Smerdon D. (2463) - Lukey S. (2247)

Queenstown op/Queenstown (6) 2009


An English player of master strength,Chris Baker,used to play this line all the time and as I used to meet him regularly around the English weekend circuit,I thought it would be a good idea to devise a decent response. I never had the chance to show what I prepared, so this is a good opportunity. Before one can combat the enemy successfully,one has to understand what he is trying to do. With the system under discussion, White gets relatively easy development,but the position that he reaches is not that flexible. It seems to me he depends on Black to play ...f7-f6 for most of his ideas. White then focusses on the e file and in particular the e5 square. Behind a piece lodged on e5,he may then start an attack. First let's see this idea in operation.

1. e4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. d4 c5 6. dxc5 Nc6 7. Bf4 Bxc5 8. Bd3 f6?!

I am really not keen on this move,although I am sure Black gets a decent position with it. I think 8...f6 plays into White's hands.

9. exf6 Nxf6

There has been plenty of excellent discussion about this and alternatives so far. I dont want to intrude on that.

10. Qe2 O-O 11. O-O-O!?

An option White rarely takes in the French.

11... Qa5 12. Kb1 a6 13. Ne5

Here we go! White has cleared the e5 square and gives himself attacking chances by so doing.

13... Nd4

Tactics arise favouring White after 13... Nxe5 14. Bxe5 b5? (14... Bd7 15. f4 b5 16. g4) 15. Bxf6 Rxf6 (15... gxf6 16. Qg4+ Kh8 17. Bxh7 Kxh7 (17... Ra7 18. Bg6) 18. Rd3) 16. Ne4!! dxe4 17. Qxe4 Rb8 18. Qxh7+ Kf7 19. Qh5+ g6 20. Qxc5

14. Qd2 b5 15. h4 b4

15... Nd7 16. Nxd7 Bxd7 17. Be3 b4 18. Ne2 Nxe2 19. Qxe2 Bxe3 20. Qxe3 Rf6 is reasonable for Black, although it is hard to see him winning. I think this points up another defect of the earlier ...f7-f6. White can often steer for exchanges thanks to the newly-opened lines and take a lot of the fun out of the game for Black.

16. Ne2 Nb5

16... Ne4!? 17. Bxe4 Nxe2 18. Qxe2 Rxf4 (18... b3 19. cxb3 Rxf4 20. Bxh7+ Kxh7 21. Qc2+ Kg8 22. Nd3) 19. Rxd5!

17. h5 Qb6 18. h6! g6 19. Bxg6

Crunch! This is possible thanks to the powerful Knight on e5

19... Ra7

19... hxg6 20. Qd3 Ra7 21. Qxg6+ Kh8 22. Nc6! Qxc6 23. Be5 looks rather horrid for Black.

20. Bg5 Na3+

Does nothing.

21. Ka1 Bd6 22. Bxf6 Rxf6 23. Bd3! Kh8 24. Qg5 Rxf2 25. Rhf1

Black's King is looking airy!

25... Re7 26. Ng4 Rxf1 27. Rxf1 Rb7 28. Bxh7! Qc7 29. Qg8#

Smerdon assessed his opponent rather well and conducted the attack with skill. Black was drawn away from sharper variation of the French into a line he probably only had an outline in his head about what to do and got blown away.

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Otchiyev A. (2225) - Pavlov S. (2443)

Kiev-ch/Kiev (3) 2009


There are many games like the Smerdon effort, so this led me to thinking whether Black could delay or even OMIT ...f7-f6 . I didn't see any worrying pawn breaks for White such as f2-f4 or c2-c4 on the horizon, just clumsy White pieces in the way. Moreover, Black's position is still very flexible and crucially, Black has not yet committed his King.

1. e4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. e5 Nfd7 4. d4 c5 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. dxc5 e6 7. Bf4 Bxc5 8. Bd3 h6!

