My spring chess tour is over, and I finished with 6.5/10 in Benidorm. I scored 2.5 from my final 4 games, but I had hoped to score a little more.
In round 7, I played a lower rated Dutch player and managed to win. One amusing thing about that game was that I was playing Jeroen Van den Bersselaar, but I prepared for Jeroen Van der Bersselaar. I somehow wrote his name down incorrectly when I looked at the pairing sheet on display in the hotel, and when I went to the database, I found a few games and didn’t think of double-checking his name. Wherever I got those games from, they made the same mistake I did! In any case, they were all old games, so I didn’t do much preparation. However, had I looked up the right name, I would have done more, as he had over 200 games in the database.
Here was the somewhat random position after 27.Nf7-d6+:
The game had been pretty wild up until now, and while he was better prepared in this Semi-Slav than I was, he burned up the clock in the middlegame. He should have played 27…Bxd6, and after 28.Rxd6, all 3 results are still possible. Instead, he played 27…Kd8, which let me play 28.Be5!. The bishop can’t be captured (either a discovered check on e4 or a fork on f7 will win the queen), and meanwhile, the queen doesn’t have any real safe squares. The best chance is to play 28…Qf8, but even that isn’t very pleasant. However, 28…Qg6 29.Rg1 is even worse, as now White’s rook joins the fun around Black’s king. Black lost his queen soon and immediately resigned.
In round 8, I had the white pieces against GM Stewart Haslinger of England. He played a solid Queen’s Gambit Declined, and while I had a small advantage, I wasn’t able to make anything of it. After one misstep in the middlegame, I let him exchange a pair of knights under favorable circumstances and then the position was quite equal. The game ended in a draw soon afterwards.
With two whites in a row, I needed to get two blacks in the final two rounds to equalize my color distribution. In round 9, I played a Spanish IM, Mauricio Vallaso. He repeated a line that Granda used to beat me in Benasque in 2008 (see post here), but I decided to deviate pretty early and went for a Stonewall setup. After a long struggle, he blundered just when the endgame seemed pretty drawn to me:
In this position, he played 44.f4??. White shouldn’t be doing anything with his pawns here (he had already messed up slightly by playing 43.h2-h3 before), and this one is fatal. 44.Rg1 would have held the line. I quickly played 44…gxf4 45.exf4 Rg8 46.Kf3 Bh4!, and now White can’t keep Black’s rook out. My opponent resigned here actually (his position is lost, but maybe it’s a bit soon to resign). The c5-pawn is hanging, but can’t be safely captured: 47.Rxc5 Rg3+ 48.Ke2 (48.Kf2 walks into a discovered check with 48…Rc8+) Rg2+, winning the bishop on b2.
In the last round, I had the black pieces against IM Anatoly Bykhovsky of Israel. He had already made a GM norm after 9 rounds, so this was like a free game for him. The opening discussion had not gone in my favor as I unwittingly repeated an encounter between Radjabov and Aronian. As I wasn’t able to escape the positional pressure he exerted, I ended up sacrificing a pawn for some activity. I got my pawn back after a while, but I had to give back the initiative after which he executed perfectly. After 29.Rd7, we reached the following position:
I made my last serious mistake of the game here, with 29…Bb4?. I missed that after 30.Rd8+ Rxd8 31.Rxd8+ Bf8 32.Qc8 Ra1+ 33.Kg2 Qb4 34.Qc6!, I have no good way of escaping the pin on the 8th rank. I played 34…Kh7, but after 35.Qa8! Kg8 36.Rc8! Qe7 37.Re8! (not 37.Bc5 Qxg5+ or 37.h4 Qb4!) Qb4 38.Qb8! Qa3 39.b4!, I have to give up the bishop and the game. He only had 1 minute left during this exchange, but he was confident enough to walk around a little bit while I was thinking!
Instead of 29…Bb4?, I should’ve played 29…Bf8. I considered it, but I thought it was too dangerous after 30.Qf3! (not 30.Qf4 f5! – White wants to meet …f5 with Qd5+ and R1d4) Qxb3 31.R1d5 a4!. A cold-blood pawn advance, as after 32.Qxf7+ Kh7, it’s not clear how White should continue with his attack. Black is probably a bit worse still, but the game is rather complicated. With only a couple minutes per player, I would have had fine chances of drawing or winning.
So I finished with 6.5/10, well off the lead. There was a 3-way tie for first on 8 points between GMs Iturrizaga, Kempinski, and Arizmendi, with Iturrizaga winning on mathematical tiebreaks. My next tournament should be the Continental Championship in July (planned for El Salvador). Until then, I will have to lick my wounds and see if I can regain some good chess form.