Monday, January 19, 2009

Odds and Ends

A new knight has joined the Knights Errant! Welcome to Retarded Knight. He plans to go all medieval on his tactics with seven circles through CT-ART, and microdrills using Troyis and Fritz Attack Trainer. Be sure to stop by and say hello.   :)

In my fourth coaching session we discussed a couple recent games. I explained one of my moves (4...Qe6+ leading to the diagram below) against a weaker opponent, "It's a trap... if she plays 5.Be2 or 5.Ne2 I get to double her pawns."

"And if she plays Qe2?"

"5.Qe2 Qxe2 and with the queens off her extra tempi don't mean much. Black should be able to draw. It's a line recommended by Emms."

"And that's what you're aiming for, a drawish position two tempi down, against a player rated 700 points less than you?"

I'm taking up the French Defense. What I like about the French is, it's a fighting defense (unlike the Scandinavian or Caro-Kann) and the theory can be summed up in one book (unlike the Sicilian). This should help me more consistently put away lower-rated players.

I was seduced by Moskalenko's book, "The Flexible French". First, the lines are very memorable because he gives them creative names and talks about the history behind them. Second, he plays these lines frequently so he knows what he's talking aboout. Third, his explanations are fantastic. This weekend I played through most of his book--it's that gripping.

I'll finish with my first game in the French Defense. Again, I played for a trap. I need to get myself out of this mindset and play more solid moves:



chesstiger said...

Gosh, that your opponent fell for that simple trap, 3. Nf3 and black waste a move.

Your teacher is right. Why on earth would one play differently against weaker then against stronger?

Wahrheit said...

Another French Defender?! I'm going to have to write a post.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Wait, the French is a fighting defense compared to the Caro? Is it that Bishop being trapped behind your e pawn that gives it the extra zing, or the perfect symmetry when white decides to go with the exchange French?


likesforests said...

chesstiger - It looks even worse when I set such traps against 2000 rated opponents. I'm glad my coach is bringing the silliness in my games to my attention.

Wahrheit - Yep! chesstiger & tempo also inspired my selection.

Blue Devil Knight - lol. Well, the 'exchange' is still a thorn, both in the French & Semi-Slav, when I play a much lower-rated opponent.

I think I still prefer that to the position after ...Qe6. I mean, not only am I two tempi down, but my queen is blocking my e-pawn. And Emms calls that 'equality'. Note: he only has 2 recorded games in the Scandinavian. ;)

I wonder if the only solution is to eventually have two defenses, one that is solid and another that always gives winning chances.

My coach plays the French and the Sicilian. I know many masters trot out the Modern in must-win games.

Blue Devil Knight said...

LOL on the Qe6. Your coach sounds funny.

I showed Coach B my line against the French. He said, "What kind of corn bread move is this?"

Aziridine said...

Is it just me, or is the French the most despised response to 1.e4?
Of course the French is a fighting defence compared to the Caro. Just about anything is! The Caro's one of the most solid defences to 1.e4 (just behind the Petroff and Berlin). The French is anything but solid - or at least it is when it's played the way it ought to be played. Not moving the bishop on c8 gives Black time to knock down White's centre! I think many White players hate the French because they don't realize this. I like to think of the French as just an accelerated Sicilian. Why spend the whole game aiming for ...d5 when you can play it on the 2nd move?
And sure, the French Exchange is drawish if both sides want it to be. But there are plenty of similar lines in the Caro. In fact it's harder for Black to avoid a draw in the 4...Bf5 Caro than in the French Exchange.
Likesforests, good luck with the French! You'll need it for the first few games :P

likesforests said...

Aziridine, thanks. I'm prepared for a few dozen painful games. ;)

likesforests said...

When I say the ...Qa5 Scandinavian leads to a draw with reasonable play by both sides, I have many examples. By delaying ...Nf6 or accelerating ...Qc7 Black can avoid the doubling of his pawns which gives him a tiny edge in the middlegame, but only drawing chances in the endgame. But those same moves allow an opponent who knows theory to completely destroy his position and win by force. I want to put away lower-rated players without resorting to "hope chess".

GM Eric Prie, who frequently plays the defense, says it's fine *as long as* you're playing for a draw. He even has a special word reserved for those knight-delayers who don't know the correct way to play the defense.

Wahrheit said...

Just to clarify my previous brief and mysterious comment--I've been reading James Stripes Chess Skills blog regularly and he's quite a French advocate. And now, Likesforests.

I tried out the French for a few months as a C-player about 25 years ago, and suffered quite a bit...I have always, and still, prefer positions with some open lines in the center.

I've actually experimented with the Caro-Kann in blitz recently, with pretty good results, even though I stayed away from it for 25 years, as well.

Aziridine said...

I'll definitely agree that the French is hard to handle. You need to have a thick skin to play it - when Black loses it's usually pretty disgusting :) (Which is why it's doubly satisfying when you win with it.)
And I mean no disrespect to Caro players - when I say it's solid I mean it in a positive way.

