The Home Stretch in Benasque: Rounds 8-10

Round 8: Black vs. GM Felix Levin (2564, Germany). A very short draw – Levin surprised me with the Exchange Slav, and smelling a rat, I responded with a surprise of my own with 5…Qb6. As he said after the game, he had prepared this line thinking I would repeat the way I played against GM Sergey Krivoshey in 2006. But as Krivoshey achieved a slightly better position there, I wasn’t going to repeat that, and knowing he pretty much never played this line of the Slav, I decided it was safe to go with a surprise of my own.

After I played 8…Nh5, maybe Black even has a minute pull. However, he offered a draw with 9.Be5 which I saw no reason to decline. The position was essentially equal, and an easy draw with Black against a GM was not so bad.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 9: White vs. GM Rasul Ibrahimov (2537, Azerbaijan). A long fight which ended in a draw. The opening was a Nimzo-Indian, and while I prepared for that, I had not expected the line he played. He paused for a bit after I played 3.Nc3 (I also play 3.Nf3 there), and I have a feeling he made a switch on-the-fly with his normal opening repertoire. Having played the Nimzo for years and years, he was able to do so without too many troubles.

Despite this, I thought the opening resolved itself in my favor. As Karpov might say, I had an “insignificant advantage” over the traditional IQP structures there. But I struggled to find the right plan, and while I burned my time away, my position also drifted a bit. However, down on the clock about 3 minutes to 30 minutes, I started playing forcefully again and essentially forced an exchange of queens that liquidated my isolated queen pawn. The endgame was then a simple draw, although he insisted on playing it out for a few moves before returning my draw offer.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 10: White vs. GM Abhijeet Gupta (2551, India). To end the tournament, I finished with a tough draw against my good friend known as “Bhaiyu”.

Unfortunately, Benasque has the last round at 9 AM. I don’t get that decision – every other round starts at 4 PM and the prize ceremony is scheduled for 5 PM. Given that even the regular afternoon bus leaves from Benasque at 3 PM, there would have been plenty of time to make the bus ride even if the round started at 10 AM.

In any case, the early start changes things dramatically – preparation time goes down (I saw my pairing around 11 PM, prepared for about an hour, and then went to sleep) and my sleep schedule was completely thrown off. Thus, I turned to a cup of coffee to get me started in the morning. The barman gave me a knowing laugh when I ordered a “cafe solo” instead of my usual tea.

The game itself was an interesting one. I had prepared a long opening line in the Grunfeld, but was very hasty in my analysis and I didn’t spend enough time with the position, trusting the computer’s evaluation. I only began to realize this at the board when I saw he could just start pushing his h-pawn. Needless to say, that is precisely what he did. I made a series of only moves, but then we had a bit of a comedy of errors (despite thinking our play was pretty good after the game).

Both of us thought 25…g4, 26.Rc4, and 32.Rc1 were the correct moves, but in fact there was one better alternative at each move (25…Nh5!, 26.Qxb7!, and 32.Rd7!). Unfortunately for me, the last one with Rd7 would have given me a huge advantage, and despite seeing the move, I somehow blitzed out Rc1. After that, the draw is forced (although, to be honest, he could have taken the draw on the previous move with 31…Rd1+.

The game can be replayed here.

Thus, I finished on 7.5/10, good enough for 15th place on tiebreaks. There were many players on 7/9 who drew, and then a whole host of players on 6.5/9 who won. Given the size of the field, 10 rounds is simply not enough to produce enough variation in the scores.

GM Julio Granda Zuniga won in the last round to clinch clear first with 8.5/10. That makes it two years running (the only years I’ve played in Benasque) that I have lost a winning game to the tournament winner. Last year, GM Felix Levin won it all and beat me from a thoroughly horrible position. This year, Granda pulled off the same feat.

Last year, an author chose my loss to Levin as the only tournament game in the writeup for the Spanish national paper (El Pais). Let’s see if my loss to Granda is chosen this year.

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