It used to be hard to prepare against Maia because she had a very wide opening repertoire.
I knew that this game could impact the gold medal race. Therefore, I invited a sharp game by choosing the Sicilian Defense, as I was aiming for victory to help Hungary win the gold.
The main move. White maintains the option to play the open variation (with d2-d4) or a side variation.
I usually like this move. This gives me the option to decide between the Accelerated Dragon and the Sveshnikov variation.
This is the Rossolimo variation of the Sicilian Defense. At one time, it was considered to be an unambitious side line. However, in the recent years it has become very popular. Unlike the more direct 3.d4, which leads to more aggressive play, in this variation White plays a more positional game.
The next piece to develop will be my bishop on f8. 3…e6 is an equally good alternative.
In general, bringing the king to safety by castling is a priority. However, White could have delayed it by one move to trade on c6. After exchanging the bishop for the knight, Black will be forced to double pawns on the c-file. Black would have compensation for it by having the advantage of the bishop-pair. In this variation, it is a matter of taste as to whether to take on c6.
After Black’s previous move, this continuation is a must.
5.c3, to prepare d2-d4, and 5.Nc3 are also common choices.
This was a big decision. On one hand, it takes control of the e5- and d4-squares and stops White from playing e4-e5 (for example after 5…Nf6). On the other hand, it weakens the d5-square and blocks the influence of the black bishop on g7.
This was White’s last opportunity to trade on c6, which actually is the most logical move. Otherwise why bring the bishop go to b5 in the first place.
Now after 7.Bxc6 Nxc6 Black would gain the advantage of the bishop-pair without incurring doubled pawns.
This came as a total surprise to me. It is very rarely played at a professional level. After the calmer 7.d3 0–0 8.Be3 d6, Black gets comfortable play by preparing f7-f5.
At this juncture of the game, psychology played a big role. I was not willing to find out what Maia and her coaches prepared for me if I accept the pawn sacrifice. Although I have no doubt that Black could safely take the pawn, I think that White would get compensation in the form of activity. That is why I chose the more practical approach. I did not want her to have any psychological advantage.
This was a strategic error. Opening the d-file only helps the black queen to gain power. Perhaps 8.a3 was better.
At this point, I really liked my position. I thought the only chance for White to fight for an advantage was if the d-pawn can advance to d4 at the right moment.
I expected 9.Ba3 b6 10.d4 exd4 and now either 11.cxd4 0–0 or 11.Nxd4 Bd7 (but not 11…cxd4 12.Bxe7). However, Black is fine in both of these variations. Therefore, objectively speaking, my opponent probably made the right choice.
It is time to find out which way will the bishop go.
After 10.Bc4, Black can play 10…Na5 and the bishop cannot escape from being exchanged.
Finally, the black king is safe and the knight on c6 is no longer pinned.
Developing the bishop and attacking the c5-pawn at the same time.
Protecting the pawn and preparing space for the rook to come to d8. 11…b6 would be fine as well.
Black has some difficulties after 12.Nbd2 Qxd3 (better is 12…b5) 13.Bxc5 b5 14.Bb3 Qxc3 (too greedy) 15.Rc1 Qd3 16.Bd5 because of the bishop pins.
A preventive move. Without it Nf3-g5 could be an unpleasant response if Black decides to play Bc8-e6 or f7-f5.
I believe my opponent anticipated my plan of playing f7-f5 in the near future. Therefore, she thought it was to White’s advantage to lure the black king to h7 on the same diagonal as White’s bishop on c2. In addition, the white queen is eyeing the a3-square to put pressure on the c5-pawn.
13…g5 would not be a bad choice either. However, I did not want to give up my plan of playing f7-f5 with the ability of recapturing after e4xf5 with my g6-pawn.
Finally all the white pieces are developed. However, Black has a small space advantage.
Securing the safety of the c5-pawn. White would gain some initiative after 14…b5 15.Nb3 c4 16.dxc4 bxc4 17.Nc5.
Attacking the queen and the b6-pawn.
The most obvious move. This move saves them both.
Putting more pressure on the b6-pawn.
Simply protecting the pawn. During the game, I did not like 16…b5 17.Ncd2 Qd6 18.Nb3. However, while writing these comments I found a nice improvement with 17…Nd4!.
