Monthly Archives: September 2008

Catching up – the Miami Open, part 2: Rounds 6 – 9

Round 6: Black vs. GM Alexander Shabalov (2657)

Another tough matchup, a morning round against Shabalov, who simply plays everything. Also, he tends to get stronger as the tournament progresses, as he’s made a habit out of playing badly to start off an event, but finishing strong to get back in the money. Elizabeth Vicary wrote a whole article on this topic for Chess Life Online, and it can be seen here. Actually, the same happened in Miami, as he drew in the very first round and was slow to get started. Unlike some other events, though, he also didn’t end up finishing too strong, although maybe I had something to do with that.

This was my first real attempt as Black in the regular Slav with my planned 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6 8.Ne5 a5 line. He played the currently very popular 9.Bg5!?, which cuts across Black’s usual plan of 9…e6 because of the reply 10.e4!. (As a side note, this position has been discussed in the current SPICE Cup in Texas, as GM Becerra has championed the Black position a couple times – in both games, he played 9…h6).

I played 9…g6, which seems to make some sense as alternative way to develop the dark-squared bishop. In his first game, Becerra played the more radical looking 9…h6 10.Bh4 g5 to bring the bishop out, and while he drew without any huge problems, it looks a bit less solid. Shabalov then played a new move, taking on f6 right away. The resulting pawn structure is one that is sometimes seen in the Slav (especially in Nh4 lines, where White takes the bishop on f5), or even the Nimzo (in the Romanishin line with 4.Qc2 d5 5.cxd5 Qxd5, followed by 6…Qf5 7.Qxf5 exf5), but the minor piece arrangement is more reminiscent of the structure arising after the Trompowsky with 2…d5 (3.Bxf6 exf6 4.e3, with c4 and so on).

The middlegame featured a lot of heavy, positional maneuvering, but I drifted a bit too much and let him achieve more than he should have been allowed. Actually, we reached the following position after 41.Nxd5 (yes, that is move 41!) and both of us were down to just under a minute at this point. The time control was G/90 minutes with a 30 second increment, so there wasn’t too much danger of losing on time, but there certainly was danger of losing because of time.

Here I played 41…Qf7, and after 42.Ncb6 Be6 43.Bxe4 (playing 43.Rc7 first is similar, but with Black’s knight on e4, Black can play …Rd2 more easily while White’s king has to go to h2 square because g2 is occupied) fxe4 44.Rc7 Qxc7 (actually 44…Re7! would have secured an advantage for Black) 45.Nxc7 [not 45.Qxf6+ Kh7 46.Nxc7 Rxd1+ 47.Kh2 (47.Kg2 walks into 47…Bg4, threatening 48…Bf3+ and 49…Rh1#) Bg7! 48.Qg5 Rf8, winning] Rxd1+ 46.Kg2 Re7!? (46…Bg4 is good enough for a draw, but I thought I could maybe try for even more in White’s time pressure).

The game ended in a draw after 47.Nxe6+ Rxe6 48.Qc2 Rd3 49.Qc7+ Re7 50.Qc4 Re5 51.Qc8 Re7 52.Qc4. Black has nothing better to do at the moment that shut White’s knight out on b6 with rook moves to e5 and e7, while if White takes the time to bring the knight back into the game (say via a8 and c7), Black can try to play …Re5, …Bd6, and …Rd2, planning …Rf5 next to target the weak f2-pawn. However, 52.g4!? was a rather interesting try and would’ve really made a mess of things given the time situation, although I’m not sure that is still enough for White to be clearly better. Still, given that Black wasn’t any better, 46…Bg4 was the correct way to go. Still, a draw with Black against another GM was not a horrible result, especially as it was my first outing in the main lines of the Slav.

Round 7: White vs. GM Alexander Ivanov (2625)

Another round, another GM! After my long with Shaba in the morning, I expected to play down, but I had no such luck. Actually, it wasn’t such a bad pairing, since I was hoping to play good players, and to get the white pieces meant I could probably do a bit more damage that I had previously.

