Just a couple of weeks ago my boss from the Belgium team called to ask me and play in an important match. We have chances to make it to the top three this year, a somewhat surprising result taking into account the fact that we barely saved our skins in the previous season. Still, our team is young, and has the will to compete well, and I certainly wanted to help.
My possible opponents were P. Negi, R. Vaganian, Berelowitsch and V. Chuchelov. As Negi was playing Capelle at the same period, and Vaganian is not that active recently I concentrated my preparation to the latter two.
What was my surprise to discover that we are playing in the same train with GM Vaganian, one of the most colourful players of the 1980-ies!
Born at the same year as A. Karpov, he became a GM at a very young (for that time!) age of 19, was an USSR champion, contender for the world championship. Many people, including Garry Kasparov admitted his enormous practical talent, and strength.
This was the living legend that I had to face in the match:
Vaganian,Rafael (2577) - Bojkov,Dejan (2544)
Rochade - Amay Eupen (9.1), 04.03.2012
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 0–0 5.Bg5 [Vaganian chose to play chess instead to compete in the long forced (and modern!) lines.]
5...c5 6.e3 cxd4 7.exd4
7...d5 8.Bxf6 Bxf6 9.cxd5 [9.Nxd5 is the other main move. I have achieved an excellent position against Paragua about an year ago after: 9...Bg7 10.Nc3 Bg4 11.Be2 Nc6 12.d5 Bxf3 13.Bxf3 Bxc3+ 14.bxc3 Na5 15.Qd4 Qc7 16.Be2 Rfc8 17.0–0?! Nxc4і Paragua,M (2536)-Bojkov,D (2544) Los Angeles 2011 ]
9...Nd7 [Probably the best move for Black is: 9...e6!? and this was the move that Vaganian was afraid of: 10.dxe6?!
a) 10.Bc4 exd5 11.Bxd5 (11.Nxd5 Re8+ 12.Ne3 Nc6 13.Qb3 Kg7 (13...Re7 14.0–0 Na5 15.Qc3 Nxc4 16.Qxc4 Be6) 14.Bxf7 Re7 15.Bd5 Nxd4 16.Nxd4 Qa5+) 11...Re8+ 12.Kf1 Nc6;
b) 10.Qb3 exd5 11.Nxd5 Bg7 (11...Qa5+ 12.Nc3 Nc6 13.0–0–0 Bg4) 12.Ne3 Nc6 13.0–0–0 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 Bxd4 15.Bc4 (15.Kb1 Qb6) 15...Bxe3+ 16.fxe3 (16.Qxe3 Qc7 17.Qc3 Bf5) 16...Qc7; 10...Bxe6 11.Be2 Nc6 12.0–0 (12.d5 Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 Qxd5) 12...Nxd4 13.Nxd4 Qxd4 14.Bf3 Rad8 15.Qxd4 Rxd4 16.Ne4 Be7 (16...Bg7 17.Nc5 Bc4) 17.Rfc1 Rc8 18.Rxc8+ Bxc8 19.Rc1 Bf5 20.Ng3 Be6 21.a3 Rd2 22.b4 b6 23.Rc7 Rd7 24.Rxd7 Bxd7 25.Bd1 f5 0–1 Orlinkov,M (2384)-Maslak,K (2510)/Moscow 2008/CBM 122 Extra (39)]
10.Bc4 Nb6 11.Bb3 Bg4 12.0–0 Rc8 [I can regain the pawn at once with: 12...Bxf3 13.Qxf3 Bxd4 14.Rad1 Vaganian considered the position after: 14...Bxc3 15.bxc3 Nc8 as slightly better for White, as he has the possibility to attack on the king's flank with h2–h4–h5 and various rook lifts. This is precisely waht happened in my game against Paragua, therefore, I decided to make an useful move.]
13.Re1 Nc4?! [But this is dubious. Better was to either take on f3, or play something like:]
[13...a6 with the idea Rc8-c7 and eventually Nb6-c8-d6.]
