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Middle game tactics: Bad French bishop is not always bad

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In last two Bad Bishop articles (how to deal with bad bishop and bad French bishop and its consequences) we talked about how the bad bishop can lead to a disaster in this article we will look at other side of the Bad Bishop.

One of the trick situations one quite frequently encounters in a middle game is that of a bad French bishop arising in the opening stage of the game in which the light squared bishop of black is invariably blocked by its pawns at e6 and d5, shunning the possibility of prospective development for that light squared black bishop.

The typical French defense opening is the cause for such a development and it is this reason that many of the exponents of French defense that black’s light squared bishop be sacrificed in the early part of the game, thus paving way for a competitive middle game between the two players.

The bad French bishop is not always bad as it is perceived to be, and if right tactics are employed, black’s light squared bishop can be very handy and turn out to be the good bishop. In this game, played between two grandmasters in the early 1990s, one can find and appreciate how the bad French bishop has been converted into a good one leading to the victory of black over white.

Given below is the position of the game after 11 moves and it is the turn of white to make the move.


A cursory look at the position indicates that black’s light squared bishop is rooted to its original square at c8 blocked by pawn at b7 and Knight at d7. But, black can make the bad bishop active if it is prepared to sacrifice a couple of pawns if required. Black did precisely the same after the opportunity presented itself.

12. Bxe4 Kh8
13. Bxd5 fxe5 The opportunity presented itself with a chance to open up the two black bishops
14. fxe5

The position after the 14th move of white is presented below for an assessment:


Black effectively seizes the opportunity and surprises White with a couple of sacrifices in an attempt to gain control over the board.

14. Ncxe5
15. dxe5 Nxe5
16. Nf4 Bb4+
17. Kf1

The position after White’s 17th move is given below:


Black has successively cleared the way for the “bad” French bishop to finally come out and assist in the attack. The smart play by Black ensured that the “bad” bishop gets transformed ultimately into a “good” one, and spearheaded the attack on White king, as follows:

17. Rxf4
18. gxf4 Bh3+ French bishop comes out with a bang
19. Ke2 Ng4
20. Nd4 Qc5
21. Be6 Rd8
22. Be3 Nxe3
23. Kxe3 Bxe6
24. Rc1

The position after white’s 24th move is given below:


Black has virtually taken control over the game with the assistance of the two bishops, especially the otherwise “bad” French bishop.

24. Rxd4
25. Qxd4 Bd2+
26. 0 – 1

It is curtains for White. The “bad” French bishop need not always be bad. Effective tactics is bound to make this bad bishop a very good one. This game also vindicates the fact that the famous French defense is in fact a very competitive opening worth exploring.

Middle game tactics: How to deal with the bad French bishop

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The most important part in the game of chess is the middle game (we saw that in Consequences of Bad Bishop), where both the players, having developed their pieces reasonably well, initiate a series of attacks, counter-attacks, checks, and sacrifices in an effort to gain control over the opponent. The quality of the middle game and the nature of the strategy adopted by the players during this phase of the game are primarily determined based on the positions of the pieces and the kind of development one does take in the opening part.

The nature of the opening game and the favorable positioning of the major and minor pieces determine the tempo for the middle game. We have discussed at length about the Isolated Queen Pawn. Similarly, we might be confronted with an issue of bad French bishop.

What is bad French Bishop? Black’s light squared black bishop is often given this name. In some types of opening games, as part of the development of the pieces in accordance with the classical opening principles, the player playing black might have to move his king pawn at e7 one square ahead to e6 and the queen pawn two squares ahead to d5. These moves, made out of necessity to develop the minor pieces, might appear good in the first instance. However, a second look might reveal that the pawn placed at e6 and/or at d5 might effectively block the diagonal c8-h3 and the diagonal a8-h1, seriously hampering the movement of the light squared black bishop starting from the c8 square. Literally, the movement of the light squared bishop is blocked by its own pieces and sometimes, this immobility of the black light squared bishop might lead to inadequate development, and ultimately present an advantage to the opponent. This situation is referred to as black’s bad French bishop. The name “French” is added to the bishop as this situation typically arises in a French opening.

