After 9 rounds, I had 5.0/9 along with a performance rating of around 2660. In round 10, I had the white pieces against GM Alexander Moiseenko (2682 FIDE). Moiseenko came in as one of higher seeds, but after his first round loss to Bluvshtein (from what seemed to be a winning position), he had trouble finding his bearings. It took him until the 9th round to score his first win of the event!
Unfortunately, this meant that by the time we met, he had his first taste of blood in the event and he was looking to recover as many rating points as he could. He surprised me with the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, but even though he seemed to know the opening theory better than me,
I managed to get a nice positional advantage. I slowly increased my advantage until he felt he had no choice but to jettison a pawn and hope for chances with some tactics in my mild time pressure. His gamble turned out to be right.
We had the following position on the board after 29…h5-h4:
I had already given him too much counterplay (I should have played g2-g3 a long time back, kicking the knight away from the strong f4-square), and at this point, I wanted to get my knight on a4 back into the game. Playing back to c3 allows the strong 30…Nxg2! tactical blow, while going to b2 didn’t seem particularly active.
Thus, I ended up playing 30.b4?. As it turns out, 30.Nb2 and then 31.Nbc4 is quite alright for White, as Black can’t do much with all of White’s pieces working together. However, after 30.b4?, Black has the tricky 30…Bc4+!. I had missed this, and to compound my error, I played 31.Nxc4 Rxc4 32.Qd8+ Qxd8 33.Rxd8+ Kh7 34.Rd2 Rxb4, when the material count has been equalized, but Black’s pieces are clearly more active than their White counterparts. After a couple more mistakes, I found myself in a lost endgame that he managed to convert. Had I played 31.Kf2 instead, though, I might have survived, as on his planned 31…Be2, White has the strong intermediate move 32.Qd7!. Now Black’s rook either must give up the c-file (and so can’t invade on c2, or take the d-file after something like 32.Rg1 Rd8), or the 8th rank (which allows White a favorable trade of queens).
Oh well, after having a strong stretch from rounds 4 to 9, I wasn’t so disappointed with losing to a strong player like Moiseenko. The loss brought me to 50% (5.0/10), and in the last round, I’d be facing the leader, GM Arkadij Naiditsch (2697 FIDE), with the black pieces.
I had played Naiditsch twice before (see https://vbhat.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/back-in-the-day/), but obviously, he had become much stronger since those days. He’s almost always a 1.e4 player, but his theoretical preparation seemed to set him apart from most of the competitors in this event – he was often blitzing out his opening moves on his way to a clear advantage, and he won a number of games straight from the opening.
He played a Panov-Botvinnik Attack, which was a huge surprise, and although I remembered my old analysis from 2006 or so, I had never bothered to update it and didn’t realize the line had been discarded by Black players.
Here’s the position after 13.h2-h4:
Black’s problem is simple – he’s down a pawn and he has trouble bringing his pieces out. Black’s knight on b6 is a bit loose, and the b5-square is a big hole. Black also can’t really kick the knight from f4, because after …g5, hxg5, the g5-pawn will be too weak and so Black usually won’t even have time to round up the d5-pawn.
I tried 13…Bf5 14.Be3 Qd6, with the idea of 15…Rd8, to get that d5-pawn back finally. However, after 15.Nb5, I had to play 15…Qd8. I thought at first that I was getting some counterplay after 16.Rac1 Nfxd5 17.Bf3 Nxe3 18.fxe3 e5, but it turned to be illusory. After 19.dxe5 Bxe5 20.h5, Black’s position is falling apart everywhere, while the e3-pawn is not easy to target. I went down in flames in less 10 more moves.
Thus, I finished with 2 losses to take me to 5.0/11 (or -1). Overall, the performance was still a positive one, as based on my rating, I was expected to score somewhere around 2.5 or 3.0 out of 11 games!
I should say thanks to the organizers (led by André Langlois), who put on an excellent tournament. Thanks also to Richard Berube, who was the TD and the organizer of the qualifying event in June. I enjoyed Montreal and hope to make it back next year.
Now I’m off to my next event, the SPICE Cup (Group B) in Lubbock, Texas. It’s another stron round-robin, but not nearly as strong as the Montreal event. Still, with an average rating of 2503 or so, it’s going to be a challenge. I’m the #8 seed of the 10 players by rating.