The best of…
I’ll be the first to admit it: Any ‘the best *something*’ is pretty subjective. In any case, there’s one move this past year I was really happy about. It might be because this particular tournament was a disaster for me and I needed to be happy about something, but I digress. Consider the following position:
White is facing the unpleasant threat of 18…b4, which would quite simply be disastrous as the knight on c3 would have to give up its protection of the e4-pawn. However, addressing this issue is certainly not easy, as 18.a3 does not change things for the better after 18…a5. If anything, it’s black who improves his position by this insertion, as more lines will open towards white’s king.
The logical way to solve the problems in the position is therefore to eliminate the attacker – a.k.a. the knight on f6. My first thought was that 18.Rxd6 would be pretty good, with the idea of meeting 18…b4 with 19.Rxf6. The alternative 19.e5 (instead of Rxf6) was not very tempting, as it would allow access for the black pieces to f5. One of my main priorities was to keep this central pawn. One very important job it has, is to keep the black knight out of play on h6. After 19.Rxf6, black replies 19…bxc3! and white’s position is completely destroyed – try for yourself! One important tactic is 20.Rd6 cxb2+ 21.Kb1 Nf5!!
So using the rook to eliminate the knight didn’t really work. 18.Bd4 should get rid of the knight, but white can’t allow himself to eliminate the knight at all costs. If black continues according to plan, 18…b4 19.Bxf6 Bxf6, he can be pretty happy about his strong black-squared bishop on the long diagonal. In fact, after the further moves 20.Na4 Nf5!? 21.Qd3 Ng7!, black is getting ready to put pressure on the f4-pawn, while white isn’t really doing much at all.
Seemingly, I’ve looked at all the options of eliminating the attacker. None of them are satisfactory for white. The solution? Just give up the knight on c3! Though, it must be said – if it were black to move, the continuation 18…b4 19.Rxd6 bxc3 20.Nxc3 Nh5! would leave black not only a piece up, but also with a significant development advantage. Fortunately, it’s my move first, and I went 18.g4! Now the brute force 18…b4 is not very good for black. White sacrifices his knight with 19.Rxd6! bxc3 20.Nxc3. The transformation is stunning. White controls just about every single square in the center! No more worries about a pawn kicking away the knight on c3 now. Black’s knight on h6 on the other had is definitely a sad sight. All in all, white’s position is much better, in addition to being much easier to play.
Sometimes positions have unorthodox solutions. In the actual game, black decided to take the g4-pawn en passant. After 18…hxg3ep 19.Nxg3, white’s e4-pawn got the reinforcements it needed, and b4 is longer as frightening.