With 1.0/3 and black against top seed GM Etienne Bacrot (2721 FIDE) in round 4, things were not looking great for my tournament. I had played Bacrot once before, a long time back in 1995 – that game did not go well for me (see https://vbhat.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/back-in-the-day/).
The second time around was definitely better. Actually, in the final position, after 34.Bd6-g3, I was better, but he offered me a draw with about 2 minutes left on my clock to reach move 40:
I knew I was better, and was thinking about 34…Nc3, which leads to a pawn-up endgame after best play from White. However, I also knew that I had lost two games and was losing to Akobian, so I figured I should get at least half a point on the board before I ended up with a bagel for the event. And so, I ended up taking the draw.
Here’s what might have happened after 34…Nc3. If 35.Nbd6, then 35…Bxd6 36.Nxd6 Ne2+ 37.Kg2 Rc3 is crushing. Thus, 35.Nxc3 is forced, after which 35…Qxd4+ 36.Kg2 Qxc3 37.Qxc3 Bxc3 38.Rad1 is a likely continuation. Black is up a pawn (the doubled f-pawns) and has the bishop pair. It’s a clear advantage, but there is still some work to do to win the game.
The next round, I had the white pieces against GM Sergei Tiviakov (2674 FIDE). This was maybe my best game of the event – I had some faster (and maybe cleaner) wins, but this was a big struggle where my opponent defended very well and made me really earn the full point.
Here’s the position we had after 27…h7-h6:
After something like 28.Qg4, White’s attack is not particularly threatening, and so Black can play 28…Ra8, winning the bishop on a6. Thus, 28.Nf6+! is correct. After 28…Kf8 (not 28…gxf6 29.Qxf6 Kh7 30.h5, when White’s attack is irresistible) 29.Nh7+ Kg8 30.Nf6+ (a little repetition to get closer to move 40) Kf8 31.Qh5!, White’s attack is probably winning. Unfortunately, with only about 2 minutes or so, this is more easily decided at home with a computer. After 31.Qh5! Qb4! 32.Re2! gxf6 33.exf6, Tiviakov came up with the very good 33…Rb8!. The rook guards the b5-pawn and isn’t as exposed as it would be on a8. After 34.Bxh6+ Ke8 35.Rxe6+ Kd8, White doesn’t have 36.Qxd5+ because of 36…Rd7 and there is no rook hanging on a8! Thus, I had to retreat with 36.Re3, when there was still a lot more work to do to win the game.
After more excitement, we reached the following position after 61.Ke5-d6:
He played 61…a3, when it looks like Black is getting counterplay. White has two far-advanced pawns, but Black’s rooks seem to be watching them and Black’s a-pawn is getting close to queening as well. There is no mating net, so I played 62.f7 Rhf5 63.Qb8+ Ka5 64.h7, when a pawn is going to queen. The resulting Q vs. R (with my d-pawn versus his a-pawn) was a pretty easy win.
Now I finally had my first win of the event, and was sitting on 2/5 with the black pieces against IM Thomas Roussel-Roozmon (2487 FIDE) in round 6. Thomas only had 1/5 at this point and he was probably looking for an easy game, and so he chose the Exchange Slav. However, I wasn’t really in the mood for a quick draw, so I tried a sideline to quickly create an imbalance. My opening experiment worked out well, and I got a nice IQP position with plenty of play. After liquidating the isolated pawn, we reached the following position after 24.Qe2-f1 (getting off the dangerous e-file):
Here, Black has his sights set on f2, so I wanted to close the 2nd rank for White’s rooks. Thus, I played 24…g5!, and after 25.Bd2 Ng4, the pressure is unbearable for White. If 26.Bxg4 Bxg4 27.Re1, then 27…Bxf2+ 28.Qxf2 Qxf2+ 29.Kxf2 Rxd2+ wins for Black. He tried 26.Ne4, but after 26…Bf5 27.Bxg4 Bxg4 28.Re1 f5! 29.Nc3, the same tactic works for Black and he resigned soon after.
Thus, going into the rest day, I had 3.0/6, a nice turnaround after my 0.5/3 start. Coming off the rest day, I had the white pieces against GM Sebastien Maze (2546 FIDE). The game was not a particularly exciting one, as neither of us took an undue risks and the game ended in a draw after about 25 moves.
In round 8, I had white against GM Yuri Shulman (2648 FIDE), the 2008 US Champion. I had played Yuri a couple times before, once in 2000 and another time in 2001. Both games ended in a draw, but I had the better of the draw in each case (and was completely winning in the 2001 game). Interestingly enough, our repertoire with the black pieces is quite similar – both of us have the French as our main defense to 1.e4 and the Semi-Slav to 1.d4. Maybe it’s because of this opening similarity that he decided to surprise me with a Stonewall Dutch setup. However, his inexperience seemed to trump mine, and he quickly found himself in a difficult position after 15.e4-e5:
It’s a normal idea in the Stonewall for White to break Black’s strong points on d5 and f5 with f3 and e4, but here, that plan has worked to perfection. White has a mobile center with all his pieces nicely deployed while Black’s king is exposed and his development is lacking. It all ended quickly for Shulman after 15…Bb4 (not 15…Bc7 16.Nd5!) 16.a3 Bxc3? (16…Ba5 is better, but it’s still not good for Black) 17.Bxc3 a5 (otherwise 18.Bb4 would win an exchange) 18.d5!. The pawn sacrifice makes total sense since Black’s king is going to feel rather exposed and White’s development is better. After 18…Nxe5 19.Rae1 Nf7, I decided to go with 20.Nd4 (20.Nxf4 also wins) Qc5 21.Kh1 Bxh3 (desperation) 22.Nf3, and it’s all over for Black. He resigned a few moves later.
So now I had 4.5/8 and was on +1 in this super-strong field! A tough draw with GM Mark Bluvshtein in round 9 took me to 5/9 and kept me on +1. At that point, I was only a point or so behind the leaders with 2 games to go. Unfortunately, my tournament didn’t end so well …