Stuck in a Rut

In my last post about the Cannes Festival des Jeux, I detailed how I got to 3.5/4. After my 4th round win against Govciyan, I would have been shocked if somebody told me that I wasn’t going to win another game the rest of the way (5 more rounds!).

But, as fate would have it, that’s precisely what happened! Thankfully, I didn’t lose all 5 games, but I was clearly better or winning at some point in all 5 games. From those positions, I only managed 4 draws and a loss.

I started off the second half with black against GM Sergey Fedorchuk (2641, Ukraine). I had already lost to him in a Ruy Lopez as black in December 2009, although that game was a mess from start to finish. This time, I played a different variation of the Lopez against him and achieved a playable position – objectively it was probably about equal, but it was a bit simpler for him to play.

We were already in some mild time pressure and I had already made a serious mistake entering this position:

(FEN: 1rr2bk1/5p2/pn1p2pp/1p1P4/4p1P1/P1P3QR/1P2qPP1/2BR1NK1 w - - 0 35)

I’ve just played 34…Qc4-e2, and at first, I thought I was doing just fine. I had looked at 35.Rd2 Qe1 36.Rc2 Qd1, and White’s rook runs out of safe squares. Meanwhile, 35.Bxh6 didn’t look like it should be so dangerous. Unfortunately, he has 35.Rd1-d4 – after this obvious move, White hits h6 and Black has no good way to defend the pawn. If 35…Kh7, then White takes and plays Qh4 with a winning attack; meanwhile, 35…g5 is ugly, and after 36.Qh2, White sacrifices the exchange on h6 with a nice advantage.

I’m not sure why we both missed it (Maybe since I played 1…e5, neither of us ever seriously considered a piece could land on d4? Maybe he thought I had some sinister trap up my sleeve?), but either way, he didn’t play 35.Rd4.

I breathed a sigh of relief when he played 35.Bxh6?. Unfortunately, it was my turn to return the favor with a hasty 35…Bxh6?. After 36.Rxh6 Qxd1 37.Qh4 Nd7 (Black has to stop 38.Qf6 and mate on h8), White has nothing better than 38.Rh8+ Kg7 39.Rh7+ Kf8 40.Rh7+ and a repetition. That’s how this game ended in a draw.

I still had a bit of time to spare, and if I spent it, I might have realized that 35…Qxd1 was winning! After 36.Bxf8 Rxf8 (36…Kxf8 37.Qxd6+ Kg7 38.Qe5+ leads to mate), White has no good way to continue his attack – 37.Qh4 is met with 37…Kg7!, and White doesn’t have time to stop both …Rh8 and …Kf6 (if Qh7+). Finally, 37.Qxd6 doesn’t work after 37…Nxd5 38.Qe5 f6 39.Qxe4 Kg7 40.Rd3 Qb1 41.Qxd5 Rfd8, and White loses the endgame. Actually, that’d have been somewhat poetic, as the R + N vs. Q endgame is losing for him, and that’s the same endgame I lost to him in December! Still, to be fair – I was worse before I was better in this game, so a draw wasn’t such a bad result.

The next day, I was white against GM Christian Bauer (2610, France). I was surprised in the opening, but I came up with a strong double-pawn sacrifice at the board. With Black’s king stuck in the center, I figured I would have excellent compensation, but eventually, he managed to castle queenside. I threw a rook into the fire to keep things going, and my best chance of the game came in the following position:

(FEN: 1k1r3r/2pq1ppp/Qbp1b3/4N3/p2p4/B6P/PP3PP1/R5K1 w - - 0 24)

Black just played 23…Ba5-b6 (there was no good way to save the queen), and tempted by the prospects of taking a queen with check (while being down a rook and two pawns), I snapped it off the board.

Unfortunately, 24.Rc1! is much stronger. Black still can’t really save his queen (if it moves, Nxc6+ will either win the queen or be mate), so that’s not the concern. I thought he’d just play 24…d3, and I wasn’t sure what I had gained with the rook move. This is when the silicon oracle kindly points out that 25.Nxc6+ Qxc6 26.Rxc6 d2 runs into 27.Rxb6+! cxb6 28.Qxb6+, and after some further checks, White can pick up both the a4- and d2-pawns for free. The resulting endgame with Q + 2P vs 2R is very good for White.

After taking the queen, though, Bauer managed to hang onto his queenside and stirred up just enough counterplay with his d-pawn to draw. I had some advantage for a little while, but it never was enough to win.

In round 7, I was black against GM Alexander Fier (2601, Brazil). Fier was having an interesting event (as he normally does!), throwing in a clunker amongst some good games. We both had 4.5/6, but our paths were a bit different. I had 3 wins and 3 draws, while he got there with 4 wins, 1 draw (against his friend, GM Eduardo Iturrizaga), and 1 loss (where he hung a bishop in 1 move on move 15!).

(FEN: 1k1r4/1p5p/p1p2p2/P1q1n1p1/Q7/4P1P1/1PNb1PBP/R5K1 b - - 0 24)

He just played 24.e2-e3, preparing to bring his knight back to d4. I felt I was better here, and saw 24…Qc4 or 24…Qb5, both of which try to bring about a favorable trade of queens (24…Qc4 does the job a bit better, as White’s queen has nowhere to run). Instead, I settled on a 3rd (and the worst) option with 24…Nd3?. I was hitting b2, and so I expected his 25.Nd4, and now I continued with my plan by playing 25…Be1?.

