Monthly Archives: September 2009

A Tale of Three Tournaments (Act 3)

After 9 rounds, I had 5.0/9 along with a performance rating of around 2660. In round 10, I had the white pieces against GM Alexander Moiseenko (2682 FIDE). Moiseenko came in as one of higher seeds, but after his first round loss to Bluvshtein (from what seemed to be a winning position), he had trouble finding his bearings. It took him until the 9th round to score his first win of the event!

Unfortunately, this meant that by the time we met, he had his first taste of blood in the event and he was looking to recover as many rating points as he could. He surprised me with the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, but even though he seemed to know the opening theory better than me,

I managed to get a nice positional advantage. I slowly increased my advantage until he felt he had no choice but to jettison a pawn and hope for chances with some tactics in my mild time pressure. His gamble turned out to be right.

We had the following position on the board after 29…h5-h4:

Bhat - Moiseenko

I had already given him too much counterplay (I should have played g2-g3 a long time back, kicking the knight away from the strong f4-square), and at this point, I wanted to get my knight on a4 back into the game. Playing back to c3 allows the strong 30…Nxg2! tactical blow, while going to b2 didn’t seem particularly active.

Thus, I ended up playing 30.b4?. As it turns out, 30.Nb2 and then 31.Nbc4 is quite alright for White, as Black can’t do much with all of White’s pieces working together. However, after 30.b4?, Black has the tricky 30…Bc4+!. I had missed this, and to compound my error, I played 31.Nxc4 Rxc4 32.Qd8+ Qxd8 33.Rxd8+ Kh7 34.Rd2 Rxb4, when the material count has been equalized, but Black’s pieces are clearly more active than their White counterparts. After a couple more mistakes, I found myself in a lost endgame that he managed to convert. Had I played 31.Kf2 instead, though, I might have survived, as on his planned 31…Be2, White has the strong intermediate move 32.Qd7!. Now Black’s rook either must give up the c-file (and so can’t invade on c2, or take the d-file after something like 32.Rg1 Rd8), or the 8th rank (which allows White a favorable trade of queens).

Oh well, after having a strong stretch from rounds 4 to 9, I wasn’t so disappointed with losing to a strong player like Moiseenko. The loss brought me to 50% (5.0/10), and in the last round, I’d be facing the leader, GM Arkadij Naiditsch (2697 FIDE), with the black pieces.

I had played Naiditsch twice before (see, but obviously, he had become much stronger since those days. He’s almost always a 1.e4 player, but his theoretical preparation seemed to set him apart from most of the competitors in this event – he was often blitzing out his opening moves on his way to a clear advantage, and he won a number of games straight from the opening.

He played a Panov-Botvinnik Attack, which was a huge surprise, and although I remembered my old analysis from 2006 or so, I had never bothered to update it and didn’t realize the line had been discarded by Black players.

Here’s the position after 13.h2-h4:

Naiditsch - Bhat 3

Black’s problem is simple – he’s down a pawn and he has trouble bringing his pieces out. Black’s knight on b6 is a bit loose, and the b5-square is a big hole. Black also can’t really kick the knight from f4, because after …g5, hxg5, the g5-pawn will be too weak and so Black usually won’t even have time to round up the d5-pawn.

I tried 13…Bf5 14.Be3 Qd6, with the idea of 15…Rd8, to get that d5-pawn back finally. However, after 15.Nb5, I had to play 15…Qd8. I thought at first that I was getting some counterplay after 16.Rac1 Nfxd5 17.Bf3 Nxe3 18.fxe3 e5, but it turned to be illusory. After 19.dxe5 Bxe5 20.h5, Black’s position is falling apart everywhere, while the e3-pawn is not easy to target. I went down in flames in less 10 more moves.

Thus, I finished with 2 losses to take me to 5.0/11 (or -1). Overall, the performance was still a positive one, as based on my rating, I was expected to score somewhere around 2.5 or 3.0 out of 11 games!

I should say thanks to the organizers (led by André Langlois), who put on an excellent tournament. Thanks also to Richard Berube, who was the TD and the organizer of the qualifying event in June. I enjoyed Montreal and hope to make it back next year.

Now I’m off to my next event, the SPICE Cup (Group B) in Lubbock, Texas. It’s another stron round-robin, but not nearly as strong as the Montreal event. Still, with an average rating of 2503 or so, it’s going to be a challenge. I’m the #8 seed of the 10 players by rating.


