What's new in the French Defence
Welcome to the July Update.
Best Game Scandal?
The brilliant looking game Todorovic - Kraai won June's Game of the Month competition. But doubt was cast on its soundness by the following email from Bill Conrad:
As a Gold member, I get to read all the websites on Chesspublishing.com. I make sure I read your French webpages regularly, and when I can, I try to understand the analysis... :) I submitted two games you've published (thank you!), particularly Kichinski-Conrad (Alapin C00) and Petranovich-Conrad (Advance/Kupreichik C02).
Anyway, I wanted to ask you about Todorovic-Kraai, in which you said 20.Qa4 is a new and stunning move. Most of your analysis, of course, is correct, but there is one critical point where Fritz seems to disagree, and that is after
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.c3 c5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.0-0 Bd6 11.Nf3 Qc7 12.Bg5 0-0 13.Bh4 Nh5 14.Qc2 h6 15.Bg6 Rxf3 16.gxf3 Bxh2+ 17.Kh1 Nf4 18.Ng3 Qb6 19.Rad1 Nxd4 20.Qa4
20...Nxg6 (20...Bd7 was played in the game) 21.Qe8+ Kh7 22.Nh5 Nf5 23.Nf6+ gxf6 24.Bxf6
the analysis engine suggests 24...Nd6! instead of 24...Ng7, but both seem to put the brakes on White's attack. Both ! hit the queen and force it to move before White can concentrate on the g6-knight by playing Rg1. At this moment, White is down a rook for three minor pieces and a pawn, so Black just needs to break the attack for a move or two to buy time to consolidate, and this might just do the trick. I don't understand where Black is "collapsing" on the g-file after 24...Ng7 because after the recommended 25.Rg1, White is simply running out of pieces. White's queen hangs, and Black doesn't seem to be getting mated by the remaining White forces. Because I'm a simple mediocre US Class B player, I didn't trust my own opinion, so I compared the exact position on the Chesspublishing.com website board after 24.Bxf6 (before either 24...Nd6 or 24...Ng7) to the position on the board in Fritz/ChessBase, until they were identical. After either 24...Nd6 or 24...Ng7, Fritz considered the position simply lost for White.
Anyway, if Black can get away with 24...Nd6 (or ...Ng7), then the entire line with 20...Ng6 may be good, in which case 20.Qa4 may not be such hot stuff after all.
What am I missing?
Thanks as always for the wonderful French website!
First of all thanks to Bill for the friendly email :-) If anyone else wants to see their games analysed on ChessPub just send me an email.
Regarding the analysis, before I could even set up the position on the computer I got another email from Tony Kosten who writes:
I just looked at the Todorovic game and instead of 24 Bxf6??, 24 Qf7+ Ng7 25 Rg1 wins on the spot - was this a typing error?
Yes, 24.Bxf6 deserves as many question marks as you wish. I honestly didn't intend to sacrifice the queen :-) Instead by playing 24.Qf7+ Ng7 25.Rg1! Bxg1 26.Bxf6 [or 26.Rxg1] White wins at once as he has cut out the defence along the second rank after 25.Bxf6? Qc7.
Thanks to Bill and Tony for clarifying matters as otherwise the analysis to this game would have confused a lot of people!
This wasn't the end of the story as David Vigorito- who I think has just gained the IM title for which congratulations!!- writes:
«I saw that a Todorovic game was up for "best game" voting. I witnessed this game and Todo was really just following the analysis in Informant 86, which had just come out. Kraai told me Todo knew the analysis, but took a lot of time for the game because he was double checking it.» David Vigorito
Of course there is another good reason to play slowly and this is not to alert your opponent to the fact that you have a surprise weapon prepared. The combination in the Todorovic game remains beautiful, though in a sense neither player was playing chess (see the changed Todorovic - Kraai here).
I recall Korchnoi complaining when his loss in the Dragon to Karpov in 1974 won the best game prize in Informator, as according to Korchnoi it had all been prepared at home by Karpov's team of helpers. Nevertheless, a succession of sacrifices still makes a striking impression, whether or not it has been improvised during the game itself.
