Back Into Contention- Rounds 2-5

I had other problems following the first round, including finding a ride back to the hotel. I was very fortunate to attach myself to three German commuting players following the first round. I was to get a ride from them (to the hotel and back) until the sixth round. More on the friendly Germans later.

Round 2

I was paired up against Erik Sparenberg, rated 2095, who drew a 2400 in the first round. This was supposed to be a game to get me back on track.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.22”]
[Round “2”]
[White “Sparenberg”]
[Black “Bluvshtein”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “108”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.22”]

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. Be3 Bg7 5. Qd2 Nbd7 6. Nf3 c6 7. a4 O-O 8. Be2
Qc7 9. Bh6 e5 10. h4 exd4 11. Nxd4 Nc5 12. Bxg7 Kxg7 13. Bf3 Re8 14. O-O-O h6
15. Qf4 Qe7 16. Rhe1 Bd7 17. Re2 Qe5 18. Qd2 Rad8 19. g3 b5 20. axb5 cxb5 21.
Ndxb5 Bxb5 22. Nxb5 Rb8 23. Nc3 Rxb2 24. Qd4 Reb8 25. Qxe5 dxe5 26. Nd5 Ne8 27.
Ne3 Na4 28. Rd3 Nc7 29. Nc4 Rb1+ 30. Kd2 Nc5 31. Rd6 Nb5 32. Rd5 Na4 33. Re1
Rxe1 34. Kxe1 Nac3 35. Rxe5 Nd4 36. Nd2 Rb2 37. Bd1 Ra2 38. Nb3 Nxb3 39. cxb3
Ra1 40. Rd5 Nxd5 41. exd5 Kf6 42. Kd2 Ke5 43. Be2 a5 44. f4+ Kd6 45. h5 Kxd5
46. Bc4+ Kd4 47. Bxf7 Ra2+ 48. Kd1 gxh5 49. Bxh5 Kd3 50. Ke1 Rg2 51. f5 Ke3 52.
Kd1 Rxg3 53. f6 Rg5 54. Be8 Kd3 0-1

The opening was another interesting Pirc Defense. Soon enough we got the unbalanced type of a position that I was looking forward to when deciding to play this opening.

White is planning to play the simple 20.Bg2, followed by 21.f4, which would give him a clear advantage. Black needs to act fast in order to take advantage of white’s currently misplaced bishop. I played 19…b5! which sacrifices the pawn, but only temporarily. The game continued with 20.axb5 cxb5 21.Ndxb5 Bxb5 22.Nxb5 Rb8 23.Nc3. 23.Nd4 maintains the pawn for now but gets white into a world of trouble after 23…Na4 24.b3 Qc5!

I don’t have many options here and I played 23…Rxb2! which I had planned before I played b5. The game continued with 24.Qd4 Reb8 25.Qxe5 dxe5, where black has a clear advantage. White could not play 24.Kxb2 Na4+ 25.Kb3 Nxc3 26.Qxc3 Rb8+ 27.Qb4 Rxb4 28.Kxb4 Qb2+ 29.Kc4 Nd7! with black winning easily.

By the time we reached the position above, I had made a few imprecise moves. My opponent should have played 36.Bg2, after which it is unclear why I would be making a claim for an advantage. Fortunately, my opponent played 26.Nd2? Rb2 27.Bd1 and we reached the position below.

I saw the win in this position from far away and I quickly played the strong 37…Ra2! where the threat of Ra1 is unstoppable. My opponent tried to defend with 38.Nb3 Nxb3 39.cxb3 Ra1 40.Rd5 Nxd5 41.exd5 where the endgame is easily winning for me. I won without any serious difficulties.