Let us try to understand this aspect and assess how this bad French bishop plays the spoilsport for the black’s pieces through the review of a game played between two grandmasters

Given below is the position after 25 moves, and it is the turn of white to make the move now.


A cursory look at the position indicates that, among the minor pieces, White has sacrificed both of its bishops and retained one Knight, as against one light squared bishop for black. White’s Knight occupies the important d4 square, and the game is evenly poised.

The game proceeded along the following lines:

26. e6 White decides to open up the position
26. fxe6
27. Qe5 White plans to target f6 square for Queen
27. Rc7 Not a good response from black. It would have been better had he played Qc7 instead of Rc7
28. Qf6 Be8
29. Nxe6 Qd6
30. Re2 Qe7
31. Qb2 This is a smart move by White offering to sacrifice his h4 pawn Black has other ideas and prefers to go with them
31. Rc8
32. Ng5 Qd6
33. Qd4 Bf7 The last move by Black is a blunder, literally gifting the game to white, courtesy Black light squared Bishop

This is the position on the board, which clearly shows the blunder of black’s French bishop, leading to the victory for White.


34. Qh8+ 1 – 0

This is an example in which the light squared bishop, devoid of development in the initial stages, has proved to be more of a burden leading to the downfall than of any constructive support in the attack.

It is for this very reason that in most of the variations of the famous French opening, an early sacrifice of black’s light-squared bishop is suggested.

Middle game tactics: Bad French bishop and its consequences

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Of the three stages in the game of chess, the most important and deciding part is the middle game, where the real action takes place. However, one needs to be aware of the fact that the middle game always follows the opening game. In other words, the course of the middle game is determined by the opening game, and the effectiveness of the opening game and the position of the various pieces as part of the development, more or less, decide the strategy to be adopted in the middle game.

One of the many opening variations played regularly in tournaments is the French opening, where invariably the first and second moves of black are e6 and d5. Whatever might be the reasons behind those moves, the inconsequence of these moves, if not properly attended, might lead to a situation where the black’s light squared bishop is blocked by the pawns at e6 and d5, effectively cramping its development. It is for this very reason, experts in French opening advise that black’s light squared bishop is sacrificed at the initial stages of development. If that light-squared bishop is not effectively handled, this French bishop, as it is otherwise called, might turn out to be a bad French bishop, and hinder the prospects for black in further development.

Let us try to assess the consequences of the bad French bishop with the help of this following game played between two grandmasters. This is a typical French defense or French opening. The opening moves are as follows:

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. e5 Nfd7
5. f4 c5
6. Nf3 Nc6
7. Be3 cxd4
8. Nxd4 Bc5
9. Qd2 a6
10. 0-0-0 0-0
11. h4 Nxd4
12. Bxd4 b5
13. Rh3

The position is given hereunder:


As can be seen from the position, black’s light squared bishop is rooted to its original square at c8, unable to be deployed effectively. Black tried to break the shackles with the following move, which most of the grandmasters tried and tested but without much success.

13. …. Bb7
14. Ne2 Bxd4
15. Nxd4 Nc5
16. Bd3 Ne4
17 Bxe4 dxe4
18. f5 Bd5

Instead of the routine Bb7 move, had Black tried the variation

  1. ….. b4
  2. Ne2 a5
  3. ….. a6 (his bad French bishop would have got a better opportunity to play an important role in the game)

The position after the 18th move is given hereunder:


The game proceeded with black literally in the doldrums having committed a blunder of moving the bishop to d5.

19. f6 gxf6
20. Qh6 1 – 0

This is yet another example of bad French bishop playing the spoilsport in Black’s party, and coupled with some avoidable blunders, Black has surrendered the advantage and the game to the smart play of White who capitalized on black’s light-squared bishop.