Masters of the Universe
Ok I’m certainly no Heman (for those of you who can remember the sword bearing hero clad in loin cloth) but my latest opponent, Carl Strugnell, was the first FIDE master I have played and come close to accumulating points against. Now I’m not talking an extraordinary win here, in fact just a draw that would be mundane to some, but such a result against a 2291 would have been more than enough for me to smile about.
Contemplating my start with 1. e4 or 1. Nf3 (the later I have been bringing into my game to add a bit of variety and hinder my opponents’ preparation) I reached for the former and the Ruy Lopez started rolling. Comfortable, I sat back only to be thrown into the unusual Schliemann variation:
Theoretically not as sound a variation, I suspect my opponent wanted to throw me off balance with an aggressive variation that I wouldn’t have faced and to be honest it worked. Though the variation I played, the exchange e x f, is an option its certainly not the best. Instead a nice Nc3 to cover the e pawn would have given a definite advantage. Even the seemingly good d5 by black to win the centre with tempo leads to tactics for white that knock black sideways:
4. Nc3 PxP 5. NxP d5 6. NxP PxN 7. NxN
The game was fairly evenly matched, with black only taking the slightest of advantages up to move 14:
A pawn up this certainly is only a temporary gain and I was just waiting to lose the d or e pawn. The idea of RxP seemed quite a problem for me with the black bishop and rook targeting my knight whilst Bd2 would only lead to Rh-d8 and the retreat of said bishop, bye-bye b pawn. I was so drawn into this problem that the simply Bd2, O-O-O slipped my mind and instead I used Ke2. This slow move leads to the loss of both the e and d pawns, certainly giving black a strong grip on the game. Yet my opponent dithered, allowing me to edge my way back into the game. He even gave up a strong open file rather than exchange rooks. Once again I had drawn equal and the battle went on.
So where did it finally go wrong? I can be certain that I was never winning this game, but I had held equal through most of it (aside from the mistake above) but my final error gave Strugnell the advantage he needed in a knight versus bishop ending.
Here black looks to infiltrate by Nf6 and the white bishop can do little with all those damn pawns on the incorrect squares. But surprisingly black’s knight can do very little as well. Once Nf6 is played, g5 looks like it allows black the outpost on f5 (a thought which held me back from this idea) and the entry of the knight to attack the h pawn. However, should this occur Ke2 will keep the knight trapped! Basically, moving the bishop between b4 and c5 will hold the left flank and the c pawn can also be targeted (though this certainly isn’t a game winner).
Now the idea of Ng4 is still a draw, but Ne4 seals the deal as it forks c3 and f4. As anyone knows, such loses of structure and material in positions such as these lead to a game that crumbles apart and this is certainly what happened.
Still, the game was enjoyable and I even manage to sway Strugnell to thinking I had opportunities in the game when we chatted about it afterwards. Much as the Master of the Universe escaped my grasp this time, Skeletor will rise from the ashes!