I’ve followed Botvinnik’s advice and analyzed my game afterward, for a couple hours. It’s funny how Botvinnik says to wait a few days so you aren’t as emotional about it. People call me a procrastinator, but that’s not so true when it comes to analyzing interesting chess positions!
3…Nf6. I am already out of my book on move 3!
4.BxB After 4.Bc4, he has ..b5, …c4, …Nxd4.
9.0-0 After 9.d4 cxd4, 10.Nxd4 (I didn’t want my queen stuck there) Nc6, 11.Be3(11. NxN QxN double-attacks g3 and c4) e5. I didn’t want to go there so early in the game.
10.Nc3. If 10…Nb4, 11.d4 cxd, 12.Nxd4.
10…0-0. This might seem like a waste of time, but if you skip ahead to move 13, and put his Be7 there instead of 0-0, you see he still cannot take the d3 pawn.
13…Bb8. He’s going in for a tricky variation later, and 13…Be7 may have been more prudent.
14…e5. This felt like positional capitulation when I saw it, and I knew I was better now for sure (but then I got confident, stupid, unsure, uncreative, etc, the seven deadly sins, lol, and blew it).
I was expecting here either 14…h6 or 14…Ng4. If 14…Ng4, 15.Bg5 Rd8, 16.h3 RxNf3 hxNg4 which looks a bit suspect for White until you realize that Black has to spend the next tempo moving his rook to f7.
17.NxNf6. I knew this wasn’t right, but my biggest issue now was that I had squandered my time (easy to do in G/75, 30/inc – which will change to G/90, 30/inc next month, BTW), and this is such a technical middlegame position here that it all sort of went right over my head, given my clock status of < 20 minutes – unlike a tactical situation where I can rely on pattern-recognition mostly.
I wanted to, and thought strongly about playing 17.f3, but was worried a bit, for example, about 17…Nh5 (OTB, this is what stopped me from playing f3), and if 18…Nf4, threatening d3, then 19.BxN exB, and I felt that 20…Be5 would be dynamically equalizing for him. Looking at this position after the game, I could see that I can simply play 19.g3 (took a while for me to find this move and to realize that it’s same) or 19.Nd5, and use my Be3 to play BxNd4, should he play his Nc6 to d4, which is what I was worried about.
So, it wasn’t until after I had seen all of this, that I realized that simply had not considered here 17.f3 Nb4! winning the d-pawn. So by this point, I also had taken notice that simply 17.a3! is the winning plan. Imagine all of this time invested looking for the simple strategic solution to the position! If 17…Ng4, 18.b4 (hitting the c-pawn) NxBe3, 18.fxN. Now White’s attack is just rolling. bxc5 winning a pawn is threatened, and after 18…cxb, 19.axb. Here a plan might be to play Ne4, c5, then recapture with Nxc5, and you have this knight outpost on c5, hitting the Qe6.
18.Nd5 18.Ne4 felt much more positional to me, but like I say, I could simply not find that plan of a3/b4, OTB, combining on the c5 square.
20.NxNe7+ I was happy to see this OTB, but then I realized that I was a tad clueless, let’s say, hehe, about how to play on with a backward pawn like this against his bad-bishop.
21.Bf2?? I instantly realized my mistake, but I believe this sort of mistake, combined with a low clock-time, is indicative of a position where a player feels uncomfortable with regards to how to play on from.
BTW, even earlier in the game I had planned to play 17.f3/Rd2/Qd1, so it’s not as if I hadn’t seen this maneuver, it’s that even after the game I had wondered heavily how I would continue to play on with that backward pawn of mine after say 21.Rd2 Rd7, 22.Rfd1 Qg6. 23.Qc2.
However, after looking at this position more studiously, today, I come up with the continuation 23…Kh8, 24.a3 a5, 25.b4! axb, 26.axb (problem for White solved!) cxb, 27.Qb3 Qd6 (if ..Bd6, then 28.Bxb6 e4, 29.fxe Bxh2+, 30.KxB QxB, 31.Rc2 or Ra1 activates White’s rooks – White should still have a winning attack here). Notice how if not for 23..Kh8, I would now have available 27.c5+ Qd5, 28.QxQ RxQ, 29.cxb6.
So, 27.g3 (to stop ..e4/..Qxh2 mate threats). Now Black doesn’t have a real plan and his pieces are bottled in. I am threatening to play simply 28.d4, when 28…exd4, 29.Rxd4, and there is no way for Black to hold everything. The Black queen is defending b4, b6, not to mention that White can slip in Qd3, and just own the d-file, and although material is even, those Black pawns should fall like a house of cards in the endgame.
44…bxa4? Not the most testing line. I was pleased to see this move, OTB, and was far more worried about 44…c4, 45.bxc4 bxa4, 46.Bd6 Kxc4, 47.Ba3 Kb3, 48.Bc1 Bb2, 49.Bg6 a3 is just a loss for White, and if I trade bishops my king is too far away, so I really did dodge a bullet there. I felt that 44…c4 was winning OTB and he spent quite a bit of time on it that I was relieved to not see him play it.
All in all, this game felt like a loss because I really dropped the ball in the middlegame, and then should have lost the endgame from seemingly out of nowhere. There was no doubt in my mind after the game, that this Russian gentleman was a very strong endgame player.