This was not an easy game. It was disappointing to let the advantage slip against a much weaker rated opponent. I knew that it would take much better play to win the games that were coming up…

Round 3

I was paired to play white against the untitled Aljoscha Feuerstack, rated 2404.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.23”]
[Round “3”]
[White “Bluvshtein”]
[Black “Feuerstack”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “A40”]
[PlyCount “59”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.23”]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 dxc4 4. e4 b5 5. a4 b4 6. Na2 Nf6 7. e5 Nd5 8. Bxc4
Bf5 9. Nf3 e6 10. O-O Be7 11. Bd2 a5 12. Nc1 O-O 13. Nb3 Nd7 14. Qe2 N5b6 15.
Bd3 Bxd3 16. Qxd3 Nb8 17. Qc2 h6 18. Be3 Qd5 19. Nfd2 Rc8 20. Nc5 Qd8 21. Nde4
Ra7 22. Rad1 Nd5 23. Bc1 Nd7 24. f4 Nf8 25. f5 exf5 26. Rxf5 Nc7 27. Qe2 Nce6
28. Qg4 Kh8 29. Nxe6 Nxe6 30. Rxf7 1-0

I was playing fast until move 14, having prepared this line before the event. I felt like it was still for black to figure out how he will try to equalize. It is no easy task and my opponent quickly ran into problems.

Already at this point black finds himself structurally worse. 16…c5 is answered with 17.Qb5, with black having problems with the a5 pawn. The game continued with 16…Nb8 17.Qc2 h6 18.Be3 and black soon found himself in a bind without any play, and with a weak c6 pawn. The move 17.Qc2 is important in that it helps fix the pawn on c6, as 17…c5 was a threat.

White has been dancing around the c5 square and improving the placement of his pieces. Black has been unable to create any play but the queen on d5 looks quite comfortable. It is clear that sooner or later white will need to launch an offensive on the king-side. The game continued with 20.Nc5! Qd8 21.Nde4 Ra7 22.Rad1 Nd5. White has been improving the position of his pieces while black has been maneuvering his pieces around without a specific purpose. Black has little choice but to wait… The idea of taking the queen off d5 was with the hope of eventually capturing on c5, even though dxc5 will always give white a very strong outpost on d6.

Black is thinking about playing Nd7 and Nf8 to be better prepared for white’s upcoming offensive. Black would also like to relieve some of the tension in the position by exchanging some pieces, since he has substantially less space. I decided that it was time to start marching my f-pawn and played 23.Bc1 Nd7 24.f4 Nf8 25.f5 exf5 26.Rxf5 Nc7. I decided to hide my bishop on the 23rd move because it will be an important attacker on the black king later on. We arrived at the position below.

Black is trying to get one of his knights settled in on e6, where it will be a strong defender. Almost all of white’s pieces seem to be ideally placed. But the queen is not doing much on c2 and needs to be moved to g4. The game ended with 27.Qe2! Nce6 28.Qg4 Kh8 29.Nxe6 Nxe6 30.Rxf7, after which my opponent resigned. The attack will finish off black’s position within a few moves.

This was a good game. My opponent did not do much wrong but landed in some very serious trouble due to the positional bind he was in. Overall, the game was very smooth.

Round 4

I was paired against IM Migchiel De Jong, rated 2404, with the black pieces. A lot of leaders were losing points and the point I lost in the first round was becoming forgotten in the standings.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.24”]
[Round “?”]
[White “De Jong”]
[Black “Bluvshtein”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “74”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.23”]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Be3 a6 8. Bb3
Na5 9. Qd2 Be7 10. f3 Qc7 11. g4 Nc4 12. Bxc4 Qxc4 13. g5 Nd7 14. O-O-O b5 15.
Kb1 Bb7 16. h4 g6 17. h5 b4 18. Nce2 e5 19. hxg6 fxg6 20. Nb3 a5 21. Ng3 a4 22.
Nc1 b3 23. cxb3 axb3 24. Nxb3 O-O 25. Qh2 Rf7 26. Rd2 Nf8 27. Qg2 d5 28. Rc2
Qa4 29. Nc1 d4 30. b3 Qd7 31. Bd2 Ba6 32. Nf1 Rc8 33. Rxc8 Qxc8 34. Nh2 d3 35.
Be3 Ba3 36. Qd2 Rc7 37. Ng4 Rc2 0-1

I played the Sicilian Defense for the first time in 2010. My opponent did not play the opening very accurately and we ended up in a balanced position early on.

