As I wrote in my last post, after 6 rounds in San Sebastian, I had 4.5 points. In round 7, I had the black pieces against a young Spanish FM (around 2380 FIDE), Angel Arribas Lopez. My opponent decided to play a French Exchange (technically a Winawer Exchange, since it went 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.exd5 exd5), and after the game, he lamented the fact that he forgot some of his analysis on this line. After about 10 moves, he already found himself in an awkward situation, as he was fighting for equality! Finally on move 18, he got a chance to castle and took it:
My queen had gone to a5 with check a few moves earlier, clearing the way for my knight to come to e4 (white’s bishop was on g5) and my rook come to e8 (from a8). Having completed the job, I played 18…Qd8 here, threatening both 19…Qh4 and something a bit more dangerous. My opponent didn’t sense the danger and played 19.Bf4? (19.Nf4 was necessary, but Black is still better), after which I played 19…Ng5!. White’s queen is short of breathing room, so he must play 20.Bxg5 Qxg5, but now Black threatens 21…f4 (gaining a tempo) and 22…Bg4 (trapping the queen yet again). White has no good way out of the threat. He tried 21.Bc2 f4 22.Qd3, but I calmly played 22…g6, and after 23.Nh1, finished him off with 23…Rxe2! 24.Qxe2 f3. White has to give up his queen or get checkmated, so he resigned.
The following round, I had the white pieces against Daniel Alsina Leal (a Spanish player, around 2503 FIDE). I had met him during one of my Spanish tournaments in the summer of 2006 when he was barely 2400 FIDE. Since then, he’s shot up to a peak of 2520 FIDE. This was probably my best game of the tournament. He played the Meran Variation of the Semi-Slav, which I was expecting, but he got in a new move first on move 15 with 15…Qb6. However, his new idea doesn’t seem to be so great, although it took me a while to figure out how to proceed. After 19…Qc6, we reached the following position:
Here I played 20.b4!, trying to fix the queenside pawn structure. If Black can activate his pawns with …b5-b4, then not only do White’s pieces get driven backwards, but the e4-pawn becomes quite weak. After 20.b4, though, if Black doesn’t take en passant, then the b5-pawn becomes a problem and Black’s “advantage” of the queenside majority becomes somewhat useless. White can then turn his attention to the center and the kingside with the bishop pair already pointed in that direction.
He decided that defending that position wasn’t very pleasant, and so he decided to play 20…cxb3 (en passant), and after 21.Bxb3 b4 22.Na2 a5, I played 23.f3. I could have played 23.Rac1 Qxe4 24.Bxe6+ Kh8, but the endgame after 25.Qxe4 Bxe4 isn’t very pleasant for White. He’s got two nice bishops, but the knight on a2 is horribly placed and the queenside pawn situation will make things quite tricky for White. After 23.f3, the knight is still poorly placed, but now Black has to figure out how to deal with the threat of 24.Rac1, when the queen doesn’t have any good squares and the e6-pawn is weakened.
He played 23…Ba6, and the game continued 24.Qe1! Rfe8 25.Rac1 Qb7 26.Qg3! – the point of 24.Qe1!. White hits Black’s position from all sides – the queen puts pressure on the g7-pawn while also threatening Rc1-c7 and Qg3-d6. He didn’t like his prospects after 26…Rac8 27.Rxc8 Qxc8 28.Rc1 Qd8 29.Rc6, so he played 26…Rad8. After 27.Rc7, his idea was to play 27…Nh5 28.Qd6 Nf8, but now I played 29.Qe5.
His position is totally lost now – pieces are hanging all across the board. The queen on b7, the knight on h5, the pawns on e6 and a5, and if the pawn on a5 is captured, the bishop on a6 will be en prise as well. He played 29…Ng6 here, which allowed me to finish the game with a flourish.
I played 30.Bxe6+ Kh8 (30…Rxe6 and 30…Kf8 don’t avoid mate either) 31.Qxg7+! Nxg7 32.Bxg7 checkmate! A nice finish to crown my effort.
In the final round, I had the black pieces against GM Arthur Kogan of Israel. I played and beat him once in Toronto with the white pieces in 2000 (I had a great performance there, about 2600 FIDE by GM norm performance rating calculations). I was thinking about playing 1.e4 e5, but I decided that with my relatively poorer tiebreaks (we were tied with LaFuente and Sebenik on 6.5/8), I should try for something more dynamic in the hope of winning the game. Thus, it was a French Winawer, a choice that surprised him since he said he hadn’t lost to the Winawer in about 10 years.
Kogan tends to have a lot of his own ideas in the opening and he played a line that was much more popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. After 15…f6, we reached the following position:
White has a choice of pawn structures and continuations here – he can exchange the f6/e5 pawns and put a piece or a pawn on e5 later; he can try and immediately activate his bishop on f1 with g2-g3; or he can try to attack Black’s kingside with a bishop sacrifice on h6. I think taking on f6 with 16.exf6 is the right approach to play for an advantage, but he decided to force the issue with 16.Bxh6.
After 16…gxh6 17.Qxh6, I played 17…Nf5, forcing 18.Qg6+ Kg8 (not 18…Ng7? 19.exf6), and here he played 19.Qh5+ and offered a draw. Black can escape the checks by playing 19…Kg7 20.Qg4+ Kf7 21.exf6, but the position is quite risky for him:
– if 21…Rg8 22.Ng5+ Kxf6 23.Nh7+ Kf7 (not 23…Ke7? 24.Qxf5!, thanks to the pin on the e-file) 24.Qh5+ Rg6 25.Ng5+ and Black is not doing so well;
– if 21…Rh8, White has to find 22.h4! Rag8 23.Ng5+ Kxf6 24.g3, when the position is far from clear and may even favor White! He has two solid pawns for the piece; the kingside is now secure (and he can bolster the knight with f2-f4 if he needs to); Black’s king is not going to feel safe because of problems escaping to the queenside; and the pawn on e6 is a constant headache for Black.
With only 20 minutes left on the clock (to my opponent’s 40), I decided to accept the draw. On the board next to use, LaFuente was still playing with Sebenik, and their game finished in a draw about 30 minutes later. Meanwhile, from the group on 6 points, GM Marc Narciso Dublan won as black to finish on 7 points as well. GM Alexander Delchev, the top seed at 2648 FIDE, was on 6 points as well, but was unable to win and even lost while overpressing against a Spanish GM.
Thus, five players ended up tying for first with 7.0/9 – GMs Arthur Kogan, Marc Narciso Dublan, Pablo LaFuente, myself, and IM Matej Sebenik. On some mathematical (a recursive-iterative formula I’ve never seen before) tiebreak, Sebenik finished ahead of the pack.
And now I move on to Madrid. As they say in Basque Country, agur!