Monthly Archives: July 2008

Stalled at the Finish

Round 8: White vs FM Lazaro Lorenzo de la Riva (2367, Spain). I managed to get back in the win column against the only person who beat me in Balaguer last year. That time, though, Lazaro had the white pieces against me.

The game can be replayed here.

He surprised me with the Benoni as Black, although I expected something new as he doesn’t have many games in the database. I played the Modern Main Line with 7.h3 and 9.Bd3 and he responded with maybe the most theoretical response in 9…b5. This was a bit of a surprise, but a bigger surprise was 14…Rd8. My recollection of this line was that 14…Nd7 was the main move, and that there was some reason 14…Rd8 was not best. I thought for about 10 minutes and played 15.Qe2!?, which was a surprise for him.

As it turns out, 14…Rd8 is reasonably common and usually transposes to the 14…Nd7 line after 15.Bf4. However, 15.Qe2 is an interesting way to play and a viable alternative to 15.Bf4. He played 15…Bf8, after which he was down one pawn, but he had some development advantage and a somewhat awkward knight on e3 to play against.

He was just getting more compensation with 24…f5!, but then he threw it all away with 25…Qe4? as the endgame is just lost. Better was 25…Nd6, heading for the e4-square.

Round 9: Black vs. GM Alexander Delchev (2618, Bulgaria). Another crazy game against a GM, and again, this one ended in a draw. Delchev is a very solid 2600+ GM, who loses pretty rarely and loses with the white pieces even more rarely.

The game can be replayed here.

The game was a Semi-Slav Meran with 8…Bd6, although the game left my preparation after 13.Ne2. He said after the game that he has analyzed this position a bit, and thought that white was just better – during the game, I thought it was rather unclear but probably about equal.

He soon sent all his pieces to the kingside, and on every move, there was the possibility of f2-f4 or Nh4-f5. With the clocks running down to about 20 minutes apiece, he decided to play it safe with 18.Nf3. This shouldn’t have posed any problems, but a few inaccuracies from me capped by 24…Qe7?, left me in a difficult position. He played two very strong moves with 25.Qf4! and 26.Nf5!, after which black’s position looks extremely shaky. However, I was confident in my defensive chances and I didn’t see any win for him. As it turns out, neither did he. I consolidated the extra piece and with 39…Rf5, I would have sealed the win. But alas, I played 39…Qc5, which threw the win away as I had missed 44.Bg4.

With the cold, objective analysis of a computer, it turns out his sacrifice with 26.Nf5 is winning, but he has to find a series of amazing moves – 30.Qh4 (instead of 30.Qf5) Kh8!? 31.g3!!. While somewhat logical ex-post, it’d be hard to find many chessplayers who could find such moves with a minute on their clock.

Round 10: White vs. GM Levan Aroshidze (2547, Georgia). This was a particularly tough pairing for me (and for Levan), since we have roomed together at a few tournaments since last year. It’s never easy to play a friend.

The game can be replayed here.

The game itself ended in a draw, although not quite like it may have been expected. The opening was not something either of us prepared for (I pretty much always play the IQP positions of the Rubinstein Nimzo) and I was on my own after 10…b6. He then offered a draw with 13…Rfd8, which left me thinking for 20 minutes about what to do – play on or just take the draw?

In the end, I decided to play on, as my job now is essentially to play chess and get better. A draw wouldn’t have risked anything in the tournament, but at the same time, after going all the way to Spain, it made some sense to play on given that it wasn’t a GM norm/title on the line.

My idea with 15.e4, 16.e5 and 17.Qg4 looked dangerous, but Levan found the correct series of moves to diffuse the tension. If, instead of 20…Qc4, he played 20…Qb3, then 21.dxe6 Qxa2 22.Nf5! g6 23.exf7+ is the point (if 23…Qxf7, 24.Nh6+). If Black steps to h8 with king, then 24.Qb4 is crushing.

In the actual game, the endgame after 24.d6 is rather hard to assess – Black gains control of the c-file, but the d6-pawn is a serious asset. 24…f6 was the safe way to play and liquidated the central pawns and the game petered out to equality after which I offered a draw which was quickly accepted.

So, after playing an extra 2 hours or so, I was back at square one with a draw. But the game was still a useful one to play, I think. After the game, Levan actually apologized to me for offering a draw, saying that he couldn’t bring himself to play the game seriously and so offered a draw even though he had the black pieces. I didn’t mind that at all, actually, but I explained why I wanted to play on a bit.

In the other games, Baklan beat Fidel Corrales and so passed him for first place with 8/10. The top two Cubans (Corrales and Bruzon) shared 2nd-3rd at 7.5/10, and there was a 10-way tie for 4th-13th at 7/10. Unlike in Benasque, number of wins was not the first tiebreak (it was the 5th) and my opponent’s score as calculated by the Bucholz metric was the 2nd best amongst my group. Thus, I finished in 5th place on tiebreaks. For what it’s worth, had number of wins been used as the first tiebreak, I would have finished last!

