Monthly Archives: July 2009

Live from São Paulo

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:

Bhat - Silva

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:

Borda - Bhat

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:

Bhat - Castano

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:

Vescovi - Bhat

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.


Closing out the World Open

Apologies for the long delay between posts, but things have been somewhat busy the past week. In my last post on the World Open, I summarized the first 5 rounds in Philly. After that relatively leisurely one-game-a-day pace, the last four rounds were a grueling stretch run with 2 games a day on each weekend day.

In round 6, I had the black pieces against the Canadian FM, Michael Dougherty. I had played him once before, back in the 2001 Chicago Open, where I beat him as white in a Sicilian Rossolimo. Maybe it was the relatively early start to the round, but I wasn’t fully focused at the start of the game. In the following position, I played 9…Qe7? 10.cxd5 exd5?, but I was rudely awakened by 11.e4!.

Dougherty - Bhat

The problem is simple – with Black’s king and queen lined up on the e-file, White is either going to force Black to take twice on e4, or will pry open the e-file by pushing the pawn on to e5 himself, when Black has no choice but to remove it. Luckily my position wasn’t just lost like that (although 9…Qe7 was a pretty bad move; the simple 9…0-0 was better, when Black has a comfortable position), and I managed to regroup in time. I played a serious of only moves to escape the troubles on the e-file after which my position was ok, but nothing special. However, when he decided to launch an attack that had no real basis in the position, I managed to put him away pretty quickly.

In the evening round, I was paired “down” against GM Mesgen Amanov. His FIDE rating is higher than mine (at 2517 FIDE), but because of limited USCF tournament play, his USCF rating was barely over 2400. Goichberg probably should fix this silly rating loophole. We actually followed Game 3 of the World Championship match between Kramnik and Anand from 2008; unfortunately, we both sort of knew we were following it for a while, but thanks to the 2 game a day schedule, neither of us had prepared it. After some excitement, we reached the following position with Black to move:

Bhat - Amanov

Both GM Jesse Kraai and GM Josh Friedel weren’t very optimistic about my chances at this point, but it seems that White is just winning! Black’s problem is that he can’t get all of his pieces trained at White’s king as he could when the king was on g1. Amanov tried 22…Bg2+ 23.Ke1 Bh3 (23…Qb4+ is stopped by 24.Qd2, while 23…Bxf4 falls to 24.Qc4 Qe5+ 25.Ne2, when too many of Black’s pieces are hanging), but after 24.Qe3, he didn’t have anything productive to do. The game ended a few moves later.

The next morning, I played against IM Robert Hungaski, who splits his time between Argentina and the US. The middlegame was somewhat interesting, but in time pressure, we both made some mistakes to reach the following endgame after 40…Bd5:

Hungaski - Bhat

Hungaski, having reached the time control, spent a few minutes and played 41.Kg3?. This allowed me to play 41…Bxf3! 42.Kxf3 a5! 43.h4 a4 44.h5+ Kh7 45.Rb4 Ra1, when White can’t avoid the exchange of queenside pawns following 45…a3. The resulting 3 vs 2 R + P endgame is a simple draw for Black.

Maybe the endgame is objectively drawn anyways, but to try and win it, White should have played either 41.Nd4 or 41.Nh4+, with some small advantage. Hungaski tried to squeeze the 3 vs 2 endgame, but to no avail and the game ended in a draw after 6 hours of play. Sadly, thanks to this marathon game, I missed the entire Federer-Roddick Wimbledon final!

With 4.5/8, I played FM Michael Lee in the last round as white. There isn’t a whole lot going on in the following position after 26…Qe7, but White should be better somehow:

Bhat - Lee

I couldn’t find anything particularly great, though, as Black has some simple ideas to try and improve his position (e.g. …Nf7-g5, …Bd7, …Ra8) while White doesn’t have such obvious building moves. I decided to play 27.b3, setting a small trap. The move b2-b3 helps fix the a5-pawn so it isn’t totally useless if Black sees the idea.

