxb5 or 44...Bf4 45.Kd3 Bd6 46.b5 axb5 47.axb5 Ke8 48.Ke4 Kd7 (Or 48...g6 49.Kd5) 49.Kf5 and White is clearly better in both cases. As we can see, not all cases is the Bishop better than the Knight when the position is open and there are Pawns on both sides. In this case, other factors outweigh the specific piece owned by each side. For White, his majority is on the side away from the Kings, his majority is farther advanced than Black's, and his Knight is centralized, all positive factors that outweigh Black having the piece that is traditionally better in open positions.
This trade is horrible for Black. He must keep the final piece on the board to hope to survive.
Now, with roughly a minute left on White's clock and about 30 seconds on Black's clock, each side getting 15 seconds per move, the unthinkable happens to both players.
There are two moves that win for White. 53.c6 and 53.Kd5, the latter working because promotion comes with check if Black goes for the Pawn race.
But this move throws the win away completely!. The position is now a draw, or at least it should be!
53...Ke5 54.Kf3 Kf5 55.Kf2
And now the simple opposition move, 55...Kf6, is completely drawn. After 56.Kg3 Ke6 57.Kg4 Kf6, White can't make progress as every time White goes to g4, Black goes to f6, and every time he moves away from g4, Black moves adjacent to f6, and going to h5 doesn't work as ...Kf5 keeps Black in the box of the White c-pawn. However, Black now does the unthinkable.
Black cannot advance the Pawn due to a zugzwang available to White.
And now Black realizes the problem. Going to g5 with the King puts the Black King out of the box of the White c-pawn and the c-pawn promotes. Therefore the g-pawn falls, and White then triagulates the Black King to force his way through and win with the protected passer.
WOW! Talk about a game littered with errors! We saw a game where the assessment swung between winning for White, winning for Black, and drawn numerous times because of many opportunities that were literally only available once, where waiting even the slightest completely changed the assessment of the position. Playing lazy moves, such as Black's 3rd move, can immediately put you in a hole. But those opportunities, as we saw on White's 17th, White's 18th, White's 26th, Black's 27th, White's 29th, Black's 29th, White's 30th, Black's 30th, Black's 36th, White's 53rd, and Black's 55th, are opportunities that were all available literally once each, whether they be winning moves, or moves to simply survive.
Always be on the lookout, every single move, and don't let the opportunities pass you by.
I hope everyone got something useful out of this, and good luck to everyone in your games in the coming month, and be on the lookout for game analysis of the games played on the Summer Tour in Iowa and Michigan when I get back in late July.
The term "Points Schmoints" actually comes from a book written on Bridge Strategy. The old adage in Bridge is that hand evaluation is based on the number of high card points in your hand, where every Ace is worth 4, every King is worth 3, every Queen is worth 2, and every Jack is worth 1, and you add up the points in your hand and that was how good your hand was. If you have 12 or more points, your hand is strong enough to open the bidding.
However, bridge hands are not just about high card points. Because bridge is a game that features a trump suit (as do Spades and Pinochle), the concept of "Points Schmoints" is that the shape of your hand can often outweigh the point count, and that having a very long suit, such as 8 hearts, and a void in another suit, such as having no clubs in your hand, is often stronger than having 4 cards in one suit and 3 cards in each of the other 3 suits, despite the hand with 8 hearts and no clubs having fewer high card points, idea being that every time someone leads a club on a trick, you can win the trick by playing one of your hearts as the trump suit supercedes all other suits. Therefore, point count can often be deemed meaningless.
Well, it is no different in the game of chess. Many attacking players at the amateur level fall in love with playing a gambit in the opening, where they give up a Pawn (or maybe even a piece) for activity early on, but their mentality is often about getting the Pawn back and maintaining a strong center, but notice that they are still trying to equalize the point count. They still have that mentality that a Queen is 9, a Rook is 5, a Bishop or a Knight is 3, and a Pawn is 1, and that points decides who is better, which is a very common mistake. If there are no open files on the board, is a Rook really that good? A Knight or Bishop could be stronger than a Rook in many cases. If the position is blocked in the center, is a Bishop worth much? A Knight might be far stronger despite their "equal value". Is a Knight going to be able to join the party in time in a wild, open game while the long range Queens, Rooks, and Bishops join the show on the Kingside? But Knights are supposed to be the same as Bishops, right?
Another thing you will notice is that while these players are always talking about how great these opening gambits are due to the exciting play that follows, do you ever hear them talking about sacrificing a Pawn later on in the game, such as say, move 27, without there being a forcing line that follows? Probably not often. Often times, these sacrifices in the middlegame or endgame work out just as well, if not better, than in the opening. What the players gets in return for giving up the Pawn is something known as compensation. Yes, you might be one "point" down, but something else about your position is likely to be far superior than your Opponent's position. It could be a dominating Knight on an outpost, especially if the opponent lacks the Bishop of the color square the Knight resides on. It could be the Bishop pair. It could be well coordinated pieces of lesser point value, such as maybe three minor pieces for a Queen and a Pawn. If your total point count is lower than your Opponent's, but you have a redeeming feature that makes your position better than it would be if all you could say about it was that you were "a Pawn down" or "outright losing", then you have what is known as compensation.
The game we are going to be looking at is full of offerings of material imbalance. Some were rejected, but we will also see which ones really should have been rejected and which one should maybe have been accepted.
2019 Carolina's Classic, Round 4 W: Solomon Pointer (2002) B: Patrick McCartney (2051) King's Indian Defense, Saemisch Variation
This is the main response to the classical 6...e5 line. The only real alternative that holds any value at all is 7.Nge2, but White is going to have to play d5 eventually anyway if he expects to have any advantage at all. After 7.Nge2, Black can play typical waiting moves such as ...Nbd7 and ...a6, with the idea that once White plays d5, Black will play ...f5, transposing back to the main line, which is 7.d5 Nh5 8.Qd2 f5 and there the waiting game begins. Black doesn't want to push ...f4 unless White castles Kingside, and White doesn't want to take on f5 unless Black is forced to recapture with a piece as Black still dominates the e4-square if he is able to retake with the g-pawn.
However, since this article is on compensation, we won't be seeing the main line, but rather a somewhat speculative sacrifice offer by Black as early as move 8.
7...Nh5 8.Qd2 Qh4+
This is a sideline known as the Bronstein Gambit, named after the former GM David Bronstein. The idea is simple. Black is going to offer White his Queen for two Bishops and two Pawns (9 "Points" for 8), the idea being that Black's slight deficit in material is compensated for in the form of a solid position and better piece coordination as White's remaining pieces are scattered about the board. There is still some question as to it's soundness, but at the time of the writing of this article, it is thought to give White a slightly greater advantage with best play than would the main line with 8...f5, but that Black's position is "ok". The idea is that Black has "some compensation" for the material deficit, but probably not a full Pawn's worth of compensation.
This move, while not losing by any stretch, is not best. This is one of those times that the gambit should be accepted, and the way to do that is via 9.g3! Nxg3 10.Qf2 (10.Bf2 doesn't work as after 10...Nxf1, the Knight is attacking the Queen, and so Black simply wins a Pawn) 10...Nxf1 11.Qxh4 Nxe3 and then there is speculation as to whether a King move to the second rank or 12.Qf2 is best, but White must do something to stop the Knight fork on c2, and Black will follow with 12...Nxc4, getting two Bishops and two Pawns for the Queen with a solid position.
It probably would have been wiser to take with the King, not giving the Black Bishop control of the open diagonal.
10...Bh6 11.Nge2 Na6 12.a3 Nc5 13.Nc1
This move allows White to force the win of a pawn if he wants it. However, Black will get the compensation for it to keep the balance. The idea behind Black's move is that he feels it is more important to delay White's ability to kick the Knight away with b4 than it is to hold on to the pawn, but Black must calculate what he will get in return. By the way, now 14.b4 fails to 14...axb4 as recapturing will lose the Rook on a1. Therefore, to evaluate the validity of 13...a5, we must look at the one critical move. After 14.Bxc5 dxc5 15.Nd3, we see that White is going to win either the c-pawn or the e-pawn. It turns out that Black gets his compensation by giving away the e-pawn. After 15...b6 16.Nxe5, Black has the move 16...f5 and there are two critical lines:
A: After 17.g3 Bg7 18.f4 (all other moves are worse for White) fxe4, White can't try to hold on to the extra Pawn as 19.Nxe4 fails to 19...Nxf4! and Black is winning as after 20.gxf4 Rxf4, one of the White Knights will fall. Instead, after 19.Be2 Nf6, Black is fine. He has regained the pawn back and has the Bishop pair to compensate for White's center.
B: After 17.Nb5 fxe4 18.fxe4, Black can equalize immediately with 18...Re8 19.Nxc7 Rxe5 20.Nxa8 Rxe4+ 21.Kf2 Be3+ with a likely draw, or he can play on with 18...Bg7 19.Nf3 Bg4 20.Nxc7 Ra7 21.Nb5 (21.d6 Bxb2!) 21...Raf7 and despite being two pawns down, Black has obvious compensation. The b2-pawn is hanging. There are threats on f3. Black's position is way too active for White's extra material to be worth anything, and only after you physically make moves on the computer, such as 22.Ng5 or 22.Be2, does it actually recognize that Black is equal.
Therefore, 13...a5 is a sound pawn sacrifice if White accepts the offer, and if he does, Black should hold on to the c-pawn, and give up the e-pawn with the White King still in the center.
White instead goes for the c7-pawn, but again, we are going to see White be forced to give up the Bishop pair in return for it. This was the other line that had to be seen by Black when playing 13...a5, and yes, I had calculated this all the way to the threatened fork at the end of the line (see the note to White's 16th move), which lead to my knowing that I'd get the Bishop pair in return.
