My second tournament outing of 2016 was the ROC Nova College Open in Haarlem. It was the first weekend tournament I competed in after returning to chess in 2010 and has become a permanent fixture in my calendar due to the beautiful town, the lovely venue (the best conditions I’ve played in) and last but not least, the friendly and enthusiastic organiser of the tournament Harry Wierda. I’ve won the tournament four times (twice first outright, twice shared first) and shared second once which probably also contributes a little to my happiness! This year I came through with 5,5/6 after beating Dutch GM Erik van den Doel with Black in the crucial last round game.
Apart from the last game (of which I was very satisfied), my play was a little flat throughout the event. I only started to feel like myself in the penultimate round when I played the Dutch GM Harmen Jonkman who had stormed to 4/4 after beating second seed French GM Sebastien Feller and Dutch IM Li Riemersma in successive rounds. When do you feel you are playing well? For me it happens when I notice my mind automatically seeking and finding parallels to the current game in games I’ve played or seen earlier. When I’m thinking like this, my play tends to get a nice creative boost. What does that look like? I’ll show you by demonstrating the crucial part of my 5th round game:
Sadler,Matthew D – Jonkman,Harmen
Haarlem NOVA College 03.07.2016
A quiet double fianchetto Reti opening had resulted in this pleasant position for White. All White’s pieces are qualitatively better than Black’s (the light-squared bishops in particular) while the pawn on d4 ensures a stable space advantage. My opponent had spent quite a bit of time in the opening already, and in an effort to speed up he played the following 2 moves quickly]
15…Ra4 16.Rfc1 b6
An understandable decision in many ways: Black gets his rook off the h1–a8 diagonal with tempo by attacking the loose knight on c4. This allows him to play …b6 and thus free his bishop on c8 of the defence of the b7 pawn. The pressure of the queen on d8 and the rook on a4 and makes White think twice about occupying the c6 square immediately with his knight (via 17.Ne5–c6) due to the hanging d4 pawn.
When the position arose on the board, my first concern was to get a feel for the influence I could exert from occupying the c6 square. Funnily enough, a game I played in 1999 in Arnhem against Kortchnoi popped into my head.
Just a little historical digression. This was the last tournament I played as a chess professional. It was 4–player all-play-all comprising Viktor Kortchnoi, Xie Jun, Friso Nijboer and me. It could have been a triumph: I beat Xie Jun twice in good style and my win against Viktor with White was an excellent positional achievement. Unfortunately, I made 2 draws against Nijboer from positions which in a just world would have entitled me to 2,5 points! I also lost my second game to Viktor which led to shared first place with 4/6.
The loss to Viktor was however a wonderful experience. After the first game, he had stormed away angrily, but after his win he was very keen to show me all the lines he had seen. Because I was good friends with the Dutch GM Jeroen Piket – of whom Viktor was very fond – I got the full Viktor post-mortem treatment, bizarre, wonderful, good and bad ideas hitting the board in dizzying succession! An Indonesian meal all together (with Viktor’s and Jeroen’s wives) afterwards was a great way to finish off the evening. The game itself was also very instructive. I was completely blind to Viktor’s plan in this position!
Kortschnoj,Viktor – Sadler,Matthew
I was quite happy with the opening phase. As compensation for my broken queenside pawns, the rook on b8, knight on b6, queen on d4, bishop on g6 and bishop on e7 combine to attack an impressive queenside surface area. Moreover, White’s minor pieces are somewhat dispersed: the knight on g5 and bishop on f4 are hardly assisting the strongly-placed bishop on c6. These happy facts led me to lose my sense of danger completely as Viktor methodically pursued his idea:
19.Nf3 Qc4 20.Be3
This redeployment of the bishop and knight didn’t ring any alarm bells. I was especially keen to stop White from playing b4 (after which my pressure along the b-file would count for nothing) and to tie down the b2 pawn for future pressure:
20…a5 21.Nd4 a4 22.Bf3
Oh my goodness! Blind! I’d been completely blind!
It’s a very strong plan. The bishop on c6 paralysed Black’s queenside light-squares (b7,a8,d7,b5) and forced Black’s pieces in that area to dark-squares (for example the rook on b8). See how beautifully from move 19 Kortchnoi combines his knight (originally on g5) with the bishop on c6 culminating in the manoeuvre 22.Bf3 and 23.Nc6 changing the guard on the c6 square. Why is this so effective? Very simply, a knight on c6 attacks queenside dark-squares: the colour of squares to which the Black pieces (for example the rook on b8) fled to avoid the power of the light-squared bishop on c6! Swapping the type of minor piece on an advanced outpost is a very powerful way of disrupting the coordination of the opponent’s pieces. I tried hard, but Kortchnoi kept a grip and exploited my further tactical mistakes very effectively.
