Monthly Archives: December 2008

Cold blooded

During the tournament, we had a couple guests to take care of. In our house itself, there was IM Sandor Kustar (a Hungarian currently living in South Dakota) and GM Dashzegve Sharavdorj (a Mongolian currently living in Colorado). David Pruess and Irina had vacated the apartment (they stayed at his mom’s place), and the two Georgian grandmasters (Zviad Izoria and Giorgi Kacheishvili) were staying there. For the most part, it wasn’t too painful to take them around to wherever they needed to go, but there were a couple amusing scenes …

I’m vegetarian, and in the house, Jesse almost always eats vegetarian. GM Dash, though, was not a big fan of eating tofu – he prefers his meals with red meat. Normally in Mongolia, he said, he’d be eating lamb (about 3-4 days a week) and beef (about 2-3 days a week), with some horse and camel thrown in for good measure. This surprised our other guest, Sandor, who breeds horses in South Dakota! Luckily, GM Dash took a flight to Vegas after this tournament, not to Sandor’s ranch.

One of our guests (who shall be nameless for now) wasn’t quite sure how to operate a gas stove. I have the only downstairs bedroom in the house, so when he turned on the stove in the morning before the second round, I was awoken by the loud, constant clicking of the stove – he had turned it on by turning the knob to the right, but he had left it on the “lite” setting, not bothering to turn it further to “High.” Not sensing anything was the matter, he had gone back to his room to let the water boil. Guess they have electric cooktop ranges at his place.

We also had a bit of an ant invasion over the past couple weeks. It started raining around the start of the tournament so it seemed likely the ants might try to go indoors, but when a guest left a box of apple turnovers on the table in the common room, they invaded. From there, they made their way into the kitchen and the dishwasher of all places. Running the dishwasher got rid of the current crop but didn’t keep them away for good. I had read online that using vinegar in the dishwasher would get rid of them, so I was thinking of making a quick trip to buy some white vinegar. Jesse, though, figured his aged balsamic vinegar, “imported from New Mexico,” would do the trick just as well and dumped a bunch into the soap dispenser and a little around the bottom of the dishwasher. That did the trick, and now our dishwasher smells a bit better too.

This wasn’t even our first dishwasher story. Soon after we moved in, David didn’t realize that dishwashing liquid and dishwashing detergent were not interchangeable. He had put regular Palmolive soap into the dishwasher’s dispenser and let it run. Needless to say, the dishwasher was shortly overflowing with suds. Andrew, though, came to the rescue by deciding that it was an excuse to mop the kitchen floor, so we collected the suds and passed it off to him.

As for the title of this post, Jesse had a tough event in Berkeley – he finished with 5.0/10 (1 win, 1 loss, 6 draws, and 2 half-point byes). After one of his tough games, he wanted to re-watch Dave Chappelle’s skits about Rick James. Ever since, when he takes some of my food from the fridge, he sings out “Cold blooded!”

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The Roundup – Rolling with the Punches

As detailed in my previous post, I only had 2.5 points after 6 rounds. I had played some uninspired and bad chess, so in round 7, I was hoping to stop the bleeding and just play some good moves.

I was paired as black against IM Justin Sarkar. The game followed the main line Slav Defense,  although Justin employed a rare, but very aggressive line, with 12.f4, trying to crowd Black’s light-squared bishop. The following position was reached after White played 15.0-0 – he’s offering the e4-pawn with 15…Bxc3 16.bxc3 Bxe4, but then 17.Ba3 comes and Black’s king is stuck in the center.

sarkar-bhat

Black would be a pawn up, but the king safety issue disuaded me from playing this. Thus, I played 15…f6, making room for my light-squared bishop on f7 (if 16.f5 exf5 17.exf5 Bf7, and Black’s pawn structure is more compact). Justin continued to offer the e4-pawn with 16.Be3, and this time, I decided to snatch it.

After 16.Be3 Bxc3 17.bxc3 Bxe4 18.c4 0-0 19.Qb3, White had definite compensation, but it was always only barely enough to scrape out a draw. Black kept his extra pawn, but in order to put out White’s counterplay, too many pieces were exchanged and a drawn rook and pawn endgame arose. I was not especially pleased with this game because I didn’t win, but I was happy that I at least played some good chess for once.