Once again, egging White on to grab the pawn.
And this time he does it, but nothing comes for free.
An unfortunate necessity for White. If he didn't have to give up the Bishop pair, Black would lack compensation for the Pawn, but here, 16.Nb5?? loses to 16...Bxb5! as 17.Bxc5 Rxc5 leaves the c4-pawn pinned and 18.Nb3 Rxc4! 19.Bxc4 Bxc4 20.Nxa5 Ba6 is winning for Black while 17.cxb5 allows a fork after 17...Bxc1 18.Rxc1 Nd3+ and 19...Nxc1, which is also winning for Black.
16...dxc5 17.d6 Rfd8 18.Nd3 Bf8 19.Nd5
Possibly stronger may have been 19.Nxe5 Bc6 20.Nd5, but not 20.Nxc6? bxc6 as after 21.Na6 Bxd6, the Knight is trapped. After 20.Nd5 Bxd6 21.Ng4, White might be able to claim a very slight advantage, but again, Black has definite compensation for the missing Pawn.
Better is 20...Ba4, as this move would force White to play accurately to hold the balance after 21.Rd2 Bb3 and now White has to find 22.Be2 a4 (22...Bxc4 23.Nb6!) 23.g4 with equality. In the game, White has one last opportunity to get an advantage.
21.Nb6 should be played here, forcing Black to recapture on d7 with a Rook. Waiting a move and allowing Black to recapture with the Knight, as done in the game, is inferior.
21...Nf6 22.Nb6 Rc6 23.Nxd7 Nxd7 24.Bh3
With the threat of 25.Bxd7 followed by 26.Nxe5, but Black can easily answer the threat. The problem is what follows if White sees it.
24...Bc7 25.Bxd7 Rxd7 26.Rd2?
And just like that it goes from advantage White to advantage Black. White had to play one of two prophylactic moves, namely either 26.a4 or 26.b3, with the latter probably being the safer of the two. Now, after 26...Rd4 27.Nb2, the Black Rook may look good on d4, but it is doing nothing, and even after something like 27...Rcd6, White can ignore it, and in the long run, the Knight is going to be better than that bad Bishop Black has on c7, giving White the advantage. It will still take a lot of work to win the game, but we are only looking at two results at this point. Also note that if Black tries to play 26...a4 here, then White has time for 27.Nb2 and since a4 is being attacked, Black has to play 26...Rxd1 27.Rxd1 axb3, but now 28.Rd7 is far better than what happens in the game with White failing to play this prophylactic move.
After the game move, Black is in the Driver's seat.
The fact that this threatens c4 and White is now a move behind compared to before, he doesn't get the Rook on d7 and Black is simply better here.
27.b3 a4 28.Nb2 axb3
Now this is a case where compensation is lacking. Yes, the Bishop is still slightly bad, but not bad enough to make the Knight worth a full Pawn compared to the Bishop. This is a case where White lacks compensation for the Pawn.
Which Pawn should Black be going after? Is the g-pawn the weakest one?
No! This can only be covered by the Knight blocking the Rook from going to the third Rank, and is therefore the Pawn that Black should be going after, despite that from initial appearance, it looks like the g-pawn should be the target.
The final position deserves a diagram given the title of this article.
We see equal material count in the final position. 5 on 5! However, White is completely dead in the water. So much for material count, huh? Points Schmoints!
This article should be a very valuable lesson to those of you that are always honed in on material count. Material is only one of many factors that determine who is better in any given position. Til next time, good luck in your games.
This June 5-9, the Charlotte Chess Center will organize our eleventh GM/IM norm invitational.
These seasonal norm tournaments offer special opportunities for players to earn FIDE norms and titles - 23 norms and 12 titles have been earned at these events. Five players even earned their final GM norms and titles in Charlotte: GMs Andrew Tang, John Michael Burke, Steven Zierk, Nicolas Checa, and Michael Brown.
There are three sections, each a 9 game round robin (all-play-all) held at the Hilton University Charlotte Place. The official website can be found here, while games and standings can be found here. The tournament will be held alongside the 2019 Carolinas Classic and held just before CCCSA's Elite Chess Camp featuring GM Jacob Aagaard, GM Boris Avrukh, and GM Mihail Marin.
Norm hunters can earn FIDE norms with a score of at least 6.5 out of 9. The 30 players include 5 Grandmasters, 9 International Masters, 8 FIDE Masters, and 8 National Masters from 13 federations: Armenia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Denmark, Georgia, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Sweden, Venezuela, and the United States.
Pairings, standings, and live games can be found here.
GM Section (GM norm = 6.5/9, average rating = 2446 FIDE and 2538 USCF)
Charlotte Chess Center combines forces with Young Master Chess
Joint venture creates one of largest scholastic organizations in the country
Charlotte, NC, June 1, 2019 – The two largest chess teaching outfits in Charlotte have combined to create a joint organization. Charlotte Chess Center, founded in 2014, and Young Master Chess, founded in 2004, are now one. The Charlotte Chess Center name will be kept for the joint company.
The combining of the two scholastic organizations means more than 40 schools will now have chess education in the Charlotte area. Several thousand kids will also have more tournament opportunities, a freestanding chess center to attend, and even more quality instruction and instructors. The Charlotte Chess Center grows to more than a half-dozen masters amongst its teaching corps, with a combined experience of more than 100 years of instruction to children of all levels.
“We're thrilled to be working with all of the longstanding programs under the Young Master Chess umbrella,” Charlotte Chess Center owner Peter Giannatos said. “One thing that has made Charlotte Chess Center and Young Master Chess programs unique is the value they both put into ensuring a quality chess education for students. Both organizations have focused on teaching the life skills and educational benefits of chess, not just the game itself."
“What the Charlotte Chess Center has done in only a few short years is remarkable,” Young Master Chess owner Mike Klein said. “They've put Charlotte on the map nationally by hosting well-run and professional events, as well as offering great school chess clubs. We're excited that kids can now play chess every day of the week at the center. Peter has tremendous energy and a unique vision in the chess world.” Klein will still be involved in the new organization.
"I would like to ensure the parents and students of both our current programs and our newly-added programs that all will receive top-flight attention and coaching. Our goal is for all of our programs to meet the same standards: low student-teacher ratios, well-trained coaches, and student support at local, state and national tournaments. We look forward to this new beginning and further enhancing chess in the Charlotte area.”
Charlotte Chess Center is a scholastic teaching organization that also serves the adult chess community of Charlotte with a chess center at 10700 Kettering Dr, Suite E, Charlotte, NC 28226. The center runs in-school classes and after school chess clubs at more than 40 area schools, hosts nightly events, many weekend tournaments, including national events and elite summer camps. The center helped make Charlotte the current “Chess City of the Year” as announced by the US Chess Federation in 2018.
Hello everyone and welcome to the twenty-first edition of The French Connection. Today, we are going to cover an Exchange French where I played Black in a game that just ended this week in the Semi-Final round of the 2017 Electronic Knights Championship.
A word about the tournament. The Electronic Knights Championship is an email-based correspondence tournament with an elimination-type format. Entries are taken over the course of the year with multiple entries allowed (up to 10 for the year), and every 7 entries creates a preliminary round bracket where you play 3 of the other 6 players with White and the other 3 with Black. All players that score at least 4 1/2 points advance to the Semi-Final round, and they are grouped in sevens, and the same rules apply. All those that score at least 4 1/2 points will advance to the final. Typically the final will be two brackets. Once the final is completed, scores are tallied up, with latter rounds being weighted, using the following formula: (Preliminary Round Score) + 2.2*(Semi-Final Round Score) + 4.5*(Final Round Score), where a perfect score is 46.2. The top 10 are then paid. I had scored 5.5 in the Preliminary round, and I had 2 wins and 3 draws for a score of 3.5 in the current round with just this game remaining as the game reached the early-to-mid 40s in moves, and so I knew that if I win this game, I advance to the Final for the second time ever. Note that you can see one of those two wins in the Semi-Final in The French Connection - Volume 19.
2017 Electronic Knights Semi-Finals (Correspondence) W: Jay Hall (1901) B: Patrick McCartney (1958)
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Be3
Those of you that have read my article on the Exchange French when I published the repertoire in 2017 and those of you that have read Volume 8 of The French Connection will know that I am a big advocate of many symmetrical lines in the Exchange French, making White prove that he has something, where lower rated players either won't understand the position or else try to force the issue themselves and implode while I have no objection to drawing a 2400 player with Black. That said, there are exceptions to that rule, and this is clearly one of them as I really do not see a strong purpose for this move. Part of understanding the Exchange Variation is understanding what order to develop your pieces. There is the old adage to develop your Knights before your Bishops, but there is a reason behind that blanket statement. Most of the time, you know well in advance where the best square is for each Knight. For example, in the Najdorf Sicilian, Black's Knights will go to f6 and d7 with the Bishops usually going to e7 and b7. However, in the King's Indian Defense, it's not the two Knights that you know where you want them ahead of time. Depending on what White plays, the Queen's Knight may want to go to c6, d7, or even a6 in some cases. However, the King's Knight and the Dark-Squared Bishop have pre-defined locations of f6 and g7. When that adage came about of developing Knights before Bishops, it was when most people played 1.e4 e5, and the board would be open with it being easier to develop the pieces, and the Knights were known to go toward the center while the Bishops had multiple options, and so you wanted to wait before you committed.
