The Other Winner: Part 1

May 13, 2014
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In the recent super-tournament in Azerbaijan, 2014 Gashimov Memorial, everyone knows that Magnus was victorious. That is in the A event. In my upcoming blogs, I will be writing about the winner of the B event: Ukranian GM Pavel Eljanov, who performed at an impressive 2775 playing level in an event that fielded four 2700s and the reigning European Champion.

The game I will examine today is arguably the most critical round of the event in which Pavel faced France's top GM Etienne Bacrot who is ahead of him by a full point, and had been leading the event up to now.

Bacrot, Etienne (2722) - Eljanov, Pavel (2732)

Vugar Gashimov Mem B 2014 2014.04.27

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.e3 g6 8.Be2 Bg7

this is the modern line in the Moscow variation of the Semi-Slav system.

9.O-O O-O 10.e4 Nd7!? an interesting pawn sac move. The development of this game will show that it's worth giving up a pawn to open up lines for the Black bishops, and to create targets of attack!

11.cxd5 exd5 12.exd5 c5! The more accurate follow-up.

BD_10663_131_0.pngDiagram #1

Also possible is cxd5 13.Nxd5 Qd6 but after 14.Qb3! (14.Nc3 Nb6) Black doesn't have enough compensation due to White's development advantage, strong control of central squares, and Black's lack of piece coordination. 

13.Ne4 Maybe more testing was 13.dxc5 Nxc5 14.Rc1 Qb6 15.b3 Bf5 but Black still gets good compensation due to his active bishops and the d-pawn remains under full control.)

13... Qb6! eyeing both the d-pawn and queenside pawns

14.dxc5 Nxc5 15.Nxc5 Qxc5 16.Rc1 Qb4 17.b3 Bf5 

Even better was 17...Rd8! 18.Rc7 ( 18.Bc4 b5)18... Bf5 and it's easier to play Black in this open position.

18.Bd3 Bd7 19.h3 Rac8 20.Qd2 now White tries to exchange the queens off to relieve pressure on his position.

20... Qd6 21.Be2 a6 "Do not hurry"

22.Rfd1 Rfe8 23.Bf1 Bf5 24.g3 Rxc1 25.Qxc1 Rc8 26.Qf4?! a move that could be explained by either a lapse of concentration or misjudgment of the ensuing endgame situation.

We know that the French GM had been under pressure, and here he cracks.



26... Qxf4 27.gxf4 Bf8!

BD_10663_131_1.pngDiagram #2

Black threatens to target White's weak pawn on f4 via d6. As we've seen from the 2nd Weak Pawn article, weak pawns has a long-term nature and therefore one must carefully ascertain there is a good reason for creating such a weakness in one's camp.

The direct invasion of the 7th rank doesn't give Black anything due to Rc2 28.d6! which may possibly be what Bacrot was hoping for28... Bd7 29.Ne5 and White is suddenly better, if not winning.

28.d6? "Mistakes don't come singly" as the saying goes.

I'm sure a player of Bacrot's calibre considered the knight moves 28.Nd4 ( 28.Ne5 f6 ( Bd6 29.Bd3! ) 29.Nc4 b5 30.Ne3 Bd7 but was probably displeased by the arising positions due to his weakness on f4, & lack of a good plan. Therefore, it is possible that he decided to give back the pawn to exchange rooks and hope to hold the ending to a draw.)28... Bd7 29.Bg2 Bd6.

28... Rd8

now Black easily picks up the pawn, and will enjoy an edge owing to his bishop pair and White's weak kingside pawns.

29.d7 Rxd7 30.Rxd7 Bxd7 31.Ne5 Be8!

BD_10663_131_2.pngDiagram #3

Avoiding the exchange of one of his bishops, because the bishop pair is superior over a bishop and a knight in general as is the case after 31...Be6 32.Bc4.

32.Bg2 b6 33.Bc6 Bxc6 34.Nxc6 Bd6!

White may have been successful at trading off one of them, but Black can transition into a favorable minor piece ending.

35.f5 Kg7!

BD_10663_131_3.pngDiagram #4

Black quickly activates a "powerful piece" in the ending!

35...gxf5? being materialistic is a positional mistake because the extra pawn will never become a passed pawn.

36.fxg6 fxg6 37.Kg2 Kf6 38.Kf3 Kf5 39.a4 h5 40.b4 g5

White is in zugzwang-- White will either have to allow Black to create a passed pawn o the kingside or let his king attack the white pawns on the queenside.

41.Nd4+ Making another pawn move doesn't help 41.b5 (41.Ke3 g4! 42.hxg4+ Kxg4 -+)

BD_10663_131_4.pngDiagram #5

41... a5 still zugzwang 42.Nd8 g4+ 43.hxg4+ hxg4+ 44.Ke3 Bc5+ 45.Ke2 Kf6 46.Kf1 Ke7 47.Nc6+ Ke6 48.Kg2 Kd5 Black will eventually pick up all of White's queenside pawns.

41... Ke5 42.Nc2 Bc7 43.Ke3 Kd5 44.Kd3 stubbornly boxing out Black's king. Now observe how Black once again employs the idea of zugzwang with the help of his superior minor piece.

44... Bd8!

Another way to reach zugzwang and win this ending is44... h4! 45.f3 ( 45.Ne3+ Ke5 46.Ng4+ Kf4 47.Ke2 Ke4 48.Ne3 Kd4)45... Ke5 46.Ke3 Bd6! 47.Ke2 ( 47.b5 ( 47.Kf2 Kd5)47... axb5 48.axb5 Bc5+ 49.Ke2 Kf4)47... Kd5 48.Kd3 Be7 zugzwang 49.Ne3+ Ke5 50.b5 axb5 51.axb5 Kf4 52.Ke2 Bc5 53.Nf1 Bg1 -+ 54.Nd2 Kg3 55.Ne4+ Kxh3 56.Nxg5+ Kg2.

45.f3 Be7 zugzwang

46.Ne3+ 46.b5 ( 46.Kc3 Ke5 47.Ne3 Bd8 48.Kd3 Kf4 49.Ke2 Kg3 -+ )46... axb5 47.axb5 Kc5.

46... Ke5!

Here, we see another advantageous situation for the side with the bishop: pawn race. The side with the bishop is almost always better in these situations due the bishop's ability control more squares from one side to the other.

47.Nc4+ Kf4 48.Nxb6 Kxf3 49.Nd5 Bd6!

BD_10663_131_5.pngDiagram #6

the last important move in this ending, as it controls the enemy b-pawn's queening square and supports the g-pawns advance.

50.Nf6 Bxb4 51.Nxh5 Kg2 52.Ke4 Kxh3 53.Kf5 Be7 54.Ke6 Bd8 55.Kd7 Ba5 56.Nf6 Be1 57.Kc8 a5! eliminating White's last and only source of counterplay! Not 57...g4?? due to 58.Nxg4 Kxg4 59.a5 Bxa5 60.Kb7 and White draws.

A very well-played game by Pavel who posed problems for his opponent starting from the opening, sustained pressure in the middlegame, and skillfully handling a slightly better minor piece endgame.


Stay tune for more of Pavel's good positional understanding and superb endgame play in Part 2!

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SouthForce 21:53 - 16 May 2014
Very interesting game, thanks

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