Black Jet in the Steinitz French

By Michael Goeller, with annotations by FM Steve Stoyko

FM Steve Stoyko annotated the following game from the recent World Amateur Team Championship in Parsippany, New Jersey. It features an interesting idea against the popular Steinitz Variation in the French Defense, where Black plays a sort of "mirror Benko Gambit" -- or "Black Jet" as GM Victor Moskalenko likes to call it -- challenging White's center on all fronts by advancing with ...h6 and ….g5 (see diagram). Steve came up with the idea on his own and had tried it a number of times in blitz games on ICC, unaware that it had been played once before back in 2005 at the HB Global Chess Challenge. Steve's success in the current game suggests that it is definitely worth a look.

This game was critical in helping Steve's team, "Knightmare III," to win their Round 5 match and they went on to play for the championship against the only other team with a 5-0 record going into the final round, "Princeton A." In that final match, Steve drew his own final game against a 2500-player, but the team lost and had to settle for "Best New Jersey Team."

Kevin Mo (2375) - Steve Stoyko (2289) [C11]

World Amateur Teams/Parsippany, NJ USA (5) 2013

Notes by FM Steve Stoyko

1. e4 e6

This game was played in round 5 of the World Amateur Teams. Both teams were at 4-0 and the winner would play for the title in the next game. Board one for the opponents was Kevin Mo, 2375. The match-ups were interesting on the other boards - they had a 2250 player against my rising star student Praveen, we had 50 - 100 points on the bottom 2 boards. I was not sure whether to play for a draw or not. I thought I could watch the other boards and change gears if I had to. So I played my trusted French Defense, which allows safe or crazy play, mostly dictated by Black.


2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7

I beat Beliavsky in 1990 with 4... Ne4 in a game 30 in Lvov, Ukraine, but had mixed results with it and don't play it any more.


5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3

White's last terrible-looking move was more or less forced to met the tactical threat of cxd4, Ndxe5, followed by Qh4+ and Qxd4 -- for instance:

7. a3? cxd4 8. Nxd4 Ndxe5! 9. Bb5 (9. fxe5 Qh4+ 10. g3 Qxd4) (9. Be3 Nxd4 10. Qxd4 Nc6) 9... Bd7 10. Be3 Nxd4 11. Bxd4 Nc6 12. O-O Rc8 13. Kh1 a6 14. Be2 Nxd4 15. Qxd4 Qf6 0-1 Jacobi,W-Bischof,D/Dortmund open 1987 (49)

Now for a long digression on the Steinitz.


I started playing the French MacCutcheon a number of years ago inspired by the games of Varuz Akobian. He was very successful with it, beating Shabalov, Nakamura, and others in top events. Then he had some setbacks in the Steinitz and abandoned 3...Nf6 for good, playing the Fort Knox or Rubinstein Variations. These are against my theory of the center so I did not follow him any more. He is young and will eventually learn!


All the current theory made things look bleak for Black. Black has 2 main ideas - exchange on d4 and then attack d4 with pieces, exchanging the pieces, which will simplify into hopefully a draw. This was the method employed by Dreev and Bareev, as well as Andersson. They drew quite comfortably against top GMs. But Kasparov put a hurt on them, as well as Nakamura who crushed Akobian in the US Championships. Then came along a few developments. First was "How to Play Against 1. e4" by McDonald. He discusses the theory behind the Steinitz and the tension on d4 very well. He advocated the waiting move 7...Be7. The other lines with the immediate cxd4 seemed to be a draw at best no matter how Black continued - either trade Queens and get a bad endgame or don't trade and get mated on the King side! Besides, they are against my theory of maintaining the duo at all costs.


So I was in a quandary until I ran across a Korchnoi game where he played the mysterious 7...Rb8!? against Landa in Reggio Emilia 2007/2008. The annotations were poor, implying Korchnoi was just fooling around. When the greatest French player of all time (sorry Wolfgang) plays a move like this there is a lot behind it - he has played against the Steinitz a million times and now at the end of his career he plays this move for the first time? Not a joke - he no longer fears giving up secrets since he is no longer a contender. And he is a crusader for the French. I had to figure out why he played this move.


