My 4th GM Norm: 5th time in Italy is a Charm Part II

Continuing, from my first part of this article a few days ago. Incidentally, in my Ivanchuk game I failed to put the game moves 40 and 41 in bold. You probably were still able to follow and in any case I just edited it. Sorry about the typo.

Anyone is welcome to use my game against Ivanchuk and annotate it themselves (for a site, or whatever) if they wish, even borrow my notes as desired, as I bet there are more things to say about this crazy game!

Before I proceed with my next games, think I left out something on a personal note. Remember the first article I wrote, for this site? 3 months ago, on winning two games in one. I think things have picked up a bit, since that time. Must not underestimate the value of writing about personal experiences and sharing your story. Maybe it was worth adding this, so others know how I felt. People might not know/realize what it personally meant for me to reach out and describe such game/experience. It also felt like a great topic to write about! So feel free to glance back at that article.

This second part of my tournament in Italy will cover what happened on the double round day. Remember, I had 2.5/3 (wins against a 21 hundred and 22 hundred, and a draw with Ivanchuk rated about 27 hundred). There were 2 games on Tuesday 6/18: 9AM and 4pm. Was Black round 4, this time against another Indian youngster: a teenage IM rated close to 2500. The night before, when in the midst of my preparation, my internet disconnected due to a “maximum usage exceeded” error with the code I was using to connect. Realized I had to be given a new code. The front desk was empty by that time of night and I’d have to approach the reception sometime after 8 in the morning, shortly before the game and with barely time to eat breakfast. When trying to prepare for a game, I tend to do lots of position searches in the ChessBase Online Database. At the moment I find that doing these series of Online Database position searches, while a bit time-consuming, can somewhat guide my prep. So I had to decide how to work around the internet outage. I chose to just stick with whatever I’d been looking at (an opening to play, against his likely 1.e4 mainlines). As I picked a sharp sideline of an Open Sicilian, review was required. Decided to use my already created notes from awhile back, along with Hiarcs14 Book to fill in some gaps. Figured I had to allow some time to review in the morning before the 9AM game.

On Tuesday morning, just barely had time for a quick breakfast. Was also able to approach the front desk for a new internet code. This time he gave me 2 codes, in order for me to have a second one to use after the first one runs out! When successfully logging in, I’d see the following displayed on my screen: ” ({ ‘logged_in’ : ‘yes’, ‘link_login_only’ : ‘’ }) “. The morning didn’t go smoothly. Was over 20 minutes late, partly due to being in a panic that I lost my passport. When I came down, the organizer said I left it at the reception and he had it with him. So let’s see how I recovered from the morning events and lost time on my clock.

IM Arjun Kalyan (FIDE 2482) – IM Justin Sarkar (FIDE 2366) [B61] 10th Forni di Sopra (4), 18.06.2019

1.e4 c5 It was a Sicilian day. Needed a little break from double king pawns. 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 Now I had something new in mind. Bd7!? 7.Qd2 This main move defines ECO code B61. Sometimes I like to play new ECO codes, though I’ve faced it from the white side, long time ago. Rc8

Larsen Variation

This is the main move. The Larsen Variation is a bit shaky (Black hangs by a thread, in various lines), but not quite busted I don’t think. Wanted to try the black side of this variation at some point, even as a surprise weapon. Another interesting tidbit was that GM Dreev, who was sitting pretty much next to me, used to play this. 8.f4 The other main move is 8.0-0-0 and now …Nxd4 9.Qxd4 Qa5. Had a game like this with white from back in the day, where I tried 10.Bd2!? Nxd4 9.Qxd4 Qa5

10.e5 Most principled. The alternative 10.0-0-0 gives black options of the interesting exchange sac 10…Rxc3!? as I once faced (though I think this is more an attempt to equalize and hold a draw after 11.bc3 e5 12.Qb4 Qxb4 13.cb4 Nxe4 14.Bh4) or 10…h6!? 11.Bxf6 gf6 de5 12.fe5 e6 13.0-0-0 Bc6! Relatively best

