Monthly Archives: April 2009

Like Déjà vu All Over Again

The final tournament of this tour for me began a couple days ago. So far I’m on track with 2 wins in 2 games, both against much lower rated players. Benidorm is a pretty big swiss tournament, which creates some serious mismatches in the first round.

I had the white pieces against Jose Joaquin Bas Mas (1962 FIDE) in the first round. Here’s how the game went: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 e6 3.Nd2!? (3.e4 is the main move) c5 4.Ne4!??!. This is the first time I’ve played this strange move in a slow game, although I had played it twice in rapid games. In one, against IM Sandor Kustar of Hungary, he didn’t react very well and played the insipid 4…cxd4 5.Qxd4 Be7. This doesn’t test White’s opening experiment at all, and I quickly gained an advantage and later won the game.

My young opponent played the correct 4…Qa5+, and the game continued 5.Bd2 Qb6 6.dxc5 Bxc5 7.Nxc5 Qxc5 8.c3 (so as to meet 8…Ne4 with 9.Be3, when Black now doesn’t have 9…Qb4+ at his disposal). He played 8…d5 9.g3 b6?! 10.Bg2 to get to the following position:


Now he played the lemon, 10…Ng4??. This is the logical continuation of the idea with 9…b6 – Black wants to provoke e2-e3, after which Ng4-e5 and Bc8-a6 will cause White some serious headaches. However, White can make us of the whole board with 11.Qa4+, winning the knight on g4 for free. My opponent resigned here, making this the 2nd shortest decisive game I’ve had (when my opponent showed up to play) since at least 1994.

What’s the shortest game? Well, it started out exactly the same way as the Bas Mas game up until 9.g3. My opponent, Frank Haas (2185 FIDE, Germany), now dashed out 9…Ng4??, allowing the same motif with 10.Qa4+. He resigned on the spot as well. At least he had the excuse that it was a rapid game and he was blitzing out all his moves.

In the second round, I had to work much longer, playing a game that lasted about 4 hours. I had the black pieces against Rafael Del Valle Domenech (2137 FIDE, Spain). For most of the game, my opponent got up after every single move he made, and this cost him quite a bit of time. I tend to walk around quite a bit, but this was too much for me to even consider. He lost quite a bit of time on the clock when he was just walking around.

The game was a Semi-Slav and after 12 moves, we reached the following position:


Last summer, I had this exact same position against GM Delchev in Balaguer. He played the most testing move, 13.Nc3-e2 here. With Black’s queen on e7, White reroutes the knight to g3 to provoke a kingside weakness with …g6. That game quickly became very complicated and each of us had chances to win.

In this game, my opponent played 13.dxe5?!, and only after 13…Nxe5 14.Nxe5 Bxe5 did he play 15.Ne2. However, the situation has changed now, and I played 15…c5!, a resource I didn’t have in the Delchev game. If White takes the pawn on b5, he loses the pawn on e4. He played 16.f4, but after 16…c4 17.fxe5 Ng4! White’s position is already tough. The bishop on d3 is lost, and meanwhile White’s pawn structure is worse. He was nominally up a pawn after 18.Bxc4, but 18…Rac8 19.Nc3 Rxc4 20.Qe2 Nxe5 recovered the pawn with a better position. White’s pawn structure is clearly worse. The b5-pawn is taboo because of …Qc5+, picking up the knight.

After gradually improving my position, we reached the following position after 30.Qb6:


I played 30…b4 31.axb4 axb4 (31…Qxb4 will transpose) 32.Na2 Bxe4 33.Qxb4 (33.Nxb4 fails to the same tactical idea) Qxb4 34.Nxb4 Bxg2!. The bishop is hanging, but so is White’s rook on e1. After 35.Rxe5 dxe5, the bishop is still hanging, but now the other White rook on f4 is hanging! The h3-pawn is also en prise, so he has to further misplace the rook with 36.Rh4. I duly won the endgame.

There are 10 rounds here in Benidorm and I’m the 21st seed. With 8 rounds to go, I should have some chances to play some strong players in the remaining rounds.

Travels with Vinay: In Search of Spain

Between my tournament in San Sebastian (which ended on the 12th) and the next one in Benidorm (which begins on the 24th), I’m taking a little tour of Spain, specifically Andalucía. With my poor picture editing tools, I have created a small map of where I’ve generally been in Spain this trip:


The first leg was from Reykjavik to Bilbao (via London) and then San Sebastian, for the tournament there. The next leg was for Andalucía, although I stopped in Madrid to relax for a few days. In Andalucía, I’ve concentrated on Sevilla and Granada. After Granada, the next tournament leg begins in Benidorm. And after that, it’s off to Banaglore, India via London.

