Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Year in Review

Chess Notes

The year started off poorly, but it picked up in the last few months. My FIDE rating went from 2492 to 2540. Along the way, though, I dropped to 2464(!) after the Reykjavik Open in March.  At 2540, I’m now #23 amongst active US players (not all of whom actually live or ever play in the US) and #482 in the world.

Although I’m no longer at the GM House in Richmond anymore, the other members have all made some improvements: Josh Friedel moved up from 2511 to 2549, Jesse Kraai moved up from 2506 to 2509, and Sam Shankland (the newest member of the house) moved up from 2453 to 2491.

Now that they include FIDE-rated events for USCF rating calculations, my USCF rating went from 2523 to 2606 (though I had dropped to 2490 after the Reykjavik Open in March). It seems a bit silly to me rate these events for USCF purposes when there are no other USCF-rated players in them, but it makes more sense than being able to pay to selectively rate those events abroad in which you did well. Strange as that sounds, that was actually the old policy. If I play in the USCL this next season, though, the team can still use my old rating of 2499 if they choose to go with the September or October supplements.

With those ups and downs, I managed to notch two tournament wins (both were shared), the first in San Sebastian (Spain) and the second at the SPICE Cup (the B Group, in Texas).

Travel Notes

I visited 5 countries (India, France, Iceland, Spain, and Canada) this year. Most of that travel was for chess purposes, but I did some sightseeing along the way. I’ll visit a few more countries on my upcoming trip in 2010, as I’ll be going to Spain, Morocco, Gibraltar, England, France, and Belgium.

The only repeat tournament I had was the World Open (that is, it was the only tournament I had ever played before, and my last World Open appearance was in 1997). That was in stark contrast to my chess travel when I was at Cornerstone, when I would pretty much only play during the summer, and it’d be the same 2 or 3 tournaments on the Catalan circuit in Spain.

I spent 175 days outside the Bay Area this year, or about 48% of the year. Most of that travel was on airplanes, where I logged about 91,000 miles! That’s now quite Up in the Air territory (an excellent movie, for what it’s worth), but it might put me in the same ballpark. On the plus side, I’ve got Premier Status.

Sports Notes

None of the teams I was rooting for (mostly just the SF Giants) did anything notable in the sporting arena. I still have some hope for the SJ Sharks, but their history of playoff “runs” doesn’t necessarily bode well for this season. Hopefully that’s a reverse jinx.

In fantasy sports, though, it was a banner year. I played in one baseball and one football league, and I won both! Both were mostly composed of current and former Cornerstone Research employees. I had won the baseball league before (in 2007, when I was still working there), but this was my first football win. Booyah!

Best wishes to everybody for 2010!


Can Anybody Tell Me What’s Going On Here?

In my last blog, I wrote about two of my games as black in Navalmoral where I changed my standard opening choices at the board without full preparation. In this one, I’d like to focus on my lone loss of the trip, to GM Sergey Fedorchuk. Fedorchuk was the top seed in the event and at 2619 FIDE, even seemed a little underrated. He had been as high as 2671 in April 2008 and was 2655 back in July 2009 before hitting a big cold streak to drop to 2619.

This was the evening round of a double-header, so neither of us was probably as rested or prepared as we might have liked to be, but such was the schedule for the event. As it was, there wasn’t really enough time to prepare anything new, but I did have some time to look at some of his games and figure out what I wanted to do.

I ended up choosing the Graf Variation of the Ruy Lopez, not the most solid line, but it’s the line I have played the most within the main line Ruy Lopez. Given the fact that I didn’t have much time to prepare, it seemed best to go with what I knew the best.

After 14.Qd1-e2 (a novelty), we reached the following position:

I didn’t really understand the main point behind 14.Qe2 at this point in the game. Before this, White had two standard plans – 14.Nf1, which was normally met with 14…f5, and 14.b4, which was normally met with 14…cxb4 15.cxb4 Nac4. In both cases, Black’s results were fine.

I played 14…f5 after a few minutes of thought, and he replied with 15.b4. If I continue along the standard path with 15…cxb4 16.cxb4 Nac4 17.Nxc4 Nxc4, I thought that 14.Qe2 was a high-class waiting move, as now he can try something like 18.a4 Bd7 19.axb5 axb5 20.Rxa8 Qxa8, and given that the e6-square has been weakened by …f7-f5, he can choose from 21.exf5 gxf5 22.Ng5 or 21.Ng5. That was sort of along the right paths – while the rather direct plans I looked at with Ng5 don’t seem so dangerous now, he can instead play 18.a4 Bd7 19.Bh6 Rf7 20.exf5 with a small advantage. Compared to the normal situation without Qe2/…f5 included, Black’s kingside is a bit weaker and his pieces will be stretched a little thin covering both the queenside and kingside.