13.Bb5 But here, more typical and probably more principled is 13.Nb5! The mainline is 13…Bxb5 14.ef6 Bc6 15.h4 g6 16.Bc4 Bc5, which is risky for black (and there are many variations to know) yet not entirely clear. Nd5! 14.Nxd5 This was his first serious think, of almost 15 minutes. The alternative is 14.Bxc6+ bc6 as in Karpov-Balashov, 1971. Bxb5 15.Nc3 I was aware of the alternative 15.Qxa7!? (you can tell me why black can’t take the queen) Bb4! (with idea 16.Qxb7 0-0) first played in Hort-Panno, 1970. I’ll trust the machine this is equal/unclear. Bc6 Also possible is 15…Bc5 16.Qg4 Bb4 17.Nxb5 Qxb5 as in Dolmatov-Yudasin, 1981.

16.Rd3?! Played after ten minutes of thought. The main and best move is 16.Rhf1 as first played in Beliavsky-Yudasin, 1981. I also failed to remember anything beyond this point. 16.Rd3?! was played in Berg-Lindberg, SWE 2011. Black played 16…h6 and my move is also reasonable f6 Played after 20 minutes of thought. 17.Bf4?! He took at least as long on this reply. The bishop is actually poorly placed here, despite lending the e5-pawn extra support. Another bishop retreat was preferable, though it can be a tough decision to leave the e5-pawn en prise. Qc5 Aiming for at least comfortable equality, though black can actually go for more with 17…f5 or 17…Be7 18.ef6 Qxd4 16.Rxd4 gf6 20.Ne4 Be7 21.Nd6+ What else? Bxd6 22.Bxd6? This turns out to be a blunder. The obvious 22.Rxd6 was called for. 22.Rxd6 Ke7 (or 22…e5 23.Be3) 23.Rhd1 was better than the game. Bxg2 The pawn can be safely taken. 23.Rg1 Rg8! Very important. Seemingly walking into a self-pin, but 25.Rd2 Rd8! is very strong. White is simply not fast enough, to exploit the pin on the g-file. Black already has the “strategically winning” two connected passers.

24.Bb4?! But this just makes matters worse. Rg6 25. Re1 e5 26.Rh4 Rc7 27.c4?! Bf3?! Something like 27…e4 28.b3 Bf3 was more to the point. 28.Bd6?! 28.Rf4 Rcg7 29.Rh3 Rg1 30.Rxg1 Rxg1+ 31.Kc2 Bg4?! With the trap 32.Rxh7?? Bf5+. Centralization with 31…Be4+ was stronger. 32.Rg3

Rxg3? Spent half of my remaining 7 minutes to make this trade. Not surprisingly 32…Bf5+ was stronger. White can try 33.Kb3 Rd1 34.Bb8 but even if white picks up the a-pawn, the black connected passers should be much faster than white’s extra pawns on the other side that can barely move. Black can even just play something like 34…a6 with idea 35.Rf3 Rd3+ This pure OCB ending is most certainly winning, with the 2 connected passers. Trading on g3 helps white for sure, and the f-pawn is no longer passed. I was determined to show it’s a win, but still can’t quite be sure. The main idea I saw was to play …h5 followed by at the right moment …h4 as a pawn sac, to recreate connected passed pawns followed by …f6-f5-f4. However he has to watch out for ideas of white sacking the bishop for the e&f pawns and being able to leave black with just an a-pawn so as to have the bishop and wrong rook pawn draw, along with the h4-pawn serving as a distraction once black sacs. The win is at best problematic, but was just hoping I’d work out something after move 40 time control. 33.hg3 Kd7 34.Bc5 a6 35.b4? White spent 2 and a half of his remaining 7 minutes on this. Now this struck me as a mistake. Black gets to fix the structure and make the white a-pawn a more or less useless backward pawn, while being left with a desirable b-pawn (rather than a-pawn) that can’t be touched. Had white played a move like 35.a4 or 35.Bb6 I still can’t claim to be sure whether or not it’s a win. I can’t automatically rule out the possibility but it will take precise calculation and deep analysis that I have yet to do, to see how to make progress on the kingside without allowing unfavorable changes to the queenside (such as, trading both pawns too quickly or being left with the “wrong rook pawn”) b5 36.cb5 ab5 37.Kd3 h5