I didn’t quite make a GM-norm equivalent performance in Balaguer though, as the performance was only about 2572. Still, it was a solid performance and I managed to gain about 12 points. So after Benasque and Balaguer, my two tournaments of the summer, I should be sitting on 2512 FIDE or so.


Shaking the Malaise

Well, since the fourth round, I managed to get 2 points from 3 games. The first two games, though, were not particularly clean, although the third was a bit better.

Round 5: Black vs. WFM Keti Tsatsalashvili (2271, Georgia). An odd game from the start. The Benoni is not part of my normal repertoire (I’ve only tried to play it twice over the past 10 years in rated play, and in both cases, my opponent didn’t let me play it!) and I had no games of my opponent against this opening. Still, I decided that since the Benoni angles for a fight from the start, it was the remedy I needed to get back on track.

The game can be replayed here.

Keti started off with the Knight Tour Variation with 7.Nd2, but then got back into a Fianchetto Variation with 8.g3. Black’s position was actually quite comfortable after 12…Ne5 and 13…Nh5. However, instead of 13…Bd7?!, I should have played 13…f5. I had seen this move, but I thought by threatening …b5, I could get her to play a move like Rb1, after which …f5 would have even more effect. However, I never got a chance to play …b5 and …f5 was a defensive measure when I got to play it. After 17.Nc4 Qc7, White’s position looks amazing at first glance but it’s not so easy to figure out how to make full use of the advantage.

In the game continuation, I sacrificed a pawn because I didn’t see anything better to do after 18.a5, but White has some technical difficulties to keep the pawn, as her knight on b6 is completely out of play. In addition, the bishop on c1 is temporarily tied down to the defense of the b2-pawn, and she must watch out that I don’t get a rook to e2 or capture the d5-pawn.

The way she played managed to temporarily avoid losing the pawns or allowing a rook in, but all of Black’s pieces became very active and after 27…Re4, Black is better. It was only a matter of time before I crashed through, and with 40…Nd4!, won the game.

Round 6: White vs. GM Lazaro Bruzon (2582, Cuba). An amazing save, if I may say so myself. In the database, Bruzon had essentially only played three different systems against 1.d4 – (1) the QGD, (2) the Nimzo-Indian, and (3) the Semi-Slav Meran with the rare 8…b4.

I was ready for all those, although I had expected him to play a Nimzo. However, he trotted out the Meran and then played 8…Bd6! While I had faced this once before this summer (against Eduardo Desanjose Candalija), I had not studied it too carefully since then, and even if I had, I probably would not have been ready to meet his natural novelty of 11…a5.

I sunk into thought and was unable to find anything good to do, and in fact, got a worse position in trying to play for some advantage. 19.Rd1 was a mistake in view of 19…g6! To compound my troubles, I was down to about 4 minutes to his 30 minutes. In the complications that followed, I managed to find some good moves and missed one good one (26.Qxb3! instead of 26.Qd2?), but Lazaro was unable to put me away there. To avoid some nice checkmates after 29…Nf5+, I had to sacrifice my queen, but the Q vs 2R endgame was not a trivial win, especially as his clock was ticking down.

In the end, he had to repeat the position to avoid a worse fate (if, for example, my pawn gets farther down the board, maybe I can even think of playing to win). The computer would, of course, had a field day with the middlegame attacking position.

I’m not quite sure what to make of the endgame, but given the time control, it was difficult to play properly. The original time control for the tournament was 40/90 + G/30, with 30 seconds added per move. However, for reasons unknown, it was changed the same day as the first round.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 7: Black vs. GM Vladimir Baklan (2630, Ukraine). This game was a bit of a missed opportunity for me. Baklan is the top seed in the tournament, but I let a bit of an advantage slip.

The game featured the Worrall Attack of the Ruy Lopez with 12.d5, a line I had spent all of 5 minutes preparing for. As this was my first time on the black side of such a Ruy structure, I took a bit of time, but I hit upon a few somewhat standard ideas. Actually, after 19…c4, I was even a bit better, but then I played 22…Na5?. I think I should have played 22…Nc5 instead, but for some reason, I reacted instantly with …Na5. After 23.g5 Nh5 24.Nxh5, my position is probably alright, but it’s gotten a lot more unclear. I had a shattered kingside pawn structure, and a rather bad bishop on g7, but I did get a pawn on h3 as compensation in addition to the trump of my queenside passer.

The 10 minutes I spent on 27…a5 was a key moment in the game, as it was during that think I realized that the way for me to keep playing this position was to push the a-pawn. Black has two ideas there – one is just to push the a-pawn all the way, the other is, if the pawn gets exchanged on a4 for example, is to take back with the rook, followed by doubling on the a-file and the 4th rank (with …Qc4).

Still, the pawn push only kept the position rather unclear, and in mutual time pressure, the game simplified into an endgame that I probably should have kept playing. Instead, I decided to call it a day and accepted his draw offer.

The game can be replayed here.

