Stalled at the Finish

Round 8: White vs FM Lazaro Lorenzo de la Riva (2367, Spain). I managed to get back in the win column against the only person who beat me in Balaguer last year. That time, though, Lazaro had the white pieces against me.

The game can be replayed here.

He surprised me with the Benoni as Black, although I expected something new as he doesn’t have many games in the database. I played the Modern Main Line with 7.h3 and 9.Bd3 and he responded with maybe the most theoretical response in 9…b5. This was a bit of a surprise, but a bigger surprise was 14…Rd8. My recollection of this line was that 14…Nd7 was the main move, and that there was some reason 14…Rd8 was not best. I thought for about 10 minutes and played 15.Qe2!?, which was a surprise for him.

As it turns out, 14…Rd8 is reasonably common and usually transposes to the 14…Nd7 line after 15.Bf4. However, 15.Qe2 is an interesting way to play and a viable alternative to 15.Bf4. He played 15…Bf8, after which he was down one pawn, but he had some development advantage and a somewhat awkward knight on e3 to play against.

He was just getting more compensation with 24…f5!, but then he threw it all away with 25…Qe4? as the endgame is just lost. Better was 25…Nd6, heading for the e4-square.

Round 9: Black vs. GM Alexander Delchev (2618, Bulgaria). Another crazy game against a GM, and again, this one ended in a draw. Delchev is a very solid 2600+ GM, who loses pretty rarely and loses with the white pieces even more rarely.

The game can be replayed here.

The game was a Semi-Slav Meran with 8…Bd6, although the game left my preparation after 13.Ne2. He said after the game that he has analyzed this position a bit, and thought that white was just better – during the game, I thought it was rather unclear but probably about equal.

He soon sent all his pieces to the kingside, and on every move, there was the possibility of f2-f4 or Nh4-f5. With the clocks running down to about 20 minutes apiece, he decided to play it safe with 18.Nf3. This shouldn’t have posed any problems, but a few inaccuracies from me capped by 24…Qe7?, left me in a difficult position. He played two very strong moves with 25.Qf4! and 26.Nf5!, after which black’s position looks extremely shaky. However, I was confident in my defensive chances and I didn’t see any win for him. As it turns out, neither did he. I consolidated the extra piece and with 39…Rf5, I would have sealed the win. But alas, I played 39…Qc5, which threw the win away as I had missed 44.Bg4.

With the cold, objective analysis of a computer, it turns out his sacrifice with 26.Nf5 is winning, but he has to find a series of amazing moves – 30.Qh4 (instead of 30.Qf5) Kh8!? 31.g3!!. While somewhat logical ex-post, it’d be hard to find many chessplayers who could find such moves with a minute on their clock.

Round 10: White vs. GM Levan Aroshidze (2547, Georgia). This was a particularly tough pairing for me (and for Levan), since we have roomed together at a few tournaments since last year. It’s never easy to play a friend.

The game can be replayed here.

The game itself ended in a draw, although not quite like it may have been expected. The opening was not something either of us prepared for (I pretty much always play the IQP positions of the Rubinstein Nimzo) and I was on my own after 10…b6. He then offered a draw with 13…Rfd8, which left me thinking for 20 minutes about what to do – play on or just take the draw?

In the end, I decided to play on, as my job now is essentially to play chess and get better. A draw wouldn’t have risked anything in the tournament, but at the same time, after going all the way to Spain, it made some sense to play on given that it wasn’t a GM norm/title on the line.

My idea with 15.e4, 16.e5 and 17.Qg4 looked dangerous, but Levan found the correct series of moves to diffuse the tension. If, instead of 20…Qc4, he played 20…Qb3, then 21.dxe6 Qxa2 22.Nf5! g6 23.exf7+ is the point (if 23…Qxf7, 24.Nh6+). If Black steps to h8 with king, then 24.Qb4 is crushing.

In the actual game, the endgame after 24.d6 is rather hard to assess – Black gains control of the c-file, but the d6-pawn is a serious asset. 24…f6 was the safe way to play and liquidated the central pawns and the game petered out to equality after which I offered a draw which was quickly accepted.

So, after playing an extra 2 hours or so, I was back at square one with a draw. But the game was still a useful one to play, I think. After the game, Levan actually apologized to me for offering a draw, saying that he couldn’t bring himself to play the game seriously and so offered a draw even though he had the black pieces. I didn’t mind that at all, actually, but I explained why I wanted to play on a bit.

In the other games, Baklan beat Fidel Corrales and so passed him for first place with 8/10. The top two Cubans (Corrales and Bruzon) shared 2nd-3rd at 7.5/10, and there was a 10-way tie for 4th-13th at 7/10. Unlike in Benasque, number of wins was not the first tiebreak (it was the 5th) and my opponent’s score as calculated by the Bucholz metric was the 2nd best amongst my group. Thus, I finished in 5th place on tiebreaks. For what it’s worth, had number of wins been used as the first tiebreak, I would have finished last!

I didn’t quite make a GM-norm equivalent performance in Balaguer though, as the performance was only about 2572. Still, it was a solid performance and I managed to gain about 12 points. So after Benasque and Balaguer, my two tournaments of the summer, I should be sitting on 2512 FIDE or so.

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