With the Exchange French, it's a little different. After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5, we see an open e-file with both sides having a strong point on the d-file. For White it is d4 and for Black it is d5. The reason behind this the fact that in order to attack the opposing Pawn, you have to be willing to take an isolani. Now this is fully possible, and many openings specifically lead to an Isolated Queen Pawn (or IQP), but it's a commitment that must be made early on. Otherwise, the d4-pawn for White and the d5-pawn for Black will typically go undisrupted until later in the game. Therefore, I see no reason to "protect" the d-pawn with the Bishop here on move 4. In addition, the Dark-Squared Bishop in the Exchange French typically has multiple options, including going to f4 or g5 (after Black has played something like ...Nf6). In addition, this plugs up the open file, and if anybody wants to be doing the plugging up of the position, it should be the person looking to defend. In symmetrical positions, that's typically Black, not White. White should be looking to take advantage of the extra move in symmetrical positions.
So instead, White should be developing a minor piece with a more defined role and less flexibility. While 4.Nf3 is ok, if White doesn't want to go into the IQP positions with 4.c4, I think that the minor piece with the most defined role is the Light-Squared Bishop. Going to e2 is very passive for the player with the extra move while going to b5 only helps Black develop as he gets in ...c6 (a move he is likely to play anyway) with tempo, and it will never to go c4 with the strong point for Black on d5 unless White goes for the IQP lines. Therefore, if White doesn't want to venture into the IQP lines, the move that makes the most sense for White is 4.Bd3 because the Bishop has a pre-defined role. Then when Black plays 4...Bd6, he is forcing White to make the first decision, or the first commitment, and this is why I condone the mimic approach here as there is no real way for White to take advantage of the extra move like he can if you mimic too far in other openings, such as the Four Knights Game. For example, if White tries to play 5.c3 and 6.Qc2, Black can do the same with 5...c6 and 6...Qc7. Therefore, White has to decide first what to do, and that usually entails deciding what to do with the King's Knight. He can play the Knight to e2, which allows White to contest the Bishop on d6 with a subsequent Bf4, or he can play Nf3, and when Black plays ...Nf6, the Bishop can pin the Knight on g5.
Therefore, the Dark-Squared Bishop for White plays a volatile role, and is often dependent upon where White and Black develop their King's Knight, and so committing it early like White did in the game to me is not correct, and this is one case where we will not see Black taking the mimic approach. White should instead play 4.Bd3, 4.c4, or 4.Nf3 here, though the third may be microscopically weaker than the other two for move order reasons.
4...Nf6 5.Bd3 Bd6 6.Nc3 c6
So notice that Black started with developing first the items that are for the most part pre-defined. With White not developing his Kingside pieces and already plugging up the e-file, there is no reason for Black to fear disruptive checks on the e-file with his King still in the center, and so there is no reason for Black to develop the Bishop or the Knight to e7, and he places them on the active f6 and d6 squares, and the ...c6 push is totally normal in this line, and even more so with a White Knight on c3. Similar to the issues that Black has in the Spanish Four Knights (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bb4 5.O-O O-O 6.d3 Bxc3 7.bxc3 d6 8.Bg5 Qe7 9.Re1), we see a Knight on c3 opposed by a pawn three squares forward from it, controlling the squares that the Knight would like to go to, and so the Knight ends up not well placed, and similar to that Spanish Four Knights position, where 9...Nb8 is fairly normal here, we are probably going to be seeing White move that Knight again from c3. So we now have two pieces for White that are likely to get moved again in short order while Black will continue to develop his other pieces that haven't moved already. While it is way too early to say either side is winning by any stretch of the imagination, I already prefer Black's position, and can't fathom how White can claim any advantage here.
7.Qd2 O-O 8.O-O-O
So now we see what White is doing, but I have to admit that I don't think his attack is well coordinated. Let's think about the various scenarios where we typically see this opposite side castling approach. One case where this is commonly seen is in the Sicilian Dragon, but a major difference between the Sicilian Dragon and the French Exchange is that Black has the ideal pawn structure in front of his King with no squares weakened. In the Dragon, the g-pawn is advanced, and a simple trade of the Dark-Squared Bishops can lead to some very weak dark squares around the Black King. Here, we see Black with no such issue, and even if the Bishop at some point goes to f4 and the Bishops do get traded, with the pawn on g7 instead of g6, the dark squares are not an issue around the Black King. The other thing that White has in the Dragon that he doesn't have here is what is called a hook. The g-pawn in the Dragon is a hook for the h-pawn to latch onto at h5. Here, it doesn't matter which Pawn or Pawns White advances on the Kingside, there is no hook to latch on to.
So what other openings do we see this type of play with opposite side castling and the Bishop and Queen lined up on the c1-h6 diagonal but Black's Bishop is not fianchettoed? How about the English Attack against the Najdorf Sicilian or the Taimanov Sicilian? There is a problem with comparing those as well, and that is the d-pawn. In the Najdorf Sicilian, the pawn is typically on d6, hemming in the Dark-Squared Bishop to the passive e7-square. Here, Black has already played ...d5, a move that Black often struggles to play in the Sicilian and when he does, it often has certain consequences attached to it. The d5-pawn is actually Black's strong point here, and the Bishop is free to roam. So you might say "Well, what about the Taimanov?", but even here, the Black pawn is usually on d7, limiting Black's amount of space, and there are again consequences with playing ...d5. Sure the Bishop may be open unlike the Najdorf, but what Black has here is still a far better version than what we typically see in the English Attack against the Taimanov Sicilian.
In addition, Black has not committed his Queenside pieces yet. Since the White King has already committed to the Queenside, Black will simply advance the Queenside Pawns, his a8-Rook will almost develop itself via the Pawn advancement, the c-pawn can stay back on c6 to protect d5 while we advance the a- and b-pawns, and so with c6 plugged up and the Light-Squared Bishop still pretty much our bad piece, though not quite as bad as in other lines of the French Defense, we pretty much know what we want to do. That is:
Advance the a- and b-pawns.
Use the Light-Squared Bishop to either defend the Kingside or trade it off for White's better Bishop or possibly a Knight, especially if it will wreck the pawn structure - notice that playing the Bishop to d3 and the Queen to d2 has weakened f3, and as we will see in the game, Black will get a favorable trade on f3, wrecking White's Pawns.
Wait on developing the b8-Knight until the position is more well defined. Black may want to develop it to a6, say if b4 becomes a weakness because White plays something like a4, or it may want to go to d7 and then either b6 or f6, or possibly promote an eventual ...c6-c5 push, and so just like what was mentioned about White's Dark-Squared Bishop at move 4, holding off on it's development due to the volatile nature of what it needs to be doing, Black will do just that here with the Knight on b8, which ends up staying on b8 until the 14th move of the game.
Other than whatever happens with the Light-Squared Bishop, avoid Kingside moves except when necessary, and especially avoid advancing the Kingside Pawns until it is necessary.
8...b5 9.Nf3 a5 10.Bg5
So already we see that Dark-Squared Bishop moving again, and had it actually done a task on e3, mission was accomplished from there, and now relocated to g5, that would be one thing. That happens often in chess where a piece does a temporary job from one place and then goes to another square after the first job is complete, but here, there was no purpose on e3, and so, in essence, White has already lost a move. He could just as easily have played an early Bd3 and Nf3, waiting for ...Nf6 from Black, place this Bishop on g5 from the get go, and virtually achieve the same position that we have here with now White to move instead of Black.
This is possibly the only plus for White. His Rooks are connected, Black's are far from it. However, with the pawn on f7, Rook and Queen on f8 and d8, and the Dark-Squared Bishop ideally placed on d6 for now, all the entry points on the e-file are under control, and White has no breakthru down the e-file at this point in time, and so there is little for Black to worry about in terms of his Rooks not being connected. Black's Queen's Rook is busy on the Queenside anyway, and doesn't even want the lone job of backing up his mate on f8.
Black has a slight advantage due to the pawn structure and further accomplishments against the White King than White has achieved against Black's. However, we now have a critical position where both sides error. White needs to create a weakness for Black. The best way to do that is to force Black to weaken himself by making him advance a Pawn on the Kingside. How does White do that?
This is not it! Sure White has the Semi-Open g-file, but does that make the g-file the line of attack? A lot depends on which Pawn you can make Black advance. It turns out, that's the g-pawn, and the way to do it is with 16.Ng3. Black can ill-afford to let that Knight get in on f5. After 16.Ng3 Rxe1 17.Rxe1 g6 18.h4 (There's that hook that White was looking for, and could it now be the h-file that's opening up instead of the g-file?) 18...Qc7 19.h5 Bxg3 20.fxg3 Nxh5 21.g4 Ng7, Black still has a slight advantage with the extra Pawn, but White is showing signs of progress and has at least some compensation for the Pawn.
Instead, the game move gave Black the opportunity to increase his advantage.
And Black came back with a slight error. Better was 16...Kh8, and if now 17.Ng3, then 17...Qc7 where 18.Nf5 can be answered by 18...Nh5 with advantage. Here, it's not an issue if Black trades on d6, and there are no problems on g7. The difference between this and the position after 16.Ng3 Qc7 17.Nf5 is that the e-file is contested, and after 17...Rxe1 18.Rxe1 Nh5, it's White that owns the e-file, and after 17...Nh5, White can trade the Rooks off with 18.Rxe8+ Rxe8 19.Re1 and Black's advantage has been minimized. In the line with 16...Kh8 17.Ng3 Qc7 18.Nf5 Nh5, sure White can come back and contest the e-file again, but once again, it's another tempo lost, similar to the initial development of White's Dark-Squared Bishop.
Often times, the small details that make the difference in two similar looking lines is something that is away from the action. Here we see the battle over whether the Knight should be allowed into f5, and attacks on the g7-pawn, and trading Knight for the strong Bishop on d6, and yet the difference is the control of the e-file.
