[Event "32nd People’s Tournament"]
[White "Aigner, Michael"]
[Black "Yap, Nicolas"]
Playing against one of the young rising stars of local chess is always a difficult proposition with either color. My opening move was not so much a statement of confidence in the Bird’s opening but instead an attempt to play on my terms rather than play into my opponent’s preparation.
1… Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. d3 d6 6. e4 c5 7. Nc3 Nc6
The Bird’s opening often transposes into other more common variations. In this game, neither player was surprised to see a closed Sicilian on the board. This could also have arisen after the standard move order: 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 d6 6. f4 Nf6 7. Nf3 O-O.
Application of basic opening principles suggests White should, in the words of a longtime friend of mine, “castle now and philosophize later.” Indeed 8.O-O has been played in Grandmaster practice, including the following game between Nigel Short and Garry Kasparov in 2001: 8. O-O Rb8 9. h3 b5 10. a3 a5 11. Be3 Nd7 12. Rb1 b4 13. axb4 axb4 14. Ne2 Bb7 15. g4 Ra8 16. c4 e6 17. g5 Re8 18. h4 d5 19. e5 Ne7 20. Ng3 Qc7 21. Bf2 Nf5 22. Rc1 Nxg3 23. Bxg3 Red8 24. Qe2 Ra2 25. Bf2 Bf8 26. Nh2 dxc4 27. dxc4 Bxg2 28. Kxg2 h5 29. gxh6 Bxh6 30. Be3 Qb7+ 31. Kg3 f5 32. Rcd1 Re8 33. Rf2 Re7 34. Nf3 Qe4 35. Qd3 Qb7 36. b3 Ra3 37. Rfd2 Ra7 38. Qc2 Qa8 39. Rd6 Ra2 40. Qd3 Ra7 41. Rd2 ½–½.
If Black tries 8… Ng4? then 9.Bg1 Be6 10.h3 Nf6 11. Bf2 and both sides lose a tempo shuffling their minor pieces. However, White’s bishop and rook pawn are better placed on f2 and h3 than they were on e3 and h2. For example, White might later play Nc3-d1-e3.
9. h3 b5
Black expands on the queenside as he should against the closed Sicilian. If he can open some lines, then the g7 bishop and b8 rook converge on the b2 square to yield a significant positional advantage.
10. Ne2 b4 11. O-O a5 12. Nd2
Denying Black the opportunity to undermine the e4 pawn with the pawn break c5-c4.
12… Qc7 13. g4
While Black marches forward on the queenside, White typically plays on the kingside using pawn advances such as f4-f5 and h4-h5. His goal is simple: checkmate.
Two important squares in the closed Sicilian are d4 and f5. Practice shows that if one player controls both of these squares, then he usually can claim a theoretical opening advantage. More commonly, one player controls d4 and the opponent fights for f5. In this game, White has gone to great lengths to deny Black access to the d4 square, even playing Nc3-e2 for this purpose. White’s last move fights for the other key square. Consequently, White has a comfortable position because he maintains control over both d4 and f5.
13… Ba6 14. Rb1 Nd7 15. Nf3 a4?!
Black continues playing on the queenside, perhaps under the false impression that his kingside structure is resilient to attack. This game demonstrates the true power of such an attack. Black instead should have played more cautiously and fought for control of the critical f5 square. For example: 15… e6 16. Qe1 f5! 17. Qh4 Rbe8 or 16. g5 f5! 17. gxf6e.p. Nxf6. In each case, both knights defend the kingside via f6 and e7.
16. h4! Qb6?
This pointless queen move simply loses a tempo. No better was lashing out with 16… h5 17. gxh5 gxh5 18. Ng3, leaving Black’s kingside wide open with most of his army stuck on the other side of the board. Black should engage in a plan involving e7-e6 and f7-f5 before it is too late.
17. h5? Nd4?
