Greatest Hits of the 2000s, Game 2

The trophy at stake (picture from FM Jonathan Berry) doubled as a functional teapot

In my last post, I detailed how I started off against Bu Xiangzhi in the US-China Chess Summit of 2001. After that embarrassing start, team captain GM Nick De Firmian showed some faith and sent me back out the next day to board 1. This time I got the white pieces.

A 3.Bb5+ Sicilian arose (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+), but Bu avoided the main lines with 3…Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Nbxd7. After 5.0-0 Ngf6 6.Qe2 g6 (6…e6 is much more popular), I played 7.c3. The game continued with 7…Bg7 8.d4 cxd4 9.cxd4, and it already looks to me like White is better. Black either has to allow e4-e5 (and maybe e5-e6), or he continues as Bu did with 9…e5.

(FEN: r2qk2r/pp1n1pbp/3p1np1/4p3/3PP3/5N2/PP2QPPP/RNB2RK1 w kq e6 0 10)

Now that I look at it, Black was 2-0 with this line at the time our game, so maybe it was part of Bu’s preparation. I only played 1.e4 back then, with a couple anti-Sicilians as part of my repertoire. Of them, the Rossolimo/3.Bb5+ lines were my most serious lines, so this line couldn’t have been a surprise for him.

However, playing …e5 has some downside too, as after 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.Rd1, Black’s position is a bit awkward. His queen has a bunch of squares to choose from (to get away from 12.Nxe5), but most of them expose the queen in some way. Going to e7, for example, walks into 12.b3 and 13.Ba3. Bu chose 11…Qb8, but while this tucks the queen away, it also tucks the Ra8 away. I continued with  12.b3.

Now if 12…b5, I planned 13.Ba3 b4 14.Bb2 0-0 15.Nbd2, when Black has closed the a3-f8 diagonal but gifted White the c4-square. From c4, the e5-pawn will be rather vulnerable, and it’s not clear how Black will develop after something like 15…Re8 16.Nc4. The Nf6 is stuck defending the Nd7, but the Nd7 is stuck guarding e5. Meanwhile, White still has building moves (doubling on the d-file is one possibility).

Bu played 12…0-0 13.Ba3 Re8 14.Nc3, and now challenged the diagonal with 14…Bf8. I don’t remember this being a particularly difficult decision for me, as I felt my bishop was better than his, so I didn’t care for the exchange. From b2, it might eye the e5-pawn and while Black’s bishop is on a better diagonal, it still doesn’t have much to do. However, my computer clearly prefers 15.Bxf8 Rxf8 16.Nd5. Although it’s not quite thinking like this, maybe the idea is that by trading off a bunch of other pieces, Black’s remaining pieces (Nd7, Qb8, and Ra8) will be more exposed.

After my 15.Bb2, Black still has trouble getting his rook into the game though. He tried to solve this by playing 15…a5, but pawns can’t move backwards, so the b5-square is now in White’s control. After 16.Rac1 Ra6, we reached the diagram below:

(FEN: 1q2rbk1/1p1n1p1p/r4np1/p3p3/4P3/1PN2N2/PB2QPPP/2RR2K1 w - - 0 17)

I played 17.Qb5! here, taking advantage of the weakened b5-square and tying the Ra6 to the a5-pawn (he can play 17…Rb6, as 18.Qxa5 Bb4 19.Qa4 Nc5 wins, but a little two-step with 18.Qa4 leaves both the a5-pawn and Nd7 en prise, when 18…Nc5 allows 19.Qxa5). Another interesting move here was 17.Nd5.

After 17…Bd6 18.Nd5 Nxd5 19.exd5, I felt like I had a useful transformation of the position. Black can’t play 19…e4 yet because of 20.Qxd7 exf3 21.g3, when the long diagonal plus Black’s loose pawn on f3 give White a clear plus. Meanwhile, after 19…Nf6 20.Nd2 e4 21.h3, I have a passed pawn and Black’s search for activity had opened up the game for my Bb2. Bu was happy with this the release of his e5-pawn, though, and played 21…Bf4, pinning the Nd2 and reaching the position in the next diagram.

(FEN: 1q2r1k1/1p3p1p/r4np1/pQ1P4/4pb2/1P5P/PB1N1PP1/2RR2K1 w - - 0 22)

It looks like White has lost a bit of his grip on the position here – Black has some central activity and is poised to get some attacking ideas of his own with 22…e3 next. I uncorked what is probably one of my best moves here with 22.Nc4!!.

Wait, did I say the knight was pinned?

