Thursday, April 10, 2008

Morphy plays the French

Black to play and win

I was going to write about King's Head today but, aside from the fact I haven't quite got around to it yet, I thought we really ought to do something in honour of Martin's talk on the Advance French for the library players last night. It was a fine event enjoyed by all with Martin explaining the strategic themes of the opening while demonstrating some entertaining games by such illustrious names as Kasparov, Tal and others.

At one stage Martin mentioned a line where White plays an early f2-f4 pawn advance to the support his centre and pointed out that Black can get a knight to f5 in response and can be very happy. As it happens it was precisely this line that occurred the only time Paul Morphy played the French defence. The American was evidently extremely cheerful and won in short order. One wonders, incidentally, quite what Paul Morphy expected of his chess openings if he thought that a win with Black in just 14 moves wasn't worth repeating but that's another matter.

Aside from the entertaining finish, the position above is just after White's 11th so it's Black to play and force resignation in just four more moves, I think in many ways the Morphy game demonstrates an ideal model for Black when White pushes his e-pawn on move three. Black's pieces come easily to the squares he wants them to be on - knights and queen hitting d4, bishop on d7 stopping any possibility of a check from b5, rook to the c-file - and when White responds weakly his game collapses.

Certainly White won't often be so obliging but when you're learning an opening it's always worth opening what it is you're aiming for. As Neil McDonald says, in Starting Out: The Dutch Defence,

"A good way to improve your feel for an opening is to play through so-called model or textbook games. In these games a well-informed player uses the laws of positional chess to outplay an opponent who puts up little resistance.

There are seldom such one-sided encounters between modern grandmasters: a strong player will do all he can to muddy the waters with complications if he sees that the logical course of the game will lead to his defeat.

The games of yesteryear are a very fruitful field for model games ...

Don't neglect to study the games of the past!"


ejh said...

Don't neglect to study the games of the past

What an odd phrase. It reads like a translation into English.

Mike G said...

I must admit I'm not great at remembering opening theory but my impression is that although there are fairly common lines in the Tarrasch and Classical where white plays f4, it tends not to be played so much in the Advance.

But in a Plaskett type coincidence, I'm sure somebody played it against me in the last few weeks (although I can't find the gamescore) and now it turns up here. What are the chances of that?

Mike G.

ejh said...

I think in these lines Black's usually gone ...Nf6 and then (e5) ...Nfd7 which means White's got a little more time to try and consolidate his space advantage before the pawn chain comes under serious attack. Also, of course, on d7 then knight is at least four moves away from reaching f5.

There's a certain simplicity in the French which appeals to me. Play ...e6 and ...d5 to try and make White adavance, and when he does, attack the chain he forms. It's a comprehensible plan.