So after 7 rounds, I have 5 points. IM Fidel Corrales Jimenez of Cuba is leading the tournament with 6.5/7. He crushed GMs Delchev and Aroshidze the past two rounds, and is the first person I’ve seen beat Delchev in Balaguer in the last 3 years!

The dog days of summer in Balaguer

Round 1: Black vs C.P. Aatirah (1946, India). An easy game to start off the tournament. Since first round pairings only go up right before the game, there is no time for preparation. As a result, I went with what I know best (and what angles for a fight from the start). I played the French Defense, and after the Advance Variation, my old favorite line of 5…Nh6. Black’s pieces all went to their best squares right away, and in some sense, it was a textbook demonstration of what Black should be trying for in this line.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 2: White vs Boris Bruned (2224, Spain). A protracted struggle, with most of the problems for me coming in the opening phase. I had not prepared much for this game, although it would have been useful for me to have done so. I played a Trompowsky, and we followed a game of mine against Kruttika Nadig from Andorra 2006 for a little while. While I managed to win that game, it was not because I came out ahead from the opening struggle, and I spent a lot of time at the board trying to figure out what the improvement was supposed to be. In the end, I hit upon an interesting idea with 9.Nh3, 11.Nf4, and 12.Bh3.

After the opening, my opponent started to think a lot more and soon came to the realization that his opening plan did not solve the problems of his pawn structure, especially with the pawns on e7 and f7. In the end, those pawns cost him the game, as he was going to lose one for sure after 27.Qd3. The endgame was lost, but he then lost on time after 38.b4.

The game can be replayed here.

Compared to the past two years, the tournament is marginally stronger this year. While the ratings of the top players are about the same, the bigger difference is that there are fewer lower rated players (especially in the 2000-2100 range). In the past two years, I faced players rated 2167 and 2182 in the 2nd round. And last year, despite have a lower rating, I was essentially the same seed.

Round 3:  Black vs Jose Luis Vilela (2347, Cuba). The game finished as a draw after only 14 moves, but it took almost 3 hours to play! Again, I did not spend as much time preparing for this game as I would if I was playing without the accumulated fatigue of a previous tournament.

As it was, he played the Slav Exchange (like Levin did in Benasque). I had actually expected something else from him even though he had played this line a few times. He continued with 4.Nc3 and 5.Bf4, so I played 5…Qb6. He then sank into thought for about 30 minutes before playing 6.Rc1 (one of the more testing moves in my opinion).

Not remembering the theory here, I decided to avoid taking the pawn on b2 (after a preparatory 6…Nc6, for example) and instead played 6…Bf5. He then thought for another 15 minutes and played 7.Na4. And then I sat down for about 45 minutes before playing 7…Qa5+! The first problem for me was that I had completely overlooked 7.Na4, despite it being a rather obvious move. The second problem was that I realized it was a good move.

I spent a lot of time calculating variations after 7…Qd8 8.Qb3 Nbd7 9.Qxb7 e5! (angling for an eventual …Rb8 and …Bb4+) and 9.Nf3! Ne4!? with similar traps in mind based on the a5-e1 diagonal. In the end, I realized that 9.Nf3 was quite strong for white and gave up on this line.

In the game continuation, White missed a strong line with 9.Qb3 (instead of 9.e3), which would have secured a small advantage. As it was in the game, I had a nice trick with 11…a6!, covering the b5-square. Even though it drops the d5-pawn, it’s only a temporary loss since I get the a2-pawn back after 13…Be6. Down to less than 20 minutes, Vilela offered a draw with 14.Qa5 and I saw no reason to decline.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 4: White vs Yvain Bruned (2383, Spain). Thanks to a healthy dose of good fortune, I managed to escape this game with a draw. It was a bit weird to play Boris’ twin brother in the same tournament as they play the exact same set of openings. Thus, I was not likely to repeat the Trompowsky, but I had to decide what to do against the Nimzo.

He deviated from his usual patterns in the Rubinstein Variation with 4…0-0 5.Bd3 d5 (rather than the 4…c5 he had played in every game from that position in the database). He immediately made a misstep though with 7…Nxd5? instead of 7…cxd4. However, I played too hastily with e4-e5 and threw away a huge advantage and then had to try and stir up trouble on the kingside without any obvious weakness to attack.

I got into huge time trouble in this game, down to about 4 minutes against more than an hour, but managed to pose enough problems to trick him into a draw. Actually, he blundered with 27…a5?, which loses to 28.Bxh7+!, but for some reason, I missed the only threat I had in the position. Then I hit upon an amusing idea of 37.Qg2, aiming to throw the h-pawn into the fire (the only piece that could attack but hadn’t yet done so). He then blundered again horribly with 42…Kxh7, although neither of us realized that 42…Kh8 was immediately winning!

The game can be replayed here.

After this game, the Bruned family is on the board against me. I had beaten Yvain in Andorra 2006, Vianney (the youngest brother) in Balaguer 2007, and Boris in Balaguer 2008.

Hopefully I play better the rest of the tournament – the past two games have featured some pretty poor chess on my part.

