Use outposts like IM Pacher!
During the last week, I followed the games from the Slovak Championship online and was particularly impressed by the game between FM Vladimír Mrva and IM Milan Pacher. IM Pacher has managed to gain a grandmaster norm in Slovak extra-league last season and is only few steps away from the grandmaster title. In this game he faces seemingly solid c4-setup against the Sicilian but after a few inaccurate moves he leaves his opponent with no counterplay. The combination of a strong bishop on d4 and minority attack on the queenside proves to be too much. This is one of these games which leave you with the impression that at every single moment, the winner did not have to calculate more than two moves ahead. Instead, great positional understanding was enough to crush even an experienced FIDE-master. Very instructive game!
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. c4 Nc6 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nf6
Another way of playing this position is 5. Nc3 after which game transposes into one I annotated in my previous blog.
6. Nxc6 bxc6
The contours of the game are already set and everything suggests that black is already better. First of all, d4-square is chronically weak and black can use this square as outpost for his pieces. Thanks to half-open b-file, black can target white's b2-pawn from b8. White cannot easily solve this problem because after b2-b3 black will launch thematic minority attack - he will push his a-pawn down the board to further weaken white pawns. As this game show, combination of a strong bishop on d4 and minority attack can be particularly devastating. Furthermore, white's light-squared bishop blocked by pawns on c4 and e4 is super-bad. Having this in mind, white should already start thinking how to equalize. He would really want to gain space in the center by 7. e5 but this just drops the pawn after 7...Qa5+. He has to come up with another idea.
7. Bd3 e5
Gaining space and assuming control over d4 and f4. This is an important freeing move against the Maroczy setup after which black has very often a pleasant game.
8. 0-0 Bc5
Black's dark-squared bishop is already looking forward to jumping on d4.
This move does nothing to prevent black in his plan of controlling d4. White should have played 9. Nd2 with the idea of Nd2-f3 gaining some control over d4.
9...0-0 10. Bg5
This does not work. White should have put his bishop on e3. After 11...Bxe3 12. fxe3 he would reclaim control over d4 and would have counterplay down the d-file and the f-file. Point is that in this particular moment black cannot just put his bishop on d4.
10. Be3!? Bxe3 (10...Bd4?! 11. Bxd4 exd4 12. Ne2 c5 13. e5 Ng4 14. Nxd4 Nxe5 15. Nb5 += and 16. Bxh7 Kxh7 17.Qh5+ is threatened) 11. fxe3=
This is an easy solution to white's attempt to pin the kinght on f6. Trading on f6 is not an option for white because giving up the bishop would only make white's problems on the dark squares worse. Retreating on h4 is also not great. One of the black's ideas is to drive bishop to g3 by timely g7-g5. Bishop on g3 will not be able to fight for d4-square. White can try Kg1-h1, f2-f3, Bg3-f2, but this is very slow. Black's dominance would be unquestionable.
Once again, 11.Be3 should be considered.
This is an essential part of black's plan. It not only releases bishop on c8 but makes room for an important manouvre Nf6-d7-c5-e6. If now white changes his mind and decides to put his bishop on e3, black can just play Bd4, above mentioned tactics do not work anymore. From this move on IM Pacher's play is so convincing that it almost looks like black is winning by force!
12. h3 Rb8 13. b3 Bd4 14. Rc1 Nd7 15. Qh5 Nc5 16. Bb1 Ne6 17. Ne2 c5
Black cements his bishop on d4 and opens main diagonal for his light-squared bishop.
18. Rcd1 Bd7 19. Bc1 Bc6
Over the last few moves black greatly improved his position, coordination of his pieces is exemplary. White wants to create some counterplay on the kingside but IM Pacher controls the situation.
20. Qg4 Kh8 21. Ng3 Qf6
Bringing the queen closer to the king and ending any nonsense on this side of the board. A trade of queens will leave white with miserable ending.
22. Qf5 Qh4
Black is not in a hurry to trade queens (22...Qxf5?! 23. Nxf5 Rfd8 24. Ne7 Bb7 25. Nb5 and white managed to get his knight on d5 with tempi).
23. Qh5 Qxh5 24. Nxh5
When compared to the 22...Qxf5?! line, the knight on h5 is not doing much and black has free hand on the queenside.
24...a5! 25. Ng3 a4 26. Bc2 axb3 27. axb3
Taking with the bishop would leave white with two weak pawns (a2 and c4) instead of one. Now it is clear how effective black's minority attack combined with strong bishop on d4 is. Black will penetrate on a-file and there is not much white can do about that because black bishop controls a1-square.
Instructive move by IM Pacher. By playing Rb8-b6 instead of Rb8-a8 he allows his second rook to go to a8 but at the same time he keeps an eye on the week b3-pawn. The rook on b6 can also defend d6-pawn.
28. Nf5 Bb7 29. Bd2 Ra8 30. Ne3 Ra2 31. Rc1 Nf4
The knight on e6 was not looking only on d4!
32. Rfe1 Rba6
32...Bxe4! was instant killer! 33. Bxe4 Rxd2-+. I guess that black was already running short of time.
33. Nd5 Bxd5 34. Bxf4 Be6
One strong option was 34...Bxc4 35. bxc4 (35. Bxe5 Sxe5 36. bxc4 Bf4 -+) 35...exf4 -+
35. Be3 Rb2 36. Re2 Raa2 37. Kf1 f5 38. Bd1 0-1
This is the last move. I do not know whether white had enough and resigned or lost on time but after 38...Rxe2 39. Bxe2 fxe4 his position is resignable anyway. Impressive positional performance by IM Pacher!
If you liked this game you might want to check out my previous blog, where c4-Sicilian gets destroyed by another strong Slovak player. Do not hesitate to leave a comment.