Monthly Archives: August 2010

A Quick (-chess) Recap

I was exhausted at the end of Badalona, so I had my doubts as to whether I’d actually play in the rapid tournament in Poble Nou. Even after the three days in-between, I was still a bit tired, but I decided that a rapid tournament wouldn’t take too much more out of me. As added motivation, I needed at least one rapid tournament to qualify for the overall Catalan Circuit prizes (combined total from 5 events).

Like the previous category-A tournaments on the Circuit, this one featured Lazaro Bruzon at the top of the list and a host of Cuban IMs and GMs behind him. It was a 10-round swiss at a time control of G/25 (no increment or delay). There were 7 GMs and 14 IMs playing, as well as a dozen WGMs, FMs, etc.

Even though I was playing way down, the first round was actually a bit of an adventure. The tournament started at 10 AM, and while I had woken up in time, my brain was lagging a bit behind. I thus decided to try and completely avoid his attack by entering an endgame, but the endgame promised me few objective chances as it was tough to find any active idea. However, he finally made a mistake and I ended up winning. Round 2 was a much smoother affair, as I outplayed my opponent from start to finish.

With 2/2, I was white against IM Vladimir Bukal Jr. in round 3. We reached the following random position after 13…d7xe6:

(FEN: rn2k2r/pbp1b1pp/1p2pn2/8/2PP4/P2B2P1/1PQNN1qP/R1B1KR2 w Qkq - 0 14)

With a G/25 time control, there is the opportunity to think a few times during the game. This was one of those moments for me. The thing is that I need to move my knight on d2, but moving it to b3 (to prepare Bf4/g5 and 0-0-0) allows Ng4xh2, when Black has a nasty check on f3 after the Rf1 moves.

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Around the World

I’m playing my final tournament of this summer trip in Sants (Barcelona, Spain) right now. We’re through 8 rounds, and I have 6/8 with 2 more games to go. GM Maxim Rodshtein and IM-elect Orelvis Perez Mitjans are in the lead with 7/8.

I’ll recap the Poble Nou rapid tournament and Sants once I’m done playing. In the meantime, Canadian GM Mark Bluvshtein (also playing at Sants) has a chess blog at where he posts his game and analysis every day. GM Jon Ludvig Hammer also has a relatively new site and blog at

Finally, the US Chess League has started back up this week. The SF Mechanics got off to a nice start with a 3.5-0.5 win in the first week against the Dallas Destiny. I played the first five seasons of the USCL, but I’m taking a break this year.

Achilles Last Stand

In my last blog, I mentioned how even if I beat Konguvel, I would need some help to make the final 8. In a strange turn of events, almost all the results around me worked in my favor, but almost all my previous opponents lost.

Thanks to those results around me, there were 5 people with 5/6. That left 3 spots for the 7 players (including me) who were tied with 4.5/6. Unfortunately, my collective opponents from the first 6 rounds scored a whopping 1.0 out of 6 that day.

Most of my fellow 4.5’ers had played weaker fields up to that point, so even with that 1.0/6, not enough of them leapfrogged me in the Buchholz race. I thus snuck into the final 8 as the #8 seed, but had any of my previous opponents won that day, I would have moved up to #6.

I also wrote earlier that the two-stage design was somewhat similar to the 2010 US Championship. The knockout stage in Badalona, though, was rather different from the second stage of the US Championships. In St. Louis, they had the top 4 break off and play a round-robin. Here, in the first round of the knockout, seeds at opposite ends of the bracket faced off in the first round.

Each round would start with a single slow game with rapid tiebreaks if necessary (and potentially blitz and Armageddon as well). With only one game and no draw odds, the only advantage you can give the higher seed is the white pieces, and that meant that as the #8 seed, I would get the black pieces in all 3 rounds no matter who I played. I would only see the white pieces if I drew the first game.

There was a time when I used to score about evenly with both colors, but this year, I’ve struggled with the black pieces (especially in beating lower rated players). From 2008 through 2009, I have 95 games in my database with the black pieces – I scored 65% with black in those games and outperformed my own average rating by 13 points then. In 2010, though, things have changed – in 44 games, I’ve underperformed my rating by about 90 points. Hence, Achilles Last Stand …

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The Rat Race, part 2

In round 5, I was black against GM Lazaro Bruzon. Bruzon was listed at 2653, but having played through the Catalan Circuit (and Pamplona) with nothing but success, he was up to about 2675 at game time. I had played him once before, in 2008, and while I got into serious trouble there, I managed to escape with a draw. This time, I was not in any trouble until I managed to lose!

