In my last post, I covered my first four games from Metz. After the win against Bauer, I faced another double-round day, and in the morning, squared off against GM Andrei Sokolov.
Both of us were the only players on 3.5/4 (nobody had a perfect score). He had taken a different route, though, as he drew his first game and then won three games. Sokolov was as high as #3 in the world in the late 1980s, but he wasn’t able to maintain his good form for that long. Still, his Wikipedia page described him as a “practical-minded chess player” who would remain “ice-cool under pressure” – at least the latter is sometimes used to describe me!
Our game wasn’t especially exciting. I maintained a small plus for a while, but he defended well, although both of us thought White might have some serious chances in the following position:
6k1/5pp1/4p2p/q1nn4/b1Q5/N3PP2/1B2BKPP/8 w - - 0 27)
Black has just played 26…Nd7xc5. White has the bishop pair and Black’s pieces are somewhat awkwardly placed on the queenside. However, I wasn’t able to find any way to proceed:
(1) 27.Bd4 was an obvious candidate, pushing Black backwards. After 27…Nd7 28.Qc8+ Nf8 (28…Kh7 is also possible, although he thought he was running some risks after 29.Nc4! – however, he didn’t realize that after 29…Qb4! 30.Bd3+ f5 31.Qa6 Nc7!, Black is holding things together) 29.Bc5 Be8! defends everything nicely. The bishop on e8 is hanging, but if White takes it, the bishop on c5 then falls.
(2) 27.Nb5 is somewhat tricky (27…Bxb5?! 28.Qxc5 Nc7 29.Qd4 seems to give White some initiative), but 27…Qd2! kills any dreams White may have had.
(3) 27.Qg4 f6 (not 27…Nf6?? 28.Bxf6) 28.Nc4 Qc7 29.Ba3 Bd7 also defends, and this is what I chose, hoping to keep pieces on the board. We were both in some time pressure, and he later offered me a draw, which I declined, as I felt I hadn’t exhausted all my tricks in the position. However, once he noticed that last tactical shot, I decided I didn’t have much to play for and offered a draw, which he immediately accepted.
In the evening round, I was black against the Cuban GM Fidel Corrales. This was a tough fight – he surprised me in the opening, but I reacted well and actually gained a small plus. However, I made a couple mistakes subsequently in the middlegame and then had to suffer for a long time in an endgame. By about move 35, both of us were down to just a couple minutes left (with the 30-second increment), making the endgame rather difficult to play:
4k1r1/3n2pR/p1p1b1P1/1p2P1K1/1P1BP3/P7/8/3B4 b - - 14 47)
Material is equal, but it’s clear that White is the one who is playing for something. Black’s rook is tied to the g7-pawn, the knight is tied to the c5-square (allowing Bc5-d6 would really cut Black’s options down), and the bishop is tied to e6 for now (as otherwise Bg4 and e6 would be devastating). Note that …Nf8 never threatens anything, as after exchanges on h7, White plays Kg6 and Kxg7, forcing the pawn through!
Still, the question remains of how White is going to make progress, as I had been shuffling my king back and forth for the past couple moves.
Unfortunately, I had neither the time nor the energy to figure out what either of us should be doing here. With the benefit of hindsight, Black should play 47…Ke7 here, waiting for 48.a4 when he can play 48…c5!!.
Black absolutely needs to change the structure if he wants to continue fighting for a draw. White’s idea with Bd1 was to play a4 and exchange on b5. Then, however Black takes, an open file will be created that isn’t already covered. For example, with …axb5, White’s plan is as follows: Be2, Rh1, and Ra1 to a7. If Black “stops” this with …Ra8 (after Rh1), then Rc1 forces Rc8 and then Ra1. Once the White rooks lands on a7, then Bc5-d6 will be a huge improvement as then Black’s king will be pinned to the back rank. Taking back on b5 with the c-pawn (as I did), isn’t all that much better, and I lost without too much trouble.