The Finish-Rounds 6-9

Round 6

I was running hot to win four games in a row but “only” come tied for first. The last four rounds would decide everything at the top. I was paired with black against the 14 year old IM Nyzhnyk, rated 2535, who won last year’s event a full point ahead of the field, scoring a spectacular 7.5/9. Nyzhnyk is one of the current rising stars in the world of chess.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.27”]
[Round “6”]
[White “Nyzhnyk”]
[Black “Bluvshtein”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “86”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.26”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+ 4. Nbd2 O-O 5. a3 Be7 6. e4 d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8.
e5 Nfd7 9. Bd3 c5 10. O-O Nc6 11. Re1 a5 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 cxd4 14. Bf4 Qb6
15. Rb1 Nf8 16. h3 Be6 17. N1d2 Ng6 18. Bg3 f6 19. exf6 Bxf6 20. Bd3 Bf7 21.
Qc2 Nf8 22. Bd6 g6 23. Bc5 Qd8 24. Rxe8 Qxe8 25. Bxf8 Qxf8 26. Qb3 Qe7 27. Qb6
Rc8 28. Rc1 Kg7 29. Nb3 Qd8 30. Qxb7 Rb8 31. Qxc6 Rxb3 32. Qc2 Qb8 33. Rb1 Be6
34. g4 Rb7 35. Qc6 Bf7 36. g5 Be7 37. Nxd4 Bxg5 38. Ne6+ Bxe6 39. Qxe6 Rxb2 40.
Rxb2 Qxb2 41. Qxd5 Qxa3 42. Qxg5 Qxd3 43. Qe7+ Kg8 1/2-1/2

I played the same 3…Bb4+ line that I played against GM Fressinet in Corsica. This time the result of the opening was different.

White has not been fighting for an advantage in the opening and is currently down a pawn. I played the obvious 14…Qb6, which defends the d4 pawn and attacks b2. Even though the pawn at d4 might be lost at one point or another, it should not be parted with easily. It is a nuisance for white. The game continued with 15.Rb1 Nf8 16.h3 Be6 17.N1d2 Ng6, where black has a clear but small advantage due to white’s lack of play and the doubled, but extra, pawn.

The pawn structure has changed substantially since the last diagram. Black no longer fears for the d-pawns but is having difficulties generating clear play. White’s initiative is an annoying one to play against. With Bc5 followed by Qb3 being the current way for white to generate play. It is not clear how black should make progress. 22…Rxe1+ 23.Rxe1 Nb4 24.Bxb4 axb4 25.Qb3 Qd6 would have given black better practical prospects, even without the extra pawn. In the final position black has two bishops and it is easier to play for his side, as white’s initiative has vanished.

The game continued with 22…g6 23.Bc5 Qd8 (23…Qc7 24.Bxd4!) 24.Rxe8 Qxe8 25.Bxf8 Qxf8 26.Qb3, and white created black some problems, soon reaching the position below.

White is making it hard for black to make any progress. I should have played 28…Qc7 29.Qb5 Ra8 with the idea of playing 30…a4. Baby steps type of progress. I willingly gave back the pawn in an attempt to activate my forces with 28…Kg7 29.Nb3 Qd8 30.Qxb7 Rb8 31.Qxc6 Rxb3 32.Qc2 Qb8, leading to a sharp position where both sides have their own aces.

My opponent offered me a draw with his last move 39.Qxe6. I did not want to accept the draw but was disappointed at the thought that I had let my advantage slip. I underestimated the strength of 39…Rf7 40.Qxd5 Be3! 41.fxe3 Qg3+, where black regains material and stands better. Of course, white’s 40th move is not forced, but black still has an advantage. In the game I played the liquidating 39…Rxb2 40.Rxb2 Qxb2 41.Qxd5, and upon realizing that after 41…Bh4 42.Qc5 black does not even have a hint of an advantage, I allowed a perpetual with 41…Qxa3 42.Qxg5 Qxd3 43.Qe7+ Kg8.

I was not very happy with the draw. I let my advantage slip, even though it was not an easy one to convert. I had problems putting out white’s initiative and eventually got into a messy later stage of the middle game. This was followed by me not taking all possible chances by not playing 39…Rf7. On the flip side, it is a positive sign that I got a good position on the black side of my preparation and was fighting for a win the whole game.

Round 7

There had to be a change of transportation starting this round since, Ullrich, our driver up until now, had withdrawn from the tournament and gone back home. Fortunately, I was able to share a cheap taxi ride to the round with Gisbert and Jonathan Carlstedt for the next two rounds, and with Jonathan for the last round (since Gisbert withdrew by then too). I felt like it was important to come to the game well rested with minimal transportation.

I was paired against IM Brandenburg, rated 2515, with the white pieces. My opponent had been having an exceptional tournament so far but I felt confident about the upcoming game.

The opening was a Benko. I was a bit surprised by my opponent’s choice, simply because he has been playing different openings of late. We reached a position that I had played before.