It is often said in both chess and life that patience is a virtue. In this case, White’s impatience should have brought his attack to a screeching halt. After 17… Nf6!, the threat of gaining a tempo with Ng4 is difficult to parry. Let’s consider three options: (a) 18. hxg6? Nxg4! 19. gxh7+ Kh8 20. Bc1 f5! controls the vital f5 square; (b) 18. g5? Ng4! (Nxh5 wins a pawn but opens the h-file for White to use later) 19. Bc1 c4+ 20. d4 e5! overpowers the d4 pawn; (c) 18. Nh2!? (probably the best move) Bc8 19. f5 Nd4 takes advantage of the central knight outpost. In each variation, Black wins a tempo by forcing one of White’s minor pieces to retreat and also fights for one of the two critical squares in the closed Sicilian: d4 and f5.
A more precise way for White to pursue the attack was 17. g5, which prevents defenses based on Nf6. Of course, White still intends to push h4-h5, possibly as soon as the next move.
18. Ng3 Nb5 19. Qd2 Qc7 20. Qf2 c4
Black continues to ignore the kingside while losing yet another tempo with his queen. On the other hand, White’s queen prepares for an invasion of the kingside via h4. At this point, White is prepared to sacrifice his entire queenside as long as he gains enough time for a mating attack.
Let the attack begin!
21… hxg6 22. Ng5 a3 23. e5!!
Suddenly all of White’s pieces come alive! The e5 pawn is poison due to tactics that often more resemble a game of bughouse than one of classical chess: 23… dxe5? 24. N3e4! and now (a) 24… Rfc8 25. fxe5! Nxe5 26. d4; (b) 24… Rfd8 25. Nxf7! Kxf7 26. Ng5+ Ke8 27. Ne6; (c) 24… Nf6 25. Qh4! Rfe8 26. Nxf7! Kxf7 27. Ng5+ Kg8 28. Bd5+! e6 29. fxe5 exd5 30. exf6 Bxf6 31. Rxf6. Finally it becomes clear that the game will be decided on the kingside and not by calm positional play on the queenside.
23… e6 24. N3e4! d5
After 24… Rfc8 White wins with 25. Qh4! Nf8 26. Nf6+! Bxf6 27. exf6 Qd8 (only move) 28. Ne4 Nh7 29. Rf3! The mating pattern of Nf6+, exf6, Qh6 and Qg7# also appears in many other variations.
25. Qh4 Rfe8 26. dxc4
Alternatively, White crashes through with the direct 26. Qh7+ Kf8 27. Bc5+ Nxc5 28. Nf6 Ke7 29. Qxg7 Rf8 30. Nfh7.
26… dxe4 27. cxb5 Bxb5 28. Rfd1 Nf8 29. Nxe4 Nh7
Black is busted here. For example, 29… Bc6 allows 30. Nf6+! Bxf6 31. exf6 Nh7 32. g5 Kh8 33. Qh6! Rg8 34. Kf2! with a forced mate ending with Qxh7+ and Rh1#.
At first glance, it may appear that White is retreating. There is no checkmate on the h-file, but the following variation would have been the most precise way to win: 30. Rd2! Bc4 31. Kf2! g5 (Black must sacrifice a pawn or else Rh1 is fatal) 32. fxg5 Bxe5 33. Rh1 f5 34. gxf6e.p. Instead, White chooses to consolidate by defending c2 and then convert his superior minor pieces and extra pawn into a full point. The damage has been done.
30… Bc6 31. g5 Rec8
White wins more material and the game. Although it looks rather ugly, Fritz suggests 31… Bxe4 as the most stubborn defense.
32. bxa3 bxa3 33. Bb6 Qe7 34. Nd6 Ba4
If 34… Bxg2, then the zwischenzug 35. Nxc8 wins an exchange.
35. Nxc8 Rxc8 36. Rd2 Nf8 37. Ba5 Rc4 38. Rb7 Nd7 39. Bf1 Rc8 40. Qd4 Bf8 41. Qxa4 Qc5+ 42. Rf2 1-0