Most chess players probably have that one opponent who, although they are otherwise no more skilled than you, seem to dominate you in face to face match-ups. One or two drubbings can be written off as bad form or bad luck, but anything more starts to look like a pattern.
Last week I was playing just that opponent in the Westfield Club Championship. Up until this year, we had played 4 times and I was down +0 -2 =2, with one of the two draws being a lucky save on my part. Then a few months ago we met again, and I was prepared, psychologically ready to trash my nemesis. After a cute tactical trick I was piece up in a rook endgame, when I decided under time pressure to sac back the piece to take the rooks off the board and transpose to a won king and pawn endgame (so I thought). It was only in the midst of this horrid combination I realized my opponent could promote a pawn if all the pieces were off, so I had to break off midway and try to defend a rook vs bishop endgame, which I ultimately failed to do. I would post the position except I think I would have to gouge my eyes out like Oedipus if I saw it again.
So now the score was +0 -3 =2, and worse I had another bad memory to contemplate. For this most recent game, I was reminded of Kasparov's comment about how Polugaevsky felt in a candidates match against Karpov - 'Is it altogether possible to beat this person?'
I have Black in this game:
1. e4 e5 Lately I've played the Ruy Lopez from both sides
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. d4 PxP Imagine my surprise to get the Scotch splashed in my face
4. NxP Nf6 Here I got ready for a dive into the complexities after 5. NxN bxN 6. e5!? Qe7
5. Nc3 Bb4 Instead we get the tepid 4 Knights
6. f3?! O-O
7. Be2 d6?! d5 is clearly stronger, but I was setting the ol' sucker trap, hoping...
8. O-O?? (Praise be!) NxN and 9. QxN?? is met by Bc5 pinning the Queen
Here White could have resigned, but given our record why do that? Thankfully, my opponent played on, because otherwise we would have been robbed of an interesting game (foreshadowing: I do not cooly convert my extra piece).
9. Bc4 Bxc3
10. bxc3 Nc6
11. Qe1 Be6?! d5 is already stronger
12. Bd3 Ne5
13. Bg5 h6
14. Bh4 Ng6
15. f4?! NxN
With few pieces left on the board, Black needs only one or two more consolidating moves to put paid to any White threats. I decided to maneuver my knight back to c5 with gain of tempo on the White queen, but I forgot to check all move orders thinking White simply had to avoid the queen exchange.
16. ..... Nd7?? But this traps the unfortunate bishop
17. QxQ RxQ
18. f5 Bxf5?! Bxa2 was surely better but I was not in an objective mood here
19. exf5 f6
Leading to the following endgame which will be discussed in Part 2. Looks easy, right? A pawn up (almost two with White's doubled isolated pawns), a knight that looks more mobile than its bishop counterpart. All true, but all the same it transpires that the White's position is almost defensible, and we will see that a draw can be achieved in some circumstances.