Bizarro Day in the USCL

This last week’s match in the USCL was one that the SF team would rather forget. Although we ended up losing 2.5 – 1.5, the match could pretty easily have turned in our favor in a number of ways.

We got off on the wrong foot when on board 4, Greg Young blundered a piece to David Adelberg (the full game is here). In the following position, Black executed a simple tactic with 9…e5:

Young - Adelberg

After 10.Nb3 d4, Black is just up a piece. At this point, I sort of chalked the game up as a loss for us, although, as we’ll see, nothing was what it seemed …

Meanwhile, in our other white on board 2, IM John Donaldson didn’t seem to get too much against IM Dionisio Aldama (the full game can be seen here):

Donaldson - Aldama

Still, the position is generally without risk for White, and after a dozen moves or so, they had traded down into a minor piece ending that while looking marginally better for white, didn’t look so amazing. John decided to agree to a 3-time repetition, but as it turns out, according to IM Mark Ginsburg (as can be read here), White was winning in the final position:

Donaldson - Aldama 2

Now 32.Nxh7 doesn’t work because of 32…Ke8, and the knight isn’t going to get out from h7 very easily.

However, 32.Kc4 looks quite strong – White threatens to exchange on d7 and then invade with his king on b5. If now 32…b5+ 33.Kd4 Ke8, then 34.Nxd7 Kxd7 35.Bf1 b4 36.Kc4, and White wins by invading with his king on the queenside. If 33…Be8 (instead of 33…Ke8), then 34.Nxh7 wins, as Black’s king can’t cut off the knight’s re-entry into the game via f8. Meanwhile, if 33…Bc8, then 34.Bf1 Ke8 35.Ne6 b4 36.Bb5+ is also a winning endgame for White.

A missed chance, but this would be the theme for the match. At this point, it was 0.5 – 0.5, with 3 games going, but I figured Young would lose on board 4. That left it up to Naroditsky (black against Rensch) and me (black against Barcenilla).

On board 3, Naroditsky didn’t seem to play the opening correctly. If nothing else, his time management seemed a bit suspect, but as I’m not usually one to talk about such things, I won’t harp on it too much. He did get a playable position, and slowly outplayed Rensch, reaching a completely winning endgame (the full game can be seen here):

Rensch - Naroditsky

Around this point, Greg got up and announced that he had won his game. I was completely floored – wasn’t he down a piece? Well, this was a match which showed both sides exhibiting “great” technique …

Back to Danya’s game – Black had won a pawn on the queenside, and then slowly walked his king up to b5 while giving up a relatively unimportant pawn on g6. Now it’s a pretty straightforward win for Black – he can play 61…Kc4, and White can’t stop 62…Kd3. White’s only chance is 62.Rc8+ Kd3 63.Ne1+, but then 63…Kxe3, and White’s pawn chain falls like the proverbial ripe apples.

Two possible lines then are: 64.g6 Re2 65.g7 (65.Nc2+ Kd3 66.Nxb4+ Bxb4 67.g7 Bc3 is curtains) Rxe1+ 66.Kc2 Re2+ 67.Kb3 Rb2+ 68.Ka4 Rg2 69.g8=Q Rxg8 70.Rxg8, and now either 70…Kxd4 or 70…Kxf4 gives Black too many passed pawns for White to deal with.

Instead, Danya played 61…b3? 62.Rb8+ Ka6? (62…Ka4 might still have held the balance) 63.Na1 (63.Nb4+ was also winning), and Black’s prized pawn has to be put back in the box. The game soon followed.

It was now tied at 1.5 apiece, with my game hanging in the balance. I will humbly submit that our game was reasonably well played until we each started playing on the increment (just after move 30). Barcenilla surprised me with a Scotch, and I in turn, surprised him with 4…Nf6.

I have exclusively played 4…Bc5 against the Scotch, and I figured that having played it twice against Barcenilla’s teammate Danny Rensch, he would be expecting that line and have it well prepared. Meanwhile, he had never played the Scotch from what I remembered, so it seemed like at least now both of us would be on unfamiliar territory rather than just one of us. The opening gamble paid off, as I don’t think he played a very critical line. The full game can be seen here.

Barcenilla - Bhat 2009 1

So far it’s all normal, but here, 8….Ba6 is much more popular than the move I played, 8…Nb6. Still, the knight retreat is probably not so bad and seems to be theoretically quite playable. The game continued 9.Nc3 Qe6 when Barcenilla played a move which seemed a bit odd to me – 10.b3. Instead, 10.Qe4 is by far the most common move.