I had played 12.Nh4 h6 13.Qc2 Qd7 14.f4?! in the game Bluvshtein-Reeve (2009 Canadian Open). The main line of theory recommends 14.Bb2 g5 15.Nf3 Qf5 16.e4 with comfortable play for white. In this game I tried 12.e4 Ba6 13.Bf1 Qc8 14.Be2 Bxe2 15.Qxe2 Qa6, where black got exactly what he wanted out of his opening choice in easy play surrounding the pawn break with c4 and freer piece development, with open files on the queen side. We soon reached the position below.

Black is threatening to exchange everything on the queen side with 19…c4. I wanted to complicate the matter as much as possible and played 19.Na2 , with the possible idea of Nb4-c6 in answer to c4 at some point. However, I failed to make things interesting due to my opponent’s thematic liquidation which occurred after 19…Qxe2+ 20.Kxe2 Bxb2 21.Rxb2 c4 22.bxc4 Nxc4 23.Rc2 and I was only able to complicate matters because my opponent did not play the more forceful 23…Rxa4 24.Rhc1 Rca8, equalizing easily and probably agreeing to a draw after 25.Nc3 Rb4 26.Na2 Rba4, with both sides having nothing better than a repetition.

I was happy to reach this position not because it is advantageous for me, which it is not, but because there was still some life left in the position. I played the complicating 30…Ra4, trying to make my opponent nervous by creating him some problems with the pin on the fourth rank. But my opponent played precisely and put some landmines along the way with 31…f5 32.exf5 (32.Kc1 fxe4 33.Ne2 Rd1+ {33…Rd2 followed by 34…Rd4 is also possible} 34.Kxd1 Nb2+ with a drawn endgame) gxf5 33.Kc1 Kf7 34.f3 Nd2 35.Rxd4 Nb3+ 36.Kd1 Nxd4 37.f4 Kg6 38.h3 h5 and we reached the position below.

It’s important to know when to stop playing for a win, sense the danger, and force the draw. Black intends to play 39…h4 and invade my position with his king. In this position, there are a lot of ways for white to force a draw, but it’s important to not play recklessly. A few moves ago I was still playing for a win, but upon calculating the line 39.Ke1 h4 40.g4 fxg4 41.hxg4 Nf3+ 42.Kf2 Nh2, I realized that it is not me who will be able to play for a win here, or in positions after 40.Kf2 hxg3 41.Kxg3. I am not worse in both of those positions, but it is black who can play for a win, due to minimal initiative. I would have to play accurately to force a draw. I played the straightforward 39.h4 with the idea of locking up the position and creating potential weaknesses on f5 and h5, killing any action. I offered a draw after this move, which was quickly accepted. After 39.Kf1 black might still have played on…

Overall, I saw this game as a missed opportunity, for different reasons than the previous game. I never actually stood better in this game as it was very balanced from the start. After misplaying the opening I had to count on my opponent to make mistakes, which he did not. But this was a missed opportunity on paper, since I was playing a lower rated opponent with the white pieces.

Round 8

One of the earlier days, while talking to Robin (my 5th round opponent) I said that I always wanted to play the strongest opponents possible in an attempt to learn and improve. So Robin asked me if I would be happy to be paired against the top rated seed, GM Baklan, the next day. I said that it would be great. I didn’t get what I asked for the following day, but I got it in the 8th round.

I was to have the white pieces against GM Baklan, rated 2613. Early in events tournament situation does not really come into play, but it is absolutely essential in people’s play in the last few rounds. In a way, this was a must win for both players, more so for my opponent. I was half a point ahead and only a win would get my opponent back into contention for first place. For me, I knew that this was my last white game of the event (this was my fifth white) and if this round would not be a must win for me, the last round certainly would be if I intended to try to win the event. Taking this into consideration, it was clear that my opponent would try to play something very dynamic and double-edged, taking risks along the way. Here is the game.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.29”]
[Round “8”]
[White “Bluvshtein”]
[Black “Baklan”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “59”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.28”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Nge2 Re8 6. a3 Bf8 7. Ng3 d5 8. Be2
dxc4 9. O-O c5 10. dxc5 Bxc5 11. Bxc4 Nc6 12. b4 Bf8 13. Bb2 b6 14. Nce4 Nxe4
15. Nxe4 f5 16. Ng3 Kh8 17. Rc1 Bd7 18. Qd2 Re7 19. e4 fxe4 20. Nxe4 Be8 21.
Qf4 Bg6 22. Rfd1 Qb8 23. Qh4 Ne5 24. Bb3 Nf7 25. Nf6 h6 26. Nd7 Qb7 27. Qg3
Rxd7 28. Qxg6 Rad8 29. Rxd7 Qxd7 30. Bc2 1-0

The opening is a typical Nimzo Indian with white playing the e3 and Nge2 idea. My opponent played a line which I have become familiar with,  and against good opposition. In the game Bluvshtein-Moiseenko I continued with 7.d5, playing a new an interesting idea where I sacrificed a queen. In the game Bluvshtein-Onischuk I deviated earlier and played 6.g3 (instead of 6.a3). It was clear why my opponent chose this line. I had dubious (I am being optimistic) positions in both games, both of which I managed to win. I had a new idea in hand. I played the interesting 7.Ng3 d5 8.Be2 dxc4 9.0-0 c5 10.dxc5 Bxc5 11.Bxc4 Nc6 12.b4 Bf8 13.Bb2 b6. I have been avoiding the use of any exclamation marks because none of my moves had any special strength. I do feel that my idea as a whole is a strong one, especially speaking in practical terms. So far, I have been creating problems for my opponent. Leading up to this position, I had blitzed all my moves and was still in my preparation. My opponent had already spent more than 30min. I have an advantage. Mission accomplished out of the opening.

