The first three rounds were a real struggle, and rounds 4 through 6 weren’t too big of a change. I did manage to avoid losing, though, so that was something.
In round 4, I got my third black against IM Levon Altounian. This was my 6th time playing him since 1998, and my fifth time with black. The previous four times featured a Petroff (a draw), a French (a win for me), a Reti (another draw), and a Slav (in a rapid mini-match, a win for me).
The opening was a King’s Indian Attack (KIA), and I went with the Lasker System where Black puts his pawns on e6, d5, and c6, while the light-squared bishop gets out to f5. I’ve switched back-and-forth from that setup to the Capablanca System where the pawns go to the same squares, but the bishop goes to the g4-square.
He played it with c2-c4, instead of the more traditional e2-e4 of the KIA, and while it shouldn’t be much for white, it’s probably a bit more pleasant for him in the following position:
rq3rk1/pp1n1ppp/2pb1n2/3p1b2/3B4/1QNP1NP1/PP2PPBP/R4RK1 b - - 3 11)
Black doesn’t have any real targets (the e2-pawn is the closest thing at the moment), while his queen is a little funny on b8, and his light-squared bishop doesn’t have any good squares or prospects. Still, it’s not like White is doing all that much, and so long as Black is careful not to walk into an e2-e4 push or let his light-squared bishop get trapped, he shouldn’t have any serious troubles.
rq2r1k1/pp1n1ppp/2pbbn2/3p4/3B3N/1QNP2P1/PP2PPBP/2R2RK1 b - - 7 13)
White has just played 13.Rac1, which keeps him from getting into trouble with his bishop on d4, knight on c3, and queen on b3. If it were Black’s turn and the rook were on a1, then Black could play 13…Ng4! here. Black threatens 14…c5 and 15…d4, hitting the queen and forking the minor pieces. Thus, White has to play 14.h3. Now 14…c5 15.hxg4 cxd4 16.Nb5 isn’t really what Black wants, but he has 14…Nxf2! instead. If White plays 15.Bxf2, then 15…d4 recovers the piece, and then White will end up down a pawn – he will have to choose between capturing the pawn on c3 and saving his pawn on g3. Meanwhile, 15.Rxf2 loses to 15…Bxg3, when both pieces are en prise and Black still has the latent threat of …d5-d4 later on.
Moving the rook to c1 guards against this, as after 13…Ng4, White has 14.Na4, covering the c5-square. Without …c5, the knight on g4 is just silly. Thus, in the above position, I played 13…b6, taking full control of the c5-square. White noticed the idea and brought his queen back to c2, and then I proceeded to finally develop my queenside with 14…Qb7 and 15…Rad8.
The position was about equal then for a little while, but in playing for a draw, Altounian started to slowly drift into a worse position. In a sterile position, you can just shift around aimlessly, but in an equal position where both sides have potential improvements to make, the draw isn’t inevitable, and so you have to do more than shuffle wood around.