It’s clear what white wants to do, with his idea being 17.h5 followed by 18.g6. The same cannot be said for black. I should have played 16…Ne5 17.h5 Qc7, with a relatively comfortable position for black. Instead I played 16…g6? , with the idea of stopping white from playing g6 and intending to force the white knights back with b4 and e5. The game continued with 17.h5 b4 18.Nce2? e5 19.hxg6 fxg6 20.Nb3, where black stands no worse.18.Na4! e5 19.b3 Qc8 20.Ne2 would have given white an advantage as black does not have any clear plan but has created himself some weaknesses on both sides of the board.

Black’s pieces are well placed and it now appears to be safe to castle short. I played the interesting 22…b3!? 23.cxb3 axb3 24.Nxb3 0-0 in an attempt to open up the white king and make white worry about his general safety before I castle myself. It was a positional pawn sacrifice. Of course, 22…0-0 was also possible. In the game, white has problems generating play.

By the time we reached this position black is clearly better. Once again, all the black pieces are well placed. The knight on c1 holds the white position together. I had different options here, and I did not choose wisely. I should have played 32…Ba3! 33.Nh2 Bxc1, followed by 34…Bd3, giving black a clear advantage. I had problems finding something forced in some of those lines and chose to avoid the idea. Also good for black was 32…d3 33.Rc3 Bb4 34.Ne3 Bxc3 35.Bxc3 Rc8, with a clear advantage for black. I assessed the final position with black up an exchange as unclear and avoided it in favour of the weaker 32…Rc8? 33.Rxc8 Qxc8 34.Nh2 d3 35.Be3 Ba3 36.Qd2 Rc7. My idea of 32…Rc8 was rather positional in nature, as I tried to exchange the white rook, since it is a good defender for the king. Everything comes down to calculation in the end…

My opponent played the weak 37.Ng4 Rc2, and resigned, clearly missing the pretty finish that comes after 38.Qa5 Rb2+ 39.Ka1 Rb1+ 40.Kxb1 Qc2+ 41.Ka1 Qb2mate. From far away I had missed that in the line 37.Qa5! Rxc1+ 38.Bxc1 Qc2+ 39.Ka1 Bc5 there is 40.Be3!, where black has nothing better than a draw after 40…Bxe3 41.Qd5+ Kh8 42.Qe5+ Kg8 43.Ng4 Bxg5!.

A game that had its share of mistakes from both sides. Fortunately, my opponent collapsed under pressure. The outcome could be different against a stronger opponent…

Free Day

The free day was set for Christmas Day. At such events, the free day starts the night before. I had the pleasure of going to a restaurant called The Black Sheep with the three Germans I was commuting with up to this point. The food was great!

FM Krause, Ullrich (left) and Jacoby, Gisbert

FM Hess, Christian (right) and myself

All three players love the game of chess and it was good to be in that environment. Gisbert has made a name for himself for being one of the owners and founders (!) of Chessbase. Gisbert was also a second of Hubner at some of his Candidates Matches back in the day. Gisbert and Christian are from Hamburg, while Ullrich is from Lübeck.

All three Germans withdrew from the event, at different stages. Christian withdrew from the event after five rounds as his illness got more serious. Ullrich was very unhappy after scoring 1/6 in the event and also withdrew. Gisbert withdrew after eight rounds as his illness was getting more serious. It’s an interesting question of whether it is right for players to withdraw from tournaments. It depends.

As an invited player, who is getting conditions, I do not have the right to withdraw from an event just because I feel like it, as my withdrawal will hurt the organizer. Organizers spend resources on bringing me to an event and while I am accepting these conditions I also accept that I will play the whole event. Of course, if a serious illness or emergency comes up, organizers might be understanding.

But as amateur players who come to enjoy playing chess and pay the entry fee, it is their right to withdraw. To take vacation time to play in an event is supposed to be for enjoyable. If that enjoyment stops, withdrawal appears to be fair game. Seven players withdrew from the event at one stage or another. The event had 56 players in total. I am not sure I ever saw such a high percentage before!

I spent most of Christmas Day preparing for my next game and resting. I felt like I had fully recovered from my cold, but wanted to stay on the safe side with a quiet day.

