On a Less Serious Note

I don’t have any recent tournament games, so I decided I’d share a few blitz games I played last September in Montreal. After the Category 16 (2628 FIDE average for me) Montreal International, there was a blitz tournament involving most of the players and some other strong players who were in town. GMs Bacrot, Naiditsch, Onischuk, Moiseenko, and Tiviakov headlined the main event, and all but Bacrot participated in the blitz, which was a swiss with 6 double rounds. This was blitz at 5 minutes apiece, no increment.

In the first round, just as in the main event, I was paired with GM Alexander Onischuk (2699 FIDE at the time). I didn’t have much luck in the slow phase of the event, getting thoroughly outplayed as white in a Queen’s Indian. In the first blitz game, though, I had the black pieces.

(FEN: r3k2r/1p1n1ppp/1qp1p1b1/p2n4/PbBP2P1/1QN1PP2/1P1B2NP/R4R1K b kq - 1 15)

I played my usual Slav and we followed a somewhat theoretical path up until this point. His 15.Kh1 (to reach the above position) was new for me, though, but I think I might have come up with a good response.

I played 15…h5!, which now that I look at it, is FireBird’s first choice in the position too! After 16.g5, I continued with 16…h4 to try and isolate the g5-pawn and potentially hit the knight on g2 (FireBird doesn’t approve of this move though). Black is a bit better because of White’s bad Ng2 and somewhat overextended pawn structure, but there is still work to be done.

(FEN: r3k3/1p3pp1/1qp1p1b1/p1n3P1/PbB1P2r/5PBp/NPQ4P/3R1R1K b q - 6 23)

I thought I was playing very creatively with my h-pawn lunge and then using the space created to swing my rook into the game without castling. (Actually, one of my opponents last year said he noticed I use my rooks along ranks more so than other people he’s prepared for.) It’s not a particularly great idea, but it worked out here. Had he played 23.Bf4-e3 instead, I’d have been toast. I can’t take on e4, and with 24.Qf2 next, White will hit the Rh4 and also the Nc5 (the Bb4 is loose too).

Instead, Onischuk’s 23.Bf4-g3? gave me a reprieve, getting to the position in the diagram above. I didn’t quite handle it correctly though, as I played 23…Rxe4 in the above diagram. This is good for Black, but 23…Nxe4!, threatening a discovered check on White’s queen, was even stronger. Still, …Rxe4 left me with a nice advantage that I was able to convert.

In the second game of the mini-match, I had the white pieces again. I had played my first Queen’s Indian with 4.g3 against him in the tournament, so for this game, I went back to my normal Nimzo with 4.e3. The way the game turned out, maybe I should have played this there?

(FEN: 5rk1/2q2ppp/rpp2n2/4N3/P2Pp3/RQNbP3/5PPP/R5K1 b - - 6 22)

Alex went with the Classical Fianchetto setup against the 4.e3 Nimzo, reaching a kind of QGD Exchange structure. Nothing special was going on, but then his bishop ended up getting stranded on d3. After the exchange on d3, I went to round up the pawn with Qc4 and Qxd3 to go one pawn up.

(FEN: r5k1/2qn1ppp/8/r1p5/Pp1P4/3QP3/R2N1PPP/R5K1 w - - 0 29)

Despite the pawn deficit, Onischuk wasn’t going to go away quietly, and he tried to stir up some queenside play with his pawns. He had just played 28…c5 in the above diagram. I responded with 29.Nc4 R5a6 30.d5, thinking that my knight and queen would hold his pawns back while I could advance with my central and a-pawns to overwhelm him.

The finish came even more quickly than I could have imagined after 30…Ne5?. Black wants to remove the blockading knight, but this runs into tactical problems. I played 31.d6! and Black resigned. He can’t move the queen and stay in touch with the Ne5, so 31…Nxd3 is the only move. But then 32.dxc7 leaves Black helpless to stop 33.Rd2 next! The Nd3 has nowhere safe to go, and if Black tries to make room with 32…b3, then 33.Rd2 Nb4 34.Rd8+ is rather painful.

So I started with 2/2 against Onischuk! Those two games are my biggest scalps in over-the-board blitz. Unfortunately, those games seemed to sap some of my energy and the tournament field was not exactly weak. I ended up getting worked by Shulman in our mini-match before clawing my way back onto the leaderboard. In the final round, I was paired with GM Igor-Alexander Nataf, a French GM who was in Montreal to provide live commentary.

I’m not sure if Nataf works with Radjabov, but he’s definitely a big fan of his and a main proponent of the King’s Indian Defense. And while I had played my main lines against Onischuk, I pretty much avoided those lines the rest of the way. Thus, I turned to my old standby of 1.e4 for Nataf.

I played 1.e4 exclusively until about 2006, when I started to play 1.d4 almost all the time. When I did play 1.e4, I pretty much never went for Open Sicilians, instead hopping around from one Anti-Sicilian to another (Closed Sicilians, Bb5 Sicilians, and the Grand Prix Attack). Against Nataf, I went with the Rossolimo and it worked like a charm.

(FEN: r1bqkb1r/4nppp/p1n1p3/1pp1P3/3pB3/2P2N2/PP1P1PPP/RNBQ1RK1 b kq - 1 9)

This is a pretty topical line in the Rossolimo, although I hadn’t looked at it in probably about 10 years. Nataf surprised me with 9…d3, trying to entomb the bishop on c1. I decided to try and take advantage of Black’s undeveloped queenside with 10.a4.

Here, Nataf went wrong with 10…Bb7?, as he has too many weak pawns after 11.axb5 axb5 12.Rxa8 Bxa8 13.Qb3!. The b5- and d3-pawns are hard to keep track of in this position, and in trying to hang onto the pawns, he neglected his kingside development completely. That wasn’t a good idea.

(FEN: 3k1b1r/4nppp/4p3/1Qp1q3/8/1PN5/3P1PPP/2B2RK1 w - - 1 21)

Black’s development is a disaster zone. All that remains for White is to open the rest of the center, and I did that with 21.d4!. Black can’t take the pawn, and 21…Qc7 22.dxc5 opens the d-file for 23.Rd1+ next. The finish after 22…Nc6 23.Bf4! Qc8 24.Rd1+ Ke7 25.Ne4 wasn’t pretty for Black.

I won the second game of the mini-match against Nataf as black in fine fashion to move up to 8/12. That was good enough for a tie for 2nd place, with GMs Sergey Tiviakov and Yuri Shulman. Moiseenko took clear first with 8.5/12.

The reason I mentioned the Nataf/Radjabov link earlier is that less than a month later, Carlsen crushed Radjabov with the Rossolimo. Take a look at the game here. The opening line chosen by Radjabov was the same (in fact, instead of Nataf’s early …d3 push, Radjabov went with the more common …Bb7). Radjabov also found himself keeping his king in the center a bit too long and by the time he castled, he was completely lost.

I wish I could take credit for Magnus’s opening choice and ensuing win. =)

Now that I look at it, Radjabov played the same 9…d3 move in 2006 and beat GM Naiditsch (who happened to also be in Montreal – small world I guess). In annotating that game, GM Finkel writes that 10.a4 (which is what both Naiditsch and I came up with) almost loses on the spot to 10…b4. That’s a strange remark, as I can’t see any reason for that claim and his own notes don’t back up the evaluation. Maybe Magnus saw something in that game/line that he liked for White and decided to see whether Radjabov had really studied the line.

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