Even if your engine gives a value just slightly over +1 for black, I can virtually assure you it’s winning. The main plan I saw was to play the …h4 pawn sac at the right moment. Then when pushing the connected passers (usually …f6-f5-f4 followed by a later …e5-e4-e3) be sure that white can’t play a quick a4 forcing black to take with the pawn and be left with a wrong rook pawn draw. I kept changing my mind where I wanted to place my bishop for this, but it didn’t change the outcome or eval. Still had to overcome a bit of resistance. 38.Bf8 Ke6 39.Bg7 Bd1 40.Kd2 Bf3 41.Ke3 Bd5 42.a3 Bg2 Now I decided I wanted to place the bishop back on g4, before playing …h4, to stop white’s h-pawn from moving right away, though the computer will probably suggest a quicker win such as an immediate 42…f5 followed by soon …h4. The bishop is nicely centralized on d5 for now though I decided it’s useful to be guarding the h5-square when playing the …h4 pawn sac. 43.Kf2 Be4 44.Bf8 Bf5 45.Bc5 Bg4 46.Bb6 h4 I saw no need to delay this any longer. 47.gh4 f5

48.Be3 f4 Passed pawns must be pushed, but only in ways that don’t allow a dark-square blockade. So here, order is important. The pawn must go to f4, before a later …e4 followed by …e3. 49.Bc1 Kd5 50.Ke1 Bh5 A useful waiting move, with ideas to put the bishop somewhere it can anticipate a4 pawn sac ideas followed by pushing the b-pawn, while simultaneously keeping an eye on h5. 51.Kf1 Ke4 52.Kf2 52.a4 ba4 53.b5 Kd5 won’t change anything. Be8 Here actually 52…Bg4 53.Bb2 Kd5 54.Bc1 Kc4 was stronger. 53.Bb2 Kf5 Or 53…Kd5 54.Ke2 e4 55.Bd4 Bh5+ 56.Kd2 e3+

The one important detail to see is 57.Bxe3 fe3+ 58.Kxe3 Bd1! This is the only move to win, making sure that when white plays a4 the bishop can capture so as to remain with a b-pawn rather than a-pawn. Black will eat up the h-pawn and before long, through a series of mini-zugzwangs be able to get the king over to b3 to gobble up the a3 followed by b4 pawn and win with the extra bishop and b-pawn. 57.Kd3 Bf7 Just don’t play 57…Be8?? 58.Bxe3 fe3 59.Kxe3 followed by a4 with a draw. 58.Bc3 Kg4 59.Ke4 Bg6+ 60.Kd4 Kxh4 61.a4 ba4 62.b5 Be8 63.b6 Bc6 White resigns 0-1

After this win, had just under 2 hours before the next game. Was White against a young GM rated over 2600 who was trailing me by half a point with 3/4. Ended up being 5-10 minutes late to the game.

IM Justin Sarkar (ELO 2366) – GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac (ELO 2623) [D85] 10th Forni di Sopra (5), 18.06.2019

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 Thought he was more likely to go for a Nimzo 3.Nc3 d5 A slightly odd surprise, given how much I’ve played the Grünfeld. Had to decide what line I wanted to play. As it turned out though, I ended up not really knowing the line I chose or getting a good position. 4.cd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bc3 Bg7 7.Bb5+ This was something I wanted to try lately and had faced once or twice before, so decided to play it in this game. c6 8.Ba4 0-0 After moving quickly, Black spent over ten minutes on this obvious move. 9.Ne2 c5 No time on this. Black has a few different plans/setups to choose and it turned out I was least ready for the straightforward 9…c5 followed by 10…Nc6, despite it actually being the most popular move. 10.0-0 Nc6