Crossed the t’s, dotted the i’s

Although I made my 3rd GM norm last year in Balaguer, I did not have the 2500 FIDE rating to go along with it to complete the GM title. After that tournament, I was at 2484, and in my next two tournaments (the American Open and then the US Championship Qualifier), I managed to lose 1 rating point, so I went into Benasque at 2483.

During the tournament, I didn’t know how to exactly calculate the FIDE rating changes, as they have relatively recently gone from using a performance rating method to a game-by-game measure for rating changes. The only calculator available on the FIDE website does the rating change by performance rating.

It turns out there is a rating table on the FIDE website, at: that gives more exact values. Using this table, you can come very close to the exact rating changes that FIDE calculates.

The steps are pretty simple:

(0) Get your current FIDE rating and K-factor.

(1) Calculate the rating difference between your opponent’s rating and you, capped at 350 or -350

(2) Look in the One-Way table (under 10.1a) for the expected winning percentage (W_e) for your opponent based on the closest rating differential in the table.

(3) If you won the game, take W_e * K-factor.

If you drew the game, take W_e * K-factor.

If you lost the game, -1 * (1 – W_e) * K-factor.

This provides the game-by-game change, and essentially matches up with the exact changes for a whole tournament. Thus, for Benasque, after my draw with GM Gupta in the last round, this formula predicts my post-tournament rating would be 2499.6.

As the final crosstable shows, though, the actual change will be 16.9 points, so my post-tournament rating will be 2499.9. So after 10 games, the formula is off by 0.3 points.

Anyways, as FIDE rounds ratings up after 0.5, the 2499.9 gets rounded to 2500 and so I hit the rating threshold required to complete the GM title. It should be official in the next rating list (October 2008).

For what it’s worth, I also made a GM norm in Benasque with a 10-round performance rating of about 2622. Of course I don’t need the GM norm certificate, but since they prepared it, I took it along with me. I had made the norm after 9 games actually, as noted on Ajedrez ND.

On Breaking Ties and Making Offers that Can be Refused

Benasque is an odd tournament in its tiebreak system. While most open tournaments avoid head-to-head playoffs (it’s simply not practical to have a 20-player round-robin for 3rd prize and so on), there is no general agreement amongst tournament organizers about how to break ties.

In the US, they generally get around this by simply aggregating the monies for the tied places and then dividing it equally. Thus, if 5 players tie for first, and the prizes go down from $5000 to $4000 to $3000 and so on, they each get $3000 for their effort.

However, this does not seem all that equitable to me, as it’s quite possible for players to play very different fields to get to the same score. The player who starts out on fire will likely have played all his closest competitors, while someone who loses the first game and comes from behind will likely have played weaker opposition (because they are playing opponents with 0/1, 1/2, and so on).

Many European tournaments eschew pooling money together for a group of tied players and instead assign mathematical tiebreak scores to each player to differentiate those in the same score group. The usual metric is the sum of the opponent’s scores (often a trimmed version, with the high and low scores tossed out). There can also be conditions to calculate an opponent’s score in case the player withdrew from the tournament before finishing.

Benasque does something extra strange, though, in that the tiebreak order is determined by a lottery. Thus, they have a group of 3 tiebreak metrics (sum of opponents’ scores, performance rating, and number of wins), and then essentially randomly determine which one serves as the first tiebreaker and so on.

This also seems unfair to me. The idea that number of wins, in an open tournament, could serve as a primary tiebreaker is ridiculous. For players who lost their first game, they almost necessarily player a weaker field and so can put up many wins to reach the same score as someone who won early and then faced tougher opposition and drew. Thus, for example, after the last round, Players A and B both had 7.5/10. Player A had faced a field with an average rating of 2373 and Player B had faced a field with an average rating of 2174 FIDE. Player A had a higher sum of the opponents’ scores, 45 to 38.5. However, because Player B had lost two games against lower rated players, he continued to play down in all his games and won 7 games. Thus, in the number of wins tiebreaker, he led Player A by a tally of 7 to 6.

Does this seem fair? Admittedly, it is not easy to beat lower rated players, but I would think you’d want to reward a stronger performance (as reflected by the rating or scores of the opposing field).

In a round-robin, using the number of wins as a tiebreaker makes more sense since everybody plays everyone else. Wins generally equal more exciting chess, and from a sponsorship point of view, it makes sense to reward that fighting spirit. In an open tournament though, it makes no sense to me as a primary tiebreaker.

The idea of using a lottery system to choose the first tiebreak is an interesting one though. I think the motivation is so that it makes it more difficult to “fix” the results in the last round, as without knowing which tiebreak will be first, you will be less likely to offer money for someone to lose. I wouldn’t particularly mind if the lottery was only between opponents’ scores and performance rating, with number of wins as the third tiebreak regardless as this seems to strike some balance between preserving the integrity of the tournament and providing a more meaningful separator amongst tied players.