During the summer of 2006, before I began working at Cornerstone Research, I played one tournament in Balaguer and one in Barcelona. Between those two, I spent some time sightseeing as well – 5 days in Madrid and 3 days in Barcelona. With some time in Andorra and Benasque, I’ll have covered a good chunk of the the Iberian peninsula. Maybe there is a strong tournament in Portugal?

Random Musings on Iceland

Before I forget, here were a few tidbits from Iceland that I didn’t work into a post about the tournament itself:

–          Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world, and certainly the farthest north I have ever been. The entire country of Iceland isn’t very big, though – it’s population is about 300,000 of which about 60% live in Reykjavik. That is pretty much the combined combination of Fremont and Berkeley, in the Bay Area.

–          The baggage handlers in SFO or JFK decided to search my check-in bag, but they forgot to put the lock back on. I had bought a TSA-approved lock some years back (so they can open the bag without breaking the lock). Sadly, it’s virtually impossible to reclaim that lock from them (they want to see the receipt, proof that it was on the bag in the first place, etc).

–          I should learn how to drive with a manual transmission if I plan on driving overseas. Yury and I drove around for a while the day before the event started, doing a tour of the Golden Circle in Iceland (Geysir, Gulfoss, and Thingvellier). Yury at least had driven stick-shift before, although it took him a little time to remember and he hadn’t quite rediscovered the touch before we got back in the evening.

–          Here’s a picture of Strokkur, the biggest geyser at the Geysir Park that erupts at regular intervals. Geysir itself, the namesake of the park, hasn’t erupted in many, many years. (Click to enlarge)


–          The recession in Iceland is noticeable, as prices have supposedly come down quite a bit. It is still relatively expensive though – even after the decline, it is probably on par with Manhattan.

–          The global economic woes also seemed to make its effect felt on the store shelves, where the only non-carbonated water I was able to find was from a brand called “Iceland Spring.” The strange thing was that the label meant it was clearly not intended for sale in Iceland. It reads: “Filtered over decades through basalt and lava, the water is imported from Iceland (emphasis in the original), a remote island near the Arctic Circle.”

I would assume that if Iceland Spring went under, they still would have sold off its inventory. I guess a company in the US that intended to buy these bottles must have gone under …

–          The tournament was won on tiebreaks by GM Hedinn Steingrimsson, a 34-year old Icelandic GM. There was one amusing story about him (not sure if it’s true, as I couldn’t find it on the web), related by some Slovakian players. It seems he was an IM for some time, hovering around 2400 FIDE without playing much when all of a sudden he shot up. He played a GM round-robin in the Czech Republic where he was then accused of cheating, ostensibly because he was playing well and going to the bathroom quite often. Well, what did he do? Next time he needed to go, he went right on the stage, in the planter box holding some flowers! Indeed. In any case, the cheating allegations didn’t seem to hold water.

It’s not clear whether that incident prompted the following sign outside the playing hall at Cappelle la Grande in France:img_13731

Victory! (sort of)

As I wrote in my last post, after 6 rounds in San Sebastian, I had 4.5 points. In round 7, I had the black pieces against a young Spanish FM (around 2380 FIDE), Angel Arribas Lopez. My opponent decided to play a French Exchange (technically a Winawer Exchange, since it went 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.exd5 exd5), and after the game, he lamented the fact that he forgot some of his analysis on this line. After about 10 moves, he already found himself in an awkward situation, as he was fighting for equality! Finally on move 18, he got a chance to castle and took it:


My queen had gone to a5 with check a few moves earlier, clearing the way for my knight to come to e4 (white’s bishop was on g5) and my rook come to e8 (from a8). Having completed the job, I played 18…Qd8 here, threatening both 19…Qh4 and something a bit more dangerous. My opponent didn’t sense the danger and played 19.Bf4? (19.Nf4 was necessary, but Black is still better), after which I played 19…Ng5!. White’s queen is short of breathing room, so he must play 20.Bxg5 Qxg5, but now Black threatens 21…f4 (gaining a tempo) and 22…Bg4 (trapping the queen yet again). White has no good way out of the threat. He tried 21.Bc2 f4 22.Qd3, but I calmly played 22…g6, and after 23.Nh1, finished him off with 23…Rxe2! 24.Qxe2 f3. White has to give up his queen or get checkmated, so he resigned.