Earlier in the tournament, Ivanov had struggled with the black pieces, but he was playing 2nd and 3rd string openings like 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 Bg4 and the like. He’s normally a Nimzo/QID player, and against me, he gave me his regular Nimzo. We went down a bit of a sideline, in which I had done such preparation a while ago, but as I didn’t remember most of it, I had to rediscover a good chunk of it at the board. After 15…g5, we reached the following crazy position:

15…g5 appears to be a new move (15…Nc6 has been played before, but Black is in trouble regardless). Despite his extra piece, White has a pawn deep in his position on e6 and the rook on a8 is lost. Giving back a knight on c6 frees the rook, but White’s still up a pawn with a better position to boot.

After 15…g5, 16.Nfe2 is quite reasonable, but I spent some time and played the very strong 16.0-0-0!!. Black can’t safely take on f4 because after 16…gxf4 17.Bxf4, 17…Qh5 loses to 18.Qxa8; 17…Qf5 loses to 18.Bh6+; and 17…Qxe6 loses to 18.Qxa8. The only tough move from my point of view was 16…Be2!.

I had then planned 17.Bh6+ Ke8 (17…Kg8 loses to a beautiful idea: 18.Nxe2 Qe4 19.Nc3!!, as after 19…Qxf3 20.gxf3, Black has no good way to stop 21.Rhg1+!) 18.Qxa8 Bxd1 19.Rxd1 Bf8 20.Bd2! (threatening 21.g3 or 21.Nb5) and White is still winning.

As it was, there was a bit of extra excitement, as I played for the beautiful win rather than the prosaic one, and missed a key defensive opportunity for Black. It didn’t change the final assessment (White was much better/winning), but it did make me work for the full point a bit longer than I had anticipated. Still, a win is a win, and this brought me up to 4.5/7 heading into the final day.

Round 8: Black vs. IM Davorin Kuljasevic (2528)

The final day saw the tournament begin at the early hour of 10 AM. The previous morning rounds had taken place at 1 PM and 11 AM (twice). The problem for me this game was partly the early start, but also that I was supposed to play GM Jaan Ehlvest with the white pieces (the pairings had been posted the previous night). A few minutes before the round, however, the pairings changed for seemingly no reason. Kuljasevic was supposed to have the white pieces against Marc Esserman, so he was at least prepared to play with white, and in fact, after the game, said he knew I’d play this line and had looked at it accordingly (he showed up about 10-15 minutes late for the game).

This was my second outing with the main line Slav, but this one didn’t go so well. I couldn’t remember the lines I had prepared over the summer too well, and while I came up with something similar, it wasn’t quite as good. In the following position, I had to play 22…Bd6, with the point that on 23.Qc2 Nc5 24.Nxc5 Bxc5 25.Nd5, Black has 25…Rxd5! and the e4-pawn is pinned because of the bishop on h7

I missed this little detail, and so I played 22…Rac8?, both in order to guard the c5-square after …cxd5 in that line, but also to make a8 available for the knight, so that it could go to e6 via c7. This was much too slow and too subtle to work though. After 23.Bh3! Na8 24.Nb1! Bd6 25.Nd2, White had regrouped quite nicely while Black was all bottled up on the queenside. Davorin put me away pretty easily to send me to my 2nd loss of the tournament.

Round 9: White vs. Victor Kaminski (2514)

This was another game in which I played someone with a higher USCF rating (although Kaminski has a lower FIDE rating; the other 5 higher USCF players were also higher in FIDE), but they had mysteriously dropped Kaminski’s rating to 2291 mid-way through the tournament. It was all the more amusing since for the first half of the tournament, he was the only player to take half a point off Marc Esserman (2350), who had otherwise rampaged through the field with Robson.

The opening was not very standard, and after 16…Qe5, we reached the following position:

I played 17.0-0! Qxc3 18.Rb1! [not going in for the attractive, but bad, 18.Qxb6 Qxa1 19.Qxb7 Rc8! (not 19…Rd8? 20.Nxc4 0-0 21.Bg5, winning), when White is hard pressed to prove an advantage anywhere and should start playing defense]. After 18…Nc8 19.Nxc4 Qxb4 20.Rxb4 Bb5 21.Bf4 Ke7 22.Rc1, I had a large advantage. I ended up being ahead 2 pawns with 2 Bishops against Bishop and Knight (all the pawns on the kingside), and while I took my time to win the game, the result was not in much doubt.

