Monthly Archives: October 2008

On the brink

Two World Championships are going on these days, one in the chess world and one in the baseball world.

The Tampa Bay Rays lost again today, 10-2, to the Philadelphia Phillies. That brings Philly a 3-1 series lead, and with their ace Cole Hamels going tomorrow, I’d expect them to finish it out. Philly is swinging better bats right now and their bullpen is much more of a shutdown unit than Tampa Bay’s. The Rays need to win the next 3 games to win the series.

Viswanathan Anand managed to draw today as white against Vladimir Kramnik in the chess world championship, which is being held in Bonn, Germany. That brings him to a 6-3 match lead, and with only 3 games to play, Kramnik also needs to win the next 3 games to avoid defeat. Of course, that would only take him to a 6-6 tie and the rapid chess playoffs would ensue. Kramnik has had the lion’s share of the chances the past two games, but after only coming away with draws in both games, I don’t expect him to win his first game of the match tomorrow.

These two series also showcase my poor prognosticating abilities – I predicted a Rays win in 5 and Kramnik to win 6.5-5.5. Not only did I not pick the right score, it looks like I predicted the wrong winner in both. Oops.

Here and there – the Western States Open

In between the Week 8 and 9 USCL matches, I went to Reno for the Western States Open. I would need a very long post to go through the games one-by-one, so I’ll stay relatively high level for the discussion here. Maybe I’ll look at them in more detail later.

I finished with 4.0/6, beating 4 much lower rated players, while losing to GM Jaan Ehlvest and IM Bryan Smith. I thought I played pretty well in some of my wins, notably against NMs Dana MacKenzie and Gregg Small – I had lost twice previously to Dana (albeit in games some time back) and had failed to beat Small’s QGA opening at the North American Open in 2005. Actually, that opening will be linked to that tournament for me for some time as I had only recently begun playing 1.d4 then. I hadn’t done any preparation for the QGA, but then 3 people played it against me that tournament! All of them made draws as well, although I had some chances in a couple games. Since then, nobody has dared to repeat the opening! Anyways, it was good to finally beat the QGA, and also to win a pair of Exchange Frenches after I failed to beat a lower rated player in that opening in Miami.

The loss to Ehlvest was an unfortunate one, but I can take some solace in the fact I defended a worse position for 7 hours. Actually, the game took about 6 hours and 55 minutes, but who’s counting? The final 3 hours of the game can be replayed in the USCF’s article about the event, available here. The real disaster came in the evening round, against IM Bryan Smith. I played a brilliant piece sacrifice (if I may say so myself) in the opening and reached what I considered to be an absolutely dominating position. However, the 7-hour morning round seemed to take its toll on me, and I simply couldn’t calculate any variations at the board. The same line would just replay through my head over and over again. In the end, I got into horrible time pressure and blew the win and lost the game.

GM Sergey Kudrin took clear first with 5.0/6. GM Ehlvest headed a group of 3 players who finished on 4.5/6. I came in tied for 5th with 6 other players, including Smith.

I think this was my first time playing the Western States in Reno, and I would say the tournament is well-run in some aspects and rather poorly run in others. The organizers do a good thing by providing a quiet playing hall, boards and pieces for everyone (and often clocks for a number of players), having demonstration boards so people can follow the top 10 boards from afar, and putting together a games bulletin at the end of the event. However, the pairing system (both in philosophy and application) falls short of the mark in my view. Also, unlike the bigger events in Las Vegas, the playing hall is not on the casino floor, so there’s much less smoke around. In Vegas, I feel like you always leave the event smelling like smoke.

On the bad side, for starters I’m pretty sure they still do pairings by hand at this event. This means that virtually every round starts late, up to 30-40 minutes late in fact.

Secondly, Chief TD Jerry Weikel is unique in his pairing process – when there is a score group with an odd number of players, he drops the middle rated player to play the highest rated player of the next score group. This is the only tournament in the world where I’ve seen this system, as normal USCF rules mean you drop the lowest rated player of the odd group to play the highest rated player of the next. Color alternation is also thrown out the window in his tournaments, so it’s not only common to get a 4/2 color split in a 6-round event, it’s quite possible to get 3 colors in a row!