However, in the normal lines with 14.b4 (instead of 14.Qe2), I knew that there was also a rare idea with 14…Nb7. Black’s idea there is to play …a5 and force White to capture on c5 or a5 at some point, thereby freeing the knight back up for active duty.

Thus, when I played 14…f5, I planned 15.b4 Nb7, but now he played 16.a4!, and I began to understand the main point behind 14.Qe2. It’s not common for White to want to give up his bishop for a knight in the Lopez (as he would do after 16…Nxa4 17.Bxa4 bxa4) but then, after 18.Rxa4, Black’s got a real problem. His knight on b7 has no active prospects and the a6-pawn is difficult to defend. If Black then plays …a5, White steps past with b4-b5, getting a past pawn and leaving the Nb7 to its fate. Black can exchange on b4 before playing …a5, but then White uses the Queen on e2 to good effect. He will exchange once (or twice if Black recaptures with his bishop) on f5 and then play Nf3-d4! If Black leaves the knight on d4, then the e6- and c6-squares are extremely nice for the knight, while if Black takes the knight, White takes the bishop on e7. Black is left with weak, doubled d-pawns and bad knights.

I’m not sure how much staying power 14.Qe2 will have once people understand what it’s about, but it’s a pretty subtle idea and it was quite annoying to face over the board.

Fast forward and we reached the following position after 28.Bb1-a2:

He was disappointed that this was all he got from the opening, as he thought his 16.a4 idea was good enough for a clear advantage. Here, though, it’s not clear at all what’s going on. White has a rook and pawn for 2 knights, but Black’s kingside is a bit exposed and his minor pieces aren’t so well coordinated. If Black’s king was safe or his minor pieces were working well together, then Black would definitely be better here.

I had 11 minute left before this move (no second time control, but a 30-second increment), and I spent over 9 of them trying to decide what to do here. In the end, I played 28…Bg5!?!?, which really threw him for a loop.

I had spent most of my time on 28…Nc4-e5, but maybe it was the fatigue or something else, but I didn’t do a very good job of calculating here. The knight retreat is the most desirable move, since it improves my kingside defenses and coordination, but I was worried about 29.Rxf6 Qxf6 30.Qxe5 Qxe5 31.Rxe5, when I wasn’t sure what was going on. I looked at 31…Rc2 32.Re7! Rxa2? 33.Rg7+!, when Black either gets mated after 33…Kh8 34.Rxd7 and 35.Rd8 or ends up down a piece after 33…Kf8 34.Rxd7+ and 35.Rxd6.

I didn’t seem to appreciate 32…Bb5!, though, after which White has to find the very tricky 33.Rg7+ Kh8 34.Bd3!, with the idea of 34…Bxd3 35.Rd7, threatening the knight and mate on d8. He did see this idea, but as it turns out, the simple 35…Kg8 avoids the mate and leaves Black with a definite advantage in the endgame. He missed 35…Kg8 as well, for what’s it worth.

Having missed this sequence, though, I played 28…Bg5 to force a resolution to the kingside tension. If he takes on g5, then …Qxg5 will lift the bind on my king, while after 29.Rf8+ Qxf8 30.Bxf8 Kxf8, I thought my 3 minor pieces would be able to hold his queen off. I banked on there not being so much of an attack now, as White has no entry on the e-file and without his dark-squared bishop, he can’t use the weak kingside squares as well.

It wasn’t a horrible idea (just not the best), and it took a series of excellent moves from Fedorchuk to avoid letting me regroup and then go to work with my better minor pieces. The game continued 31.Qf3+ Kg7 32.Qg3! Nf7 33.h4 Bf6 34.g5 Be5 35.Qf3 Bf5 36.d6! Ncxd6 37.Qd5!, reaching the following position:

White has shed one pawn but activated his queen and bishop. Black’s clump of minor pieces look nice, but the bishop on e5 is under attack and if it moves, White’s rook invades on e7. Thus, I played 37…Re8, thinking that on 38.f4, I’d get a chance to play …Bd4+ at some point, breaking the pin and grabbing the rook on e1. Unfortunately, I forgot that …Bd4 check is always met with Qxd4 check!

After 38.f4 Be6 39.Qd2 Bxa2 40.fxe5! Nxe5, White had a choice. At this point, we were both down to playing on the increment (I generally fluctuated between having 35 and 45 seconds after making my moves and getting the 30-second bonus, while he was a bit closer to a minute), so we didn’t have much time to make our decisions.

As it turns out, 41.Kh1 is now the best move, but it’s not an easy move to come up with in time pressure. He chose the more natural 41.Rxe5 Rxe5, and again had a big choice – take the knight on d6 or the bishop on a2? After the game, the post-mortem, and a brief look on my own, I’m still not sure what the correct decision is or what the correct result is in either case!

