26. Meet your Opponent at the Bottom of his Performance Range!

As you might remember from earlier posts, I used the Spanish Exchange Variation as a transition line when doing the shift from the Italian Opening to the Ruy Lopez. By the time this game was played, I already had performed the jump from the Exchange Variation to the Spanish mainlines with 4.Ba4. Why did I resort to the Exchange Variation again in this game? To start with, there is no law forbidding this. When you change a variation, that doesn’t mean, you have to abandon the old line for good. After all, you invested quite some time accumulating all that knowledge. Wouldn’t it be a pity to throw all this into the bin? There always might come up an occasion, when you could take your good old line out of the drawer. You never know.

Well, this definitively was one of them….. In his peak years, John Nunn was one of the best attacking players in the world. That means, that he would play better than his rating (= basic playing strength) in sharp position, where he would enjoy some kind of imitative, and worse in more “boring” positions, especially if he would be on the defending side. Taking the rating he had during the game (2600) as a reference point, he would have been worth something like 2650 in sharp positions and 2550 in calm positions.

indexHere’s the rule: WHENEVER POSSIBLE, MEET YOUR OPPONENT AT THE BOTTOM OF HIS PERFORMANCE RANGE AND NOT AT THE TOP. In this game I followed this guideline. Instead of meeting him in the Marshall Attack, where he was considered a leading expert and would very likely obtain attacking chances, one way or the other, my intention was to present him a cooky so dry, that you have to cough at the very first bite.

