Right now, I’m in São Paulo, Brazil playing in the Pan-American Continental Championships. The tournament started about a week ago, on the 25th. The US has 6 players here (GMs Ehlvest, Shabalov, Kudrin, Friedel, Ivanov, myself, and FM Gregory Markzon). Last year, the Pan-American was held in Boca Raton, Florida, and there was only one spot up for grabs for the 2009 World Cup in Russia. This year, there are 6 spots open, and that fact, coupled with a better location (for most of the rest of the Americas), there are close to 270 players in the event.
Because of the large field, I played down in the first couple rounds. In round 1, I had the white pieces against Sergio Silva of Brazil (2072 FIDE). We reached the following position after my 16th move:
Black was having some troubles untangling his pieces, but this move leads to a clearly worse endgame. He can’t capture on d4 because of 17.e5; meanwhile, if the pawns stays on e5, the knight can’t leave d7, leaving the bishop and rook stuck on c8 and a8. Meanwhile, putting the bishop on c7 guards the e5-pawn, but can run into Nc3-d5 tactics, as there are pins on both the c-file and h4-d8 diagonal. Thus, the computer recommends …Ba7-b8 as the best plan, which was surprisingly what I thought was best during the game as well!
However, my opponent played 16…Qd6 and went down quickly after: 17.dxe5 Qxd1 18.Rcxd1 Nxe5 19.Nxe5 Rxe5 20.f4 Re8 21.e5 Nh7 (if 21…Nh5, then 22.Rf1 leaves the knight stranded on h5) 22.Ne4 Bc7 23.Nd6 Bxd6 24.exd6, and White is simply winning. Black has no way to stop the d-pawn and an invasion of White’s rook to the e7-square.
In the second round, I faced Brazil’s representative in the World Youth Under-18 category, Vincius Tine Martins. The game was completely crazy from the get-go, as neither of us had really prepared the Moscow Gambit of the Semi-Slav, but we played into it anyways! After almost 5 hours of play, we agreed to a draw when I set up a fortress in an otherwise worse endgame.
This second day of the event featured a double-round schedule (at 10 AM and 7 PM). However, the round was not at 7 PM, but at 6 PM! How did mix-up this happen? Well, the organizers had tournament pages in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. The round times had been updated before the tournament started on the Spanish and Portuguese pages, but were left as is on the English page! Thus, my printout from the day before the event showed the round at 7 PM, as does the Google search cache, for example. The page info shows it was updated during the morning round, but they made no effort to inform the players of the change. The first round started 2 hours late, and I was there, waiting during that one, and I was about 10 minutes early for the 2nd round the following morning.
The organizers and arbiters made no effort to apologize or make up for the situation by giving us our time back, even though it was quite clearly the organizers mistake. They just kept repeating the phrase “the website was wrong,” as though that somehow made it ok for us to start our games with 45 minutes to make 40 moves. To make things even better, they passed out brochures with the “correct” round times on it during that round, but of course it was too late to do us any good.
In any case, that round was not a good one for the Americans – Friedel and I drew our games quite quickly, Ehlvest lost his way close to the time control and went down, while Shabalov also drew.
In the fourth round, I had the black pieces against FM Alan Borda. After 16 moves, we reached the following theoretical position:
This is a very old line of the Giouco Piano where Black is up a pawn, but White has a somewhat dangerous pawn on e6 and better development. Essentially, if Black can make it to an endgame or get his king to a relatively safe place, he’s much better. But in the short-term, White’s initiative can be tricky to defuse.
He played the correct 17.Re3 c6 18.Rh3!, as White’s pawn structure doesn’t matter too much here. He needs a way into Black’s position, and so he targets the h5-square. After 18…Rxh3 19.gxh3 g6, he played 20.Qd2, aiming for 21.h4 and 22.Qh6. I played 20…Kf8, and after 21.h4 gxh4 22.Qh6+ Kg8 23.Re4 Qa5!, threatening to head over to g5 to force a queen trade, the game was essentially in the bag for me. Since White can’t stop …Qg5, he’s pretty much already lost. He struggled on for a little while, but once we made time control, he gave up the ghost.
In round 5, I had the white pieces against FM Duvan Martin Castano, who won the Colombian Championships with a perfect 9/9 score! I doubt they had the $64,000 Fischer bonus prize for a perfect score though.
In mutual time pressure, he blundered with 36…Kg5? in the following position:
What would you play here as White? I played 37.Qa3!, when White is clearly on top. Black’s best would now be to give up the g3-pawn as a lost cause and hope for a miracle draw, but he pushed on with 37…Kh4, but after 38.Qf3, his king is feeling a bit short of air. After 38…Qg5, I played 39.Qf1 (39.Qf7 was even simpler), threatening a mate on h1. The only move is 39…Qe5, as Black needs to stay in touch with the f4- and f6-squares while making luft. Then I played 40.Qf8, when the threats on d8 and h6 are too much. He played 40…Kg5 41.Qd8+ Kf4 42.Qxd7, but he has no hope in this position. The game ended 42…Ke3 43.Qg4 Kf2 44.Qf5+! Kxg2 45.Qf1+! Kh2 46.Bf3, and mate on g2 is unavoidable.
In the sixth round, I played up for the first time in the event, against the #2 seed GM Giovanni Vescovi of Brazil (2631 FIDE). Vescovi has been Brazil’s best player for a number of years, and had regularly been a member of the top 100 players in the world.
The game was quite interesting as in the opening, I steered things from a Semi-Slav to a Stonewall Dutch structure and had good chances to equalize. However, at those critical junctures, I seem to have played a couple second-best moves which left him with nagging pressure. My last real chance was after 26.Bb2-c3, when we had the following position:
I was short on time here, having only about 10 minutes for the next 15 moves. I played 26…f4?, wrongly thinking that I had to stir something up on the kingside to compensate for my weakened queenside. Unfortunately, after 27.exf4 Rxf4 28.Nf3!, White secures the d4-pawn and now Black is in real trouble. I pushed the a-pawn up to avoid its capture on a6, but after 28…a5 29.Qd2, Black’s rook is offsides and the a5-pawn falls. I resigned in a few more moves.
The correct move was 26…Qc7! (not 26…Qc6, which allows 27.Ba5! with a clear plus), when White has some trouble defending his bishop. The rook is tied to the a-pawn, and going back to b2 simply repeats the position after 27…Qb6. Thus, White would probably play 27.Nb1, but this is clearly some concession on his part, as the knight is not well placed on b1. After 27…a5 28.Qe1 Bb4!, White can’t simply take twice on b4 because of 30…Qc1+ and 31…Qxe3 (taking advantage of the fact that the knight on b1 shuts in the rook on a1). This tactical trick buys Black a valuable extra move or two to safeguard his queenside structure.