My tournament in Metz is over now, and I finished with only 5 points from 9 games. On the one hand, that’s definitely a disappointment as I had excellent chances to make a better result. At the same time, it was against a field with an average FIDE rating of 2500, so it was still a pretty strong open tournament. Talking to GM Christian Bauer about the event, he said it was once quite strong before slowly shedding players year after year. At his suggestion (he’s essentially the local chess hero), they made it a two-group event this year, thereby taking a chunk of lower-rated players out of the A group.
My first round game was probably the easiest one I had all tournament, but it may have been also the one in which I felt the worst. I had flown in a day earlier and was still a bit groggy with the time difference. Luckily, my opponent also seemed to be a bit out of sorts.
r3r1k1/5pp1/p2p2n1/3P4/1QBp1n2/5PPq/PPP4P/R5RK b - - 2 23 )
Black is winning here, and there are many ways to go about it. The way I chose seemed pretty obvious to me: 23…d3. Now 24.cxd3 would allow 24…Re2, so FM Victor Angel Bolzoni played 24.Rae1 instead. I continued with 24…Re2 (the computer points out that 24…Nh4! is even more decisive), with the point that after 25.Rxe2 Nxe2, White can’t play 26.Rg2 because of 26…dxc2, and there’s no good way to stop Black from adding a second queen to his side! Instead, he played 26.Bxd3, and after 26…Nxg1, I was honestly expecting him to resign. White has a bunch of pawns, but they aren’t remotely dangerous. Instead, he decided to play on until move 40, but at least he didn’t spend all his remaining time on it.
My second round game against IM Hugo Tirard of France was also pretty smooth, although it took longer to rope in the full point. My opponent played the Benko Gambit, and I happily grabbed it and tried to hang on. In the following position, Tirard sort of found himself in a nightmare Benko:
rr4k1/3n2bp/2qppnp1/2p5/P3PB2/R1N2NP1/1P2QPKP/3R4 b - - 3 19 )
Black’s typical queenside counterplay hasn’t made any real inroads, and his attempt to open the center up has backfired miserably. The d6-pawn is under attack, and …Ne8 or …Bf8 are pretty sad defensive moves (White can up the pressure in a number of ways, the most likely being Qc4 or Ng5). The pawn can’t move forward safely because of the rook on b8, and so he had to play 19…e5. That’s a rather ugly move that takes the dynamism out of Black’s center, and after 20.Qc4+ Kh8 21.Ng5, he was in big trouble. He sacrificed an exchange in the hopes of stirring up some trouble, but he also had to give up the ghost after a while.
The second day was a double-round day, so after this morning round win, I was black against GM Alexander Zubarev in the evening. I was quite happy with my position around move 25, as I seemed to be slowly outplaying him as Black in a Ragozin-type structure:
r5k1/1p3p1p/1n4p1/1P1p4/1bpP4/q3PNP1/2Q1NPKP/1R6 b - - 7 26 )
Unfortunately, having woken up at 7:30 AM for the morning game and now working away at about 6:30 PM in the evening round, fatigue was starting to set in (for both of us, I’m sure). In some mild time pressure, I blundered quite horribly and found myself having to pull out all the stops to try and save my position. Thanks to a very natural mistake from him (and an ingenious defensive idea, if I may say so), I managed to escape into the following queen and pawn endgame:
8/7p/1p1k1pp1/1P1q4/2QP3P/5PP1/6K1/8 w - - 0 43 )
After 43.Qb4+ Ke6, I felt like I had excellent drawing chances, despite the pawn deficit. The d4- and b5-pawns are weak, and if White walks his king over, he risks opening himself up to checks. In any case, Black is going to try and open the kingside up with …h5 and …g5, which is what I did. In the following position, I was quite close to the draw:
8/8/1p2qk2/1P4pp/3P4/3Q1PP1/5K2/8 b - - 13 55 )
Sadly, I went the wrong way with my queen. Instead of 55…Qa2+ 56.Qe2 [56.Kg1 Qa1+ 57.Kh2 Qa2+ 58.Kh3 only temporarily stops the checks – after 58…Qa1, White has to move back to the 2nd rank with his king when they start again from a2] Qd5, White can’t make any progress. His queen is needed to guard the pawns and shield the king, but it can’t cover everything at the same time.
However, I played 55…Qh3?, and after 56.Qf1! Qd7? 57.Qc4!, White should be winning. A check on c6 would enter a winning K+P endgame, and after 57…Qh3, White should be able to use some checks to bring his queen to a nice position and then can cover the h2-square with either g3-g4 or Kf2-g1. However, he decided to win the g5-pawn, and that gave me another chance. It’s not forced, but I managed to set up a perpetual by taking my queen from h2 to g1 to d1 to a1 to a4. Taking the g5-pawn wins, but then he needed to calculate the king and pawn endgame when his king comes across the 5th rank and Black takes on b5 with check – with just the 30-second increment and at about 9:20 PM (more than 12 hours after the start of the 2nd round), I guess that he was kind of tired too and couldn’t quite work it all out.
With 2.5/3, I was white against GM Christian Bauer (2607) the next day. When we played in Cannes, I had the white pieces as well and the game ended in a hard-fought draw (https://vbhat.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/stuck-in-a-rut/). He’s been over 2600 FIDE for most of the past decade, but he tends to jump around from opening to opening, generally on the fringes of theory. I remember seeing his games a lot in the Guimard French, where he scored a number of nice victories. This time around, he took some liberties in the opening and paid dearly for them:
r1b1r1k1/5pb1/2NpPnp1/p2P1P1p/2R5/qpB2Q1P/6P1/1B3RK1 b - - 0 31 )
If my position against Tirard was a Benko player’s nightmare, this really would make a Benoni player cringe. Despite his extra queenside, Black is getting slaughtered everywhere else. White has a ton of threats, and after 31…b2 (a last gasp, trying to pin the Bc3) 32.Qg3 Rf8 33.fxg6 fxe6 34.Ne7+ Kh8 35.Qh4, Black has little choice but to resign.
The tournament was alternating one game days with two-a-days, so heading into the second double rounder, I was tied for the lead with GM Andrei Sokolov at 3.5/4.