I was exhausted at the end of Badalona, so I had my doubts as to whether I’d actually play in the rapid tournament in Poble Nou. Even after the three days in-between, I was still a bit tired, but I decided that a rapid tournament wouldn’t take too much more out of me. As added motivation, I needed at least one rapid tournament to qualify for the overall Catalan Circuit prizes (combined total from 5 events).
Like the previous category-A tournaments on the Circuit, this one featured Lazaro Bruzon at the top of the list and a host of Cuban IMs and GMs behind him. It was a 10-round swiss at a time control of G/25 (no increment or delay). There were 7 GMs and 14 IMs playing, as well as a dozen WGMs, FMs, etc.
Even though I was playing way down, the first round was actually a bit of an adventure. The tournament started at 10 AM, and while I had woken up in time, my brain was lagging a bit behind. I thus decided to try and completely avoid his attack by entering an endgame, but the endgame promised me few objective chances as it was tough to find any active idea. However, he finally made a mistake and I ended up winning. Round 2 was a much smoother affair, as I outplayed my opponent from start to finish.
With 2/2, I was white against IM Vladimir Bukal Jr. in round 3. We reached the following random position after 13…d7xe6:
rn2k2r/pbp1b1pp/1p2pn2/8/2PP4/P2B2P1/1PQNN1qP/R1B1KR2 w Qkq - 0 14)
With a G/25 time control, there is the opportunity to think a few times during the game. This was one of those moments for me. The thing is that I need to move my knight on d2, but moving it to b3 (to prepare Bf4/g5 and 0-0-0) allows Ng4xh2, when Black has a nasty check on f3 after the Rf1 moves.
I think I came up with a very strong plan in 14.Rg1!, essentially forcing Black to take on h2 with his queen. After 14…Qxh2, I played 15.Nf1!, getting the knight out of the way with tempo. The queen doesn’t have a lot of good squares and he had to retreat with 15…Qh5. Then 16.Nf4 continued the hit parade, and after 16…Qf7, White can claim a healthy advantage with 17.Ng6! Rg8 18.Ne5. For the mere price of one pawn, Black is behind in development and can’t castle kingside. He may also have some trouble castling queenside after a further Qa4+.
Unfortunately, I managed to make a tactical mistake later on and relinquished my hold on his position. We ended up in a knight and pawn endgame that was drawn, but I tried a bit too hard to win and with both of us down to less than 30 seconds, I put my king on a bad square and allowed a knight fork. All of a sudden he was up a pawn and I couldn’t stop it without losing the rest of my pawns. I ended up losing the game.
My next game was against Albert Roefls, and it was a pretty simple game for me. We reached the position in the diagram below after 23.Re2, when Black has a nice tactical shot that made a nice geometric impression on me.
2rq2k1/pb4bp/4p1p1/1p1n1pP1/3PpP2/1P2P1N1/PBr1R2P/R2Q1NK1 b - - 4 23)
I played 23…Nxe3! 24.Nxe3 Rxb2! (23…Rxb2 24.Rxb2 Nxe3 leads to the same thing), and after 25.Rxb2 Qxd4, pretty much all of White’s pieces are on dark squares and pretty much all of them are in danger. There’s no way to avoid material losses and he caved pretty quickly.
With 3 points from 4 games, I had yet another rematch with Hector Mestre Bellido in round 5. He beat me in Montcada where I went a bit nuts and then hung a rook. I then beat him (after some unnecessary excitement) in Badalona. Here, at least, I had the white pieces. Before the game started, we were asking each other about what tournaments we’d be playing next – he was playing the Spanish Teams and then Sabadell while I would be playing Sants. We both breathed sighs of relief at that – this would be our last game against each other!
It wasn’t pretty, but I managed to win. It was a main-line Slav, and nothing really happened for most of the game. The evaluation drifted between equal and a small advantage for me, and it only became really unpleasant for him at the very end where he was short on time. Without an increment, he had no way to save the endgame.
In the fifth round, I had another rematch with an earlier opponent on the Circuit. In Barbera del Valles, I beat IM Ana Matnadze with white, and here, I had the black pieces. She played 19.b4? to reach the following position:
2rq2k1/pp1rbpp1/2p1pnbp/8/QPPP4/2N1B1PP/P4PB1/3RR1K1 b - b3 0 19)
White’s position looks nice at first glance – all her pieces are developed and she has more space. However, Black’s position is quite solid and there is some hidden potential that was shown with 19…b5!. Now 20.cxb5 cxb5 21.Nxb5 (21.Qxb5 drops the Nc3, while 21.Qb3 a5 is also not great for White – she has a isolated pawn with no real advantage in piece activity) Bc2! picks up the exchange. She retreated with 20.Qb3, and the game continued 20…bxc4 21.Qxc4 Nd5 22.a3 a5 23.Na2, getting to the following position:
2rq2k1/3rbpp1/2p1p1bp/p2n4/1PQP4/P3B1PP/N4PB1/3RR1K1 b - - 1 23)
I played another small combination here but I didn’t quite execute it in the right order. I played 23…Nxe3 24.fxe3 c5, with the game continuing 25.bxc5 Bxc5 26.Rc1 Rxd4! with a winning advantage. White gets two rooks for the queen, but Black has too many pawns and the better coordination.
