In my last blog about Sants, I wrote how Round 1 was a let-down in terms of the quality of my play, but that I seemed to recover a little bit in Round 2. That seemed to bode well for my chances in the 3rd round, but that game was strange enough to merit its own post.
I was black against FM Lluis Oms (2360, Spain). As is often the case with lower-rated players, there wasn’t a whole lot to go on in the database. I did notice that against 2500+ players, he had played for a draw with some rather insipid lines (e.g., drawing lines in the Four Knights against 1…e5 and the Exchange against the French). Unlike some of the Four Knights lines, the Exchange French at least keeps the chance of some serious play, so I decided to play the French this time. I was mostly expecting 3.Nc3 against the French though, as he had the most games with that.
The game began 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3, a line that I don’t think I’ve ever faced in a regular game. A long time back, when I was about 9 or 10 years old and nearing 2200, I used to play something similar with white (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Qg4 was what I played). Both versions are supposed to be rather innocuous, and I had no trouble in equalizing (and getting a better position).
Many books on the French recommend a system where Black plays a quick …f6 (with the knight on g8), but while that my work in some concrete sense, it seems unnecessary to me. I played 4…Nc6 5.Bd3 cxd4 6.0-0 Nge7 7.Bf4 Ng6 8.Bg3 Be7 (diagram below), preparing to castle or play …f6/f5 depending on what White does. In this setup, if White exchanges on f6, Black will generally recapture with a pawn and then play …e5. With an extra pawn and a huge pawn center, the slightly weakened kingside is usually of little consequence.
r1bqk2r/pp2bppp/2n1p1n1/3pP3/3p4/3B1NB1/PPP2PPP/RN1Q1RK1 w kq - 5 9)
Up to this point, it all seemed pretty normal to me. I thought he would play 9.Nbd2 here, preparing to go after the d4-pawn with 10.Nb3 next. Instead, he played 9.a3, which seems a bit slow to me. If, for example, his rook and bishop were on e1 and c1, then this plan with a3 and b4 would make more sense to me. With b4, he threatens to dislodge the knight and also prepares Bb2. But here, with the bishop already on g3, there is no good follow up to b4 if Black deals with the threat of b5