Maybe part of the reason I’m annoyed by this is that after losing a long game to Ehlvest, I came back after a short break to see I was playing a strong player in Smith (and then lost that one too), when the people around me got much easier pairings. But logically and by the letter of the rulebook, I don’t see why he does it this way, and after the event, GM Alexander Ivanov concurred, explaining that he’d been trying to convince Jerry for years that this pairing system does a dis-service to everyone involved.

Here and there – the USCL

I’ve played a few games of chess over the past couple weeks, some of which went much better than others. Here’s a quick rundown of my games. The team recaps can be read on the Mechanics blog.

In Week 8, the SF Mechanics faced the Tennessee Tempo. With GM Jaan Ehlvest hired to play board 1, the Tempo are a much more dangerous team this year than in year’s past. Unfortunately for the Tempo, Ehlvest has only played in about half their matches, so they’ve struggled more when he’s away. With GM Patrick Wolff taking board 1 duties that week, I was on board 2 against FM Todd Andrews. The game can be replayed here.

The game was a 6.Qc2 Anti-Meran (As a side note, why didn’t Kramnik play this against Anand? It seems like it’d be more his style than the main line of the Meran) where I chose the 7…Nxg4 8.Rg1 f5 system. I hadn’t played this before, and didn’t prepare it for this game, but the last time I saw Todd play this system as White was from games in 1998, so I thought he might have something up his sleeve against my normal 7…h6 system. We reached the following position after 13…Bd7:

White now played the odd 14.Be1 – I think he wanted to stop 14…Nh4, which now runs into 15.Nxh4 Qxh4 16.f3, and maybe avoid an exchange of knight for bishop. Unfortunately, the bishop is misplaced a bit on e1 and clogs up some of the communication of his rooks. I also don’t have to rush with …Nh4 and can instead go about finishing my development and castling. I was more worried about 14.Bd3 or 14.Be2 at that point, as even if go after the h-pawn right away with 14…Nh4, after 15.Nxh4 Qxh4 16.Rdg1, I expected White to have adequate counterplay on the g-file and in the center.

In the game, though, I soon got to castle queenside when White was left without any obvious targets to attack. With my powerful knight on e4 and the ability to challenge the g-file, the center and kingside are generally in Black’s hands. Thus, Todd looked to attack on the queenside with 16.c5. The problem was that the attack was a bit slow to organize, and in the meantime, I was able to organize some serious threats myself. We reached the following position after some exchanges on the kingside:

I’m threatening to come in on g1, but Todd gave me a big gift here. 22.Rb3? walked right into 22…Nxc5 (thanks to the pin along the 4th rank), but I think White was already in trouble. I expected 22.Qb4, but then I planned 22…Rg1 23.Be2 (23.Rb3 still walks into 23…Nxc5! 24.Qxc5 Rxf1, when White is in huge trouble) Bc7 24.Rb3 Kd8!, simply sidestepping the attack. Black threatens 25…a5 to drive the queen from the defense of the bishop on e1, and meanwhile White’s pieces are strangely tied up on the b-file and in the center. After taking the exchange off his hands, I won in a few more moves. The team won the match as well, as although Patrick was ground down on board 1, we won the remaining boards to win by a score of 3-1.

In Week 9, we faced the 2007 USCL champion Dallas Destiny. They were in 3rd place in the Western Division, but present a very dangerous lineup.  Like the Mechanics, they have a bit of a 3 or 4-headed monster for the first couple boards, followed by FM Igor Schneider and WFM Bayaraa Zorigt as their more regular boards 3 and 4. As in Week 8, I was on board 2, facing IM Davorin Kuljasevic. Davorin beat me in Miami in September, and he beat me last year in the league, so I was hoping that the third time was the charm. The game can be replayed here.

I got a clearly better position after the opening, but in trying to increase my advantage, I missed an important tactical shot after 15…Kg7.

