Over the weekend of 14th-16th October Cumnor players were busy in tournaments on opposite sides of the country. Nigel was playing in the open section at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, while I was in the Under 1975 “Major” section in Penzance. This was played at the Queens Hotel, right on the Cornish seafront
and to cut to the chase I managed 4 out of 5 which was good enough for a two way share of first place!
You can find all of my games here. I had to ride my luck at times, especially in the draws in round 3 (against my co-winner) where I was caught in a nasty line in the Alekhine by a well prepared opponent, and in round 4 where a draw by mutual exhaustion was agreed, but in the final position I am almost certainly losing were it not for the clock and mental state of the two players. But the groundwork for the result was in the first two rounds which allowed me to reach top board and stay there until the end of the competition, so let’s have a look at those.
I was white in Round 1, and as usual played the Smith-Morra Gambit against the Sicilian Defence.
6… Bb4 is a slightly unusual line which is by no means bad, but 7 … Bxc3 immediately swapping off looks unconvincing to me. 7 … Ne7 is better, and the game continuation shows why; after swapping off Black loses control of his black squares, and further opens up a3 to the white bishop which will make it difficult to castle. Things get worse as Black swaps off his developed pieces leaving white with a huge space and development advantage, and 14 f5! and 15 e5! open the lines into the Black position, with 20 Rf7! finishing things off nicely.
The Lichess analysis engine rates round 1 as my most accurate game. On the other hand I think round 2 is my best game, a thematic Pirc as Black played against the section’s top seed:
We’ve seen this line before when I played Graham Cole in the league match against Cowley last season. The games differ at move 7, Graham played Re1, William played a4. This is a logical move to stop black gaining space on the queen side with b5, but it does have a downside in that it weakens b4 as that square can no longer be attacked by the a pawn. In fact provoking 7 a4 to cause this weakness is part of the point of 6 … a6; black is expecting white to kick any knight on c6 with the pawn advance d5, and after white plays a4 the b4 square is a possible escape route for the knight, as opposed to the apparently more passive b8 as in the game against Graham. That’s not to say 7 Re1 is any better than 7 a4, they just have different pros and cons.
After 7 a4 the game developed in hypermodern fashion, with White trying to prove that the black knight on b4 is a liability due to the few squares it has to run to when attacked, due to the big white centre, while Black claims the knight is worth its weight through pressurizing a number of crucial squares in the white camp, namely c2, d3 and especially d5, occupied by the advanced white pawn. It was an interesting exchange of ideas on moves 8 to 14, both sides moving logically to support their plans. White attacks the knight first by stopping black playing a5 to support the knight (and provide an escape square on a6) by playing his own pawn to that square, and then attacks the knight directly with the rook lift 10 Ra4. Unfortunately for white black has just enough time to start pressurising the white centre, with e6 (better than c6 to avoid a weakness on b6), and he can then support the knight with c5.
At the end of this phase it is clear that Black has won the ideological battle, and after Bf5 is clearly better. White has to start playing some slightly unnatural moves to continue his plan, while Black has taken full control of the open e-file. This also acts as an indirect defense of the knight on b5 since white finds it difficult to play Ne2, a necessary part of his plan as he wants to play c3 to attack the black knight. However as the game shows this is tactically flawed and drops the d pawn precisely due to the pressure down the e-file.
William told me after the game that he had seen 15 … Nbxd5 but miscalculated the end; he thought he was getting has pawn back. But really it is a miscalculation in a difficult position caused by White choosing a slightly wrong plan, and I can’t deny I was pleased how well I exploited it! Maybe better for White is 11 dxc5 taking the position into something like a Sicilian Dragon, or 12 Nxd5 Nxd5 exd5 accepting that the black knight really was a strength and not a weakness, and taking us into Symmetric Benoni land (pawn structures rool!)
Anyway after the pawn is won it becomes easy for Black. My pieces were working, William’s were not, and despite a small tactical flourish at the end it was all wrapped up fairly quickly.
Game 5 was a French defence. I played the opening somewhat indifferently, but once we got into the game I started playing well, and tied my opponent up so much that he resigned in a bind while but a pawn down. In fact the game is a nice example of how I think about knights. Here is the position just before White’s 17th move:
So where does the knight want to be? What is “the promised land”? Well d6 or f6 would be wonderful squares – I think g6 in particular by my opponent was a very tired move in the last round of the tournament, it opens up those lovely dark squares for me to exploit. So how do I get to d6 or f6? Well the only route is via e4, which means the knight came from d2 or g5, which in turn means the knight came from f3. Hence 17. Nf3! To be honest in this case the plan has a flaw as black can always swap the knight off for his bishop when it reaches e4, but at least I get a bishop for a knight as the positional threat of an “octopus” on d6 or f6 is just too much. However as played I got an additional route via c4 which he could not stop, and once the knight was in d6 I just had to establish and maintain control of the open b file (note I do not take the free pawn on move 26), and then march my king over to eat the queen side pawns – despite the reduced material the knight and the rook just completely tie Black down. Presumably at the end he is trying to support his weak c pawn with Rook c7, but then Rb8+ Kg8 Ne8+ wins the black rook. I think Black has to try f6 at some point, but it is pretty miserable.
However it was not only my opponent who made tired moves in the last round – one of my worst moves in the tournament was 24 Qb6. So as a fairly easy tactical quiz what do I have in the position below that is a marked improvement?
So a good tournament full of interesting games, in a beautiful location. And I won!