IM Jan Van de Mortel (2516)- GM Alexander Stripunsky (2652)[D02]
Fairfield County Masters, 12.07.2014
[Lowinger]



1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6
Stripunsky is a specialist in offbeat openings. On the international stage, the text is a favorite of Serbian GM I. Miladinovic. The knight appears not only useless on c6, but harmful to Black's position: because White opened with the center pawn that is already protected (i.e. the d-pawn), Black's knight does not apply meaningful pressure there; on the other hand, the knight blocks Black's own c-pawn, which could either support his center with c7-c6, or attack White's with c7-c5. One wonders how Black can make sense of the knight's positioning.

3.g3 Bf5 4.Bg2 e6 5.0-0 Nf6 6.c4
White, by contrast, does not block his c-pawn, and can now use it as a battering ram against Black's center. Please note that although the move is technically a sacrifice, Black would have to abandon his center with dxc4. This empowers all of White's pieces, most notably his bishop on g2, whose diagonal has just been lengthened. White will more than regain the pawn after Qa4 (with ideas of Ne5, Qxc4, and massive coordinated pressure against Black from all directions)

6...Be7 7.Nc3 Ne4
Black is fighting against White's "Catalan bishop". With the text, he hopes to wrest the e4 square for his light-square bishop, so that it can firmly oppose White's bishop on g2. In the above note, I gave a brief sketch of the kind of problems Black can have if that bishop's diagonal isn't stuffed.

8.Qb3
A strong, active move. The harmony of White's piece deployment is evident: there is coordinated pressure against Black's d5 pawn and center.

8...Nxc3 9.bxc3 Na5
"Knights on the rim are dim", but Black doesn't have much choice. From a static positional perspective, he is worse, so he compensates for this with activity. The knight, while not placed well from a static perspective, is forcing the action and giving Black play.

10.Qa4+ c6
This is the central strengthening move that Black had rendered unnecessarily difficult for himself to play because of his 2nd move. Now he gets it in, but at the cost of sending his knight to a5. If his knight were on the d7 square right now, we'd have a comparatively unremarkable position. It's important to keep in mind, though, that grandmasters are playing a different game than mere mortals. It's not that they don't know the fundamental rules; of course that's absurd. It's that they know them so well that they know when they can be stretched and even broken. In this case, Black may be getting just enough play to compensate his precarious-looking knight placement.

11.Nd2
A superb positional move, and the only one to maintain an advantage. cxd5 is a horrible positional mistake, opening the c-file for Black's rook when his c3 pawn is backward and the c4-square is also weak. White's move, Nd2, also prevents Black's intention as I described before, for Black to place his light-square bishop on e4, thereby neutralizing White's own bishop.

11...0-0 12.f3??
Funny things happen in the money round. White had been playing so well, and should continue logically with e4, striking again at the center. Instead, he makes this gross tactical oversight, losing material and handing Black a technically won position instantaneously and irreversibly. In such cases, some players with the Black pieces would offer a draw, knowing White is "obliged" to accept or face a near certain loss. Stripunsky, though, puts his game face on and reels in the full point.

12...Nxc4 13.Nxc4 b5
This intermezzo is the point. White doesn't recoup his pawn deficit.

14.Qa6 bxc4 15.e4 Bg6 16.Rb1 Qc8 17.Qa5 Bd8 18.Qa4 Bb6 19.Kh1 Rd8 20.Be3 e5 21.Rbd1 Qe6 22.Rfe1 dxe4 23.fxe4 exd4 24.Bxd4 Rac8 25.Bf3 h6 26.Kg2 Rd7 27.Bxb6 Rxd1 28.Rxd1 axb6 29.e5 b5 30.Qa6 Bd3 31.Qb7 Rf8 32.Qxc6 Qxe5 33.Qxb5
It's hard to believe this move was actually played, but we all know the sheer despondency that sinks in when we've ruined a good opening and are forced to play a hopelessly lost position move after move. Probably White was also in time pressure and simply overlooked that Black's queen defended this pawn. To the skeptics I say: remember that Stripunsky himself, just a few years ago, outright hung his bishop straight in the opening, in no less an event than the US Championship itself, and resigned the game before reaching move 10. Such things do happen, as long as humans are human! 0-1