Thursday, 17 March 2016

Game 23 - Swale Club Championship 2015-16 - Round Nine

Swale Club Championship - Round Nine
Thursday 17 March 2016
White: K. Nevols (132) - Black: A Fletcher (93)

With two rounds to go in the club championship, I had calculated that a half point would be enough to see me in the top five and hence a place in the final group. I considered that I would be favourite here but grades can have a psychological effect. When you play someone of a lower grade, there is a temptation to blast them off the board - only to go down in flames.

So I aimed to play calmly, develop pieces, build up in the centre, and try to spot any weaknesses. However, for much of this game, I am fighting for the initiative.

1. e4 d6
2. d4 Nf6
3. Nc3 g6

The Pirc Defence

4. Bg5

This was a system used by the American grandmaster Robert Byrne. The idea is to put some early pressure on the kingside and follow up with a Qd2 battery.

4. ....  Bg7

Playing 4. .. h6 might be better. There are now lots of moves for White to chose from here. Qd2, e5, f4, Nf3, f3, Bc4 etc. I choose a more quiet plan of development.

5. Be2 h6
6. Bh4 Nc6?!

In these sort of positions Black usually plays 6. .. c6. Here the knight obstructs Black countering with the c-pawn.

7. Nf3 b6

Black decides to fianchetto both bishops and attack the centre from afar. I now considered 8. d5 then if 8. ... Ne5 9. Nxe5 dxe5 Black has doubled pawns and a blocked in bishop. Also if 8. ... Nb8 intending to relocate to d7 then 9. Bb5+ Bd7 10. Bxd7 Nxd7 11. Nd4 could put Black under some early pressure. And 8. .. Na5 and the knight is dim on the rim.

I rejected the move for fear of opening the diagonal and instead decided to deflect the Black bishop away from the b7 square it was intending to occupy.

8. Bb5 Bd7

Again I considered 9. d5 but then after 9. .. Ne5 10. Nxe5 dxe5 (or 10. Bxb5 11. Nxb5 dxe5 12. Nc3) 11. Bxd7 Qxd7 it all looked too equal and boring. I did not notice that now I should play 12. f3 with the aim of bringing the bishop back into the game.

9. Qd2

Instead I decide to play some pressure on the kingside and dissuade Black from castling. If now 9. O-O then 10. Bxf6 exf6 - although this does not look too bad for Black who could now base a plan around f5.

9. .....  a6
10. Be2

Job done. The bishop returns to the centre. However 10. Ba4 moving to b3 was probably more accurate.

10 ... b5

Threatening b4 with an eye on White's e-pawn.

11. a3 b4!

Black plays a plan which I underestimated. At first my eyes were immediately drawn to that pawn on a6 which will now be weak. But the knight which will now arrive on b4 proves surprisingly difficult to shift.

12. axb4 Nxb4

Black has 56 minutes left for 21 moves. The time control, as ever, is 35 moves in 75 minutes with 15 more minutes for the rest of the game.

13. O-O

I had considered 13. e5 dxe5 14. dxe5 Nh7 15. Ne4 a5 but the move that worried me was 13. e5 Bf5. I can now see it comes to nothing after 14. exf6 Nxc2+ 15. Kf1.

13. ... Qb8!

A good way to develop the queen, protect the knight and place pressure on the queenside. I had overlooked this move.

The pressure on my centre was concerning me and I could not see anything with e5 or d5 which I liked. Certainly Bf5 after e5 was very worrying. I wanted to defend my e-pawn so I could move the knight and play c3 which would both kick the knight out and strengthen d4 - and to this end the computer recommends 14. Bxf6 Bxf6 15. Nd1. However, I did not like the sight of those two bishops.

14. Bc4

I now have 40 minutes left for 21 moves. As I played this move, I saw 14. .. Nxe4!? 15. Nxe4 d5 then 16. Bxd5 Nxd5 17. c3 Bb5 and Nb6. I had a quick look at 15. Bxf7+ Kxf7 16. Nxe4 but then 16. Rc8 brings his rook into the game! And the computer suggests 16. c3 dxe4 17. Qf4!? with 17. ... f5 18. Ne5 Nc2 19. Bf7+ Kd8 20. Nxg6 Nxa1 21. Bxe7+ Kc8 22. Nxh8 - not a position I would like to play.

14. ...  Qb6

Instead Black develops the queen and hits d4.

15. Rfe1

Now with 34 minutes for 20 moves I was getting concerned over my position and the clock. But now I had achieved the first objective - the e-pawn is defended. And there are no longer any Nxe4 tricks.

15. ... g5
16. Bg3 O-O

I now gave a thought to whether I could exploit the loose bishop on d7 with 17. e5 - but could not see anything. Simply 17. ... Nh5 does the job.

17. Na2

So back to the plan. If now 17. .. Nc6 then I intended 18. c3? but I now see that 18. Na5 causes problems. If 19. Qe2 then Nxe4 and if 19. Qd3 then Qxb2. So maybe 18. Rab1 or just 18. Nc3 is better.

17. ... a5

Fortunately for me Black chooses a weaker plan.

18. c3 Nxa2

I think 18. ... Nc6 might have been better and asking White what is he going to do with that knight, although the computer thinks White can then take the initiative with 19. d5 Na7 20. Nd4.

19. Rxa2 Nh5
20. Qe2!

Now with 24 minutes for 15 moves, I was pleased to find this multi-functional move. It stops Bb5, defends e4 and prepares Rea1. For the first time, I was beginning to feel comfortable with the position (but our electronic friend now says Black is better).

20. ...  Nxg3
21. hxg3 c5
22. dxc5 Qxc5
23. Rea1

I felt the simplification of the position is to my benefit as I can now concentrate on attacking the weak a-pawn but 23. .. Rfb8 with a4 to come is difficult to answer.

23. .... Rfc8?

Phew! Wrong square. I now win a pawn.

24. Ba6! Rcb8
25. Rxa5

A pawn up and I was happy - although my extra pawn was the doubled g-pawn so still a lot of work to do. Now 25. .. Qb6 keeps some pressure on.

25. ..   Rxb2!?!

And this was a shock! I was blasted from my chair (not literally!) Black had chosen to play tactics with my time running out.

26. Qxb2 Bxc3

OK, so what do we do? 27. Rxc5 Bxb2 28. Rca5 Bxa1 29. Rxa1 Bc8 and Black will be a pawn up! So I must not play Rxc5 but move the queen. Where to? Qa2? But then Bxa5 28. Qxa5 Qxa5 29. Rxa5 Bc8 and again I will be a pawn down.

So the queen had to go somewhere where it was threatening something - as well as threatening Rxc5 - and there was only one square.

27. Qb7!

Now if 27. .. Bxa5 then 28. Qxa8+ and I am a rook up. I also looked at 27. ... Bc6 28. Qxa8 Bxa8 29. Rxc5 dxc5 30. Rc1 Bb4 - also a rook up.

27. ...  Qc6
28. Qxc6 Bxc6
29. Rc1

Right, I am going to get out of this alive. After 29. .. Bxa5 30. Rxc6 I will be a piece for a pawn up. But there was still a lot of work to do. I have doubled g-pawns and the opposite coloured bishops give Black chances of counter attack play against f2, for example.

However, much to my relief .... 

Black resigned.

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