Crash Landing

Oops, this post is a long time coming. I simply forgot to add this one after I got back from Brazil.

Well, that was a bad tournament. Last I updated this blog, I had 4 points from 6 games after losing with black to GM Vescovi. With 5 rounds to go, there was plenty of time for me to get back on track and vie for a World Cup spot.

Unfortunately, things went downhill pretty quickly for me, starting with the 7th round. As Black against FM Ivan Nogueira, I beat my head against the wall as black in an Exchange French before acquiescing to a draw. Strangely enough, I avoided playing 1…e5 because against that, he played the Exchange Ruy Lopez (rather drawish), but against 1…e6, he had never played the Exchange French (instead opting for the more popular 3.Nc3. Thus, it was a bit of a cold shower to get the Exchange French.

Against the Exchange French, I’ve played the same basic system for years: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 Nc6, and now the main line runs 5.Bb5 Bd6 6.c4 dxc4 7.d5 a6 8.Ba4 b5 9.dxc6 bxa4.

Nogueira - Bhat

I’ve played this for about 10 years now, and I have plenty of games in the database in this line. Generally, I’ve scored quite well here, as the position is reasonably unbalanced given that it once was a “boring” Exchange French. Black has the bishop pair and chances to stir up counterplay all over the board. However, on that day, I essentially ran into Nogueira playing Advanced Chess. After 19 moves, we were still in his preparation with Rybka, and I felt I had no choice but to accept a 3-fold repetition. Actually, I could have continued with some chances to outplay him an equal position, but at that point in the game, I wasn’t thinking clearly and didn’t want to risk anything.

That wasn’t a particularly interesting game from my point of view, so the next day, I was out for blood. I was playing the young Brazilian FM, Evandro Barbosa. He’s normally a King’s Indian player, but this game turned out to be a Fianchetto Benoni, something I was ill-prepared to play, and something, as it turned out, he had been studying before this tournament. We followed the real heavyweight fight, Korchnoi-Kasparov, Lucerne (Olympiad) 1982 to reach the following position:

Bhat - Barbosa

This was my first time playing the Fianchetto Benoni as white, and I hadn’t prepared it for this game. In fact, the last time I looked at it was back in March when I could have faced it against IM Miodrag Perunovic in Iceland! Thus, all the lines were hazy in my head, and the main thing I remember about the Korchnoi game was that what he did was fine, but that in the extremely messy complications that followed, the young Kasparov tactically outplayed him.

Unfortunately, generalizations like that weren’t going to tell me what to actually play at the board, so I came up with the interesting 16.g4!?. I was expecting 16…Nf6, when I wasn’t totally sure I was really better, but he blitzed out 16…Qh4!?, which is the most common move in this position. After a long think where I convinced myself that all my following moves were forced (they weren’t), I played 17.gxh5 Bxh3 18.Ne2?! f5 19.Bf4? Bxg2? (19…fxe4 is the only way to win!) 20.Kxg2 Qg4+ 21.Bg3 Qf3+ 22.Kg1 f4 23.Nxf4 Rxf4 24.Qxf3 Rxf3, we reached the following endgame:

Bhat - Barbosa 2

I was kicking myself at this point, since now I’m stuck defending a worse endgame. Comparing minor pieces, my knight on a3 is pretty stupid and my bishop on g3 isn’t doing much. Meanwhile, his knight on e5 is sitting pretty on a central outpost while his bishop is unopposed on the long diagonal (and eyeing my b2-pawn). As I compared the situation of the rooks, my opinion of the position further decreased – his rook on f3 is quite active and can swing to b3 to target my weak queenside pawns, while his rook on b8 supports the …b5 push. Uh oh.

In full damage control mode, I started to play pretty well and continued 25.hxg6 hxg6 26.Bxe5 (Black’s knight is better than my bishop, and I need the c4-square badly) Bxe5 27.Nc4 Bf4 28.Ra3!? (28.a5 is probably a bit better) Rxa3 29.bxa3 Re8 30.e5! Bxe5 31.Rb1 Re7 32.Rb6.

Bhat - Barbosa 3

I’m down a pawn here, but my pieces are no active while Black’s are relatively passive, and his extra c-pawn is securely blockaded for the time being. In the end, I managed to hold a draw here.

So after two draws in which I didn’t generate any real winning chances, I was really ticked off and the following morning, played an absolutely horrible game against another young Brazilian FM, Yago de Moura Santiago.

To his credit, he played a pretty solid positional game against my 3.Nc3 Nc6!? French (I wanted to avoid any preparation for once, and so I decided against my normal 3…Bb4 Winawer French), but I certainly missed some chances.

By this point, I was down in the dumps. I had 4/5, and then managed a whopping 1 out of 4, with 3 opponents being clearly lower rated. With one more round that evening and then the final round the next day, I decided I could do something other than prepare and I sat down and watched about 4 hours of Season 1 of Lost.

I guess it worked, as I won my 10th round game pretty easily in a Trompowsky (I decided to return to my 1.d4 roots by playing the Trompowsky, and in so doing, pushed my score with it up to 25/27, a nearly 2700 FIDE performance).

The following day, I had the black pieces against FM Cesar Quinones. This was a certifiably weird opening line, but I was happy with what I got: 1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 (the King’s Indian Attack was my main weapon against the French for many, many years; I don’t usually get to face it as black!) Nf6 4.Ngf3 b6 5.g3 dxe4 6.dxe4 Bb7 7.Qe2 Nc6!? (threatening 8…Nb4 and 9…Ba6) 8.c3 a5 (insisting on getting the f1-a6 diagonal) 9.Bg2 Ba6 10.Nc4 e5! 11.0-0 Bc5:

Quinones - Bhat 1

Black has brought out all his minor pieces and has staked an about equal claim to the center. White’s structure is marginally better, as he his c3-pawn gives him nice control over the otherwise weak d4-square, while Black can’t do the same with his d5-square. However, the knight on c4 is rather awkward and this is what gives Black an ok position here in my view. He immediately went wrong with 12.h3 0-0 13.Re1 Ne8!, threatening to transfer the knight to d6, when White won’t be able to avoid a bad queenside structure with b3 and bxc4.

After many moves and lots of time, we reached the following endgame position:

Quinones - Bhat 2

Black’s plan is relatively simple – he needs to create some open lines for his rook as the d-file doesn’t have any good entry square on it at the moment. To that end, I wanted to probe on the kingside, hopefully creating (e.g., …f5xe4, creating an isolated e4-pawn) or fixing a weakness (e.g., …f5-f4, fixing the e3-pawn) while preparing to break on the queenside with …b5. After about 30 more moves (making this the last game of the tournament!), I managed to arrange all that and my opponent had to throw in the towel. I went for a plan with …f5-f4 and then arranged …b5. While my opponent’s rook got active behind my pawns, I managed to snag the f3-pawn and then my c- and f-pawns carried the day. I’m not totally convinced the endgame is winning despite all my maneuvers in the game, though, but it’ll take a long time to figure out the “truth” about this position.

So, my tournament was a bit of a disaster, but at least I managed to avoid a total crash and won my last couple games. My finish of 7/11 was good enough for a tie for 29th place. GM Josh Friedel tied for one of the World Cup spots with 8.5/11, but in the rapid chess tiebreak, he wasn’t able to grab one of the 4 spots available. The tournament was won by GMs Shabalov and Corrales with 9/11.


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