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:
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!??!:
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!:
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:
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:
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.