Round 5

I was paired against the young IM Robin Van Kampen. I knew that this would not be the last time I would play Robin, since we are also playing in the same section of Tata later in January.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.26”]
[Round “5”]
[White “Bluvshtein”]
[Black “Van Kampen”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “A40”]
[PlyCount “111”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.25”]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. g4 h6 8. h3 b5
9. cxd5 exd5 10. Bd2 Nb6 11. Bd3 Qe7 12. O-O-O Nc4 13. Kb1 Rb8 14. e4 b4 15.
Nxd5 cxd5 16. e5 Nxd2+ 17. Rxd2 O-O 18. exd6 Qxd6 19. Ne5 Ba6 20. Qc6 Bxd3+ 21.
Rxd3 Qd8 22. Rc1 Rc8 23. Qxc8 Qxc8 24. Rxc8 Rxc8 25. f3 Nh7 26. a3 Ng5 27. axb4
Nxh3 28. Ra3 Rc7 29. b5 Rb7 30. Ra5 Ng5 31. Kc2 f6 32. Nc6 Nxf3 33. Kc3 f5 34.
gxf5 h5 35. Kd3 Nh4 36. Rxa7 Rxb5 37. Ne7+ Kf8 38. Kc3 Rb8 39. b4 Re8 40. f6
gxf6 41. Nxd5 Nf5 42. b5 Rc8+ 43. Kd3 Rb8 44. b6 Nd6 45. Nxf6 Rb7 46. Nd7+ Ke8
47. Rxb7 Nxb7 48. Nc5 Na5 49. b7 Nc6 50. Na6 h4 51. Ke3 h3 52. Kf2 Kd7 53. d5
Nb8 54. Nxb8+ Kc7 55. Nc6 Kxb7 56. Kg3 1-0

I went for the Shirov Attack variation in the Meran. An exciting opening led to a rather dry liquidation into a rook and knight endgame, where I thought the game would be played for two results, where black attempts to equalize for a long time.

Black still needs to equalize. White will decide whether he will try to play a3 and create problems for black or play Rd2 and Rc2 in an attempt to exchange rooks and invade black’s position with the king through b3 and a4. Black played the resourceful 25…Nh7 26.a3, after which we both missed the strong 26…Nf8! threatening to trap the knight, with the position being very much equal. The game continued with 26…Ng5 27.axb4 Nxh3 28.Ra3, where I hoped that my doubles pawns would be a strength, not a weakness, due to the activity of all my pieces.

All endgame manuals claim that it is very important to activate your king in the endgame, often at the cost of pawns. I will not argue against that! I played the strong 31.Kc2! f6 32.Nc6 Nxf3 33.Kc3, activating my king and intending to play Kb4 and Rxa7 next. My advantage in the position lies strictly in the activity of my king, even though I am temporarily down a pawn.

After some shuffling of the pieces we reached this position. 40.Nxd5 is not promising after 40…Nxf5, as black is the one with a better pawn structure. My opponent had missed the strong 40.f6! gxf6 41.Nxd5, where it is clear that black is the one trying to hold on to his pawns. My pawns are further advanced and black’s pawns are loose. My rook is also the more active of the two. Of course, a lot of calculation went into the move, but it is important to note the breaking of black’s pawn structure, as the main goal of the idea.

Black is in trouble. The game ended soon after 42…Rc8+ 43.Kd3 Rb8 44.b6 Nd6 45.Nxf6. The best remaining chance for black was 42…Rd8 43.b6 Rxd5 44.b7 Rb5 45.Ra8+ Kf7 46.b8Q Rxb8 47.Rxb8. I was calculating the final position in-depth during the game. White should be winning, but black will create a lot of technical difficulties with his outside passed pawn, forcing white to play precisely.

This was a good game all around. It was certainly a strategic choice to try to go for the endgame and grind out the full point, but one that I feel quite comfortable doing. The endgame was not an easy one for black. It was good to come out on top in this long battle.

This was my fourth consecutive win and I joined the group of leaders at 4/5. I felt good about my play at this point but I also knew that this was just the beginning and that I only put myself in a position to have a chance to succeed. The hardest part was to come.


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