[Event "Munich"]
[Site "Munich"]
[Date "1991.??.??"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Wahls, Matthias"]
[Black "Nunn, John DM"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C68"]
[WhiteElo "2560"]
[BlackElo "2600"]
[Annotator "Wahls"]
[PlyCount "115"]
[EventDate "1991.05.??"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "13"]
[EventCountry "GER"]
[EventCategory "14"]
[Source "ChessBase"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. O-O
Bd6 {Diagram [#] In a friendly blitz match, John once gave me a hard time with
this move. Consequently, I adopted it with the Black pieces. I always found it
more appealing than the more artificial looking moves such as 5..f6 (the
mainline) or 5..Qd6. Preparing for this game, I discovered an interesting idea,
which would give White some initiative. As it turned out later, I was only the
second user of that idea. The first one was Chevaldonnet in a game from 1980.
But in 1991, this game was not part of my database.} 6. d4 exd4 7. Qxd4 f6 8.
Be3 Ne7 9. Nbd2 Be6 10. Rfd1 {This preparatory move is necessary, since the
immediate knight sortie loses a pawn.} (10. Nc4 $2 Bxh2+ 11. Kxh2 Qxd4 12. Nxd4
Bxc4) 10... O-O $6 {Two rounds later Nunn switched to 10..c5 in his game
against Hort and a draw was agreed on move 14. But as it looks, 10..Ng6 is
Black's best option.} 11. Nc4 $1 {Diagram [#] That was my idea, and before,
the one of Chevaldonnet.} Bb4 {I didn't find any move here, which promises Black an equal game.}(11... Bxh2+ 12. Kxh2 Qxd4 13. Rxd4 c5 14. Rd2
Bxc4 15. Bxc5 Rae8 $1 (15... Rf7 $2 16. Rad1 Nc6 17. Nd4 $1 $16 {The knight
cannot be taken because of Black's weak back rank.} (17. b3 $2 {Szittar,A
(2210)-Pesztericz,L (2280) Zalakaros 1994})) (15... Rfe8 $2 16. Rd7 $16 {
Fuchs,J (1712)-Donath,J (1324) Berlin 2009}) 16. b3 $1 (16. Rd7 Rf7 17. Rxc7
Ng6 18. Rxf7 Bxf7 19. Rd1 (19. Re1 Bxa2 {with a tiny advantage to White due to
his more centralzed pawn mass.}) (19. Nd2 Rc8 20. b4 b6 $11) 19... Rxe4 $11 {
Loginov,P (1648)-Svrsek,R (2010) LSS email 2011}) 16... Be6 17. Re1 $14) (11...
Bxc4 12. Qxc4+ Kh8 13. Bf4 $1 (13. Rd2 {Coenen,N (2300)-Wunnink,M (2253)
Belgium 2016}) 13... b5 14. Qc3 Qd7 15. Rd3 Qe6 16. Bxd6 cxd6 17. Rad1 d5 (
17... Rad8 18. Qa3 $1) 18. Nd4 Qe5 19. f4 $1 Qb8 20. Ne6 $36) (11... Nc8 12.
Nxd6 cxd6 (12... Qxd6 13. Qc3 Qe7 14. Nd4 $14 {Rumyantsev,V (2349)-Mateev,G
(2342) ICCF corr 2009}) 13. Bf4 Rf7 (13... c5 14. Qd3 Rf7 15. e5 $1 $36 {
Kazantsev,R-Barros,R ICCF email 2001}) 14. Rd3 $14 (14. c4 {Hokkanen,P (2260)
-Joentausta,H Mikkeli 1996})) 12. a3 Qxd4 13. Nxd4 (13. Rxd4 $2 c5 14. Rdd1
Bxc4 15. axb4 cxb4 $11 {Chevaldonnet,F (2375)-Rosino,A (2305) Venice 1980})
13... Bxc4 14. axb4 $14 {Diagram [#] Finally, I got what I wanted from the
start: a dry position with the advantage on my side. His queenside majority is devaluated by the doubled pawns, whereas mine is completely healthy. Moreover, the pawn c7 constitutes a serious weakness, since it can be easily attacked by my bishop. On the other hand, the presence of the opposite colored bishops gives Black ample drawing potential. } Rfd8 ({Later, most games
have continued with} 14... Rfe8 15. f3 Ng6 16. Kf2 (16. Bf2 $5 {[%cal Gf2g3]})
16... Rad8 17. Rd2 Rd7 18. Rad1 Red8 19. b3 Bf7 $14 {The fact that the white
side could accomplish 4,5 points out of 5 suggests, that White's advantage is
quite stable.}) (14... Ng6 $14 {leads to a similar position. Here White scored
1,5/2.}) 15. Bf4 ({An email match with engine power developed differently:} 15.
b3 Bf7 16. f3 Rd7 (16... Ng6) 17. Ne2 Rxd1+ (17... Rad8 $2 18. Rxd7 Rxd7 19.
Nc3 $1 $16 {White's plan is simple: Na4-c5, and if that is prevented by b6,