In the post-mortem, we were joined by GMs Korneev and Shchekachev. Both of them thought the endgame was a draw in either case, but that leaving me with the bishop was a much simpler draw for Black. I was not sure what was going on, but I figured I would have better drawing chances with the bishop than with the knight. Fedorchuk wasn’t completely sure, but he was strongly leaning towards a win if he had left me with the bishop, but possibly a draw if he took the knight!

He had 30 seconds to decide, and in the end, he took the bishop, leaving me with a rook, knight, and pawn against his queen. After 42.Qxa2, I played 42…Nf7, hoping for 43.Qxa4 Re6, when I think Black might have a fortress of sorts. If White exchanges the b-pawn for the a-pawn, I’m pretty sure it’s a draw. But if he doesn’t exchange, Black’s rook goes to d6, and then he just shuffles with his king, as everything is protected. White’s king can’t enter Black’s position, so I’m not sure how White can win.

Instead of this, he played 43.Qc4!, which was a very strong move and a nasty shock. Now I didn’t know how to try and set up a fortress. I played 43…Rb5, guarding the pawn, but after 44.Kf2, he walked his king over to the b4-pawn, and then went after my a6-pawn with his queen. Eventually he broke down the defenses and pushed his b-pawn through.

Instead of 43…Rb5, I now think that maybe Black can draw with 43…a5!. After 44.b5, Black now plays 44…a3 45.b6 Re1+ 46.Kf2 Rb1, getting behind the b-pawn. White’s queen can help the pawn advance, but then Black’s a-pawn will cause serious trouble. But if White goes back to get the a-pawn, then the b-pawn will fall. Thus, I think that it’s a draw, but this isn’t the most intuitive way to do it – Black takes his rook away from the safety of his pawns or knight and hangs on by a thread.

Still, I’m not very sure about this endgame, or the one with the R+B vs Q. While Korneev and Shchekachev were certain it was a draw, they were unable to prove it to us in the 20-minutes or so that we spent on it in the post-mortem. White always had a series of tricky checks to make small inroads into Black’s position.

Audibles at the Line

I finished up my tournament in Navalmoral de la Mata a few days back and am now back in the States. I ended up in clear 3rd place with 7.0/9, a 2632 performance by standard GM norm calculations (the only reason to do this is because in the first round, I played a 1777-rated player).

Unlike pretty much every other event I’ve played in Europe, this was a 2-game-a-day affair. In the US, such compressed schedules are pretty common. I have a feeling that for many of the European players at this event, the schedule was pretty tough. I strongly prefer 1-game-a-day events, but I couldn’t find much on the chess calendar that was both strong and soon after Mallorca.

GM Sergey Fedorchuk took 1st place on tiebreaks from GM Andrei Shchekachev with 7.5/9. Fedorchuk handed me my only loss of the event in the 3rd round. I had some chances for an advantage in that game, but that was probably the closest he came to having any problems. Shchekachev had a bit of an easier road (Fedorchuk, for example, played on board 1 for the entire event!), including a forfeit win in the last round over GM Namig Guliyev. There was a 15-minute grace period for showing up to the games (not the 1-hour that is customary in the US), so he was forfeited at 4:15 PM for the 4 PM round. Every other evening game had been at 5 PM, and he showed up at the tournament hall at about 4:55 PM wondering what happened. Unfortunately for him, his game had long since ended.

I’ve played a bunch of events in Spain over the past few years, and this was unlike most of those in a few respects. I’ve already mentioned the schedule with 2 games per day, but the composition of the event was also pretty distinct. The top of the tournament was reasonably strong – Fedorchuk and Burmakin headed the field, and Fedorchuk has been as high as 2671 FIDE recently (and he took Shirov to tiebreaks in the ongoing World Cup in the second round). At 2510 FIDE, I was the 11th seed. However, after about the top 15 players (around Berbatov at 2463 FIDE), the next players’ ratings just dropped off a cliff. By the time the seeds were in the mid-20s, they were down to 2280 FIDE or so. In a 90-player field, that essentially meant there wasn’t much of a middle in this tournament. There were the guys at the top … and then the guys well below them.

As a result, I had a few rounds where there were some definite mismatches and so rather than go round-by-round, I’ll group the games a little differently. These two games were strongly characterized, I thought, by the fact I changed my normal opening patterns at the board – they weren’t completely new to me, but I certainly hadn’t prepared these lines for those games. However, I smelled a bit of a rat in both instances and so I decided to change my normal play call and in both cases, it worked out quite well for me.

In the second round, I was black against Benjamin Garcia Romero (2233 FIDE). I had played him back in 2007 in Benasque, and in that game, he played 1.d4 and I responded with a Benoni. I ended up outplaying him early on in the endgame to win a pawn, but then made a number of mistakes and almost let him escape with a draw before finally putting him away. When I was preparing for this game, I noticed that with the white pieces in the database games, he performed almost at a 2400 clip, but that as black, he was performing like a 1900! Pretty shocking differential.