In this particular case, this is the wrong pawn to advance. White is positioned in such a way that he is ready to break with the f-pawn now without further preparation. After 17.f4 Qa5 18.Qxa5 Rxa5 19.f5 Ne4 20.Bxe4 Rxe4 21.Rde1 Ra8 22.f3 Ree8 23.h4 Kg7 24.Kd2, White has minimized Black's advantage to being something that is microscopic. Black still can't take the f-pawn because of a discovered check, winning the Bishop on d6 for White.
This move is possible, abandoning the over-protection of f6 due to a tactical shot.
18.Bxf6 Nxf6 19.Qg5
White was probably banking on Black playing something like 19...Qd8 or else moving the Knight away with something like 19...Nd7, both of which allowing White to follow up with 20.h5 and create massive pressure on the g6-square with a potential sacrifice of the Bishop at some point on g6 after a trade of pawns occurs. However, Black has one tactical shot, and it's the only move on the board that maintains the advantage.
Black recognized that if White takes the Knight with the Pawn, the Bishop is trapped. In addition, this removes one of the attackers of g6, and probably the most important one as it's the piece that would likely have sacrificed itself to pry open the Black King.
Threatening the f-pawn. With reduced material after the trade of minor pieces and Queens, the cost of dropping a pawn is far greater, and these little nuances can slow down an Opponent's attack.
Another rule people always hear about is capturing towards the center. While this is still true for most middle game positions, as the game gets closer and closer to an endgame, the more attractive outside pawns are, and especially passed ones as they can be harder to reach and defend. Black is looking at the passed h-pawn and doesn't want to give it up, and with the reduced material, he is not exposing his King or severely weakening what is now an isolated e-pawn for Black. As we will see later on, this h-pawn is actually what wins the game for Black.
The purpose of this move is to virtually isolate the White d-pawn. If Black waits until White has played c3 to advance ...b4, then White can by-pass and have a mobile pawn duo on c4 and d4 with both of them also being passed pawns. By playing this prophylactic move, Black is assuring that the d-pawn will never get the help of it's mate on the c-file. The moment White advances the Pawn, Black will capture on c3, either naturally or en passant.
27.d5 Rad8 28.c4 bxc3
As prescribed on move 26. White still has two passers, but they are not connected, and instead come in the form of b- and d-pawns.
Or 29.Nxc3 Bf6, which is also an advantage for Black.
Up until now, Black has virtually dominated the game, but now he makes a move that could very well have cost him everything.
In a single move, we go from almost winning for Black to better for White, and again for the same reasons that White's position has become wretched. Surrendering a tempo to White! Instead, 29...Bf6 keeps Black in the driver's seat.
White immediately fails to take advantage. Both 30.Nd4 Rxd5 31.Ne6+ Rxe6 32.Rxd4 Rf6 33.Rd7+ and 30.Nf4 Kf7 31.Rg4 Bf6 32.Ne6 give White the advantage because they both gain time on Black due to the threat of the fork on move 30 that Black literally walked right into the previous move.
After the move played in the game, simply trying to advance the passer, Black has his advantage back.
Too late! In addition, the advancement of the d-pawn has relinquished any threats on e6 anyway as White no longer controls that square.
31...Bxd4 32.Rxd4 Re6
White's main trump card, the passed d-pawn, is now toast. Now the problem becomes the h-pawn, and that's a problem for White.
33.Kxc3 Rdxd6 34.b4
Possibly 34.Rg4 is a slightly better try, but Black is still clearly better after 34...h5 35.Rgxe4 Rxe4 and now 36.Rxe4 Rf6 37.f4 h4 is better for Black, but even worse is 36.Rxd6 h4, winning for Black.
After the move in the game, Black emerges up a Pawn for tactical reasons.
34...Rxd4 35.Kxd4 Rd6+
Once White takes the Pawn, there is no way to save the b-pawn and it comes with check.
36.Kxe4 Rb6 37.Rg3 Rxb4+
And now the tactical trick is visible. If White goes to the third rank, the King blocks the Rook from taking the a-pawn. If the King goes to the fifth rank, Black can check again and go to f5, attacking the f2-pawn. The latter is what happens in the game.
38.Ke5 Rb5+ 39.Kd4 Rf5 40.Rxa3 Rxf2 41.Ra5
If White plays 41.Ra7+, Black can actually get away with interposing with 41...Rf7 as White has no way to keep the Black King off of c8 and Black is in the box of the a-pawn after 42.Rxf7 Kxf7. If White tries to race the pawn, then the King gets there in time. If he immediately tries to cut the Black King off with 43.Kc5, then 43...h5 does the trick. Even if the White King returns to the Kingside, the two pawns guard each other, and White can never take the pawn in the back as the other pawn then promotes. Black only has to stop one Pawn, and can immediately capture it once White goes after the Kingside Pawns.
Therefore, White has to keep the Rooks on the board and try to draw that way, but Black has the ideal scenario for a Pawn-up Rook ending. The pawns are on opposite wings, and the White King is cut off from the Black Pawns, and Black keeps it that way until White advances the a-pawn, at which point, he will get behind the passed pawn, which is where the Rook belongs. Behind, not in front.
41...h5 42.Ke3 Rf1 43.Ke2 Rf7 44.a4 h4 45.Rd5 Rf4
An important move, getting behind the a-pawn or else forcing White to block himself with the Rook by returning to a5 and putting the Rook in front of the passed Pawn. Instead, White advances.
No need to get behind the Pawn yet. White is guarding it laterally and so can't get behind it first, and the King can't get to b3, stopping Ra4, so no need to play it immediately. Might as well keep the White King cut off as long as physically possible.
52...Ra4+, forcing the King to either f5 or else to the e-file, getting the King even further away from the passed pawn, may have been slightly better, but 52...h3 also wins fairly easily. White tries to get behind the Black Pawns, but must surrender his a-pawn to do it.
53.Rd8 Rxa6 0-1
You might be wondering why White resigned here. In correspondence chess, there are..
Hello everyone and welcome to the latest installment of the Endgame Analysis series. In this one, we are going to talk about the art of drawing, and recognizing what patterns might be out there without just aimlessly playing moves in an inferior position. Back in July 2017, I wrote an article on miracle draws (to view, click here), but in that case, it was items like perpetual check, stalemating tricks, and creating chaos in the position. Other than the stalemate, this are all mostly tricks that will happen in the middle game. What I want to talk about here is a late middle game and endgame situation where it is about recognizing resources in the position and knowing ahead of time what you must do to hold the position, keeping in mind that it will not succeed every time, but often times, lost positions can be saved by simply making the situation complicated for your opponent, and the only way to complicate matters is to actually know certain patterns. Let's look at the game, starting with the position after Black's 33rd move:
Patrick McCartney (2031) - Michael Kliber (1995) Position After 33...Rxa2
Before we go any further, I must bring up something that I have noticed to be a major problem for some amateurs. I call it chess maturity. If you are going to succeed in these positions, you have to have some level of chess maturity, and the first step to chess maturity is recognizing and admitting that you are worse, and that a win is pretty much out of the question. This is regardless of what happened previously. In this case, White had two far superior moves at move 21 that would have been virtually winning for White, and a move at move 23 that would have kept at least a small advantage. This is neither here nor there. We are at White's 34th move, and White is clearly worse. Black has a Bishop and three Pawns for a Rook, and it's not like White has any compensation to show for it. The Knight on e1 is stuck playing a defensive role of g2, and either the Rook on f1 or the Rook on e5 is likely going to have to babysit the Knight for a while to avoid the loss of the piece. In actuality, if perfect play were made by both sides, Black would win this position. Therefore, if you are sitting down at the board playing White here, and the first thing you say is that you think you have winning chances, you need to find a different game. Chess is not for you.
However, we have to keep in mind that while Black is winning with perfect play, humans are not perfect. So what we want to talk about here is how to induce imperfection in the opponent. Sometimes, this might mean playing a riskier move, or sacrificing material to achieve certain patterns on the board. This is where the human element of understanding the endgame is better than that of a computer (outside of tablebases, but those don't exist above 7 pieces and the position we have here is 15 pieces). A computer is going to say that move X leads to a -2.09 position, move Y leads to a -2.31 position, and move Z leads to a -2.54 position, and so therefore, move X must be White's best move. The problem is, move X leads to routine play that is easy for Black while move Y or move Z adds the element of human complication, and so this is why you might find on message boards of sites like chess.com having comments from high rated players stating that computers are not great at openings or endgames, and that their real superiority is middle game play and calculation of deep tactics, which in those two areas, the computer blows away the human brain.
So with all of that said, let's take a look at the position, and see if we can figure out features of the position that White must pay very close attention to. What are some features that White must recognize in order to give Black the greatest challenge? Let's list some of them out here:
First things first. What is the top priority for White? Stopping and eliminating the c-pawn! Now you might be asking why the c-pawn is any more important than the a-pawn. For starters, the c-pawn is farther advanced than the a-pawn, but there are other factors that will be mentioned in the other bullets. For now, we need to stop the c-pawn.
While "general concepts" say that the player down material wants to trade pawns and the player up material wants to trade pieces, that is not always true. Typically, the side up material in these types of positions want to have at least one heavy piece on the board, often referred to as "The Conductor" of the attack, and here, Black would like to have the Rook to get behind the passed pawn, or it's second preference if that can't be achieved is to cover the 2nd and 1st ranks to tie White down and aid the c-pawn to promotion. Therefore, in addition to eliminating the c-pawn, another item on White's checklist should be to try to trade off a set of Rooks.