I saw it as a super high class waiting move. He agrees with me about the exchange on d4, as does McDonald, and he is finding a more constructive move than 7...Be7. This must mean that the White position lacks sharpness - there are no immediate threats. But what does 7...Rb8 do? Well, 7...a6 (the main alternative to the exchanging lines) will eventually lose a tempo since black plays b5, Qb6, b4, a5, and Ba6. This maneuver is almost equal but White still has chances on the King side. The expansion on the Queen side is nice if White does 0-0-0, but not really a threat if 0-0. But 7...Rb8 saves a tempo since Black does not need ...a6 - he can play ...b5 without further prep - then comes Qb6 and Ba6. So I started thinking - many years ago in a Kenilworth lecture on the French I mentioned the possibility of b6 with Ba6 ideas. This was played against me many years ago by Gene Shapiro in a Westfield Club Championship game. It is ok but a little slow. I won that game despite the B situation because White just has too much center control and space. And Gene's approach is faster than all this b5-b4-Ba6 stuff! So I started to think deeply about the essential nature of the problem: don't exchange on d4; instead, make a waiting move that is constructive. From my flirtations with the Benko I came up with 7...h6! as a sort of mirror Benko. Since White has no threats Black intends to attack the center some more with g5!. I experimented with the immediate g7-g5 also, but Ng5 seems to be better for White. I played this many times in blitz on ICC winning most of the games (or having a winning position and losing on time!). Most of my opponents played the simple and apparently best natural move - Qd2.


So let us now follow the game!


7... h6!?

a) 7... Rb8!? was Korchnoi's move. In his notes from the tournament book, Mihail Marin writes: "Charateristically for him, Korchnoi takes the first chance to deviate from well-trodden paths -- there is a huge mass of theory available after 7...a6. The game move pursues the same basic aim (to support the advance of the b7-pawn, although in this case the additional move ...Qa5 will be needed), but leaves the a6-square available for the generally passive c8-bishop" (25). 8. Be2!? (8. Qd2 Qa5 9. a3 b5) 8... cxd4 9. Nxd4 Bc5 10. Qd2 O-O 11. Rd1 Qh4+ 12. Bf2 Qe7 13. O-O Nb6 14. Ncb5 Bd7 15. Qe3 Nxd4 16. Nxd4 Rbc8 17. Qh3 f5= 1/2-1/2 Konstantin Landa (2678)-Viktor Korchnoi (2611)/Reggio Emilia ITA 2007 (34).


b) 7... a6 8. Ne2!? (8. Qd2 b5 is the main line) 8... Qb6! 9. Qc1 g5!? is discussed by Moskalenko in "The Flexible French": 10. c3 (10. fxg5 cxd4 11. Nexd4 Ncxe5) 10... cxd4 (10... g4!? 11. Nd2 f6 Moskalenko) 11. cxd4 Bb4+ 12. Kf2 f6 13. g3 Rf8 (13... g4 14. Nh4 fxe5 15. fxe5 (15. dxe5 Bc5) 15... Ndxe5! 16. dxe5 d4) 14. Kg2 g4 15. Nh4 Rg8?! (15... fxe5 16. fxe5 Be7) 16. h3! h5 17. hxg4 hxg4 18. Nc3 fxe5 19. fxe5 Ncxe5 20. dxe5 d4 21. Na4 Qa5 22. Qc4 Nxe5 23. Qxd4 1-0 Topalov,V (2783) -Morozevich,A (2741)/Morelia/Linares 2007 (48).


c) 7... g5? is premature due to 8. Nxg5! (8. fxg5 cxd4 9. Bxd4 Bg7 10. Bb5 O-O) 8... cxd4 9. Nxe6!! (9. Qh5 is also strong) 9... fxe6 10. Qh5+ Ke7 11. Bf2 Bg7 12. Bh4+ Nf6 13. exf6+ Bxf6 14. Bxf6+ Kxf6 15. Qg5+ (15. Nb5! a6 16. Nxd4 Nxd4 17. Qe5+ Kf7 18. Qxd4) 15... Kf7 16. Qxd8 Rxd8 17. Ne2 Bd7 18. O-O-O Rg8 19. Nxd4 1-0 Brustman,A-Repkova,E/Moscow olympiad 1994 (54).


