Monthly Archives: July 2010

Our Man in Balaguer

[Note – the games and opponents are real and no vacuum cleaners were misrepresented in this blog!]

After Barberà del Vallès, the next tournament on my calendar was in Balaguer. I’ve had good experiences in Balaguer, having made my last two GM norms in 2006 and 2007 there. In 2006, I was in contention for first place until a last-round loss to GM Azer Mirzoev. But in 2007, that final GM norm came with a tie for first place with GM Alexander Delchev.

Unlike my previous tournaments in Barberà and Montcada, Balaguer is a single section tournament, so in the first round, there are huge rating mismatches. Still, my on-and-off form was on display in the first round against Jaime Parramon (1963 FIDE).

(FEN: r2q1rk1/pp1bnppp/2n1p3/1B2P3/Q2P4/R4N2/3P1PPP/1N3RK1 b - - 0 13)

Parramon responded to my French Defense with the Wing Gambit. At first I accepted the pawn, but I gave the pawn back in order to quell his hopes of a simple initiative (that’s how White’s c-pawn ended up on d4 – I played …d4 at some point and he played c2-c3xd4). White’s structure, though, is teetering now and I could have increased my advantage very simply with 13…a6. Retreating the bishop allows …Nxe5, while after 14.Bxc6 Bxc6, White will not be able to hang onto his d4-pawn after …Nf5.

I saw this, but thought I could get the same thing with 13…Nf5?. Black is threatening 14…a6 again, with the same ideas of a discovered attack. I realized right after I played the move that I was allowing 14.d5!, which sacrifices the doomed pawn, but also cuts down my bishop along the way. After 14…exd5 15.Bxc6 Bxc6 16.Qf4 Bd7 17.h4, White had achieved more counterplay than he could have dreamed of after 13…a6.

(FEN: r3qrk1/pp4p1/2b3Pp/4Pp2/3p1P2/R5Q1/3P2P1/1N2R1K1 b - - 0 24)

I managed to regroup and again put a stop to his attacking ambitions, and now I finally got myself on track and started attacking a bit myself. White’s g6-pawn is an obvious target, as the queen is the only piece that can guard it. I could win the pawn with …Qe6 and …Be8, but the bishop is useless on g6. I could also try for …Qd7, …Rfe8, …Re6, and …Qe8, but that is rather slow. The quickest, and strongest, route is via a6!

With 24…a5!, I opened the 6th rank for my Ra8 to swing across, while also setting my queenside passers in motion. Had he played 25.Rd3, then 25…Rd8 is simple and strong. The queenside pawns are now free to advance, and White’s Nb1 is still doing nothing. Instead, he played 25.Rc1 Ra6 26.Rd3, but with 26…Bd5, Black’s rook is going to take on g6 with tempo and White’s position falls apart.

In the second round, I was white against Diego Del Rey (2395 FIDE). Black has just recaptured on c5 with his bishop. Structurally, Black is doing fine. His only problem is with his development and this means White has to act quickly.

(FEN: rn1q1rk1/p4ppp/1p2p3/2bb4/8/5NP1/PPQBPPBP/R4RK1 w - - 0 13)

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The first three rounds at Barberà went pretty well, as I scored 2.5/3. The one draw I had was where both of us had mutual chances. However, starting with round 4, something strange seemed to happen – my opponents either seemed to respect me too much or not much at all!

In round 4, I was black against IM Roberto Aloma Vidal, a 2460 IM from Montcada. I was expecting a serious fight, but instead my opponent sucked all the life out of the position as quickly as possible. I recently switched from the Slav to the Nimzo/Queen’s Gambit Declined, and as part of that opening set, I have to face the Catalan. I’ve played a couple different lines against the Catalan, and I decided to go with one of the more theoretical choices amongst that group.

(FEN: r1bqkb1r/pp3ppp/2n1pn2/2p5/2pP4/5NP1/PP2PPBP/RNBQ1RK1 w kq - 2 7)

Unfortunately, the line with 4…dxc4 and 5…c5 also presents White with an early set of options: the first, with 7.Ne5, leads to a complex position, which holds promise of an advantage for White, while the second, with 7.Qa4, leads to quieter positions, with the option of sterile equality if White wants it. My opponent quickly played 7.Qa4.

