[Event "McIlrath Memorial"]
[White "Aigner, Michael"]
[Black "Hernandez, Rudy"]
This game was the round 3 encounter between the leaders in the McIlrath Memorial. Rudy Hernandez is the reigning Burlingame club champion, and I viewed him as a very formidable opponent. Our only previous encounter, with colors reversed, ended in a draw.
Since this tournament is played under a game-a-week format, opening preparation is an essential component to success, much more so than in a normal weekend swiss where pairings are posted a few minutes before the round starts. Having observed many of his games over the weeks, I had already made a mental note that Hernandez prefers to play the Pirc/Modern defense as black against 1.e4. A simple search of the Mechanics' Institute and Burlingame Chess Club websites turned up several games featuring a variation that I intended to play. The outcome of this game underscores the importance of specific opening preparation in tournaments of this type.
1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. f4
Despite the less common move order, there was never a doubt in my mind that we would reach this position. White is playing the Austrian attack against the Pirc defense.
4... Nf6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Bd3 Na6!?
From my internet research, I had already anticipated this slightly unusual move. However, it is hardly unsound, as several strong GMs (including Ruslan Ponomariov and Boris Gulko) play it. White can't afford trade his strong bishop for this knight because black gets counterplay both on the queenside and in the center.
7. O-O c5 8. d5 Nc7
Luther-Gulko (Wijk aan Zee 2001) went 8... Bg4 9. a3 Nc7 10. Qe1 Bxf3 11. Rxf3 e6 12. dxe6 Nxe6 13. f5 Nd4 14. Rh3 c4 15. Bxc4 Nxc2 16. Qh4 Nxa1 17. Nd5 Nh5 18. Bg5 Qa5 19. fxg6 Qc5+ 20. Be3 Qxc4 21. Ne7+ Kh8 22. Qxh5 Qf1+ 23. Kxf1 fxg6+ 24. Qf3 Rxf3+ 25. gxf3 Bxb2 26. Nxg6+ Kg7 27. Ne7 and white eventually won the endgame. Another alternative is 8... Rb8.
In the Mechanics' Tuesday Night Marathon, Peter Grey had played 9. Qe2 against Hernandez. The text is an improvement which gives white significant chances for an opening advantage. Instead of unnecessarily overprotecting the b5 square, white's queen intends to participate in a kingside assault.
9... Rb8 10. a4
Black seeks to gain queenside space, and white denies him.
This further weakens black's kingside pawns, allowing white's subsequent attack to reach its objective. Instead, black should play 10... b6 intending 11. f5 Nd7. White still has the preferable position.
11. dxe6 fxe6 12. f5! gxf5
Alternatively, 12... exf5 13. exf5 Bxf5 14. Bxf5 gxf5 15. Nh4 Ne4 16. Nxf5 Nxc3 17. bxc3 looks rather unhealthy for the black king. I had envisioned this position and its complications already while preparing for the game with Fritz. Maybe not surprisingly, the silicon monster fails to appreciate the danger that the black king faces.
13. exf5 e5
Finally my opponent plays a move which I had not anticipated in my preparation! As the game turns out, I have only to find one difficult move over the board in order to secure the point.
The text serves two purposes: to support the pawn push g4-g5 and to double attack the h7 square (along with the x-ray of the bishop on d3). The f6 knight can't move: 14... Nd7 15. Bc4+ Kh8 16. Ng5 Nf6 17. Nce4 (or simply 17. Nf7+) is unpleasant. Black's best try is 14... Qe8 15. g4 e4 16. Bc4+ d5 17. Bf4 dxc4 18. Bxc7 Ra8 19. Ne5 Qe7 20. Nb5 and all three of white's minor pieces are swarming on the black half of the board.
With his position close to collapse already, black blunders a critical pawn, and with it the game.
15. Nxe4 Nxe4 16. Qxd8 Rxd8 17. Bxe4 Bd7
Probably Hernandez had intended 17... d5 18. Bd3 c4 19. Be2 Bxf5, retaking the pawn with interest. However, white has the crushing zwischenzug 18. Bf4. White now only has to take care to limit black's immediate counterplay in order to score the point.
18. c3 Re8 19. Bc2 Bc6 20. Bf4 Rbd8 21. Rad1 Bxf3 22. Rxf3 Be5
Black was faced with a choice between surrendering a second pawn or simplifying into a lost endgame. He chose the latter.
23. Bxe5 dxe5 24. Rfd3
White maintains control of the open file.
24... Rxd3 25. Rxd3 Kf7 26. g4! Kf6 27. h4
With the threat of 28. g5+ and white's rook infiltrating on either d6 or d7, black admitted defeat. Of course, the f5 pawn is taboo due to the discovered check.