Tonight we had a very tense match against Boston.
Actually, now that I think back, there was a point where I felt we were doing well on all boards. Yakov had implemented his …Bd3! trick and had Ilya Krasik on the ropes. Pascal had found …Bf7! and sent Eugene into a deep think, during which I figured out that Black is very, very okay. I wasn’t following Matt and Giorgi’s games too closely, but I knew that they had everything under control; in fact, they both had the bishop pair advantage. I was pretty sure that Giorgi had a stable advantage.
But then Yakov, avoiding some repetitions but unsure how to make progress, embarked on a risky pawn grab, and basically completely handed over the initiative to white. White no longer needed to castle with that rook developed to g1! It was probably still fine (actually, I just checked it with the computer; yes, it was still fine, but black had to find only moves to defend), but obviously such a turn of events was very difficult to handle psychologically and Yakov faltered with 29…Bg6? after which Ilya was just winning. I saw the position after 31.Nxe6 Re8 and thought the game was done. I mean, White has an extra piece on the board and though Black is threatening to win it back, you just feel white has something there. Well, I have to admit, I wasn’t trying too hard to determine how white should win, but indeed white had a win: 32.Bf3 followed by 33.Rf1, trapping Black’s queen.
I was surprised by 32.Bf5. It just didn’t look like a very ambitious move. With white’s king so exposed, black wasn’t risking much of anything in the queen + rook endgame. If I saw nothing else, I’d be leaning towards moving the queen out of the pin (32.Qd5) and taking on e6 with the bishop. But again here, White’s king is a long term problem, so I can see why white didn’t go for that.
I thought Yakov would even have chances in the queen + rook endgame, but apparently it was pretty balanced; white committed no more mistakes, and this game finally ended in a draw, to my relief.
Eugene spent all his time, but didn’t find any reasonable plan for White. I can’t really blame him. It turned out that after 27…Bf7!, black gives back their extra pawn but acquires control of the important d and e-files, plus their queenside majority is mobile and highly unpleasant. Pascal played that part of the game quite well. 29…Qd6 and 30…b4 were natural moves, but he followed it up with a nice pawn sac to get a strong passed pawn on b3. Black still needed to work to convert his advantage; Pascal came up with the plan of …c4 and putting the queen on c5 to pin white’s rook. At first, I wasn’t too convinced by it, but then came the brilliant move 35…Rf8!! I really loved this move, and of course it made perfect sense with Black’s previous moves. I didn’t even consider this idea, since black takes their rook off the open file and places it onto a file that is still blocked! Pretty paradoxical.
So with …Rf8, Pascal forces a trade of major pieces on f2, and is easily winning the bishop endgame…the b3 pawn should just queen. 39…b2?? was hard on the spectator (me). Black can just play …Bf7 and on Bf5 Kg7, then …Bg6, and queen that pawn without ever giving white the a2 square. Instead, it became a very close endgame that white nearly drew. But in the end, black achieved the ‘normal’ result.
Giorgi played a very nice game…and was completely winning when I started watching it closely, after Larry’s 45…h4. I had no idea to what extent it was winning actually; I still thought it was tricky. Larry’s a tricky player, and there he goes, after Giorgi’s king…so I was definitely not relaxed. White had a really nice move there 46.Rc6! getting Black’s queen off the c-file and acquiring the c4 square for his own queen after the follow up blow 47.Rxg6! So that was one crushing option…then 47.Rxg6 instead of Qd4 on the next move…then 48.Ra7 instead of Rxg6…Giorgi will probably be disappointed that he missed all these wins. Instead when he finally played Rxg6 (still a nice idea!), it was nowhere near as effective, and Black got big counterplay with …Kh7 and …Rg8. It was pretty scary to see Black’s rook arriving on the g-file…white had to start thinking about how not to lose, but fortunately there were still resources…Black could have drawn with 50…Rb-d8 instead of the final mistake 50…Qc1??. But at least Giorgi’s endgame technique was up to par. I always feel comfortable when I see him getting those two pawn up endgames :)
Matt unfortunately self-destructed in an equal endgame.
Giorgi was very happy with his win….so was Pascal, when he finished about fifteen minutes later…I think there is just something about winning for the team. You feel more, because you know how much the team needed you, and you know that your win makes such a huge contribution to the success of your team. They’re both great team players.