(FEN: 2rq1rk1/pp1b1ppp/4pn2/2b5/7Q/2N3P1/PP2PPBP/R1B2RK1 w - - 3 13)

After some further moves, we reached the above position. Black has no good deviation that I know of along the way (7.Qa4 Bd7 8.Qxc4 cxd4 9.Nxd4 Rc8 10.Nc3 Nxd4 11.Qxd4 Bc5 12.Qh4 0-0), and strong players have been trying for decades. Virtually every deviation is supposed to give White a clear advantage, but in 2008, the pawn sacrifice with 12…0-0 caught on. According to theory, Black has adequate compensation for it after 14.Bxb7 Rb8 and 15…Rb4. Still, all 3 results are possible there. Instead, Aloma again chose the blandest continuation, going with 13.Bg5, which has resulted in a draw in every single game in which it’s been featured. Stronger players than me have fallen victim to the drawing bug with this line (GMs Naiditsch and Drozdovskij have recently given up draws to players about 160 points below them here).

Even stranger was the fact that he offered me not one, but two draws within the first 25 moves … and there was a 30-move minimum before draws could be agreed! After the second one, I reminded him that we had to play at least 30 moves, but in the end, he managed to hoover off all the pieces without providing me with any real chance.

Of course, part of the blame lies with me and my opening repertoire in these games. Had I played something that immediately creates imbalances, like the Dutch, maybe I would have had better chances to win a game. At the 2009 FIDE World Cup, GM Gata Kamsky lost his first game to GM Wesley So and had to win the second game as black to force the match to tiebreaks. Kamsky tried the Dutch, but was lucky to escape with a draw when So didn’t bother to press home a big advantage (the draw was enough to advance). After the game, Kamsky said, “In the second game I had to solve a difficult problem: it is almost impossible to beat a good player with black.”

Obviously my opponents here are not as good as Wesley So (nor am I as good as Kamsky), but the problem remains that most openings now have some lines with extremely strong drawish tendencies. Deviations, as in the Aloma game, usually concede a rather large disadvantage, and I’d rather not lose just to avoid a draw.

And to be honest, I wasn’t too unhappy with the result at the time. Aloma is only rated about 60 points below me, and he had easily outplayed a higher-rated GM (Omar Almeida) the previous day with the white pieces. That was only my second black, and I figured things would be different in my other games.

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On Your Mark, Get Set (Fingers Crossed), Go

The second tournament of my trip this summer was in Barberà del Vallès, a town just north of Barcelona. With no rest day between the final round of Montcada and the first round there, I had to hope that my last round win against Lorenzo was a sign of better form.

The tournament at Barberà del Vallès is much smaller than the one in Benasque at about the same time, but that cuts both ways. Benasque, where I’ve played twice in the past, has more strong players, but so many more players in general (and only one section) that you play many lower-rated players before getting even a 2400. At Barberà, though, there were some GM/IM matchups in the first round. I was paired against a young 2280 in the first round, Alberto Chueca.

(FEN: r4rk1/pppqbppp/1nn1p3/4P3/3P2b1/PBN1B3/1P2NPPP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 3 12)

Black just introduced a novelty (I doubt if it was prepared, though) with 11…0-0. Normally in this line, Black castles queenside, and in fact, that is what GM Andre Diamant did against me at the SPICE Cup last year (he played it with …Bf5 instead of …Bg4, but both squares are reasonable).

Against Diamant, with him having castled queenside, I played a maneuver with Qd1-c1 and Rf1-d1, preparing the d4-d5 breakthrough. After a serious think here, I came up with something similar – 12.Qe1, which I think is a strong move. The move seems to be quite useful to me: it prepares Rd1, which supports the d4-pawn and sets up d5 breaks again; it breaks the pin on the knight (which might go to g3, when a further h2-h3 would embarrass Black’s bishop); and it also allows White’s queen to eye the a5-square (which Black might otherwise use to transfer a knight to c4) and the kingside (after f2-f3).

I was happy with my position here, and after a further 12…Rfd8 13.Rd1 Bf8 14.f3 Bf5 15.Qf2?!, I remember taking a walk around the playing hall feeling good about my position. It was only after playing 15.Qf2, though, that I realized that the best move there was probably 15.Ba2!. The bishop retreat gets out of the way of tempo-gains with …Na5, and the opening of the c2-square for the Bf5 isn’t such a big deal now. Meanwhile, if Black plays 15…Na5, White has more information on the position and can act accordingly – 16.d5! is now very strong, since after exchanges on d5, the Qd7 and Na5 will both be hit.

