Shaking the Malaise

Well, since the fourth round, I managed to get 2 points from 3 games. The first two games, though, were not particularly clean, although the third was a bit better.

Round 5: Black vs. WFM Keti Tsatsalashvili (2271, Georgia). An odd game from the start. The Benoni is not part of my normal repertoire (I’ve only tried to play it twice over the past 10 years in rated play, and in both cases, my opponent didn’t let me play it!) and I had no games of my opponent against this opening. Still, I decided that since the Benoni angles for a fight from the start, it was the remedy I needed to get back on track.

The game can be replayed here.

Keti started off with the Knight Tour Variation with 7.Nd2, but then got back into a Fianchetto Variation with 8.g3. Black’s position was actually quite comfortable after 12…Ne5 and 13…Nh5. However, instead of 13…Bd7?!, I should have played 13…f5. I had seen this move, but I thought by threatening …b5, I could get her to play a move like Rb1, after which …f5 would have even more effect. However, I never got a chance to play …b5 and …f5 was a defensive measure when I got to play it. After 17.Nc4 Qc7, White’s position looks amazing at first glance but it’s not so easy to figure out how to make full use of the advantage.

In the game continuation, I sacrificed a pawn because I didn’t see anything better to do after 18.a5, but White has some technical difficulties to keep the pawn, as her knight on b6 is completely out of play. In addition, the bishop on c1 is temporarily tied down to the defense of the b2-pawn, and she must watch out that I don’t get a rook to e2 or capture the d5-pawn.

The way she played managed to temporarily avoid losing the pawns or allowing a rook in, but all of Black’s pieces became very active and after 27…Re4, Black is better. It was only a matter of time before I crashed through, and with 40…Nd4!, won the game.

Round 6: White vs. GM Lazaro Bruzon (2582, Cuba). An amazing save, if I may say so myself. In the database, Bruzon had essentially only played three different systems against 1.d4 – (1) the QGD, (2) the Nimzo-Indian, and (3) the Semi-Slav Meran with the rare 8…b4.

I was ready for all those, although I had expected him to play a Nimzo. However, he trotted out the Meran and then played 8…Bd6! While I had faced this once before this summer (against Eduardo Desanjose Candalija), I had not studied it too carefully since then, and even if I had, I probably would not have been ready to meet his natural novelty of 11…a5.

I sunk into thought and was unable to find anything good to do, and in fact, got a worse position in trying to play for some advantage. 19.Rd1 was a mistake in view of 19…g6! To compound my troubles, I was down to about 4 minutes to his 30 minutes. In the complications that followed, I managed to find some good moves and missed one good one (26.Qxb3! instead of 26.Qd2?), but Lazaro was unable to put me away there. To avoid some nice checkmates after 29…Nf5+, I had to sacrifice my queen, but the Q vs 2R endgame was not a trivial win, especially as his clock was ticking down.

In the end, he had to repeat the position to avoid a worse fate (if, for example, my pawn gets farther down the board, maybe I can even think of playing to win). The computer would, of course, had a field day with the middlegame attacking position.

I’m not quite sure what to make of the endgame, but given the time control, it was difficult to play properly. The original time control for the tournament was 40/90 + G/30, with 30 seconds added per move. However, for reasons unknown, it was changed the same day as the first round.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 7: Black vs. GM Vladimir Baklan (2630, Ukraine). This game was a bit of a missed opportunity for me. Baklan is the top seed in the tournament, but I let a bit of an advantage slip.

The game featured the Worrall Attack of the Ruy Lopez with 12.d5, a line I had spent all of 5 minutes preparing for. As this was my first time on the black side of such a Ruy structure, I took a bit of time, but I hit upon a few somewhat standard ideas. Actually, after 19…c4, I was even a bit better, but then I played 22…Na5?. I think I should have played 22…Nc5 instead, but for some reason, I reacted instantly with …Na5. After 23.g5 Nh5 24.Nxh5, my position is probably alright, but it’s gotten a lot more unclear. I had a shattered kingside pawn structure, and a rather bad bishop on g7, but I did get a pawn on h3 as compensation in addition to the trump of my queenside passer.

The 10 minutes I spent on 27…a5 was a key moment in the game, as it was during that think I realized that the way for me to keep playing this position was to push the a-pawn. Black has two ideas there – one is just to push the a-pawn all the way, the other is, if the pawn gets exchanged on a4 for example, is to take back with the rook, followed by doubling on the a-file and the 4th rank (with …Qc4).

Still, the pawn push only kept the position rather unclear, and in mutual time pressure, the game simplified into an endgame that I probably should have kept playing. Instead, I decided to call it a day and accepted his draw offer.

The game can be replayed here.

So after 7 rounds, I have 5 points. IM Fidel Corrales Jimenez of Cuba is leading the tournament with 6.5/7. He crushed GMs Delchev and Aroshidze the past two rounds, and is the first person I’ve seen beat Delchev in Balaguer in the last 3 years!

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