It’s been a few days since my last blog about Cappelle la Grande, but it’s now high time to wrap up the tournament. I finished with 6.0/9 –the same score I had last year – but I got there in a completely different manner. Last year, I played only two players above 2400 FIDE in 9 games; this year, I faced my weakest opponent in round 1 (GM Arkadi Vul).
After winning my first two games, I had the black pieces against the young Italian IM, Sabino Brunello, of Italy. He recently wrote a book on the Ruy Lopez from Black’s point of view (Attacking the Spanish), and so I guess he’s a bit of a theoretical expert. After about a dozen moves, the difference in opening knowledge showed:
rnq1kb1r/pp3pp1/2p1pnp1/2P5/3PPB2/1QN3P1/PP5P/R3KB1R b KQkq - 0 13)
White has the two bishops, better development, and more space. It’s pretty amazing that I can find myself in these sorts of positions. Luckily, that also means I have some experience defending bad positions and so I wasn’t about to give up right away.
I decided that I couldn’t just sit around and wait for him to improve his position with an eventual e5 (and Nc3-e4-d6) or d5 (if the c5-pawn is well protected), so I played 13…b6!, sacrificing a pawn. The point is that after 14.cxb6 axb6 15.Qxb6, Black has 15…Nh5!. The bishop is stuck to f4 because if it moves, then 16…Nxg3 wins the material back (the h2-pawn is pinned). Meanwhile, if he lets it get taken on f4, then his kingside will be quite open and potentially somewhat weak; the queenside, though, would also be open, and so he probably wouldn’t be able to use his extra pawn there for quite some time.
For what it’s worth, RobboLito (C) agrees with Brunello’s decision in the game to not take the pawn on b6! He played 14.cxb6 axb6 15.Bg2, guarding the Rh1 so that …Nh5 no longer does anything useful. Meanwhile, White eyes the c6-pawn now that the c-file has been opened. I played 15…Nbd7, guarding the pawn and preparing …e5 in some cases. I wanted to try and keep the Bg2’s diagonal closed, so I was hoping to play …e5 and take back with a knight at some point. My bishop would then get the c5-square as well. In order to stop that, he played 16.e5. However, a very interesting position would have arisen if he had played 16.0-0:
r1q1kb1r/3n1pp1/1pp1pnp1/8/3PPB2/1QN3P1/PP4BP/R4RK1 b kq - 2 16)
I had seen an amazing defensive resource here. After 16…e5!, Black looks to be committing suicide – the Qb3’s diagonal is opened and White has castled, so f7 is going to be targeted. After 17.dxe5 Bc5+ 18.Kh1 Ng4, White is in some trouble, since mate is threatened on h2 and Black will take back on e5 with a knight next, guarding f7 and keeping the Bg2 shut in. However, 17.Bxe5 looks quite good – after 17…Nxe5 18.dxe5, what is Black going to do? The knight can’t move from f6 because of Qxf7+. Luckily, I had seen 18…Bc5+ 19.Kh1 Qc7!!, which is quite reasonable for Black! The point is that after 20.exf6 Qxg3, White has no dangerous check and he can’t stop mate on h2 or h3 (if 21.h3 Rxh3+ and mate follows). He also has no way of guarding the e5-pawn, so if he doesn’t take on f6, Black takes on e5 with his queen and all of a sudden, Black’s position makes sense. After the game, he admitted he hadn’t seen this line, but he had felt that allowing …e5 was not worth considering.
On a side note, I’ll refer to another book, FM Daniel Naroditsky’s Mastering Positional Chess. I haven’t read it, but I flipped through it briefly in Gibraltar, and in his chapter on “Defense in Worse Positions,” I was pleasantly surprised to see this example:
2kr3r/pbpnbppq/1pn1p2p/4P3/QPP5/PN2RNP1/1B3PBP/R5K1 b - - 0 19)
I was black against Ernest Real de Azua at the World Youth U-16 in 2000, and after an opening debacle found myself in the following situation. Luckily, though, White had just played 19.Nd2-b3?, which allows a stunning rejoinder – 19…b5!!. The point is to clear the b6-square for a knight so as to trap White’s queen! After 20.Qxb5 a6 21.Qa4 Nb6 or 20.cxb5 Nb6, the queen is trapped. Admittedly, White gets compensation after either move, and after 21.bxc6 Nxa4 22.cxb7+ the game eventually ended in a draw. Still, given Black’s position prior to 19.Nd2-b3, that’s something to be happy about. I’m pretty sure I could write a whole book based on this chapter’s theme!