After 15.Qf2?!, though, Black gets a reprieve, which he could have seized with 15…Na5! 16.Ba2 Bc2. By transferring the bishop to b3, Black renders d5 impossible, takes the bishop away from potential trouble on the kingside, and also gains the c4-square for his knights. Instead, Chueca played 15…Rac8, hoping to play …Na5 and …c5 at a later juncture. He didn’t get a second chance though.

(FEN: 2rr1bk1/pppq1ppp/1nn1p3/4Pb2/3P4/PBN1BP2/1P2NQPP/3R1RK1 w - - 3 16)

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Sisyphus in Spain

After a horrible start in Montcada, I was at 50% after four rounds. The second half of the tournament was a little better than the first, but that’s not saying much.

In round 5, I got my second black in a row against Jonathan Cruz (2437, Colombia). I didn’t find a lot of his games in the database, but he generally seemed to pick the sharp main lines. Thus, I was a bit surprised when he went for the 6.e3 variation of the Slav. Everything in his past games seemed to point to him repeating 6.Ne5, but I guess he had prepared something himself.

The variation with 6.e3 is somewhat testing, but it’s generally considered to be less challenging than 6.Ne5. White often gets a symbolic advantage, but can’t really do much with it. Compared to the main line with 6.Ne5, games with 6.e3 tend to end in a draw much more often. That is how this one ended up, although as it turns out, I should have played on in the final position:

(FEN: 5rk1/np1qbrpp/p3p1p1/P2pP3/3P1PPP/2NQ1R2/1P6/4BRK1 b - - 6 33)

We had been repeating with …Na7-c6-a7 and Nc3-e2-c3 the past couple moves, and this was a chance for a three-time repetition. I was down to about 3 minutes at this point to reach move 40 (along with a 30-second increment). I was tempted to play on, with 33…Qd8, hitting both h4 and a5.

I’m not quite sure what I was afraid of now, as 34.f5 gxf5 35.gxf5 Bxh4 nets a pawn (White can’t take on e6, because after the mass exchange on f3, the bishop on e1 hangs). White has some compensation after 36.Bd2, but Black is definitely playing for a win. Meanwhile, on 35.h5 gxh5 36.gxh5, I remember thinking my position was quite pleasant after 36…Nc6.

I think normally I would have played on here even if I thought the position was equal (after all, I’ve played on in much worse positions, and with less time!), but maybe because of my prior blunders, I decided not to tempt fate in time pressure and just repeated. The strange thing was that when I offered him a draw before finishing out the 3rd repetition, he declined and said it wasn’t 3 times. I was a bit confused by this, but instead of letting my clock run to zero, I just wrote my move down and claimed the draw. The arbiter duly verified the claim.

The next round, I was white against Melkior Cotonnec (2296, France). The opening of this game was completely ridiculous – here’s the position we got after 11.Rh1-g1:

(FEN: r2qk1nr/ppp1n1p1/3bppb1/3p2Pp/3P3B/P3PN1P/1PPN1P2/R2QKBR1 b Qkq - 2 11)

If you look at the pieces from the 2nd rank to the 7th, it almost looks like something that would come out of a Chess960 opening, but no, this game started with the usual arrangement of pieces and 1.d4. During the game, I thought I was a little better now, while after the game, he thought he was doing fine here.

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Good Reading Material

We’ll return to the regularly scheduled programming after this brief message. I don’t normally read all the comments on Mig’s Daily Dirt site (usually his writing is witty and the comments are not), but occasionally there’s a diamond in the rough.

For starters, Dana MacKenzie has recently started doing some translations for Sergey Shipov’s chess website, Crestbook. Besides having a direct line to Kasparov (he was a very strong player and once part of Kasparov’s team), Shipov does great analysis and is really passionate about the game. There’s a long interview with Khalifman that Dana has translated now, which has a lot of interesting info in it. I guess the interviews show up under the “Articles” header.

Besides that, there are a number of translated interviews at Chess in Translation (done by mishanp, I don’t know his real name). These are with a number of top players, and they’re generally not fluff responses. It’s a real treasure trove of info that you don’t normally get, even from quality magazines like New in Chess.

I’ll get back to posting about Montcada in a day or two.

Dumb and Dumber

Back in April, I made my summer plans and decided to play a series of tournaments in Spain. Rather than jump around from country to country, packing and repacking, and passing through security checkpoints every week, I decided to essentially stay in one place. This is something of a change for me on these long trips. As often as I have played in Spain, I actually haven’t played more than 2 events at one stretch in the Catalonian Circuit before.