8. Qd2 g5!?


9. fxg5

The biggest challenge to the h6 and g5 idea must be 9. dxc5! which was played in the only other game with this line, which continued 9... gxf4 (9... Bxc5 10. O-O-O Bxe3 11. Qxe3 Qb6 12. Qd2 and Black's King will not find a safe haven fast enough) 10. Bxf4 Nxc5 11. O-O-O (11. Bb5 Bd7 12. O-O-O Qa5 13. Rhf1 O-O-O) 11... Bd7 12. Kb1 a6 (12... Qa5!?) 13. Bd3 Qa5 14. Qf2 b5 15. Bd2 b4 16. Ne2 Na4? (this loses; perhaps 16... Ne4! or 16... Nxd3!?) 17. Rhf1 Bc5 18. Nfd4 Nxd4 19. Nxd4 O-O-O 20. Qh4 Qb6 21. Nb3 Bf8 22. Rxf7 Rg8 23. Rdf1 Bb5 24. Qf4 Bxd3 25. cxd3 Qb5 26. Qd4 1-0 Lev Milman (2439)-Petr Kiriakov (2565)/Minneapolis USA 2005.


9... cxd4 10. Nxd4

Weakening the h4-e1 diagonal. Interesting is 10. Bxd4!? hxg5 11. g4! Nxd4 12. Qxd4.


10... Ndxe5

10... hxg5!? 11. Bxg5 Bh6 12. Bxh6 Qh4+ 13. Qf2 Qxh6 14. Ndb5 Kd8


11. Be2

11. O-O-O hxg5 12. Bxg5 Qxg5! 13. Qxg5 Bh6 14. Qxh6 Rxh6 reaches a similar postion to the game.


11... hxg5 12. Bxg5 Bh6 13. Bxh6 Qh4+ 14. g3 Qxh6 15. Qxh6 Rxh6 16. O-O-O Bd7


Let us take stock of this position. White is ahead in development but his B is passive. His N at c3 has no good function. The N at d4 is nice but prevents his R at d1 going to g1, a natural square for the push of the King side pawns. Black has absolute control of the center. The tension between Nc6 and Nd4 is good for Black! The N at e5 is a monster. The B sucks, as usual, as does the R at a8. I feel that strategically Black is better since there are no immediate threats to watch out for, so if Black develops he will be better.


17. h4 Ke7

Connecting the rooks to complete development. However, 17... f5! may be slightly more precise, preventing White from advancing his pawns.


18. h5?

Better was 18. g4! Rah8 19. h5 Rg8 20. Nxc6+ bxc6 21. Rdg1


18... Rg8!

This is embarrassing! White does not want to play his next move, which I thought was a lemon, but he saw no alternative.


19. Rh3 f5!

The idea! Freeze his pawns and keep his Rooks passive while attacking the King side pawns OR expand in the center with a well - timed e5-e4.


20. Nxc6+?

The last mistake - I think White is strategically lost now.


20... bxc6 21. Na4

Even good players get this simple concept wrong: you should not try to attack when you have the worse position!


21... Ng4!

Immediate threats and tempo gain.


22. Bxg4 Rxg4 23. Nc5 Be8! 24. Re1 Rg5

Black will win a pawn. White finds a way to get some activity but it is all over.


25. Rh4 Rgxh5 26. Ra4 Rh1 27. Rxa7+ Kd6!

Not fearing phantoms. 27....Kf6 is ok but not as sharp. I felt that in a race between his a pawn and one of my king side pawns the K would be needed for Queen side defense.


28. Nd3

28. Nb7+ Kc7


28... e5!

Here they come!


29. Kd2 R6h2+ 30. Re2 Rxe2+ 31. Kxe2 Bh5+ 32. Kd2 d4 33. c3

33. c4 Rh2+ 34. Kc1 e4 35. c5+ Kd5 36. Nf4+ Kxc5 37. Rh7 Rh1+


33... Rd1+! 34. Kc2 Be2

I probably had other moves here, but I saw the game continuation and thought it was the simplest win. The computers prefer 34... e4!


35. Nxe5


35... d3+! 36. Nxd3 Rxd3 37. Rf7 Rxg3 38. Rf6+ Kc7 39. a4 Bd3+ 40. Kd2 Be4 41. b4 Rd3+

This game confirmed my theories about the center and development. My opponent did not play too well, but not that badly, either. He was faced with a novelty and did not take it seriously, making his move in under 1 minute! I might take 45 minutes when faced with a move like h6 from a theoretician like me! But he did not know me - he probably thought h6 was just a hack move. The rest of the game was very efficient. I felt like I was one step ahead of him in all plans. This game decided the match and helped us go to the final round to play for the championship with the only other 5-0 team.



[Steve Stoyko]

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Copyright © 2013 by Steve Stoyko and Michael Goeller