This win brought me up to 5.5/9, good enough for a tie for 10th-16th place and $108.33 in prize money. After starting out with 5/5, IM Ray Robson slowed down a bit, scoring on 2/4 to finish on 7/9. This was good enough for a tie for first with GM Darmen Sadvakasov, who beat him in the last round to catch up. However, Robson then won the armageddon blitz playoff to take the official title. Unfortunately for him, he only played 2 GMs the whole way, and so was ineligible for a GM norm. Marc Esserman was the other big story of the event, beating GMs Ehlvest and Mikhalevski en route to a strong 6.5/9 result. He too only played 2 GMs, but his result was good enough for an IM norm anyways.

My fellow Bay Area chessplayers didn’t fare too well with Josh Friedel withdrawing after having 5.0/8 and David Pruess scoring 5.5/9.

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Catching up – the Miami Open, part 1: rounds 1 – 5

It’s a week overdue, but I figured I should write about the Miami Open. It was held from September 10-14 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Miami. It was a much bigger tournament last year, and they banked on a big turnout again this year until Hurricane Ike decided to make its presence felt. A number of players told the organizers they would no longer make the trip because of concerns Ike would hit Miami directly.

As it was, the hurricane passed by Miami at the last moment, and missed Florida pretty much altogether. Actually, this was why our USCL match with Miami went on as scheduled on Monday, September 8. It was originally under a bit of a cloud because of the same concerns (shameless plug: the writeup on the team blog is here).

As for the tournament, I didn’t play up to my hopes, but I did play a pretty strong field (with 6 guys over 2500 USCF). A problem was that I kept either just missing, or just making the cut, meaning that I played up often or played way down, a product of my USCF rating being 2462 going into the tournament. I finished with 5.5/9, enough to gain 12+ USCF points and just over 1 point in the FIDE category. This will be a long post, and instead of including the full gamescores, I’m going to post some diagrams with some of the more critical positions.

Round 1: White vs Christopher Heung (2092)

This was a nice, easy game to start off the tournament. He chose the odd 6…Nc6 variation instead the standard 6…e5, and immediately found himself with a good deal less space, reaching the following position:

The knight required some help to find a safe square on c5, buty he never played …a4 to stop b2-b4. Even if he had, White is doing good there, as he can simply play Nf3-d4 and expand with f2-f4, etc. As it was, I got to play 14.b4, and after his blunder with 14…axb4 15.axb4 Na4? (15…Na6 was necessary, but Black is relegated to 3 ranks with no counterplay after 16.Qb3), his knight was permanently sidelined with 16.Nb5!. He tried to confuse the issue with a piece sacrifice on the kingside, but he lost that piece and the knight on a4 before resigning.

Round 2: White vs. GM Victor Mikhalevski (2680)

This was a bit of a surprise, since I expected to get the black pieces in round 2 and instead got white against the top seed in the tournament. It was a Grunfeld (Mikhalevski’s specialty) where he made an implicit draw offer with a knight maneuver in the middlegame. I wasn’t aware at the time, but afterwards he said this draw is known to theory, whereas the way I refused the draw seems to be a novel approach.

The new way won a pawn, but with Black’s two bishops and my misplaced knight on e7, he had definite compensation. We reached the following position on after 18…Rad8:

I played 19.Rfd1, as on 19…Rd7, White has the tricky 20.Nxe6! Rexe7 (20…Rxc7 21.Nxc7 and 22.Nxe8 is winning for White) 21.Nxg7! Rxc7 (21…Kxg7 is better, but after 22.Bxf6+ Qxf6 23.Qc3, white is just up a clear pawn) 22.Nxe8! Rxc1 23.Rxc1 (not 23.Bxf6+ Qxf6! 24.Nxf6 Rxd1+) is winning for White!

After some more excitement, we reached the following endgame after 33…h6. Black is threatening to play …Ke8-d8, leaving the rook short of air.

