White is clearly better here thanks to the strong center but it is not so easy to capitalize on the advantage.
23.g3! as pointed out by Stockfish is a thematic but still surprising pawn sacrifice. The point is that after 23. … Nxh3 24.Rff1 Black’s knight on h3 would be stranded and White’s follow-up of Ne4–f6 would be quite hard to meet. For instance 24. … g4 25.Nh4 Ng5 would run into 26.e6! and White is winning.
23. … d5
Now Black is somewhat more stable.
24.Bf5 Be6 25.Bxe6 Qxe6 26.Rff1
26.Nb3! would have still guaranteed a nice edge for White, heading to the c5–square.
26. … Rg8 27.Ng1 Ne7 28.g3 Nh5 29.g4?
A move that’s hard to explain. White worked so hard to evict the knight from f4, why allow it back!? 29.Ne2 and the position would still be much better for White.
29. … Nf4 30.Ngf3 Rg7 31.Rh1 h5!
Launching the counterattack, and Black is now better.
32.Kg3 f5 33.exf6 Qxf6 34.Ne5 Qd6 35.Ndf3 Rf8
The engine believes the position is still close to equal, but it is quite difficult for White to hold on here, as the king is potentially quite vulnerable. Omya continues maneuvering until she finds the right configuration to break through.
36.Qd2 Nc6 37.Qe3 Kg8 38.Rhf1 Ne7 39.Qd2 Qh6!
Eyeing the h3–square.
40.Rh1 c6 41.Qe3 Nc8!
A strong maneuver, bringing the knight to d6 and then either e4 or c4. Now White’s defenses simply get stretched too far.
42.Kf2 Nd6 43.Kg1 was the only way to hold on for now but after 43. … Re7 Black is on the verge of breaking through.
42. … Nd6 43.Nd2 Re7 44.Qe1 Rfe8 45.Rh2
A final mistake, but it was already an extremely difficult position for White.
45.Qe3 would be more stubborn but now it’s only a matter of time before Black’s pieces can find a way in. One idea is to play 45. … Qg7 followed by taking on e5 with a powerful exchange sacrifice in mind.
45. … h4+!
Spotting the winning tactic. This is the benefit of keeping the tension with the pawn on h5, Black could always threaten to open the h-file but kept her options open, as here the pawn is used to push White’s king into a devastating fork.
46.Kf3 Qg7 followed by … Nf7 if needed, and soon White’s position would very likely collapse.
45. … Rxe5!
A classic ‘removing the defender’ tactic. It’s all over now. As usual, the game was played out until mate!
White is down a pawn, but has a plan – Nd4, 0–0, and then look for play on the queenside.
16. … Qe7
16. … f6! was even more to the point. 17.b4 (17.Nd4 fxe5 18.fxe5 Rhf8 and White won’t be able to castle.) 17. … Qe7 18.bxa5 Nxa4 looks messy but should still be quite good for Black, who can use the c5–square.
17.Nd4 f6 18.0–0 h6
A bit slow, but things are still all right for Black.
19.Ra1 fxe5 20.fxe5 Rhf8 21.Rfb1
Keeping the rook for the attack.
21. … Kb8?
Too casual, Black needed to take measures against White’s incoming attack.
21. … c5! 22.Nb5 Bxb5 23.axb5 looks dangerous in view of the a-file, but Black’s knight on b6 will cover the a8–square and more importantly, after 23. … c4! 24.Bc2 Qc5+ Black would get huge counterplay–White must allow a queen trade with Qd4, otherwise Rf2 would cause too many problems. 25.Qd4 Qxd4+ 26.cxd4 Rf4 with a big endgame advantage.
Now the missing pawn is hardly relevant, White’s pieces can create a serious attack on the queenside.
22. … axb4
22. … Nc4! 23.Bxc4 dxc4 24.bxa5 Qc5 is unclear, and Black’s only way to stay in the game.
23. … Nc4! was again needed. 24.Bxc4 dxc4 25.Rxb4 c5 26.Rxb7+! Kxb7 27.Qb2+ Ka8 28.Qb6 where Black can only defend with 28. … Ba4!! stopping Qa6+, and the complications seem to peter out into a draw after 29.Nxe6.