Here’s the position we got after the standard main line Closed Lopez moves:

I had been expecting 1.d4 again, so 1.e4 was already a surprise. Now that he wanted to play a main-line Lopez, I had to decided what line to choose. The Graf (with 9…Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Nd7) has been my most common choice, but I immediately tossed that out because there are a bunch of forced drawing variations in the main line. The Karpov (with 9…Nd7) was a serious choice, but I had seen that he had played it himself as black, and so I thought he might know the theory there and steer things to one of the quieter, pretty equal lines. Thus, I settled on the Zaitsev, with the …Qd7 line in case he wanted to repeat with Nf3-g5-f3.

After 9…Bb7 10.d4 Re8, he immediately played 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Nf3, waiting to see what I’d do. Not wanting a draw, I played 12…Qd7 13.Nbd2 Rae8!?, an extremely rare sideline.

In about 235,000 games with the Ruy Lopez that I have in my database, this position has only been reached 14 times! It’s not Black’s “best” line, for sure, but it is somewhat tricky and most importantly, it avoids the repetition. It worked like a charm as instead of the most common 14.Nf1, he immediately went wrong with 14.a4. This is a normal Lopez move, and it seems even more obvious here, as Black’s deserted his queenside with …Rae8, but White runs into some problems with his e4-pawn and d3-square here.

I responded with 14…exd4! 15.axb5 axb5. If now 16.cxd4, then 16…Nb4! is quite annoying – the d3-square is weak and the Nd2 is stuck to the defense of the e4-pawn. He doesn’t want to give up his bishop with Bc2 (or allow …Nd3xc1), but 17.Re3 c5! already favors Black. He has all his pieces in the game and some annoying threats.

He played 16.Nxd4 instead, but White’s big pawn center is gone, and after 16…Ne5 17.Qe2 c6 18.Bc2 Bd8, Black’s setup was starting to make sense. With …Bb6 later, pretty much all of Black’s pieces are again working well. When White moves his knight from d2, I was ready with …c5, effectively exchanging the b5-pawn for the e4-pawn and activating my light-squared bishop. White never really got into the game.

In round 8, I was black against the young Spanish IM Alvar Alonso Rosell (2507 FIDE). I had decided to play the solid Slav Defense against him, but in the main line after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5, I was expecting only 6.e3 (the only move he had played in previous games). However, at the board, he dashed out the currently more popular 6.Ne5 and I began debating what to do.

The only line I’ve played here before is the Sokolov Slav with 6…Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6. It’s quite solid, but somewhat passive, and has recently been taking some hits theoretically I think. So I decided to deviate with 6…Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Qc7. After 8.g3 e5 9.dxe5 Nxe5 10.Bf4 Nfd7 11.Bg2 f6 12.0-0, I played 12…0-0-0, to get the following position:

Does this look familiar? At least for me, it was! I had the same position with colors reversed in the last round of Mallorca against GM Savchenko (covered here). In that game, I played 6.Ne5, having prepared some stuff against the Sokolov Slav, but he surprised me with this line. I was impressed enough with it to repeat it here.

Rosell sunk into a deep think, which made me happy at least that I had gotten him out of any opening prep and on his own. He continued with 13.Nxe5 (I played 13.Qc1, but that didn’t lead anywhere) Nxe5 14.Qb3. I responded with 14…Qf7, since with the queens on the board, White’s attack will be quite dangerous. After the queen exchange and some maneuvers, we reached the following position where I just got out of check with 21…Ka8.

I thought I was ok now, as I didn’t see any way for White to continue with his attack. If he could play b4-b5, opening the long diagonal for his bishop on g2 that’d be on thing, but here the knight on c5 is always hanging. If the knight stays on c5, Black is also planning …a5 to undermine it and give his king added luft. If the knight retreats, say to d3, then b5 decreases in strength because b7 won’t be attacked. After 22.Nd3, I was planning 22…g5!, taking his dark-squared bishop away from him. Then Black’s king can hide back on b8.

He played 22.Na6! here: I had seen this: the knight can’t be taken because of 22…bxa6 23.Bxc6 mate, but I had planned the simple 22…Bd6. I thought I was fine here because the knight is now indeed threatened and going forward with 23.Nc7+ Kb8 doesn’t make any sense.

However, he now really uncorked a surprise on me with 23.b5!!, which he played with only one minute on his clock! There was a 30-second increment, so he wasn’t going to lose on time, but he was certainly in time pressure.

The knight is taboo: 23…bxa6 24.bxc6 (threatening a discovered check and mate on c7) Kb8 25.Rab1+ Kc8 (25…Kc7 26.Rb7+ is crushing) 26.Bh3+! (a sneaky little check from the other side of the board) Kc7 27.Rb7+ Kxc6 28.Rxf7 is winning.