Now it’s time to actually do something with white’s advantage. I played the strong 14.Nce4! Nxe4 15.Nxe4. For a long time I was calculating 15…Qh4 16.f4 Bb7 17.Ng5, where white can count on having an advantage due to the poor placement of the black queen. I assumed that my opponent would not play 15…Qxd1 16.Rfxd1 Bb7 17.Nd6 where black must give up a bishop and defend a worse endgame where he will have no realistic winning chances. The tournament situation came into play here.

My opponent played 15…f5?!, which is objectively not the best move but might be a good practical decision. Black complicates the issue. I made a series of precise moves with 16.Ng3 (attacking f5) Kh8 17.Rc1 (threatening Bb5) Bd7 18.Qd2 (intending to play e4 or Rfd1). My last few moves all had direct threats or intentions, but that is not what made them strong moves. All of them improved the harmony of my pieces and placed them on better squares, while also creating immediate problems for black, giving white a clear advantage.

All of white’s pieces are well placed and it feels like a final blow should be on its way. But where is it? Black has been able to defend his king. It is time to create new problems for black. I played the strong 25.Nf6! (Threatening 26.Nxh7 and 27.Bc2) h6? (the awkward 25…Nd6 was necessary to offer any more resistance, 25…gxf6 26.Bxf6 wins white material) 26.Nd7 Qb7 (26…Qe8 27.Ba4 with deadly consequences) 27.Qg3!, after which white’s position is completely dominant. Black cannot stop all of white’s threats, which include 28.Rc7. The game continued with 27…Rxd7 28.Qxg6 Rad8 and we reached the position below.

Now it is time for the final blow, and it came with 29.Rxd7 Qxd7 30.Bc2! and black resigned since 30…Ng5 is answered with 31.Qxh6+, winning the knight.

There is no doubt that this was my best game of the tournament. This game showed great execution in all stages of the game, but the one I was most impressed with was the opening. Good home preparation gave me a clear advantage to work with out of the opening, as well as extra time on the clock. This is what I knew I needed to improve when becoming a professional chess player. It’s one thing when this is done against a 2400 and it’s a completely different thing when it is against a 2600. Upon winning the opening battle, I was able to maintain pressure and keep the punches coming, which was done with high quality. A very “clean” game all around.

Round 9

I entered the round in a four way tie for first with Bojkov, Brandenburg and Nyzhnyk. I was to played GM Bojkov, rated 2542, with the black pieces, while the other two leaders played each other. I knew that a draw in the last round would probably give me a tie for first, since Brandenburg is a very solid player by nature, and both players might be satisfied with a strong event with GM norms made. Everybody wants to win in the last round, but nobody wants to lose it. Black is usually the one who is trying to secure a draw in such last round scenarios. There was not much of a game, but here it is.

[Event “?”]
[Site “?”]
[Date “2010.12.29”]
[Round “9”]
[White “Bojkov”]
[Black “Bluvshtein”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “A00”]
[PlyCount “18”]
[EventDate “2010.12.21”]
[SourceDate “2010.12.29”]

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 Nc6 4. Nf3 Bc5 5. O-O a6 6. c3 d6 7. Bb3 Ba7 8. Re1
O-O 9. h3 Be6 1/2-1/2

The infamous “GM Draw” of the last round, with both players playing it safe. The other two leaders drew soon after. I was happy to clinch my first tournament win as a professional. It was not done in style in the last round, but sometimes safety has to come first. If I had the white pieces it would be a different type of a game. With my draw offer following my 9th move, it was up to my opponent to decide whether he wanted to play a long game or settle for a draw. The draw offer on my part also had the intention of finding out if my opponent had a serious fighting mood, so that I could adjust accordingly, and make all three results a possibility if a battle ensues.

There was a six way tie for first place when the smoke cleared. Considering my start, I was very happy with my result. It’s not easy to regroup after tough losses. I feel like I did that very well to get back into contention. It was a good way to finish 2010.

I will post “Groningen In Review” next, with standings, a tournament review, photos, and more afterthoughts.

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5 Responses to The Finish-Rounds 6-9

  1. dougsly says:

    Mark, great honest analysis and excellent play by you. I thought from reading the official website that somehow Baklan was given the outright win of the tournament. Now that it ended with you in a tie for first, it is much easier to understand the quick draw in the last round. Thanks very much.

    A small point, not meant to annoy: the convention is to capitalize White and Black.

  2. Congratulations on your shared 1st place!
    Your blog reads like a good fiction.
    I wish you best of luck in your journey in the New 2011 Year.

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