So in the modern style of the French, I believe this to be a much better way of tackling the line. Black could equally play 8...a6 and follow up with ...h7-h6. Should White castle short, Black can easily launch a pawn-storm on the kingside.

8... a6 9. Qe2 h6 sees the alternative move-order in action; it doesn't make much difference. 10. h4 Qb6 11. Nd1 Qc7 12. O-O b5! Not only does this allow...Bb7 , it makes it far more difficult for White to contemplate c2-c4. 13. c3 (13. a4 is well met by 13... b4 Who is to say Black will castle long; he may well go short!) 13... Be7 14. h5 Bb7 15. b4 Nb6 16. a3 Nc4 17. Ne3 Van de Oudeweetering,A (2345)-Timman,J (2594)/Amsterdam 2006 Most accurate now appears to be 17... Bg5! 18. Nxg5 (18. Bxc4 dxc4 19. Nxg5 hxg5 20. Bg3 Nxe5 (20... O-O-O 21. a4 Rh6! 22. axb5 axb5 23. f4 Rdh8) 21. a4 f6) (18. Bg3 Bxe3 19. fxe3 O-O!) 18... hxg5 19. Bxg5 Qxe5 20. Nxc4 dxc4 21. Qxe5 Nxe5

9. Bg3 a6 10. O-O

10. Qe2 b5 still leaves White with a dilemma about his King. If he goes long,Black's attack is well-advanced. Meanwhile if he goes short, he risks something similar to the game.

10... b5 11. Re1 Bb7 12. Ne2 g5!

Quite so! This is the type of thing I was looking forward to playing against Baker. Of course this type of idea is common in the French, but whilst not original here, it is certainly not very well documented in the thoretical manuals. It is the perception that Black can play successfully without ...f7-f6 that is important.

13. c3 h5 14. h4 g4

I would not want to be in White's shoes now.

15. Nfd4

Stefan Bucker suggested that 15. Ng5 was a little better for White. I am not sure I believe that, as after 15... Ncxe5! 16. Bc2 (16. Nd4 Qf6) (16. Nf4 Qf6 17. Bc2 O-O-O 18. a4 b4) 16... Qf6! Black is in good shape.

15... Ncxe5 16. Nf4 Qf6 17. Qe2 Bd6

Black is a pawn up,well developed, has a safe King and is nicely centralized. White is more or less forced to play for tricks. I am not sure what more one could want.

18. Bc2 Nf3+!?

18... Nc4! is most effective: 19. Nd3 (19. Bf5 O-O-O! 20. b3 Nce5) 19... Bxg3 20. fxg3 O-O! 21. Nf4 Qh6 22. Bg6!? Nf6!

18... Rc8

or 18... O-O-O were also decent possibilities. Black makes the fundamental mistake of trying to decide a strategically won position in a tactical manner.

19. gxf3 Bxf4 20. Bxf4 Qxf4 21. Nxe6!

It had to come to this. White makes a spirited try to save the game.

21... fxe6

Why not?

22. Qxe6+ Kd8 23. Bf5 Qc7

23... Bc8! is a better defence under the circumstances.

24. Qf7 Kc8 25. Re7?

If White had found 25. Bxd7+ Qxd7 26. Re7 Qc6 27. Rae1 he could have turned the whole game around.

25... Bc6! 26. Rd1 Rd8

Normal service has just been resumed.

27. Rxd5 Bxd5 28. Qxd5 Ra7 29. Re6 Kb8 30. Rd6 gxf3 31. Be4 Qc4 32. Qf5 Rg8+ 33. Kh2 Qc5

To summarize Black's approach 1) Black omits ...f7-f6 2) He tries to demonstrate the White piece set-up is inflxible, lacking pawn breaks to bring his pieces to life. 3) With ...a7-a6 and ...h7-h6 Black does not commit himself to anything, but he would very much like to start a kingside attack, using ...h7-h6 as the starting point. But he can still castle short. I'm not a fan of this inelastic line for White.

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