Lee played 27…Nf7?, when I uncorked 28.Qxf7+!! Qxf7 29.Rxf7 Kxf7 30.Nc7. The point is that the rook is essentially trapped on a6! It can’t go back to a8, and if it retreats to a7, then 31.Nc3-b5 wins it, while if 30…Rb6, then 31.Na4 traps it. On 30…b6, White can either play 31.Na4 or 31.Nxa6, in both cases with excellent winning chances. Thus, Black has to give up the rook on a6, letting his a-pawns get doubled and leaving the a5-pawn without any support.

The resulting endgame is winning for White, but I got a little nonchalant and didn’t sense that he could try and set up a fortress at one point. He, however, did not miss that chance and after that, I could only shuffle around and hope he blundered. When it was clear that he wasn’t going to do so, I offered a draw that was immediately accepted.

Now I’m in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for the Pan-American Continental Championship that begins tomorrow. It’s a pretty strong field, where I’m seeded around #35 in the 11-round event. The website is at: The top 6 finishers at this tournament qualify for the World Cup in November! There are about 30 GMs signed up for the event, so it should be a tough event.

Recent articles

I’ll post about the last 4 rounds in Philly in a couple days. In the meantime, here are links to my last 3 articles. All 3 articles are centered around games from the Montreal tournament:

The 3rd Rank Barrier

Materialism, Opposite Colored Bishops, and Kasparov’s Theorem


Taking a Ride on the Reading: The First Half in Philly

In the recently completed World Open in Philadelphia, I started out in the 7-day schedule. This gave me one travel day to get to Philly from Montreal, before starting the event with 1 game a day for 5 days.

In the first round, I had the white pieces against GM Vladimir Potkin. We reached the following position after 18.Ng5:

Bhat - Potkin

White has some small initiative thanks to the fact his minor pieces are more menacing than their black counterparts. After a long think, Potkin decided to play 18…g6. This allows a small tactic starting with 19.Bxf6. Do you see it? The game continued 19.Bxf6 Qxf6 20.Nxh7 Kxh7 21.Qh5+ Kg7 22.Qxc5, leaving White with an extra pawn. The only problem for me was that Black had more than enough compensation after 22…Rfc8 23.Qb5 Bc6 24.Qb6 Bd5. The White queen is oddly placed on b6, the b3-pawn is weak, and White has some back-rank issues. The game soon ended in a draw.

In round two, I had the white pieces against one of my study partners, GM Josh Friedel. It’s never pleasant to play someone you’re good friends with, but we’ve had the odd misfortune (or fortune for Josh, since he normally beats me!) of often playing whenever we show up at the same event. In the following position, after 7.Qb3-c3, Josh calmly uncorked the amazing move 7…Bxc4!??!:

Bhat - Friedell WO

While I was wondering what just happened, GM Evgeny Bareev (Kramnik’s former second) leaned over so far that I had to scoot back in my chair to give him room to see the position. Like Bareev, my first reaction was shock – how could he take my c4-pawn with such impunity when I have it guarded twice? However, I then realized that after 8.Nxc4 Nd5 9.Qc2 Nb4, White has trouble escaping the knight’s attacks while staying in touch with the knight on c4. I rejected the early draw by repetition and went for it with 10.Qc3 Nd5 11.Qc2 Nb4 12.Qa4. After 12…Nxc4 13.a3 b5 (the only move) 14.Qb3 Na5 (again, the only move) 15.Qd1 Nbc6 16.e4, White is actually better. Unfortunately for Josh, the computer misevaluates the capture on c4 because it thinks Black is just better here at first. However, after a few minutes of thought, it realizes White is better. Fortunately for Josh, though, he defended quite well and after 4 hours and a crazy middlegame, the game ended in a draw.

