Etienne Bacrot won a nice positional game with many deep ideas.
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 The Cambridge Springs variation is becoming more and more popular nowadays. Mamedyarov has started to play it permanently and we might possibly see the development of this opening during the Candidates tournament next month.
7.cxd5 7.Bxf6 and 7.Nd2 are the other two huge main lines with thousands of games for both. It is still unclear where White should search for the advantage.
7…Nxd58.Qd2 [Kramnik invented the interesting novelty of 8.Rc1 and in 2010 he scored a nice win against Shirov, but since then Black has already found an adequate way to counter this move. 8…Nxc3 9.bxc3 Ba3 10.Rc2 b6 followed by Ba6 with similar stories to what will happen in our game. Carlsen had beaten Gelfand with the black pieces in last year’s Candidates tournament.]
8…Bb4 9.Rc1 h6 10.Bh4
14…Ba6 After the trade of the bishops Black seems to be alright. White has the better center, but Black stands without any weaknesses and he is ready to create his counterplay after placing the rooks on e8 and c8 with c5 or sometimes e5.
15.Rfd1 It is unclear whether this rook should stand on d1 or on e1. Both have its plusses. With the rook on e1, White can sometimes launch an attack with e4-e5 and Re4-g4, while now White intends to counter the c5 idea with d5. [If White avoids the trade of the bishops with 15.c4 the trade of the queens eases Black’s position. 15…Qxd2 16.Nxd2 does not change the character of the position. Black tries to execute the same ideas. 16…Rfe8= followed by Rac8 and e5 or c5.]
15…Rfe8 Since Black is familiar with the plans, he has a very easy task at this part of the game.
16. Bxa6 Qxa6 17.Qc2 With the idea to advance in the center with c4! In this case the c5 move could always be met by d5. This is the first moment when Black has to solve a positional problem.
17…Be7!? The most natural move to trade the bishops. It was clearly misplaced on a3 because the c5 break could not be executed properly as after d5 the bishop remains out of the game. [The alternative was 17…b5!? A slightly committing move, but it also looks decent to create a blockade on the c4 square. Black can continue his plan with Rac8 and c5. The game could follow up with 18.Bg3 Rac8 19.Qe2 Trying to delay the c5 break a bit, but Black can improve his position with 19…Nb6 20.e4 Na4 21.Rb3 Bf8 and the c3 pawn is very weak. Black pushes c5 next. ]
18.Bg3 White would like to keep all the advantages of his position. His bishop is superior to the one on e7 because it controls many important squares along the h2-b8 diagonal, but it gives time for Black to play c5 before he could prepare to that with c4. [The alternative was 18.Bxe7 18…Rxe7 19.c4 both c5 and e5 could now be met by d5. White might claim a slight edge, but of course the position remains completely playable for both sides. Still, I believe 17…b5 was better than this.]
18…c5! Very good timing! Otherwise White plays c4 and after c5 d5 he can take back with the pawn. Bacrot obviously expected this move, but he had a very deep idea in mind before he played Bg3.
19.d5! Otherwise after cxd4 and Rac8 Black is completely fine.
19…exd5 20.c4! This was the tactical point of White! If he manages to play cxd5, he achieves the same as if he had time to play c4. However Black also has his resources.
20…d4! Excellent counterplay.
21.exd4 Bf6? But this is a big positional mistake, allowing White to create a protected passed pawn and obtain an advantage. [Obviously Gonda knew that the right positional move is 21…cxd4! but after 22.Nxd4 it looks a bit dangerous. There are some tactical ideas, the d7 knight is in the x-ray and Nb5 is threatening with the very unpleasant Nc7 triple fork. However Black has an ideal response: 22…Nc5 (The simple and more human 22…Qb7 23.Nb5 Rac8= also seems to be fine.) 23.Nb5
23…Qa4! Solving the problem tactically. If the tension goes down, Black will have excellent chances due to his better pawn structure. 24.Qxa4 Nxa4 25.Nc7 Nc3 is the point and Black is OK!]
22.d5+= Now White ha s achieved what he wanted. The d5 pawn is going to be a long-term problem for Black.
22…Re7 23.Bd6! Preventing the doubling of the rooks.
23…Ree8 24.Bc7!? A positional trick move, which proves to be successful.
24…Qb7 The queen stands badly on b7 for two reasons. First of all it allows White to play Qa4-c6 and it also stands in the motif in the event of activating the knight with Nd2-e4 (heading to d6). [24…Rac8 should have been played. White wanted to retreat with 25.Bf4 and on (25.d6? is a positional mistake to lock the bishop out from the game. Black could simply go around it with 25…Re6) 25…Re7 26.Re1 Rce8 27.Rxe7Rxe728.a4+= followed by opening the back rank with h3. White has a long-term advantage due to the d5 pawn.]
25.Bg3Ne5 [Black should have gone back to 25…Qa6+=but positionally it is already a difficult move, since we had the same position after 22.d5, but it was Black to move.]
26.Nd2! It is very important to keep the minor pieces on the board. In the rook endgame the advantage might easily disappear, but now the knight is going to e4, threatening on f6 andd6!
26…Qd7 27.Ne4Ng6 Black decided to allow the weakening of the king side. [27…Bd8 was too ugly to consider it seriously. White is better anyway after let’s say 28.a4 then h3, opening the back rank. White now has time for everything.]
28.Nxf6+gxf6 Bacrot had foreseen that his opponent wants to get his bishop out from the game with f5-f4 and he prepared a very deep trap…
29.h4?! [It would have been much stronger to play 29.a4! 29…f5 30.f3 f4 31.Bf2c and a5 next move. White can trade a pair of rook with Re1 and later he transfers his bishop to c3. White has a big positional advantage.]
29…f5? Falling into the trap. [29…Qg4! could have suddenly given Black good counterplay. He probably did not want to leave the blockade of the d-pawn, but 30.d6 Rad8 is not clear at all.]
31.Rb3!! This brilliant move was so shocking that Black, maybe slightly prematurely, resigned.
[31.Rb3 The game could have continued with 31…fxg3 32.Rxg3 Kg7 33.hxg6 f6 Black needs to keep the g-file closed. White is a pawn up and he has a winning position, but some further technique would still have been required. White could play 34.Qd2h with the idea to trade rooks with Re1.
All pawn endgames are winning due to the d5 protected passed pawn. We can be sure that Bacrot would have easily converted the advantage, but still the game could have lasted a bit longer.; On 31.Bh2 31…Nh4 32.Bxf4 Qg4 33.Bg3 Nf5 was in Black’s mind with counterplay.; 31.hxg6 31…fxg3 32.fxg3 fxg6 33.Qxg6+ Qg7 White has an extra pawn, but the win is far from obvious because the doubled g-pawns don’t have full value.] 1-0