While the first two bullets are immediate, you have to look long term as well. The first "long term" item that should come to mind is the situation with the opponent's Bishops and Rook Pawns. Black has one Bishop, and both Rook Pawns. A well-known drawing technique is that a wrong color Bishop and Rook Pawn against a King is a draw if the King can get in front of the Pawn. The way to determine if the Bishop is the wrong color is to compare the Bishop with the promotion square of the Pawn. If the color complex that the Bishop occupies and the color square of the promotion square are the same, you have the right color Bishop. If they are different, you have the wrong color Bishop. Looking at the current position, we see that Black has his Light-Squared Bishop. The Rook Pawn that promotes on a dark square is the a-pawn. With Black having three extra pawns compared to White, White doesn't have time to go chasing after all of them, but one thing to keep in the back of your head is that if we succeed in achieving the second bullet, the Rook trade, and we eliminate the Black Knight, then as long as we can block the a-pawn, we don't need to go chasing after it. This is why we go for the c-pawn, and try to defend the 3-on-2 on the Kingside, and not even try to capture the a-pawn. All we want to do is block it for now.
Another thing to look at is pawn patterns and King routes. Many know that Rook Pawns are the exception to many endgame rules. However, Knight Pawns are also tricky, particularly when talking the topic of blocked pawns. Let's say you put a White Pawn on d4 and a Black Pawn on d5. The White King is on d3, and the Black King is on h8, trapped there so it can't help the d5-Pawn. How can White use the King to get at the d5-Pawn? He can go to his left via d3-c3-b4-c5-d5, or he can go to his right via d3-e3-f4-e5-d5. He has room to go around either side of the pawn. However, let's pretend these pawns are on b4 and b5 with the White King on b3 and the Black King once again blocked off on h8. Now how can White get the pawn? He only has one way! He must go to his right because there is no room on the edge of the board to get around the blocked Knight Pawns. He has to go b3-c3-d4-c5-b5. So keep this in the back of your mind about blocked Knight Pawns.
Observe for backwards pawns and whether the pawns are on the same or opposite color of the opposing Bishop. Here we see Black having all of his Pawns on the Kingside on light squares, namely f7, g6, and h5. What if we could entice Black to trade h-pawns, and then get our pawn to g5? f6 is a dark square, and so the Bishop can't help in the backward Pawn's advancement. The Knight or the King would have to do that. Now let's say we achieve the g5 vs g6-f7 Pawn structure. The Bishop can't get to g8 or h7, and if the Black Knight is eliminated, and White gets his Knight to f6, it's his to occupy. Black can take for ever to get his King around to the g5-pawn, and since the Bishop can never disrupt the h7-square, when the Black King wraps around, we move the Knight to h7, guarding g5. This is the critical idea of why the Knight Pawn forces the King to wrap all the way around the long way. If these were f-pawns, White could come down the other side to harass the Knight. Here, the Knight has a safety net.
Ok, so what does this all mean we need to do as White. Here's the checklist:
Eliminate the c-pawn.
Trade a set of Rooks.
Entice the trade of h-pawns out of Black.
Get the g-pawn to g5 to block the Black Pawns despite the 2-on-1.
Eliminate the Black Knight, even at the cost of the Exchange.
Get the White King over to the Queenside to block the a-pawn.
Get the Knight to f6 to put a stranglehold on the Kingside.
Now one thing to keep in mind is that Black gets moves too, and everything that Black does could alter the checklist. That said, in this endgame that we are about to look at, Black walks right into White's plan.
White starts off by attempting to trade the Rooks right off the bat.
Black, of course, correctly declines the trade. Now here is where the mentioning of computer moves not being best in an endgame comes into play. White can try to play the "computer move" of 35.Kh2, but it does nothing to execute White's checklist given above. Instead, White goes for the 3rd move given by the computer, which is evaluated at -2.45 instead of -2.12 (after 35.Kh2).
White takes the opportunity to offer the trade of Rook Pawns while it also attacks the Knight, making by-passing with 35...h4 impossible.
Already Black errors. This is not a blunder, and Black is still technically winning, but he is inching closer to that drawing zone that White is looking to achieve, and is playing right into White's hand. A stronger idea is 35...Nd4, putting the Knight in a better spot. If White plays a benign move like 36.Kh2, then he can trade pawns on g4 and it would then be Black's move as White wasted time with the King move. The other option for White is to take on h5, which Black should continue to ignore. After 36.gxh5 Nf3+! 37.Rxf3 Bxf3 38.hxg6, once again, Black should not take, and play 38...f5! with a completely winning position in the R+B vs R+N endgame. The g-pawn will fall, putting Black up two pawns, and White is not in position to execute the checklist given above. Remember, we said the starting position is winning for Black, and that our plan is a manipulative way to try to reach the draw, not a forced sequence that guarantees success. With correct play from the starting position above, Black should win!
Once again, 36...Nd4 was superior.
The e5-Rook has to guard the Knight, and so the Rook on f2 has to do the job of guarding the g-pawn and going after the c-pawn.
Again, one of our checklist items. Get the King over to the Queenside to stop the Rook Pawn. This can also contribute to the chase down of the c-pawn. At this point, Black is still better, but compared to say, 35...Nd4, his advantage has gone down from almost -3 to about -1.4.
38...Ra2+ 39.Ke3 Bc8 40.g5!?
This move is interesting. From a computer's perspective, and in something like correspondence chess, this move would be outright stupid and White should continue with the suffering after 40.Rc5 Bxg4, but in over the board play, tricks can be pulled. It should also be noted that while there is a 15 second increment per move here, White has under 2 minutes and Black has under 3 minutes, so neither side has time to do a full analysis on the position.
40...Ng4+ 41.Rxg4 Bxg4 42.Kd3
Opportunity Number 2 to put White away.
Once again, Black doesn't completely blow it, but far stronger was 42...c2!, answering 43.Nxc2 with 43...Bf5+ and 43.Rc5 with 43...Ra5!! 44.Rc6 c1=N+!! 45.Rxc1 Rxg5 with a completely winning, 3-Pawn up Rook and Bishop vs Rook and Knight ending. Black should be able to play from here on out in his sleep.
So what have we achieved thus far? We eliminated the c-pawn, we traded h-pawns, we got the desired 2-on-1 pawn structure on the Kingside, we've eliminated the Black Knight, and we've gotten our King in range with the Black a-pawn. Black is still winning here, but there are only two items left on the checklist. Trade the set of Rooks, and get the Knight to the Kingside. Black must stop at least one of these in order to have any shot at winning.
So what's the first thing Black does? Offers the Rook trade! Better is 43...Bf5. That said, this still isn't a draw yet for White. White slips one more trick on Black.
Taking on e2 is not best as the Knight is close to being dominated. White would rather execute the trade on e5, or if Black just sits there, White will trade next move now that his Knight is out.
And Black just complies. Again, last chance to play 44...Ra2 and keep the Rooks on. This is about to be a nightmare position for Black.
The necessary square for the Bishop to keep the White Knight out of d7 and g4, both of which lead to the Knight heading to it's target, f6.
46.Kb2 a4 47.Ka3 Bb3 48.Kb4
White should immediately play 48.Ng4 or 48.Nd7.
48...Kf8 49.Ng4 Ke7 50.Nf6
Mission Accomplished! Just look at what White has pulled off. White is down two Pawns, but yet, he has narrowed down Black's attempts at any type of win down to one thing, which we will see takes Black 41 moves to realize. Observe the position and note the following items:
White has the desired Wrong Color Bishop and Rook Pawn scenario on the Queenside with the King on a3 that can toggle between a3, b2, and b4 (provided the Black King can't get to b2.
On the other side, the Knight can't be touched because it's on a dark square against a Light-Squared Bishop, and the King must come all the way around to attack the g-pawn. At that point in time, the White Knight can go to h7, guarding the pawn, and for the King to harass the Knight, he has to come all the way back around via f5-e6-e7-f8-g7, at which point the Knight simply goes back to f6, pretty much at any point during the walk by the Black King as long as g5 is not attacked, so as early as the moment the King goes to e6. The h7-square is totally safe as there is no way for the White Bishop to get behind it's own pawns on f7 and g6.
White has two ways to toggle, and so Zugzwang is impossible. If the Black King is on the Kingside, harassing the g-pawn, White can toggle the King. If the Black King comes running to the Queenside, threatening to enter at b2 if the White King moves, then White can toggle the Knight harmlessly between f6 and h7
Therefore, there is only one thing left that Black can do, and that is to advance the f-pawn while the King is attacking the g-pawn, forcing the Knight off of f6 and onto h7. We will see Black tries this 41 moves later. It should be noted that during this stretch of 41 moves, White was constantly analyzing the score sheet, looking for three-fold repetition scenarios, but with all the triangulating by Black, any position that possibly occurred three times that I could find occurred with opposing sides to move. A position that occurs 3 times, but with one side to move in 2 of them and the other side to move in the 3rd is not three-fold repetition. It must be the same position with the same player to move, both sides having the same legal options. During that time, I heard Black comment that it's not 50 yet, thinking I was counting moves, and I think that might be what drove Black to the advancement of the f-pawn later on. Not recognizing that it is literally his only try, but recognizing that he was nearing 50 moves. He probably thought at first that he could win by triangulating the King at first.
All of this said, White is not completely out of the woods yet, but Black has a LOT of work to do now to win compared to the earlier scenarios where White could resign in 3 to 5 moves, and with Black's inability to execute the simpler tasks earlier, White should expect more of the same inferior play by Black at this point.
This is the only road now to victory for Black, and it requires very delicate play by Black, and with 2 minutes left on each clock with 15 second increment per move, and with what Black has shown thus far in this endgame, that is never going to happen.