The first stop on this tour was Montcada, which is a small town just outside of Barcelona. It’s not traditionally a super-strong event, but it is a Category A tournament for the purposes of the Catalonian Circuit, and the field is generally small enough that you can play a number of good players. This year, Lazaro Bruzon (2668 FIDE) was the top seed, but after that, I was #2 at 2547. Still, there were only 40 players and the average rating of the entire field was in the high 2300s.

I ended up with only 5/9, but the tournament started off as a veritable disaster. I was completely lost against a 2420 in 12 moves, and then followed that up by achieving a lost position against a 2344 in 15 moves!

(FEN: r3k2r/pp1n1p1p/1q2b1p1/2ppb1N1/6B1/2P3Q1/PPP3PP/R1B2RK1 w kq - 0 13)

I just played 12…Bg7xe5, which pretty much loses by force. I could have struggled on with 12…0-0, but then I was worried about 13.Qh4 (still, this was by far the best option). The weird thing was that I could have stopped 12.Be2-g4, and while I recognized it was his threat, I decided to do nothing about it!

After 12…Bxe5 13.Bf4, it’s all over for Black. The game continued 13…Bxf4 14.Rxf4 c4+ 15.Kh1 Bxg4 (15…0-0 16.Qh4 h5 17.Bxh5 is curtains) 16.Qxg4 f5 (16…Ne5 17.Re1 f6 18.Nxh7! wins) 17.Re1+ Kd8 (17…Kf8 18.Rxf5+ wins) 18.Nf7+ Kc8 19.Qf3 and Black is toast.

Amazingly, this game made it to the front page of as the game of the tournament. Really?!

In any case, on to the next disaster.

(FEN: r2qr1k1/pp1b1pbp/3p1np1/2pP4/P3PPn1/2N2B2/1P1N2PP/R1BQR1K1 b - - 2 15)

I got up from the board here, feeling quite happy with myself as I thought my opponent had just played a horrible Benoni. Of course I saw 15…Nxe4, but I thought that after 16.Ncxe4 Bd4+ 17.Kh1 Qh4, I had either 18.Bxg4 Bxg4 19.Nf3 or 18.h3 at my disposal. When I returned to the board, he had played 15…Nxe4!, and when we reached the position after 17…Qh4, I realized that on 18.Bxg4 Bxg4 19.Nf3, Black has 19…Bxf3 20.gxf3 (not 20.Qxf3 Qxe1 and mate) f5 21.Ng3 Bf2! 22.Rxe8+ Rxe8 23.Kg2 Re1!. Black plays 24…Rg1+ next and wins. Uh oh.

But ok, I still have 18.h3, right? Nope – after 18…Nf2+! 19.Nxf2 Bxf2, Black threatens to invade on e1 and to take on h3, with a rather strong attack. Thanks for playing. Better luck next time.

I did manage to crawl back to 2/4, but it wasn’t easy. When you’re playing badly, the wins are hard to come by and the losses happen only too easily. The second of those wins came with the black pieces, against a young 2199 player who was having a pretty good event up until then.

(FEN: 6rk/4qp1p/3p4/P2Pp2p/4P1b1/3BQ3/1R3PK1/8 w - - 1 41)

A tough, strategic Ruy Lopez battle became a bit sharper as we made it to the first time control, and I just played 40…Rc8-g8. I thought I was in great shape here, as I didn’t see how he’d be able to shelter his king. But after 41.Kf1 Qh4 42.Ke1, I realized it’s not so easy to get into White’s position. Meanwhile, the passed a-pawn is a real menace as I can’t really turn my attention to that side of the board. If I do, White might try and invade with his queen on h6 or g5, not to mention the fact that putting a rook on a8 doesn’t actually do anything, as I can never move it off the 8th rank because of Rb8+ and Qg5#.

After a long think, I came up with the best move in the position – 43…h4!. Black uses his own passed pawn to cause some problems. In a strict pawn race, Black wins – 44.a6 h3 47.a7 h2 48.Rb8 Qxf1+! 49.Kxf1 h1=Q#. However, White can throw in f2-f3 at some point to open the 2nd rank for his rook.

Luckily, he went wrong with 44.Rb7?, and after 44…h3 45.f3 Bc8! 46.Qh6 Qxf3 47.Rb3 Qxe4+, White’s position completely falls apart. Had he found 44.a6 h3 47.f3!, though, I would have had to work much harder to win the game.