The French 'Little Centre'

Exeter Chess Club: H: The French `Little' Centre

Peter Lane, 11th October 1996

The prime example of this formation arises in the Tarrasch Variation, as a means of avoiding the isolated queen's pawn.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 Qxd5 5. Ngf3 cxd4 6. Bc4 Qd6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Nb3 Nc6 9. Nbxd4 Nxd4 10. Nxd4 a6

 

t+l+jL-T
+x+-+xXx
x+-DxS-+
+-+-+-+-
-+bN-+-+
+-+-+-+-
pPp+-PpP
R-Bq+rK-

r1b1kb1r/1p3ppp/p2qpn2/8/2BN4/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ1RK1

Black loses time with his queen (...Qc7 will be her third move) to obtain a better pawn formation for the endgame. In fact, the position looks more like a Sicilian, with ...a6 and ...b5, ...Bb7, ...Rc8 to come. And, as in a Sicilian, White's lead in development can turn into a nasty attack.

  eg: after 11. Re1 Qc7 12. Bb3 Bd6 13. Nf5! Bxh2+ 14. Kh1 Kf8 15. g3 threatening Bf4-d6, but Black does have a pawn.

  If the game is less sharp, Black will hope to gain a little time off the white bishop and develop for the endgame. All is not peace and tranquillity though, and a careless White can fall badly.

  e.g.: from the diagram

S. Gilmour vs. P.C. Lane (Maidenhead, 1992)

11. c3 Qc7 12. Qe2 Bd6 13. g3? e5! 14. f4? Bg4!

  and wins a piece, as the queen is overloaded, pinning the e-pawn (so it cannot take the knight) and defending a bishop.

15. Nf3 e4 16. Bd3 O-O 17. Bxe4 Rae8 (perfect timing!)

  and black won comfortably a little later. This line is interesting in proving that the e-pawn may move, if the Bishop on c8 spies a light square weakness.

  Assuming that Black can survive, what sort of endgame are we looking at? The pattern is simple: The sole central pawn on e6 acts as a buffer to white attacks, and provides a support on d5 for a knight. The half open c-file and the minority attack generate a comfortable initiative on the queen side for black. We can see this in action in the game

L.Vogt vs U.Andersson (Havana, 1975)

-Tl+-Tj+
+-+-LxXx
x+-+xS-+
+x+-+-+-
-+-+-P-+
+-N-B-+-
pPp+b+pP
+-+r+r+k

1rb2rkRbppp/p3pn2/1p6/5P2/2N1B3/PPP1B1PP/3R1R1K

This position derived from a Sicilian, but illustrates the theme in an easy to understand example of the minority attack.

1. Ba7 Ra8 2. Bb6 Bb7 3. a3 Rfc8

  White may own the d-file, but black's minor pieces keep the rooks out, and now the knight on c3 is pinned to the c2-pawn, and ...Bxa3 is threatened! ``Half-open files do not need entry points. They naturally generate pressure.'' (Stean)

4. Ba5 g6 5. h3? (weakening) 5...h5 6. Bf3 Bxf3 7. Rxf3 h4!

  suddenly the aggressive f-pawn is looking lonely.

8. Rd2 Rc4 9. b3 (forced, else ...Rac8...Nh5xf4) 9...Rc6 10. a4 b4 11. Ne2 Rac8 12. c4 bxc3 13. Rxc3 Nd5 14. Rxc6 Rxc6

  The finish of this game is given in Stean's Simple Chess, with further notes on the minority attack in general. Black wins by manoeuvring against the two weaknesses. My games are not so well controlled, but black has ongoing play, and can often gain the full point merely by planting a knight on d5 and pushing the pawns down the right.

  These lines are used further in the Rubinstein lines, 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 though ...c5 can be harder to achieve. But for those wanting to shock the Exchange-players, and to prove a missing d-pawn does not imply a dull endgame, there is:

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Bd3 Ne4 7. O-O Nxc3 8. bxc3 Bxc3

  for his pawn white has a lead in development, and that queen is still exposed, the books give Kotkov vs. Bukhman, 1966 (by transposition)

9. Rb1 Nc6 10. Rb5 Qd6 11. Be3 Nb4 12. Ng5 c6 13. Ne4 Qd8 14.Qg4 Kf8 15. Rg5

 

t+lD-J-T
Xx+-+xXx
-+x+x+-+
+-+-+-R-
-S-Pn+q+
+-LbB-+-
p+p+-PpP
+-+-+rK-

r1bq1k1r/pp3ppp/2p1p3/6R1/1n1PN1QQbBB3/P1P2PPP/5RK1

which is supposedly in white's favour

  but 15...f5 16. Qg3 fxe4 17. Rxg7 Qf6! wins

  or 16. Qf3 Bxd4 and the Black-side holds, so I find this unclear at worst.

  This last line highlights the basic strengths of the Black position. After the queen recapture, White has to gambit a pawn in order to gain an initiative, else Black develops comfortably, and patiently waits to begin his minority attack...

Chess Quotes

"As Olafsson showed me, White can win... It's hard to believe. I stayed up all night analysing, finally convicing myself, and, incidentally, learning a lot about Rook and Pawn endings in the process."
— FISCHER