This has special implications for Benasque because of the practice of buying games in the last round. Rumors swirled last year when GM Felix Levin beat GM Azer Mirzoev in the last round to finish on 8/10, and then took first place on the fixed tiebreaks with GM Tamaz Gelashvili of Georgia (the Republic, that is). I don’t have definite proof that Levin bought the game, but I have it on good information that he referred to Mirzoev as a “chess prostitute” after the game. Gelashvili seemingly won his game fair and square, but because Levin won and beat him on tiebreaks, he left with 2nd place and 1000 less Euros than he would have otherwise.

This year, I know an offer was made to my roommate prior to the last round. GM Levan Aroshidze was playing GM Rashad Babaev of Azerbaijan. After the pairings went up the previous night, I received a visit at our hotel room from Mirzoev who was asking about whether Levan was around. While Levan wasn’t, I knew immediately why Mirzoev had come calling. Levan walked in maybe 20 minutes later and said that Babaev had been waiting in the lobby and an offer was made – if either player wanted to “win” the game without it being a real struggle. A win by either player would take them to 8/10 and possibly a tie for first (but even if not first place, at least more money), along with a few extra rating points for the win.

Aroshidze’s response was quite good – he essentially flipped him the bird and told him he’d see him at the board the next morning. Despite having the black pieces, Aroshidze proceeded to beat Babaev and finish on an honest 8/10. Given the tournament tiebreak system, number of wins popped out as the first tiebreak, and with 7 wins (he started the tournament one-round late), he was the leader amongst the 8-point scoregroup and so finished in 2nd place.

Having an actual tiebreak system (unlike in the US) would seem to help dissuade cheating, since the money is not guaranteed. You may know how your opponent’s are doing up through round 9, but you can’t know in advance how they’ll do in round 10, and even more importantly, you don’t even know which tiebreak is going to be in place after the end of the tournament. The organizers are clearly thinking about this problem, but I think it would be bring a seemingly more equitable outcome if the tiebreak choices were tweaked slightly.

Update: Somebody pointed out that an opinion piece about the Benasque tiebreak system was written at: (the author essentially agrees that number of wins is a poor first tiebreak)

The Home Stretch in Benasque: Rounds 8-10

Round 8: Black vs. GM Felix Levin (2564, Germany). A very short draw – Levin surprised me with the Exchange Slav, and smelling a rat, I responded with a surprise of my own with 5…Qb6. As he said after the game, he had prepared this line thinking I would repeat the way I played against GM Sergey Krivoshey in 2006. But as Krivoshey achieved a slightly better position there, I wasn’t going to repeat that, and knowing he pretty much never played this line of the Slav, I decided it was safe to go with a surprise of my own.

After I played 8…Nh5, maybe Black even has a minute pull. However, he offered a draw with 9.Be5 which I saw no reason to decline. The position was essentially equal, and an easy draw with Black against a GM was not so bad.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 9: White vs. GM Rasul Ibrahimov (2537, Azerbaijan). A long fight which ended in a draw. The opening was a Nimzo-Indian, and while I prepared for that, I had not expected the line he played. He paused for a bit after I played 3.Nc3 (I also play 3.Nf3 there), and I have a feeling he made a switch on-the-fly with his normal opening repertoire. Having played the Nimzo for years and years, he was able to do so without too many troubles.

Despite this, I thought the opening resolved itself in my favor. As Karpov might say, I had an “insignificant advantage” over the traditional IQP structures there. But I struggled to find the right plan, and while I burned my time away, my position also drifted a bit. However, down on the clock about 3 minutes to 30 minutes, I started playing forcefully again and essentially forced an exchange of queens that liquidated my isolated queen pawn. The endgame was then a simple draw, although he insisted on playing it out for a few moves before returning my draw offer.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 10: White vs. GM Abhijeet Gupta (2551, India). To end the tournament, I finished with a tough draw against my good friend known as “Bhaiyu”.

Unfortunately, Benasque has the last round at 9 AM. I don’t get that decision – every other round starts at 4 PM and the prize ceremony is scheduled for 5 PM. Given that even the regular afternoon bus leaves from Benasque at 3 PM, there would have been plenty of time to make the bus ride even if the round started at 10 AM.

In any case, the early start changes things dramatically – preparation time goes down (I saw my pairing around 11 PM, prepared for about an hour, and then went to sleep) and my sleep schedule was completely thrown off. Thus, I turned to a cup of coffee to get me started in the morning. The barman gave me a knowing laugh when I ordered a “cafe solo” instead of my usual tea.

The game itself was an interesting one. I had prepared a long opening line in the Grunfeld, but was very hasty in my analysis and I didn’t spend enough time with the position, trusting the computer’s evaluation. I only began to realize this at the board when I saw he could just start pushing his h-pawn. Needless to say, that is precisely what he did. I made a series of only moves, but then we had a bit of a comedy of errors (despite thinking our play was pretty good after the game).

