19 April 2017

Battling Around the Clogged Flank

Most spectacular game of day three of the Kortchnoi Zurich Chess Challenge supertournament in the review of Vladimir Barsky.

Saturday morning my colleague from the newspaper Sport Express Alexei Rybalko and I ascended Mount Uetliberg to enjoy an amazing view of Zürich and its surroundings. We did not ascend on foot, however, as the mountain top can be reached by electric train departing from the central station. The Zürich air is so clean that any parallels to Moscow would be somewhat embarrassing. It even brings to you a feeling of slight dizziness when on the mountain, far away from cars. Local residents and experienced tourists would come to stay at Uetliberg for a whole day to wander the hills, ride bikes, and have picnics. The place radiates peace and tranquility... 

However, it is time we moved back to the tournament venue. One of the sharpest and most complex games of round three has been commented in hot pursuit by grandmaster Peter Svidler. 

Oparin – Svidler
Sicilian Defense 

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h4 

- When I chanced to bump into Vladimir Borisovich at the washstand I probed him with: “Chess is so different nowadays from what it used to be, isn’t it?” He replies, “Have you noticed it only now?” 

As far as I understand, 6.h4 has become a strong challenge. As for me, I found myself a little behind this new trend. 

– Have you been aware of its existence? 

– Not especially. However, it has a history of some serious people employing it. Thus, the blitz opener saw Ian use it against Boris, but I have not given it a thorough analysis yet. Since it is me choosing move one (as well as moves two, five, etc...), a decision to harness the Najdorf system came to me during the game. Therefore, proper home preparation was out of the question. This move is a serious challenge, and I landed into a disgusting position, which could have been even worse than that. 11.f5 looks stronger to me, although after 11.g5 it is a cup of tea neither. 

6…e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f4 g6 9.Be2 Nbd7 10.g4 h5 


After 11.g5 the position settles into a stable one, whereas 11.f5 gives rise to some strange lines: 11…Bxb3 12.g5! – this is what I felt uncomfortable about during the game. If we throw in 11…gxf5 12.gxf5, and only now 12...Bxb3 13.axb3, then the problem is that in my advance calculations I first arrived at the conclusion that  it was no big deal since after 13…Qb6, followed by 14…Bh6, I would be able to trade the dark-squared bishops.” However, when I gave it more thinking, I realized that Bh6 is answered by White's Bg5, which makes bishop trading very difficult, it at all possible. There is also no ousting White’s bishop from g5. This said, White will gradually grind me down there. Therefore, 11.f5 would have left me with a dismal choice. 

Meanwhile, a setup arising after 11.g5 looks terrible for me because Oparin has everything developed by move 15 with his pieces deployed to perfect squares, while I am still in the middle of Qc7 and Rd8 with my kingside stuffed and underdeveloped. Nevertheless, with the kingside completely clogged, White finds it difficult to go on with his offensive. 

11…Ng4 12.Rf1 exf4 13.Bxf4 Nde5 14.Qd2 Qc7 15.0–0–0 Rd8 


I think that in lieu of 16.Nd5 a more principled continuation would be 16.Nd4, angling for 16…Bg7 17.Nf5. My choice is rather limited there: I may go 16…Bg7 or resign since my choice of moves is rather poor. I do not feel like committing my bishop otherwise with 16…Be7 because my whole idea was to develop it to the big diagonal. All in all, I would have been up against many issues... 

16…Bxd5 17.Qxd5 Bg7 18.Nd4 0–0 19.Kb1 Rfe8 20.c3 Rc8 

A rather strange position happened during the game, however. I am rock solid on the one hand, but on the other hand it is not at all clear how I am supposed to proceed further. This said, 20…Rc8 turned out to be a very convenient blunder. I was already about to have 21.Bxg4 recaptured with my knight when it dawned on me that I lose my d6-pawn after all! It was not in my initial plans to allow the 21…hxg4 22.h5 offensive, but it suddenly gave rise to an extremely double-edged setup. 

21.Bxg4 hxg4 22.h5 gxh5 23.Nf5 Re6 24.Rh1 Ng6 

The engine points to a powerful resource 24...Nc4! , resulting in a double-edged play – Vladimir Barsky 



In lieu of 25.Bg3 stronger, perhaps, was 25.Bxd6; I believe that the young man underestimated the consequences of 25…Qb6. He was obviously willing to keep the option of capturing the d6-pawn with his knight, whereas 25…Qb6 is so clear an indication of a pending major queenside counterplay that he is bound to take the g7-bishop, losing a tempo as a result since it took him two moves to capture on d6. 

Strange enough, it is me playing for a win from now on because the g4-pawn will not go down easily, as opposed to its g5 counterpart, while my king is closer to the theater of action at that. To top it off, White missed 31…Nh3!, which made his position difficult, if not hopeless. 

26.Nxg7 Kxg7 27.Rxh5 Qe3 28.Bxd6 

Stronger is 28.Qxb7! – Vladimir Barsky 

28...Qxe4+ 29.Qxe4 Rxe4 30.Rhh1 Nf4 31.Rdf1 

31…Nh3! 32.Rf5 Rc6 33.Rd1 Re6 34.Bg3 Kg6 35.Rff1 Re3 36.Bb8 Rf3 37.Rxf3 gxf3 38.Rf1 f2 39.Bg3 

39…Rc5! 40.Kc2 Rxg5 White resigns. 

– All in all, chess life becomes ever more interesting! I go on rating this young man highly despite having succeeded in outwitting him someplace in time pressure. I do like the way he plays chess. 

– How does the pilot time control influence your performance? 
– So far I have managed somehow. To be honest, not quite knowing how to best distribute these 45 minutes, I usually wait for the rapid chess time control to take over. Thus, I burned 20 minutes for moves 8 and 9 during my game with Oparin. On the other side, however, the position deserved thinking over since I was not aware of the 6.h4 move details. After 9.Be2  I was at a complete loss as to what was going on since the number of opportunities was beyond any measure. On the whole I rather interpret this time control as increased rapid than reduced classic. I do not know if my interpretation is correct or maybe the way I handle the game rather points to a reduced classic format. 

I cannot say that after 2.5 days I am ready to jump to any firm conclusions. There is room for self-expression, which gives way to an interesting type of play. Chess is an interesting game in general, and I love it in all its forms!