[Event "2000 Pan American Intercollegiate"]
[White "Aigner, Michael"]
[Black "Ng, Kit-Sun"]
This game was played in round 4 of the 2000 Pan American Intercollegiate team championship held in Milwaukee. This was a big match for the Stanford Cardinal, as we faced a formidable team featuring two IMs (Yan Teplitsky and Igor Zugic) from the University of Toronto. Since I was the only member of the team playing a lower rated opponent, it is obvious that I had to win.
1. e4! c5 2. Nc3
Although I have developed a reputation as a 1. f4 specialist, I prefer a more manly opening when I must play for a win. The closed Sicilian has become one of my pets in the past year.
2... d6 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 Nf6
Black plays an unusual move order, perhaps trying to confuse me into making a concession. More standard is 4... g6 and 5... Bg7 with a possibility of 6... Nf6.
5. d3 g6 6. h3
The point of black's fourth move is that the immediate 6.Be3 is met by 6... Ng4 7. Bd2 Bg7 8. h3 Nf6 and white has nothing special. However, more precise for white is 6. f4, transposing into known lines.
6... Bg7 7. f4 e6
A very committal move! Black indicates very early that he is playing for a d6-d5 pawn break.
This knight belongs on e2, so that white can castle and proceed with a normal kingside expansion plan (g4, Ng3, f5). The text also has the drawback of blocking the g2 bishop's diagonal.
More accurate seems to be Rb8, with the intent of advancing the b-pawn to b4 without blocking a6 as a possible square for the c8 bishop. I am also mystified why my opponent didn't castle somewhere around now.
This is an aggressive move that controls the d4 square and sets up tactics against the c5 pawn by undermining the d6 pawn with e4-e5.
9... Qc7 10. O-O b6
Although black has played rather passively so far, he has a solid position, in part due to white's error on move 8. I anticipated that my opponent was preparing d6-d5: for example, 11. Qd2 d5 12. exd5 (12. e5 Nd7 intending to castle and play f6) Nxd5 13. Nxd5 exd5 14. d4 c4 and black's bishops both become more active.
11. Ne2 d5 12. e5 Ng8?!
Nd7 followed by castling and f6 seems more precise. Obviously black wishes to relocate the knight on either f5 or d5. White would like to play 13. c4 Ne7 14. Nc3 hitting the d5 pawn and threatening to hop to d6 via e4 if the pawn moves. Unfortunately, 14... d4 wins a piece. Hence, the following prophylaxis.
13. Bf2 Nge7 14. c4! O-O
Black finally castles, perhaps too late. Moving the d5 pawn permits the maneuver:Ng5-e4-d6. White has significant pressure against black's center and has a small but comfortable opening advantage.
In the closed Sicilian, theory says that whoever manages to successfully support a pawn advance to f5 first has the advantage. However, here black errs badly, and although the game lasts another 30 moves, this is a decisive positional blunder.
White rejects 16. d4 dxc4 (16... cxd4? 17. Nxd4 Nxd4 18. Qxd4 Rd8 19. cxd5 Nxd5 20. Nxd5 exd5 21. Bxd5+ Kh8 22. Bxa8 Rxd4 23. Bxd4 with an advantage to white) 17. dxc5 bxc5 18. Bxc5 Rd8 as promising but tricky. The text provides a clear positional edge to white with a static pawn structure and several permanent weaknesses on black's camp.
16... Nxd5 17. Nxd5 exd5 18. d4!
This fixes black's d5 pawn as a weakness and a target for future tactics.
18... c4 19. Qd2 h6
Now that white has obtained a favorable position with a somewhat static central pawn structure, he has to relocate his pieces in order to convert the point. Since black has no immediate threats, white has time to maneuver his f3 knight to e3, from where it attacks d5 in conjunction with the bishop and also supports g3-g4 with pressure against f5.
20. Ne1 Be6 21. Nc2 Rfd8
Black desperately needs counterplay with his queenside pawns before white's pieces are coordinated for a decisive kingside attack. The text defends d5 while allowing the g7 bishop to access the b4 square via f8.