Both of us thought 25…g4, 26.Rc4, and 32.Rc1 were the correct moves, but in fact there was one better alternative at each move (25…Nh5!, 26.Qxb7!, and 32.Rd7!). Unfortunately for me, the last one with Rd7 would have given me a huge advantage, and despite seeing the move, I somehow blitzed out Rc1. After that, the draw is forced (although, to be honest, he could have taken the draw on the previous move with 31…Rd1+.

The game can be replayed here.

Thus, I finished on 7.5/10, good enough for 15th place on tiebreaks. There were many players on 7/9 who drew, and then a whole host of players on 6.5/9 who won. Given the size of the field, 10 rounds is simply not enough to produce enough variation in the scores.

GM Julio Granda Zuniga won in the last round to clinch clear first with 8.5/10. That makes it two years running (the only years I’ve played in Benasque) that I have lost a winning game to the tournament winner. Last year, GM Felix Levin won it all and beat me from a thoroughly horrible position. This year, Granda pulled off the same feat.

Last year, an author chose my loss to Levin as the only tournament game in the writeup for the Spanish national paper (El Pais). Let’s see if my loss to Granda is chosen this year.

Festival de Ajedrez de Benasque 2008: Rounds 4-7

Round 4: Black vs. GM Julio Granda Zuniga (Peru, 2599). My annual game with Granda – I had played him in Balaguer in 2006 and in Sort in 2007, both wins for me. This was an extremely disappointing game, and while Granda put up some resistance, the blame rests squarely with me for not winning this game.

The game can be replayed here.

The opening was a disaster for me, not so much because of the position, but because of the time I spent in playing the moves. I was not happy with my piece placement (for example, the dark-squared bishop might be better on e7 than on d6) and I burned up a lot of clock time trying to find a viable plan. In the end, I settled on 10…Ra8-c8 and 11…c6-c5, but my position looked dicey. However, all was well in reality, and when Granda excitedly banged out 14.e3-e4 and then 15.Ne5-g6, he thought he was winning. However, the exchange sacrifice completely turned the tables and soon I was better. I then whipped up a huge attack, but with only 1 minute on the clock, I was unable to find a knockout blow. And instead of bailing out with one of many perpetual checks, I kept trying and trying, only to find out I was in a lost position after some time.

The most prosaic win was 28…Nxd3 29.Qxh5 Qf6, when White is completely lost. However, playing for checkmate as I did, I would have needed to find 33…Be2!! in a minute to win the game. Of course the computer sees it right away, but we took a good amount of time later to find this. All in all, a disappointing game as this was one I let slip away.

Round 5: White vs T. Abhay (India, 2263). Like many Indian players, Abhay had virtually no games in the database. Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered because while I had jetlag problems in previous days and was not sleeping very well in general, I slept soundly before this game. Too soundly in fact.

I went to sleep at around 1 AM after doing some reading (Vikram Chandra’s 900-page tome Sacred Games), and then woke up to find the clock saying it was 3:15 PM. For a second, I thought it was a joke and I turned on my laptop to check the time there. Of course, the confirmation came and I rushed to shower and eat something before the 4 PM round. My roommate had let me sleep for a while, but when he got back from his own late lunch, he was relieved to find he didn’t have to wake me up.

The game itself was not particularly interesting – after 10…f6, Black was clearly worse. Black should have settled for a more normal position with 10…0-0, but the opposite-side castling only spelled his doom. My attack would arrive first on the queenside, and I later broke through in the center and then on the kingside.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 6: Black vs. IM Silvia Collas (France, 2370). Originally an Italian citizen, I think Silvia changed her locale and affiliation to France after marrying Didier Collas. This was a rather easy game as well, despite it being my first attempt at playing the Slav Defense. I didn’t know what to expect at all, as she plays 1.e4, 1.d4, and 1.c4, but I did expect her to play some sidelines of whatever the opening was. Thus, in the 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6 Slav, she opted for the rare 8.Ne3. However, she then played rather insipidly with 9.g3 instead of 9.a5 (although neither move is especially dangerous for Black).

After that, 16…Nc8! was the move she overlooked, as Black will then execute a nice reorganization of his pieces with the knight on d6. She took the free pawn on b7, but Black’s compensation is without doubt and in fact, Black stands better in short order. The exchange sacrifice with 23…Nf5! only sealed the deal, and after that, it was “a matter of technique.”

The game can be replayed here.

Round 7: White vs. GM Vladimir Burmakin (Russia, 2625). One of my finest positional efforts in a while, and I might dare compare my play to Kramnik’s until almost the end of the game. The opening was a Schlechter Slav, a relatively passive system for Black. However, Burmakin played 6…Nbd7 which slightly misplaces the knight and I took proper advantage with 7.cxd5! and 8.Qb3!, putting pressure on the b7- and d5-pawns.

From there, it was all very smooth – with 14.Nc4 and 18.Qa2 being standout moves. There was a small hiccup on move 31, with Bb2 – this move is likely still winning, but a more “Kramnikian” sequence might have been 31.h3 Qc6 32.Qa3, with the bishop going to a1 and the queen to b2 to set up the powerful battery on the long diagonal. In any case, Black blundered with 32…h4? (instead of 32…f6, which continues to put up a good fight) and gets hit with a mating attack immediately.

