The top of the table clash in the MCC Championship between established IM Guy West and up and coming junior Ari Dale was a bit of an anti climax. Guy won comfortably in a game where Ari never seemed to get going. It is interesting to see the opening choices on the higher boards as the players are working behind the scenes preparing before the games and aiming for certain sorts of games. It is instructive to follow their examples. Guy was white and has recently favoured a repertoire with 1.d4 and 2.c4. He has built a number of interesting combative systems that suit his flexible and aggressive style. However Guy can play a number of first moves and last night he reverted to 1.e4. So what does Ari think at that point? His main defence is the Caro Kann, though he can play 1..e5 and occasionally has played the Alekhine. So which to choose and why? Well I'm not sure what Ari had prepared for Guy's 1.d4 rep, but he tends to favour the Grunfeld. Did Ari prepare for 1.e4? If he did, then I wonder why he chose the Alekhine against Guy? If he didn't prepare for 1.e4, then I also wonder why he chose the Alekhine?
There are a lot of different ideas about preparing for games, but in my opinion it is better to play to your own strengths than to play against your opponent's weaknesses. Not that the Alekhine is a weakness of Guy's. In Big Database 2013 he has 13 games listed playing both sides of the opening (and there's 12 games in Ozbase, though quite a few cross overs). Funnily enough, there are no games listed with MCC stalwart and Alekhine expert FM Bill Jordan. I would be very surprised if Guy hasn't played a number of games over the years with Bill contesting the Alekhine Defence. In short, I would not really feel comfortable on either side of this opening against Guy West, and I think it was a mistake of Ari's playing this opening. After the first few moves, 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Bc4 we reach a position that has occurred in Guy's games a few times and one in which he has had success. The next formative part of the game saw Guy build on the typical white space advantage and develop naturally, while Ari's pieces seemed to find bad spots, especially his light squared bishop. Guy was allowed a huge initiative on the king side which he easily converted.
Perhaps it was a brave decision by Ari to test Guy out on fairly unknown grounds. However, that is a place that Guy tends to feel extremely comfortable, and I was a little disappointed that Ari didn't trust his Caro against Guy.
While Guy stays clear at the top with 4/4, the surprise player in clear second is Phillip Drew who beat higher rated Sylvester Urban with the black pieces. A further half point back sits the bunch including FM Dragicevic, FM Wallis, and FM Stojic. So while the field is spreading out, the higher rated players are beginning to rise to the top.
Next week's games will push the tournament past the half way mark and then there is a break for the traditional Ballarat weekender so round 6 will be 2 weeks after the next round giving the players extra time to prepare. There is still a,long way to go in this event, but Guy looks in ominous form at the moment.