The following round, I had the white pieces against Daniel Alsina Leal (a Spanish player, around 2503 FIDE). I had met him during one of my Spanish tournaments in the summer of 2006 when he was barely 2400 FIDE. Since then, he’s shot up to a peak of 2520 FIDE. This was probably my best game of the tournament. He played the Meran Variation of the Semi-Slav, which I was expecting, but he got in a new move first on move 15 with 15…Qb6. However, his new idea doesn’t seem to be so great, although it took me a while to figure out how to proceed. After 19…Qc6, we reached the following position:


Here I played 20.b4!, trying to fix the queenside pawn structure. If Black can activate his pawns with …b5-b4, then not only do White’s pieces get driven backwards, but the e4-pawn becomes quite weak. After 20.b4, though, if Black doesn’t take en passant, then the b5-pawn becomes a problem and Black’s “advantage” of the queenside majority becomes somewhat useless. White can then turn his attention to the center and the kingside with the bishop pair already pointed in that direction.

He decided that defending that position wasn’t very pleasant, and so he decided to play 20…cxb3 (en passant), and after 21.Bxb3 b4 22.Na2 a5, I played 23.f3. I could have played 23.Rac1 Qxe4 24.Bxe6+ Kh8, but the endgame after 25.Qxe4 Bxe4 isn’t very pleasant for White. He’s got two nice bishops, but the knight on a2 is horribly placed and the queenside pawn situation will make things quite tricky for White. After 23.f3, the knight is still poorly placed, but now Black has to figure out how to deal with the threat of 24.Rac1, when the queen doesn’t have any good squares and the e6-pawn is weakened.

He played 23…Ba6, and the game continued 24.Qe1! Rfe8 25.Rac1 Qb7 26.Qg3! – the point of 24.Qe1!. White hits Black’s position from all sides – the queen puts pressure on the g7-pawn while also threatening Rc1-c7 and Qg3-d6. He didn’t like his prospects after 26…Rac8 27.Rxc8 Qxc8 28.Rc1 Qd8 29.Rc6, so he played 26…Rad8. After 27.Rc7, his idea was to play 27…Nh5 28.Qd6 Nf8, but now I played 29.Qe5.


His position is totally lost now – pieces are hanging all across the board. The queen on b7, the knight on h5, the pawns on e6 and a5, and if the pawn on a5 is captured, the bishop on a6 will be en prise as well. He played 29…Ng6 here, which allowed me to finish the game with a flourish.

I played 30.Bxe6+ Kh8 (30…Rxe6 and 30…Kf8 don’t avoid mate either) 31.Qxg7+! Nxg7 32.Bxg7 checkmate! A nice finish to crown my effort.

In the final round, I had the black pieces against GM Arthur Kogan of Israel. I played and beat him once in Toronto with the white pieces in 2000 (I had a great performance there, about 2600 FIDE by GM norm performance rating calculations). I was thinking about playing 1.e4 e5, but I decided that with my relatively poorer tiebreaks (we were tied with LaFuente and Sebenik on 6.5/8), I should try for something more dynamic in the hope of winning the game. Thus, it was a French Winawer, a choice that surprised him since he said he hadn’t lost to the Winawer in about 10 years.

Kogan tends to have a lot of his own ideas in the opening and he played a line that was much more popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. After 15…f6, we reached the following position:


White has a choice of pawn structures and continuations here – he can exchange the f6/e5 pawns and put a piece or a pawn on e5 later; he can try and immediately activate his bishop on f1 with g2-g3; or he can try to attack Black’s kingside with a bishop sacrifice on h6. I think taking on f6 with 16.exf6 is the right approach to play for an advantage, but he decided to force the issue with 16.Bxh6.

After 16…gxh6 17.Qxh6, I played 17…Nf5, forcing 18.Qg6+ Kg8 (not 18…Ng7? 19.exf6), and here he played 19.Qh5+ and offered a draw. Black can escape the checks by playing 19…Kg7 20.Qg4+ Kf7 21.exf6, but the position is quite risky for him:

–          if 21…Rg8 22.Ng5+ Kxf6 23.Nh7+ Kf7 (not 23…Ke7? 24.Qxf5!, thanks to the pin on the e-file) 24.Qh5+ Rg6 25.Ng5+ and Black is not doing so well;

–          if 21…Rh8, White has to find 22.h4! Rag8 23.Ng5+ Kxf6 24.g3, when the position is far from clear and may even favor White! He has two solid pawns for the piece; the kingside is now secure (and he can bolster the knight with f2-f4 if he needs to); Black’s king is not going to feel safe because of problems escaping to the queenside; and the pawn on e6 is a constant headache for Black.