than Nc3 and the a-pawn is en prise.}) 18. Rxd1 Ng6 19. Kf2 Ne5 $6 (19... Re8)
20. h3 Re8 21. f4 $16 {Dunwoody,M (2289)-Cavajda,I (2369) ICCF email 2005})
15... Rac8 (15... Rd7 16. b3 Bf7 17. Nf5 (17. Ne2 Rad8 18. Nc3 {[%cal Rd1d7,
Rc3a4,Ra4c5]} f5 19. f3 Bg6 20. Rxd7 Rxd7 21. Na4 b6 22. Nc3 fxe4 23. fxe4 Kf7
24. Rxa6 Ng8 25. Ra7 Nf6 26. Rxc7 Rxc7 27. Bxc7 b5 28. Bd8 Nxe4 29. Ne2 $14)
17... Rxd1+ 18. Rxd1 Nxf5 19. exf5 Rc8 20. f3 $14) 16. Nf3 {The goal is obvious: conquering the d-file.} Rxd1+ (16... Re8 17.
Bg3 Ng6 18. Nd2 Bf7 19. f3 $14) 17. Rxd1 Be6 (17... Ng6 18. Bg3 Nf8 $14) (17...
Be2 18. Rd7 Ng6 19. Bg3 Re8 20. c3 Rxe4 21. Nd4 Bc4 22. f3 Re7 23. Rd8+ Nf8 24.
Rb8 Bd5 25. Nf5 Rd7 26. Rxb7 $14) 18. Nd4 Bc4 $6 (18... Kf7 19. f3 g5 20. Bg3
Ng6) 19. f3 Kf8 $6 {Black should have secured space at the kingside at
some point.} (19... g5 20. Bg3 Ng6 21. b3 Bf7 22. Nf5 Be6) 20. Kf2 Ng6 21. Bg3
Ne5 $6 (21... Bf7 22. f4 Re8 23. Re1 $16) 22. f4 $1 {The exchange of minor
pieces is possible. Since I wasn't sure about the evaluation, however, I
preferred to maintain the status quo and rather expanded on the kingside.} (22.
b3 $5 Bf7 23. Bxe5 fxe5 24. Ne2 Ke7 25. Nc1 Kf6 26. Nd3 Rd8 27. h4 Be6 28. Ke3
Bc8 29. g3) 22... Ng4+ (22... Ng6 23. f5 $16) 23. Kf3 Nh6 24. h3 $1 $16 {
[%cal Gg3h2,Gg2g4] Diagram [#]} f5 $2 25. exf5 (25. e5 $5 Kf7 26. Bh4 Be6 27.
Kf2 Re8 28. Bg5 Ng8 29. Nxe6 Kxe6 30. Bd8 Ne7 31. c4 $16) 25... Bd5+ 26. Kf2
Be4 27. c3 $2 {The result of miscalculating the line 27..Nxf5 below.} (27. Re1
Bxf5 28. Bh4 Bg6 (28... Re8 $2 29. Rxe8+ Kxe8 30. Bg5 $18) 29. g4 $18) 27...
Bxf5 $2 {Apparently, John as well miscalculated 27..Nxf5. That's quite a
comfort.} (27... Nxf5 28. Ne6+ {This looks crushing at first sight, but Black
is still in the game.} Kg8 $1 {The only move.} (28... Ke7 $2 29. Nc5 Bxg2 $4
30. Re1+) (28... Kf7 $4 29. Ng5+) 29. Rd7 (29. Nc5 Bxg2 $1) 29... h5 $1 {
Again the only move. Otherwise White would be winning by playing Bh2 and g4.}
30. Nc5 (30. Bh2 h4) 30... Bd5 31. Nxb7 h4 32. Bh2 Re8 $1 33. Rd8 (33. Rxc7 $2
Re6 $1 {[%cal Re6g6,Rg6g2]}) 33... Rxd8 34. Nxd8 c5 $1 35. bxc5 Kf8 36. c4 Bxc4
37. Nc6 Ke8 {and a draw is very likely.}) 28. Bh2 Kf7 29. Nf3 Re8 30. g4 Bc8
31. f5 g6 32. fxg6+ $2 {Straightforward, but not the best.} (32. Bf4 $1 Ng8 33.
Ne5+ Kg7 34. fxg6 hxg6 35. Nf3 {The pawn structure is better for White than in
the game, because Black doesn't have the lever h5.}) 32... Kxg6 33. Bxc7 Nf7
34. Bf4 h5 35. Rg1 hxg4 36. hxg4 Re4 37. Nh4+ Kg7 38. Kf3 Re8 39. g5 Ne5+ $2 {
Black should have kept the element of opposite colored bishops in the game.}
40. Bxe5+ Rxe5 41. Kf4 Re8 (41... Re2 42. Rg2) 42. Nf3 {There is nothing Black can do to prevent the white king from invading the queenside on the dark squares}$18 {Diagram [#]} Rf8+ (
42... Rd8 43. Re1 Rf8+ 44. Ke4 Bg4 45. Ne5 Be6 46. Kd4) 43. Ke4 Be6 44. Nd4
Bd5+ 45. Ke5 Kg6 46. Rg3 Rd8 (46... Rf2 47. b3 Rb2 48. c4) 47. Rg1 Rf8 48. Kd6
Rf2 49. b3 Rd2 50. Kc7 Rd3 (50... b5 51. Rg3 Ra2 52. Nxc6 Bxb3 53. Kb6 Bf7 54.
Na5 $18) 51. Ne2 Rf3 52. Kxb7 (52. c4 $1 Be4 53. Rg3) 52... Bxb3 53. Rc1 $1
Kxg5 $6 (53... Bd5 54. Kb6 Kxg5 55. Nd4 $18) 54. Nd4 Rf7+ 55. Kxa6 Bd5 56. Kb6
Rf6 57. Rg1+ Kh5 58. Kc5 {Diagram [#] I don't know how you feel about the game.
But I think, in this defensive position type the Doctor performed clearly under
his normal playing level. There are players like Petrosjan, Andersson or Huebner, to name just a few, who consider it a challenge to defend critical positions. But I don't think, this is the area where John thrives. Consequently, he wasn't able to activate his full potential here. } 1-0

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