The game can be replayed here.

Welcome to Benasque

I arrived in Benasque last Wednesday afternoon, having taken the 7:30 AM bus from Barcelona. The only excitement was when I switched buses in Barbastro and explained to the ticket office that we (myself and a group of 4 from Israel and Hungary) needed to get to Benasque on that bus. I was the only one who had an official ticket, getting the last seat officially available from the ticket machine. They gave in, overbooking the original bus, but bringing up a van to take some people along the same route until there were enough open seats on the bus.

Benasque is in the province of Huesca, nestled into the foot of the Pyrenees. Unlike Barcelona, Catalan is not really spoken here – Spanish, with a dash of Patues, is the local language. In the winter months, Benasque gets more traffic as a place to ski. In the summer, there are still some tourists, but the focus is on hiking.

By now, the tournament has started, and here is a quick rundown of my first few games.

Round 1: White vs. Jorge Requena Munguira (Spain, 1958 FIDE). Not an especially difficult game, as the opening resolved itself clearly in my favor, and I executed very cleanly to put the game away in 26 moves. The opening would have been considered more normal had the white bishop been on g5 instead of f4. In the comparable positions with the bishop on f4, the Cambridge Springs-plan of …Qa5 and …Bb4 employed by my opponent lacks any bite and just misplaces his pieces. Still, it was good to get off to a nice start. The game can be replayed here.

I’m seeded #38 (but played on board 37, because my roommate, GM Levan Aroshidze from Georgia, had to take a first round bye as he was late arriving from Turkey). I roomed with Levan back in Sort last year, the first tourney of my summer 2007 chess trip.

Round 2: Black vs. Jonathan Tan (Netherlands, 2129). A challenge, largely due to my foggy head. I hadn’t slept well, as even now, I am still trying to adjust to the time difference. The opening was a surprise for both of us, as I am still learning the Ruy Lopez and he has started learning the White side of it. He played the Central Attack Variation (9.d4 instead of 9.h3) and with my memory failing me, I implemented a rarely seen, but seemingly known, plan.

The game can be replayed here.

I outplayed my young opponent in the positional maneuvering phase until I faltered with 27…Nh5?, which threw away most of the advantage right away. I had planned the more prosaic 27…Nfd7, but changed my mind at the end. In any case, I then got into serious trouble, and after a series of mutual oversights (backward moves are difficult, and in this case 33.Rxf7+! would have won, as the rook on a2 would be hanging at the end), turned the tables. Instead of defending, I was attacking, and I then put the game away quickly.

After some first-round no-shows, here are some quick tournament statistics by my count:

— 34 GMs

— 30 players above 2500 FIDE

— 74 players above 2400 FIDE

— 495 total players

Round 3: White vs. Eduardo Desanjose Candalija (Spain, 2310). An amusing pairing, as I was born in San Jose. I’m not sure if he is legally blind, but rather than playing in the normal playing area, our board was in the blind players’ row at the entrance to the tournament hall. This made for somewhat unpleasant playing conditions – not only were the moves announced on some of the other boards (so that both players knew what had been played), but there was lots of foot traffic and talking by the entrance.

The game can be replayed here.

The game started off poorly for me, as I faced a line of the Meran with which I wasn’t really familiar. I played it a little too inventively, and had to beat a hasty retreat with 15.Be3. However, I then compounded the issue by essentially eschewing relative equality with 16.f3 (in some variations, nominally White will end up a pawn, but in an opposite-colored bishop endgame) and my position became clearly worse. To add to my problems, I was down about 40 minutes on the clock.

However, he struggled to find a constructive plan and I managed to reorganize my pieces quite well and began to come out of my shell. My advantage was centered around his horrible bishop on b7, and in order to activate it, he had to sacrifice a pawn. The ensuing endgame was not a trivial win for me, but my opponent made it much easier by playing it like a middlegame, running his h-pawn down the board. He then resigned somewhat prematurely when he realized he was likely to lose the h-pawn. I likely would have played on from his position, although it was almost certainly lost.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times … you can’t fool me again.

I flew out to Barcelona from SF on Sunday, June 29th. I had waited a bit to buy the plane tickets, and so I didn’t get the best route I had originally seen and had to make two stops – one in Philadelphia and one in London, where I got off the US Airways route and switched over to British Airways for a flight to Barcelona.

I didn’t sleep well on the plane (for some reason, I lost this ability while at Berkeley – I used to fall asleep as soon as I sat on a plane, even getting some deep sleep on a 1-hour flight to LA), but the flights went off without a hitch.

Or so it did until I got down in Barcelona.

After clearing the passport check, I made my way to the baggage claim in Terminal A, which is where we landed. After looking around for a while, I realized that there was no listing for my British Airways flight and asked around. One of the airport workers told me it had come out in Terminal B instead.