After 10.b3 a5, White either has to allow Black to make inroads on the queenside with …a5-a4, or stop that with a2-a4 and give Black the b4-square. He chose the latter, and after developing and castling, we reached the following position after 19.Kc1-b1:

Barcenilla - Bhat 2009 2

I wanted to play 19…c4 here, immediately breaking open the queenside, but I couldn’t quite make it work after 20.bxc4 Bg4 (20…dxc4 21.Bxc4 doesn’t leave me with too many open lines, and in fact, the f7-pawn could become rather weak) 21.cxd5 (21.Be2 Bxe2 22.Qxe2 dxc4 23.Qxc4 Rec8 24.Qe4 Rab8 gives Black a strong initiative) Bxd1 22.Qxd1. The two bishops plus strong central pawns seemed to give White reasonable compensation for the exchange in my view. After a 20-minute think or so, I decided on 19…Bb7, simply developing a piece and waiting to play …c4 later. I finally got my chance after to play …c4 in the following position:

Barcenilla - Bhat 2009 3

After 27…c4 28.bxc4, I played 28…Ba6. Not 28…Bc8 because of 29.Bxc8 Rdxc8 30.f5!, when Bh6 is a rather annoying threat. Black has to play 30…Qxe5, when 31.fxg6 hxg6 32.Bh6+ Kg8 (Black can’t go to the e-file due to the threat of a pin) 33.Rxg6+ with a forced draw by repetition.

After 28…Ba6 29.Bd3 Rb8, Barcenilla alertly played 30.f5 – not 30.Ka2 first, as then I wasn’t going to play 30…Bc3 31.f5 Qxe5 transposing back to the game, but 30…f5!, clearing the f7-square for the queen to hit the c4-pawn. Black is then winning.

After 30.f5 Bc3+ 31.Ka2 Qxe5 32.fxg6 fxg6 (I didn’t want to open the f-file, but 32…hxg6 again leads to a draw after 33.Bf4!, so I didn’t feel like I had a choice) 33.Re4, we got the following position:

Barcenilla - Bhat 2009 4

As Adamson writes on the Scorpions’ blog, I had a chance for USCL glory (and maybe GotW, but I’m sure at least one judge hates me already by now – Jeff, your prayer that I lose this game was answered!) with 33…Qxe4!. The point is that after 34.Bxe4 Bxc4+ 35.Ka3, Black has 35…Be6!!, and White is helpless to stop Bb4+, winning the queen back with at least one extra pawn for the endgame. Of course I saw 33…Qxe4, but with about a minute on the clock, I missed 35…Be6, and so I decided to go for the game continuation.

The game continued: 33…Qd6 34.Ba3 Bb4 35.Bxb4 Rxb4 36.Qf2+ Rf7 (36…Kg7 was better) 37.Qxd4 Rxa4+, and in my calculations on move 33, I figured this position was winning. All of Black’s major pieces are involved in the attack and there are a lot of open files for them to pursue White’s king. Unfortunately, after 38.Kb1 Qb4+ (38…Rb7+ is met, paradoxically, by 39.Kc1, allowing a check on a3, after which White is ok!) 39.Qb2, it’s not so easy for Black to continue giving checks – e1 and f1 are covered!

I played 39…Bb7, thinking to myself that he had to keep both squares covered, and so on something like 40.Re4-e3, I would play 40…Bxg2 winning a pawn. However, he again found the correct move with 40.Re2, as after 40…Rf1+ 41.Kc2, there’s no good follow up for Black! After some more mistakes from me, we reached an endgame that was marginally better for White (passed pawn supported by king, rook, and bishop), but it should have been drawn.

In the following position, I played 56…g3:

Barcenilla - Bhat 2009 5

I could have given up my bishop for the c-pawn earlier, and then hoped to liquidate the kingside pawns and reach a R vs R + B endgame. However, I didn’t want to defend that while on the increment – there are some players (namely GM Josh Friedel), who seem to know that endgame backwards and forwards, but I figured that given fatigue and time pressure, I would better avoid it.

The decision (to push my h- and g-pawns) was objectively correct, but at this point, I blundered horribly. After 57.hxg3, I played 57…h3??. After playing this move, I noticed that 58.Bd7 Rxc7 59.Kxc7 h2 60.Bc6 was simply winning for White! I also missed that Barcenilla’s chosen move, 58.Bc6, was also winning for White, albeit in a more difficult fashion.

Had I seen that I wouldn’t be queening my pawn, I would have played 57…hxg3, after which the draw is pretty simple. After 58.Bd7 Rxc7 59.Kxc7 g2, Black’s king gets to f2 or h2 fast enough to escort the pawn through. Thus, White has to give up his bishop for the pawn with Bh3xg2, but the resulting R vs B endgame is a trivial draw (it’s much simpler than R vs R + B).

In any case, after Barcenilla’s mistake, we got to a Q vs R endgame where I had some chances to hold out for a draw, especially had I not blundered after about 39 moves with 99…Kg7? (99…Kf8 would have kept some drawing chances). But so it goes, especially for this match.

Thus, we lost 2.5 – 1.5 and dropped into a 3-way tie for 2nd place in the West with Miami and Arizona. With Dallas 1.5 games back, we’ve got to win a couple matches in the final 3 weeks to make sure we make the playoffs.

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