23…Qxc1 24.Raxc1 Bxe3 25.fxe3 Rbe8 26.Rfd1 h6 27.Kf2 Kh7 28.Ke2 Ra8 29.Rc5 Rfe8 30.h3 Nd5 31.Nb4 Re7 32.g4 Rae8 33.Nc6 Rd7 34.h4 Kh8 35.Rd4 Nb6 36.h5 Bb1 37.Nb4 Red8 38.Rc1 Bh7 39.Rxc7 Rxd4 40.exd4 Rxd4 41.Rb7 Nc4 42.Rb8+ Bg8 43.Nc6 Rd2+ 44.Ke1 Rxb2 45.Rxb2 Nxb2 46.Be2 f5 47.exf6 e5 48.f7 Bxf7 49.Nxe5
So back to my game against Jonkman. You might be able to guess now what I did!
You can imagine how I was thinking! Play the bishop to c6, crippling Black’s queenside light-squares forcing his major pieces to dark-squares and then swap the bishop and knight around on c6 at the right moment!
Here I was struck by a comparison with a game I had analysed a couple of months ago (and which will appear sometime soon on this blog!) The plan of a4–a5 in this position attracted me, partly due to the incidental opportunity to trap the rook on a7 with a5 …bxa5, Qb8 in certain lines. However, I also stopped to think about how strong the resulting positions would be after the exchange of the White a-pawn for the Black b-pawn if this trick were not available. How strong was White’s position with just the isolated Black c-pawn to aim at? I wasn’t completely sure but I did draw courage from this position:
Nyholm,Gustaf – Alekhine,Alexander
Nordic Congress Stockholm 1912
Here instead of 18.Qc2 as played in the game, Stockfish recommends the simple
18.Qa1 Qd7 19.Rxa7 Rxa7 20.Qxa7
Stockfish evaluates this as nearly a pawn advantage for White. It’s obviously a much better version than my game against Jonkman, but the basic outlines – the isolated and weak Black pawn on c7 left behind after wholesale exchanges on the queenside – are not too different. In any case, thinking of this game gave me additional courage to consider lines with a4–a5 during the game. And sometimes, that’s all you need!
Back to the Jonkman game!
18.a4 Bd7 19.Ne5 Be8
I spent 12 precious minutes on my next move. With Kortchnoi’s plan in mind, it seemed natural to take a look at 20.Bxe8 Qxe8 followed by 21.Nc6, occupying the outpost on c6 with tempo by attacking the Black rook which was forced to a7 by the light-squared bishop on c6.
I was however very reluctant to give up my bishop on c6 in this way: the bishop exerts a great deal of pressure and cannot be removed directly by Black without material loss. It seemed a shame to free Black without asking him to think of something clever. Ideally I was looking for a position in which White has a knight on c6, doubled rooks behind it (c4 and c1) and a pawn on e4 preventing the manoeuvre …Nd5–e7. However, I couldn’t work out a definitive way to do things. My opponent was also starting to get short of time which seemed like another good reason for keeping my pieces “swarming” around Black’s position rather than clarifying matters. For that reason, I settled on the solid non-committal move in the game.
Reinforces d4 and thus frees the White queen and puts the onus on Black to choose a defensive plan.
20.Bxe8 Qxe8 21.Qa3 is Komodo’s suggestion, and is the best way of increasing the pressure. White is aiming first for f3 and e4 and will then tighten the noose either by doubling on the c-file (the choice that seems the most natural to me) or by playing a5 and coiling himself around the c7 pawn (the computer choice). The Qa3 covers the e7 square which helps stop the maneouvre …Nd5–e7 to cover the c6 square.It feels a little strange to place the queen opposite the rook on a7 (which is why I never got down to consider it) but since …b5 can simply be met by a5, it doesn’t have any exploitable drawbacks.
20…Nd7 21.Nd3 Nb8 was the best defence when Black has repaired some of the damage after 22.Bb5 c6 23.Bc4 Nd7
This was my idea, hanging on the b5 outpost provided by the pawn on a4 and freeing the c6 square for the knight when necessary just like Kortchnoi. It seemed a good way to keep the pressure on Black to find moves. I was also convinced that …f6 was a poor move, so I wasn’t afraid of my knight on e5 being driven away in this type of position.
21…Ne7 was again the solid option, avoiding weaknesses and covering the c6 square. In the game, Black got discouraged quickly and went downhill very fast.
22.Nc6 Bxc6 23.Rxc6
Suddenly Black’s light-squares are hard to defend. Short of time, Black lashes out and loses quickly.
23…e5 24.dxe5 Ne7 25.Bc4+ Kh8 26.exf6 Nf5 27.g4 Rxf6 28.Rxf6 gxf6 29.gxf5 Rxa4 30.Rxa4 Qd1+ 31.Bf1