Andrew Hards vs Mike Johnson

Summer League, Round 1. Only the reigning champions to contend with and whilst Dave Latham said he had struggled to get a side together, I still found myself up against Mike Johnson on board 3, who hasn’t lost a league match since last year’s summer league (not counting his defeat in the cup earlier this season!).

1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 I remember Mike being a French player from the Barnsley Blitz a year or so ago.

3…c5 4.b4 cxb4 5.d4 Ne7 6.a3 Nbc6 7.axb4 Nxb4 8.c3 Nbc6 I’m happy with this – Mike’s position is a little cramped and I’m already looking at c4…

9.Na3 Bd7 10.Bd3 a6 11.0-0 h6 12.c4 Objectively maybe not the best, but I’m keen to open up the centre of the board whilst Mike’s king is still in it.

12…dxc4 13.Nxc4 Dave confided in me here that his immediate thought had been to play 13. … b5. Probably not the best idea though.

13…Nd5 [13…b5?? 14.Nd6# ]

14.Ba3 The idea being to exchange off the bishops and sink my knight into d6.

14…Ncb4 15.Be4 Bc6 At this point, Mike was 35 minutes behind on the clock with around 15 minutes to make the time control. I felt that that as much as anything would give me some chances but the difficulty in this position is that it’s a difficult position!

16.Qb3 a5 17.Rac1 Be7 18.Nfd2 The king is getting away – so I need to be able to open up a new front.

18…0-0 19.f4 b5 I’m probably worse now (Fritz seems to think so). The two passed pawns are starting to become an issue and if I start swapping pieces off they’re likely to run home. I looked (briefly) at ignoring the threat and pressing on with f5 but there are other options – just none particularly appealing.

20.Nb2 [20.Bxb4 Bxb4 21.Nd6 Ra6 22.Qd3 Bxd6 23.exd6 Qxd6 ]

20…a4 [20…Nxf4! 21.Rxf4 Qxd4+ 22.Kh1 Qxd2 ]

21.Qf3 Rc8 22.f5 exf5 23.Qxf5 g6 24.Qh3 Bd7 25.Rxc8 Qxc8 26.Qxh6 A bit of good fortune and some severe time trouble on Mike’s part and I’m back on the board, already threatening Bxg6 and a potential perpetual.

26…Qc3 27.Bxg6 Qe3+ 28.Qxe3 Nxe3 29.Rf3 fxg6 30.Rxe3 Rf4 The time control has been made and Mike has barely a minute remaining – I had 20. The question now though is whether my extra pawn is compensation for Mike’s advanced passers and his bishop pair. Fritz appears to think so but I felt I was on the back foot now.

31.Re4 I thought this was forced, but perhaps e6 was better. [31.e6 Bc6 32.Nd3 Nxd3 33.Bxe7 ]

31…Rxe4 32.Nxe4 Bc6 33.Nc3 Kf7 34.Kf2 Nd5 35.Bxe7 Around abou t here, I thought I might end up having to sacrifice both knights for the two passed pawns and hopefully try and force Mike to mate me with knight and bishop.

35…Kxe7 36.Nb1 Fritz still scores this as less than -1.0 and Dave said afterwards he thought I might still be able to hold it. I wasn’t convinced personally!

36…b4 37.Nc4 Bb5 38.Nba3 This was the only move I could see that would hold things together – anything else seemed to allow at least one pawn a run for home.

38…Bxc4 39.Nxc4 Nc3 [39…b3 40.Na3 ; 39…a3 40.Nd2 ]

40.Ke3 b3 41.Kd3 Nb5 42.d5 a3 Fritz scores me ahead here. I needed to look deeper perhaps, as I saw nothing better than knight for two pawns…

43.Nxa3 [43.Nd2 b2 44.Kc2 Nd4+ 45.Kb1 Now I might be able to hold things together. If Mike’s king comes too close the central pawns march on. If Mike’s knight strays too far away, I pick up both pawns and might even have winning chances.]

43…Nxa3 44.Kc3 Quite probably a lost ending for me, but Mike has 5 minutes or so to win.

44…Nc4 45.Kxb3 Nxe5 46.Kc3 Ng4 47.h3 Ne3 48.g3 Nxd5+ 49.Kd4 Nf6 50.Ke5 Nd7+ 51.Kf4 Kf6 52.h4 Nc5 53.Kg4 Ne6 I thought I was in dire straits here – only the clock is my friend…

54.Kf3 Ng7 55.Kf4 Ne6+ 56.Kg4 Inadvertently I seem to have lost a tempo, which may suit me.

56…Ke5 An error in a complicated position under extreme time pressure… and now I think I force a draw.

57.h5 g5 58.h6 Kf6 59.h7 Kg7 60.Kf5 Nf8 With the offer of a draw which I accepted immediately – there’s no way for either player to win now as the final black pawn will come off and the black knight can stop the remaining white pawn. A fascinating, complex game and one that both Mike and I thoroughly enjoyed. Hopefully the rest of the summer league will be as engrossing! 1/2-1/2

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