With only 20 minutes left on the clock (to my opponent’s 40), I decided to accept the draw. On the board next to use, LaFuente was still playing with Sebenik, and their game finished in a draw about 30 minutes later. Meanwhile, from the group on 6 points, GM Marc Narciso Dublan won as black to finish on 7 points as well. GM Alexander Delchev, the top seed at 2648 FIDE, was on 6 points as well, but was unable to win and even lost while overpressing against a Spanish GM.

Thus, five players ended up tying for first with 7.0/9 – GMs Arthur Kogan, Marc Narciso Dublan, Pablo LaFuente, myself, and IM Matej Sebenik. On some mathematical (a recursive-iterative formula I’ve never seen before) tiebreak, Sebenik finished ahead of the pack.

And now I move on to Madrid. As they say in Basque Country, agur!

A Return to Normalcy in Basque Country

Apologies for not posting for a few days, but as I don´t have internet access in my hotel in San Sebastian, it´s tough to spend enough time at an internet cafe. Between the two tournaments, I spent a couple days in Bilbao, walking around the city and going to the Guggenheim Museum there.

San Sebastian is a small city in the northern part of Spain, in Basque Country or Pais Vasco. It´s been raining here most of the time, but in the summer, it´s a big tourist destination for its beaches.

The tournament has gone by pretty quickly so far, with 6 of the 9 rounds in the books. I have 4.5/6. I have 3 wins and 3 draws, with a pair of the draws coming against lower rated players. In the 6th round, I drew against GM Pablo San Segundo.

The 2nd round draw was a bit weird, as I was well ahead on the clock and my position was always a little better, but I could never quite put my opponent away. In the 3rd round, I had the black pieces against Vaibhav Suri, a young Indian player (about 11 years old and 2250 FIDE). The 3rd round was slightly disappointing for different reasons, as my opponent managed to repeat about 18 moves of theory in a sideline and then secured a rather sterile equal position. Actually, Jesse Kraai and I had looked at this exact position some time earlier, but I had played the line hoping that since I had been playing other lines since then, I would catch him off-guard as I didn´t want to test his theoretical knowledge (he is GM Delchev´s student):


In this position he played 11.Nd4 quite quickly, after which Black has to play 11…Nxe5. Then 12.Qh5+ Nf7 13.Nxc6 Qd6 14.Nxe7 Qxe7 15.Re1 was played, when 15…e5 is the best way of avoiding the threat of 15…0-0 16.Qxd5!. After 15…e5, he played 16.f4, and after 16…0-0 17.fxe5 Ng5, Black has enough compensation for the pawn. White´s problem is that his knight on d2 doesn´t have a good square, as if it leaves d2 to bring the bishop out, Black´s knight lands on e4. This position had been played before, and in that game, White (GM Kotronias) was more ambitious. Vaibhav decided to play solidly and a draw was agreed after 18.Qe2 Bb7 19.Nb3 Ne4 20.Be3 Qxe5 21.Nc5. Black has no choice but to take on c5 (21..Bc6 allows 22.Nxa6), and after 21…Nxc5 22.Bxc5 Qxe2 23.Rxe2 Rfe8 24.Rae1 Re4, Black has no chance of winning the endgame.

In the 5th round, I had the black pieces against WGM Anna Rudolf of Hungary. Actually her repertoire was the same as Vaibhav Suri from the 3rd round, so I decided to play my other option, 1…e5. The game was a Two Knights with 4.d3. After 14.Qe2, we reached the following position:


If Black quietly defends his pawn on e5, then White will play 15.Ne4 and set up a nice blockade of Black´s center. Thus, I played 14…Nf6, and my opponent replied with 15.Qxe5 right away (strangely enough, after the game, she said she thought she had looked at this position before, but I had spent 40 minutes already and when I looked it up afterwards, we had left theory a few moves back – the move is also not very good). I played 15…Ng4, and now White has trouble with her queen and queenside development. After 16.Qe1 Bd6, she played 17.Nf3, but this allows a small tactic: 17…Nxh2! 18.Nxh2 Bxh2+ 19.Kxh2 Qh4+ 20.Kg1 Qxc4. I soon rounded up the d5-pawn and was a pawn to the good. Rather than defend the opposite colored bishop middlegame passively, she played g2-g4? at some point, and we reached the following position after 30.Qd3:


Here I played 30…Kh7, guarding the rook and leaving open the threat of …Qg3+. She played 31.Qe4, but this allows another petit combinacion to win another pawn. I played 31…Qg3+ 32.Kh1 Bxg4! 33.fxg4 Rxd8!, as on 34.Rxd8, Black has 34…Qh4+ and 35…Qxd8. With two extra pawns, the game was easy to finish.