I had to play 23…cxb5, but now my king is stuck in the corner and his bishop on g2 is finally breathing fire. Here, though, he messed up with 24.axb5. After 24…Bxf4 25.gxf4 Rc8! (covering the c5-square), I was ok. I had …Rhd8 and …Bd5 to break the pin on the b-pawn, after which the knight is forced back and my king can go back to b8. Instead of 24.axb5, he should have played 24.Bxd6! Rxd6 25.Nc5!, which would have guaranteed the win of the b7-pawn and a continuing initiative.

The game continuation, though, let me off, and in time pressure, he made the mistake of trying to press on when he should have taken his foot off the gas and played for a draw. That led him to pitch a pawn in the hope of keeping his initiative going, but I took the pawn and slowly turned his pieces back. The pawn-up endgame was then just a matter of technique, and while I certainly took my time with it, the result was never in doubt.

The Return of Za-Bhat!

Guess who’s back, back again … (I’ve started my tournament in Navalmoral, but I probably won’t post on how that’s going (or rather, gone) until after the event is over)

El Estragón Vegetariano – This restaurant was about a 15-minute walk away from where I was staying near the Puerta del Sol square in the center of Madrid, but it was well worth it. They have a set menu for lunch and dinner, along with an a la carte menu. The set menu from lunch to dinner changes from 10 to 25 Euros.

Every course here was well done. The potato and leek soup with garlic was served hot and definitely hit the spot on a freezing cold day. For the main course, I went with “Arroz Integral a la Cubana,” (Cuban-style brown rice) which had brown rice and tomato sauce along with a fried banana and two fried eggs. I think the first time I had this dish was in Andorra in 2001 when it was a staple for my brother and me at the hotel restaurant, but I hadn’t had it since then. It’s a pretty simple dish, but that’s not a bad thing in itself and I had no complaints. For dessert, I went with the fried pineapple in molasses.

I’m pretty sure I ate here in 2006, but I don’t remember what I had. It only dawned on me that I had been there before when I was walking around the area and recognized a couple buildings. I’m not sure if that means it wasn’t very memorable then, but it was pretty good this time around.

Artemisa Integral – This was my third time at Artemisa, as after first finding it in 2006, I’ve made it a point to eat there once on every trip to Madrid. It’s a mostly vegetarian restaurant and they have some vegan items on the menu.

Unlike the other two other restaurants mentioned in this post, they don’t have a set menu for lunch or dinner – everything is a la carte. Compared to the other two restaurants, it’s also the only one with a couple non-vegetarian items on the menu. It’s tucked away at the bottom of the last page, but they have made an effort to make sure to satisfy those meat-eaters who might have a vegetarian friend or two.

I’ve been happy with everything I’ve ordered here. This time, I went with “Espinacas a la Catalana” (Catalan-style Spinach) and then a Vegetable Paella. The spinach dish was really good – it’s lightly creamed spinach with apple slices, pine nuts, and raisins. It’s a starter dish, but it’s really quite big, which is standard for this restaurant. The salads are all pretty hefty, as are most of the “primeros” on the menu. The paella was pretty good, and that’s despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of the brown rice they used in this dish.

The meals here are a little more expensive than the other two if you put together a full 3 course meal with a drink, but it’s not a rip off. I’m not a fan of them putting bread on the table and then charging you a Euro if you take a piece (without specifically telling you beforehand), but there are a number of restaurants across Europe that do that, so I guess it’s more acceptable here. The consistent and high quality portions are also pretty big, so chances are that you’ll be stuffed with a couple courses.

La Biotika – This can be a one-stop shop for the macrobiotic nut – in addition to a small restaurant, they have a small shop in the front selling all sorts of health-food items. This was my first time there, and they have a set menu for both lunch and dinner (the price goes up a couple Euros to about 12 Euros for dinner). The set menu has 5 courses: soup (choice of 2), salad, main dish (choice of 3 possible combinations), dessert, and tea.

On paper, this was an excellent deal, but I was pretty underwhelmed by the food. The starter soup was decent, but it wasn’t as piping hot as I would have liked. It was also a little small. After a few spoonfuls, I realized I was almost finished.

The salad was quite forgettable. It was a few greens, along with some shredded carrots and a tomato. Unfortunately, it was the size and quality of an airline salad. And not first class – this was definitely coach. There was one guy in there who clearly was a regular and I noticed that when he ordered, he specifically asked for a double portion of soup rather than the soup and salad. Sadly, this was already after I was more than halfway into my meal.

The main dish was definitely the best part. They have a macrobiotic option (3 items), a vegetarian option (3 times), and then a sampler of all 6 items. I went with the vegetarian option, which included a small veggie pizza, a polenta dish, and then some steamed vegetables (mostly succotash beans and carrots). The vegetarian pizza was reasonable, but the polenta was the star of the plate. With some raisins and a light tomato-based sauce, it tasted quite good.

