The dog days of summer in Balaguer

Round 1: Black vs C.P. Aatirah (1946, India). An easy game to start off the tournament. Since first round pairings only go up right before the game, there is no time for preparation. As a result, I went with what I know best (and what angles for a fight from the start). I played the French Defense, and after the Advance Variation, my old favorite line of 5…Nh6. Black’s pieces all went to their best squares right away, and in some sense, it was a textbook demonstration of what Black should be trying for in this line.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 2: White vs Boris Bruned (2224, Spain). A protracted struggle, with most of the problems for me coming in the opening phase. I had not prepared much for this game, although it would have been useful for me to have done so. I played a Trompowsky, and we followed a game of mine against Kruttika Nadig from Andorra 2006 for a little while. While I managed to win that game, it was not because I came out ahead from the opening struggle, and I spent a lot of time at the board trying to figure out what the improvement was supposed to be. In the end, I hit upon an interesting idea with 9.Nh3, 11.Nf4, and 12.Bh3.

After the opening, my opponent started to think a lot more and soon came to the realization that his opening plan did not solve the problems of his pawn structure, especially with the pawns on e7 and f7. In the end, those pawns cost him the game, as he was going to lose one for sure after 27.Qd3. The endgame was lost, but he then lost on time after 38.b4.

The game can be replayed here.

Compared to the past two years, the tournament is marginally stronger this year. While the ratings of the top players are about the same, the bigger difference is that there are fewer lower rated players (especially in the 2000-2100 range). In the past two years, I faced players rated 2167 and 2182 in the 2nd round. And last year, despite have a lower rating, I was essentially the same seed.

Round 3:  Black vs Jose Luis Vilela (2347, Cuba). The game finished as a draw after only 14 moves, but it took almost 3 hours to play! Again, I did not spend as much time preparing for this game as I would if I was playing without the accumulated fatigue of a previous tournament.

As it was, he played the Slav Exchange (like Levin did in Benasque). I had actually expected something else from him even though he had played this line a few times. He continued with 4.Nc3 and 5.Bf4, so I played 5…Qb6. He then sank into thought for about 30 minutes before playing 6.Rc1 (one of the more testing moves in my opinion).

Not remembering the theory here, I decided to avoid taking the pawn on b2 (after a preparatory 6…Nc6, for example) and instead played 6…Bf5. He then thought for another 15 minutes and played 7.Na4. And then I sat down for about 45 minutes before playing 7…Qa5+! The first problem for me was that I had completely overlooked 7.Na4, despite it being a rather obvious move. The second problem was that I realized it was a good move.

I spent a lot of time calculating variations after 7…Qd8 8.Qb3 Nbd7 9.Qxb7 e5! (angling for an eventual …Rb8 and …Bb4+) and 9.Nf3! Ne4!? with similar traps in mind based on the a5-e1 diagonal. In the end, I realized that 9.Nf3 was quite strong for white and gave up on this line.

In the game continuation, White missed a strong line with 9.Qb3 (instead of 9.e3), which would have secured a small advantage. As it was in the game, I had a nice trick with 11…a6!, covering the b5-square. Even though it drops the d5-pawn, it’s only a temporary loss since I get the a2-pawn back after 13…Be6. Down to less than 20 minutes, Vilela offered a draw with 14.Qa5 and I saw no reason to decline.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 4: White vs Yvain Bruned (2383, Spain). Thanks to a healthy dose of good fortune, I managed to escape this game with a draw. It was a bit weird to play Boris’ twin brother in the same tournament as they play the exact same set of openings. Thus, I was not likely to repeat the Trompowsky, but I had to decide what to do against the Nimzo.

He deviated from his usual patterns in the Rubinstein Variation with 4…0-0 5.Bd3 d5 (rather than the 4…c5 he had played in every game from that position in the database). He immediately made a misstep though with 7…Nxd5? instead of 7…cxd4. However, I played too hastily with e4-e5 and threw away a huge advantage and then had to try and stir up trouble on the kingside without any obvious weakness to attack.

I got into huge time trouble in this game, down to about 4 minutes against more than an hour, but managed to pose enough problems to trick him into a draw. Actually, he blundered with 27…a5?, which loses to 28.Bxh7+!, but for some reason, I missed the only threat I had in the position. Then I hit upon an amusing idea of 37.Qg2, aiming to throw the h-pawn into the fire (the only piece that could attack but hadn’t yet done so). He then blundered again horribly with 42…Kxh7, although neither of us realized that 42…Kh8 was immediately winning!

The game can be replayed here.

After this game, the Bruned family is on the board against me. I had beaten Yvain in Andorra 2006, Vianney (the youngest brother) in Balaguer 2007, and Boris in Balaguer 2008.

Hopefully I play better the rest of the tournament – the past two games have featured some pretty poor chess on my part.

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