Bruges Masters rounds 2 and 3: narrow escape (ENGLISH)

Today two games had to be played. For European players this is quite a tough schedule, but I will not complain since I recently saw a schedule of an American tournament which was really gruesome. I ended the day with 2,5 out of 3. The score is ok, but there is work to be done with regards to my play. In today’s games there were some really tough moments, where things could have easily gone wrong.

In the morning I was paired against the French player Christian Stevens. He played stronger than his rating suggested” or “He played stronger than his rating would suggest. After the opening I felt like I lost the thread bit by bit, so I had to change the character of the position.

Koen Leenhouts (2414) – Christian Stevens (2049)

Black is better. He has the pair of bishops and his pawn structure is better, as my passed pawn on d5 is more of a weakness than a strength. Furthermore it is hard for White to get nice outposts for his knights. After a move like 27…Ra8 it would have been very hard to create play and keep my position together, but fortunately for me my opponent became too materialistic and he took on c5 with 27…Bxc5? According to Euwe’s counting rules, Black gains two points with this move, however, the value of connected passed pawns should not be underestimated. A few moves later the position was

Here I have to decide which pawn to push. I thought it was most logical to play 31. d6. With two pawns on the sixth rank it should be hard for the defender to block my pawns. The engine however gives 31. c7! as way stronger. The big difference is that Black’s b-pawn is now much less dangerous, as becomes clear after, for example: 31… Ra8 32. d6 Ra1+ 33. Rc1 Rxc1+ 34. Nxc1 fxg3 35. Ne4 and White will win, although it looks still quite dangerous. In the game Stevens didn’t defend in the best possible way and after move 38 the position was like this:

Here I have a couple of strong moves, but I chose 39. Rb8 Rxc6 40. d8.Q 1-0

2 out of 2 with the third round to follow really soon. Here, I had to play with Black against the strong Dutch youth player Khoi Pham. His rating of 2128 stemmed from the pre-corona area and as a youth player I imagined he would be quite a bit stronger by now. Unfortunately, I played the opening poorly and, I have to say, my opponent played with impressive precision. After White’s move 20 the following position occurred:

Khoi Pham (2128) – Koen Leenhouts (2414)

From a material point of view, things are equal, but White has a really big advantage: he has a strong bishop against a vulnerable knight en most of all, his king is extremely safe compared to my horrible king’s position. All of this meant that it was time to change the character of the position:

20… Nd2! The exclamation work is attached, because I force my opponent to make some difficult choices in a winning position, which by itself already is a good thing. His best choice was to sacrifice an exchange with 21. exd5, but those complications are not that easy to assess. Khoi chose a different, logical move 21. Qb7+ and now I had to play 21…Kf6, because 21…Qd7 loses to 22. Qb4+ with a double attack. Now, he played 22. e5+ and although my position is still miserable, I was quite happy to see this move as the position will become closed and a closed position offer long-term prospects for my knight against his bishop if I have the luck to survive, 22…Kg6 23. Rfd1 Nc4 24. h4 h5 25. Bf1 Nxa5 26. Bd3+ f5

I thought the worst was over by now, but White has a beautiful win which I do want to show you: 27. Rxa5! Qxa5 28. Qc6! Rae8 29. Bxf5!! Kxf5 30. Qc2+ when Black can not escape mate. Beautiful, isn’t it? Fortunately for me, my opponent missed his chances and a draw was soon agreed.

Tomorrow there is one round and I will play white on a live board:

Tournament website: https://sites.google.com/view/brugsemeestersbe/home

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