A cursory glance at Game One would suggest that Avrukh showed the difference in strength with a comfortable win. However, although Black's sluggish development system isn't highly regarded I think that he was doing OK and should have equalized. Mikheev's downfall was essentially due to overlooking 21 d6:
which refuted his pawn sacrifice.
Stanojoski demonstrates an interesting plan with ...Be6 and ...a5-a4 in Game Two and clearly wasn't afraid to play the middlegame with two knights against a pair of bishops. Instead things exploded with a speculative piece sacrifice which Fritz finds hard to believe. Although White later had a couple of chances to draw in the middlegame, Black gradually took control and obtained a winning ending with two knights against a rook, before panicking into a draw. It's sad to see how many games end illogically due to an over-accelerated time limit.
Not a good month for Levente Vajda and the Benko Gambit!
In Game Three things got messy after Black offered his e-pawn and again in the latter stages, i.e. after Black sacrificed the exchange. Although Vajda obtained interesting play, gambiting the e7-pawn doesn't seem to quite equalize on the evidence of this encounter. White more or less kept the better of things throughout in a competitive fighting struggle. Even so, at least White couldn't just switch on the auto-pilot, which happens all too often in the fianchetto variation!
Game Four is interesting for several reasons, one of which is the presence of living legend Henrique Mecking playing White. Vajda introduces a new plan by delaying castling and stopping e4-e5. His idea is worth investigating further but he may not have played it against the right opponent as Mecking responds well and plays an excellent game.
Here, after 21...e5!, White's temporary piece sacrifice with 22 b3! is noteworthy as is his handling of the queen and rook 'endgame'(?), although Black may have had some chances to hold with 35...h6.
A model example of what not to do with Black!
In Game Five Black didn't find an adequate plan against the early advance of White's queenside. This shows that even an experienced Grandmaster can get into difficulties if he hasn't read my Daring Defences column!
As I've already mentioned in previous updates Black's best way to react to b2-b4 is with an early ...Nc6 as you can see in the notes.
In the game White found an imaginative piece sacrifice to dissolve Black's centre and take control.
Black does better in Game Six where White tries Nh3 rather than the most popular Nf3. This knight later comes to f4 but Black's typical plan of ...Nb8-a6-c5 followed by ...e5 is solid as illustrated in this game and the notes. Tukhaev is however not satisfied with a draw and tries a slightly speculative pawn sacrifice with ...f4 which works well here but White frankly didn't defend very well.
A model win for Black involving a timely ...f4 and a king side breakthrough is the main theme of Game 7. What went wrong for White? I can't see anything dramatic, so my impression is that cxd5 combined with all this knight manoeuvring (Nb1-d2, Nf3-e5-d3 and then Nd2-f3) doesn't give any advantage.
Sometimes White plays e2-e3 to stop ...f4 ever being effective and Van der Stricht will certainly be more aware of this possibility next time!
Berczes achieve an edge out of the opening against one of Simon Williams' favourite ways of handling the Dutch in Game Eight. Sikula rather optimistically sacrificed his queenside pawns for activity in the complications that followed and spent the rest of the game trying to equalize. Neither side missed anything dramatic except that White could have had a nice ending with two pawns, the bishop pair and an active rook as well as the passed a-pawn all for the exchange.
Here, perhaps 11...Nc6 rather than 11...Qe8 should have been tried.
Albin Counter Gambit
This exciting gambit is featured in games 9 and 10.
Banikas playing Black probably enjoyed his creative effort against Babula, but must have had some regrets at the end. After sacrificing a knight in the following position:
(after White's last move 12 g3 Black set the cat amongst the pigeons with 12...Ne3!) which was refused, he soon followed up with a combination which began with a dangerous rook offer. This one had to be accepted! Later, with great attacking chances for the exchange he missed a win with a king retreat and instead simplified into a rook ending where any winning chances were minimal.
Here, after 23 Rf3?:
Black could have won with 23...Kg8!! So Banikas's novelty on move 6 in Game Nine might lead to further interest in the Albin.
In Game Ten Black exploited White's lack of mobility brought on by the cramping effect of the Albin pawn on d4. The bishop pair was impotent against well-placed Black pieces and White's occupation of the e4-square didn't lead to anything as White's potential pawn breaks with f2-f4 or e2-e3 were double-edged at best.
I don't believe that the plan of 7 Bg5 followed by 8 e5-e6 gives anything to White.
Till next time,