(FEN: r1bqk2r/2p1bppp/p1np1n2/1p2p3/P3P3/1B1P1N2/1PP2PPP/RNBQ1RK1 b kq a3 0 8)

He surprised me by playing an Anti-Marshall with 8.a4 (in the Ruy Lopez), even though I wasn’t “threatening” to play the Marshall. With the pawn already on d6, it’s not supposed to be very dangerous because Black doesn’t have to play …Rb8 (giving up the a-file), …b4 (weakening the b-pawn and the c4-square), or …Bb7 (putting the bishop on a diagonal where it just hits against the strong e4-pawn).

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The Rat Race, part 1

Following Balaguer, I continued my play in the Catalan Circuit with Badalona. The Badalona tournament is a pretty unique one on the calendar, although I guess it shares some similarities with this year’s US Championship.

In the top section at Badalona, everybody plays in a 6-round swiss to start the event. The top 8 (using tiebreaks) then advance to play a 3-round, 8-player pseudo-knockout. Those not lucky enough to make it top the final 8 continue playing 3 more rounds of a swiss. Thus, everybody gets 9 regular games, but amongst the top players, it’s a real race to make that final 8.

My tournament started off well as I beat Francisco Rojano (2127 FIDE) in the first round pretty handily. He played a Semi-Slav against me, and at the board, I decided to switch things up from my normal repertoire and played the 5.g3 gambit line instead of my normal 5.e3 (that is, 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.g3). It’s always had its adherents, but in general, most top players don’t believe that the gambit offers White anything special with the knight on c3. In the Catalan, a similar position can easily arise, but White’s knight isn’t on c3 so early there. That early development puts it in the line of fire with …b5-b4 (in response to a typical a4, for example), or …Bb4 and …c5 ideas. My opponent didn’t know the theory of the line, though, and let me develop very smoothly. In the diagram below, he just played 19….Qc7.

(FEN: r1b1r1k1/ppq3pp/2p1p1n1/2P2p2/3P1P2/2P3P1/P4QBP/1RB1R1K1 w - - 0 21)

White is clearly better, but to make progress, he needs to open the position to take advantage of this greater potential. With that in mind, I played 21.c4 here. I want to play d5 next, opening the long diagonal for the Bg2 and also clearing a diagonal for my dark-squared bishop. After 21…b6, I continued forward with 22.d5. There isn’t really anything for Black to do now; his position is pretty much lost. For example, 22…cxd5 23.cxd5 Qxc5 loses to 24.Qxc5 bxc5 25.dxe6 (or 25.d6), when the Ra8 is trapped. He tried 22…cxd5 23.cxd5 Bb7, but that offered no respite after 24.c6 Ba6 25.Ba3. I wrapped up the game on the 30th move.

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The White Period

I finished my last blog on a positive note, with a win where I finally played well from start to finish. As it was, I did manage to continue to play well through the rest of the tournament, but I wasn’t able to parlay that into any wins. Instead, all three of my games ended in draws (and thus, the title is inspired by Picasso’s so-called “Blue Period”).

In round 7, I had the black pieces against GM Daniele Vocaturo. Vocaturo had started off with 4 seemingly easy wins before falling back to earth with a couple of draws. The first critical moment came after he played 13.Bc1-e3:

(FEN: r4rk1/bppq1pp1/p1np1n1p/4p3/4P3/1QPPBN1P/PP3PP1/R3RNK1 b - - 2 13)

His last move was a new one for me, and so I sat down to think about my move. I can’t avoid the bishop exchange, but should it take place on e3 or a7? I played 13…Rfe8, and both of us agreed after the game that this was the right move. One problem with exchanging on e3 right away is that after 13…Bxe3 14.Nxe3, Black cannot easily chase the queen away from b3 because the b7-pawn will still be hanging (for now, …Rfb8 would trap the queen if it took the pawn). Black also has to think about a Ne3-d5 jump, as after an exchange on d5, White might quickly play d4 and gain a small advantage in space and activity.

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If a Tree Falls in the Forest …

I’ve had some WiFi issues in my apartment in Barcelona, and so I haven’t been able to put together a full post wrapping up Balaguer. I’ll try and get it done in the next few days. In the meantime, a little interlude that chronologically also happened to come after my 6th round game.

In my last tournament at Balaguer, after my post-mortem with Swaminathan, I walked over to where GM Stewart Haslinger and IM Bernd Kohlweyer were discussing their game. It was a Sicilian Najdorf, and after their analysis, Bernd wanted to show an amazing game that doesn’t appear to be publicly known (I wasn’t able to find it any of my databases, or even a reference to it online). It was between GM Namig Guliyev and IM Thomas Henrichs in 2006.