I played 34.f4! Ke8 35.f5 gxf5 36.gxf5 Kd8 37.fxe6 Kxc7 38.exf7 Nd7 39.Nd5+ Kd6 40.Nxb6. Originally, when I played 34.f4, I thought this position was winning because I’m threatening Nc4+, picking up the rook, in addition to queening the pawn once I remove his knight from d7. However, as we approached this position, I realized he can play 40…Rd1+ 41.Kf2 Nf8, when he stops the pawn. We played the endgame for a while longer, but neither of us were really able to muster up any winning chances and the game ended in a draw. A solid result against a good GM, and while I could’ve obviously taken the draw much earlier and saved myself 3 more hours of tough play, I wouldn’t have played such an interesting game.

Round 3: Black vs. GM Julio Becerra (2642)

This was a tough matchup, as it was a short turnaround after my long game with Mikhalevski. Also, Julio is a much more dangerous player with the white pieces (I had played him twice before with white, achieving won positions in both games, although he did manage to beat me from one in Oklahoma earlier this year). It was also tough because I’m still learning to play the Ruy Lopez, and that’s probably his best opening as he plays it exclusively from both sides.

I showed some Lopez naivete by playing 15…c3 in the following position:

I was hoping to play …c6 to break up his central pawn chain, and thought that by playing …c3 first, I’d break up his queenside pawn structure a bit. Unfortunately, 15…c3? opens the b-file, a fact that Julio was quick to notice and first to take advantage of. After 16.bxc3 Nb6 17.Rb1, Black’s already in some trouble and after 17…Rb8 18.Nc4 Nxc4 19.Bxc4 c6 20.dxc6 Nxc6 21.Be3, the torture began. Julio put me out of my misery pretty quickly and very accurately to pocket the full point.

I should’ve just played 15…Nb6 right away, as after 16.Nxc4 Nxc4 17.Bxc4 c6 18.dxc6 Bxc6, Black has broken the central chain and can hope to play …d5 at some point. White is still a bit better, but Black’s position is certainly playable. I was aiming for that position, but with White’s pawn on c3 instead of b2. However, I never got the chance.

It was disappointing to lose, but on the other hand, I did pick up a useful lesson in Lopez ideas and also a good demonstration of how to put away an opponent – I set up some tactical tricks near the end and many an opponent would fall for them thinking they faced no difficulty. But that was precisely when Julio started to spend more time to make sure he was not allowing any counterplay.

Round 4: Black vs. Karel Gonzalez (2170)

This was a frustrating game, because my opponent played the Exchange French as White and tried to exchange all the pieces as quickly as he could. I actually managed to find a good plan to gain a very tiny edge, but then I misplayed it a bit. My biggest mistake was burning up a lot of the clock debating whether to castle kingside or queenside. In the end, I think my decision to castle kingside was right, but it cost me too much time, and then I followed it up poorly, not playing incisively enough on the queenside. The game ended in a draw after a long struggle.

Round 5: White vs. Brian Goldstein (2152)

I was a bit angry this game, which explains my more aggressive than normal play. It started out as a Trompowsky that turned into a Torre Attack of sorts, but Goldstein didn’t find a viable plan and allowed me to expand in the center. I probably could have played it more sedately, but I decided to forego castling in an attempt to checkmate Black quickly. We reached the following position, after I played 18.Rf1:

Here, he played 18…N7b6 19.Nd6+!? (19.Nd2 was also possible) Bxd6 20.exd6 Na4!. Actually, he touched his knight at first, and I thought he was going to move it to d7 (which allows the beautiful finish 21.Qxe6+! fxe6 22.Bg6#), but then he sat and thought for a bit longer and played it to a4, which I think might well be the best move in the position, even if he hadn’t touched his knight! The threat is …N(a/d)c3+, winning the white queen, while also faciliating …Bd7 and …Rc8 or …Qb6 in some lines.

I thought for a while and played 21.Ke1!!, which escapes the checks on b2 and c3, while simply threatening to continue with the kingside attack. After 21…Bd7 22.Be5 f6? (23…Rf8 was necessary; 23…Rg8 loses to 24.Rxf7!) 23.Qh5+ Kf8 24.Bxf6, Black resigned and I was back in the win column.

