Well … it’s been more than a week, but after my long chess trip, I have been a bit lazy to look at chess (even my own games!) for a little while.
The player list at Cannes for the Festival des Jeux (there were all sorts of other tournaments going on as well, from Backgammon to Scrabble) looked promising. Split into 3 groups, the top group was essentially only open to players over 2200 FIDE. With about half the players being either IMs or GMs, you could look forward to a real fight every round.
The first few rounds didn’t disappoint in that way, as I had to work quite hard to get 3.5/4. I started off with a couple wins against lower rated players, but then a draw against a WIM left me playing down in round 4 as well. I’ll recap those rounds for now and save the rest for later.
In round 1, I was black against Fabrizio Molina, and Italian 2230 player. I’ve recently griped about my opponents’ penchant for the Exchange Slav, and while this wasn’t an Exchange Slav, it was an Exchange Queen’s Gambit Declined. Not the most exciting of openings, but oh well.
My opponent didn’t play it in the usual fashion, choosing to fianchetto his bishop, but I’ve seen this incarnation before when I used to start off with the Triangle (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6). After 15.Rfe1, we reached the following position:
(FEN: r2qr1k1/1p3pp1/2pb1n1p/p2p3b/3P3N/P1N1P1P1/1PQ2PBP/R3R1K1 b – – 2 15)
What to do here? I have the bishop pair, but neither bishop is especially great at the moment. Meanwhile, White has no obvious weakness for me to target. I thought about 15…Bg4, hoping to provoke him into playing 16.f3 Be6 17.e4?. This is a common plan for White in similar pawn structures, but here it backfires quickly as White’s center isn’t that sturdy. For example, 17…Qb6 18.Qd3 (not 18.Rad1 dxe4! and Bb3, picking up an exchange) Be5 19.Rad1 dxe4 20.fxe4 Bg4 and Black is in control. If White could have secured his pawns in the center and started to push Black back, it’d be dangerous, but here Black is hitting at White’s structure from all sides. Unfortunately, after 15…Bg4, he can just play 16.Nf5 and my bishops aren’t doing anything.
After some more deliberation, I decided on 15…Nh7. Objectively, I can’t say the move is that much better than 15…Bg4 or 15…Qd7, or a number of other moves, but I was simply hoping to try and exploit the weakened light-squares on White’s kingside in the future. It worked out after 16.Rac1 Be7 17.Nf5?! (17.Bf3! was maybe the simplest, eliminating the threat before it really becomes a problem, although 17.Nf3 was also reasonable) Ng5!. Now he understood what my idea was, as the f3-square is seriously weak and he doesn’t have any good way of stopping Black from dropping a knight into that square next.