In round 8, I got the white pieces against FM Bela Evans. He’s a local player who I played twice a number of years ago. He had been playing mostly offbeat systems with both colors this event, and this game was no exception – the opening went 1.d4 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4 a6?! 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Be2 Nc6 7.Be3 e5 8.d5 Bxf3 9.Bxf3 Nd4, when the following position was reached:

bhat-evans

So far, White hasn’t done anything horribly wrong, so it makes sense that Black’s slightly unusual opening play shouldn’t work out. After calculating for a bit, I decided on 10.Bxd4 exd4 11.Ne2 c5 [on 11…Qf6, White can play 12.Qa4+ Kf8 (what else?) 13.Rd1 for starters – the d4-pawn is lost here, and Black can’t castle] 12.dxc6 (e.p.) bxc6 13.Nxd4. White’s a pawn to the good, but Black gets in a check with 13…Qa5+ that forces 14.Kf1, when he played 14…Qc5, hitting the c4-pawn and the d4-knight. However, I had seen 15.e5!, which covers the knight on d4 and uncovers the bishop on f3 – now I was threatening to play 16.Bxc6+ (winning the rook on a8), while on 15…Ne7, 16.exd6 hits the e7-knight while saving the e5-pawn. Evans played 15…Rc8, after which the position became somewhat tactical, but White’s advantage was never really in doubt. I managed to put him away pretty easily there.

Now back to an even score (4.0/8), I had the black pieces against IM Lev Milman. Even though he doesn’t play as much as he did before, Lev had high hopes when he came to this event – his previous two GM norms were scored in December in California! However, this tournament had not been going his way after a horrible blunder in round 2 threw away a game in one move. Still, he was fighting in every game and I knew he would prepare something new for me.

The opening was a French Tarrasch, following my earlier game with Esserman until essentially move 12, where Lev chose a very different plan with 12.g3 and 13.Bf4 instead of 12.Nc3 and 13.Bd2. This is a plan that has become popular again recently, trying to force off Black’s good bishop and accentuate the weakness of the backward e6-pawn and the e5-square. Not usually a 3…Nf6 player against the Tarrasch anymore, I couldn’t remember much theory (and I had prepared exclusively for 3.Nc3, thinking he’d go for a main-line Winawer) and played 12.g3 0-0 13.Bf4 Ng4. Lev then blitzed out 14.Rc1, reaching the following position:

milman-bhat-1

The speed with which he had been playing so far led me to believe he had prepared this line, so what did he have planned on the exchange sacrifice on f4? After a long think, I decided that it was the principled approach after having already played 13…Ng4  (otherwise, 13…Bd7 is a normal move when Black is doing ok). I didn’t see any forced loss afterwards either, so although I was somewhat conflicted about walking into his preparation, I went for it and played 14…Bxf4 15.Nxf4 Rxf4 16.gxf4 Qxf4. Black has one pawn and a knight for the rook, and to be honest, I still thought White might enjoy a tiny advantage with correct play.

As compared to my game with Friedel in round 6, the nominal material difference is the same, but there are some other differences – for one, the presence of two extra pairs of minor pieces should help Black here because the influence of the rooks is slightly diminished (in the Friedel game, amongst other things, the lack of other minor pieces left some files open, while allowed White to trade off a pair of rooks); secondly, Black is making immediate threats here against the white king, the f3-knight, and the d4-pawn (in the Friedel game, the knight on e4 bought Black time to bring out the rest of his pieces, although that could have been made more problematic with the simple gxf5 instead of g5?); and finally, in this position, Black’s king can almost be tucked away safely on h7 (whereas in the Friedel game, White’s pawn on g5 meant that Black’s king was never quite safe and had to take a walk out to g4 to introduced winning chances later in the game). All in all, Black has compensation in both positions, but I would think Black is closer to full compensation in this position than in that one.

As a matter of fact, we were still following Lev’s preparation with the computer which indicated that White was better. However, after getting his move order mixed up, he had to jettison a second pawn, when things become rather problematic for him. After 17.Bb5 (Black was threatening 17…Nxd4) Bd7 18.Rc3 Rf8 19.Qd2 Qd6 20.Ne5 Ncxe5 21.dxe5 Nxe5 22.Bxd7, the following position was reached:

milman-bhat-2

Now Black has a decision – how to take back on d7? If Knight takes, then the knight is headed for the e4-square, but White might have counterplay. If Queen takes, the immediate threat of …Nf3+ almost forces f2-f4, when the f-pawn is weaker and the rooks might have to be stuck to its defense. Thus, I played 22…Qxd7. After 23.f4 Ng6 24.Qd4, I played 24…Qd6.

