Going into this final round, I wasn’t overly concerned about the result, as a win would have still left me out of the prize-money.
I wanted to get something original out of the opening, don’t know what line of the Ruy Lopez he plays and thought we might get into that, but Mark (Class A) chose the Sicilian Defense just to vary from his usual reply.
6.Be2 He played the Classical Sicilian (…Nc6), and now it has become a “four knights” variation. I wanted to avoid playing 6.NxNc6 bxN, 7.e5 Nd5, 8.Ne4 Qc7. Years ago, I played this all the time online. Always tried some hack against it, and regularly got good positions. Objectively, this is White’s best try (60% in the DB), but the engines have never liked this variation too much, say it’s around -.15 in Black’s favor (equal). I nearly played 6.g3, just seeking some new territory, which would have lead to a lengthier game.
6…Bb4 When I played 6.Be2, I was hoping that he wouldn’t respond this way, as I don’t have the “Pin Variation” type of refutation, which is to play Qh5 or Qg4 in response to …Ne4. I’ve run into the sort of lame line that I played online, and gotten lame results, but here I stumbled into it again. It’s funny, I was strongly considering 6.Bf4, and Houdini still plays …Bb4, which is bad here because of the NxNc6 formation described earlier. I figured he could respond …Bc5 or with a bunch of different moves …Qb6 and …Qa5 I had to look at in each line. So, in the end, I tightened up, thinking I could play my way out of any hole.
Mark thought the best move here for White was 6.Ndb5 (with a3 to come) …d5, but Black has simply 6…Nfxe4 with 72% success in the DB. I told Mark the computer will probably say that 6.Qd3 Ne5, 7.Qg3 is best. Bingo! I won that mock bet.
8.e5 Chess can be frustrating. I looked at Houdini’s #1 continuation of 8.0-0 BxNc3, 9.bxB Nxe4, 10.Qd4 d5, 11.Qxg7 Qf6, 12.QxQ NxQ but figured I was giving up an e-pawn for a g-pawn. Apparently, this is the line +.38, and White has been successful in the two tries given. I mean, without seeing some previous games, how would I have known this?
8….Nd5 Around here I was realizing that “the struggle is real.” I was much more afraid of the superior 8….Ne4, when I saw that 9.Qd4 Qa5, 10.QxNe4 BxNc3+, 11.bxB Qc3+ should be winning for Black. Houdini and the DB here both recommend 10.a3, which simply gives up a pawn, but is only =+ in Black’s favor. Keeping the pawn with 10.Bd2 NxBd2, 11.KxN Bc5 is -1 in Black’s favor “What does a cracker(uh) gotta do?”
10.BxNc3 Objectively, I thought that 10.bxNc3 Be7 or …Bc5 is equal, which it is, but failed to notice until immediately after my move that now Black has both …Qg5 (winning a pawn) and …Qa5.
14.Qf4. I felt that objectively, 14.Bc4 would be strongest, which it is, but spent most of my time here deliberating between this move, and the more solid but less aggressive positional move 14.Qe3.
18.Rg3? After the game, I told Mark, correctly, that 18.Ra1 followed by Ra4 was probably a stronger way to get the rook into the game.
18…Ba6? I immediately felt this was a mistake, that he should have played 18…Bb7 with 0-0-0 to follow would have been better, but this would have been even weaker, nearly equal, because we apparently both missed the stronger idea here of 18….a5, pushing that passed pawn! (although I considered this later, coming up, when I decided to try and bail out of the position.
19.BxB I played this move with the sole intention of pulling his queen off the defense of the weakened dark diagonals (which was my trump in this game).
20.Qf6 Houdini says that 20.Rb1 is the most accurate, but at this point in the bail-out mindset, that looks insane, a computer-move (but is probably right).
21.Rxg6? Houdini indicates this is just losing, -1.65, and indeed this is where I was worried that he wouldn’t take my rook and would play something else. Indeed, after 21…Qa4, 22.Rg7 Qxc2, 23.Qf3 a5, 24.Qd3 QxQ, 26.RxQ a4, Black is simply winning. Luckily for me, he made this move 21…fxR?? without too much thought.
Even at the end, he could have played on with 23…Rf7, 24.Qg8+ Ke7, 25.QxRb8 =+, when my hopes wouldn’t have been too high at first, with his passed a-pawn, but I could sense that his nerves had had enough, and that he had instead chose for me to find a way to lose the position, which I wasn’t about to comply with. It’s funny, in three of my last four games, I’ve went down a rook, in material, at some point.
Well, after getting bloodied just to maintain a 1500 rating on Chess.com, I went over to FICS to make an assault on the 1600 summit, of which I was successful. Here was the final game that got me to 1603 blitz. I was playing at 5 min, 5 sec increment. I was down a rook for a pawn (a familiar refrain as of late), when I was forced to play for an exciting win in full coffeehouse-mode. Here is that game: