February 02, 2008 • General
Hmm, where to start? I actually attempted to blog after my round 8 game, but it was all erased because the internet connection died when I was posting it. After this disaster, I did not even attempt to write a blog after my round 9 game. As such, I will attempt to recap each of the final 3 rounds.
In this round, I was paired against GM Mark Hebden from England. Prior to this game, I had played him in Gibraltar in 2006 with the black pieces. In that game I was able to obtain a small advantage out of the opening and convert it into a win. This time around, I was white which gave me significantly more confidence as Hebden tends to be a more classical player. The opening was the Scotch Two Knights and was pretty standard until Hebden played the move 10…Qh4K!?
I am actually rather familiar with this line as my father had to face it twice during a tournament in Pamplona way back in 2003. I continued with 11.0-0 Bb6 12.N2b3!? Bb6 13.Re1 Qe7 14.f3 Nc5!? [diagram]
Up until about this point the position was still theory. However, now I get a small advantage. Also quite interesting was 14…Ng5 15.Qd2 h6 with an unclear position. 15.Nxc5 Bxc5 16.Nb3 Bb7 17.Qd2 Rae8 ?! Rfe8 would have been slightly better. And now I played 18.a4! f6 19.e6K?
If I had simply played 19. a5! Bxe3 20.Qxe3 Qxe5 21.Qxa7 Qxb2 22.Qc5 I would have had a significant advantage. However, I overlooked how strong Qb4 would be several moves later. As it turned out the game continued with 19…Bxe6 20.a5 Bxe3 21.Qxe3 Qb4 22.Qxa7 Bf5 and here I simply forgot that on 23.Qf2 Bxc2 24.Rxe8 Rxe8 25.Qxc2 Re1 26.Kf2 Qh4! I lose my queen.
Therefore, I had to go into a very messy and unclear variation with 23.Rfc1 Bxc2 24.Nd4. It was here that Hebden tried the variation with 24…Bd3 instead of …Ba4 after which the position would have been very complicated. Now, I was able to obtain an advantage after 25.Nxc6 Qxb2 26.Qd4! Most of the moves from here were forced until 33…Kg6 was played. After 33…Ke6 the position would have remained quite unclear as the connected passed d and c pawns create considerable problems for me. After …Kg6 the rest of the game was pretty easy for me and I had no problems. At the time, having just won my third game in a row, I knew that I had a shot to make a run and possibly win out.
So after having won three games against some weaker players, I knew that in round nine I would be playing a fairly strong GM. As luck would have it, I was paired against Tigran L Petrosian (no relation to the famous world champion) who is very well known in the online world as Tigrano on ICC. Although we might appear to be enemies on ICC, in real life we are friends and have known each other since we first met during the Lausanne Young Masters in Switzerland back in 2004. Tigran was having a relatively good tournament at this point having rebounded from an early loss to Stefanova in round 4. The opening in our game was rather bizarre as it started out with 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.g3!? Although this has been played before, neither Tigran nor I had ever played it with either color. I continued with 3…d6 4.exd6 Qxd6 5.Bg2.
For anyone who was watching this game, it must have been weird to see me having used up a half hour before I made my fifth move. Here, I took a very deep think because I honestly could not figure out which variation to go for. If I played 5…Nf6 6.d4 c6 we would have transposed into a Scandinavian with 4…Qd6 (similar to Nakamura-Caspi, Gibraltar Round 6 2008) in the end I chose to play 5…Nc6 6.Nc3 Nxc3 7.bxc3 e5 8.d3 Be7 9.Ne2 Be6 and we have transposed into some sort of weird Vienna Opening, the only real difference being that I have the queen on d6 as opposed to d8 where it normally isK.
The game continued in a fairly standard manner until 13…Bh3. For those who are wondering, …Bxc4 was possible as well but after Nc3 followed by Be3, white will have tremendous pressure on the queenside. Therefore, …Bh3 made more sense from a practical point of view. However, here, Tigran came up with the extremely novel idea of 14.Bh1!?!!? [diagram] Although I have yet to analyze this thoroughly with any of the engines, I am quite convinced that this sacrifice, although probably losing, offers white great practical chances. There were many different spots in this game where we both could have tried different ideas but the position was probably about equal until Tigran played 26.Rd3?! During the game I saw this idea of 26.Qd1 Bc5 27.Nxc7! Rxc7 28.Bxc7 Kxc7 29.Qd5 it seems that at this point the best I have is 29…Nd7 30.Rf7 Rf8 31.Qb7 and the game would have been a draw. However, after a few more inaccurate moves in time pressure, I was able to regain the initiative and win with relative ease. After this round, I was feeling rather euphoric and this was also in large part due to the fact that Chinese GM Xiangzhi Bu played a little bit too passively in order to try and secure a draw with Ukrainian GM Zahar Efimenko and ended up losing. So despite Bu’s having a whole one point lead with only two rounds to go, now everything was up in the air..
Before I talk about the critical round 10, I must mention all the excitement I was feeling. Usually the pairings are posted at about 11 PM the night before the next day. Unfortunately, the game was not at the same time as it usually was. Due to the fact that the sponsors did not want there to be a massive tie for first place, they decided to have the top several boards start playing at 10 AM in case a playoff was needed.
In order to try and relax the night before the round, I decided to get on my computer and play some pokerK and listen to music. When I noticed the pairing was white against GM Efimenko, I was highly motivated to get some revenge for our previous games. In each of the three years I have played in Gibraltar, I have played Efimenko. The first time, in 2005 Efimenko beat me in a very critical eighth round game which cost me a shot at winning the tournament. Last year we played another very hard fought game which ended in a draw. However, in both of those key matchups I had black; this time was slightly different! One of the great aspects of trailing and not being in the driver’s seat is that my task is very simple: WIN AT ALL COSTS! Usually if you are a leader the whole situation is rather muddled. For instance, Efimenko would not mind a draw but if Bu was able to beat Ni Hua in the other game, it would not matter if Efimenko held a draw. This is why I like playing from behind sometimes Kbecause I don’t have to worry about other games. If I win my game and Bu wins, so be it.