Again, we can make a comparison with the Friedel game – now the piece allotment is the same (black has a knight and 2 pawns for the rook, with no other minor pieces on the board), but there are still some differences: (1) Black doesn’t have as strong a passed pawn as Friedel did; (2) Black’s king is not as exposed here because White has no cramping pawn on g5; and (3) White’s rooks are tied to the defense of a pawn rather than being able to invade on the 7th or 8th ranks (it’s almost always useful to trade rooks when you are the side that is up the exchange). Thus, I still think this position is better for Black than in the Friedel game, although there, Black certainly had the better chances until the rooks came off.

My plan after 24….Qd6 was simple – White can almost never afford to give me the f4-pawn because his king would then lack any cover and Black would gain two connected passed pawns in the center. Thus, with 3 attackers, White would have to keep his queen and two rooks tied to its defense. Black could then slowly improve his position: the plan is to bring his rook to the f6-square (from where it can swing to g6 to attack white’s king), his knight to h4 (where it secures the f5-square and forces White’s rook to the more passive 2nd rank), a his king to h7, where it is safe from checks on the 7th and 8th rank. Then, Black needs to get some light square control along the long diagonal, which means kicking the queen from d4 (with …Nf5), playing …d5-d4, and then a check on c6 with the queen. If White’s king is on g1, then …Rg6+ will finish him, while if he interposes with a rook, then the d4-pawn secures the e3-square for Black’s knight.

All this is rather fanciful and presupposes no active play from White, but that was what I was thinking at the time. After 31…Qb4, I had managed to achieve a couple of those aims – White’s rooks are passive and I have central light squares from which to attack White’s king.

milman-bhat-3

White now played 32.Re2, but what if 32.Qxa7? The immediate attack with 32…Qe4+ 33.Kg1 Rf6 doesn’t work because of queen checks from the 8th and 7th ranks. Thus, Black implements another part of his grand plan with 32…Qe4+ 33.Kg1 h6!, which makes room on h7 for the king, and thus freeing the rook to swing over to g6 via f6. White is lost as his queen can’t come back to the defense in time. After 32.Re2, though – White was still in trouble as his queen was offsides. 32…Qc4 33.Rg1 g6 34.Rxe6 Qd3! finished White, as there is no way to cover all the weak light squares on f3 and f1.

With consecutive wins under my belt, I was rewarded with the black pieces in the final round against GM Giorgi Kacheishvili. He was leading the even with 7/9, and a draw would secure at least a tie for first, while a win would guarantee clear first place. I was a little annoyed that I had been given my 6th black in 10 games, but the pairings were what they were.

The opening transposed from an Enligsh to a Caro-Kann right away, an opening I never play (even in blitz). It was slightly unpleasant as while Giorgi doesn’t usually play the white side, he plays the black side all the time! However, he was not able to find a good plan and after 16.Nc3-e4 (the only move), I was faced with a big decision – should I take on e4 or d3 first?

kacheishvili-bhat

White’s pieces are awkwardly placed, but he seems to be saved by one move in every line. In the end, I won a pawn with 16…Nfxe4 17.Nxe4 Nxd3 18.Bg5 Qd7 19.Bc2!! (the only saving move – Black would trap White’s queen on a3 otherwise) Rxc2 20.Qxd3 Bxe4 21.Qxe4 Rc4 22.Qd3 Rd4 23.Qxe2 Rxd6.

Black is clearly better, but his extra pawn is an e-pawn, and it’s tough to take away some of White’s piece activity. However, I had burned up too much of the clock, and after missing a simple trick, White forced a 3-fold repetition in a pawn-down endgame.

Thus, I finished with 5.5/10. I came back from my horrible start to salvage something in the last 4 games – I played some good chess, and limited my loss to about 4 or 5 FIDE rating points. I also finished on a relatively good note heading into my next tournament in India (the Parsvnath Open, from Jan 11 to Jan 19).