Anyway let's have at look at what has been happening in the French over the last month or so.
It's good to see Alexander Morozevich back in top form as his games are always highly entertaining and inventive. At Biel he crushed the French Defence a couple of times as White. I intend to look at those games in the next update. For now, here is a game he played as Black in his best counterattacking style. Theoretically speaking it is also of interest as Morozevich returns to a variation in which he lost a game to Shirov- you can find this earlier game on ChessPub. Enjoy Lutz - Morozevich.
Any idea that achieves success at elite level is subjected to intense scrutiny. Therefore is no wonder that novelties often rapidly lose their lustre. This month the Qb8!! move I praised in recent updates is roughly handled. However, the main battle to decide its value clearly lies ahead. Check out Bacrot - Pelletier.
Winawer Mainline 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Bd3 Nbc6
I decided to give this a go for the first time as Black at the recent British Championship. Unfortunately for me my opponent Scottish GM Rowson was in rampant form and won a very attractive attacking game. The variation he chose is rather rarely encountered, but Black clearly has to be well prepared. Check out Rowson - McDonald.
Winawer Poisoned Pawn 7.Qg4 Qc7
Black can still achieve some spectacular wins in this variation, but he needs to escape from the well established mainlines, which go umpteen moves deep, and make White think for himself. In this month's game Neelotpal, an Indian IM who once scored a famous win over Nigel Short in the Winawer, overwhelms his opponent in a side variation. Have a look at Swathi - Neelotpal.
One of the key positions in the theory of this line is reached after 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.exd5 exd5 6.Bb5+ Bd7 7.Bxd7+ Nbxd7 8.0-0 Be7 9.dxc5 Nxc5
The emphasis is on positional manoeuvring as White tries to exploit the weakness on d5 whilst Black looks for compensating activity. Players such as Mikhail Gurevich have championed the cause of Black, but this month solidity comes out on top thanks to some Grandmasterly technique. Have a look at Rozentalis - Ross.
As fans of the Tarrasch will be aware, a popular and critical line runs 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ne2 cxd4 8.cxd4 f6 9.exf6 Nxf6 10.Nf3 Bd6 11.0-0 Qc7 12.Bg5 0-0 13.Bh4 Nh5 14.Qc2 h6 15.Bh7+ Kh8 16.Bg6 Rxf3
Now 17.gxf3 is the crazy mainline, but White has also tried to play it positionally with 17.Bxh5.
I have selected two games with this sideline. In the first White plays carelessly and loses control, after which Black scores a thematic win. In the second game it is Black who suffers after some precise play by GM Kotronias. Check out Sebag - Berg and Kotronias - Thomas.
This is a very attractive way to avoid opening theory- especially if you have just been blown away in a mainline French. Therefore after being crushed by Rowson in the Winawer game given above at the British Championship I decided I needed to curl up like a tortoise for at least one round. I checked out some games on my database to get a feel for the Fort Knox lines again but to my dismay I came across a game that is VERY frightening for Black. It is a few years old, but I don't know of any antidote to White's opening system. Please email me with any suggestions you have, after looking at Filipek - McMichael.
In the British itself GM Stuart Conquest played against me what has become the mainline of the Fort Knox, namely 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7 5.Nf3 Bc6 6.Bd3 Nd7 7.0-0 Ngf6 8.Ned2!?
The knight heads for e5 via c4- or at least that is the general scheme. Despite my attempt to avoid theory I still ended up facing a novelty on the 14th move. However, as you will see I could probably have improved earlier on. Check out Conquest - McDonald.
Also in the Fort Knox mainline the former US Champion Nick De Firmian has tested a different method of attack for White. It all ends in tears when he overpresses, but this is another variation for Black to worry about. Here is De Firmian-Holst.
Well that's it for now. With so much chess being played over the summer I hope to have enough material to get the next update to you fairly soon. Meanwhile good luck with your chess!