Performance in big chess tournaments are largely defined by a few critical moments, and we often think of good players as rising to the occasion, delivering when it matters. When the stakes are low, those qualities are far less noticeable. Many players are noticeably tired and less ambitious by the last round of a long tournament; I’ve had my fair share of those moments.
The last round of the recent Philadelphia Open could have been one of them. I’d been dogged by errors the whole weekend, and finally knocked out of prize contention after squandering a beautiful +2 position in 5 moves.
Nevertheless, I was still quite awake, and not done with playing chess yet. But I didn’t want to play “just another game”; more than anything else, I was looking to convince myself the tournament had been worth. Two hours later, I had my answer.
Due to my more cautious style, I don’t often get to finish games, much less tournaments, in this fashion. This is definitely one of my best games ever!
Li – Gangaa (2017 Philadelphia Open, Round 7)
1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 Bc5 4. Nc3 d6 5. f4
This solid and aggressive structure is my go-to for the Bishop’s Opening, but Black’s unusual move order give him another option than simply transposing to the main line with 5…Nc6.
6. f5! h5
Black decides to play it safe for now, as 6…Nf2 is rather dangerous after 7. Qh5 (for example, 7…O-O?? 8. Bg5 Qe8 9. Nd5 threatening Nxc7 and Nf6+). However, if the tactics don’t soon work out, this will make Black’s development very difficult.
7. Nh3 c6 8. a3
Probably a little overcautious, but I wanted to stop any …b5-b4 ideas in case I wanted to castle queenside. 8…Qh4+? is fruitless, as after 9. Kf1 the queen must retreat to avoid Bg5 (9…Nf2?? 10. Qe1).
8…b5 9. Ba2 Bb7 10. Qf3
With no immediate breakthroughs, White turns to stopping …d5. Black doesn’t have a lot of options here, as castling weakens h5 dangerously, and …Nf6 is met by Bg5.
10…f6 11. Ne2! Ke7?
Black quickly defends against White’s apparent threat of Ng3-xh5 (12. Ng3 Qe8) but misses the real idea. For better or worse, Black had to try for counterplay with 11…d5.
12. d4! Bb6
White quickly clears the way for Qb3 with immediate threats on the a2-g8 diagonal. Of course, 12…exd4 13. Nhf4 is all sorts of bad news for Black.
White needs to clear the a2-g8 diagonal, draw Black’s knight from e5, and open up the kingside a bit. The immediate 13. dxe5 Nxe5 14. Qb3 Qd7, while clearly better for White, allows Black to defend e6 and f7 and keep everything relatively closed for the moment.
13…fxg5 14. Bxg5+ Nf6 15. dxe5 dxe5 16. Qb3 Qe8
17. Bxf6+! Kxf6
17…gxf6 18. Qe6+ Kd8 (18…Kf8 19. Qxf6+ mates next move) 19. O-O-O+ Nd7 20. Qxf6+ Kc7 21. Qd6+ Kc8 22. Be6 wins. Now Black’s king is rather paralyzed; White can pretty much attack from either side.
18. O-O-O Bc5?!
18…Bc7 puts up a little more resistance; White’s cleanest is 19. Qc3! with the idea of Nf4.
19. h4 Ke7
19. Rd8 apparently wins a rook on the spot (19…Qxd8 20. Qxf7#) but when I find an idea that works, I generally stick to it. In this case, White threatens a quick Qg3-g5# and Black can only prevent this by stepping back.
20. f6+ Kf8
Again, a simpler win was available: 20. Qe6+ Kf8 21. Rd8 with mate in 2. Fortunately, Black has no other alternatives; 20…gxf6 21. Qe6+ Kf8 22. Qxf6+ mates, and 20…Kxf6 21. Rhf1+ Kg6 23. Qg3+ and 24. Bh7 wins the queen.
21. Rd8 1-0