One of the main things I always look for when I am in situations such as this is an opening which will keep the tension on the board beyond the first 10-15 moves. I figure if I can keep a complex position for about 2-3 hours, then not only will the pressure build but also the odds of time pressure are better. Although I am not necessarily as fast as I once was, I still will always like my odds in rapid and blitz against anyone.
Onto the game itself! I chose to play the English because it seemed like the easiest choice for me considering the limited amount of time that I had to prepare for the last round. The other reason it made the most sense to me was because it would give me a chance to play solid chess without trading off many pieces. The opening was 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 Bb4!? When I was looking at Efimenko’s earlier games, I noticed that he had not played this variation. However, I was pleasantly surprised as it gave me an opportunity to play the variation with 4.Bg2 followed by e4. Perhaps Efimenko had a better setup with …c6 followed by …d5 instead of the setup he chose which involved …d6 and …Nc6K.
The main problem with this setup was that Efimenko was planning on being able to counter f4 with …f5 at some later point in the game. Due to this shortsighted plan, Efimenko ended up going for the …a6, …b5 idea in order to generate counter play on the queenside. I am not so sure where Efimenko went wrong but much like Bu, he played too passively. Somewhere in the early middle game between moves 15 and 20, there was probably a substantially better setup. Efimenko started going wrong when he played the passive 15…g6 which prevented Nf5. Although this move looked reasonably good at first, after I found the nice maneuver with Nc2-e3-d5, I definitely had an advantage. The last realistic chance Efimenko had to hold was with 18…Bc6. After playing …c6, only a computer would have had a shot at holding the position! There isn’t really much more to be said about the game as after this final blunder, I slowly built up an advantage until I crashed through with 25.c5! [diagram] It is hard for me to express my feeling after this win because on one hand, I had just completed the unbelievable comeback yet at the same time there was still a lot of work left to do.
Unfortunately for me, I won my game relatively quickly, ending around 12:30 P.M. The reason I say unfortunately is because the game Gopal-Bologan was still going on and the winner would move into a playoff. From early on in that game I did not like the situation because it appeared Gopal was going to win. This seesaw game went back and forth for the next two hours until it ended in a draw, to my great relief.
The playoff structure was very simple: we were going to play two games of rapid chess at 10 minutes with an additional ten seconds per move. Just for everyone who is wondering, the winner would receive 12,000 pounds while the loser would get 8000. Four thousand pounds is no trivial amount of money! In the first game, I played 4.e3 against Bu’s Slav and he replied with 4…g6!? This line has been played before but the only prominent grandmaster who has had success with it is Gata KamskyK. The game continued with 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be2 0-0 7.0-0 a6!? 8.a4 dxc4K?
This harmless looking move seems ok as black usually wants to play …dxc4, Bxc4 Bg4 followed by …Nbd7, …Bxf3 and …e5; however, the problem here is that I was able to play 9.a5!, and after Bg4 10.Nxe5 Bxe2 11.Qxe2, Bu was unable to execute his plan. Instead, I was able to trade off the two bishops and keep a very good knight on c4. Later on in the game Bu probably had some chances to hold but the fact that he was down six minutes for most of the game did not help. In the end, after a few inaccuracies, he was lost. 1-0!
Usually the way these rapid matches work is that the first game has a very big psychological factor to it. I learned a lot of this during the rapid event I played in Corsica a few months ago. Usually, if black is able to draw/win he will have a significant advantage in the second game; however, if the person with white wins in the first game they almost always end up winning the match (this wasn’t the case when I lost with black in Corsica though)! In the 2nd game, Bu tricked me slightly by transposing from a Slav into the Queens Gambit Declined. The game was theory up until I played the move 21…Ng6!? Previously, only h6 had been tried. Whether or not Ng6 is a better move depends largely upon whether white can win the resulting endgame with the queen versus rook and knight. After 22.Ne4 Qf8 23.Neg5 Bf7 24.Nxf7 Qxf7 25.Ng5 Rxe5 26.Nxf7 Rxe1 27.Kf2 Rfe8 28.Ne5! Nxe5 29.Kxe1 Nf3! 30.Kf2 Nxd4 [diagram].
Here, although white has the queen for the rook, knight, and pawn, it is hard to make progress. If analysis proves that in fact this is a win for white then the line is playable. If, however, the variation proves to be a draw then the whole variation likely has to be scrapped as a potential way to play for a win. Since I am quite exhausted, I will leave it at that. Even once I was able to mate Bu in the middle of the board, the whole experience felt very weird since I was trailing basically from the very beginning and was never on the top boards until the last round.
Before the closing ceremony at prestigious tournaments, there tends to be a formal reception. Since I won the tournament, I was invited to attend and met several of the major sponsors behind the Gibraltar Master tournament. After this very enjoyable reception there was the closing ceremony. I must say that before, during and after, it really did not hit me that I had just won the tournament. It felt so very weird to have actually won the tournament considering that I was trailing until the very end. Nevertheless, I was extremely happy. After the ceremony, naturally everyone let loose in their own way. I ended up playing some mixed doubles with a reasonably decent Greek girl against Gawain Jones (VerdeNotte) and Nana Dzagnidze. All in all, it was a great tournament and once again the sponsors must be commended for bringing together such a nice event.