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!.
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:
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, 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:
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: http://www.continental2009.com. 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.