After this high point, the meal went back downhill. The fruit tart that I went with made no sense to me whatsoever. I ended up picking up all the fruit pieces and leaving the rest of it behind. Maybe it would have been better if it hadn’t just been taken out of the fridge? The tea was also a bit disappointing – rather than serve the tea in a little pot with boiling water, it had clearly been sitting around and wasn’t anything close to hot.

Eating here was also interesting because it’s the only place with more than a couple patrons that I’ve been to where everybody was a single diner! El Estragón had two couples and a group of nine when I was there, while Artemisa had one other single diner, five couples, and a group of four. I’m not sure if that means that Madrileños aren’t really a big fan of La Biotika, but I strongly doubt I’ll be going back there. There are simply too many better restaurants in Madrid in my experience.

Black is ok

Heading into my 7th round encounter with GM Stewart Haslinger, I had 4.5/6 (3 wins and 3 draws). Haslinger had won this event in 2008 with 7.5 points and we had played at Benidorm earlier in the year (a game that ended in a draw). This game was a pretty complicated strategic game, but both of us thought that I had the better position in the post-mortem. In the following position, I pulled the trigger with 29.Bxe6:

After 29.Bxe6 Qxh5+ (if Black recaptures on e6 right away, the f4-pawn falls) 30.Bh3! (not 30.Rh2 Qxf3 with check and then Black can take on e6) Qxh3+ 31.Rh2 Qe6 32.Nxf4 Qf6. Now I played 33.Kg2 Ng5 34.Rdh1 Re7 and sat down to figure out how to win the position. This turns out to be a little tricky, so returning the above diagram, maybe I should have played 29.Kg1 (threatening 30.Bxe6, as now there’s no check on h5) fxg3 30.Bxg3 with an advantage for White. Black’s pieces simply don’t have enough room to maneuver while White’s two bishops are slowly coming to life.

Anyways, back to the game, after 34.Rdh1 Re7, we had the following position:

This looked quite good for White, as Black has no entry on the e-file while White can operate on the g- and h-files. One idea is 35.Rh5, for example, when White threatens 36.Rxg5! Qxg5 (the h-pawn is pinned so it can’t move) 37.Rh5 Qf6 38.Rf5, trapping the queen on f6. Unfortunately, when White plays Rh5, Black should play …Ne6, as the Nf4 no longer has the useful h5-square at its disposal. After the game, Haslinger (who was down to a minute at this point), admitted he hadn’t seen the queen-trap idea, but the prospect of him finding it and playing …Ne6, which at least equalizes immediately was too much for me to try it.

Both of us thought at first that White had to have some breakthrough, but I didn’t find it during the game (the game ended in a draw in about 10 more moves) and we didn’t find anything in the post-mortem. The computer gives White a clear plus but just pushes the pieces around without doing anything or the evaluation changing. Looks like it’s just barely drawn …

After my fourth draw in a row, I got the black pieces against GM Karen Movsziszian, an Armenian GM who now lives in Spain. He loves the King’s Indian, and tries to play it with both colors, so I wasn’t totally shocked at his slightly irregular White setup. Still, I got myself into some trouble with my bishop largely sidelined on h7. I stirred up some queenside trouble and sacrificed a pawn to get the following position:

White has just played 22.Bc1-f4, saving his queen from being trapped by 22…Rb8. White is up a pawn, so if I just sit around, he’s going to consolidate that advantage. Thus, I lashed out with 22…g5!. It looks quite odd, but I really just want that bishop off the f4-square. If now 23.Be5?, f6 wins the bishop, since 24.Bxd4 Rb8 wins the queen instead. Or if 23.fxg6 fxg6 24.Bxh6, Rb8 traps the queen, while if 24.Be5, 24…Nc6 forces the win of two pieces for a rook – White can’t stop …Rxf3 and …Nxe5. Therefore, he played 23.Bd2, and after 23…Nab3 24.Rab1? Nxd2 25.Nxd2, I played 25…Nxd3!.

The …Nxd3 shot was the best Black had in the position, but the loss of the d3-pawn doesn’t give Black an extra pawn – it only restores material equality. Meanwhile, his bishop on h7 is rather poor and his kingside is a little open. But instead of regrouping, Movsziszian was clearly shaken. He must have felt a bit like Sycamore based on these lines from P.G. Wodehouse’s Ring for Jeeves:

“I remember seeing this chap Sycamore make a hundred and forty-six in a house cricket match at school before being caught low down in the gully off a googly that dipped and swung away late. On a sticky wicket too.”

On second thought, maybe he thought that without the cricket references (you can see what those terms mean here, on Wikipedia). He was clearly happy with himself after an earlier b2-b4 idea that eventually netted him my b5-pawn (not by force), but the shock of …Nxd3 really threw him for a loop and he lost the thread of the game quite quickly.

