My second round opponent at Hartlepool was Clive Waters. Although Clive and I have battled many times over the last few years, predicting the opening is seldom possible. I had the Black pieces at Hartlepool and prepared for this game by looking at the Torre Attack, the London System , and even some lines in the c3 Sicilian. It was a complete surprise, when after a few minutes thought Clive played 1 b3, the Nimzo-Larsen opening.
Black can play moves like Nf6 then e6 in response (or any number of other setups), but the most direct response is to 'accept the challenge' and setup a big centre with ... e5 and ... d5, which can quickly lead to very rich play. I don't know any theory in the opening, although I was vaguely aware of 2 games: Karpov beating Browne with 1 c4 c5; 2 b3 Nf6; 3 Bb2 g6?; 4 Bxf6! and Karpov soon had a winning ending, and a humdinger of a game between Larsen and Spassky, where Spassky had aimed for the big centre and won with a brilliant kingside attack (more in a later post).
So, our game continued:
1 ... e5; 2 Bb2 Nc6; 3 e3 d5; 4 Bb5 Bd6
And now White can challenge the centre with the double edged 5 f4 looking to exploit the pin on the e5 pawn (g7 is undefended). When Black can continue with 5 ... Qe7; 6 Nf3 f6 or play 5 ... Qh4+; 6 g3 Qe7; 7 Nf3 Bg4 with a good game.
Instead Clive chose to increase the pressure whilst developing quickly with:
5 Nf3 Qe7; 6 d4 e4; 7 Ne5
In this position, which has the characteristics of a reverse French, Black has a very interesting possibility: 7 ... Qg5! If White now captures on c6 he ends up in a poor position, e.g. 8 Nxc6 Qxg2; 9 Rf1 a6 with advantage to Black.
I didn't consider this during the game, and immediately replied with:
7 ... Bd7
and Clive continued his energetic 'forcing' line:
8 Nxd7 Qxd7; 9 c4 a6; 10 cd ab; 11 dc bc; 12 Nd2 Nf6; 13 Qc2 Bb4; 14 a3 Bxd2+; 15 Qxd2
This is the position both players had envisioned back on move 7, and the question is how to assess it:
The position still resembles a reverse French in many ways. Black has a collection of weak pawns, e4, c6 and c7 (backward and doubled on a half open file), but they are difficult to attack successfully. As compensation Black's knight is superior to White's bad 'French' bishop, and Black can perhaps generate some counterplay down the a-file or against the White king once it castles (with 0-0, Re8, Re6, Rg6 etc).
My verdict: slight advantage to White. He can tie Black down to defending c6, but it's difficult to see how he makes progress.
The game continued:
15 ... 0-0; 16 0-0 Rfe8; 17 a4 Nd5; 18 Bc3 Qd6; 19 Qc2 Ra6; 20 Bd2 f5; 21 Rfc1 Rea8; 22 a5 b4; 23 Qc5 Rb8; 24 g3 Rb5; 25 Qxd6 cd; 26 Rc4? c5!; 27 dc dc; 28 Bc1 Rbxa5; 29 Rxa5 Rxa5
And Black, a pawn up, went on to win the ending. We'll look at the ending in detail in a later post.