Down for the Count

The Berkeley Fight Club concluded it’s 2008 edition a couple days ago, with GM Giorgi Kacheishvili wrapping up first place with a score of 7.5/10. The final standings are posted on the tournament website, here. GM Zviad Izoria took sole second place with 7.0/10. A total of 4 norms were made – IM norms by FMs Daniel Rensch and Marc Esserman (his 3rd IM norm!), and an IM and WGM norm by WIM Iryna Zenyuk.

As detailed in my previous post (here), I struggled in my first four games, only scored 2.0/4 against an average opposition around 2350 FIDE. Things only got worse the next couple days.

In the 5th round, I had the white pieces against fellow GM-house member Jesse Kraai. I would’ve preferred not to play any of my usual study partners in this event, but with such a small field, it would be tough to avoid it. It feels somewhat awkward to play someone you work with so often, and partly more so because I had shown Jesse my general opening repertoire when I first moved in. Thus, the game followed my usual response to the Nimzo-Indian (the Rubinstein Variation), but where I played the Classical Variation instead of the Modern Nge2 line.

In the game, we reached the following position after I played c3-c4 (I had probably already messed it up slightly by this point, as I shouldn’t have allowed his knight to come to e5):

bhat-kraai

Jesse played the very strong 16…Neg4! now. When I went for this position, I had assumed that after 17.hxg4 Nxg4 18.g3, Black’s only way to continue would be 18…Nxe3, when I could have a choice of a draw (after 19.fxe3 Qxg3+ 20.Kh1 Qh3+, with a perpetual) or playing on with a likely advantage after 19.Qe2 Nxf1 20.Nxf1. After he played his move, though, I realized I had totally overlooked 17.hxg4 Nxg4 18.g3 Qb6!, threatening the bishop on b2 and to swing over to h6, when mate after …Qh2+ is unavoidable.

This was a really bad shock, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do. In the end, I found 17.hxg4 Nxg4 18.f4 Qb6 (again if 19…Nxe3, White is happy after 20.Qh5! or 20.Qc1!? Nxf1 21.Nxf1) 19.Qb3 Qh6, I can play 20.Rfe1 to create an escape route via f1, e2, and d1 for my king. The game ended in a draw after 20…Qh4 21.Nf1 Qf2+, when the perpetual check after 22.Kh1 Qh4+ 23.Kg1 Qf2+ is unstoppable. Actually, Jesse could have played on with 20…Qh2+ 21.Kf1 Bg6!!, when Black maintains the initiative.

The following day brought more bad news – I was paired with white against the other member of the GM-house troika, Josh Friedel. The game was another Nimzo-Indian Rubinstein Variation, but this time, after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0, I smelled a bit of a rat and played 5.Nge2 for the first time in my life. Usually I play 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nge2, but I had looked at some of my games in this line with Josh, and prior to this event, I had gone over the key games in the 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 c5 7.0-0 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Nbd7 variation with him. He normally plays 4…b6 or 4…Ne4 against the Rubinstein, so when he played 4…0-0, I realized that he would play something that we had looked at together.

The game was somewhat crazy, but one where I thought I maintained a small advantage for most of the start of the game – after 21…f5, the following position was reached:

bhat-friedel-1

Black is down a rook for a knight and pawn, but his knight is obviously magnificently placed on e4. Black has some compensatioin for the exchange in my view, but not full compensation yet. The obvious move here would be to play 22.gxf5, undermining the support of the knight, and that was my original plan. However, on further review, I decided to play 22.g5, thinking it cut the other knight off from f6. To my dismay, 22.g5? was met with the simple 22…Nb8, when White is already in some trouble. The knight on e4 is rock solid and the other knight is going to target the weak d4-pawn. White’s rooks, meanwhile, have no open files to speak of.

The game went downhill for me after that, and although I fought on, I was playing for a draw. However, near the end of the first time control, I got ambitious and decided to play for more with the stupid 37.Kg2?, when the planned 37.Qg4 would have done just fine. Still, the draw was within my grasp and the following position was reached after 42.Qd3+:

bhat-friedel-2

Now if Black plays 42…Kf7, White has 43.Qf3+, when Black’s king has a few choices:

(1) if it goes to the e-file, say with 43…Ke6, then 44.Qe3+ Kd7 45.Rxc3 wins for the White (the white queen covers the e1-square now);

(2) if it goes back to the g8-square with 43…Kg8, then 44.Qxd5+! is strong, as after 44…Nxd5 45.Rxc8+ Kf7 46.Kf2 is winning for White;

(3) and if it goes back to the g6-square with 43…Kg6, then 44.Qd3+ brings about a draw by repetition.