11.Bxc6? Played after 6 or 7 minutes of thought. As we’ll see I had personal reasons for playing this way, but it was actually a sign of not trusting myself or my opening erudition. Kind of like I wanted to hand him at least comfortable equality, in order to clarify the game. White should play 11.Be3 and after 11…Na5 or 11…Qc7 it’s a game. While I didn’t know the lines, should’ve better trusted that white can hardly be worse just yet and has prospects to be better in this exchange Grünfeld structure. bc6 12.Ba3 cd4 13.Nxd4?! I’d call this a bit dubious and prefer the obvious pawn takes pawn recapture. While black can hardly be worse, it should be a bit closer to just flat equal with chances to soon fizzle out. For instance, 13.cd4 Qa5!? (or 13…Ba6 14.Bc5 as in Karpov-Morovic, Lindsborg rapid 2003) 14.Bc5.

Bonin system

We’ve transposed to the Bonin system, named after the legendary Jay Bonin (a fixture in the NY Chess scene, especially Marshall Chess Club). Never quite understood it, but think he has done rather well with it (at least, against his typical lower rated opposition). Wanted to see if I could hold my own by playing like Jay. He’s known though to have a slight bias, to liking knights. To me, black can’t possibly be worse, with the bishop pair in a mostly open (albeit rather symmetric) position. Avoiding the trodden path with White against higher-rated players can sometimes (like in this case) suggest certain sense of fear and make their task easier of aiming for the full point without taking excessive risks. I’ll elaborate more on this topic when discussing my very last game in this tournament, in my next part. Regarding, the general mistake of deliberately avoiding mainstream theory when white against a much higher rated player. No disrespect to Bonin, but I’d choose a Kasparov system over a Bonin system. Qc7 Black also has the move 13…c5! 14.Bxc5 Qc7 as in Bonin-Shahade, NY Masters rapid 2002. Not even sure what improvement Jay had in mind. Maybe 15.Ba3 but after 15…Ba6 (or 15…Qxc3 16.Nb3) 16.Re1 Qxc3 17.Nb3 Rfd8 18.Qg4 h5 Black can’t be worse, to say the least. 14.Qa4 Bd7 15.Qc4?! I already got things wrong and failed to play like Jay. For sure, the move is 17.Bc5, as he himself played in a published game. I saw ghosts like 17…Qe5 (even that should be equal, though hardly a reason to not play the immediate 17.Bc5). The queen is worse on c4 than a4. Not sure if it really changes the dynamics of the position. Rfc8 The guy has been playing quickly and confidently again, since castling. Now the e7-pawn is poisoned due to 18.Bxe7?? c5 followed by 19…Be6 after a knight retreat and white loses a piece. 16.Bc5 e5

17.Nc2?! A clumsy retreat square for the knight. 17.Nb3 was more logical. Maybe 17..a5 but then probably 18.Qa4 or 18.Qd3 should be OK. Qa5 18.Qb4 Qa6 19.c4?! This really just creates weaknesses along with a weak pawn on c4 though it’s tough to find something constructive to do. Probably 19.Rfb1 Be6 20.Ne3 was a lesser evil. Be6 20.Ne3 Rab8 Already 20…f5 suggests itself. Not sure what I wanted to do. Maybe 21.ef5 gf5 22.g4 though it looks a bit desperate. 21.Qc3 Rd8 22.f3 f5 23.Rfc1 Rd7 24.a4 This really weakens white more but I wanted to play a4-a5 with idea of playing a6 when the queen moves from a6, possibly fixing the a7-pawn as a target and sometimes allowing b7 as a penetration square. Rbd8 Black seems to be keeping the tension and postponing the decision whether to push with …f4 or exchange on e4. 25.a5 h5 26.Ra2 Kh7? Now is time to make a decision with the f-pawn. Such as, 26…f4 27.Nf1 Rd1 (or 27…g5). 27.Re2? Does nothing but make matters worse. White should really try 27.ef5! gf5 28.Qc2. Rd3 28.Qa4 R8d7? This slow, indecisive move throws away the advantage. A move with the f-pawn was screaming to be played: 28…f4 or exchanging on e4, with clear advantage. 29.ef5! I was worse and it made sense to change the structure of the position, even hoping to get play against his king. gf5 30.Nf1?! Why this? 30.Qe1 right away made more sense. The knight might not want to retreat. Kg6? The king is actually not very safe. At this point I had 14 minutes and he had 16, to reach move 40. 31.Qe1! For some reason this took me 5 or 6 minutes, yet I failed to work out the complications of 31…Bxc4. Ended up trying this, more intuitively. Bxc4?! He in turn took 5 or 6 minutes. This is actually not so good, though it’s tough to justify black’s play. Something like 31…Bf7 was better.