Instead of something like 26.Qxd3 Rc3 27.Qa3 Rxa3 28.Qc6 Rxg3 29.fxe6 Bg6 with a mess, he played 26.f6?! (opening the Bh7’s diagonal) Bd6 27.Qd3 Rc3 28.Qxd4 Rxg3. Black’s still not winning, but he continued to flail about with 29.Nf3 Bf4 30.Rfd1? Qa8! 31.Re1 Qxa3 and now Black is winning. I finished him off in a few more moves.

This win finally brought me back into the win column and pushed me up to 6/8 going into the last round. In that last game, I had the white pieces against GM Stanislav Savchenko (2536 FIDE, Ukraine). Here’s the position we reached after 12…0-0-0:

I was a little surprised by his choice of this Slav variation, and I hadn’t looked at it before. Black is threatening …Nc5, so I decided to get my queen off the d-file with 13.Qc1. After 13…Nc5, I played 14.Bxe5 fxe5 15.Qe3, hitting the e5-pawn. However, he continued on his merry way with 15…Nb3 16.Rad1 Bc5. I played 17.Qxe5 and offered a draw, which he accepted.

As it turns out, this position had been played once before earlier this year (Avrukh-Hector, Politiken Cup 2009), and Hector went on to win a nice game. I offered the draw as I figured that despite my pawn plus, the endgame after 17…Qxe5 18.Nxe5 Rhe8 is easier for Black to play (I think Black is at least equal here), and on a couple hours of sleep, I wasn’t interested in playing to hold a draw if I could avoid it. While I do think I would have held the endgame, he accepted and saved me the trouble, partly because he said he was tired too for the morning game after the late night round the previous day!

Thus, I finished with 6.5/9 (4 wins and 5 draws). That was good enough for 6th place on tiebreaks – GM Andrey Sumets took clear first with 7.5 points, followed by 3 players with 7 points. I’ve played a number of tournaments in Spain before, but this was by far the strongest one. In my 9 games, I played 6 GMs, 1 IM, and 1 FM, for an opponent’s average rating of 2462 FIDE (my performance rating was 2629 FIDE).

The only real negative about the event was that most of the rounds were at 8:30 PM. With one game a day, that’s really too late in the day. I guess they wanted to give locals a chance to do their work and the visitors a chance to go around, but as a visitor without too much to do in the area, that was really too late in the day. It did allow me to get away with my sleep schedule though, so I can’t complain too much.

My next tournament in Navalmoral de la Mata (a small town near Madrid) starts in a couple days. Unlike most European events, it’s on a 2-games-a-day schedule, so it will pass by pretty quickly.

Grandmaster Draws

After my first 3 games (described here), I was sitting on 3 points and my reward was the black pieces against GM Anton Kovalyov (2601 FIDE). This was our third game in 5 months – I drew the first one as black in June before losing as white in August.

I had a feeling he would play 5.b3 against the Semi-Slav (it was his first time doing so), partly because it suits his positional style and also because in the 2 games I have in the database against it, I lost to GMs Granda Zuniga and Vescovi. Neither loss was due to the opening – in fact, I was worse out of the opening and Granda but then outplayed him in the middlegame to reach a completely winning position, while against Vescovi, I equalized in the opening only to be outplayed in the middlegame. However, I had expected somebody at the Montreal International in August/September to try it out against me, so before that tournament, I had done some work on the line and I got to use that preparation here.

Here is the position we reached after 15.Ra2-c2:

I had met his 5.b3 system with a Stonewall setup and he decided to force an exchange of bishops on a3 which led to a queen exchange there as well. Black shouldn’t have too many troubles in this endgame, but he still should be a little careful to avoid drifting into a worse position.

I played 15…Ba6 16.Ke2 c5, fighting for the center. White can’t play 17.cxd5 yet because of 17…Bxd3+ 18.Kxd3 Nxf2+, picking up the rook on h1. After his 17.Rhc1 move, though, White can take on d5. Pretending that Black passes, White will play 18.cxd5 Bxd3+ 19.Kxd3 exd5 (19…Nxf2+ 20.Ke2 isn’t much better) 20.Ke2, when Black has to worry about his pawns on d5 and c5 all the time.

After a long think, I came up with the correct solution – after 17.Rhc1, I played 17…Nef6!. It might seem a bit odd to retreat Black’s nice knight, but now Black is ready to capture on d5 or c5 with a knight, keeping the files closed and Black’s pawns out of the White rooks’ line of fire. Funnily enough, it was this same knight move that helped me equalized against Vescovi, although the situation was quite different (I wanted to bring it back to d7 to fight a white knight on e5). After this, it wasn’t too difficult to hold the endgame even in time pressure (I ended up with 5 minutes to his 58 minutes!).