Thus, Black played the only move to try and keep the game going longer with 43…Kh5! – the game is still objectively drawn after this, but it is trickier for White, and move after move, I threw away my drawing chances before I was left with a lost position. The easiest draw for White after 43…Kh5 is 44.Qxh7+ Kg4 (the only move) 45.Kg2 Kf4 46.Qh4+ Ke3 47.Qf2+ Kd2 48.Qf4+ Kd3 49.Qf3+ Kd2 50.Qf4+ and there is no good way to escape the checks.

When I resigned, I felt absolutely horrible. Not only was I playing badly in general, but to lose in such a fashion was disgusting. There’s an interesting discussion of dealing with defeats at the FIDE website here, where the players in the current Grand Prix tournament were asked how they dealt with defeats in chess. This game mirrored Rajdabov’s answer a bit, where I felt I was better and shouldn’t have lost, but kept making stupid decisions to throw everything away.

So after 6 rounds, I was sitting on a brilliant 2.5 points, down about 15 FIDE rating points, and emotionally down in the dumps. I’ll wrap up the event in another post tomorrow. In the meantime, happy Festivus!

The Berkeley Fight Club

As named by Jesse Kraai back in 2006, the Berkeley “Fight Club” is holding its almost annual international event. The first was run in 2005, when Josh Friedel won the tournament and made a GM norm. In the second edition in 2006, Jesse Kraai and Lev Milman tied for first and made GM norms. No event was run in 2007, but it’s back to its usual time in December this year.

The tournament is small, but quite strong – the 17 player field features 6 GMs, 5 IMs, 4 FMs and 1 WIM. To make it an even number for the first 4 rounds, we’ve had two house players (Salar Jahedi and FM Shivaji Shivkumar) who have graciously volunteered to play and avoid having a player get a bye.

The website is at: http://www.dotq.org/chess, while pairings go up at: http://www.dotq.org/chess-pairings/. Games begin every day at 2 PM, except for this Friday (when it’s at noon – the wiring problem means that to use the same room, the round must start earlier). Spectators are welcome! Dana MacKenzie, who visited for the first round, blogged about that round at his blog. His blog contains writeups and annotated games from rounds 2 and 3 as well.

The previous two editions were held in the East Bay Chess Club, but as that is now defunct, the playing site is the Berkeley Chess School at 1581 LeRoy Avenue. The playing room is alright, but due to widespread electrical problems in the building, we had to switch playing rooms and the current room has virtually no heating system. Today, the weather was alright, and so it was comfortable in the playing hall. However, for the first few days, when it was cold outside (about 44 F), it was as cold or even colder inside. That’s not a very comfortable to be thinking at for 4-5 hours, but we all have to manage one way or another.

We’re now 4 rounds into the 10-round event, and the two top seeds (GMs Izoria and Kacheishvili) lead with 3.0/4 along with FM Daniel Rensch. They are followed by a few players on 2.5/4 (GM Friedel, IM Krush, and FM Esserman). I’ve played rather poorly and currently sit on 2.0/4.

In the first round, I lost as black to Rensch. I achieved an equal position after the opening, but I hesitated to make a pawn-break at one key moment, and after that passed, I was struggling the rest of the way. In the following position, I should have played …f6!, but instead, I played …c5 first, which allows White to safely castle queenside and then bring his knight back into the game via b2.

rensch-bhat

In the second round, I drew as white against FM Daniel Naroditsky (the World Under-12 Champion in 2007). I got a better position after some strong opening play, but then I couldn’t calculate properly and missed my chance for a clear advantage. In the following position, Bd8! would have secured an advantage, as the c7- and d6-pawns can’t be saved. Instead, I played 18.Re2 Qa3 19.Re3 Qa2, when not only can I not trap the queen, but because my rook is on e3 instead of e1 (where it would have helped protect the rook on b1), I can’t play the following line: 20.Bd8 Bd7 21.Bxc7 Bxc6 22.dxc6 Rfc8 23.Qxd6?? Qxb1 and Black wins. With the rook on e1 instead, Qxd6 restores material equality, but with a much better position for White.

