As I wrote in my last blog entry, I managed to get 4.5 points from my first 6 games in Gibraltar. I generally didn’t manage to put together a complete game until the 6th round, but after that effort, I was feeling like I could make a push in the final four rounds.
In round 7, I got the black pieces against GM Sergei Movsesian (2708 FIDE). Movsesian had been close to breaking into the elite of the chess world for a number of years before finally doing so last year, shooting up to 2751 FIDE. He’s dropped since then, but he’s maintained his rating above 2700. When I was preparing for him, I noticed that he almost always avoids the main lines, but while he doesn’t necessarily challenge you from the get-go, he knows his systems backwards and forwards and is very difficult to beat in them. He’s also much more dangerous with the white pieces than with black (as seen in the tournament, where he won all 5 games with white quite easily, and drew all 5 games as black without getting close to a better position at any point).
Still, I felt good about my chances – I’m pretty solid with black and I hadn’t lost to a 2700 before! Sadly, there’s a first time for everything. You could say that I got off the boat and promptly fell into the deep end …
rnbqkb1r/ppp1pppp/5n2/3p4/8/3P2P1/PPP1PPBP/RNBQK1NR b KQkq - 0 3)
This was the position after 3.d2-d3, and I decided to play 3…Bf5. He answered with 4.c4, and Black’s position is already much worse! I guess I was on autopilot as I hadn’t realized that by delaying Ng1-f3, the Bg2’s diagonal was open. That makes all the difference in the world because Black has no good way of keeping the diagonal closed now. White’s plan is pretty much the same regardless of what Black does: play Qb3 (hitting d5 and b7), exchange on d5 and play Nc3 (hitting d5 again), and then play e4 to finally break down Black’s center. If Black then takes on e4 and retreats his bishop, White plays e5, opening the long diagonal and winning b7; if Black retreats without taking on e4, then White wins a pawn on d5.
I sat there thinking and kicking myself for falling into such a simple trap. I ended up playing 4…c6 5.Qb3 Qc8 6.cxd5 cxd5 7.Nc3 e6 8.e4 Bg6 9.exd5 Nbd7!?, hoping that he’d go pawn-grabbing by taking on e6 and f7.
r1q1kb1r/pp1n1ppp/4pnb1/3P4/8/1QNP2P1/PP3PBP/R1B1K1NR w KQkq - 1 10)
Actually, if he does grab those pawns, Black has good counterplay after 10.dxe6 Nc5 11.exf7+ Ke7! 12.Qd1 Nxd3+ 13.Kf1 Qc4. Black will only be a pawn down after taking back on f7, and White’s development is more screwed up than Black’s. However, he was alert to that danger and continued with 10.Be3 instead. Now I played 10…e5 11.Rc1 Ng4!?.
r1q1kb1r/pp1n1ppp/6b1/3Pp3/6n1/1QNPB1P1/PP3PBP/2R1K1NR w Kkq - 2 12)
After the game, he praised this move a lot, saying he completely missed it when he played 11.Rc1 and that he should have played something like 11.d4 instead. The point is that after 11…Ng4, the obvious 12.Nb5 is a bit dicey for White after 12…Nxe3. Here are a couple lines after 12…Nxe3:
A) 13.Rxc8+ Rxc8 14.fxe3 Nc5 15.Qd1 Nxd3+ 16.Kd2 (16.Ke2 Nxb2 is also no fun) Nxb2 17.Qb3 Bb4+! 18.Qxb4 Rc2+ 19.Ke1 (the king has nowhere else to go) Nd3+, forking king and queen, leaving Black ahead in material!
B) 13.Nc7+ Kd8 14.fxe3 Nc5 cuts the protection off for the knight and leaves Black on top.
After a 35-minute think, he found a very accurate way of proceeding after 11…Ng4 with 12.Bh3! (hitting the Ng4 and indirectly pinning the Nd7) Nxe3 13.fxe3 Qc7 (threatening to play …Nc5 again) 14.Qa4!, when his advantage is not in doubt. He’s up a pawn and Black has no real compensation. I resigned 8 moves later when my position had deteriorated even further.