In round 5, I had the white pieces against GM Tamaz Gelashvili (2610 FIDE, Georgia). He played an offbeat opening that I wasn’t so well prepared for (The Two Knight’s Tango: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nc6), and while I should have been better after the opening, I accidentally let him go after my dark-squared bishop with his knight. In order to save it, I had to do some funny stuff that cost me some time and he gradually outplayed me in the middlegame.

In the following position, I was nearing some time pressure and had just played 32.Re1-e4:

I had lost/sacrificed the b4-pawn, thinking that with his bishop making the trip from g7 to take on b4, his kingside would be weakened and I’d be able to take advantage of that. The game continued 32…Bd2 33.Rd1 Bf4 34.g3 Bd6 35.hxg5 hxg5, and it was pretty much only now that I realized that on my planned 36.Rg4, he could play 36…Ra3 and grab my f3-pawn. After the check on g5, his king steps over to f8, as it can’t be hurt there. For some reason, I had only been counting on something like 36…Qg7, which fails to 37.f4.

After losing the pawn, he really should have found a way to finish me off – instead, he played some natural, but not quite best, moves and I managed to hang around. In the following diagram, I was down to a couple minutes against his nine, and decided that my best chances for a draw were to sacrifice an exchange and play with the bishop pair against his exposed king:

With that in mind, I played 47.Qa3+ b4 (47…Qd6 48.Qa7+ and it isn’t obvious how Black is going to make progress, while on 47…Kf7, I was planning 48.Qd3) 48.Rxb4!? Nxb4 49.Qxb4+ Kf7 50.Be4. With Black’s king being so exposed, I was hoping that I would be able to drum up enough counterplay for a perpetual. In the end, I did win the c6-pawn, but he got my d4-pawn and brought about an exchange of bishops. After a lot of maneuvering and posturing to try and gain time on the clock, Gelashvili finally decided that he wasn’t making any serious progress and went for the endgame.

He played 70…Qxf4+ here, to which I replied 71.gxf4 and managed to hold a draw by means of a fortress. Black’s problem is that his king has a couple routes into the position (via c5 and h5, for example), but both of them take his king too far away from the e6-pawn. If the pawns get exchanged, it’s a simple draw for me, so he can’t stray too far. He first tried with his king coming around to c5, but with my king on e4 and d3 (when it was checked away by …Re1+), he didn’t find a way in. He then brought it around to h5, but that allowed a nice drawing finale:

Black has just played 96…Rc3-c1, thinking he’s stopped 97.Bd7 (which would have won the e6-pawn). However, I played 97.Be2+ Kh4 (97…Kg6 would have admitted that the Kh5 journey was not making any progress) 98.f5! Re1 99.fxe6! Rxe2+ 100.Kf5. White only has a pawn for the rook, but the king on f5 shoulders Black’s king on h4, and Black can’t avoid a draw. The game ended 100…Kh5 101.Kf6 Kh6 102.e7 Kh7 103.Kf7 Rf2+ 104.Ke6 Re2+ 105.Kd7 Rxe7+ 106.Kxe7 with a draw.

Phew! That was my longest game of the event and we finished at about 1:30 AM.

In round 6, I was black against the French-Israeli GM Thal Abergel (2533 FIDE). This wasn’t a particularly exciting game, as he played a Scotch against me and I sacrificed a pawn in the opening to get a lead in development (and his king stuck in the center). He managed to bring about a trade of queens, after which I played 20…f7-f6 to reach the following position:

White’s problem here is his lack of development and exposed pawns on f4 and c4. Even though he’s up a pawn here, those problems will make sure that he can’t hang onto it. In fact, he might well end up down a pawn here!

He didn’t play it quite correctly in my view, as he missed a resource of mine after 21.e6. Instead of that, I think 21.exf6 was correct, acquiescing to an equal position after 21…Bxf6 22.Rb1 Rd4!? (both 22…Rfe8 and 22…Rd3 are also interesting) 23.Be3 Rxc4 24.Rhc1 Rxc1 25.Rxc1 Be5 26.g3 Bd6 with equality. He can’t take the pawn on a7 because of …Ra8xa2+, but material is equal and he’s caught up in development.

Instead of that, he played 21.e6, trying to hang onto his pawn. After 21…Rfe8 22.Re1 Rd4!, though, he realized that 23.c5 is met by 23…Bf8! when Black is on top! If the pawn advances on to c6, then Black can try either 24…Bc5 or 24…Rc4 with advantage. He decided to cut his losses with 23.Be3 Rxc4 24.f5 (the f-pawn was likely to be lost anyways, but this way he ruins my pawn structure) gxf5 25.Rec1 Rxc1 26.Rxc1 Rxe6 27.Rxc7 a6 and a draw was agreed in short order. The a-pawns got liquidated when Black’s extra kingside pawn is good for nothing.

So, after 3 straight wins, I had 3 straight draws (although none were without an interesting moment or two) and had 4.5/6. I’ll recap the last third of the event in a later post.