This posed a problem, as having entered the baggage claim area, I could no longer return to the post-security gate area and make my way to Terminal B. But there was no other way into the Terminal B baggage claim area. Thus, I took my boarding pass from London to Barcelona and went through the security line again! I then went to Terminal B, but while most of the bags did make it from London, mine did not. I filed my claim and then overheard another agent telling a passenger that his bag on this flight had been found in Terminal A.

I then went back with him to Terminal A, again using the invalid boarding pass to get through security. However, my bag was not there, so I was now out of my only checked bag. I decided to go to my hotel and wait for my bag to be delivered to me the following day.

The next morning, I called the British Airways office in Madrid to ask about my lost bag. They informed me that the bag had been found in London and had just arrived in Barcelona. They assured me the bag would be delivered in the afternoon or early evening. As was made clear on my claim form and on that call, they understood I was leaving on Wednesday for Benasque, and so I needed that bag pretty quickly.

I went about my normal business that day, and after dinner at Bembi Restaurant, I returned to the hotel around 10 PM. But my bag was still nowhere to be found.

I immediately called the Madrid office again and the first person I called tried to transfer me to the “Lost Baggage” Department at the Barcelona airport. But the phone kept ringing and finally I hung up and re-dialed the Madrid office. I got another person again, and this guy told me that the bag would not be delivered today and that it would probably get delivered the following day at some time before noon.

Of course that didn’t do me any favors, as my bus to Benasque was at 7 AM on Wednesday. I asked why the bag had not been delivered today, but he had no clue, even throwing out a lame excuse of maybe it took 12 hours for it to clear customs. Really now, last I checked, pants and shirts are not exactly dangerous materials. I asked him, “How is this fair to me?” and his reply was the amusing “What do you mean by fair?” And I thought Clinton was sly for asking what the definition of “is” is.

Anyways, with that delivery date, I had to go to the airport to get the bag myself. I caught a taxi to the airport, and once again, had to pull my trick with the US Airways boarding pass to get through security. This time, however, the security guy did notice that the ticket was not correct, but then I explained I needed to get to the “Lost Baggage” area and claim my bag. Why they don’t have this area outside the secured area is beyond me.

Tellingly, the shutters had been pulled down over the department’s desk, but my bag was lying outside so I grabbed it and left. The customs people gave me a bit of trouble, deciding they had to check my bag thoroughly. I had an amusing conversation with a customs official about peanut butter (he said it was not allowed through because no animal products could be let through), but I tried to explain that it literally is “mantequilla de cacahuete.” Finally, his superior came by and let him know that it was ok to let that through.

Moral #1: Don’t fly British Airways. This is the second time I flew British Airways, and the second time I got screwed. The first was when I made a tour of Europe in 2006, and flew into London but because of a mysterious 5 hour delay in SFO, missed my connection to Bologna and so had to spend the night in London. Go overseas and get overseized indeed. Sealing the deal, it looks like British Airways is the worst baggage handler of any European airline (see:

Moral #2: Barcelona security is pretty lax. I didn’t have anything troublesome in my bag, but I hope they would have caught that if I did. Letting people through who don’t have valid boarding passes (or even a good story) is not all that reassuring. Maybe the most troubling thing is that a family from LA decided they could just bypass security, lifted the boundary-setting ropes and just waltzed on through with nary a word from security. Odd, very odd.

The Za-bhat guide? Boo.

(Update: Hat tip to David H for coining the name Za-bhat)

While normally I would try to eat at local cuisine restaurants when abroad, I passed by a restaurant called Bembi taking a walk on Carrer Consell de Cent in Barcelona. Billed as a “modern Indian restaurant”, I decided to try them out. Turns out they have a website too, at:

While not especially expensive, the ambience and décor of the restaurant was pretty good, better than many comparatively priced places in the US

For an appetizer, I tried a “daily special” of masala dosa. A South-Indian specialty, I would say it was passable, but not great. The dosa was too thick, with the consistency of an uttapam (although, unlike a normal uttapam without vegetables, it was not sour). The coconut chutney was solid, but the sambar was a bit watery for my taste. Still, as it should and again unlike many US Indian restaurants, the sambar did have some solid vegetables floating around.

As the main course, I tried the Mangalorean Vegetable Curry along with steamed rice. The rice was cooked well, although they added a bit of oil to the top which is not my preference. The Managlorean Curry, though, was a standout dish. A combination of vegetables in a coconut-milk and tomato-based sauce, the Curry was excellent.

I talked to the manager after the meal, who said he had come over from the Punjab province in India about 6 years back. The chef’s name, Anand Negi, was also ironic given it is a combination of the last names of two of the more famous Indian chessplayers – Viswanathan Anand (the best Indian chess player ever and current World Champion) and Parimarjan Negi (who has the world-record for second youngest GM in the world at the age of 13 years and 4 months).

Amusingly enough, we had a good laugh when he told me that my Hindi and my Spanish is better than his son’s. I then asked how old his son was. His reply? “He’s 6 years old.”

On a 30-point scale, I’ll randomly give them a 22.