This leads to a quick win, but is an objective mistake. Why not take with the rook and triple up on the b-file? 24.Rxb4! was much stronger, followed by Qb2 and Rab1 with a decisive attack.
24. … Na7?
24. … Qg5! would keep Black well in the game, challenging White’s queen and looking to play Qf4 with counterplay.
Now White is breaking through by force.
25. … c5
This speeds things up, but there was not much else for Black to try, as b5–b6 was coming to open lines anyway. If 25. … Qg5 26.Qc3 Qf4 27.b6 and White is winning.
In this game it felt like Black played a bit too casually after winning a pawn. An important lesson for all players — winning a pawn in the opening does not mean the game is over, both sides should continue to fight and look for active counterplay.
SICILIAN TAIMANOV B48
Cooper Ho (1835)
Jack Nathaniel Yang (1908)
2019 National K-5 Championship (6), 12.05.2019
Misplacing the bishop. 9. … Be7 may seem like a loss of tempo, but since White is going to be castling queenside anyway, the a3–pawn will prove as a useful hook for Black’s later b7–b5–b4 push.
A good reaction, pushing the bishop back.
10. … Bb6 11.Bxb6 Qxb6 12.0–0–0 0–0 13.g4
White has won the opening battle – his attack on the kingside is slow but steady, whereas Black has a hard time creating any counterplay.
13. … Rd8 14.g5 Ne8
14. … Nh5 would be met with 15.f4 followed by Be2. White has a solid advantage.
15.f4 Ne7 16.Bg2
The immediate 16.h4 was perfectly strong.
16. … Qc7
I’m curious why Black didn’t just play 16. … d5!? immediately. 17.exd5 (17.Rhe1 keeps a stable advantage for White.) 17. … exd5 18.Nxd5? would be met with 18. … Nxd5 19.Bxd5 Bg4! with counterplay.
17.f5 would be more to the point, as 17. … exf5 18.exf5 Nxf5 19.Nd5 Qb8 20.Rhf1 is tremendous for White.
17. … Rb8 18.h5 b5 19.Bh3?
This and the following moves are too slow. In the Open Sicilian, every tempo counts! 19.f5! was again very strong, getting ready to break through with either f6 or g6 next.
19. … Bb7 20.Rhg1 d5!
Black has finally caught up in development and launches this thematic break.
Now White finally goes for the break but it is already late, Black has enough counterplay in the center. 21.e5!? might have been an interesting approach, forcing Black to find 21. … d4! 22.Nxd4 Bf3! in order to keep the balance, and after 23.g6! hxg6 24.hxg6 Nxg6 the position would be quite messy.
21. … dxe4 22.gxf7+ Kxf7 23.Nd4 Nf5!
A strong move, forcing White to give up the bishop and fix Black’s structure.
24.Bxf5 exf5 25.Qe3 Bc8
This looks passive, but Black is now a pawn up and if they can keep everything under control, White’s initiative will completely burn out.
Another good move, defending along the 6th rank and preparing Rbd6 with lots of pressure on the d-file.
Somewhat desperate, but understandable. When the trend isn’t going your way, it can be wise to change the character of the game. But Black is able to keep their cool and accept White’s material sacrifice. Now 27.Qg5 can be met with 27. … h6 where White will have to go back.
27. … Rxd1+
27. … Bxf5 28.Nd5 is similar to the game.
28.Rxd1 Bxf5 29.Nd5 Qc6 30.Nxb6 Qxb6
White’s idea was to open things up and try to play against Black’s king, but there turns out to be not enough play, as Black’s two pieces should be able to coordinate and defend everything, after which Black should have a winning position. But of course, with the clock ticking, things are rarely so simple.
31.Rd5 g6 32.hxg6+ hxg6 33.Re5 Qc6
33. … Nf6 seems much simpler, bringing the worst piece into play.
34. … Be6 35.Qb4 Nf6 and White would have nothing.
A highly unfortunate blunder. The desire to trade queens is understandable, but tactics are everything! 35. … Nd6 would have kept Black in control. 36.Rc5 Qb6 37.Qd4 Kg8 and it is far from easy to convert this, though Black would still have good chances.
And just like that it was over. Cooper went on to draw his final game to clinch first place in the K-5 Championship.