The tournament is currently being led by GM Pablo LaFuente, of Argentina. We had played many years ago, when we tied for first in the Pan-American Under-14 Championships. That game ended in a draw, and we ended up tying for first place – luckily, I managed to get first on tiebreaks. Now he lives in Spain and plays chess, and is doing quite a good job of it here with 5.5/6.

An Exercise in Futility

The tournament in Reykjavik is over, and I finished with 5.5/9. After starting with 2.5/5, I won my next two games, and had high hopes to continue to finish well.

In round 7, I had the black pieces against FM Magnus Carlhammar of Sweden. The opening was a Reti, that led to a slightly strange IQP where White had the bishop pair in return for the isolated d-pawn. He missed a chance to play d4-d5 more advantageously earlier, and so after 27…h4 28.g4, he had already relinquished his advantage:


I played 28…Bd6 here, aiming at the f4-square. He should have played 29.Bg5, but he tried to hang onto the dark squares with 29.Ne2. I responded with 29…Re8 30.Re2 Rde7 and now he played 31.Bg5, but it was too late. After 31…Ne4, his position is in shambles. He blundered now in time pressure with 32.Bxe7, when I threw in a little zwischenzug with 32…Bh2+!. On 33.Kf1, 33…Nxd2+ picks up White’s queen, and so he played 33.Kh1 allowing 33…Nxf2 mate!

In round 8, I had the white pieces against IM Miodrag Perunovic of Serbia. The opening was a Catalan, and I steadily outplayed him to achieve a totally winning position after 34…Ba6:


I was in some time trouble, so I played the calmer 35.Qd2, rather than take the exchange with 35.Nxc4. After 35…Rc2, I took a 3rd pawn with 36.Qxd5. My opponent then responded with 36…Rxf4!? – a good practical try, I guess, but the move should lose quite simply. However, I made a bad miscalculation and played 37.gxf4 Nxf4 38.Qa8?? Nxg2 39.Qxc8 Bxc8, and all of a sudden, I realized I had to be careful not to lose! I had planned 40.Rc1, but 40…Nxe1 guards the rook on c2. Meanwhile, my king is completely stuck on h1, so after 40.Rf1 Nh4, I had to deal with the threats of 41…Bh3 (threatening 42…Bg2 mate), 41…Bg4, or 41…Bf5.

Had I played 38.Qf7 instead of 38.Qa8??, the position would have been a simple win. Black doesn’t have enough firepower to justify being down a rook and change.

Luckily, I managed to salvage half a point despite being on the 30-second increment in the following position after 52…b3:


I played 53.Rb7! b2. Now Black is threatening 54…Rh1 55.Rxb2 Rxh2+, skewering the king and rook, so I played 54.Nd4. Now on 54…Rh1, White has 55.Nf3+ and then only 56.Rxb2, as the h2-pawn is safe. The game continued 54…Bd5 55.Rb4, when again if 55…Rh1, 56.Nf3+ and 57.Rxb2 is fine for White. So he got off the 4th rank with 55…Kg5, when I played 56.h4+! – the pawn is taboo because of 57.Nf3+ and 58.Rh4 mate. Thus, Black’s king is forced backwards again and after 56…Kh6, I played 57.Ne2. Now the 2nd rank is blocked so that if the rook leaves b1, White can safely take on b2. Meanwhile, he threatens either 58.Nc3 or 58.Ke3, followed by a king walk to d2. Perunovic played 57…Bc4, but after 58.Rxc4 Rf1+ 59.Kxf1 b1=Q+ 60.Kf2 Qf5+ 61.Rf4 Qxe5 62.Kf1, White has a fortress. He only needs to walk his king between e1 and f1 and Black can’t do anything. A draw was soon agreed.

After this disappointing effort, I had the black pieces against IM Robert Ris of the Netherlands in the last round. He played a rather boring line against the Slav and a draw was agreed. Now I have a few days to recover and hopefully rediscover some form before my next event starts in San Sebastian, Spain.