A Tale of Three Tournaments (Act 2)

With 1.0/3 and black against top seed GM Etienne Bacrot (2721 FIDE) in round 4, things were not looking great for my tournament. I had played Bacrot once before, a long time back in 1995 – that game did not go well for me (see

The second time around was definitely better. Actually, in the final position, after 34.Bd6-g3, I was better, but he offered me a draw with about 2 minutes left on my clock to reach move 40:

Bacrot - Bhat 2

I knew I was better, and was thinking about 34…Nc3, which leads to a pawn-up endgame after best play from White. However, I also knew that I had lost two games and was losing to Akobian, so I figured I should get at least half a point on the board before I ended up with a bagel for the event. And so, I ended up taking the draw.

Here’s what might have happened after 34…Nc3. If 35.Nbd6, then 35…Bxd6 36.Nxd6 Ne2+ 37.Kg2 Rc3 is crushing. Thus, 35.Nxc3 is forced, after which 35…Qxd4+ 36.Kg2 Qxc3 37.Qxc3 Bxc3 38.Rad1 is a likely continuation. Black is up a pawn (the doubled f-pawns) and has the bishop pair. It’s a clear advantage, but there is still some work to do to win the game.

The next round, I had the white pieces against GM Sergei Tiviakov (2674 FIDE). This was maybe my best game of the event – I had some faster (and maybe cleaner) wins, but this was a big struggle where my opponent defended very well and made me really earn the full point.

Here’s the position we had after 27…h7-h6:

Bhat - Tiviakov 1

After something like 28.Qg4, White’s attack is not particularly threatening, and so Black can play 28…Ra8, winning the bishop on a6. Thus, 28.Nf6+! is correct. After 28…Kf8 (not 28…gxf6 29.Qxf6 Kh7 30.h5, when White’s attack is irresistible) 29.Nh7+ Kg8 30.Nf6+ (a little repetition to get closer to move 40) Kf8 31.Qh5!, White’s attack is probably winning. Unfortunately, with only about 2 minutes or so, this is more easily decided at home with a computer. After 31.Qh5! Qb4! 32.Re2! gxf6 33.exf6, Tiviakov came up with the very good 33…Rb8!. The rook guards the b5-pawn and isn’t as exposed as it would be on a8. After 34.Bxh6+ Ke8 35.Rxe6+ Kd8, White doesn’t have 36.Qxd5+ because of 36…Rd7 and there is no rook hanging on a8! Thus, I had to retreat with 36.Re3, when there was still a lot more work to do to win the game.

After more excitement, we reached the following position after 61.Ke5-d6:

Bhat - Tiviakov 2

He played 61…a3, when it looks like Black is getting counterplay. White has two far-advanced pawns, but Black’s rooks seem to be watching them and Black’s a-pawn is getting close to queening as well. There is no mating net, so I played 62.f7 Rhf5 63.Qb8+ Ka5 64.h7, when a pawn is going to queen. The resulting Q vs. R (with my d-pawn versus his a-pawn) was a pretty easy win.

Now I finally had my first win of the event, and was sitting on 2/5 with the black pieces against IM Thomas Roussel-Roozmon (2487 FIDE) in round 6. Thomas only had 1/5 at this point and he was probably looking for an easy game, and so he chose the Exchange Slav. However, I wasn’t really in the mood for a quick draw, so I tried a sideline to quickly create an imbalance. My opening experiment worked out well, and I got a nice IQP position with plenty of play. After liquidating the isolated pawn, we reached the following position after 24.Qe2-f1 (getting off the dangerous e-file):

Roussel - Bhat 2

Here, Black has his sights set on f2, so I wanted to close the 2nd rank for White’s rooks. Thus, I played 24…g5!, and after 25.Bd2 Ng4, the pressure is unbearable for White. If 26.Bxg4 Bxg4 27.Re1, then 27…Bxf2+ 28.Qxf2 Qxf2+ 29.Kxf2 Rxd2+ wins for Black. He tried 26.Ne4, but after 26…Bf5 27.Bxg4 Bxg4 28.Re1 f5! 29.Nc3, the same tactic works for Black and he resigned soon after.

