There were a number of good games today, or least interesting ones for the fans in the commentary room...keep those decisive results coming - today, only 5 draws on the top 25 boards!
Atalik - Howell: Grunfeld Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 c5 8.Be3
Originally, I thought this game was identical to Milov-Howell from Round 4, with the exception that Milov chose to play B/c1-g5 and only after ...h7-h6 retreated the bishop to e3. But something didn't feel quite right. Then I recalled that in the Milov game, White developed his King's knight to e2 much later in the opening. Here, the knight has already been committed to f3, and hence a very different position is underway, and not only due to the location of White's dark-squared bishop. The game position here is quite theoretical....Milov's choice was considerably lesser known.
8...Qa5 9.Qd2 Nc6 10.Rb1 0–0
Not wanting to waste a tempo on a move like 10...a6, Howell embarks on a risky Queen sacrifice. I could only find 2 examples going back to 2003 (between players 2500 FIDE and above). White scored one win and the other game was drawn. Another more natural choice would have been 10...cxd4, leading to a slightly better endgame for White after many exchanges.
11.Rb5 cxd4!? 12.Rxa5 dxe3 13.Qxe3 Nxa5
Gasps in the spectator room - did Black blunder? Certainly not, but it did take some convincing....and it would have done my reputation better if Howell had managed to hold a draw! The position is unbalanced, materially and strategically. Black needs to find a way to coordinate his forces, preferably while ganging up against White's weak c3-pawn. White, contrastingly, wants to consolidate his position, and shut down the activity of Black's fianchettoed bishop and rooks along the c-file.
14.Nd4 Bd7 15.e5 Rfc8 16.f4 Rc7 17.Bb5!?
The drawn game followed this one up to move 16. In that game White played 16.Be2 - Atalik's plan may be an improvement, as 16.f4, bolstering e5, looks like it may be necessary in many positions, and now White finds a useful post for his bishop in a single developing move, not wasting time on B/f1-e2.
17...Nc6 18.Nxc6 Bxc6 19.Bxc6 Rxc6 20.Ke2
I did not expect a wholesale exchange on c6, but White's strategy is interesting. With Black's bishop hemmed in, it is not easy to organize much needed counterplay - various pieces for Queen is only good if all the pieces are working! Black chose to try to open the position and exploit White's centralized King, but it didn't work out very well. More predictable moves like 20...Rac8 also look clearly better for White after 21.Rd1, say, 21...Rxc3 22.Qxa7, when b7 is dropping and Black is still searching for targets.
20...f6?! 21.Rd1! fxe5 22.Rd7 b6 23.Qd3 Rac8 24.Rxe7 Rxc3 25.Qd5+ Kh8 26.fxe5 Bh6! 27.g3!
Black's last was a good bid for counterplay with 27...Re3+, but White's calm response creates an escape cubbyhole for White's King on h3, and the hoped-for perpetual is simply not there. Black is struggling.
27...Bg5 28.Rxa7 Rf8 29.Qe4!
Cutting out checks and offering Black a pawn down Rook endgame through simplification. Howell finally decides there is nothing better than trying to salvage a half point in a clearly inferior endgame.
29...Re3+ 30.Qxe3 Bxe3 31.Kxe3 Kg8
A nice idea which was overlooked during my commentary. With an extra pawn, better King and better rook, I gave White excellent chances to convert this endgame to a full point, but pointed out that limiting Black's defensive counterply would require good technique. Atalik's move is designed to keep Black's King out of the game for awhile.
32...b5 33.Rf4 Ra8 34.Rf2 Ra4
Tit for tat. Black's King is cut off on the f-file, so Black tries to prevent White's King from crossing the 4th rank. There is also a trap in that the tempting 35.e6 is a serious error - 35...Ra6! would simply pick it off as White's King is poorly placed. This point explains White's next move.
35.Kd3! Kg7 36.e6 Ra6 37.Re2 Rd6+ 38.Kc3 Kf8 39.e7+ Ke8 40.Re5 Rf6 41.Re2
Black's last aimed for counterplay on the 7th with ...Rf2. White decides to repeat the position and try something else.
41...Rd6 42.Kb4 Rd5 43.Ka5!
Very nice. Sneaking around the b-pawn gets White's King to the important 6th rank.
43...Rf5 44.Kb6 b4 45.Kc6 Ra5 46.Kd6 Rb5
46...Ra6+ 47.Kc5 just picks off the b4-pawn. Now White takes advantage of the fact that nearly all pawn endgames are lost for Black.
47...Rb6+ 48.Rc6! Rxc6+ 49.Kxc6 Kxe7 50.Kc5 is absolutely hopeless.
48.Rc6 Ra8 49.Ke6 Rb8 50.h4 1–0.
Black is out of moves. Also winning was the idea R/c6-d6-d8+, again with a winning pawn endgame.
GM Sipke Ernst (Netherlands) - GM Xiangzhi Bu: Slav Defence
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7
Last round we saw the more common 6...e6 against the Modern 6.Ne5 in Bluvshtein - Miton.