It’s hard to take anything positive away from a game like this, but on the plus side, I’m not the only GM to have fallen for that same trick. GM Sebastien Maze, who was sitting next to us during this game, fell into the exact same trap against GM Hikaru Nakamura last year at the French Team Championships! I noticed Maze looking at our game intently and giving me a funny look when I played …Bf5, but I didn’t realize he had been on the receiving end of the same beat-down a year earlier.
The next day, I had the white pieces against IM Irina Krush (2455 FIDE). I had only played Irina once before in OTB play, beating her at the US Junior Championships back in the day. We had since played once in the US Chess League, where she had white and drew. I didn’t really know what opening to expect and in the end, it was a Slav with …Nbd7-Nb6. I have played this line a few times, but she surprised me with …Nb6-d7 at some point, essentially offering a move repetition.
I declined and outplayed her in the middlegame to reach a better position. However, I didn’t quite see how to proceed with my attack, and while I futzed around, she gradually improved her position. The position was then about equal for a little while before in some mild time pressure, I repeatedly played second or third-best moves, before finally playing a real lemon in the following position:
3r2k1/5qpb/1pp2p2/p1b1rP1p/P1P1P3/1R4P1/2N1Q1BP/5R1K w - - 0 40)
After screwing up royally on the 36th move, my position was just worse, and I’m in trouble here because I can’t really fight against her pieces. I’ve got bad pieces and pawns everywhere. I compounded my trouble by playing 40.Rfb1, possibly preparing to sacrifice an exchange on b6 to get some squares back. Unfortunately, that drops the house to 40…Bxf5, after which I can’t stop a multitude of threats: 41…Bxe4, 41…Bg4, 41…Be6, 41…Rde8 and so on. I resigned after thinking it over for a couple minutes.
I’m definitely not known for resigning early, and some people did ask me after this game why I resigned down only one pawn. The problem is that I can’t really stop her from taking e4 and c4, and I have no real counterplay. The computer assesses the position as almost -3, even though it’s only one pawn at the moment.
If I was hurting after the Movsesian loss, I was now down in the dumps. I hadn’t lost two games in a row in a while, and it’s generally a rare thing for me – the only time it happened in 2009 was against GMs Moiseenko and Naiditsch, two guys just below 2700 FIDE at the time. In those games, I had generally been outplayed, whereas in this second loss, I had thrown away a good position. That partly explains my decision the next day to play a very risky line as Black in the Tarrasch French:
r1bqkb1r/pp1n1ppp/2n1p3/2ppP3/3P4/2PB1N2/PP1N1PPP/R1BQK2R b KQkq - 2 7)
Instead of the normal lines with 7…Be7, 7…g6, or 7…Qb6, I now lashed out with 7…g5!?. It’s a relatively new idea I had looked at before the game, but Black normally waits for White to castle before playing this move (the idea is to kick the Nf3 and then take White’s center), because after 8.h3 h5, Black isn’t actually threatening to play …g4 because of the pin on the h-file. However, I thought that White wouldn’t castle either because then …g4 hits him right away, and he can’t play the thematic (in these positions) g2-g4 because of the same pin on the file. I was clearly out for blood, but unfortunately, White has more good waiting moves than Black, and by trying the brute force approach to playing …g7-g5-g4, I later ended up transposing into a normal line down a couple tempi thanks to my “clever” opening play.
Still, I managed to win this game, as my opponent (Alan Tate, 2211 FIDE of Scotland), spent almost two hours over the course of 8 moves in the middlegame. The position was quite complicated, but at some point, it’s better to start playing moves than to keep thinking. He eventually made some missteps in the complications that cost him dearly. With that win, I moved up to 5.5/9, nowhere near the winner’s circle, but still a step in the right direction.