Thus, going into the rest day, I had 3.0/6, a nice turnaround after my 0.5/3 start. Coming off the rest day, I had the white pieces against GM Sebastien Maze (2546 FIDE). The game was not a particularly exciting one, as neither of us took an undue risks and the game ended in a draw after about 25 moves.

In round 8, I had white against GM Yuri Shulman (2648 FIDE), the 2008 US Champion. I had played Yuri a couple times before, once in 2000 and another time in 2001. Both games ended in a draw, but I had the better of the draw in each case (and was completely winning in the 2001 game). Interestingly enough, our repertoire with the black pieces is quite similar – both of us have the French as our main defense to 1.e4 and the Semi-Slav to 1.d4. Maybe it’s because of this opening similarity that he decided to surprise me with a Stonewall Dutch setup. However, his inexperience seemed to trump mine, and he quickly found himself in a difficult position after 15.e4-e5:

Bhat - Shulman

It’s a normal idea in the Stonewall for White to break Black’s strong points on d5 and f5 with f3 and e4, but here, that plan has worked to perfection. White has a mobile center with all his pieces nicely deployed while Black’s king is exposed and his development is lacking. It all ended quickly for Shulman after 15…Bb4 (not 15…Bc7 16.Nd5!) 16.a3 Bxc3? (16…Ba5 is better, but it’s still not good for Black) 17.Bxc3 a5 (otherwise 18.Bb4 would win an exchange) 18.d5!. The pawn sacrifice makes total sense since Black’s king is going to feel rather exposed and White’s development is better. After 18…Nxe5 19.Rae1 Nf7, I decided to go with 20.Nd4 (20.Nxf4 also wins) Qc5 21.Kh1 Bxh3 (desperation) 22.Nf3, and it’s all over for Black. He resigned a few moves later.

So now I had 4.5/8 and was on +1 in this super-strong field! A tough draw with GM Mark Bluvshtein in round 9 took me to 5/9 and kept me on +1. At that point, I was only a point or so behind the leaders with 2 games to go. Unfortunately, my tournament didn’t end so well …

A Tale of Three Tournaments (Act 1)

I got back from Montreal a few days back (I spent some extra time there after the event), so it’s now high time to blog about the tournament.

Going into the event, I knew it would be a struggle, as it was the strongest tournament I had ever played in. The average rating of the entire field was 2615 FIDE (or Category 15); however, as the lowest-rated at 2473 FIDE, my opposition had an average rating closer to 2630 FIDE (or Category 16).

Up until this event, the strongest field I had ever faced was at the Qingdao Open in China in 2002. I was there to play an open event prior to the US-China Chess Summit Match, and I ended up making my first official GM norm with a +1 score against a field with an average rating of close to 2580 FIDE.

The event saw me struggle at the start of the event, scraping only half a point out of my first three games. However, I then scored 4.5 points from my next 6 games before dropping the final two games to finish at -1 with 5.0/11.

In the first round, I had white against GM Alexander Onischuk (2699 FIDE). I had never played (or met) Onischuk before this event, and to be honest, I was a little nervous before the game – it’s not normal for me to start out an event against such a strong player. In most open tournaments that I play in, I get a 2200 or so in the first round, and so I can more easily ease myself into the competition. Here, though, I was going to be facing one of the top dogs out of the gate.

After 7 moves of a Queen’s Indian, I was rather embarrassingly on my own – maybe it was because it was my first game of the event, but I was definitely a bit slower than usual with my move-making (and I’m normally quite slow!). We reached the following position after 10 moves:

Bhat - Onischuk

I had already gone wrong a little bit after being surprised, but I shouldn’t be worse here. However, I think I underestimated the danger and played 11.Be3. White wants to play 11.f3, hoping to force 11…exf3 12.exf3, when Black’s strong pawn on e4 disappears and the backward e6-pawn gets exposed. However, after 11.f3, Black has 11…Nc6 12.Be3 Bf6 13.d5 Na5, with a very good position. Because of this, I decided that if I guarded the d-pawn enough, I would get to play f3 later. Unfortunately, Onischuk never gave me a chance to do so under favorable circumstances.

