Sicilian DefenseB30

GM Maurice Ashley (2465)
NM Jomo Pitterson (2360)

Fred Cameron Op, Jam CC (6.1)

First let me congratulate NM Jomo Pitterson on a great victory. Despite having lost the game, I think it is a wonderful boon to Jamaican chess. To have the underdog win is always fabulous. To have it happen in an important game, in the last round, with the Black pieces is even more magnificent. The following is my humble contribution to the discussion that will no doubt go on and on about this important game.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Avoiding the main discussions, which I have not been keeping up with in my hiatus. 3... e5 4. Bc4 d6 5. d3 Be7 6. Nd2 Nf6 7. Nf1

An unambitious move. I generally don't look for a big edge in the opening, just to see where things stand about move 20. 7... Nd7!? I wasn't so sure about this move when I saw it. I felt strange to me that this knight could go on such a march away from the kingside. But since the position is blocked, it seems ok. 8. Ne3 8. Nd5 I think this move is more sensible, highlighting the drawback to Black's last move. 8... Nb6 9. Bb3 Played quickly, as I wanted to prove that the knight on b6 was misplaced. But I should have considered leaving the B there since a trade on c4 only opens the d-file and highlights the d5 square as a launching point. 9. O-O 9... Nd4 10. O-O Bg5! A typical maneuver in this position, meant to give Black's bishop lots of options to exchange if it wishes. 11. Ne2 O-O Now I began to wonder how to proceed. I saw the clearly drawish line beginning with the trade on d4 and then another likely trade of Ns on d5, but I don't believe in draws! A more pragmatic grandmaster would have played right for this line, hoping to just win the tournament (I had 5 points, my opponent 4.5, with the closest rivals on 4). Alas, he who lives by the sword... 12. a4!? A controversial and very risky decision. I could see that I would end up with some inflexibility in my structure, but for some reason I felt that the position would tolerate it. The course of the game justifies my decision (though doesn't prove I was right!). 12... Nxb3 13. cxb3 Be6 14. f4 exf4 15. Nxf4 Bf6

Around this time, I was still wondering about my move 12. a4. After all, Black has the 2Bs and White is still not quite sure how the play will go. But despite appearances the position is still full of potential for White. That's what makes chess so hard! The obvious is often not true. 16. a5! Nd7 17. Ned5 I was wondering which knight to use until I recalled that one of the advantages bishops have over knights is that they can often time the proper moment to exchange themselves for the cavalry (because bishops more often attack knights than the reverse). Here it's the N on f4 that has that favorable "trade-ability" over the bishop on e6. Ergo, I need to maintain that possibility. 17... Bd4+ 18. Kh1 Nf6?! The majority of positional mistakes among strong players seems to made at the moment of trades. I think Black does better to "maintain the tension" (a favorite phrase of my old trainer, Gregory Kaidanov) by playing the more defiant 18...Ne5. 19. Nxf6+ Bxf6 And now move 20 has come. Optically, it seems Black should be doing quite well. But now the so-called weak and inflexible doubled-pawns rear their heads. 20. b4! Right on time. 20... Qd7 20... cxb4 21. Qa4 21. Qe1! Be5 22. Be3!

