Mark decided to dodge my King’s Gambit this month, but unfortunately for him he appeared to have picked out an even rustier opening from his arsenal, this time the Scandinavian.
6…c6? I knew that this was the mistake that I was looking for, OTB. Normally, Black might play 6…Nc6, and in any case, I never get in Bf4 for free, like I do here.
7.h3 This move hardly requires an explanation, but here it serves the double-purpose of preventing …Nh4 from being effective should I play Bf4, and giving that bishop the h2 retreat square.
10…Be7 This might seem tame, but after 10…Bb4 I was looking forward to playing 11.Qb3 with advantage, since he will almost certainly have to trade off the minor exchange on c3, bishop for knight, while building my pawn-center for me. still, Stockfish indicates that Black gets more play with 10…Bb4 and if 11.Qb3, then 0-0, 12.a3 BxNc3, 13.bxBc3 b6.
12…Qd8 I knew that this was a mistake before he played it, so I was already anticipating 12…Qb6 where his queen is out of play and I can slowly build up, possibly with g4 and then developing both rooks before opening up play.
12…Qf5 is confirmed best by Stockfish and Mark spent a long time looking at this move and analyzed it well, but did not play it. This comes back to the old concept of needing to play what you looked at (if you couldn’t find a problem with it) or you are just killing yourself on the clock, and opening yourself up to the alternative of an equally difficult and far less analyzed alternative.
13. d5! Before I played this move, I had calculated this appeared to win his b7 pawn, and that …e5 was the most likely reply. In fact, I had done all of this before he had even played ….Qd8, and it was more a matter of verification at this point.
14…e5?! 14…Bxf3! was best, and probably his last best hope to draw the game.
17…Nbxd5?? I had figured that this was simply blundering a piece, and was expecting 17…Bd6, when I told Mark that I would have probably followed up with 18.Qf3.
19.Qc4. I was going to play 19.Qe4?? with my 35 minutes remaining compared to Mark’s half a minute, as it is so easy to keep up the momentum in one’s opponent’s time-pressure, but then I realized that he would have the reply 19…Nc3!, nearly equalizing. So, I moved 19.Qc4 after half a minute’s thought, only to notice 19…Nb6 right after I moved, but then I saw that my knight covers c4, so that I am still winning his knight there after 20.RxQ NxQ, 21.RxR+ KxR, 22.NxN. 19.Qf3 is the most accurate move, according to Stockfish. So fortunately after this, he resigned, with 8 seconds on his clock to my 34 minutes.
An interesting point is that this is the most time I’ve ever finished a chessgame against Mark with after many many years of encounters, either one of us to my recollection. I’ve noticed that the over-all trend is that I am using my clock more wisely than I was previously, and part of this can be attributed to playing more blitz games recently.
My longest thinks of the game were on his time, but my longest think of the game on my own time was 8.Bf4 (8 minutes). Of course, I really needed zero minutes to play this move, but as it was committal, and I didn’t see many direct threats of his, I wanted to make sure of my game plan going forward, and get comfortable with it before making this move. I arrived late with 1hr 21 minutes on my clock, whereas Mark had the full allotment of 90 minutes. Mark’s longest think was 34 minutes on move 14…e5.
In the end, Mark dropped a knight on d5, but I wasn’t as suprised by that as I might have been had I not played against Mark before, as I knew that it’s a big focusing point for him as to who is winning with an extra pawn, so that he focused on that more than on the “bigger picture”.