91.gxf6 Kh6 92.f7
Both moves lose for White with correct play. Both involve surrendering the a-pawn and both involve dominating the Knight. Knowing your endgame domination tricks is critical here. After 92.Nf8, Black has to start with a couple of only moves. 92...g5 (again, Black cannot let White sacrifice the Knight for the g-pawn as otherwise, we have the Wrong Color Bishop and Rook Pawn scenario, which we already know is a draw) 93.Nd7 Kg6 (again forced as otherwise Ne5, with or without f7, depending on Black's alternative move, will draw the game) 94.Kb4 Be6 95.Nc5 (Or 95.Ne5 Kxf6 96.Nd3 Bf5 and now 97.Kc1 g4 or 97.Nf2 Ke5 as the Knight is dominated) 95...a3 96.Kxa3 Bf5 97.Nb3 Kxf6 98.Nd2 g4 99.Kb4 Ke5 100.Kc3 Be4 101.Nf1 Kf4 102.Kd2 Bb7 103.Ne3 g3 104.Ke2 Be4 and White is in Zugzwang. If he moves his Knight anywhere where it can't just be immediately captured, such as 105.Nc4 or 105.Nf1, then 105...Bd3+ wins immediately, while if 105.Kd2, then 105...Kf3 is winning. Therefore, White went for the alternative route, testing Black against a Knight that is more centralized than going to f8.
92...Bxf7 93.Nf6 Kg5 94.Nh7?
More testing is 94.Ne4+ in which Black's road to victory is 94...Kf4 95.Nc5 Ke3 96.Nd7 g5 97.Ne5 Be6 98.Kxa4 Ke4 99.Ng6 g4 100.Nh4 g3 101.Kb5 Bh3 102.Kc5 Kf4 103.Kd4 Kg4 104.Ng3 g2 105.Ne5+ Kg3, winning.
Once again, domination of the Knight wins the game for Black after 94...Kf5! 95.Kxa4 Bg8 96.Nf8 g5 97.Nd7 g4 and the pawn can't be stopped. The King is already ideally placed.
Black had the opportunity again to play 95...Kg5 and if 96.Nh7, then 96...Kf5 and if 96.Ne4+, then 96...Kf4, as shown above.
96.Ng4+ Kh5 97.Nf6+ Kh4
97...Kg5 is better, elbowing out the Knight.
What Black does here is completely mind boggling. He must use the King and Bishop to distract the Knight and guide the g-pawn to promotion, completely abandoning the a-pawn and using the fact that the White King is out in Timbuktu to his advantage. Black just proceeds to move around now like a chicken with his head chopped off until he makes a complete bone head move on move 106, throwing away any remote hope at victory.
The White King is never abandoning the corner, and the position is a theoretical draw.
Whether it be spectators at the end of a round in a larger tournament with my game being one of the last ones done, or it be at a small event or a club where maybe the pairing sheet is taken up and they are simply waiting for that last game to end, I have had many people, director or spectator, after asking about the result of a game, proceed to say "You Drew That?????" in a shock-type tone. Not saying that happened here, but that has happened many times. I also have the reputation at the club I'm in for pulling off a lot of BS draws. All of this is not by accident. If you know the various draw techniques, such as the various patterns of stalemate cages, piece configurations that are drawn, and known book draw positions like Philidor's Draw or the Short-Side Defense (both being scenarios of R+P vs R), then you know what to aim for when there are more pieces and pawns in an inferior situation. Now trust me, I lose many games that are lost because the opponent plays the right moves. There is nothing you can do about that. But just hearing people at the club mumble to themselves that they realize who they are playing and that they have to avoid the numerous cheap shot drawing tricks is just music to my ears, and that music just gets louder each time that my opponent fails to win!
So how can you do the same thing and get that same reputation at your club that I have? Remember the following items:
First and Foremost! RECOGNIZE AND ADMIT that your position is worse. ACKNOWLEDGE that a win is out of the question, and know well in advance that what you are playing for is a draw. If you cannot get over the fact that pipe dream scenarios of winning are just not going to happen, you will never succeed in drawing lost positions. Sure, if your opponent blindly hangs his Queen, then maybe you have a victory coming and must adjust, but barring something like that, don't go into it with the mentality that you are playing for a win because you will lose quickly that way.
Know ALL of your basic endgames with minimal pieces. That includes Bishop and Knight vs Lone King, Two Bishops vs Lone King, Rook and Pawn vs Rook (including all draw and winning techniques, such as Lucena's Position, Philidor's Draw, the Short Side Defense, the Long Side Defense, and the Vancura Position), Wrong Color Bishop and Rook Pawn, etc. Knowing these ahead of time can be a major aid to knowing what you need to accomplish when there are more pieces and pawns on the board. You might be wondering why I mention winning scenarios like Bishop and Knight or Lucena's position. You need to know these so that you know how to impose the most difficulty on your opponent in the Bishop and Knight ending just in case he doesn't know it, and so..
Hello everyone and welcome to the twentieth edition of The French Connection. Today, we are going to cover a number of things that we have not seen in a while (or at all yet) in the series. First off, we haven't had coverage of a GM game since Volume 10. We haven't seen a game that White has won since Volume 11. Lastly, we haven't seen a game with the Rubinstein Variation yet in the entire series. Well, this time, we'll be seeing all three! Before we get to the game, a little background on the player playing White in this game.
Rashid Nezhmetdinov (12/15/1912 - 06/03/1974) is from the former USSR, and spent the majority of his career within the circuit, rarely playing in international events, and of those that he did, they were predominantly minor events, the lone exception being Bucharest 1954. Therefore, he was not very well known by areas of the Western world, such as the United States, but those local to the area in the USSR all knew him as a very fierce attacker, though unlike many amateurs, including a few at our club itself, that show a complete lack of patience and want a bloody game every time, Nezhmetdinov was also able to grind out late middlegame and endgame positions that required positional technique, and that is what we will be seeing here. His opening repertoire consisted mostly of playing 1.e4 as White, and playing 1...e5 in response to 1.e4 along with the King's Indian Defense in response to 1.d4. Every GM has a most notable game. For instance, with Fischer, it was his game as Black in a Grunfeld against Byrne in New York in 1956. For Kasparov, it would be his game as White in a Pirc against Topalov at Wijk aan Zee in 1999. Well, for Nezhmetdinov, it was most certain his game as Black in a King's Indian Defense (played through an Old Indian move order) against Polugaevsky in Sochi in 1958, and that game can be viewed here. The most notable moment in the game is the Queen sacrifice on move 24 and how the White King is hunted down similar to Fischer's game from 1956, though the follow-up is not quite as long as Fischer's was. Those of you with a bloodbath style of play, I recommend looking at his games.
There's another thing that Nezhmetdinov was known for. Novelties. They may not have always been the best move on the board, but it was enough to trick his opponents, and unlike many amateurs, he knew exactly when to execute. If he opponent plays the best moves, it was not a complete waste of time for Nezhmetdinov, and his position was still playable, which is one key factor to successfully playing novelties and traps. Don't rely on them to always work, and if your opponent doesn't fall for it, you have to make sure that it doesn't impose self-inflicting damage to your own position. A prime example of this was his game against Stalberg in Bucharest 1954. It was also a French, in this case a McCutcheon, where Black played a slightly inferior 12th move (12...Qc7 instead of 12...Bd7 or 12...Qa5), and Nezhmetdinov had expected this, and played the slightly odd 13.dxc5. The position at the end was still drawn with best play at move 43, but Nezhmetdinov had tried a tricky waiting move at move 43 and Black failed to defend correct and Nezhmetdinov once again won. That game can be seen here.
But today we will be looking at one of his games that required good endgame technique, and also features one of his novelties in the opening. With that, let's take a look at the feature game.
Now the normal moves here would be 7.Nxf6, 7.Ng3, or 7.Qe2. However, White plays an unusual move here that violates "general principles", but I think we have seen enough times already that you can almost throw general principles right out the window in the French Defense as the opening is a completely different beast compared to just about any other opening in all of chess, and that even goes for tame variations like the Rubinstein.
White moves his Knight twice in the opening in an unprovoked situation (unlike say, the Bishop in the Ruy Lopez when it is actually attacked by Black's a-pawn), which is violation number one if you are following general opening principles, and with White having a space advantage, he is inviting Black to trade down to an endgame, which is violation number two, trading down pieces when you have a space advantage to alleviate the cramp for Black. All of that said, this may very well be an exception to the rule as Black is probably best off just ignoring White's offer and castling here. That said, Black takes up White's offer, and once Black decides to take the Knight, the rest of the sequence is a fairly forcing sequence.
So now, we've traded a bunch of pieces including the Queens, the position is symmetrical, the material count is equal, and White should pack it in, offer a draw to Black and call it a day, right?
Uhm, no! As mentioned at move 7, Black should probably have ignored the offer by White and castle instead because while this position may look dull with the pawn symmetry, this is not equal, despite the fact that computers will say it is with the move Black plays next in this game, which is actually not best. Each side has one developed piece. However, the equality ends there. White undeveloped Bishop has far more scope than Black's. Black's Bishop can only go to d7, which impedes the open file on the board for Black's Rooks, which means the Bishop needs to move again. That's one extra move for White. Secondly, Black's King is still on the back rank. To connect the Rooks will take an extra move by Black, either lifting his King to the 7th rank, or else castling, but it doesn't make much sense to castle with the reduced material, but either way, there's a second extra move the Black needs to make, so it's like as if White has a two move advantage in the position. This two move advantage is not astronomical given the reduced material, and White only has a slight advantage, but the point is that the position is not equal, and Black can't be playing like it's equal. With that said, Black's next move does not help his cause.
