Black is usually fighting uphill for equality from Move 1. But then there are those games when it almost seems as if Black started with the initiative.

It’s quite rare to see a strong grandmaster get blown off the board with the White pieces in a quiet opening, but when it happens, it is definitely noteworthy!

Pantsulaia, L. vs. Akopian, Vl
18th Dubai Open 2016 | Dubai UAE | Round 9.2 | 19 Apr 2016 | ECO: E68 | 0-1
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. O-O O-O 5. c4 d6 6. d4 Nbd7 I never thought much of this setup for Black. It always struck me that White's extra space should promise him an edge
7. Nc3 e5 8. h3?!
8. e4 Would be my choice. It is a bit more direct  )
8... exd4 9. Nxd4 Re8 10. e4 Nc5 11. Re1 Bd7 The problem with playing h3 is already becoming apparent. White's best setup in this position is f3 and Be3-f2, but he is unable to effectively create that set up because he compromised his kingside with h3.
12. Bf4
12. f3 Nh5! 13. Kh2 f5! With counterplay  )
12... h6 13. Qc2 White is just one move away from having an edge. If he can play Rad1, he will have totally consolidated his center and have a pleasant space advantage. So, Black feels obliged to strike:
13... Nfxe4! a nice tactical shot. Black will lose the h6 pawn, but this is an excellent exchange for him
14. Nxe4 Bxd4 15. Qd2 Rxe4?! I like Black's spirit, but this is wrong
15... Bg7 There was nothing wrong with this, but it's definitely a bit more dry.
16. Nxc5 dxc5 17. Rxe8+ Bxe8 18. Bxh6 Qxd2 19. Bxd2  )
16. Bxe4? It's hard to imagine this automatic move is a mistake, but now Black takes control.
16. Rxe4! White needed to give back the material
16... Nxe4 17. Qxd4 With the dark squares weakened, White should have a slight edge, despite being down a pawn.  )
16... Qf6! Now the situation is out of control. Black already has one pawn for the exchange, his pieces are incredibly active, and both b2 and h3 are attacked.
17. Qc2?
17. Rab1! This was by far the most resilient, though Black is definitely better. The simplest would be:
17... g5 18. Be3 Nxe4 19. Qxd4 Qxd4 20. Bxd4 Nd2 When Wlack wins back his exchange and remains a pawn up. Still, with opposite-colored bishops, White would have drawing chances.  )
17... Ba4! another strong move. Black creates some unpleasant questions for the White queen, for which she has no answer.
18. b3 Personally I probably would prefer to resign than to play this move, but I can't fault White for not wanting to lose such a miniature.
18. Qd2 Bxb2 And the twin threats of Bxa1 and Bc3 decide things rather quickly  )
18. Qe2 Re8! Bringing the last piece into the attack  )
18... Bxa1 19. bxa4 Re8 20. Re2 Rxe4 21. Rxe4 Nxe4 22. Qxe4 Bd4 With an extra pawn and a superior structure, the game is effectively over. The rest was not necessary.
23. Qxb7 Qe6 24. Kg2 Qe2 25. Qf3 Qxa2 26. Bxh6 Qxc4 27. a5 Qa2 28. Qf4 Qd5+ 29. Kh2 c5 30. a6 Qa2


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.