9…Qe7 was best. However, I didn’t play 9…a5 because I had miscalculated the line 9….a5, 10.e4 Nxe4, 11.NxNe4 BxNe4, 12.Bxe6 0-0! -.5 For if 12….fxBe6, 13.Qxe6+ Qe7 (to protect the Be4), 14.Qc8+ Qd8, 15.Qe6+ draw is forced for White because if 15.Qxb7 Nd7, I didn’t notice that the Be4 is now covering c6, and more importantly that White is one tempo short of playing Re1 because the Bb4 is covering it. For example, if Black loses a tempo with 16.Bf4 h5? 17.Re1 BxRe1, 18.RxBe1 is now +1.5 in White’s favor. The reason that 9…a5? fails is because it doesn’t prevent dropping either a pawn on b4 or b7 after 10.Na2.
Another thing I was worried about with 9…a5 was 10.Nh4 Bh7, 11.Bxe6 fxe6, 12.Qxe6+ Qe7, 13.Qc8+ Qd8, 14.Qxb7 Nd7, 15.Qxc6 0-0, and now, even though White has four pawns for the piece, it still says that the position is in Black’s favor by -.48. However, this line is mostly a moot point because Black simply has 12…Bb4-e7! winning (always nice to notice a retrograde or “strong retreat” move that wins). As pointed out earlier, Black could have forgone all of this analysis simply by noticing that after 9….a5, Black has 10.Na2!.
10…Nbd7? At this point I was beginning to lose my mind, tactically, and probably in part because I put so much thought into the tactics of that previous move, as I was now worried that White might be winning after 10…0-0, 11.e4? Nxe4, 12.NxN BxN, 13.Nxf7 Rxf7 (Stockfish prefers 13…Kxf7) , 14.Bxe6 a5, 15.Bf4 Nd7, 16.Rfe1 BxRe1, 17.RxBe1 Bd5! and the counter-pin wins as 18.Be6xBd5 QxRe1+ is mate, but other moves also win on move 17 for Black, such as 17…Bg6 or 17…Nf6 as well.
In hindsight, 10…Nbd7 is better than 10….0-0 (which runs into f3-e4, as I saw in the game), and that as in many Slav lines from this type of variation, Black is going to sac a pawn for most of the game in order to get play. I realized that I would probably be giving something up, such as castling, if not a pawn, when I played 8….h6?!, as I understood that Black doesn’t have enough time in this variation for such perfect play.
Alex played 13.d5? quickly, and I knew that it was just as weak as the amount of time spent behind the move. I played 13…e5, but I also considered 13….Ne5, 14.Be2 as my second choice, which equalizes, and would have favored my more dynamic style, but I was more fascinated by the move played, at the time.
With move 14.f3, Alex offered a draw, which I ignored as I would have needed a win to have won any prize-money, and just as importantly we were both pumped up and this chess game looked as though it had only begun. Psychologically, it did the trick however, as I played the crazy blunder 17…b5?? looking for tactical chances.
The correct way to play this position was with 17…Bd4, 18.Bd2 cxd5, 19.Bxd5 Nf6. I had treated his 19.dxc6 as if it were a mere tactical feature of the position (almost didn’t play it because of that, or at first decided not to) when it was actually the entire point of the position.
In hindsight, the reason I lost this game is that although my first twelve moves were excellent, it had cost too much time and energy. If I could have blitzed out those first twelve moves, then the outcome could have been very different. This is the real reason to have a repertoire, particularly as Black, is that it’s a time-saver OTB, and not because you are trying to blow anyone away in the opening, but more that you want to make sure to find your best equalizing chances out of the opening, and quickly.
Hat’s off to Alexander with his tournament victory. He showed that his style has matured and that he’s played himself into that style quite nicely. In round 1, he beat Selah with an endgame finesse from a drawish-looking position, and kept up that precision of technical play throughout the tournament.