bhat-naroditsky

In the third round, I won as black against IM Sandor Kustar. It was an offbeat opening, a King’s Indian Attack of sorts, where I played a theoretically dubious setup with my bishop on d6 instead of on e7 or c5. However, the position seemed about level anyways, and when White tried to break through the center, he opened himself up a bit too. The resulting complications seemed to favor Black, but then a hasty piece sacrifice allowed the following finish:

kustar-bhat

I played 24…Ng3+! and White resigned. If 25.Nxg3, then 25…Bg5! traps the White queen. If 25.Kh2, then 25…Nxe4 26.Bxe4 Bg5 27.Bxg6 hxg6 is the most efficient way to win.

In the fourth round, I got the black pieces again against FM Marc Esserman. Esserman has been on a tear of late, playing very well in the Miami Open and the USCL (amongst other events). He made a norm In the Miami Open, he had a 2600+ performance rating, while in the USCL, he scored 8/10 with a 2600+ performance rating again. The game was rather uneventful as Marc played a very rare move in the opening (12.Bd2 in the main-line French Tarrsch with 3…Nf6). However, his idea failed to dramatically change the assessment of the position – after some prophylaxis and natural developing moves, I equalized and a draw was agreed after only 19 moves.

Studies at the GM House

Jesse is big on solving chess studies (and similar sorts of problems) as  a way of working on calculation and creativity. Here are the 3 interesting problems he chose to give us recently. If somebody reads this and suggests some tries, I’ll post some answers in a few days or so.

(1) White to move and win.problem-1

(2) White to move and win.

problem-2

(3) White to move and draw.

problem-3

GM House, or “Real World: Chess House”

Besides NY, and to some extent, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, there isn’t generally a concentration of chess talent in one city. Even in those big cities, the talent tends to spread out across the city. But now the west coast will put El Cerrito, a town of about 30,000, on the map. El Cerrito was already home to GM Josh Friedel (who moved to California from New Hampshire) and with a few recent additions, the city is one of the strongest west of the Mississippi.

Pulling a page out of the Chinese playbook, a bunch of US chess players will live under the same roof! Full-time chessplayers tend to be a little eccentric (I’m certainly no exception), so the cast of characters makes this an easy target for a reality TV show.

GM Jesse Kraai, formerly of New Mexico, moved here in November. I finally moved in this week. The two of us, along with two others (David Petty, who teaches chess at the Berkeley Chess School, and Andrew Leong, who is a graduate student in the comparative literature department at UC Berkeley), are living in a 5-bedroom house. There is an attached 1-bedroom apartment to the back of the house (sort of like an in-laws quarter), where IMs David Pruess and Irina Krush will stay. With GM Friedel only two blocks away, we have 5 of the top 50 active US players all living next to each other. The average FIDE rating of our study group will be 2474 FIDE, with 3 GMs and 2 IMs (each having 2 GM norms).

The cast of chess characters:

(1) GM Jesse Kraai: He of the Berkeley Chess “Fight Club” fame in 2006. Former philosophy teacher. Slowly realizing that the words of men cannot contain The Shaba’s meaning.

(2) GM Josh Friedel: The panda. Samford Fellow from 2007. Wonders daily now whether he has to get fumigated to rid himself of The Curse.

(3) IM Irina Krush: Samford Fellow from 2008. She of the “Krushing Attack” video series fame. And maybe for the 2008 US Women’s Championship Armageddon final controversy.

(4) IM David Pruess: Samford Fellow from 2006. The chief designer behind the Berkeley Chess “Fight Club” series of tournaments.

(5) Little ol’ me.

This should be fun.

End of the road for the for Mechanics

In other November chess news, the SF Mechanics were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the defending champion Dallas Destiny. We lost the match by a score of 2.5-1.5, after I lost the final game as black to my apparent nemesis – IM Davorin Kuljasevic.

After stumbling in the last two weeks of the regular season, we dropped to the #2 seed and faced the #3 seed Destiny with black on boards 2 and 4 (by Dallas’ choice). This made sense as Kuljasevic and Zorigt are both clearly stronger with the white pieces, while Zivanic is tough to beat on board with either color. Still, we liked our chances as IM Sam Shankland was back from the World Youth (fresh off tying for first and automatically getting the IM title!), as was FM Daniel Naroditsky.