I dropped the bishop back to g3 with 16.Bg3, overlooking that after 16…exd4 17.cxd4, Black has 17…c5! when the exchange sacrifice with 18.dxc5 Bxa1 19.Rxa1 Nxc4 20.Qxc4 is White’s best. White has definite compensation here, and actually I thought White was still slightly better, but I decided just to play 17.exd4 instead, thinking that preserved my advantage. It did, but not for reasons I understood. The next key position arose after 20…Qa5, hitting the a2-, c3-, and c5-pawns.

Instead of 21.Rxb7 Rxc5 22.Qb4!, when 23.Bd6 and 23.Bc7 are both threats, I played 21.Rb5, but after 21…Qa6 22.Qb4 Qxa2 23.Rxb7 Qd5, realized I had nothing. I was nominally up a pawn, but the c5-pawn was falling and the c3-pawn was not destined to live very long after that. With all the material on one side of the board, the game petered out to a draw. Had I won, we would have tied the match. IM David Pruess lost quickly to Schneider on board 3, while NM Nicholas Nip drew on board 4 against Zorigt. To close out the match, Josh Friedel saved a lost position to salvage a draw to bring the final score to 2.5-1.5 in Dallas’ favor.

Week 7 in the US Chess League

Last week in the USCL, the SF Mechanics played the Seattle Sluggers. At the time, the Sluggers were 1 match point behind us, so with a win, they’d tie us for first in the division.

There was some controversy over the match date and lineups. I wrote about this on the Mechanics blog (here), Seattle responded (here), and I responded in the comments section (here) – that seems to have ruffled some feathers in Seattle.

In any case, due to the change, I had the white pieces against GM Hikaru Nakamura. I beat him last year in league play (the game can be replayed here) and narrowly missed beating him in rapid play in Germany this summer (see the post here). He’s the highest rated player in the league, and after crossing 2700 FIDE on the October 2008 rating list, he’s the 2nd-highest rated player in the US behind GM Gata Kamsky. The game can be replayed on the USCL site, here.

GM Vinay Bhat (2498 FIDE) – GM Hikaru Nakamura (2704 FIDE)
USCL (Week 7, Board 1), 08.10.2008 [King’s Indian Defense]

1.d4 Nf6

Hikaru showed up late, so he lost 7 minutes on the clock.

2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 Nc6

An offbeat line. Hikaru has normally played 6…e5 here, but he also plays everything under the sun so I wasn’t expecting any specific opening.

7.d5 Nb8

A rather eccentric move. When I looked over the game, I hadn’t expected to find this move in the database, but there were over 300 games with it!

It reminds me a bit of 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Ng8!?!?. I was alerted to the existence of this line when flipping through a copy of Khalifman’s “Opening for White According to Anand, Volume 5”, which at least according to the table of contents, spends close to 10 pages discussing how to get +/= against this line.

Anyways, I didn’t expect to refute 7…Nb8, but this can’t be the most challenging line for Black in the King’s Indian.


8.h3!? takes away the …Bg4 idea, but this may not be a move White wants to play in some lines either. Black can also think about breaking with …e6 here, as his bishop will cover the e6 square.

8…Bg4 9.Be3

I briefly considered, 9.Qb3, which is common in lines where Black deploys his light-squared bishop so early, but with d4-d5 already in, Black can play 9…Nbd7 and eye the weak c5-square.;

9.h3 was the other major option, taking the bishop pair. After 9…Bxf3 10.Bxf3 Nbd7 White will likely play to exchange on c6 when Black plays …c6, to try and open up the position a bit for the bishops. White’s a bit better, but I decided I’d rather have a knight here.

9…Nbd7 10.Nd4 Bxe2 11.Qxe2 Rc8 12.f4 c6


Anticipating …cxd5 at some point. There were two general alternatives I looked at:

(a) 13.dxc6 changes the pawn structure, and if White can play e4-e5, he will be happy, but I didn’t see any way of forcing that in.;

(b) 13.Bf2 tries to push e4-e5, but now the f4-pawn is a bit weak. 13…Nh5 , hits the pawn and covers the e5-square.