32.Qg3+? It looked tempting to check. Shame I missed 32.Qh4! f4 33.g4! This is very dangerous for black, his best bet is 33…Kh7 34.Qxh5+ Kg8 and clearly I have at least a draw (with 35.Qe8+). I can try 35.Rxe5! (or 35.Rb2 Bf7) Bf7! 36.Re8+! Bxe8 37.Qxe8+ Kh7 when again I can make an immediate draw by checking, or play Re1! White has an attack. Kh7 33.Rxe5?! This is actually inaccurate, albeit the right idea to do an exchange sac. Bxe5?! Black spent 5 minutes on this. Actually 33…Bf7! is stronger, when 34.Rxf5?? fails to …Rd1! So probably, 34.Ree1 Qxa5 35.Qg5 R3d5 34.Qxe5 Bf7

35.Qxf5+? It can be tempting to take a pawn with check in time pressure, but why not threaten mate in one with 35.Bf8! Bg6 (forced) and now play 36.Qf4. Somehow I filtered out this logical follow-up. Black is more or less forced to go for the position after 36…c5 37.Qh6+ Kg8 when after 38.Bxc5 he has nothing better than a draw (such as, by 38…Rd1). Bg6 36.Qf6?! 36.Qf4 Rf7 was a lesser evil. Qxa5 37.Qxc6 Qc7 38.Qf6 Or 38.Qf4 Rf7. Rf7 Black spent his remaining 2 minutes. Not 38…Rd1?? due to 39.Bd4! Now 39…Rxf1+ 40.Rxf1 Qd8 41.Qxd8 Rxd8 42.Bxa7 Bc2! followed by trading rooks gives black the worse side of a draw! 39.Qe6?! White should try something like 39.Bd4!? Qb8! 40.Be5 or Qe5. This might give better survival chances compared to the game. a5 40.Ne3? A move 40 lemon. The knight doesn’t belong here, though it’s tough to know what to suggest. Qf4?! The direct 40…a4 was stronger. 41.Nd5 fails to Qd8. 41.Rc4 This is what I was going to play, but used up most of my time in the second time control in coming to terms with how bad my position was. Qg5 Was actually expecting 41…Qf6 42.Qxf6 Rxf6 and I had at best vague ideas to put up some resistance but felt I was unlikely to hold (e.g. 43.Ra4 Ra6). 42.f4? Now I just collapsed, especially with no time left. Of course 42.h4 was the only try to prolong the game. Rxf4 43.Be7 Qh6 Only move to win, but quite obvious. 44.Rc7 Qg7 45.Bd6 Rf7 0-1

Losing felt at least slightly discouraging (especially as white, against an opening I’ve played many times from the other side). If anything I felt rather unlucky. Even though, 50% on one day against two higher rated opponents (both teenagers!) ought to be, at minimum, acceptable. Almost escaped this one.

So after this mixed fortune on the double round day of the 18th, it was back to just one game a day (though the final round was at 9AM). Wondered if luck was turning against me based on this game, even though I was still performing close to FIDE 2600. To see how I recovered in my next games, stay tuned for the next part! This part was meant to cover just the double round day. The next part will cover the rest of the tournament.

One thought on “My 4th GM Norm: 5th time in Italy is a Charm Part II

  1. Alejandro F Botta

    Greetings from Rome Justin! Thanks for sharing your experiences and games in Italy. I have been wondering how professional chess players organize their European tours. Any advice?

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