White seems to go in the wrong direction. Black is solid on the queenside and ready to launch an attack on the kingside. The white queen will soon be missed in the defense of the king.
Finally! I wanted to play this move for a while, but it had to be well prepared.
If White does not capture the pawn, Black would play f5-f4 followed by g6-g5 and Ne7-g6 with a nice attack.
All other recaptures would be a serious positional mistake, because it would leave the e5-pawn isolated. It is somewhat unusual to keep the bishop on c8 undeveloped for this long. However, the bishop is doing its job by protecting the a6-pawn. Note that the bishop could not develop to b7, because it would lock the rook into protecting the b6-pawn.
Getting away from some future f5-f4 attack, as well as opening the e-file for the rook.
This is an ideal square for the knight. It guards the black king and aims at the kingside for attack.
The knight is heading toward the d5-square. White had a hard time coming up with a good plan. I think the knight should have stayed on c4 to attack the targets at e5 and b6. Perhaps it was time to get the queen back to the kingside.
Preventing White from playing Ne3-d5.
It would have been better for the knight to return to c4.
I want to get the bishop to the long diagonal a8-h1. I did not want to ease White’s problems by 21…Bb7 22.Qxb6 Qxb6 23.Rxb6 Bxf3 24.Rxb8 Rxb8 25.gxf3.
This is a poor idea. As we will see, my opponent was trying to vacate the h2-square for the knight. But that does not look too promising.
Threatening to capture on f3 and ruin White’s pawn structure.
After 23.Bd1 Nf4 24.Qc2 Rbd8, the d3-pawn is in trouble.
A dream place for the knight to attack the d3- and g2-pawns. The best part is that it can not be chased away with 24.g3 because the pawn on h3 would be unprotected.
Too slow. White cannot do much to address the future problems on the kingside.
Swinging the queen over to the kingside to g6.
Trying to reduce to power of the black bishop on c6.
This creates a pin and threatens to win a pawn with 26…Nxh3+.
Getting out of he pin to avoid losing the pawn.
Trying to remove the guard of the g2 square. If 27.Nxd5 Qxg2 checkmate would follow.
After 27.Rg1, Black can increase the pressure with 27…Ne2 28.Rge1 Ndf4.
Now is the time to cash in! It is obvious that Black has an overwhelming attack. But eventually there will be a time when one needs to calculate variations that lead to material gains or checkmate.
The only sensible recapture to protect g2.
We both had little time left to reach the fortieth move time control. Therefore, I was unable to find the quickest way to win with 28…Bxf3! 29.gxf3 Qg3 and White is helpless; for example, 30.Qc4 e4 31.d4 Qxh3+ 32.Kg1 Bxd4 33.cxd4 Rg8+ 34.Kf2 Qxf3 checkmate.
Reinforcing the f3-pawn. The threat from Black is 29…Nxg2 30. Nxg2 Bxf3 31.Rg1 Qh3 checkmate.
Time to act! Otherwise Bd2-e1 would chase the queen out.
If 30.gxh3 Qxh3+ 31.Kg1 Bf6 32.Ng2 Rg8 33.Rf2 Bh4 wins or 30.Be1 Qg5 31.gxh3 Qxe3.
White would get some counter play after 30…Nf2+ 31.Rxf2 Qxf2 32.Nxf5.
White could not grab the pawn with 31.Bxf5+?, as after 31…Rxf5 the knight on e3 cannot take the rook because it is tied to defending the g2-pawn.
Because of the miss on move twenty-eight, I now have to work a little harder.
Eliminating the bishop’s attacking power toward g2 and f3.
Bringing additional protection to the f5-pawn.
33.Rf2 would be a better defense, preventing 33…Ne2.
Black is threatening to checkmate along the h-file.
This is possible because of the pin on the f5-pawn.
Cutting off the bishop on b1, which was pinning the f5-pawn. After the direct 34…Qh5+, White was going to block with 35.Nh2.
The knight was under attack and it simply had to move away.
Threatening a deadly pin with 36…Qh5.
Trying to get some protection to the h2-square.
This is more precise than 36…Qh5 37.g4.
After 37.Nf1 Qh4+, White gets checkmated.
Renewing the same threats.
White has no choice.