Do I need some tactical practice?

August 28, 2009

Though I won this game, it was a lot harder than it looked. I played the same opponent I played 2 weeks ago (in which I had no trouble at all) – but while that game was totally one-sided, this was a much more open affair. We both missed several chances and I am getting a bit nervous about my perceived strength – the tactics. I have always preferred playing sharp lines with lots of tactics and generally avoided quiet positions – after my past few games where I’ve missed several tactics that I would normally back myself to find, maybe I need to work on my tactics again? Anyway, here’s the game (and I was black):

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. a4 Nc6 7. h3 Qb6 8. Nxc6 bxc6 9. Bd3 g6 10. a5 Qc7 11. Bd2 Bg7 12. O-O Rb8 13. Na4 Nd7
Playing the Najdorf is still new for me and I’m not used to the various ways white can tackle it on. Even though I had never played against 6. a4 before and I wasn’t sure how to play it, I came up with a reasonable plan and played quite well in the opening. Here, I looked at both O-O and d5 and finally settled on the text move, to try and discourage the white knight from settling into b6. I was also hesitant about playing d5 without first castling, though Fritz seems happy enough about it!

14. Rb1 O-O 15. Qe2 Qa7 16. b4 Bb7
16… Ne5 17. Nb6 Nxd3 18. Qxd3 Be6 and the position is equal.

17. c4!?
After our previous game, I was somewhat surprised by this very active plan. The computer also suggests 17. Be3 c5 18. bxc5 dxc5 19. Nb6

17… c5
I thought long and hard here. I was worried that I was opening the door for 18. b5 and white has a strong passed pawn. Then I realized that as long as I don’t trade on b5 (giving him connected passers), I can still hold the position and he’s not queening just yet.
(17… Bd4)

18. f4?
You could see from his expression that he realized his mistake as soon as he picked up the f-pawn. By then of course, it was too late and he was committed to the move.
(18. b5 Qa8)

18… cxb4+ 19. Kh2
(19. Be3)

19… Bc6 20. Nb6 Nxb6 21. Be3 Qa8?
(21… Qc7 22. Bxb6 (22. axb6 Rxb6 23. Bxb6 Qxb6 just transposes) 22… Rxb6 23. axb6 Qxb6)
The computer suggests the line above where I give up the rook for his bishop to gain connected passers on the a and b files. I did have a long think about the line in the game but wasn’t able to evaluate if it was the right choice. Apparently, it was!

22. Bxb6 Bc3 23. c5 dxc5 24. Bxc5 Bb5?!
(24… Rfd8 25. Rf3 Rd7)

25. Bxe7 Rfe8 26. Bc5
(26. Bd6 Rbd8 27. Bxb5 Rxe4 28. Qf3 Rxd6 29. Bd3 Re8 30. Qxa8 Rxa8)

26… Bxd3 27. Qxd3 Rxe4 28. f5 Qc6 29. Bb6 Rbe8 30. fxg6 hxg6 31. Rf2 Qc4 32. Qf3
(32. Qxc4 Rxc4)

32… Rf4
(32… Re1 33. Rxe1 Bxe1 34. Rf1 Bc3)

33. Qg3 Be5
(33… Rxf2 34. Qxf2 b3)

34. Kg1 Re4 35. Qg5
(35. Qf3 b3)

35… Bd4?
Time control made with less than a minute to go. 35… Bf4! 36. Rxf4 Rxf4 was very strong! 35… b3 was also much better.

36. Bxd4 Qxd4 37. Rbf1?
Here my opponent missed that his rook on f2 is pinned! This wasn’t necessarily the losing move – the next one was – but this is already quite bad. (37. Qf6 Qc4 38. Rbf1 R8e7)

37… Re1 38. Qf4??
Now this is definitely a huge blunder!
(38. Kh2 Rxf1 39. Rxf1 b3 40. Qf4 Qxf4+ 41. Rxf4 Rb8 42. Rf1 b2 43. Rb1 Kg7)

38… Rxf1+ 0-1

Despite my far from perfect play, I have now seemingly turned the tide from my long winless streak at the beginning of the year. I have only lost 2 games in my last 14 (with 3 draws), and both my losses were against higher rated players (along with one of the draws). At least I have been beating the players I am expected to beat!


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