Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Most Interesting Satisfaction

A while back, when blogging about the 78th Massachusetts Open, I had mentioned that I submitted my last game of the tournament to MACA for their "Most Interesting Game" competition.

Well, last week the news came to me via the VP of MACA, Ken Ballou, that I had won the U1600 Section's "Most Interesting Game". You can read about the announcements posted June 23rd here.

Now, I have to admit, when Ken told me the news, I was filled with a certain joy immediately followed by a most interesting feeling of satisfaction. And why is that? Well, frankly, because I didn't have the great tournament I had hoped for; like most chess players when they don't accomplish a winning finish, feel cheated by their own means of preparation and play. In other words, I had let myself down.

So, in the final round of that tournament, I went into the game with a vengeance and determination to succeed at a level of play that I could be proud of. When the dust had settled, I came out victorious, and interestingly enough, I believed I had a game with a certain edge so to speak, worthy of submitting to MACA for their "Most Interesting Game" competition.

Thus, as you might understand, winning this particular prize under the scrutinous eyes of GM Bisguier, helped fill that void of personal "let down" with pride and satisfaction. It was an interesting satisfaction, knowing that my game was worthy of note in the eyes of a GM.

And so, I present to you here, the most interesting game in the U1600 section. It was round five of the tournament, but for all intents and purposes, it would be my final round of the tournament, as I had put in for a last round bye. I was due Black and paired against the highest rated player of our section, Eduardo Valadares, whom like myself, was not having a great tournament leading into this particular game.

Valadares,Eduardo (1580)
Smith,Warner (1579)
[B92] Sicilian Najdorf
78th Massachusetts Open
Boxborough MA (5), 25.05.2009

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2
My opponent opts for the non-confrontational line. Of all the lines to challenge the Najdorf, this one is the most conservative. 6.Be2 is a relaxed approach for White and is not doused with the complexities that other variations entail.

I believe that the best way to challenge a Najdorf player is with 6.Be3 or the notorious 6.Bg5. Of course, in order to do so, White has to know his theory pretty well going into these lines and all the complex nuances that arise from these variations.

e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Be3 Be6 9.Qd2 Nc6

9...Nbd7 or 9...0-0 are the more accurate moves to consider in lieu 9...Nc6, a move that is rarely played in this line; the only reason I played this move was to simply put a few ripples into the opening lines that my opponent may be familiar with.

10.0–0 0–0 11.a3
This is purely a prophylactic move by White to take away any intent of Black's Knight landing on g4.

11...Rc8 12.f3 Qc7

In the Najdorf, one of Black's goals is to play for d5! At this juncture in the game, I spent about 10 minutes deciding whether or not to push 12...d5. I saw the following line:

[12...d5 13.exd5 Nxd5 14.Nxd5 Bxd5 15.Rad1 Bxb3 16.cxb3]

The position opens up rather nicely and Black gains a superior pawn structure to White's doubled pawns along the c-file. But in an open game, I didn't like the prospect of granting White the bishop pair.

In the final analysis, I felt the evaluation was neutral and so, I played the less accurate move Qc7 to fend against White's push for f4 and threatening the stability of Black's pawn on e5.

13.Rac1 Na5 14.Nxa5 Qxa5 15.g4 h6 16.h4 Qc7 17.g5 hxg5 18.Bxg5 Qb6+

There is a lot happening here in the last six moves. First, at this stage of the game, I began to focus on a queen-side attack. So, in order to get things rolling, I needed to alleviate White of some of his defenses on that side of the board; provoke him and see where he decides to focus. I did this with 13...Na5, intending to penetrate White's defenses.

Naturally, White did not like the idea of Black's Knight coming to c4 or attacking his Knight on b3, forcing White to double up on his pawns. So, White decides to nip the threat immediately by taking the Knight on a5, bringing Black's Queen into play on this side of the board.

White follows up his play with 15.g4, which I found very interesting. It was a move that began sounding bells in my head. Both alarming, as White clearly makes his intent to attack swiftly on the King side, and opportunistic as I felt I could take advantage of the weakened squares around White's King and his backward pawn on f3.

My first priority was to address the oncoming attack and played h6 to prevent White from kicking my knight away from defending that part of the board and bring in some reinforcements with Qc7.