In the final round, I was white against IM/WGM Tania Sachdev (2398 FIDE). I decided to surprise her with the English Opening, an opening I’ve only tried once before. The surprise worked, as the rare line I chose had her thinking starting on move 4. However, she found some good ideas and the position was only about equal in the following position after 19…Rh8-g8:
2kr2r1/pp5p/2p1b3/4qpQ1/8/2P2B2/P4PPP/1RR3K1 w - - 2 20)
I was debating between 20.Qe7 and 20.Qh4, but in the end, I wasn’t sure what my queen was doing on a3 after the likely continuation of 20…Rd7 21.Qa3 Bd5, when White doesn’t have time to take on a7 because of Black’s pin along the g-file. Instead, I decided on 20.Qh4, figuring she’d play 20…Bd5, after which I could play 21.Re1!. The point is that on 21…Qxc3, White has 22.Bxd5 Rxd5 23.Qxh7, hitting b7, g8 and f5. A couple picturesque lines are 23.Qxh7 Qg7 24.Re8+! and 23…Rg7 24.Re8+ Kc7 25.Re7+!. In both cases, White wins.
However, after 20.Qh4, she played 20…Bxa2! with less than a minute on her clock. I hadn’t realized that after 21.Ra1 Bd5 22.Re1, the position is a bit different: Black has 22…Qxc3 23.Bxd5 Rxd5 24.Qxh7, Black can now play 24…Rg7, since unlike the in the above line, White’s rook is on a1 and not b1 and therefore not attacking b7! Thus, I had to regroup and find another way to continue. Black is up a pawn, but it’s not the greatest of pawns and with time pressure still an issue for her until move 40, I figured that I just needed to keep making threats before something would fall. That opportunity came after 27…Qc5-a7, reaching the following position:
k2r2r1/qpQ4p/p1p5/5p2/2P5/6P1/5P1P/RR4K1 w - - 2 28)
Black dropped her queen back to guard against mate on b7 (I preferred 27…Rd8-b8, although it’s still not that pleasant), and now I decided the time was ripe to go after the kingside with 28.Ra5!, a nice multi-purpose rook lift. White has a couple threats. For one, White’s threatening to take on f5 and then continue with Rf7. Secondly, White can think about entombing Black’s queen with c4-c5 (when Rb1-b6 would also become more of a threat).
There isn’t any good way to save the f-pawn, so she jettisoned it with 28…f4. After 29.Qxf4 Rgf8 30.Rf5 Rxf5 31.Qxf5, Black still has a problem of what to do with her kingside. The Qa7 is completely offsides, and the rook can’t guard the h-pawn while saving itself. The game continued 31…h6 32.Qh7 Rf8 33.c5! (the pawn is taboo because of Qxb7#) Rd8 34.Rc1 Qb8 (34…Rd5 doesn’t actually do anything, because after 35.Qxh6, Black can’t take on c5 because of 36.Qf8+!) 35.Qxh6, and I was now up a pawn. With 3 connected passers on the kingside, the position is winning for White.
Fast forward a few moves and I had put my rook behind the passed h-pawn and started running with it. She was still in time pressure (there was a 30-second increment, but she had to get to move 40 to get an extra 50 minutes) and decided that running with her a-pawn was the only source of counterplay. That allowed a nice little finish.
k7/1p6/2p5/2P5/p6P/4Q1P1/1q1r1PK1/7R w - - 0 40)
I played 40.h5 and she responded quickly with 40…a3. Now if White continues with 41.h6 a2, there’s still some work to be done to win the game (I was planning 42.h7 Rd8 43.Qc1 in this case). However, I also saw a faster way of getting the job done, with 41.Rh4!.
This is another nice rook lift, and here White takes advantage of the fact that Black’s a-pawn can’t move backward. Now that it’s left a6, Black’s king is exposed along the a-file. Black’s queen is also tied down to the defense of the Rd2 and the pawn on a3, so she really had no defense at this point.
The game ended 41…Kb8 42.Ra4 Rd5 (42…a2 43.Qf4+ Kc8 44.Ra8+ Kd7 45.Qf7 is mate) 43.Qe8+ Kc7 44.Ra8, and she resigned, since there’s no good way to stop 45.Qc8#. If 44…Rxc5, then 45.Qd8 does the deed.
So with a couple wins in the last two rounds, I managed to get back to a respectable score with 6.5/10, but the tournament was still a disappointment. In the early rounds, I didn’t make the most of my chances, while in rounds 7 and 8, I completely lost the thread and went down in flames. Hopefully I’ll play better in Cappelle la Grande.