Thus, 11.f3 was probably still correct, but after 11…Nc6, 12.e3 is probably the way to go. It’s not ideal, as after 12…exf3 13.Bxf3, the pawn structure isn’t the best case scenario for White, but at least White has room to move his pieces around. In the game, after 11.Be3 Nc6 12.Qd2 Bf6 13.Rad1 Qe7, I still don’t have a good hold on the d4-pawn, and so I played the visually unattractive 14.Nb5, but this was already a bad sign for me. Onischuk increased his advantage quickly, but rather than slowly grind me down, he decided to play quite concretely, reaching the following position after 23…Qxa3:

Bhat - Onischuk 2

I played 24.Bxd4, when Onischuk played 24…Rxd4 (not 24…Bxd4 25.Rxd4, when Black’s king on h8 is toast) 25.Rxd4 bxc5 26.Rd8, and now Black has only one move to win, but win it does (and it’s not too hard to find). Both 26…Rxd8 27.Qxf6 and 26…Bxc3 27.Rxf8 win for White, so Black has to close the g-file with the intermediate 26…e3+, when 27.Bg2 Bxc3 28.Rxf8+ Kg7 wins for Black.

Ok, so I lost the first round, but losing to Onischuk isn’t such a bad thing. He’s a very strong player, so I could live with the result. In round 2, as black against GM Varuzhan Akobian (2626 FIDE), I thought I had some very strong preparation in his favorite line of an Anti-Meran Variation of the Semi-Slav. Here’s the position we reached after 14.Nd4:

Akobian - Bhat

Akobian had recently won a couple very big games in this line, against Becerra at the US Championships and then Fressinet at the National Open. I had prepared the piece sacrifice with 14…b4 15.Nf5 Bc5 16.Na4 Bxf2+ 17.Kxf2 Neg4+ for him, and here I got my chance to play it. Unfortunately, my theoretical surprise failed on two levels – both levels, incidentally, on which I expected it to score:

(1) Although new, Akobian had done his homework well and looked at this exact piece sacrifice on his own!

(2) And more concerning, it turns out to not be sound!

Of course, I couldn’t know (1) beforehand, but I could have known (2) had I done my preparation more thoroughly. But, ignorance is bliss, and so I played these moves quickly. After Akobian continued to blitz out the moves 18.Bxg4 Nxg4+ 19.Ke1 Qxh2 20.Qe2 Rad8 21.Bg5 f6 22.Be3, I was quite worried, since I hadn’t expected him to have known about this line. However, after 22…h5, he sank into deep thought for almost 50 minutes.

During his long think, I spent some time watching the other boards, but I also spent some time sitting in the viewing chairs watching our board on the projection screen. It was during this time that I realized that I not only couldn’t remember what to do against 23.Qf1, but I couldn’t find anything good to do either! After 23.Qf1, White covers the h1 square and prepares 24.Bf4, trapping the Black queen on h2. Retreating the queen isn’t a real option, but in this position with the insertion of Bg5/…f6/Be3 (rather than Be3 immediately), 23…Ba6 fails. Meanwhile, after 23…Nxe3 24.Nxe3 Qh4+ 25.Qf2 Qxe4 26.Nc5 Qe7 27.Nxb7 Qxb7, White has beaten back the attack and has a knight for 3 not so great pawns. White is clearly better.

Luckily for me, even after his long think, Akobian played the computer’s first choice with 23.Kf1. Against this, I did know what to do, and the game ended in a draw shortly afterwards. A couple days later, Akobian told me that his analysis file had 23.Qf1 in it, but he simply couldn’t remember it at the board and wasn’t able to find it during his think either.

Phew – one bullet dodged!

In the third round, I had white against GM Anton Kovalyov (2571 FIDE). Kovalyov qualified via the Quebec International in June, just like I did. With the white pieces, I was hoping to do some damage, but this didn’t seem to be my day. After 11…Nc6-e7, we reached the following position:

Bhat - Kovalyov

Black is obviously threatening various things along the c-file, but after a long think, I came up with the incomprehensible 12.Bb2?. I had seen, and planned, the correct 12.Bg5, and while White is not better after that, he at least isn’t really worse either. But after 12.Bb2?, I just lose a pawn to 12…Bd5 13.c5 d6, and I can’t guard the c-pawn enough times. Amazing. Down a pawn, I dug in my heels and defended like a wounded lion (I think) for another 80+ moves before finally succumbing to the inevitable.

So at this point in the event, I had 0.5/3 and was facing a game the next day against the top seed, GM Etienne Bacrot, with the black pieces. Things were looking grim, but this turned out to be the next phase of my roller coaster event …