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.

8.0-0

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

13.Rac1!?

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.

13…Re8

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.

15.Bg1!

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.]

16…Nb6

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.

17.a3

17.Qb5:

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.

22.Rf1

22…Nd7?

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.

25.Qb3

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…Nxf4

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

26.Rxf4 Rc8 27.Rf1 Qe2 28.Qf3

28…Qxf3

28…Qxd2?? 29.Qxf7#

29.Nxf3

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

37.Rb5!?

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.

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