I was quite happy with this decision, and Bu was also quite impressed in the post-mortem. All of Black’s activity disappears if he takes the exchange – the …e3 push is off the table, the a1-h8 long diagonal can no longer be contested, and the d5-pawn cannot be held back from d6, from where it would sever all communication between the queenside and kingside.

My (current) computer was not particularly impressed at first, assessing the position as about equal. But given a lot more time and walking down its “best” lines by a move or two, it seems to settle on a clear advantage to White, which is the same conclusion that both Bu and I came to.

Therefore, Bu declined the material and strove for activity with 22…e3!. After 23.fxe3 Bh2+, I wasn’t completely sure where to put my king, but decided on 24.Kf1 in the end. Although 24.Kh1 Ne4 25.Rc2 covers everything for the time being (Black can’t play …Ng3+ ever because of Kxh2!), it felt strange to set up a possible self-mate on h1. After 24…Ne4 25.Rc2, we reached the position in the diagram below.

(FEN: 1q2r1k1/1p3p1p/r5p1/pQ1P4/2N1n3/1P2P2P/PBR3Pb/3R1K2 b - - 0 25)

A critical moment in the game, although neither of us understood what Black had to do here. I was slightly concerned about my king’s position, but I didn’t see anything that Black could do. Bu couldn’t find anything productive either, choosing 25…Ng3+?. The king already wants to go on a little walk to the queenside, so this only helps White.

Instead, in a lengthy post-mortem, we discovered 25…Ra8!. It’s not a very intuitive move, but it’s entirely logical. The point is that the Ra6 is doing nothing for Black, as the 6th rank holds no prospects for it. By retreating with the rook, the Qb8 is freed from the defense of the Re8, so it can finally enter the game (maybe on g3). Something like 25…Rd8 is weaker, because the rook is more useful on the e-file (guarding the Ne4 and potentially hitting the e3-pawn after …Ng3+ and …Nf5). (As an aside, my cold-blooded computer has no intuition and so considers every move, settling on …Ra8 in a fraction of a second.)

White doesn’t have anything forcing after 25…Ra8, but he is still a little better – Black can’t do anything forcing either! It’d probably be best to try and consolidate with 26.Bd4 or 26.Rd3. Both moves over-protect e3 and aim to arrange a safe transfer of the king to the queenside.

After 25…Ng3+?, though, White has an easier job of consolidating. The game continued 26.Ke1 Nf5 27.Re2 Rd8 (27…Ng3 28.Rf2 Nf5 29.Kd2 is winning, as the rook is the on right side of the king finally) 28.Rd3. This last move keeps everything in the center over-protected (for never reading anything by Nimzowitsch, I seem to have learned that principle at least) and allows 29.Kd2 if need be.

The game concluded: 28…Ng3 29.Be5! Qc8 30.Rf2 Re8 31.d6 Qe6 32.Rf6, and Bu threw in the towel:

(FEN: 4r1k1/1p3p1p/r2PqRp1/pQ2B3/2N5/1P1RP1nP/P5Pb/4K3 b - - 0 32)

The final position after 32.Rf6 is complete domination for White. The Black queen’s only safe square is on c8, but then 33.d7 is brutal. But just looking at the position, the position looks kind of ridiculous – White controls the entire center of the board; meanwhile Black’s pieces are on funny squares (Bh2 and Ng3, Ra6); and finally, it doesn’t look like White ever remembered to castle!

In the sense of central domination and harmony in my pieces, it’s also rather similar to the final position from my first Greatest Hits game (against Ehlvest, available here).

This game was a big win for me and the team, but it was the only one the junior team would end up scoring in the 2-board, 4-game match. I drew as black against Wang Yue in the 3rd game, but in the final game as White against Bu, I turned down a draw in an equal middlegame (we were down a couple points with only 3 boards left) and went on to lose the game. So I ended up losing my match against Bu/Wang Yue by a 2.5-1.5 score. The other two juniors (Dmitry Schneider and Hikaru Nakamura) only managed half a point in total, meaning our US junior team got crushed overall. China won the overall match (men’s, women’s, and junior team combined) by a score of 21 – 19.

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2 responses to “Greatest Hits of the 2000s, Game 2

  1. Hi Master,

    I like very much your blog! Your way of wrinting… and games… and comments… they are wonderfull!
    This game (and comments!) is a special one… so I have to ask you: may I translate it to portuguese and put it on my blog?
    (Sorry for my poor English)

    Best wishes from Brazil

    Mário Sérgio Guimarães

  2. Thanks! Feel free to translate it into Portuguese, I don’t mind.

    Cheers,
    Vinay

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