14.Bxc4! Bxf3 15.Qd3 [15.Qb3 Bg4 is also possible.; My idea was to seek active play after: 15.Qxf3 Rxc4 16.Rad1 Qb6]
15...Bg4 16.Bb3 [Now White stabilized the situation and kept the extra pawn. There are no obvious threats, but he wants to improve his position slowly, and I do not have objects for counter attack. A human does not like situations like that one!]
16...Bf5 [16...Qb6 is awkward for Black- 17.Na4 Qxd4? 18.Qxd4 Bxd4 19.Re4±]
17.Qd2 a6! [Aimed against the plan with Ra1–d1 and Bb3–c2. My pieces will be repelled from the center soon, and it makes sense to find some targets on the flank.]
18.Rad1 b5 19.f3 [19.Bc2? Bxc2 20.Qxc2 b4–+]
19...Bg7 [Profilaxis. The immediate: 19...Qb6?! loses a pawn after: 20.g4 Bd7 21.g5 Bg7]
20.Ne4 a5 21.a3 Qb6
22.g4 [I was well prepared for this advance.]
[I planned to meet the move: 22.Nc5 with 22...Rc7 23.g4 Bc8 when the knight on c5 is not as fearsome as it seems.; However, once that I played the move I saw the knight retreat: 22.Ng3 and got scared for a moment. Luckily, there is a defense: 22...e6! 23.dxe6 (23.Nxf5 exf5 24.Re7 Bf6 25.Rd7 Rfd8 26.Rxd8+ Rxd8 is just equal as the extra pawn does not matter at all here- White's pieces are tied with its defense.) 23...Bxe6 24.Bxe6 fxe6
with a typical Gruenfeld-like compensation. There are weak pawns in White's camp, and the black bishop is clearly superior than the white knight.]
22...Bxe4 23.fxe4 e5! [The key defensive resource. The position is opened, and White's king start feel the air in its bones.]
24.dxe6 fxe6 25.Kh1 [The only inaccuracy from Vaganian this game. He could have put some more problems with:]
[25.Kg2! Still, I believe that Black should survive after: 25...Kh8 26.d5 (26.e5!? might be better.) 26...a4 27.Ba2 exd5 28.Bxd5 b4 29.axb4 Rb8 30.e5 Qxb4 31.Qxb4 Rxb4 32.Re2 Rfb8 33.Rdd2 Rxg4+=]
25...Rf3! 26.Ba2 Kh8! [Unfortunately, the ambitious: 26...b4 is not good due to the sudden tactics: 27.axb4 axb4 28.Bc4!
with the idea to support the bishop with b2–b3, and if: 28...Rxc4 29.Qe2]
27.Rf1 [After twenty minutes of thorogh calculation, Vaganian decided to liquidate into a draw endgame. This is the correct practical decision. In the line of his interest after: 27.d5 exd5 28.exd5 Rcf8 29.d6 Rf2 30.Re2? Rf1+ 31.Rxf1 Rxf1+ 32.Kg2 Qg1+ 33.Kh3 Rf3+ 34.Kh4 Bf6+ 35.g5 he could not see the win for Black, but it exists, of course- 35...Bxg5+! 36.Qxg5 Qd4+ 37.Qg4 Qf6+ 38.Qg5 Rf4+–+]
27...Rxf1+ [Now almost all the pawns are killed:]
28.Rxf1 Qxd4 29.Qxd4 Bxd4 30.Bxe6 Re8 31.Bd5 Bxb2 32.Rb1 Bxa3 33.Rxb5 Bb4 34.Kg2 Kg7 35.h4 Re7 36.Rb6 Ra7
This was a tough battle, in which we made almost no mistakes. Luckily for my team, we won convincingly with 5.5-2.5, and have good chances to make it to the top three.
And I had the pleasure to face and survive a true living legend!