Black, meanwhile, anticipates an …cxd5/exd5 exchange, when the e7-pawn will need protection.

14.Kh1 Qa5

14…e6 is not a good idea, as after 15.dxe6 fxe6 16.Nc2 , Black can play neither …e5 (because of f4-f5) nor …d5 (because of e4-e5). Meanwhile, White can even think of c4-c5 pawn sacrifices at times to secure the e4-e5 advance.


The bishop gets tucked away to prepare the e4-e5 advance while getting away from any future …Ng4/…Nh5 annoyances.

15…cxd5 16.cxd5!

16.exd5 was my intended recapture had Black recaptured earlier. White retains a bit more control of the position, but I thought I’d only have a symbolic advantage here. The e7-pawn is somewhat weak, but Black has enough defenders while White has no easy inroads elsewhere.

However, since 13.Rac1!?, I thought I had gotten more done with my past two moves than Black had and felt I could play for more with 16.cxd5. The queen is a bit exposed on a5 and e4-e5 is hanging in the air.]


White was threatening 17.Nb3 Qb4 18.e5 dxe5 19.fxe5 Nh5 20.e6 Ne5 21.Bd4! f6 22.g4, trapping the knight on h5. Thus, Black has to add an attacker to the d5-pawn for now.



a) 17…Rc5? 18.Qxa5 Rxa5 19.b4 leaves Black’s rook seriously misplaced after the required 19…Ra6 (19…Ra3? 20.Ndb5 Ra6 21.Nc7 is losing.) ;

b) 17…Qxb5 18.Ndxb5 and the a7-pawn and b6-knight are targeted by the knight and bishop on g1.;

c) 17…Nc4 18.b3 a6 19.Qxa5 Nxa5 20.Nf3 is still about equal.

17…Na4 18.Nb1?!

(a) 18.b4 Nxc3 19.Rxc3 Qa4 20.Rfc1 Rxc3 21.Rxc3 a5 is about equal.;

(b) 18.Ncb5! was the right move, and one I had spent some time on. 18…Qd8 (I had seen the nice line 18…a6 19.Nc7!! Rxc7 20.Nb3 and Black’s queen can’t stay in touch with the rook on c7. Black’s lost. For example, 20…Rxc1 21.Nxa5 Rxf1 22.Qxf1 Nxe4 23.b3 Nac3 24.Nxb7+-) 19.Rxc8 Qxc8 20.Nxa7 Qg4. I had seen this far, but was confused as what to do next. I didn’t see any good way to hang onto my extra pawn. I considered 21.Qb5 (21.Qc4! is better for White, though.) 21…Qd7 22.Qxd7 Nxd7 when objectively, the position is about equal, but I didn’t see any way to save the pawn. Black is playing …Nf6 next, to hit e4/d5 if White guards b2. Frustrated, I realized I was running low on time and just played Nb1.

18…Rxc1 19.Rxc1 Qa6 20.Qc2?!

White had two better choices, both leading to unclear endgames. Due to the reduced material, I’d guess both should end in draws.

(a) 20.Qxa6 bxa6 21.Nd2 Nc5 (21…Nxb2 22.Rc6 Nd3 23.Rxa6 is another way to continue.) 22.b4 Ncxe4 23.Nxe4 Nxe4 24.Rc6 with an unclear endgame.;

(b) 20.Nd2 Nxb2 (20…Qxe2 21.Nxe2 Nxb2 22.Rb1 Nd7 23.Nd4²) 21.Qxa6 bxa6 22.Ne2! with an unclear endgame.

20…Nc5 21.Nd2 Nd3

21…Qd3 22.Qxd3 Nxd3 23.Rc7 is not crystal clear, but likely about equal. 23…Nxb2 (23…Ng4 24.N4f3 Bxb2 25.a4 Nxf4 26.Rxb7) 24.Rxb7 Nd3 25.Rxa7 Nxf4 In these lines, White will end up with an extra a-pawn, but Black takes a kingside pawn and has some active piece play. In some lines, he’ll also play …e6 to activate the rook along the e-file. The endgames are not crystal clear to me, but likely about equal in the end.



