Category Archives: Balaguer 2010

The White Period

I finished my last blog on a positive note, with a win where I finally played well from start to finish. As it was, I did manage to continue to play well through the rest of the tournament, but I wasn’t able to parlay that into any wins. Instead, all three of my games ended in draws (and thus, the title is inspired by Picasso’s so-called “Blue Period”).

In round 7, I had the black pieces against GM Daniele Vocaturo. Vocaturo had started off with 4 seemingly easy wins before falling back to earth with a couple of draws. The first critical moment came after he played 13.Bc1-e3:

(FEN: r4rk1/bppq1pp1/p1np1n1p/4p3/4P3/1QPPBN1P/PP3PP1/R3RNK1 b - - 2 13)

His last move was a new one for me, and so I sat down to think about my move. I can’t avoid the bishop exchange, but should it take place on e3 or a7? I played 13…Rfe8, and both of us agreed after the game that this was the right move. One problem with exchanging on e3 right away is that after 13…Bxe3 14.Nxe3, Black cannot easily chase the queen away from b3 because the b7-pawn will still be hanging (for now, …Rfb8 would trap the queen if it took the pawn). Black also has to think about a Ne3-d5 jump, as after an exchange on d5, White might quickly play d4 and gain a small advantage in space and activity.

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A Return to Form?

As I wrote in my last post, I finished the first three rounds with 2.5 points, but I still wasn’t playing all that well. I had missed key variations and ideas in each of my first three games.

In round 4, things were to get even worse. I had the white pieces against IM Jordan Ivanov, a solid IM I had drawn with in Seville earlier in the year. That was an up-and-down game where I missed a few opportunities and had to work hard to escape with a draw.

I was prepared for his usual QGA, but around lunchtime, I developed a splitting headache. A couple of Tylenol numbed some of the pain, but at game time, I was more inclined to sit with an icepack on my head than to play a game of chess in the sweltering heat of Balaguer.

Once it took me an hour to play out my preparation (and notice that I had already spent an hour), I realized it wasn’t my day, and I quickly tried to swap off some pieces. Luckily, Ivanov was not particularly ambitious that day (he had beaten GM Oms Pallisse the day before, but I guess with the black pieces, he went in being happy with a draw), and he didn’t try to avoid any of the exchanges. We agreed to a draw after 24 moves.

Playing one degree with Ivanov, Oms Pallisse is the only player to have beaten me in a rated game when I played the Trompowsky. I’ve been a 1.e4 player for most of my chess career, but after a long break from regular tournaments, I started playing 1.d4 in 2005. To cut down on the theory I had to learn, I started with the Trompowsky against 1…Nf6 players. In 21 rated games with the Tromp, I scored 19.5 points. Most of the games were against players about 150-200 points lower rated than me, though. GM Larry Christiansen also beat me in a Tromp in the US Chess League, but that wasn’t a rated game. Including such unrated games, my score in the Tromp moves up to 22.5 points from 25 games!

Now back to Balaguer … If round 4 against Ivanov was a strange day, the next game was even weirder. I was black against IM Mathias Roeder. Roeder has 3 GM norms, but he’s never crossed 2500 FIDE. With the white pieces, he’s especially difficult to beat, and I noticed that for a stretch from the start of 2006 through part of 2008, he didn’t have a single loss in the database with white. For someone who plays about 100 games a year, that’s pretty solid.

(FEN: r1b2rk1/ppqn1ppp/2pb1n2/4p3/P1BP4/2N1PN1P/1PQ2PP1/R1B2RK1 b - - 1 11)

White has just played 11.Qd1-c2, and it’s now up to Black to find a reasonable plan. In general, his problem is that the central tension can’t be favorably resolved and so his queenside pieces will languish on the first rank. Black can’t push …e5-e4, and for the moment, …Re8 would leave f7 weak after Ng5. Meanwhile, if Black takes on d4, White will recapture with the pawn and achieve a very nice isolated-queen’s pawn position. Black can’t target the pawn, and White has the more active pieces.

I ended up playing 11…h6?!, which is a somewhat provocative move that I didn’t really want to play. At the same time, I didn’t like the alternatives. Playing …h6 means that …Re8 is quite reasonable. After …Re8, Black can think about …exd4, …Nf8, and …Be6 – the pawn on h6 shuts the Bc1 down in that IQP middlegame.

