1.d4 I was in combative mood and had spent the morning preparing the Modern. It was a bit of a surprise when he opened with the d-pawn but I decided to stick to my guns.
1...g6 2.e4 Back into it!
2...Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 a6 5.a4 This came as a surprise but he told me afterwards he'd prepared this for Mike Steadman the previous day.
5...Nc6!? I was feeling creative and wanted to avoid simply transposing back into the Pirc with 5...Nf6.
6.h3 [6.d5 would try and refute my last move but now the a-pawns have moved Black can play 6...Nb4 As long as the knight doesn't get trapped Black is doing pretty well: 7.a5 (7.Nce2 a5 8.c3 Na6~~ ) 7...e6= ]
7.d5 [7.Nf3 exd4 8.Nxd4 Nf6 would reach some sort of Philidor structure. The pawn moves on the a-file favour Black as it is now very dangerous for White to castle queenside. Black has a simple plan of putting pressure on the e4-pawn. Often White would defend with f2-f3 but that's not really compatible with h2-h3 as g3 would become very weak.; In the post-mortem Matthieu said he recalled the engine preferred 7.dxe5 but during the game he wasn't convinced. 7...Nxe5 (7...Bxe5 8.Nf3 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 looked interesting but rather double-edged.) 8.f4 Nc6~~ White is in danger of over-extending. Black's ...Nb8-c6xe5-c6 is one tempo slower than the normal ....e7-e5xd4 but White doesn't really want to have played either h2-h3 or a2-a4. (8...Qh4+ looks tempting but 9.Kd2 Nc6 (or 9...Ng4 10.hxg4! Qxh1 11.Nd5 ) 10.Nf3 both give White the initiative. Developing with tempo is probably more important than the misplaced king.) ]
7...Nce7 [7...Nd4 was the alternative but I felt the knight exchange favoured White. 8.Nge2 Nxe2 9.Bxe2 f5 10.exf5 gxf5 (10...Bxf5 My engine thinks recapturing with the bishop is close to equal but Black would really be suffering here with his lousy g7-bishop and White's wonderful outpost on e4.) 11.Bh5+ Kf8~~ with a very complicated position.]
8.g4?! Diagram This isn't an aggressive move. Instead Matthieu wants to block up the kingside before attacking on the queenside. This is quite a usual plan in the King's Indian but doesn't quite work here as Black is very flexible. [8.Nf3 f5 9.Ng5 was what I was expecting. However after 9...Nf6 my engine prefers Black. Apparently White can't utilise the scary knight jump here. (9...fxe4 10.g4~~ (10.Ncxe4 Nf5 ) ) ]
8...f5 9.f3 [9.gxf5 gxf5 10.Qh5+ Kf8 You can compare this position with the line after 7.Nf3 and 8...Qh4+. The check doesn't seem to achieve very much and now I would be able to gain time on the queen.]
9...c5! I think this was a good move. I need to play this before he's ready to capture en-passant and put pressure on the d6-pawn. Now I have more control of the centre and can fight back on the queenside. [9...Bh6 10.f4!? worried me.]
10.a5 The pawn now becomes a target but otherwise I don't know what plan he should adopt. White's main problem is that he has nowhere safe for his king. Black's king, on the other hand, is perfectly safe on the kingside. [Perhaps White should have changed the nature of the position with 10.dxc6 bxc6 Black's centre looks formidable but with 11.Bc4 Bb7 12.Qe2 d5 13.0-0-0 Black's position looks very impressive but at least White has some active piece play and a safer king.]
10...Nf6 Putting pressure on e4 and so preventing Na4-b6 ideas. [In these structures Black's g7-bishop is blocked in by its own pawns. Therefore I considered 10...Bh6 but after 11.g5 Bg7?! feels very slow. It's not clear how I ever develop my g8-knight. This would actually be a dream scenario for White as he can successfully keep the kingside closed. (I wanted to get 11...f4!? to work but here White can play 12.Bxc5 ) ]
11.Qd2 Diagram Surprisingly after this logical developing move White's position feels almost strategically lost. [In the post-mortem we came to the conclusion that White has to try 11.Bc4 0-0 12.Qd3 Now White is threatening to play Na4 as the e4-pawn is defended. (12.Bxc5? isn't as scary if he hasn't yet moved his queen as now it'll take him longer to castle. 12...dxc5 13.d6+ Kh8 14.dxe7 Qxe7 15.g5 Nh5 16.Qd2 Nf4-/+ ) 12...Kh8 (12...Bd7 is also fine as 13.Bxc5?! dxc5 14.d6+ Kh8 15.dxe7 Qxe7 still isn't very convincing. I can meet 16.0-0-0 with 16...Bb5!-/+ ) 13.Na4?! This was the tactic I was desperately trying to avoid, while Matthieu was frantically analysing at every opportunity. The idea is that after 13...Qxa5+ 14.b4! My queen will be trapped whichever way I take the pawn. However my engine pours cold water on the entire line as 14...Qd8 15.bxc5 dxc5 16.Nxc5 b6! is very good for Black. White's pieces are actually really clumsy, in particular the c4-bisop is close to being trapped.]
11...0-0 12.Bc4 Kh8 Getting out of the way of Bxc5 ideas.
13.Nge2 Bd7 My plan is to put a piece on b5, either my bishop or f6-knight via ...Ne8-c7-b5.
14.g5?! Taking pressure off the e4-pawn but the price is too high. [14.Bg5 was a better plan, although it's still not clear how White ever manages to get his knight into b6.; 14.0-0 h5 looks extremely scary for White. Black has a fantastic version of a normal King's Indian; his kingside play is in full swing while White hasn't really started his queenside counterplay.]
14...Nh5 Diagram Look at that fantastic outpost on f4.
15.Na4? This was the point of the previous move but White had overlooked a tactic.
15...Nc8 Stopping the knight and threatening ...f5-f4 picking up the g5-pawn.
16.exf5 Rxf5 17.Rf1 So the g5-pawn is safe.
17...Bxa4! My other threat.
18...b5 19.axb6 Nxb6 White drops the exchange.
20.Bb3 Nxa4 21.Bxa4 Nf4 Disgusted White threw in the towel. He's the exchange down and Black also has the initiative. 0-1