When I play ed this move, I felt a like a train slowly building up speed. Of course, objectively the position was still close to equal (whatever that phrase really means). But I felt as though my opponent believed he had been better for some time, and must have been surprised that White was getting all this play. 22... Bxb2 This move came as a shock! Now I got excited, feeling as though the win would be very close. Again, this has nothing to do with the actual events on the board, just the sense that Black was unbalancing himself in ways that could prove fatal. 23. Rb1 Be5?! This solid move turns out to be bad for Black. This makes sense because Black has simply removed an unimportant pawn on b2 (which he is now returning) and donated the b-file to White on top of it. For Black to justify a decision like capturing on b2, he must be able to follow it up with something more purposeful. The move I was expecting him to play was 23... Ba3 when I thought for sure I was winning! This statement may seem bold, but it is based on a simple idea: Pieces should stay connected to the rest of the forces. The offside B on a3 gives rise to several combinatorial possibilities on the now naked Black king. White can start by ignoring the queendside entirely with 24. Nh5! f5! The best try! (24... Bxb4?! is now met by 25. Rxb4! cxb4 26. Bh6!! Notice the role the missing dark-squared bishop plays in the contest. Now I can't begin to assess how Black maintains an easy equality here as even Fritz is going bananas. 26... Bg4 (26... f5 27. Bxg7) 27. Nxg7 f5 (27... f6 28. Nf5 Bxf5 29. Bxf8 Be6 30. Bh6 b3 31. Rxf6) 28. Nxf5 Bxf5 29. Bxf8 Rxf8 30. Qf2! Qb5 31. exf5 Qxa5 32. Qg3+) (24... Bg4 25. Nxg7!! Bxb4 (25... Kxg7 26. Qc3+) 26. Rxb4 cxb4 27. Bh6 transposes to the 24...Bxb4 line.) 25. bxc5 dxc5 26. Bh6!! This is not me. Blame Fritz! 26... gxh6 27. Qg3+ Kh8 (27... Kf7 28. Rxb7!!) 28. Qe5+ Kg8 29. Qg3+ So it would seem that I was wrong and that this line would have ended in an interesting draw. Okay, that I can live with. 23... Bd4 24. Bxd4 cxd4 25. Qf2 24. bxc5 dxc5 25. Bxc5 Rfc8 26. Qe3?! And now I missed my chance. Better was 26. Nxe6! The "trade-ability" moment! 26... fxe6 27. Qb4! I missed this nice move. 27... Qxd3 28. Qxb7 And I could hope to win in a technical way (though the battle is far from over). My mind was so intent on the kingside attack I was about to get that I didn't even think to look to the other side. As often happens, when one side misses a nice chance, the momentum begins to shift the other way. 26... Ba2! The bishops begin to pester the White rook. Even here I was feeling very good, since it seemed that I could isolate the bishops from the king and begin a sudden attack in the other direction. 27. Rbd1 Bb3 28. Rde1 Bc3 Not knowing that I had missed a simpler technical direction earlier, I still felt that this was logically how I should get an edge. Again, the idea that the bishops were exposing themselves and leaving the king unprotected seemed very attractive. 29. Rc1 Bxa5 Now he has my pawn and I have him where I want him! However, as I began to stare at the board with my clock ticking, I realized that things were not so simple. 30. d4

Not the move I wanted to play. However, my intended 30. Nh5 can be met by 30... Qg4! when the seemingly powerful 31. Rf5 (threatening 32. Rg5) is met by the paradoxical retreat 31... Bd8!! Now when a sees a surprising move like this with the clock ticking down, it is very hard to remain objective. Ghosts begin to creep into the brain ("Am I losing a piece after ...g6? Did I just give away a pawn for no reason? Is he threatening ...Be6?). The fact that I didn't have a forced win combined with missing this amazing retreat created sudden confusion. And confusion is all you need to lose a chessgame! 30... b6! Tenacious defense. I was still fancifully believing in a potential kingside attack, but this move should have woken me up from the fantasies. 30... Ba4? would have given me what I wanted after 31. Nh5 Qg4 32. Rf5 Bd8 33. Rcf1 Rc7 (33... Be8 34. Qb3) (33... f6 34. Rg5!!) 34. h3 Qg6 35. d5 when White has fantastic attacking chances for the pawn. 31. Ba3? Still stubbornly refusing to simplify the struggle, despite having only 5 minutes on the clock. I saw the simple 31. Qxb3 and after 31... bxc5 32. dxc5 it's just a game. But I suspected that this position was not winning at all (which it isn't) and that the other one kept my winning hopes alive. But now my opponent played a move I totally overlooked. 31... Bc4! Not seeing ly bothered me, leading me to have even more doubts about my position. In fact, the game is still totally unclear, but my falling confidence coupled with tenacious defense and annoying time pressure proved to be too much for me to handle. 32. Rfd1 32. Rf3! is White's best chance, still looking for play on the kingside. Now 32... b5 33. Nh5 Rc6 34. d5 Rg6 35. Bb2 Bb6 36. Qc3 and White has achieved a dream. 36... f6 37. Rxf6 gxf6 38. Nxf6+ (38. Qxf6 is also possible) 38... Rxf6 39. Qxf6 Rf8 40. Qg5+ Kf7 41. Qh5+ Kg8 42. Qg5+ and White is again drawing. While this certainly does not exhaust the position, it just shows that White had some justification in continuing to play for the win on a theoretical level. However on a practical level, I was not strong enough to find the way. 32... b5! 33. d5 Bb6!

Now the second bishop enters the game. 34. Qg3 f6! 35. Bb2 Qf7! Black has now shut down the direct attack and White desperately tries to get it back. 36. e5 fxe5 37. Bxe5 Re8 It's always a sad thing when one opens a file and the opponent is the one who takes it! 38. Re1?? A straight blunder. A better try would have been 38. Ne6 but that would have ceded the g6 square to the Black queen. After 38... Qg6 White is hopeless. 38... Ba5! 39. Re4 Bd2! Amazing how this wandering bishop turns out to be the killer piece. 40. Rd1

40... Rxe5! The audience broke into applause as the underdog won the big game. I must admit to preferring this finish, despite it being over my dead body. But Jomo really fought tooth and nail, and I hope this spurs him and Jamaica chess on to greater heights. 0-1 [Ashley M.]

Game(s) in PGN