I attended this tournament in hopes that the two Class A players, and possibly the two Class B players from last time would show. None of them showed, but if Anthea shows up again next week I will most likely face her as White. Oh well, I did my part to try and keep the tournament going. Curiously, a Master player showed up on Wednesday that I had lost to once before playing a Gruenfeld. We looked over his Catalan win with him. Also, Mark showed up, the guy I used to lose to quite a bit, Class A player. My real nemesis at the chessboard, though, is Anthea. Anthea is notorious for losing winning endgames to lower-rated players – my problem is getting there!, which probably explains her middle-game strength relative to her rating – she’s studied under local Master Brian Wall before, and also with Jeremy Silman back in CA.
In this game, I had Black against Gene, whom had played a tough French Exchange variation against me before, as White, so this time I opted for …e5. He took the game into strategic channels with the Spanish Exchange variation, which served him well as it got me nervous and into time-pressure. His rating has been steadily rising over the last few months, unlike some streaky players.
The critical moment seemed to be the move where he also, luckily for me, did not pass the test. First of all, he should have played a Nf5 to recapture on d4 with. So, I was looking at 20.cxN Bg4, 21.Rd2 Bb4, 22.Rf2 Rxd4 winning a pawn, but was worried about 22…f5, trapping my bishop and following it up with 23..h3, 24. Bh4. I was looking to break this up with 22..g5, attacking his Nh4 where the saving grace seems to be that with any knight retreat, I can trade Bg4 for knight and voila, I’m up a pawn. Naturally, I was nervous to play this, which is why I took on d4 first, to give me a few more seconds to think about it. Luckily, he was blissfully unaware, hehe, and retook on d4 with the rook, which allowed me to pin it.
However, I completely missed not only that after 20…Bg4, he had Rc1 instead, but the more important thing that after 21…Bf8, White can let his bishop hang en-prise on g4 with a soon to be overwhelming attack. If d5, then ..Bc5+ Kh1 and the loose Ng3 will have no retreat square where the bishop on g4 can’t trade for it. If Qc3 to protect d4, then …c5, f5…Qd7, h3 (where does the Bg4 go?) – it doesn’t. Black’s attack is simply overwhelming and astonishingly White has no time to play hxBg4. Even had he played the Rd2 line after Bg4, Bb4 and end up playing Rxd, I can still allow the Bg4 to hang because Rxd4-Rxe4-Rg4 will fork his two knights, where White curiously has no way to defend both, so another easy win for Black.
This game had a feel of ‘Art of the Middlegame’ by Keres and Euwe, I think it is. Lots of strategic decisions to eat away at the clock with. The weirdest thing about this game was that during a lot of it, I was waiting to “get behind” his attack. My bottled-up position was based on counter-attack, so I had to allow his attack, which was a touch unnerving, if not only on the clock, and he was going for it!
Crafty suggests many different ways to handle this position as Black, and it gives Black the edge, but there is no clear path to victory in sight, IMHO. The clearest path is probably to stay out of time-trouble and use the clock wisely!
I was starting to get a little panicky after I won the exchange as I played the weak BxNe2, realizing that I should have played Qh5 to win a pawn on f3 after Nf3. So now his queen was in play and I figured he might give up the e4 pawn (e5 drops the pawn due to pins) only to get his queen and knight lined-up against my queen. I almost played …Kh8, but luckily, played …Qg6 instead, which I saw was winning for Black by forcing the queen trade. He didn’t let me off easy in the middlegame, that’s for sure, other than for the decisive pin on d4 and not playing Nf5.
At the end of the game, I had about 6 minutes left, and he had about 1hr and 6 minutes. Clearly, I failed on the clock in a major way, but at least pulled out the win. If I had to play this position over again, I would have played 13…cxd, not seeing that 14.Qxd?? can be answered by …Bc4, skewering the queen at d3 to the Rf1.
One paradoxical idea in this game is that I played …Be6 to develop the bishop and cover d5, but if he had played d4 on his next move, I would have responded …Bg4, moving the same piece two moves in a row, but that idea seems to work, so it’s something to keep in mind. After the game, I had the strong impression that he should have played h3 somewhere to prepare his d4.