So after 5 rounds, I was sitting on 3.0/5. Ray Robson had jumped out to a huge lead with a perfect 5/5 score, so I wasn’t in serious contention for 1st place. There were still 4 more rounds to go, and those games will be discussed in the next post …

The man, the myth, the legend … and Game of The Week!

The 2008 season of the US Chess League started at the end of August, and the SF Mechanics got off to a good start by beating the defending champion Dallas Destiny 2.5-1.5. GM-elect Josh Friedel posted a writeup on the team blog.

In week 2, we faced the expansion Chicago Blaze and the match ended in a 2-2 tie. I was on board 2, behind Josh, against IM Emory Tate.

The legendary Emory Tate. If you’re following an American tournament on ICC, or even some international tournaments, it’s hard to escape mention of 3 chessplayers: Fischer, Nakamura, and Tate. Here are a couple writeups I found, at the Chessdrum: a brief intro and part 2.

ICC, where the games were broadcast, billed the game as “Watch the Legendary IM Emory Tate make his debut in the USCL against GM-elect Vinay Bhat!”

Given Tate’s history as a dangerous attacker, I was hoping to avoid any such excitement and instead play some quiet chess. However, the game was rather messy, with a number of complicated lines that were tough for me to slog through in the short time control. The game can be replayed here: http://www.uschessleague.com/games/bhattate08.htm

Bhat – Tate, USCL (2) 2008.09.03

1. d4 b6!?

A surprise, but as I hadn’t done much preparation for this game, it didn’t bother me too much.

2. e4 e6 3. Nd2!?

Clearly not the most testing move, but I was a bit tired before the game, and I wasn’t going to challenge him in what might be considered the main lines with either 3.c4 Bb7 4.Nc3 Bb4 or 3.Nc3 Bb7 4.Nf3 Bb4. The latter is probably White’s best option of punishing Black for his ultra-hypermodern play in the opening, but I simply couldn’t be bothered to do that this early in the game.

3…c5 4. c3 Ne7 5. Ngf3 d5 6. e5 Qd7

We’ve essentially reached a funky version of the Advance French where Black is hoping to exchange off the light squared bishops. To this end, he needs to take away the option of Qa4+ (as after 6…Ba6 7.Bxa6 Nxa6, 8.Qa4+ wins a piece).

Developing the bishop on f1 is natural now, but doesn’t help White’s cause as after 7…Ba6, he’ll have nothing better than to exchange bishops. Thus, I was looking for something useful to do, and realizing my advantage was going to be on the kingside, I decided to start seizing space immediately.

7. h4! Ba6 8. Bxa6 Nxa6 9. Qe2 c4!?

A tough decision for Black. If he retreats with 9…Nb8, he maintains the central tension for a bit more time, but he also loses time with his knight. I was planning 10.h5 Nbc6 11.a3, taking away the b4-square. White can then proceed in a few different ways on the kingside, most probably with h5-h6 (as in the game) or h5 and Rh4-f4, to pressure the weak f7-pawn. Either way, I think White still is a bit better.

10. h5 b5 11. h6

Ramming the pawn into Black’s camp. If he pushes past with 11…g6, he’s left with huge dark-square weaknesses (and a knight coming to g4 would be especially strong then), while if he lets White take on g7, the bishop on g7 is going to be weak, while the f6-square is still soft.

11…gxh6 12. Nf1?!

During the game, I thought it made sense to go after the kingside immediately, but maybe it would’ve been more prudent to play 12.a3. That would take a move out to slow down Black’s queenside counterplay, as in the game, he stirred up some trouble there. White can afford to do this given that he’ll win the kingside battle anyways.

I considered this during the game, but I thought I would actually be able to use the open b-file faster than Black. With that in mind, I doggedly pursued my strategy on the kingside.

