Friday, March 12, 2010

The French can be so difficult

Hi Pilgrims,

No postings for a while but I, and she who must occasionally be obeyed, have been busy first setting up accommodation in Melbourne after the fires (see previous post) and then starting the rebuilding of our house in Kinglake, once the insurance and relief funds kicked in. Without the generosity of family and friends, the Australian community, the government and various businesses, we would not have made it. When the story is finally written about ‘Black Saturday’, as the day of the killer-fires has become known, the amazingly positive community response will be a prominent feature.

I will soon(ish) place all my photographs of the fire and aftermath, plus other photos, on Facebook and/or Google Picassa, organised in albums. It is a good way to safeguard them should another disaster strike. I have lost all my photographs and those of my parents and relatives in the fires and I do not want to lose what I am now accumulating.

MeanwhiIe, I have been playing chess, at my usual middling standard, with the occasional good game thrown in as a surprise. I have also been trying to recreate my library of books with affordable second-hand editions. Progress has been made. I also regularly contribute a column of thoughts, called ‘Ramblings’, on the CCLA website at http:

The following game is against one of my correspondence chess club-mates, Mark Bruere. We have played often and results have been about even. I have previously posted a game against Mark which was as lively as the one below.
This time we play the French Variation, and I must admit I was not looking forward to it because I myself play the French.

George Eraclides V Mark Bruere

Correspondence Chess League of Australia (CCLA)

Tournament 4/2777 2008-2009

French Defence – Tarrasch Variation

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nd2 Nf6

I used to play this line until a few severe defeats made me give it up. White always has the easier game and Black struggles to find any counter-play.

4. e5 Nfd7
5. Bd3 c5
6. c3 Nc6
7. Ne2 cxd4
8. cxd4 Nb6

Unusual. More normal is ...Qb6 or ...f6; if 8...Nb4 9. Bb1 Be7 10. a3 Qa5?! White just develops normally with castling, Nc3, Bd2, f4 etc... and eventually Black has wasted time as he has to relocate the Knight and the Queen while White uncoils; if he does not and castles instead, then he runs the risk of a Bxh7+ winning the black Queen after White allows Qxa1. Nonetheless, this line is worth a try as Black if you can prepare it for a fast paced cross-board game such as lightning. So far we are playing by the book.

9. a3 a5
10. b3

Tal has played this line so I hoped for a lively game. White follows up with Bb2 securing the pawn centre and promising trouble should Black castle King-side, or heaven forbid, play f6.

10... Bd7
11. Bb2

Another option was 11. 0-0 Rc8 12. Bb2 Be7 13. f4

11... h6

Mark smells a future rat and he is right. He needs to stop any White incursion by the Knights into his King-side, now that they are not needed to defend the central Pawns. However, his own Pawns become weak later, so perhaps Be7 or Rc8 may have been better. Also interesting is f5!? We have now left the secure comforts of the book-lines.

12. O-O Na7

Black is very cramped and underdeveloped. He must gain some traction on the Queen-side while leaving his King in the centre, fearful of any attack should he castle King-side. White develops appropriately, maintaining a restrictive strategy while his opponent walks a tightrope, seeking exchanges and space. Perhaps Be7 or Rc8 first were better. White’s next move maintains the clamp.

13. Nc3 Bc6

If ...Nc6, not only has he wasted time but the simple 14.Nb5 or Nf3 are good.

14. Rc1 Qd7
15. Qe2

Still restricting Black.

15... Nbc8

On principle this cannot be good. True, he forces White to play a4 and gets an outpost on b4 but positionally ‘it don’t look good, mate’.

16. a4 Rb8

Forcing b5 is his only chance

17. Nb5 Bb4

If Bxb5 then axb5 leaves him cramped and weak on the c-file.

18. Nxa7 Nxa7

Black has had his wish: a few exchanges and some space to wriggle in. As they say, be careful what you wish for – it may come true, in a form you do not like.

19. f4 g6

He wants to stop any f5 but his Pawns and black squares eventually become weak, especially after his later 21st move. The familiar tactic of Bxg6 hovers in the air and Black must be ever watchful. As this game shows, it is hard to play the Nf6 variation, even at correspondence club level.

20. Rc2

White plays both sides of the board because the open c-file is so tempting. This alternating strategy of attacking different weaknesses was a favourite strategy of the great Nimzovich, discussed in his ‘The Praxis of My System’, a book full of amazing games.

20... Ke7

The best option and a typically French ‘make do’ idea, intending to connect his Rooks if needed.

21. Rfc1 h5

This is one Pawn move too many. Not only are the black squares weakened but the pawns themselves become targets. White, consistent with his alternating strategy, redirects his attention back to the King-side.

22. Nf3 Rhc8

Black thinks he can ride out the storm developing on his King-side by countering on the Queen-side. He really has no choice given the strategy he has pursued.

23. Ng5 b5
24. g4!? hxg4

He could have tried 24...bxa4 25. bxa4 Bxa4 (best) 26. Rxc8 Rxc8 (best) with:
(A) 27. Rxc8 Nxc8 (Qxc8 is similar) 28. gxh5 gxh5 29 Qxh5 with the threat of Qh4 among other things; White has the better chances.
(B) 27. gxh5 Rxc1 28. Bxc1 Qc6 29. Be3 Qc3 with the following fun possibility of 30. hxg6 Qe1+?? 31. Qxe1 Bxe1 32. g7! Winning.

At any rate, a complicated position would have resulted with only a slight edge for White in the possibilities to come. Black may have thought that because the White King will also be exposed should I sacrifice on the King-side, that I would not dare to open the position with a sacrifice, but he has overlooked something.

25. Qxg4 bxa4
26. Nxf7! Kxf7!?

If he does not take then White plays Qg5+ and while Black chomps his way through irrelevant material on the Queen-side his King gets devoured, for instance: 26...axb3 27. Qg5+ Kxf7 28. Bxg6+ Kf8 (necessary) 29. Qf6+ Kg8 30. Rg2! Bf8 (what else?) 31. Bf7+ Kh7 32. Qg6+ Kh8 33. Qg8++; in this line if 27...Ke8 28. Bxg6 and now (A) 28...bxc2 29. Nh6+ Kf8 30. Qf6+ (B) 28...Kf8 29. Qf6! Ke8 30 Nd6++.

27. Qxg6+

This is the best way although Bxg6+ also wins.

27... Kf8

Necessary. If 27...Ke7 28. Qf6+ Ke8 29. Bg6+.

28. Rg2!

This is the move I think Black missed. As Fischer liked to say, it’s a ‘crusher’.

28... Qf7
29. Qh6+ Resigns

Wherever the King goes his Queen is lost and Black does not have enough pieces or positional compensation. It is the quiet moves like Rg2 that you miss in complicated positions, but Mark was under pressure from the start in this variation.

When playing against the French-Tarrasch Variation I now play 3. c5 or 3. Be7 as recommended in the latest book on the French by Watson (John Watson, ‘Play the French’ 3rd Edition, 2003). If you play the French, you cannot afford to be without copies of all the editions of this book, as he investigates different lines in each edition.

In the same correspondence chess tournament I lost the other game to Mark so our record of results continues its even trajectory.

Until the next posting, may all your games be happy ones.


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