A strange oversight from Hikaru. After the game, he explained he was under the weather, so that might explain this lackadaisical move. Black wants to bring the knight to b6, to play …Rc8, but he won’t have enough time here.

22…Ng4! is a move he’d normally see and play right away. Black threatens …Ndf2+, forcing some exchanges on f2 followed by a capture on d4. White’s problem is that he has no really constructive move:

a) 23.Nc4? Nxb2! wins a pawn.;

b) 23.N2f3? Nxf4 wins a pawn again.;

c) 23.N4b3? b6! and with …Rc8 next, Black is still in charge. (23…Nxb2 24.h3! misplaces the black knight a bit.) ;

d) 23.h3 Ngf2+ 24.Rxf2 (24.Bxf2 Nxf2+ 25.Rxf2 Bxd4 26.Rf3 b6 when Black is clearly better. He has the more compact pawn structure, the bishop, and the open c-file (after …Rc8). For example,  27.b4 Rc8 28.Qd3 Qxd3 29.Rxd3 Bb2 leaves Black clearly better) 24…Bxd4 25.Rf1 Bxg1 (25…Bg7 when I think Black enjoys a steady advantage. The computer, however, finds an interesting resource: 26.b4 Qxa3 27.Nc4 Qc3 28.Qxc3 Bxc3 29.Rf3 Rc8 30.Nxd6 exd6 31.Rxd3 Bxb4 32.Bxa7=) 26.Kxg1 b6 again with a clear advantage for Black.

23.b4 Bxd4

23…Qxa3 24.Nc4 picks up the knight.

24.Bxd4 Nb6

24…g5 doesn’t save Black. The hope is to open the e5-square for the knight to retreat, but White simply plays 25.g3 , when Qb3 and b5 are still on tap. Meanwhile 25…gxf4 26.gxf4 only helps White because he can add Rg1+ to his list of threats.


The finishing blow – there’s no way to stop b4-b5 next, cutting the knight of from its support. Maybe Hikaru was banking on 25.Bxb6 axb6 26.Qb3 Ra8 27.b5 (27.a4 still wins a piece, though, although after 27…Nxf4 28.Rxf4 Qxa4 , it’s marginally more difficult than in the game.) 27…Qxa3 , which keeps in touch with the knight.


25…Qb5 26.Bxb6 axb6 27.a4 also wins a piece.

26.Rxf4 Rc8 27.Rf1 Qe2 28.Qf3


28…Qxd2?? 29.Qxf7#


With the queens off the board, the rest really is just a matter of technique. Black can safely resign, but Hikaru decided to see if I could blow a piece-up ending two weeks in a row.

29…Rc2 30.Bxb6 axb6 31.Kg1 Ra2 32.Rc1 Rxa3 33.Rc7 Kf8 34.Rxb7 Re3 35.Rxb6 Rxe4 36.Kf2 h6


There are, of course, other ways to win this endgame. I decided that transferring the knight to the queenside (either a5 or c6, depending on the situation) was the simplest, and for that, I wanted to have the d5-pawn protected. Right now, Black can’t approach the pawn because the knight covers e5 and d4, but once it leaves, it will be useful.

37…e5 38.Nd2 Rd4 39.Nb3 Rc4 40.Na5 Rc2+ 41.Kf1 Rc1+ 42.Ke2 Rc2+ 43.Kd1 Rxg2

The kingside pawns aren’t so important, as I just want to queen my b-pawn.

44.Rb8+ Kg7 45.b5 e4 46.b6 Rg5 47.Ra8 and Black resigned.

After 47.Ra8 , Black resigned because if: 47…Rxd5+ 48.Ke2 Rb5 49.b7 . The pawn queens, leaving White a rook and knight up.

And it’s official!

