USCL NJ vs. NY, 26.09.2007
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 a6
Move order can be quite sophisticated for GMs. If 3…Nc6 White could switch into a Rossolimo with 4.Bb5.
4.g3 Nc6 5.Bg2 Nf6 6.0–0 d6
In the 2005 World Open Pascal tried 6…Qc7 against me.
7.d4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bd7
Now I had to think for a few minutes to remember what I liked to do in this line. Fortunately, my memory still works on occasion.
9.a4 Be7 10.Nb3
The plan with Be3, trading on c6, and a5 is more common (see a million Alexander Ivanov games) but I think it's a bit boring. The knight retreat to b3 is logical with Black’s bishop committed to d7. I once won a nice game in this line over Aussie GM Darryl Johansen, a.k.a. Buster Poindexter.
I must have defended this position against deFirmian at some point. With me a Taimanov maven and Nick a g3 devotee, it seems likely. I probably tried Na5 here. After Pascal's move Black's position just doesn't look right.
11.f4 0–0 12.g4
I thought for a moment about 12.e5 to stick his knight on e8, but I didn't want to let him sack the exchange with 12.e5 dxe5 13.fxe5 Nxe5. The g4 push is well timed, because Black doesn't have time to get the d7 square for his knight.
Of course not 12...Bc8? 13.e5. I thought during the game that 12…d5!? was a good practical chance. After 13.exd5 Nxd5 14.Nxd5 exd5 Black has at least has freed his position.
I thought 13...Qc7 would be more natural, and wondered about 14.e5!? Ne8 15.exd6 Nxd6 16.f5.
14.Be3 Ng7 15.Rad1 Qc7
15...f5 16.exf5 gxf5 17.Nd4 (other moves are strong too) leaves Black too loose.
With the Black queen no longer observing the dark squares on the kingside, it seems like the right time to pounce.
Black’s position is getting increasingly uncomfortable. Pascal was running low on time looking for a way out. 17...Rae8 18.e5! kills Black with f6 or Ne4 to follow. Fritz recommends 17...Bxc3 18.bxc3 Rfc8, but Black’s dark squares look pretty scary in that event.
18...d5 (preventing 19.Ne4) was definitely a better try. 19.g5 (I considered 19.Bf4 followed by 20.Bd6 as well) 19...Bxc3 20.bxc3 Nxf5 21.Bxf8 Rxf8 22.c4 looks strong for White but is a bit messier.
19.Nd5 Qd8 20.gxf5
I didn’t consider the Fritz suggestion 20.Nxf6+ Qxf6 21.g5 Qg6 22.Qd3, but I don’t think it’s any stronger anyway.
This loses quickly but I don’t think there’s much hope anyway. After a plausible move like 20...Kh8, 21.Qd2 Rg8 22.Nxf6 Qxf6 23.Qxd6 wins easily.
This was a tough call for me. I was tempted to play 21.Bxg7 Kxg7 22.f6+ Kh8 (I knew 22...Kh6 had to lead to mate; 23.h4 Bxh4 24.Rf4 Bg5 25.Kf2! was one line I calculated) and now:
A) 23. Qh5 Rg8 24. h4 Bg4 (24...Rg6 25. hxg5 Qg8 is of course lost but I found it slightly annoying) 25.Qxg4 Be3+ 26.Nxe3 Rxg4 27.Nxg4 and White’s three pieces should triumph over the queen.
B) 23.h4 (probably even stronger) 23…Re8 24.Qh5 Be3+ 25.Nxe3 Rxe3 26.Qg5 wins the rook. 23…Bxh4 or 23…Bh6 24.Qh5 traps the bishop.
In the end I decided the other continuation was simpler and left less to chance.
21...Qxg5 22.Nxb6 Rad8
Or 22...Rae8 23.Qd2 and White will clean up pawns in the endgame.
This isn’t necessary to win, but it wins a piece and isn’t difficult to calculate.
23…Qg3 24.Rd3 Qe5 25.Re3 1–0
As an infrequent tournament competitor these days, I can go a long time between wins as satisfying as this one (especially because we won the match, woo-hoo!)
Pascal is working full time on Wall Street so he has an even greater challenge to play up to his level. Given the few minutes he already spent on his second move, I would say he didn’t have much time to prepare for this game.