But 25.Rc1! would have avoided a lost position – Black plays 25…Qc7 and takes g3 next, but White is not lost. Instead, the right move order would have been to start with 23…c5!, as then if 24.Rc1, Black has 24…axb4 25.axb4 Nb6!, getting out of the pin along the c-file and winning the d4-pawn.
After this win, I took a quick draw against IM Miguel Munoz Pantoja in the 7th round to finish out the day at 5.5/7. That left me half a point behind the leaders going into the second day.
In the morning round, I was black against GM Omar Almeida. I outplayed him on the black side of a Slav and ended up a pawn ahead. I seemed to play pretty well according to the computer, but despite my extra pawn, my light-squared bishop was somewhat useless on g6 (he had pawns on f3 and e4, while I had pawns on f7 and e6), and by the time I got my bishop back into the game, he had set up a solid endgame fortress. The game ended in a draw.
In round 9, I was white against IM Florian Grafl. This was a wild game, although in general, most of the complications favored me. He fell apart when he got down to a minute and with that win, I moved up to 7/9.
That win earned me a rematch with Lazaro Bruzon. Bruzon had beaten me in Badalona, but this time I had the white pieces. He offered me a draw early on, but I declined as he had 7.5/9, and winning was my only shot of getting first place.
That declined draw offer seemed to surprise some people, especially the players on board 2 who had taken a quick draw. There, GM Almeida had white against GM Gonzalez, and the point differential was the same – Almeida had 7 and Gonzalez had 7.5. But unlike my board, Almeida is higher rated than his opponent, so when he accepted the draw after about a minute of play, I was very surprised.
The spurned draw offer may have rattled Bruzon a bit as well – he equalized in the opening, saw his draw offer declined, and then made a couple missteps that left him worse. That gave me a serious chance to deal Bruzon his first loss of the 2010 Catalan Circuit (he hadn’t lost a single game – classical, rapid, or blitz – up to that point!). We reached the position below after 20…Rd8:
3r2k1/1b1R1p2/pq2pp1p/1p2b3/4P3/1BN5/PP2QPPP/6K1 w - - 1 21)
I had given up the bishop pair and invaded on d7 earlier, having seen a nice little tactic in this position. I continued with 21.Qg4+ Kf8 22.Bxe6!. The bishop is taboo, as if 22…Qxe6 the Rd8 falls while if 22…fxe6, 23.Qg7+ leads to mate. However, after the game continued with 22…Rxd7 23.Bxd7 Qd4, a draw seems like a reasonable result. Black is down a pawn, but he has the two bishops, and all his pieces are quite active.
With that in mind, maybe 21.Qe3 was more accurate. The idea is similar, but going to e3 first makes some subtle differences. After 21…Bd4 22.Qg3+ Kf8 23.Bxe6, the same tactical motif works. Here, though, Black’s queen can’t enter as powerfully on d4.
Getting back to the game, a draw was agreed in the following position after 28.Qg4+:
8/5pk1/p4p1p/1p6/3bP1Q1/2N3P1/PP1q1P1P/6K1 b - - 0 28)
I offered a draw, thinking that a repetition with 28…Kf8 29.Qc8+ Kg7 30.Qg4+ was going to be the end of the game. Actually, he might have thought that was correct as well, as he didn’t have to trade the light-squared bishops on c8 to allow White this check on g4.
However, both of us missed that after 28…Kf8, White plays 29.Qf4!. When I blundered at the end of our game in Badalona, he immediately pointed it out to me after our handshake. This time, though, the simple queen move hit me as I was taking a walk before the awards ceremony.
White guards the f2-pawn, but also hits the f6- and h6-pawns. The h6-pawn is especially important, as it might fall with check. And after 29…Qxb2, White should continue with 30.Nd5 (30.Qxh6+ Kg8 leaves White struggling to save his knight and guard f2) with some initiative. It’s still not winning, but White is better, and with both of us down to about a minute, I would be happy to take my chances there.
It would have been somewhat poetic too, as this was his 64th game of the Circuit and he had experienced nothing but success up to that point. He scored 7/8 in Montcada, 7/9 in Barbera del Valles, Andorra, Pamplona, and Badalona (with first place in all but Andorra, where he was second), and he had won the 2-day rapid tournament right before Poble Nou with 8/10. Ah well, maybe next time …