On boards 1 and 3, we probably went in with small advantages (Josh and Sam both out-rated their opponents by a bit and had the white pieces), while on board 4, Naroditsky vastly out-rated Zorigt, so despite having the black pieces, was probably a small favorite. While Kuljasevic is still only an IM, he’s higher rated than me by USCF and FIDE standards, and with the white pieces, was also probably somewhat of a small favorite going in.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite play out as we had hoped. On board 4, Danya got slaughtered when he failed to find a good plan after a dozen or so moves of a King’s Indian. He fought on for a while, but the result was not in doubt for a while. On board 3, Sam seemed to get a clear advantage out of the opening, but then after a couple inaccuracies, was probably only about equal. However, the complications had taken a lot of time off Schneider’s clock, and that cost Igor later on as he blundered the game away. On board 1, Josh was maybe a little worse out of the opening, but he came back to be a little better. However, a small mistake or two gave up any hope of an advantage, and the players agreed to a draw.

That left me defending as black against Davorin. The opening was a small surprise (the 6.e3 Slav, rather than the main-line 6.Ne5 Slav he normally plays), but I got a reasonable position from the opening. The game can be replayed here.

I wasn’t especially familiar with the resulting middlegame, though, and I spent some time coming up with a good plan. However, I lashed out with 22…g5?!, hoping to kick the knight away before it got to the nice d3-square (from where it could hop into c5). This created a hook for White to attack, which Davorin figured out with the very nice 24.Rf1! Instead of 22…g5?!, I could have simply sat tight, as White doesn’t have a real weakness to attack. Black is passive, but his position remains super solid.

After 24.Rf1, we were not too far apart on the clock, but the position was clearly better for White. I played what I think is the only good defensive idea for Black in that position with 28…g5 and 29…Qh7, as otherwise, Black has no communication between the kingside and queenside. The position looked dangerous for me, but the hasty 33.Nh5 threw away White’s gains after 33…Qg6. By the time I played 39…Ng6, I thought I was close to being out of the woods, and was only down a minute or two on the clock.

But the position was still dangerous, as my king was still exposed on h8. 40…R8c3? was the first mistake, as Black had a host of better moves, the simplest being 40….R1c3. After 41.Rdg3 Rxg3 (as in the game), Black has a rook on c8 instead of c1, which makes a huge difference. For one, the rook is not a target on c8 (as it is on c1, where White always is threatening Qd2, hitting c1 and h6). Secondly, the rook on c8 can swing over to the kingside to help out on defense, say to the g8-square. Anyways, after 40…R8c3, the game slipped away and Davorin put me away nicely. The game garnered him Game of the Week honors for the playoffs.

The loss also meant that the book was closed on the 2008 season for the Mechanics. I finished the season with 4.5/8 (2.0/4 on board 1, 2.5/4 on board 2), my worst performance in 4 years in the league. Still, I guess I out-performed my rating, playing at a clip of 2558 FIDE. Over the previous 3 seasons, I scored 12/16 with a performance rating of about 2662 FIDE. Sam was the star of the team on board 3, scoring a massive 7.5/9.

Strangely enough, my score against Kuljasevic is a dismal 0.5/4 since I first faced him in the USCL in 2007. I’ve lost all 3 times as black, and only drew as white. He’s a strong player, and still improving rapidly (he’s up to 2530 or 2540 FIDE now), but I can take some solace in the fact that I’ve achieved decent positions against him only to screw them up later on. The last two people I remember to have such massive scores against me in the first 3 or 4 games were Jordy Mont-Reynaud and Dmitry Zilberstein, and I can happily say that I turned those negative scores around against them. After losing 4 times to Dima (3 times as black), I have scored an undefeated 5.0/6, with wins in my last 4 games. Against Jordy, I went 7.0/10 after struggling to put a full point on the board at first. Hopefully I can say the same thing about Davorin in a couple years!

Dallas has since went on to beat the top seed Miami Sharks, and will now face off against the Boston Blitz in a rematch of the 2007 Finals. As in 2007, I expect Dallas to come out on top of this match.