7.Nxc4 Nb6 8.Ne5 a5 9.g3 e6 10.Bg2 Bb4 11.0–0 0–0 12.Re1 Ne4!
A battle around square e4 is unfolding. Black's last is tactically held up by the weak d4-pawn. If White tries to win material with 13.Nxe4 Bxe1 14.Qxe1, then 14...Bxe4! 15.Bxe4 Qxd4, and White's minors are loose.
13.Bxe4 Bxe4 14.e3 f6
By guarding d4, White's hope to play N/c3xe4 became real. Black takes time to kick back the e5-knight before retreating his bishop.
15.Nd3 Bg6 16.e4
16...Kh8!Deep prophylaxis. There were understandably some confused spectators concerning this move, and I could only suggest that they try to compare the idea to the relative common K/g1-h1 that one sees in many open Sicilians. Black feels that his King may come unders some tactical pressure along the b3-g8 diagonal some day, and takes time to prevent this from occuring. It's surprising that this idea becomes a reality so quickly!
17.f3 Qe7 18.Be3 Nc4! 19.Qb3
This works out poorly, but the more natural 19.Bf2 fails to 19...Nxb2!, winning a pawn. If White cannot develop his bishop and support his centre without facing tactical problems, his position must be much worse than I initially suspected. I realized that Black was quite OK, but it may well be much better than that. 18.Nxb4 axb4 19.Ne2 e5! is also nice for Black, somewhat like the actual game.
19...Nxe3 20.Rxe3 Rfd8 21.Nxb4 axb4 22.Ne2 e5 23.dxe5 fxe5
Not great, but what should White do? Black has simple moves coming up - occupy the d-file with rooks, bring the bishop to f7, ...Qc5+ sometimes, keep an eye on the a4-pawn. By contrast, White is really stuck for any constructive idea. Maybe 24.Rd3 is relatively best, but 24...Bf7 25.Rxd8+ Rxd8 26.Qc2 Qd6 leaves Black firmly in the driver's seat.
24...Rd2 25.Rd1? Bf7! 26.Rxd2
Whether White simply had an oversight, or he planned this Queen sacrifice, the resulting position gives White nowhere near enough compensation for the missing lady. Bu wraps up effectively, opening up lines against White's K-side while his pieces lack the ability to coordinate.
26...Bxb3 27.Rxb3 Rxa4 28.Rbd3 Ra8 29.Rd6 Rf8 30.Kg2 Qf7 31.f4 exf4 32.gxf4 Re8 33.e5 g5! 34.Rd7 Qe6 35.Rxb7 gxf4 36.Rxb4 Qg4+ 37.Kf2 Qh4+ 0–1.
GM Alex Yermolinsky (USA) - GM Vadim Milov: Modern Rat Thing
1.d4 g6 2.e4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Bg5 Nd7 5.Nf3 a6 6.a4 h6 7.Be3 e6 8.g3 Ne7
Milov's amorphous setup would be at home in any collection of chess Canadiana. Black keeps many options open, while giving White a free reign in the centre.
9.Bg2 d5 10.exd5
Locking the centre leaves Black with the active ...c7-c5 break down the road. Black keeps knights on to pursue the possibility of a future ...N/e7-f5.
10...exd5 11.0–0 0–0 12.Qd2 Kh7 13.a5 Nf6 14.Ne5 Nf5 15.b4?!
Hoping to clamp down on Black's Q-side and build pressure, I feel this plan was likely too ambitious. White has ideas like N/c3-a4-c5 sometimes, or maybe even b4-b5, opening Q-side lines under the right circumstances, but the move also weakens the long diagonal and the c4-square in particular, which is now an outpost for Black's pieces.
15...Be6 16.Rfe1 Nd6! 17.f3 Nd7
This regrouping of knights made it to my analysis board in the commentary room. Black's plays simply for control of c4.
18.f4 Nxe5 19.fxe5 Nc4 20.Qd3
Not a brilliant square, but Black plays much the same on any Queen move.
Spying the right moment to open the position. Black need only work out a few tactical lines to justify this move. The White position proves to be shockingly difficult here.
21.exf6 Qxf6 22.Bxd5
The alternatives are not wonderful: 22.Rf1? Bf5!, winning; 22.Nxd5 Bxd5 23.Bxd5 Nxe3, and now 24.Qxe3 Rae8!, or 24.Rxe3 Rad8!, both with huge advantage for Black.
22...Nxe3 23.Qxe3 Rae8! 24.Ne4
24.Bxe6? Rxe6!! 25.Qxe6 Qf2+ 26.Kh1 Qf3+ and 27...Bxd4+, crushing. There are no good moves left for White.
The most decisive. ...B/g7xd4, winning the Queen, is coming soon. Not Yermo's best by any stretch, but still an energetic and important win for Milov with the Black pieces.
To close tonight's report, and borrow a term from Toronto IM Lawrence Day's chess lingo, here is a "combo bombo" - White to play and win after Black's 30...Nd3. It is from the game Sandipan - Kovalyov.