I thought I would, briefly, share what worked for me while competing for the IM Title. I hadn't planned it, but in short order, I entered the Charles Warburton Memorial in September 2009, the Champions League Team Tournament in January 2010 and a World Championship Preliminary in March 2010. With so many tough games, I decided to limit my opening selections to those I had played often and tried to be economical with playing time. This worked well, as I did not have any games where I was defending for a long period of time or where I felt the need to rush moves. For several years I have tried to play sharp openings but head for an advantageous endings at the first opportunity. This paid off and many of my wins where long difficult endings where I had all of the winning chances. This game is my favorite from the Warburton Memorial. I thought I needed a full point to make an IM Norm and I was able to find winning chances in a complex, but only slightly better ending.
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e5 7. Nf3 In spite of a narrow opening repertoire, I managed to get to a position I've never played in CC by move 7. I do have a friend that plays this line regularly in blitz, so I was somewhat familiar with the positions that arise.
7... Be7 8. Bc4 O-O 9. O-O Nc6 9... Be6 Challenging the c4 Bishop is also a sensible idea.
10. Qe2 This line does not seem to be doing well for White Re1, Bg5, Bb3 are options
10... Na5 11. Bd3 11. Bd5 Bd7 with the idea of Rc8, Bc6 seems okay for Black.
11... Be6 12. Na4 A somewhat unusual move and I could not find any OTB games, however there were a handful of master strength CC games.
12... b5!? This allows a pawn structure concession, but an active position for Black..
12... Nd7 was the move selected in previous games. 13. c4 Rc8 14. b3 Nc6 15. Nc3 White is playing for a bind on d5 and has some space advantage.
13. Bb6 Qd7 14. Bxa5 bxa4 15. Bd2 Qc6 As we transition to the middle game it's good to assess the opening. White is likely a little better because of the doubled a-Pawns, but Black has good counter play. There is enough pressure on e4 to limit White's options, Black will also get pressure on b and c files, and, as always, White needs to prevent d5. To me this was a good outcome, especially when trying to get positions with winning chances with Black.
15... Rfc8 16. Ng5 Bg4 17. f3 Bh5
16. b4!? Playing to keep Black's doubled Rook Pawns on the board.
Probably better than 16. b3 h6 Preventing Ng5 (for 16.. .. axb3 see game notes). 17. Rac1 Nd7 heading for c5. 18. Be3 Rfc8 19. Rfd1 a5 20. Nd2 axb3 21. axb3=
16... Rfc8 16... axb3 is tempting, however Bc4 seemed like a strong move and 17. axb3 prevents it.
16... a3 is also an idea but I did not like allowing 17. c4
17. Rfc1?! A waste of time. Which Rook belongs behind the c-Pawn? Probably the a-Rook. White will have to play a3. Why not play it now and decide which rook later?
17... Bc4! White will now have trouble getting in c4.
17... a3 again allows 18. c4 Rab8 19. Rab1
18. a3 Rc7 19. Re1= Thus, White losses a tempo because of move 17 and Black is equal or possibly slightly better.
19... Rac8 20. Nh4 A thematic move in the 7.Nf3 line and I was surprised White had played so long on the Queenside.
20... g6 With the white-squared Bishop doing duty elsewhere there's no way I can let this Knight get to f5.
21. Nf3 Nh5 a little tit-for-tat? I'm also thinking about playing f5.
Worth considering is 21... Bxd3 22. cxd3 Qb5 ( or 22... Qc2)
22. Bh6!? I'm still not sure this is best, but the plan to work on the black squares around my King has merit.
22. Rac1 Ng7 23. Bh6 Ne6 24. Qd1 Qb5 25. Bxc4 Qxc4 Looks just slightly better for Black.
22... Bf8 22... Qb5!? is also playable.
23. Be3? White should continue with the plan to remove the black square defender 23. Bxf8 Kxf8 (23... Rxf8 24. Bxc4 Qxc4 25. Qxc4 Rxc4 26. Rad1 Rd8 27. Nxe5 Rxc2 28. Ng4)
24. Qe3 Nf4 25. g3 Nxd3 26. cxd3 Bb5 27. Qh6+ Kg8 28. Ng5 f6 29. Ne6 Re7 30. d4! Black is better, but it seems the exposed King will make it very hard to make progress.