All this time, I knew that if White clearly intends on following up with a brute-force king-side attack, his dark colored bishop would have to come into play and leave the important g1-a7 diagonal. Something I was keeping my eye on as a spring board towards another attack on his queen-side, as is evident with the following: 17.g5 hxg5 18.Bxg5 Qb6+

White would have been better with 18.hxg5 versus taking the pawn with his Bishop. With 18.Bxh5, I took advantage of White's open diagonal to play out the check with the idea of seeking a positional advantage to use as leverage against White's ambitious plans. Initially, I intended to play for a slight material advantage, but as we'll soon see, I played for the positional advantage instead, and one that proved to overcome and defeat White's play!

19.Be3 Qxb2 20.Na4 Qa2 21.Bd3

When I played 19...Qxb2, I knew that my Queen had an out with an eventual follow up move of Bh3 and according to Rybka, that would be the most accurate play. However, I began to entertain the idea of having an extra minor piece on the board with open f/g files for my Rooks to use as I press for a passed pawn on the queen-side.

Hard to see right now I suppose, but I did take 15 minutes to consider the option and the positions on the board that would arise with a Queen sacrifice. I believed White's position on the king-side to be compromised and has a certain vulnerability on the queen-side, White would be stretched to fight on both sides of the board.

My King's defenses were strong enough to withstand an immediate attack and with White having a compromised king-side and a barren queen-side, I had this gut feeling that having more pieces on the board than White would play to Black's advantage, especially if I could gain a passed pawn on the queen-side of the board.

So, I played 21...b5?! with the intent of sacrificing my Queen. If White chooses to play 22.Nc3, well then Black is just winning on the material side of things with 22...Qxa3!

21...b5 22.Ra1 Qxa1 23.Rxa1 bxa4 24.Bxa6 Rb8 25.Bg5 Rb6 26.Bd3 Rb2 27.Qg2 Rfb8

This is the position I saw on the queen-side of the board when I was contemplating the Queen sacrifice. Moreover, as I had suspected in my analysis on the king-side of the board, White's attack does not have enough to penetrate Black's defenses and his King is vulnerable to Rook and Bishop attacks.

Also, White will have to bring his Rook into king-side play to seriously contend for a mating attack and/or guard against antagonistic back rank checks by Black's Rooks. This would leave White with an unattended a-pawn, thus granting Black the strong possibility of a passed pawn.

Black, doubling up his Rooks, intends to gain himself that passed pawn!

Personally, I think White would have done better to keep his Queen on the queen-side of the board. His move, 27.Qg2, was not a good move. White should have played his Queen to either 1)Eliminate Black's a-pawn and/or 2)Pressure Black's Rook on the 2nd rank to leave.

With this move White loses equality and just hands the passed pawn over to Black.

28...Ra2 29.h5 Bd8
With the oncoming attack, I'll need to neutralize it with a Knight move for defending purposes. In order to do so, I need to offer my Bishop some back up, otherwise I lose it!

30.h6 g6 31.Qh2 Nh5

White's stubbornness to continue with a blunt king-side attack will be his demise. His Queen really needs to help out the other side of the board. Better for White would be something like 31.Qd2. A little more finesse by White and the game wouldn't be such an easy task for Black. He's making Black's Queen sacrifice look like a brilliant play for the ages, when in fact the sacrifice was rather dubious and purely played for a slight positional advantage.

I did see 31...Bg6+, but I didn't like the feeling of having White's dark colored Bishop hanging out at the front door of my King, so I wanted the exchange and played Nh5 straight away.

32.Bxd8 Rxd8 33.Qh4 f6 34.Rd1 Rxa3 35.Rd2 Kh7

In this series of moves, I got the bishop exchange I wanted. Frankly, the less pieces White has on the board, the better off my King is. After the exchange, I wanted to grab White's a-pawn which would add pressure to his play. I also needed to get my King over to the key h7 square to help lock up my defenses against White's blunt attack.

At this stage of the game, I think White has lost his opportunity to equalize and is now fighting for survival.

White's concentration has been lost. This move allows Black to bring the fight to White's King while still pressing along the a-file with his passed pawn. Should Black queen his pawn, its lights out for White.

21...Rxf3 37.Bg2? Rg3!
Another bad move by White that enables Black to pin the bishop and keep White's Queen in a "box". It's just a matter of time now before White meets his fate with other fallen Kings.

38.Rf2 Rg4 39.Qh2 Rb8 40.Kf1 a3 41.Bf3?

This move loses by force. There is nothing that White can do now to prevent Black's a-pawn from reaching his destination. A few moves later and White resigns.

Bc4+ 42.Ke1 Rb1+ 43.Kd2 a2 44.Bxg4 a1Q 45.Qh3 Qd4+
A few checks to coordinate pieces and draw White's King out for a mating attack seals the win.