I received the GM title officially today, as FIDE updated my player page. Here’s what it now looks like (available at:

I made my first norm in China (the Qingdao Tan Chin Nam Cup) in July 2002. I played 7 GMs and 2 IMs, with everybody rated 2500 FIDE or higher. The plus-1 I scored (with wins against GM Zhang Zhong and IM Sandipan, and a loss to GM Larry Christiansen) was good enough for a norm there. The FIDE summary page is at:

My second norm was in Balaguer in July 2006. A picture of that norm certificate is at the FIDE website, at: I was undefeated through 9 rounds, and actually had a 9 round norm if I wanted that. However the loss in the last round to GM Mirzoev didn’t knock me below the 2600 performance rating mark, so I had a 10-round norm.

My third norm was also in Balaguer, this time in July 2007. The picture is at: I dropped a game in the 3rd round to FM Lorenzo de La Riva (I got revenge earlier this year, in Balaguer ironically!), but then reeled off 5 straight wins to get back on track. My final two draws against GMs Delchev and Arizmendi Martinez were enough to get my last norm.

Actually, the FIDE rules for calculating norms changed back in 2002. The big change was that against unrated players, or players with low FIDE ratings, you could bump their rating up to a prespecified floor for norm calculations. This could happen for a maximum of 2 players. Thus, for IM norm purposes, anybody rated below 2100 FIDE would get bumped up to 2100, and for GM norm purposes, anybody below 2250 FIDE would get bumped up to 2250. This rule was implemented largely to allow GM norms to be made in swiss events – before, you would play down the first couple rounds (often against unrated players), automatically disqualifying you from having a chance to make a norm.

Had those rules been in place before (or if they could be retroactively applied), I would have made a norm at the Toronto Summer International in August 2000. I played 5 GMs (scoring an undeafted 3/5), 2 IMs (scoring 1.5/2), and 2 other players (scoring 2/2). With 6.5/9, my unadjusted performance rating was 2586 from the tournament; with the 2250 rating floor included, then the performance would have gone up to 2600.

In any case, my FIDE rating only hit/crossed 2500 for the first time this summer. As of now, because of the Labor Day debacle, I dropped back below 2500 to 2498 FIDE, but for the title purposes, you only need to have hit the threshold at any point for it to count.

Recent USCL play

After my week 2 win against Emory Tate, I sat out the next few matches and rejoined the team in its week 5 clash with the Boston Blitz.

I lost that game in horrible style to GM Larry Christiansen (he’s now 2-0 against me, having beaten me in our previous encounter in China in 2002 – I had the black pieces in that game). It was the first time in ages I remember actually losing on time. The game can be replayed on the USCL website, here. I recapped the action on the entire week at the SF Mechanics blog, here. We lost the match by a score of 3-1 (although it easily could have been a 4-0 sweep from Boston).

That dropped us to 3.5/5 in match-play and a tie with Dallas for first in the Western Division. It was my first loss of the year, and the team’s first match loss of the year.

The following week, we played a division rival in the Arizona Scorpions. This match went much better for us. I had the black pieces against the strong IM Rogelio Barcenilla. Rogelio doesn’t play much anymore, but he had been rated near 2500-FIDE for years. The game was equal for a while, but then I got the advantage and was easily winning (up a whole piece after …Rxb3!). However, I was having trouble seeing more than 1 move ahead and with my head hurting, I managed to completely botch the win over the next 20 moves or so. The game ended in a draw, but we won the match anyways, 3-1. Actually, we could have had a 4-0 sweep if Naroditsky and myself were even remotely in form. You can see the game at the USCL site, here. The recap, again written by me, is on the Mechanics blog here.

This win took us to 4.5/6 in match play this season, and we again took clear first in the West, as Dallas lost to Tennessee by a score of 2.5-1.5. There are 4 weeks left in regular season play, after which the first of 3 playoff rounds begins.

Our history in the league has been pretty good – we won the Division in 2005, won the Division in 2006 (and went on to win the League Championsip) with the best team record in league history, and placed 2nd in the Division in 2007 behind later league-champion Dallas.

Interview with Elizabeth Vicary

The interview can be read on her blog.

I gave this interview on Sunday, September 28th. It was posted online on Wednesday, October 1st. It most is about chess (both OTB and USCL play), but has me rambling on a lot more about politics and economics at the end.