22. Ne3 b5 23. g4!
Having identified d5 as one target, white's next objective is to create a second weakness on f5.
Worse is 23... fxg4 24. hxg4 where white's threat of connected passed pawns on e5 and f5 is unstoppable and crushing.
24. gxf5 gxf5 25. Nc2
Eliminating all counterplay by black, such as 25. Kh2 Nb4 26. Rg1 Kh7 and now 27. Bf1 to prevent the knight from getting to d3. From a psychological perspective, I hoped to frustrate my opponent by offering him zero chances as his clock ticked under 15 minutes to reach move 45.
25... Qf7 26. Bf3
White proceeds with a plan of rook activity along the g-file and bishop infiltration via h4 and h5, while still maintaining a watchful eye on the weaknesses on d5 and f5. I was already dreaming of playing 32. Qg2 with threats against black's king as well as the d5 pawn.
26... Ra7 27. Kh2 Qe8 28. Rg1+ Rg7 29. Rxg7+ Bxg7 30. Rg1 Kh8?
Better is Kh7, keeping another piece on the key g6 invasion square. Despite the trades of the past moves, white's advantage has increased, as black's three weaknesses (d5 and f5 pawns plus his king) are not easily eliminated in the face of white's increased piece activity.
31. Bh4 Rd7 32. Qg2 Qf7 33. Qg6
Black cannot afford to trade queens, as 33... Qxg6 34. Rxg6 loses one of the minor pieces on the 6th rank. Here it becomes painfully obvious how critical black's error on move 30 has become.
So instead, black does what he should have been doing much sooner: counterattack! This is a critical moment of the game for white if he entertains hopes of winning. (A) 34. Qxf7 Bxf7 and white's attack has disappeared. (B) 34. Bf6 Qxg6! 35. Rxg6 Kh7 36. Rxg7+ Rxg7 37. Bxg7 Kxg7 with a dangerous endgame because of black's queenside majority. (C) 34. Bh5 b3 35. axb3 axb3 and now only the computer move 36. Na1! saves the day: 36... Nxd4 37. Bf2 Nc6 38. Nxb3. I quickly realized that the only way to proceed was to neutralize black's pawns immediately.
34. b3! cxb3 35. axb3 Rc7
This being a team match, at this juncture I looked at the other games. With the team up 1.5-0.5 but FM Philip Wang in an inferior position on board 1, I knew that I had to play cautiously, yet to win. In all likelihood, the result of the match would be determined by my game. Since my kingside threats were not yielding anything concrete, I decided to regroup my forces for a second wave of attack. Also, by changing the focus of my attack, I force my opponent to respond accurately despite time pressure.
36. Qg2 Qf8 37. Qe2
Promising yet somewhat less than clear is 37. Bxd5 Bxd5 38. Qxd5 Nxe5 39. fxe5 Rxc2+ 40. Rg2. Being a little low on time myself, I chose something more concrete.
Certainly 37... Qc8 looks more normal. The text lets white's knight back to e3.
38. Ne3 Qc8 39. Qg2 Nc6 40. Nxd5
Finally I have the courage to liquidate the pawn structure that was established on move 18. Ironically, maintaining the pawns with 40. Rd1 is more precise, as black can't defend d5 enough times. Nonetheless, white is winning.
40... Bxd5 41. Bxd5 Nxd4 42. Qg6 Qd7
Here's a problem for all students of tactics: white to move and win! Hint: moving the d5 bishop is wimpy.
43. Bf6! Rc2+ 44. Kg3
Mate in 6! For example: 44... Ne6 45. Kh4 (45. Bxe6 works too) Rg2 46. Rxg2 Qf7 47. Qxh6+ Kg8 48. Rxg7+ Kf8 49. Qh8+ Qg8 50. Qxg8#.
44... Ne2+ 45. Kh4 Rc7
Black makes time control with a few seconds to spare. But...
46. Qxh6# 1-0
Stanford defeated the University of Toronto 2.5-1.5 and went on to tie for 3rd place in the 2000 Pan American Intercollegiate.