23... Nf4 24. Bxf4 exf4 25. Nd2 Bxd3 26. cxd3 Bg7 27. Rab1 d5 28. exd5 28. h3 White could try to avoid exd5 but the position becomes very complex 28... h6 (28... dxe4 29. Nxe4)
29. h4 Re8 30. Qg4 Qc3 31. Qxf4 Rce7 32. Qe3 White has trouble protecting the a-pawn because of the Bishop on the long diagonal.
28... Qxd5 29. Nc4 Black's pieces are very active, but the pawn structure makes finding a win problematic.
29... Rd8 30. Qg4 30. Rbc1 f3 31. Qxf3 (31. gxf3 Qg5+ 32. Kh1 Rcd7 33. Rg1 Qf6)
31... Qxf3 32. gxf3 Rxd3 33. Kg2 and I thought this long variation to be best play and a draw 33... h5 34. Re8+ Kh7 35. Rc2! Rd4 36. Ne3 Rxc2 37. Nxc2 Rd2 38. Rc8 Bf6 39. Rc5 Bd8 40. Ne3 Bb6 41. Nc4 Bxc5 42. Nxd2 Bd6 43. Ne4 Bf4 44. Nc5 Bc1 45. Nxa6 Bxa3 46. Nc5 Bxb4 47. Nxa4
30... Rc6 31. Rbc1 f3 The logical way to continue.
32. gxf3?! 32. Qxf3 Qxf3 33. gxf3 Rxd3 34. Kg2 Looks like a holdable endgame.
32... h5 33. Qh3 Qg5+ 34. Qg2 34. Qg3 Qf5 35. Rcd1 Rxd3 36. Ne3 Qb5 37. Rxd3 Qxd3 38. Qb8+ Kh7 may be better, but White likely did not see Black's 35th move.
34... Qf5 35. f4 35. Rcd1 Rxd3 36. Ne3 Qb5 37. Rxd3 Qxd3 See comment to White's 34th.
35... Rf6! This allows a Knight fork at d5 but nets two Pawns and an exposed King for the exchange.
White's idea was 35... Rcc8 36. Qe4
36. Ne3 Qxf4 37. Nd5 Rxd5 38. Qxd5 Qxf2+ 39. Kh1 Qb2 40. Rf1?! missing the best line.
40. Rb1 Qxa3 41. Qc4 Temporarily boxing in the Queen is the only way that offers a chance of holding the game. From my notes 41... Rf2 42. Re8+ Kh7 43. Ra8 Be5 44. Rxa6 Kh6 (44... Rf4 45. Qc2 (45. Qd5)
45... Rxb4 46. Rxb4 Qxb4 47. Rxa4 Qe1+ 48. Kg2 h4 seemed scary for White, but after looking a long time I could not find a win.)
45. Qc1+ Qxc1+ 46. Rxc1 Rxh2+ 47. Kg1 Rb2 48. Rxa4 h4 49. b5 g5 50. Rf1 (50. Rc8 h3!)
50... Kg6 51. d4 Bf4 52. d5 Rxb5 53. Rd1 Rb6 Although still defending, in this line, White has some drawing possibilities because of the limited material. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to test this analysis.
40... Qxa3 41. Rc8+ Kh7 42. Rxf6 Qa1+ 43. Kg2 Qxf6 44. Rc7 Qb2+ 45. Kf3 a3 46. Qxf7 Qd4 47. Kg2 Qg4+ 48. Kf2 Qf5+ A little analysis shows that after the forced Queen trade the game is lost for White -- 49.Qxf5 gxf5 50.Rc2 Bb2 and the a-pawn can't be stopped (e.g., 51. Rc7+ Kg8 52. Rc8+ Kf7 53. Ra8 a2 54. Rxa6 a1=Q 55. Rxa1 Bxa1). It's interesting that one of the weak a-Pawns decides the game!