12…b4 13. Ng3 bxc3 14. bxc3 Qa4 15.Rb1 Ng6 16. Nh5 Be7

17. Bxh6

This was where I was hoping to make real use of the b-file by playing 17.Rb7!?. Black can’t leave the rook on the 7th in his camp, and so he must play 17…Qc6 (17…Rb8 and 17…0-0-0 both kick the rook away from b7, but allow White to take the pawn on a7). I then had planned 18.Qb2, taking the b-file and on 18…Ba3, White has 19.Qxa3 Qxb7 20.Qd6, when White is winning due to the threat of Nf6#. Fortunately, while he was thinking, I realized he could play 18…Kd8!! there, with the simple idea of 19…Kc8. All of a sudden, my “control” of the b-file just gets me into serious trouble.

17…Nc7 18. Nh2 Nb5 19. Qf3 O-O-O 20. O-O Rd7 21. Ng4 Nh4 22. Qh3?

Up until now, my play had been pretty logical and to the point. However, here, I missed my chance with 22.Qxf7. I was spooked by the possibility of 22…Bg5 23.Qxe6 Nc7, seemingly trapping the queen, but 24.Rb4! saves White and leaves him winning.

22…Nf5

23. Bf4?!

23.Bd2 might look more natural, as it guards the weak c3-pawn, but the bishop is exposed on d2 and will be vulnerable if Black ever puts a queen on the 2nd rank (either after …Qxa2 or …Qc2). Thus, I decided to put it on f4.

However, 23.Nhf6! was correct. I saw this move, but for some reason, I kept wanting to avoid calculating in my tired state. The lines are pretty simple, though:

(1) 23…Rb7 24.Nxd5 exd5 25.Ne3

(2) 23…Nxh6 24.Nxh6 Bxf6 25.exf6 Nd6 (25…Rb7? 26.Nxf7!) 26.Rb2 and White just doubles on the b-file.

(3) 23…Bxf6 24.Nxf6 Rb7 25.Nxd5 Nxh6 26.Rb4! Qa5 27.Rxc4+ Kb8 28.Nb4, and the threat of 29.Nc6+ means White can take the knight on h6 later.

23…Rb7 24. Ngf6 Rd8

White was threatening to remove the support from under the f5-knight with 25.Nfxd5.

25. g4 Nfxd4

A visually pleasing sacrifice, but it was virtually forced. The knight had no other safe squares, and 25…Bxf6 runs into 26.gxf5! Be7 27.fxe6 fxe6 28.Qxe6+ when White is crashing through.

26. cxd4 Nxd4 27. Rxb7 Kxb7 28. Ng3 Bxf6 29. exf6 e5 30. Be3 Qc2 31. f4!?

After the game, David Pruess told me this was move was insane, and I agreed. However, I didn’t like 31.Qh5 Rd7, when I can’t take on e5 because of the weak f3 square. And without that double attack, I needed to find another way to break up his central pawn phalanx.

31…Qd3 32. Bxd4 Qxd4+ 33. Kh1?!

I was now down to 1 minute.

The computer rightly points out that 33.Kg2 was better. I didn’t see anything clear after any of the king moves to g2, h2, or h1, but I decided against putting it on the 2nd rank because of some possible checks or pins from b2 or d2.

33…exf4 34. Ne2 Qe3?!

After playing pretty well for the rest of the game, Tate started to go wrong here and got too ambitious. 34…Qe4+ was better, as after White interposes, Black can choose to exchange queens and enter relatively drawish endgames at will. Given the match situation (where they won on board 3 and were winning on board 4), this would have been the more prudent option for the team as well.

35. Qg2 Kc6 36. Rxf4

White is already better again, as the pawns are temporarily stopped and Black’s king is somewhat exposed. The ensuing king walk is somewhat counter-intuitive, but it’s hard to sit tight sometimes.

36…Kc5 37. Rf5 Kb4?

The previous king moves were not too bad, but this one starts a real downward trend for Black. What’s the king doing on b4?

38. Rf3

In time pressure, I missed that 38.Nf4! was much stronger.

38…Qh6+ 39. Kg1 d4?

Black had to prevent his queen from getting shut out and so 39…Qd2 was called for.

In time pressure, I missed that 38.Nf4! was much stronger.

40. Rf4!

The finisher. White cuts Black’s queen off from giving any checks, opens the long diagonal for White’s queen to give a check on b7 (and as it can later check from b6 or d8, it indirectly is attacking the rook on d8 already), and eyes Black’s king along the 4th rank. White is completely winning now.