In the third round, I had the black pieces against IM Ray Robson. The game was a crazy Winawer Poisoned Pawn, where he certainly outprepared me and squashed most of my counterplay in the early middlegame. However, once he reached an ideal position for White, he didn’t know what to do and let me back into the game. After some twists and turns, we reached the following position after 32…Nd7-f6!:

Robson - Bhat

If White takes the knight, he loses his great bishop on d6, so Ray played 33.Bd3. This is where my time trouble problem reared its ugly head. With less than half a minute to reach move 40, and no increment to rely on (I repeatedly looked at the clock after I moved, hoping in vain that it would add 30 seconds to my time!), I lashed out with 33…d4 34.cxd4 Nd5 35.Qf3 Qxd4+ 36.Kg3. With the dust settling, and the clock ticking down, I realized I didn’t have any good continuation! Instead, I’ve just opened the c-file for White’s benefit, as now Rhc1 follows with ideas of Rxc6+ or Bxa6. Black would have been doing just fine with 33…Ne4+ 34.Bxe4 dxe4. The c-file remains closed and White doesn’t have the two bishops anymore. Meanwhile, the bishop on d6 can be undermined with …f6. After my mistake in the game, though, Ray managed to put me away with both of us getting into a big time scramble.

The next day featured one of my most interesting games of the tournament. Not interesting in itself, as the game was not particularly good, but interesting in the way a draw was declined and then finally agreed upon. In the following position, FM Thomas Bartell played 34.Ne3 and offered a draw:

Bartell - Bhat 1

Black’s position isn’t particularly great (I had achieved some advantage in the early middlegame but had slowly watched it disappear and turn into an advantage for White). I also only had 22 seconds for 7 moves before reaching time control. And I said “No, let’s play on” and played 34…Bd8. I suffered for my foolish pride for the next two hours, as Bartell slowly increased his advantage and reached the following winning position at about 12:10 AM after 53…c3:

Bartell - Bhat 2

At this point in the night, there was only one other game going on, between FM Raja Panjwani and NM Chris Williams. They were pretty far away, so I don’t know what the position on the board was, but Chris Williams flagged and lost on time. As he’s from Boston, I doubt he’s a Chicago Cubs fan, but he did a pretty good verbal impression of Big Z’s outburst, unleashing a torrent of expletives for the next 5 minutes or so. The TDs were unable (or unwilling) to shut him up and his protests continued for a little while. My opponent was down to about 5 minutes left here while I had about 7 minutes. (As a side note, one of the best ejections in baseball history has to be this one, of Phillip Wellman.)

With a couple accurate moves, he can put the game out of reach. One winning line, for example, is: 54.Rd7 Qc6 55.Rc7! Qxe6 56.b7! – not 56.Qxc3 Qxb6+, when Black is fine. My opponent also had some doubts about the rook endgame after something like 56.Rxc3 Rb8 57.Rc7 Qxb6 58.Rxg7+ Kh8 59.Qxb6 Rxb6 60.Rf7, but White should win this one. Maybe if everything was quiet in the tournament hall, Bartell would have found the correct continuation. As it was, with Williams’ long outburst, his clock wound down and he played 54.Rxf5?. After 54…c2, he found the only way to hold his position together with 55.Rc5 Qxb6 56.Kh2!, and the game ended in a draw about 15 moves later.

After this game, I had 1.5/4 and the 7-day schedule was going to merge with the 4- and 5-day schedules on Friday night. My 5th round game, as white against Seth Homa, was not particularly interesting – it ended in a draw after some minor adventures. On this day, though, I met my brother’s wife’s brother (Lee Huang) and his two kids in the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. I played a good amount of Monopoly as a young kid, but I finally got to take a ride on the Reading! The farmer’s market they had going was pretty good too.

Back Home … and Musings on Strange American Tournaments

We all got to have, a place where we come from
This place that we come from is called home
We set out on our travels, we do the best we can
We travel this big earth as we roam

We all got to have, a place where we come from
This place that we come from is called home
And even though we may love, this place on the map
Said it ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at

–          Mos Def in Habitat

I’m back in the Bay Area after my two tournament trip to Montreal and Philadelphia. I wasn’t able to get online much in Philadelphia, especially once the schedule shifted to include two games a day.

