[Event "2003 U.S. Open"]
[Site "Los Angeles"]
[Date "2003.08.12"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Aigner, Michael"]
[WhiteElo "2277"]
[Black "GM Blatny, Pavel"]
[BlackElo "2539"]
[Result "1-0"]

© 2003 Michael Aigner (annotations for November/December 2003 issue of CalChess Journal)

The 104th US Open was the occassion for my first Grandmaster scalp. GM Blatny is well known for playing unusual openings, including the Bird-Larsen system with 1.b3. Hence, playing 1.f4 was out of question for me.

1. e4 g6 2. d4 c6 3. Nc3 d5

This is the Gurgenidze system, which is a hybrid of the Caro Kann and the Modern defense. It is characterized by pawns on c6-d5 and f7-g6-h5, often resulting in a knight outpost on f5.

4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Be2

Theory holds that White should play h3 on either move 4 or 5 to prevent Black from trading his bad bishop for the knight.

5... Bg4 6. exd5 cxd5 7. Ne5 Bxe2 8. Qxe2 a6 9. O-O Nd7 10. Nxd7?!

Much more accurate is Bf4, simply developing another piece.

10... Qxd7 11. Rd1 Rc8 12. Bf4 e6?!

Instead of weakening his dark squares, Black could have developed with Nf6.

13. Be5 f6!?

This move is an unfortunate necessity if Black intends to play for a win. As I've experienced many times before myself, in order to defeat a much lower rated opponent who is content to draw, Black must take risks to avoid trading into a simplified endgame. The more direct Nf6 allows White to force trades with 14. Qf3.

14. Bg3 Kf7 15. Re1 Ne7 16. Na4!

In addition to the fork threats on b6 and c5, White now can support his d4 pawn with c2-c3.

16... Rc6?!

Black is dreaming of doubling on the c-file and, after White plays the logical c2-c3, advancing his b-pawn in a classic minority attack. However, saving a tempo with 16... Qc6 17. Nc5 Nf5 18. c3 maintains equality.

17. Nc5 Qc8 18. c3 h5

Based on my preparation for the game, I knew to expect a kingside pawn storm from GM Blatny. However, White is quite solid here, and the attack is more smoke than fire. During the game, I was more concerned with 18... e5, but that fails to 19.Nd3! e4 20.f3 and Black can't respond with f5 because of Ne5+.

19. f3 g5 20. a4 h4 21. Bf2 Ng6 22. Nd3 Bf8

Both sides are fighting for the dark squares on the kingside.

23. Qd2 Bd6 24. Be3 Qb8 25. h3 Ne7!

Relocating the knight to an outpost on f5 where it cannot be assailed by White's forces. White finds a similar outpost for his knight on g4.

26. Nf2 Bh2+ 27. Kf1

If White isn't careful, he can lose his queen after 27.Kh1 Nf5 28.Ng4?? Ng3+ 29.Kxh2 Ne4+.

27... Nf5 28. Ng4 Bg3 29. Re2 Qc7 30. Kg1

Black's pawn structure is overextended. White's knight has found a strong niche on g4 where it controls h2 and e5 and cannot be easily harrassed. This last king move prepares for Rf1, after which it is White who is threatening to attack on the kingside!

30... Rc8?

Black must recognize the eventual threat of f3-f4 and play 30... Bf4 31.Qd3 Kg7 32.a5 Re8 with equality.

31. Qd3 Kg7

Perhaps black was concerned about 31... Bd6 32.Nh6+ Nxh6 33.Qh7+ Kf8 34. Qxh6+ Qg7 35.Qh5 with a small pull to White, but offering little winning chances to Black.

32. Bd2 Qb6?

This was Black's last chance to play Bf4 and prevent White's attack.

33. Rf1! Qc7

The b-pawn is poisoned: 33... Qxb2 34.Nxf6 with Bxg5+ in mind if the king captures the knight. Only slightly better is 33... Qb3 34.f4! Bxf4 35. Bxf4 gxf4 36.Rxe6. White gets the same attack as in the game, but with Black's queen helpless on b3.

34. f4!

Sacrificing the f-pawn!

34... gxf4 35. Rxe6!

The point of the combination. White's powerful knight and queen combine to do the damage.

35... Rxe6 36. Qxf5 Rce8?

This is the critical position of the game. Black has reasonable chances after 36... Qf7! 37.Bxf4 Bxf4 38.Rxf4?! Re1+ 39.Kf2 Qe6! 40.Qxf6+ (sadly, White has no way to continue his initiative) Qxf6 41.Nxf6 Rb1 42.Nxd5 Rxb2+ 43.Kf3 Rf8 44.Rf8 Kxf8. It is in fact very difficult for White to save this endgame. For example: 45.Ne3 Ra2 46.Kg4 Rxa4 47.Kxh4 b5 48.Kg4 a5 49.Kf5 b4 50.cxb4 axb4 51.Ke4 b3 52.Kd3 Rb4 0-1. However, White can improve with 38.Qxf4! Qg6 39.Ne3. Black's weak pawn structure and open king are sufficient compensation for the exchange.

37. Bxf4 Bxf4 38. Rxf4 Qd6

There's nothing better. After Qe7, White plays Nf2. After Qd7, he does Ne3. In each case, Rg4+ is a significant threat.

39. Ne5! Rxe5

White wins a rook after 39... fxe5 40.Qf7+ Kh8 (Kh6 41.Rxh4+ Kg5 42.Rh5#) 41. Rxh4+ Rh6 42.Qxe8.

40. dxe5 Rxe5 41. Rg4+ Kf7 42. Qh7+ Ke6 43. Qxh4!

Although there was no mate at the end of the fireworks, White still has a significant advantage which he can convert into a full point. More precisely, the Black monarch has nowhere to hide. The text does many things, but perhaps most importantly, it covers the dark squares around White's king.

43... Qb6+ 44. Kh2 Qxb2?

This loses instantly. Much more stubborn would be 44... Qd6 45.Qg3 with some swindle chances in a rook endgame after Re3 46. Qxd6+ Kxd6 47.Rf4 Re6 48.a5. Nonetheless, Black's weak pawn structure and White's outside passed pawn on h3 should prove decisive.

45. Rb4 Qxc3 46. Rb6+ Kd7 47. Qh7+ Kd8 48. Rxb7 1-0

Black resigned because he must lose his queen. A more elegant finish was the mate in 4: 48.Rd6+ Ke8 (Kc8 49.Qg8+ Re8 50.Qxe8+ Kc7 Qd8#) 49.Qg6+ Ke7 50.Qxf6+ Ke8 51. Rd8#.