Black's top priority should be catching up in development. This is best done via 12...Bd7. Everyone talks about Queens capturing b-pawns as often being a bad idea. The same can be the case with reduced material as long as your opponent has at least one Rook on the board, and here, 13.Bxb7 would be bad for White after 13...Bb5+ 14.Ke1 Rb8 15.Bf3 Bd4 with a better position for Black and he will regain his pawn. Black is also ok after 14.Kf3. At first glance this appears to lose for White because 14...Rb8 traps the Bishop, but White has tactics to get out of it via 15.a4! Bd7 16.Ba6 Be4 17.Bb5 Bxb5 (17...Bxe5? 18.Re1!) 18.axb5 Rxb5 19.Rd1 Bxe5 20.Rxa7 Kf7 21.Rd7+ Kf6.
And now it's Black's turn to realize that 13...Bxb2 is a bad move because after 14.Rab1 Bc3 15.Bxb7 Bxb7 16.Rxb7 Ba5 17.Be3 Bb6 18.Bxb6, neither recapture by Black is good. 18...axb6 19.Rxc7 leaves White a pawn up as 19...Rxa2?? is answered by 20.Rc8+, and 18...cxb6 19.Rd1 gives White a winning advantage. For example, 19...Rc8 is answered by 20.c4 and again, Black can't capture on c4 due to the skewer on the back rank, and otherwise, White's Rooks are coming in.
14.c3 Bc5 15.b4
Now we see the problem with Black's 12th move. White gains time on the Bishop, and with no b-pawn hanging on the second rank, White is ready to take on b7.
15...Bb5+ just transposes back to the game after White's 17th move.
16.Bxb7 Bb5+ 17.Ke1
White still has the advantage with this move, but it may have been even better to play 17.Kf3, again due to the a4-trick. If 17...Rab8, then 18.a4! If not for that move, White's Bishop would be trapped. White probably either missed this idea, or else maybe thought the indirect Bishop trade didn't favor him. That said, the move played in the game is not bad by any means, just the disconnecting of the Rooks can be a bit of a nuisance for White.
Now, with the b-pawn advanced to b4 and the f3-square available for the White Bishop, there is no point in attacking the Bishop with 17...Rb8 as all it would do is drive the White Bishop to a better square, and then there is nothing better for Black than to relocate the Rook to the d-file anyway, and so the move played in the game makes more sense.
18.a4 Bc4 19.Be3 a6 20.f4 Rd3
Note: Black has castling rights, White does not
This is stronger than trying to hold the c-pawn, which turns out is not really a threat. 21.Bd4 is answered by 21...Bxb4 and even worse is 21.Bd2 as after 21...Kf7, it's actually Black that has the advantage with ...Rhd8 coming.
If 21...Rxc3, then 22.Rhc1 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 followed by 24.Rxc7 continues to leave White a pawn up, and here with material reduced even further, making it be even closer to completely winning for White.
22.Bf3 Rhd8 23.Rhc1 c5
With no real way to improve on the position and still being down a pawn, Black goes into full throttle desperation mode, and sets up a nasty trap for White.
The trap was 24.bxc5?? Rxe3! and Black wins a piece as 25.Kxe3 Bxc5 is mate.
24...axb5 25.axb5 R3d7
25...Bxb5 can be answered by 26.Be2 Rd2 27.Bxd2 Rxd2 28.Re1 and after either 29.Ke3 or 29.Kf1 on the next move, Black does not get enough compensation for the exchange.
Black resigned because after 31...Bxe3 32.Kxa3 Ra8 33.Ra1, the c-pawn is about to fall and White wins.
A number of things can be picked up from this game:
Opening priciples don't always apply in the French Defense. This is why it is encouraged by many higher rated players on chess forums, such as chess.com, for players to first learn the Ruy Lopez and Queen's Gambit, because they are the openings that pretty much follow priciples to the letter. After you learn the basics of opening play, and are ready to expand the repertoire, the French is an excellent place to start because of the limited number of variations to learn unlike other openings such as the Sicilian.
When your opponent tries to provoke you into doing something, there is likely a reason behind it. Before you automatically bite, calculate and figure out the specifics of the situation. In the game we looked at, White provoked Black into a trade down, which under normal circumstances, Black should do because of his lack of space, but in this case, we saw that the resulting position after the forcing sequence saw Black with the more difficult task of getting the undeveloped Bishop out and that his King was still on the back rank, allowing White to connect Rooks faster, and so here, it would have been best for Black to just castle on move 7.
When your opponent poses a threat, or what appears to be a threat, always try to see if you can ignore it first. For example, the threat on b7 on move 12 should have been ignored by Black and he should have played 12...Bd7 since 13.Bxb7 lead to at minimum an ok position for Black. In essence, Black's 12th move is what put him behind the 8-ball. The b2-pawn couldn't be taken by Black on move 13 due to tactics and infiltration by White. The same can be said about taking the c-pawn on Blacks 21st move. Not only does the player that can take these Pawns have to realize that they are poisonous, but the player who owns the Pawn has to also realize that their opponent can't take them. If they don't realize this, they will spend useless time defending something that doesn't need to be defended. This requires one very important skill, and that is the ability to calculate. If calculation is a weakness of yours, I highly recommend reading "The Inner Game of Chess" by Andrew Soltis.
Well, that concludes this edition of The French Connection. Good luck in all of your French Games, Black or White.
Hello and welcome to the nineteenth edition of The French Connection. In this article, we are going to be talking about the move order in the Winawer variation, specifically the differences between two moves at move 4, and I will be showing a game that illustrates the major difference of one line in the notes, and we will see White trying a novelty of his own on move 6, but in the end, Black ends up prevailing.
One thing to keep in mind about the game is that it is a Correspondence event, and so things like playing sidelines that your opponent doesn't know or trying to push your opponent out of time are both non-factors. With that said, let's take a look at the game.
This is the starting position of the main line of the Winawer. White has other options at move 4, but we won't be talking about those here in this article. Here, Black has two main moves, and both have their pros and cons. These moves are 4...c5 and 4...Ne7. In some cases, these moves can lead to the exact same thing. For example, the Poisoned Pawn variation can be reached via 4...c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4 Qc7 or 4...Ne7 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 7.Qg4 Qc7. The same can be said about any other line that can arise from the position after Black's 6th move, such as the 7...O-O line, the aggressive 7.h4, and the positional lines, 7.a4 and 7.Nf3.
However, there are deviations from the main position after Black's 6th move, and which move Black plays on move 4 decides which options each side has.
Let's start with 4...c5. This is the more common move of the two. Here, besides 5.a3, White has three legitimate options. They are 5.Qg4, 5.Nf3, and 5.Bd2. Let's go through each of them. We will look at each, and then look at Black's main deviation after 5.a3.
A) After 5.Qg4, Black's best move is 5...Ne7!
Now 6.Qxg7 is not good because Black still maintains the Dark-Squared Bishop. After 6...Rg8 7.Qh6 (Or 7.Qxh7 cxd4 8.a3 Qa5 9.axb4 Qxa1 10.Nce2 Nbc6 and White lacks compensation) cxd4 8.a3 Ba5 9.b4 Bc7 10.Nb5 a6 is better for Black. Therefore, White needs to play 6.dxc5, and after 6...Nbc6 7.Bd2 (7.Qxg7 is still bad for the same reason except Black advances the d-pawn instead of a capture) Ng6 8.Nf3 Bxc5 9.Bd3 Qc7 10.O-O-O a6 11.h4 Bd7 12.Bxg6 hxg6 13.Qf4 O-O-O and Black has completely equalized because 14.Qxf7 is not good due to 14...Nxe5 15.Nxe5 Qxe5. Note that 12.h5 Ngxe5 13.Nxe5 Nxe5 14.Qxg7 O-O-O 15.Bxh7 Nc4 is also good for Black.
B) After 5.Nf3, Black can play 5...Ne7, which will likely transpose to the main line with 7.Nf3, but he can also play 5...cxd4 when 6.Qxd4 Nc6 7.Qg4 Nge7 8.Qxg7 Ng6 with ...Be7 to follow and Black is fine.
C) The more strategic approach with 5.Bd2 is far more popular:
The idea here is that White wants to play 6.Nb5. This avoids the wrecked pawn structure, it leads to a trade of Dark-Squared Bishops (which is White's bad Bishop) instead of Bishop for Knight and wrecked pawns, and White sees that d6 is weakened by the move 4...c5. Therefore, Black must develop the King's Knight, either with 5...Ne7 or 5...Nh6 so that 6.Nb5 can be answered by 6...Bxd2+ 7.Qxd2 O-O, avoiding a check by the Knight on d6 and forcing the Black King to remain in the center. The downside to this is that White is moving his already developed Knight, and the line as a whole is very slow for White. A positional battle ensues, but the lack of speed in White's development allows Black to equalize.
D) This now leads to 5.a3, and after 5...Bxc3+ 6.bxc3, we have the following position:
Now 6...Ne7 takes us back to the main line. However, Black has one other alternative. He can play 6...Qa5, known as the Portisch-Hook Variation. The idea behind it is that White must guard c3, and after 7.Bd2, Black plans to play 7...Qa4. This eyes the c2-pawn instead of the c3-pawn, and prevents White from advancing a4 himself, which is a common idea in the main line as White can get get the Dark-Squared Bishop active via Ba3, and let's not forget that this Bishop is uncontested because Black gave up his Dark-Squared Bishop for the Knight. After 7...Qa4, White has two main ideas. He can play 8.Qb1, with threats of winning the Queen via Bb5+, against which Black plays 8...c4 and will usually castle Queenside and attempt to break through on the Kingside. The other main option is 8.Qg4, forcing Black into a decision similar to that of the MacCutchen Variation. Do you surrender castling rights with 8...Kf8? Or do you weaken the dark squares on the Kingside with 8...g6? Both are options and have their own theory. We saw the 8...Kf8 option in The French Connection - Volume 18.
