The First Test
Armed with some pieces of a new repertoire, along with a library of unread new books on positional, strategic, and middle-game play (many of which I've owned for sometime, knowing the problem was on the horizon), I played in my first tournament in over 18 months. I had no idea what fruits the development a more multi-dimensional playing style might bring, but I was ready to put it to the test.
The tournament I chose to make the debut of this new player was the 15th Space Coast Open held on April 25-27, 2008. I played in the two-day schedule, which meant my first round would be played at the accelerated pace of Game/1 hr. My starting rating was 2041.
I arrived at the hotel in beautiful Cocoa Beach, FL (just down the road from Cape Canaveral) just as the round was starting (10:00a). A glance at the pairing chart gave me an indication I wouldn't have to wait long to get a measure of how I was doing.
I was paired on board one versus 2300-type Fabio La Rota. Mr. La Rota is a USCF Life Master (over 200 consecutive games at 2200+) as well as a FIDE Master, so I actually looked forward to going up against a player of his calibre. Given the rating difference, I certainly didn't have many rating points on the line.
Mr. La Rota, playing white, began the game in a very unconventional fashion -- 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. a3!?WTF?!
So I proceed to take stock of the situation. Generally, in 1. e4 e5 openings black strives for ...d5, which often conveys full equality. White's move does nothing to prevent it.
Thus, 3...d5 might be a logical choice. However, there are ways this "Reversed Scotch" if that's what it was, might work out favorably for white if he was able to make us of his a3 move. What I was determined to do, was to find a way to make the a3 move irrevelant, and thus convey the advantage of the first move over to me. Even if I didn't succeed in getting an advantage now, for practical purposes, playing the white pieces, just equalizing against a 2305 player would make for a good opening start.
With that in mind, I thought the simplest way to punish white would be to gain time by gambitting. Evidently, old habits die hard.
Thus the game continued 3...d5 4. ed c6?! 5. dc Bc5 6. cb Bxb7 (D). Now, I don't know if being two pawns down with black against a 2300 FMby move six was a good way to start out my comeback, but nonetheless, that's where I found myself.
Obviously, for black to have a fighting chance in this Goring Gambit Reversed, he is going to have to get on his development horse, thus:
7. d3 Nc6 8. Be2 Qc7 9. Be3 Nd4 10. Nf3 O-O-O.
So far, so good. Objectively, black hasn't equalized yet, but he certainly does have some play for his pawns.
11. O-O Nxf3+ 12. Bxf3 e4!
Black shows no reluctance to mix things up, especially given his material deficit.
13. Be2 h5 14. Nb5 Qe5 15. d4 Qf5 16. Qc1 a6 17. c4! (D)Here, Mr. La Rota establishes that black isn't the only player who can mix things up. 17....ab? fails to 18. cb, where the Bishop on c5 is pinned to King, courtesy of white's suddenly well-posted queen on c1.
17...Be7 18. Nc3 g5 19 c5 Ng4 20 b4 Kb8 21. b5
White's pawns are advancing faster and with greater purpose. Black's situation is quickly approaching critical.
22 dc Qe5
It's taken awhile for black to be able to generate a genuine threat against the white position, but at least it's a good one (...Qh2 is mate).
Finally, Mr. La Rota shows that he is human by making a time-pressure blunder. Both sides now have less than ten minutes for the entire game. Better was 23 g3, although it allows 23...Nxh2 24. Kxh2 h4.
23...hxg4 24. g3 Rxh2!
All of a sudden now both players are on thin ice.
25. Kxh2 Qh8+ 26. Kg1 Qh3 27. Bxg5
White rushes to stop the impending ...Rh8 threat, which checkmates his monarch. Now he can answer 27...Rh8 with 28. Qf4+ Ka8 29. Bh4. However, black has a last resourceful move up his sleeve, namely:
27...e3! (D)Cutting white's queen off from the f4 square, while simultaneously threatening mate on the g2 and h1 squares.
A saving grace for white, returning the cutoff favor. However, with the white queen unable to rally to the king's defense, black is able to secure the draw.
28...Rh8 29. Bh4 Rxh4 30. gh g3 31. fg Qxg3+ 32. Kh1 Qh3+ 33. Kg1 Qg3+ with perpetual check.
After the game, Mr. La Rota pointed out some Reverse Scotch ideas for white. Could 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. a3?! be the solution to my 1. e4 e5 problems...?!
I would love to report that every game of the tournament went as well as this. Truthfully, most did, until the 5th round, where I found myself with 3 points out of 4. Paired against Andres Santella (2204), I promptly dropped a piece in the opening, leaving me a half-point out of the place money.
Fortunately, as it turned out, I got a share of the Under 2200 money and an additional $25 share for a portion of the brilliancy price for the above game. So, the expenses were covered at least, and some rating points were gained.
Entry rating: 2041 Exit rating: 2059