Due to the peculiarities of accelerated pairings, and the fact that only GM Nigel Short had a perfect 3-0 score going into this round, we saw a matchup between the top two rated players in the event. According to the very latest FIDE rating list (July 07), Bu actually outrates Short by 2 points.
Bu (2685) - Short (2683): Queen's Gambit Declined
1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 h6
Given the opponent and the tournament standings, Short's choice of opening did not surprise me in the least. He is quite knowledgeable in the QGD, and it is a most solid choice. Perhaps, in a later round, in what he might feel is a must-win situation, he would have chosen the Nimzo-Indian or something with some extra dynamic chances. But a draw here would not be unreasonable (with Black), and there is little wrong with the strategy of playing to equalize first, and look for chances later.
6.Bh4 0–0 7.e3 b6 8.Rc1
One of many options available to White in this classical opening. The line I am most familiar with from this point is 8.Be2 Bb7 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.b4!?, with the idea of restraining the ...c5 break, and playing for some plus in the event of 11...c5 12.bxc5 bxc5 13.Rb1.
As I pointed out to the spectators for this game, White does not want to trade on f6 and d5 until Black's bishop has committed itself to b7, as otherwise it will develop to e6 where it has more of a future with some K-side influence. Also, in the game, this type of line would no longer make much sense as White will then waste a tempo playing R/a1-c1-b1 as opposed to an immediate R/a1-b1.
A funny thing happened here. I went into the tournament hall, looking for an introductory batch of live .pgn files to start my commentary, when I was summoned to Zeljka's table to attempt to solve a problem. From the outset of the event, Nigel has indicated his lack of interest in using the MonRoi devices for recording games. Perhaps he finds them too distracting, or simply finds they don't suit his temperament - whatever the reason, it matters little. Players are given an option to use the technology, and reasonably so. In any case, the only drawback is that if his opponent also does not want to use the device, then I do not have access to a gamescore. This in fact happened in Round 1.
So, when Zeljka called me over, I was curious (and someone concerned) that this might be the situation yet again, as it would have been a real shame to have no access to the game played between the tournament's #1 and #2 seeds. Fortunately, this was not the issue. What had happened, however, is that Bu had apparently entered a move incorrectly, and the gamescore was out of whack. I was asked if I could help, and was able to recreate their correct gamescore to within one-half ply accuracy. It was move 9 that I was unsure of: either 9.Be2 or 9.Bd3. I was unable to tell for certain, as after 9...dxc4 10.Bxc4, the identical position would be reached.
I voted for 9.Be2, and was later informed that 9.Bd3 was played. Oh well, so much for my predictive ability. If that is the only difference between a GM (Bu) and an IM (myself), then I still might have a chance as a player!
This exchange sets the tone for the next phase. The central tension and its resolution is always an interesting moment in any chess game. Short opts to open the centre and the long diagonal at the expense of giving White slightly more central space. In exchange, Black gets active control of the light squares.
Restraining any ...b5 ideas as well as the P/a6, but at the cost of weakening the b-file and b4-square.
11...Nbd7 12.0–0 Ne4
Trading pieces while retaining a solid position is one method of getting closer to a shared peace. Bu agrees to trade one set of minors, but retains his bishop to aim at the Black Q-side.
13.Nxe4 Bxe4 14.Bg3 c5 15.Qe2 Qc8!?
Aiming for b7. Here I pointed out that White could attempt to open the c-file and exploit the Black Q's position with 16.dxc5. After 16...Bxc5 17.b4!? Bxb4 18.Bxe6 Qe8 is possible, and on 16...Nxc5 17.b4 Nxa4 18.Bd5!? Bxd5 19.Rxc8 Rfxc8, Black has assorted bits for the Queen, and appears to be hanging in there. Neither of these lines looked all that convincing for White and I started looking elsewhere for White ideas.
I was a bit surprised later to find that 16.dxc5 had in fact been played, but that Short had chosen a 3rd recaptured, one that I did not even spend any time on!
This choice escaped my scrutiny completely, but is also very reasonable. The semi-open b-file provides Black with counterplay against the b-pawn and b4-square, and the c5-pawn, while isolated, cannot be easily attacked, and controls the d4-square. A case of checks and balances, really.
17.Nd2 Bc6 18.b3 Rd8 19.Rfd1 Qb7 20.Bd3 Nf6
Not 20...Bxg2?? of course, as 21.f3 Bh3 22.Qh5 wins a piece.
And here, quite sensibly, a draw was agreed. Naturally both players could continue the game, but I am speculating that neither felt particularly ambitious for the full point. Bu played about 120 moves on Sunday and Nigel was playing Black, after all.
But wait a minute! Didn't I mention in an earlier blog that there was a tournament rule prohibiting the offer of a draw before move 30? Well, yes I did, in fact, and apparently, several players in the event were not aware of the rule (or at least I assume they were not deliberating thumbing their noses at it!). Not only was Short's game drawn in under 30 moves, but two other games this round: GM Suat Atalik - GM Alex Yermolinsky , and GM Andrei Rychagov - Noritsyn were drawn in 20 and 29 moves respectively. The arbiters apparently "yellow-carded" Bu and Short for their interdiction, but I assume no more than this was done (and how could they really do more than issue a warning?) as their were further infractions. I would hate to think that further action could have been taken, but as I was not present at the opening ceremonies, I do not know how clearly the rules were stated to all players. And if they were, there is no guarantee that everyone was listening when they should have been. And then there is the issue of language as well. Well, it's a potentially nasty can of worms, but I think (and hope) that we have seen the last of the short draws - that certainly doesn't guarantee in any way that all the 30-move draws will be interesting ones! :-)
When I left the tournament hall this evening, there were fairly large signs posted on the doors in at least 4 languages reminding the players of this "no early draw offer" rule in effect.