The cost to …h6 is that it weakens the kingside light squares. With the bishop on c4, White might drop a piece into g6, or he might try and maneuver a knight to the soft f5-square now. Black can’t play g6 anymore because the pinned f7-pawn doesn’t actually guard that square.

White immediately executed that maneuver with 12.Nh4. I responded with 12…Rd8. I didn’t want to go e8 in this position for two reasons: one, the rook takes away a square for the king in case of Bxf7+ and Qb3+; and two, there could be a time when if White sacrifices a knight on h6 and plays Qg6+ and Bxf7, the rook would en prise on e8.

Now White made a clear mistake in my view, with the apparently natural 13.Nf5?!. After 13…Bf8, Black is now ready to play …Nb6 (there’s no pressure on e5 anymore), and so Roeder played 14.a5, cutting the knight down. This allowed me to unwind nicely with 14…Nd5!.

(FEN: r1br1bk1/ppqn1pp1/2p4p/P2npN2/2BP4/2N1P2P/1PQ2PP1/R1B2RK1 w - - 1 15)

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Our Man in Balaguer

[Note – the games and opponents are real and no vacuum cleaners were misrepresented in this blog!]

After Barberà del Vallès, the next tournament on my calendar was in Balaguer. I’ve had good experiences in Balaguer, having made my last two GM norms in 2006 and 2007 there. In 2006, I was in contention for first place until a last-round loss to GM Azer Mirzoev. But in 2007, that final GM norm came with a tie for first place with GM Alexander Delchev.

Unlike my previous tournaments in Barberà and Montcada, Balaguer is a single section tournament, so in the first round, there are huge rating mismatches. Still, my on-and-off form was on display in the first round against Jaime Parramon (1963 FIDE).

(FEN: r2q1rk1/pp1bnppp/2n1p3/1B2P3/Q2P4/R4N2/3P1PPP/1N3RK1 b - - 0 13)

Parramon responded to my French Defense with the Wing Gambit. At first I accepted the pawn, but I gave the pawn back in order to quell his hopes of a simple initiative (that’s how White’s c-pawn ended up on d4 – I played …d4 at some point and he played c2-c3xd4). White’s structure, though, is teetering now and I could have increased my advantage very simply with 13…a6. Retreating the bishop allows …Nxe5, while after 14.Bxc6 Bxc6, White will not be able to hang onto his d4-pawn after …Nf5.

I saw this, but thought I could get the same thing with 13…Nf5?. Black is threatening 14…a6 again, with the same ideas of a discovered attack. I realized right after I played the move that I was allowing 14.d5!, which sacrifices the doomed pawn, but also cuts down my bishop along the way. After 14…exd5 15.Bxc6 Bxc6 16.Qf4 Bd7 17.h4, White had achieved more counterplay than he could have dreamed of after 13…a6.

(FEN: r3qrk1/pp4p1/2b3Pp/4Pp2/3p1P2/R5Q1/3P2P1/1N2R1K1 b - - 0 24)

I managed to regroup and again put a stop to his attacking ambitions, and now I finally got myself on track and started attacking a bit myself. White’s g6-pawn is an obvious target, as the queen is the only piece that can guard it. I could win the pawn with …Qe6 and …Be8, but the bishop is useless on g6. I could also try for …Qd7, …Rfe8, …Re6, and …Qe8, but that is rather slow. The quickest, and strongest, route is via a6!

With 24…a5!, I opened the 6th rank for my Ra8 to swing across, while also setting my queenside passers in motion. Had he played 25.Rd3, then 25…Rd8 is simple and strong. The queenside pawns are now free to advance, and White’s Nb1 is still doing nothing. Instead, he played 25.Rc1 Ra6 26.Rd3, but with 26…Bd5, Black’s rook is going to take on g6 with tempo and White’s position falls apart.

In the second round, I was white against Diego Del Rey (2395 FIDE). Black has just recaptured on c5 with his bishop. Structurally, Black is doing fine. His only problem is with his development and this means White has to act quickly.

(FEN: rn1q1rk1/p4ppp/1p2p3/2bb4/8/5NP1/PPQBPPBP/R4RK1 w - - 0 13)

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