40…Ka3 41. Qb7 Qh4 42. Qxa7+ Kb2 43. Qb6+ Kc2 44. Qxd8 d3 45. Nd4+ Kc3 46. Qa5+, 1-0

White is going to deliver checkmate soon, and so Black resigned. This brought us up to 1-1 in the match, and after Josh won and Naroditsky lost, the match was finished at an even 2-2.

This game was also awarded the Game of the Week prize for week 2 in the USCL. Here’s the writeup from the judge of the Game of the Week competition: http://usclnews.blogspot.com/2008/09/week-2-game-of-week.html

Derailed on Labor Day

This is a few days overdue, but I played in the CalChess Labor Day tournament this past weekend. It doubles as the championship for North California, a state unto itself in the US Chess Federation (Southern California holds it’s own, separate championship on the same weekend).

I was largely playing to get some practice playing 2 rounds a day again, as most European events have one round on every day. It was my first time back at the State Champs since 1999, when there were very strong players like GMs Roman Dzindzichasvili and Walter Browne amongst the participants. This year, I was the top seed with about four or five 2400s behind me.

Nevertheless, it was an unmitigated disaster for me.

In the first round, I had the white pieces against Jimmy Heiserman. He played a Grunfeld against me, and I was rather happy with the game, as I got a small edge out of the opening and started to expand across the board. He tried to complicate things, but I cut my way through the complications to get an easily winning endgame.

In the second round, I had the black pieces against NM Steven Zierk, who I played in a 20-board simul in Los Gatos earlier in the year (writeup at: https://vbhat.wordpress.com/tag/los-gatos/). He played extremely passively, but I guess he just wanted a draw from the game. I struggled to squeeze something from the position, and I was making great progress until I made a bad miscalculation around the time control on move 30 and was left with a worthless advantage in the endgame. The game petered out in a K+B (for me) vs. K (for him) draw …

Annoying for sure, but it was the 2nd game of the day, and as I was trying to prepare myself for the rigors of playing a pair of 5-hour rounds a day, I wasn’t overly upset at that one. The next morning, though, I drew again with a much lower rated master, this time NM Gregory Young.

I got a clear advantage out of the opening, but immediately took it into an endgame which offered few practical chances for me due to the opposite colored bishops. This was a bad practical decision, as had I kept more pieces on the board, I may have kept more chances of outplaying my opponent. As it was, the endgame was not so hard to defend, and although he gave me a few chances, I never got close enough to win the game.

The real disaster struck that evening, in the fourth round as black against NM Drake Wang. I emerged from the opening with a clear advantage (extra pawn, pair of bishops), but then was so overjoyed with such an advantage that I played a little loosely for the next few moves. I saw a winning line after he played 18.Nxf7, the only problem being that I mixed up the order of the moves. Thus, I incorrectly played 18…d4, when 18…Bxc4 19.bxc3 d3! was winning. He immediately took advantage by sliding his knight away with Nce5, after which I was reeling. I tried to fight, and the game went on for another 2.5 hours, but I was again in no danger of winning and in fact was in no real danger of drawing the game!

With that loss, I was dropped to 2/4 and decided to withdraw from the tournament. I had done a great job against lower rated players in general since playing more seriously in 2006 – before this tournament, in my previous 64 games against lower rated opposition (since the start of 2006), I had 55 wins, 7 draws, and 2 losses. In this tournament, I left with 1 win, 2 draws, and 1 loss. A clunker like that was bound to happen at some point, but it was disappointing for sure. However, I think I’ve learned a couple things from those games and will hopefully not let that happen again.

The tournament was also costly from a FIDE rating standpoint, as I essentially threw away all my gains from Balaguer 2008 by losing 12+ rating points. My next rated tournament will be the Miami International, from September 10th to the 14th.

As a stand-in for a wrap-up of the tournament, my former student FM Sam Shankland won the tournament convincingly with 5/6. He thrashed IM Andrei Florean in round 5 before holding a draw against IM Dmitry Zilberstein in the final round to secure clear first place.

HT to my former teacher Richard Shorman for the photos. There are more available at his Chess Dryad site.