In the end, I finished with 5 points from 9 games – not a particularly inspiring performance – but I did play a lot of good players and some interesting games. In the first round of the 7-day schedule, I played up against GM Vladimir Potkin. The last time I played up in the first round of a swiss was in 2002 in China when I was much lower rated! Actually, I played up in the first 3 rounds, which was quite a surprise. The rest of my field was over 2400 FIDE on average, so it was a pretty strong tournament. I squandered a couple opportunities in rounds 5 and 9 that would probably have improved my final position. I did get quite lucky, though, in round 4 against FM Thomas Bartell (I should have taken the draw he offered when I was worse!).

Thanks to that save, I only lost one game, to IM Ray Robson (the most recent Samford Fellow). If this were Shakespeare, the moment would have been rife with imagery and symbolism, but for now, I’ll just say that on the first day of his Fellowship, he beat the 2008 recipient. Then on the following day, he beat the 2007 recipient, GM Josh Friedel!

I’ll post more details about my games in the coming week, but for now, I’ll make a few comments about the tournament in general. First, Mark Crowther’s comment at TWIC:

“I’ve always found the World Open a bit odd. Multiple schedules, re-entries allowed and so forth. So what to make of Hikaru Nakamura’s tournament? Turns up one day plays 5 g/45 minute games to get in contention, plays two proper games the following day (quick draw and a win), then takes two half point byes in the final two rounds to share first place and is already flying to [San Sebastian, Spain] before the tournament ends. I guess my main reaction is ‘What kind of tournament is this?’”

This is no knock against Nakamura, who played quite well and took advantage of both his strengths and the scheduling quirks. However, it is kind of silly in my view to have a tournament that gives you the opportunity to win like this. The 4-day Open Section schedule was a farce, with only 3 players showing up, so everybody got a full-point bye. The 3-day schedule Open Section only had 2 GMs, and with 5 rounds amongst themselves at G/45, it was almost like a different tournament than the more popular 5- and 7-day schedules. The 7-day and 5-day schedules, by comparison to the 3-day, were much stronger – the 7-day featured a GM-GM pairing in round 1! Najer played 8 GMs, and as some consolation for a more brutal schedule, he won the tournament title on tie-break as Nakamura wasn’t there to contest the blitz playoff.

Of course, Goichberg runs his tournaments in the purest capitalist sense, so he probably won’t change his ways. Multiple schedules allow for more re-entries and a few extra bucks in his pocket. For a few players, it also helps avoid taking time off from work and cutting down on hotel costs. But when there are such prizes at stake, it difficult to imagine another sporting event where this is possible – there are amazingly different schedules with different fields and time controls and a co-champion doesn’t even show up for the last two rounds and gets something more than a zero-point bye for those rounds. Foxwoods is a rather strong open tournament, but the Open Section there has only one schedule. I would think the World Open should adopt the same format.

As a side note, what happened with GM Leonid Yudasin in round 8? The wallchart at the time said he had withdrawn, but when I walked around, there he was playing Robert Lau around board 80 in round 8! Yes, the same Robert Lau who was not playing in the Open Section until that round! Yudasin won that game, and then won a marathon game against GM Kacheishvili in the last round to claim $2160 in prize money. How is this possible? He received a ridiculous pairing, much easier than his fellow 4.5 pointers in round 8, and it counted? I’m not sure how the pairings would have shaken out had Yudasin been paired correctly, but GM Josh Friedel, who is right around Yudasin’s rating, played GM Gata Kamsky in that round. I wonder which is an easier pairing: a 2200 with black (who isn’t even in the section), or Kamsky with black? I’m not sure if there was any debate at the tournament about this, but it seems rather odd to me. Here’s a link to the wallchart, and I’d appreciate if someone could explain this one to me.