Chessaholic said...

I don't have much experience with the French so I'll leave qualified commenting to the rest of the bunch :) hmm interesting thought though from Aziridine saying he sees the French as an accelerated Sicilian... food for thought.

fun game there, you took the poor bastard apart.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I don't see how keeping your bishop trapped makes it a more fighting defense than the CK. It's the same number of pawn moves, but black has activity for both of his Bishops. In the French how many more pawn moves before that Bishop is doing anything?

I have never seriously played the French, but I know that Caro games can be very fighting though it depends to some degree on what white wants to do. The exchange Caro is less drawish than the exchange French (there is a big pawn structure asymmetry in the caro exchange).

Looking at my database of 3 million games (percent white wins, draws, black wins):
Caro: 37.8/32/30.2
French: 38.7/30/31.3

While the French fares better, there is not a statistical difference between the two openings (p value 0.69).

Of course such datbases of great players are essentially worthless at my level. The Caro becomes an unbalanced fight with lots of attacking maneuvers.

I suppose if someone has the patience to wait for their Bishop to develop and such, the big advantage of the French is you don't spend two moves playing c5. But to say it is more fighting, especially at club level, seems odd. Of course you can make it fighting or really quiet, just as you can with the French.

And the advance variation of the French seems even worse for black given the bishop hanging out there in jail with noplace to go.

Not to overstate that. b6 or b5 are perfectly legit ways to free that Bishop, and you can trade her fairly easily with Ba6, so I don't want to make it sound like I think it is death. SuperGMs play it so it can't be bad. Just like the Caro.

The Scandy I did try, and it was drawish, even at my level. That is saying a lot.

likesforests said...

"The Scandy I did try, and it was drawish, even at my level. That is saying a lot."

Here's what my 4 million game DB says for Class B to Expert:

Qxd5 Scandinavian: +39%, =32%, -29%
French: +38%, =31%, -31%
Caro-Kann: +38%, =30%, -30%

For amateurs, the Scandinavian wins more often than the French or CK! This is at least in part because amateurs have some crazy notion that it's a bad opening and they should be able to break it down over-the-board and win. Usually masters give it more credit and respect that it's good for a draw (if played correctly, obviously!).

My main problem is when facing much lower-rated players who would be very happy to score a draw. Queens off, 2 tempi down, playing for a win is a long and draining effort!

likesforests said...

My early efforts with the French are going well. I've been practicing with lower-rated opponents as that's how it will fit in my repertoire to start. In all games I've gotten good fighting chances from the outset. Mostly they play the Exchange or Advance.

In the Exchange, it seems like as long as I avoid symmetrical knights I get good chances of outplaying them, and sometimes they let me seize control of the open e-file for much of the game.

In the Advance, my opponents get real chances to go at my king, but often they pin my c6-knight or hang a center or b-pawn, all good for Black. :)

Blue Devil Knight said...

If you like it that is as important as whether it is good.

In my hands the Scandy was a drawing weapon. I shouldn't have brought up databases as they are pretty much inapplicable to my own games. I have a ridiculously low draw percentage, for instance, with the Caro.

Rolling Pawns said...

I always felt uncomfortable playing against French, these c5, Qb6, f6, etc., so I played Exchange which I don't like. I decided to get better in it and started to play Tarrasch.
By the way, you will have to learn it, if you will want to play French against same/higher rated opponents. Maybe if I'll get good at it as White I'll try French as Black, though for now it's not my style. But I find the idea playing the opening "with both hands" quite interesting, I think it helps you understand it better.

likesforests said...

RollingPawn, good point. I don't open e4 regularly, but the next time I face an opponent who I know always plays the French I will give e4 a shot. I think I would pick the Tarrasch, too. The advance and exchange don't really seem to present Black with any trouble and 3.Nc3 is a can of worms (theory).

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Aziridine said...

Let me get one thing straight: I'm not saying the French is better than the Caro. I'm saying that in general the French leads to sharper, more unbalanced positions than the Caro. Hence "fighting". In the main line 4...Bf5 Caro, Black spends 10-15 moves developing all his pieces behind his pawns on c6 and e6 before deciding how to break in the centre. In other words Black concedes a slight edge in space for a solid, well-coordinated position. None of that in the French - it's ...c5 and ...f6 as soon as you can get them in and White already has to figure out how to maintain his pawns on d4 and e5. In spirit, the French is a much more confrontational defence because Black's first priority is to undermine White's centre.
The exchange French is not much more drawish than the exchange Caro. You don't see castling on opposite sides very much in the exchange Caro, for example.
In the Advance, Black's counterplay against White's centre more than compensates for the bad bishop. It's a similar tradeoff to the one that occurs in lines like the Sveshnikov Sicilian or the ...e5 Najdorf. As Suba says, bad bishops defend good pawns...