This was my grand scheme, executing a somewhat surprising maneuver to target his f2-pawn. I didn’t see how any sacrifice would work for him on c6, and there’s no good way to directly defend f2. Unfortunately, the move loses … fortunately, he didn’t see it … but only at first!

After a long think, he played 26.Kf1. Now I realized that 26…Bxf2 27.Qb3 Bxe3 28.Nxc6+ is strong for White – after Black moves his king and white takes on d8, 29…Qf5+ 30.Ke2 gives White’s king just enough time to escape. So I retreated with 26…Bb4, kicking myself for playing this Nd3/Be1 idea. He then played 27.Kg1, offering a repetition with 27…Be1. I felt I had already thrown away most of my advantage, so I figured why not? I played 27…Be1, and then he instantly banged out 28.Qb3!.

This was the real problem with 25…Be1! Strangely, he didn’t see the first time around, but he found it on the second go-around?! Anyways, I missed the strength of both Kf1 and Qb3, so even though I outplayed him at the start of the middlegame, I clearly had lost the thread at this point.

After 28.Qb3, the problem is that 28…Rxd4 29.exd4 Qxd4 30.Rd1! wins for White. After 30…Qxf2+ 31.Kh1 Ne5, I had only looked at 32.Rd8+ Ka7 33.Qg8 (threatening Ra8#) Bxa5! and decided I was much better (which is true for this position). Unfortunately, he has 32.Qb6! and I’m toast. White threatens mate on d8, and the only way to stop that is by exchanging queens and playing …Kc8. Sadly, the bishop on e1 hangs then. So after 32.Qb6, I resigned.

The alternatives on move 31 don’t save me either – 31…Nb4 stops 32.Qb6, but now 32.Qg8+ Ka7 (32…Kc7 33.Qd8#) 33.Rd8 wins, as Black doesn’t have …Bxa5; 31…Nc5 allows 32.Rd8+ and mate on b6; and 31…Nxb2 allows 32.Rb1, and Black is faced with the loss of a knight or mate on b7.

This was really the most disappointing of this 3 game stretch against 2600s. I could deal with missing the win against Fedorchuk (it was equal and then I was worse before I had my chance) and even against Bauer (there was only one clear win, and even that wasn’t simple), but this one really boggled my mind. How did I miss both 26.Kf1 and 28.Qb3, and how did he not see 26.Qb3 but dash it out two moves later?!

I may have carried a bit of that with me into my next game, as white against IM Jean Hebert (2418, Canada). I had squandered some of my advantage going into the following endgame, but then I proceeded to essentially force a draw by accident:

(FEN: 1r4k1/1pR3bp/3p2p1/3P1pB1/8/6P1/r3nPBP/3R1K2 w - - 0 24)

Here I played 24.Bf3 Nc3 25.Rc1, and after 25…Ne4, I found nothing better than 26.Rc8+ Rxc8 27.Rxc8+ Kf7 28.Rc7+ Kg8 29.Rc8+ and it ended in a draw by repetition. Admittedly, in the above diagram, White’s not better, but had I played 24.Bd2, I probably would have won the game!

The point is that 24…Nd4 runs into 25.Rxg7+ Kxg7 26.Bc3, and one might think that the two bishops will overpower the rook and pawn. I had looked at this endgame and decided it was drawn (it seems it is), but it was still my best shot, because I assumed that he would come to the same assessment. However, he didn’t and thought this endgame was lost at first. Thus, after 24.Bd2, he said he would have tried 24…Rxd2? (24…Re8 25.Bf3 doesn’t help Black’s cause) 25.Rxd2 Nc3 (25…Nd4 26.Rxg7+ wins easily this time). But then 26.Rc2 and after exchanging off the lone rook with Rc8+ next, White has an easy endgame. The news that he would have played 24…Rxd2 really didn’t make my day …

In the final round, I was black against IM Venkat Saravanan (2356, India). Through the early middlegame, the game was dynamically balanced, but as the middlegame continued, he made a couple small mistakes that gave me a slight pull. I tried to press, but all I got was a pawn up rook and pawn endgame:

(FEN: 6k1/4R1p1/p6p/1r6/8/7P/6P1/7K b - - 0 34)

Unfortunately, despite the clear material plus, this endgame is drawn. Saravanan’s serious time pressure didn’t bring about any mistakes, and a draw was agreed after we made the time control.

My weak finish cost me a chance at a good result. GMs Gharamian and Malakhatko, along with IM Deep Sengupta (who passed 2500 and made his final GM norm here), shared first place with 7/9. My 5.5 points put me in 17th place (with the best tiebreaks amongst those in my score group). IM Sam Shankland, the only other American there, recovered from a bad start to finish with 6/9 in 13th place on tiebreaks.

2 responses to “Stuck in a Rut

  1. Pingback: Flying High « An Unemployed Fellow

  2. Pingback: These Are Not the Bishop and Pawns You Are Looking For | An Unemployed Fellow

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