So now this leads us to 4...Ne7. We already mentioned how the main line can arise from this move. Let's take a look at what the differences are between this move and 4...c5.
A) First of all, if White tries to play 5.Qg4, Black is not forced to transpose via 5...c5, and can instead play 5...Nf5. After 6.Bd3 h5 7.Qf4 Qh4 8.Bxf5 Qxf4 9.Bxf4 Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 exf5 11.h4 Be6, the position is equal.
B) After 5.Nf3, the game will almost always transpose to the main line with 7.Nf3 as Black doesn't have the extra option that he had after 4...c5 of taking on d4.
C) After 5.Bd2, Black can take advantage of the fact that he has not advanced the c-pawn yet, and this is what we will be seeing in the game.
D) After 5.a3, the main difference is that Black lacks the option of playing the Portisch-Hook Variation, and he also lacks the option of playing another well-known side line and that is 6...Qc7, intending to answer 7.Qg4 with 7...f5, guarding g7 with the Queen rather than having to castle into it or play 7...Kf8 to guard it, or go in the wild mess in the Poisoned Pawn and allowing White to take on g7.
So we can conclude that 4...Ne7 makes 5.Qg4 harmless, and the game will show the major pluses for Black in the 5.Bd2 variation. The only downside to this move for Black is that it removes the side options against 5.Nf3 and 5.a3. If Black fully intends to play the main line (4...c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7), this may actually be the better way to do it as it makes two White sidelines inferior, and the other main sideline will merely transpose.
4...Ne7 5.Bd2 b6!
Here is the main advantage to 4...Ne7 against the 5.Bd2 variation. Black has no weakened d6, and so there is no real threat of Nc3-b5-d6. Black's plan is simple here. He intends to take the Knight on c3, to avoid any Nb5, and then play ...Ba6, forcing a trade of Light-Squared Bishops, the typical problem piece for Black in the French Defense.
It is well known that White must act aggressively on the Kingside in the Winawer and playing something like 6.Nf3 Bxc3 7.Bxc3 Ba6 8.Bxa6 Nxa6 9.Qe2 Qc8 10.O-O c5 11.Rfd1 Nb8 12.a4 Nbc6 13.dxc5 bxc5 14.Qb5 c4 15.Qc5 O-O simply favors Black.
The main line runs 6.Qg4 O-O 7.O-O-O Bxc3 8.Bxc3 Ba6 9.Bxa6 Nxa6 10.h4 c5 and Black has equalized. In the game, White tries to play a novelty, avoiding the trade of Light-Squared Bishops.
The problem I see with this move is that it plugs up White's development.
6...Bxd2+ 7.Qxd2 Ba6
Black goes here anyway with the idea of trading Bishops the moment White moves the e2-Knight.
8.h4 c5 9.h5 h6
With Black's Dark-Squared Bishop gone, this move is critical, avoiding 10.h6 by White and severely weakening the dark squares around the Black King.
10.f4 Nbc6 11.Nf3 Nf5 12.c3
If White could have his way, he would like to advance g4, driving the Knight back, and then break open the Kingside with an eventual f5 or g5. So the decision for Black is critical. First thing to recognize is that White's advancement of the f- and h-pawns have lead to some weaknesses in the White position, namely the squares e4, g3, and g4. The other question Black must ask is how weak his light squares will be if he allows White's Bishop to be uncontested. Any pin on the Knight on c6 can be answered by the Rook or Queen guarding the Knight, and otherwise, there aren't any real weaknesses for Black in the light squares. Black's issues in the French Winawer usually lie in the dark squares around the Black King. Here, with White's dark-squared Bishop gone, that's not an issue either. Therefore, Black proceeds to eliminate the Knight on e2 that is covering g3, which is Black's main route to e4 for his Knight, and e4 is a much more stable square for the Knight than f5, again because of an upcoming g4 by White if Black does nothing.
12...Bxe2 13.Bxe2 Ng3 14.Bb5
White takes a very risky approach, attempting to keep pieces on the board. Better might have been to admit that he has no advantage and play 14.Rh3 Nxe2 15.Qxe2 cxd4 16.Nxd4 Nxd4 17.cxd4 O-O 18.O-O-O Rc8+ with an equal position.
Black uses tactics to get his King out of the center. The fact that he is hitting the Rook on h1 and that moving the Knight to e4 hits the Queen is important, otherwise Black would lose after move played in the game.
15.Bxc6 can be answered by 15...Rc8 as there is no way to avoid giving the piece back. Any harassment of the Rook, such as 16.Bb7, Black can simply hit the Bishop with a move like 16...Rc7. If the Bishop flees, the Rook on h1 hangs. Also, if the Knight is attacked by the Rook, then Black plays ...Ne4 and the Queen cannot guard the Bishop.
15...Ne4 16.Qe2 Rc8 17.O-O-O cxd4
Obviously it makes far more sense for Black to open the c-file rather than close it with 17...c4.
Possibly better is 18.Nxd4 Nxd4 19.Rxd4, after which Black should reply with 19...f6, opening up the f-file for his other Rook. Black would have the initiative, but with proper defense, White can probably maintain the balance with careful play.
18...Rxc6 19.Nxd4 Rc4 20.Re3 Qc7
Yes, the Black Knight is strong and very annoying for White, but for now, it can be worked around. White must defend via a counter-attack, and should go after the Black King. After 21.g4! Rb8 (After 21...b5, White can play 22.Rxe4 and do as he did in the game as now he gets an extra pawn, which makes a big difference here) 22.g5 hxg5 23.h6! gxf4 and only now should White sacrifice the exchange and after 24.Rxe4! dxe4 25.Nb5 Qc5 26.h7+! Kh8 (White is winning after 26...Kxh7?? 27.Qh5 Kg8 28.Rh1 Kf8 29.Qh8+ Ke7 30.Qxb8 Qe3+ 31.Kb1 Qd3+ 32.Ka1 Qd7 33.Qh8 Qxb5 34.Rd1 Qe8 35.Qh4+ f6 36.exf6+ gxf6 37.Qh7+) 27.Nd6 and now Black is forced to take the draw via 27...Rxc3+ 28.bxc3 Qxc3+ 29.Kb1 (29.Qc2 Qa1+ 30.Kd2 Qd4+ 31.Kc1 is a perpetual) Qb4+ and now 30.Ka1 Qc3+, 30.Kc1 Qa3+, and 30.Kc2 f3 31.Nxf7+ Kxh7 32.Qh2+ Kg6 33.Nd6 Qa4+ all lead to perpetual check while 30.Qb2? Qxb2+ 31.Kxb2 e3 32.Rh1 Rf8 33.Kc2 f6 34.Kd3 fxe5 35.Ke4 b5! is better for Black since 36.Nxb5 is answered by 36...Rf7 and in the long run, the h-pawn is dead.
So we see that White has to play accurately to hold on to half of the point, but it is better than immediately sacrificing the exchange.
27.g5 doesn't work now. After 27...hxg5 28.h6, Black can simply respond with 28...bxc3 and his attack is faster.
27...Rfd8 28.g5 Rd4 29.b3 Kf8
With the Black Rook no longer on f8, Black can escape the g-file rather than take on g5 and not give White the option of trying to advance the h-pawn to tear open the position.
30.Kb1 a5 31.gxh6 gxh6 32.Nd6 a4 33.Qe3
After 33...Qc5 34.bxa4 Rd1+ 35.Kc2 Qxe3 36.Rxe3 Rf1, Black has no advantage. Also note that taking with the other Rook is wrong because Black wants his battery on the d-file to be lead with the Rook, not the Queen.
34.exd6 Qxd6 35.f5
Trying to pry open the Black King and find a perpetual, but it isn't there. Black can safely take the pawn.
35...exf5 36.Qe8+ Kg7 37.bxa4
After 37.Rg1+, both 37...Rg4 and 37...Kf6 38.Qh8+ Ke7 39.Re1+ Re4 are winning for Black.
Black must now keep two things in mind. The first is not to let his King get mated. The second is that he must keep at least one set of pieces on the board. If all the heavy pieces are traded off, the White a-pawn is out of reach.
Pretty much blocking all checks either directly, as in the a1-h8 diagonal, or indirectly, as in the g-file since the Black Queen covers g1, and 39.Qg2+ can be answered by 39...Kf6 and White has no checks. Black is willing to trade Queens, but the Rooks must remain on the board.
Black could probably still win by immediately trading Queens, but Black activates his Rook to the maximum before trading.
Or 40.Rc1 Qd3+ 41.Ka1 Qe3 intending 42...f4 is also winning for Black while 40.Qg2+ Kh7 is nothing for White.
White Resigned because after 41.Qxd3 Rxd3, his position is hopeless. The King is cut off from the third rank and the Black Rook can get behind the a-pawn by going at any point to the protected a3 square, and the King is going to go to f6 where it is save and pretty much makes it virtually impossible for White to win a pawn on the Kingside.
So we looked at the pros and cons of 4...c5 versus 4...Ne7, and the game showed the major advantages for Black in the latter line against 5.Bd2, and shows that 5.Bd2 is less effective against 4...Ne7 than 4...c5. This does not make 4...Ne7 better than 4...c5, and both are fully playable, but this article illustrates how various move orders as early as moves 4 to 6 can lead to vastly different options for both sides, and if you are going to play the Winawer from either side, you need to know these nuances and figure out for yourself which move order works best for you if you are Black, and if you are White, you have to understand the differences between 4...c5 and 4...Ne7 because either one can be played against you.
This concludes this edition of The French Connection. Til next time, good luck in all of your French games, Black or White.