And so I awoke with a thirst for battle, but not a reckless battle, but one prepared beforehand, like a decisive encounter in a war. Hence the stages in my opening preparation, carried out on the morning of the game.Lev Polugayevsky, Grandmaster Preparation (Pergamon, 1981).
First I had to decide the question: should I play what I normally play, or should I try to surprise my opponent with my choice of opening? My second made his recommendations to me on both possibilities, and we began considering opening with the king's pawn. In its favour, apart from its surprise value, was the fact that afer 1. e4 Portisch feels much less confident...
"But if it should be a Lopez, what then?" I asked dubiously.
"Play the Italian Game!"
"But I never played it even as a child!"
"So much the better! Portisch plays only the variation with ...Bc5."
And I was shown a multitude of variations of primordial antiquity, which had been worked out taking Portisch’s games into account...
I hesitated, and was all ready to agree, when I suddenly sensed: this is no way to play! This is not the way to plan a decisive battle. After all, if I were to fail to gain an advantage from the opening, I would not forgive myself for having betrayed "my sort" of chess.
Horton-Kalaiyalahan, British Championship (Aberystwyth) 2014, round 11. Position after 13. e3-e4.
I had a disappointing time of it in Aberystwyth. Not that I was expecting to show up on the prize list or anything, but I'd hoped to give a decent account of myself, play a few titled players, maybe even have an influence on the championship by taking part in a crucial game and in the end I did none of these things.
None of these things except the last, since I did, in the end, in the last round, have a crucial influence on the women's championship.
This was between two players: Amy Hoare, who won the title, and Akshaya Kalaiyalahan, who began the last round a point behind her rival. Hence Kalaiyalahan had the opportunity to catch up should she win in the last round and Hoare be defeated. Hoare - who did indeed lose her game - had a difficult last round opponent. Kalaiyalahan had a rather easier one, since she was paired against me.
As it was a morning start in the last round, not much time was available for opening preparation, but Angus French, who, though not present, kindly acted as my unpaid second*, sent me some of her games, giving me just time to cobble together a scheme against her apparently inevitable King's Indian Defence.
Apparently, but not actually, since she replied to my 1.d4 with 1...d5. Well, I've been there before and after a couple of minutes we had 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Bf5 6. e3 e6 7. Bxc4 Bb4 8. O-O O-O 9. Qe2 on the board and a position I've played many times before. With both colours.
My preference when Black is for 9...Nbd7 and then 10. e4 Bg6 but hers was for 9...Bg6, a viable move and one I've neither played nor met. I have, however, looked at it, more than once, both to consider playing it and to consider how to play against it.
Not for years, mind, so I couldn't remember anything much, but 10. Ne5 is obvious enough. So after 10...Nbd7, is 11. Nxg6 hxg6. Then 12. Rd1 - because the rook always goes to that square - and after 12...Qa5 I played 13. e4 bringing us to our original diagram. It's a pawn sacrifice. I didn't think particularly long before playing it.
The books - where "books" means Burgess and Vigorito - prefer 13. Bd2, reckoning that Black is OK after she takes the pawn with 13...Bxc3 14. bxc3 Qxc3. Maybe she is and to be honest I hadn't really worked out what I was going to play if she had. All I was working on is that I've played a lot of Slavs and I just assume that if White gets that pawn centre, two bishops for two knights and a chance to kick the black queen around, that ought to constitute some kind of compensation for the pawn.
White doesn't have to sacrifice the pawn. But once he's offered it, Black does have to take it. Otherwise she's just playing with knight against bishop and against a pawn centre which - since the white-squared bishop is off the board - she can't put under very much pressure. It's just a mediocre position, or so it seems to me. So it seemed to me at the time. Not because I knew the theory, but because I knew a little bit, from experience, about that kind of position.
But Kalaiyalahan apparently didn't. She sat and thought. Presumably her preparation hadn't gone that far. Nor, I'm guessing, did her experience extend to having played these positions before. She sat and thought. And the more she thought, the more I knew she wasn't going to take the pawn.
In the end she didn't, playing 13...Qh5. It doesn't lose, as such, but White's much better - and after 14. Qxh5 gxh5 15. f3, 15...c5? probably does lose. So pretty soon, rather than having two bishops for two knights and a big centre as compensation for a pawn, I had both those advantages and the extra pawn as well. In the end it was a nice game for me, an easy one, in which I just had to make a few sensible moves and then found I was winning.
If only I'd had a game like that much earlier on. But it can't have been much fun for Kalaiyalahan, who lost her chance to share the women's title without putting up so much as a squeak of a fight.
Now I can't know for sure what happened before the game, but I do know that in an earlier round, she'd lost on the Black side of the Fianchetto King's Indian. The Fianchetto is, as she will have discovered when preparing, my variation of choice when playing against that opening.
So I am going to speculate that having lost that game, in that line, and having discovered that she was going to have to play that same line again, she decided to drop the opening she knew and surprise me instead.
Which is OK. It might have worked. But as it turns out, I wasn't nearly as surprised as she was. It's a risk: if you don't play the lines you normally play, and hence that your opponent is expecting, you may well sidestep their preparation. But what happens if you're walking into their experience instead, while leaving your own experience at home?
The second is the point made by Polugaeyevsky. You might win whatever you do. You might lose whatever you do. But at least, if you do lose - and even if you lose badly - at least you will have lost your way.
After all...I would not forgive myself for having betrayed "my sort" of chess.Very true, Lev. Very true.
[* = hence differing from Ray at Tunis in three respects, har har]
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