In Fischer’s day this was hardly unheard of, but now, in the time of arranged draws or what Larsen described as “fear and laziness” draws, it’s rare for one player to score a picket fence like this.
How did I do it? A glib answer is that I refused the draw offers! Yes, in three out of the seven games, my opponents’ offered draws—but I felt the positions were interesting, and was able to play on and win.
Let’s take a look at the games, and search for the answer to the “perfect” score.
This game was won in the opening. I was finishing my book “Slay the Sicilian” for Everyman, and of course had done a thorough study of the Najdorf variation, and I particularly recommended the line played here, which Carlsen used to defeat Nakamura. I knew that 8… Be6 was best, and I (like Carlsen) had defeated the inferior 8… 0-0— see my wins against Tatev Abrahamian and Andranik Matikozian. I knew that my opponent’s played move, 8… b5, had not been played at a high level, so I immediately suspected something was wrong with it—and it didn’t take me long to discover what it was: after 9.a4! Black already has no good move, since his played capture destroys his own pawn structure, while 9… b4 practically loses by force to 10.Nd5!
After obtaining positional advantage I won with some nice tactics on the focal point f7.
My opponent not only never offered a draw, but was exceptionally polite!
I easily obtained the advantage in the opening with Black (the book 4.d4 is both correct and necessary) and carried it through the middle game to the critical point that occurs after 26.Qd3, when White offers to exchange queens. The obvious answer, and the first variation I considered, is to simply take the queen: 26… Qxd3 27.Rxd3 Rfe7 when Black has several endgame advantages: the better minor piece, the e file, more space and potential breaks on both wings. The computer says it’s only equals over plus, but I think practically the advantage is greater, as Black is the only one with play in the position.
I nonetheless made a non-objective decision to keep the queens on, hoping to attack, while speculating on White’s weak king position. From a Fritz point of view this is incorrect—however, the sudden shift from slow grind to tactical melee evidently disturbed my opponent! He offered a draw on move 29, I refused, and he blundered only two moves later. By taking a risk I won faster than I would have with the “correct” endgame grind—but I don’t necessarily recommend this style of play!
This was another opening win courtesy of my work on Slay the Sicilian. I had made a deep study of the Dragon variation in general for the book, and Karpov’s games against this line in particular, and I had come to the conclusion that Black’s played 8… a5 was a mistake. This committal move creates permanent weaknesses at b5 and b6, as Karpov often demonstrated.
In our game, after my 15.Bc4, both b5 and b6 are under White control, and the threat is 16.Na2, winning the BQ—Black is lost.
While this game was won in the endgame, the foundation of the victory can once again be seen in the opening. I had recommended the line I played here in my book Alekhine Alert, and cited the game Saemisch-Alekhine from Budapest 1921: 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. Nc3 e6 4. Nxd5 exd5 5. d4 d6 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be2 Be7 8.Bf4 O-O 9. O-O f6 10. exd6 Bxd6 11. Qd2 Bg4 12. Rfe1 Re8 13. c3 Ne7 14. Bxd6 Qxd6 15. Nh4 Bd7 16. g3 Nf5 17. Nxf5 Bxf5 18. f3 Re6 19. Bf1 Rae8 20. Kf2 Kf7 21. Rxe6 Qxe6 22. Re1 Qxe1+ 23. Qxe1 Rxe1 24. Kxe1 1/2-1/2. One sees that Black equalized with ease, though White struggled to a draw.
Likewise here I equalized easily and my opponent offered a draw very early, I think around move 9 or 10. While the position was level, I agree with Benko (who also turned down a similar draw offer vs. Durao) that there is something to the idea of making the opponent play “fifty correct moves” to prove the draw. In this case my opponent slipped somewhat earlier: he missed 18.Rad1! Rxe5 19.Rf1! Qe4 20.Rxd8+ Kxd8 21.Qxf7 with equality, and instead lost a pawn.
I was able to win technically by constantly threatening to exchange queens—which, when avoided, allowed me to set up a winning attack.
This was undoubtedly my worst game of the event, but I have a pretty good excuse! I had almost no sleep the night before the game (anyone with a five year old and a two year old can fathom the reason!) and after the long drive to the club was so exhausted I could hardly move the pieces.
Then my opponent completely misplayed the opening, and I obtained a winning position virtually immediately. Indeed, I saw that 13.d5 already essentially won by force, as the position opens up for White’s bishops, and the Scandinavian pawn structure can’t hold against this break. However, in my extremely tired state, I didn’t want to calculate the tactics that would be necessary in the open position that would arise, and convinced myself that Black’s position would fall of its own weight if I did nothing.
So I did nothing for a while, and my opponent courageously and actively improved his game with every move! After a heroic resistance, he even took over the advantage, and to my horror, I noticed that after I played 35.Rc7 that Black had 35… b5, when I could probably recover the pawn with 36.Rc5—but the concomitant loss of time would allow Black to activate his rook and both Ns, when White is at best struggling to draw! This was like a cold shower, and suddenly I was wide awake!
Fortunately my opponent was unable to adjust to the changed circumstance (from fighting to equalize to trying to capitalize on a slight edge) and made a few substandard moves, so that after 38.Rb8 I was back on top, with the two Bs and connected passed pawns.
Full of adrenaline now, I accurately converted the endgame advantage.
But this is no way to play! Tired or no, the positionally required and overwhelmingly strong 13.d5! simply had to be played, and the subsequent tactics could certainly have been handled—when the game would have been much shorter!
With apologies to my opponent, there’s not much to say about his game. White played one of those old and punchless open game lines, and Black was clearly better by move 12, with the two bishops and a mobile center—the rest was fairly easy technique.
This is one game where I did not get any advantage out of the opening, so after a while (I think it was on move 24) my opponent offered a draw. However, I once again wanted to see if he could make 50 correct moves, and declined.
I once wrote an article saying that one way to defeat the weaker player was to lead them into an ending, for few players below master really study the endgame. This is exactly what happened here. After my 27.g4, correct is 27… Qc8, when Black is fine. However, misunderstanding the ending, he played 27… Qf3, which is exactly what I was hoping for: Bishops of opposite color endings are not automatic draws! Here I have numerous advantages: better B, while Black’s cleric is hampered by his own d pawn; better K, which can quickly reach e5; and better pawns, as Black’s majority is lamed by his doubleton.
Perhaps precise defense might nonetheless draw, but as the game showed, my opponent was now out of his element, and I won in a few moves, completing the 7-0 picket fence.
As one can see, opening advantage (or more properly, deep opening study) played a big part in many of my wins but another factor is simply this: I wasn’t afraid to turn down draw offers!
I must thank the officials of the La Palma Club, who were very friendly to me, and who also helped make sure my wife and children were comfortable during my often very long games!
And as a final note, I am still looking for a sponsor who appreciates fighting chess! It’s probably too late for the North American Open (though if you buy the tickets, I’ll play tomorrow!) but the Western Class will be coming up March 9-11.