Following Balaguer, I continued my play in the Catalan Circuit with Badalona. The Badalona tournament is a pretty unique one on the calendar, although I guess it shares some similarities with this year’s US Championship.
In the top section at Badalona, everybody plays in a 6-round swiss to start the event. The top 8 (using tiebreaks) then advance to play a 3-round, 8-player pseudo-knockout. Those not lucky enough to make it top the final 8 continue playing 3 more rounds of a swiss. Thus, everybody gets 9 regular games, but amongst the top players, it’s a real race to make that final 8.
My tournament started off well as I beat Francisco Rojano (2127 FIDE) in the first round pretty handily. He played a Semi-Slav against me, and at the board, I decided to switch things up from my normal repertoire and played the 5.g3 gambit line instead of my normal 5.e3 (that is, 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.g3). It’s always had its adherents, but in general, most top players don’t believe that the gambit offers White anything special with the knight on c3. In the Catalan, a similar position can easily arise, but White’s knight isn’t on c3 so early there. That early development puts it in the line of fire with …b5-b4 (in response to a typical a4, for example), or …Bb4 and …c5 ideas. My opponent didn’t know the theory of the line, though, and let me develop very smoothly. In the diagram below, he just played 19….Qc7.
r1b1r1k1/ppq3pp/2p1p1n1/2P2p2/3P1P2/2P3P1/P4QBP/1RB1R1K1 w - - 0 21)
White is clearly better, but to make progress, he needs to open the position to take advantage of this greater potential. With that in mind, I played 21.c4 here. I want to play d5 next, opening the long diagonal for the Bg2 and also clearing a diagonal for my dark-squared bishop. After 21…b6, I continued forward with 22.d5. There isn’t really anything for Black to do now; his position is pretty much lost. For example, 22…cxd5 23.cxd5 Qxc5 loses to 24.Qxc5 bxc5 25.dxe6 (or 25.d6), when the Ra8 is trapped. He tried 22…cxd5 23.cxd5 Bb7, but that offered no respite after 24.c6 Ba6 25.Ba3. I wrapped up the game on the 30th move.