Monday, 19 April 2010

Nottingham Congress 17th-18th April

As Colin mentioned previously, I played in the Major section (U160) of the Nottingham Congress over the weekend. Being towards the bottom of the pile in terms of grades (30th out of 33 entrants!) my only aim was not to be too embarassed!

The first game started worryingly - after 1.d4 d5 2.c4, my opponent (grade 151) played 2...c6, the Slav Defence, an opening I know rather little about. Nevertheless, things improved greatly and by move 14 I had a storming attack on the kingside. A few moves later things had started to go downhill, as I suffered from having too many(!) options available. After picking the wrong options, I was forced to exchange a knight and bishop, had lost my strong centre, and was quickly mated in short order.

Having lost with the white pieces, I then had black for the second round against a player graded 152. He opened with 1.e4, allowing me to use my new pet opening, the Pirc (1...d6). This was reasonably successful and in the middlegame I was able to win a bishop for two pawns, but a small oversight on my part let him win back a knight for one pawn. This, followed by a quick exchange of rooks and queens led to an endgame consisting of my seven pawns against his four and knight. With both of us in varying degrees of time trouble, the draw was agreed soon after.

My third game was a disaster. With the white pieces I again opened 1.d4, and this time was relieved to see 1...d5 2.c4 e6, a Queen's Gambit Declined. This sense of good fortune was soon passed to my opponent (grade: 154) as a blunder on my part allowed one of my bishops to be pinned against my king. Having since gone over this game again, I'm not entirely sure how I ended up just the solitary pawn down after the dust had settled. Various plans on either side sprang up and failed over the next 10 or so moves, and having won back the pawn but suffering from a great deal of pressure on my a- and b-pawns I gratefully accepted the offer of a draw. (My opponent may have just wanted to go home, as he had already lost his first two games that day and then withdrew from the tournament after this game.)

A haul of 1/3 from the opening day was, I felt, a decent return, having played three players all graded above 150.

The second day started, bright and early (far too early) playing someone more on my level, graded 137. Again I had the black pieces, and again I was able to open with the Pirc. It didn't quite go to plan as well as the previous day, as I carelessly exchanged my white-squared bishop for his kingside knight and allowed his queen on to f3. As I'd already fianchettoed my other bishop he quickly took the opportunity to pin my knight on f6 against my queen. Ultimately the rooks came off the board, as did a knight (mine) and bishop (his), and I found myself two pawns down. A last ditch attack on his king was my only hope and white finally made a mistake, leaving his queen on a7 rather than bringing it into the middle which led to him being forced to sacrifice his remaining bishop for a couple of pawns. At this point I may have missed a forced mate (and I've not yet run it through Fritz), but we agreed a draw was a fair result as, with both of us running short on time, I was two pawns down but had considerable compensation in the form of pressure on his king.

After three consecutive draws I needed half a point in the final round to reach my pre-tournament target of 2/5, so was somewhat miffed to be drawn against a player graded 157, even if I did have white. I opened with 1.d4 for the third time and was again faced with the Slav Defence (I think I may have to read up on it). As if following a trend, things swiftly went downhill and I found myself in quite a poor position with black, in true hypermodern fashion, controlling the centre with his pieces and carefully timed pawn thrusts. Somehow, though, I maintained material equality and then invited a knight sacrifice on e5, giving him two pawns and a considerable positional advantage. However, a few moves later I created and then leapt on the opportunity to force an exchange of queens and a bishop each at which point he promptly resigned, as his compensation for the knight sacrifice would be lost with the queens off the board.

So, an overall result of 2.5/5 having lost just the one game - to a player who ultimately tied 1st with 4/5! I will put the full games on here later this week, once I've let Fritz sneer at them!

Finally, Brandon Clarke tied first in the Open section, also scoring 4/5.

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