I know that Alex has played this opening against me before while sparring (years ago), but I believe this is the first time that I’ve faced it OTB in a rated game. The last time I’ve seen the Ponziani in a blitz game would be a year or more ago as well, and that would have been against a low-rated blitz player, which means the opening wouldn’t have counted for much.
After move 5…Nf6-d5, I pointed out to Peter, after the game, that we’ve transposed into a C3 Sicilian line!
I was happy to see 8.Qxd2 instead of 8.Nxd2, but perhaps the difference in advantage isn’t as significant as I had felt.
8…d6. I played this instead of 8…d5 because his king is stuck in the center, and the dynamic play means my queenside pieces won’t be offside.
14…Nd5. I contemplated 14…Qb4 15.Qg3 (best) Qg4, trading queens.
15.Qg3?! 15.Qe4 was best, and I was relieved to not see it.
17.Nd3 Stockfish likes this move best, but part of me didn’t want to try to win the pawn right away, and wanted to play something solid-looking, like 17.Ne7, 18.c6, 19.Nd5, and stay in the middlegame.
A non-descript “safe move” to continue the game would have been 28…Qg5, but I wasn’t even finding this, OTB.
One of the two best moves is 28…Rd2! for if 29.Nc2 (which had been my concern, which is best illustrated in the variation 28…Nb4, 29.Nc2 Qc5, 30.NxN but now me, Alex, and Peter missed 30…RxR! 31.RxR QxN hitting the Re1 so that Black doesn’t have the time to win his pawn back but it’s still only -1 here ), then if 29…RxNc2! winning, for if 30.RxQ, then RxRc1+ is mating. Still, after 28….Rd2, you could get into this line 29. Ra1 h6 30. Nc2 Re2 31. g3 Qe4 32. Qxe4 R8xe4 33. Kg1 Rxe1+ 34. Nxe1 Re2 35. Nd3 Rd2 36. Nc5 b6 37. Na6 Ne5 38. Nxc7 Ng4 39. Rf1 Rxa2 where Black is still fighting for a draw, needing just a slip-up or two from White.
After 28…Qb2!, 29.Rc1, and Pete’s engine said to play 29…Qa3 here, and that is probably because after 29…Qe5, 30.Rc2-c1! has repeated the position. So, Black may as well play 28…Qa5! I thought here that White could play 29.a4? followed by 30.Nc4, but I did not see that 28….Qa5, in this case, had freed up the e5 square to allow 29.a4 Ne5, 30.Qg3, Nd3 fork. Therefore, Black can still play 29.Ra1! Now, Black has to make progress, so 29…Rd4, 30.h3 Rd4-e4, 31.Red1 Nd4, 32.Qg3 h6, 33.b4! Qb6!, 34.Nd5 Ne2, 35.Qf3 Qc6, 36.Ne3 Nd4, 37.Qg3 f5, 38.b5! Qc5! 39.Rac1 f4! 40.Qg6 Qb6, 41.QxQb6 axQ, 42.Nd5 Nxb5, and now we finally have something resembling an endgame win, where Black is up at -2.
Well, during the game I was still battling a cold (I touched my face with two fingers of cold water in the restroom, and almost got the chills), whereas Peter’s stomach wasn’t feeling well, and I just could not find a solid continuation, OTB, to continue the game with. I had 2 min, 30 seconds on my clock when I offered the draw, but it was more out of frustration of not wanting to spend the last two minutes before forcing three-fold repetition because it was so difficult to come up with a plan. With more energy, and more on the line, I may have continued on, but my brain wasn’t feeling right on Tuesday, nor on Wednesday, so that I decided not to play on Wednesday night either, but do plan on playing on Thursday. BTW, Mark called our game (as opposed to his game with Daniel) a “pillow fight”.