Maybe some writer, seeing the game on this blog, will include part of the combination in a future book!

The game began 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e6 7.f3 b5 8.Qd2 Nbd7 (this was the same line Kohlweyer played against Haslinger) 9.g4 Bb7 10.g5 Nh5 11.0-0-0 Rc8 12.Bh3 Ne5. I know nothing about the opening, so I won’t really comment on these moves.

(FEN: 2rqkb1r/1b3ppp/p2pp3/1p2n1Pn/3NP3/2N1BP1B/PPPQ3P/2KR3R w k - 5 13)

The game continued: 13.Bg4 g6 14.Bxh5 gxh5 15.f4. Now Black has a choice, play 15…b4 or 15…Nc4. Many people would probably play 15…Nc4, but Henrichs continued enterprisingly with 15…b4!. After 16.Nce2 Bxe4 17.fxe5 dxe5, the players had reached the following position:

(FEN: 2rqkb1r/5p1p/p3p3/4p1Pp/1p1Nb3/4B3/PPPQN2P/2KR3R w k - 0 18)

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A Return to Form?

As I wrote in my last post, I finished the first three rounds with 2.5 points, but I still wasn’t playing all that well. I had missed key variations and ideas in each of my first three games.

In round 4, things were to get even worse. I had the white pieces against IM Jordan Ivanov, a solid IM I had drawn with in Seville earlier in the year. That was an up-and-down game where I missed a few opportunities and had to work hard to escape with a draw.

I was prepared for his usual QGA, but around lunchtime, I developed a splitting headache. A couple of Tylenol numbed some of the pain, but at game time, I was more inclined to sit with an icepack on my head than to play a game of chess in the sweltering heat of Balaguer.

Once it took me an hour to play out my preparation (and notice that I had already spent an hour), I realized it wasn’t my day, and I quickly tried to swap off some pieces. Luckily, Ivanov was not particularly ambitious that day (he had beaten GM Oms Pallisse the day before, but I guess with the black pieces, he went in being happy with a draw), and he didn’t try to avoid any of the exchanges. We agreed to a draw after 24 moves.

Playing one degree with Ivanov, Oms Pallisse is the only player to have beaten me in a rated game when I played the Trompowsky. I’ve been a 1.e4 player for most of my chess career, but after a long break from regular tournaments, I started playing 1.d4 in 2005. To cut down on the theory I had to learn, I started with the Trompowsky against 1…Nf6 players. In 21 rated games with the Tromp, I scored 19.5 points. Most of the games were against players about 150-200 points lower rated than me, though. GM Larry Christiansen also beat me in a Tromp in the US Chess League, but that wasn’t a rated game. Including such unrated games, my score in the Tromp moves up to 22.5 points from 25 games!

Now back to Balaguer … If round 4 against Ivanov was a strange day, the next game was even weirder. I was black against IM Mathias Roeder. Roeder has 3 GM norms, but he’s never crossed 2500 FIDE. With the white pieces, he’s especially difficult to beat, and I noticed that for a stretch from the start of 2006 through part of 2008, he didn’t have a single loss in the database with white. For someone who plays about 100 games a year, that’s pretty solid.

(FEN: r1b2rk1/ppqn1ppp/2pb1n2/4p3/P1BP4/2N1PN1P/1PQ2PP1/R1B2RK1 b - - 1 11)

White has just played 11.Qd1-c2, and it’s now up to Black to find a reasonable plan. In general, his problem is that the central tension can’t be favorably resolved and so his queenside pieces will languish on the first rank. Black can’t push …e5-e4, and for the moment, …Re8 would leave f7 weak after Ng5. Meanwhile, if Black takes on d4, White will recapture with the pawn and achieve a very nice isolated-queen’s pawn position. Black can’t target the pawn, and White has the more active pieces.

I ended up playing 11…h6?!, which is a somewhat provocative move that I didn’t really want to play. At the same time, I didn’t like the alternatives. Playing …h6 means that …Re8 is quite reasonable. After …Re8, Black can think about …exd4, …Nf8, and …Be6 – the pawn on h6 shuts the Bc1 down in that IQP middlegame.

The cost to …h6 is that it weakens the kingside light squares. With the bishop on c4, White might drop a piece into g6, or he might try and maneuver a knight to the soft f5-square now. Black can’t play g6 anymore because the pinned f7-pawn doesn’t actually guard that square.

White immediately executed that maneuver with 12.Nh4. I responded with 12…Rd8. I didn’t want to go e8 in this position for two reasons: one, the rook takes away a square for the king in case of Bxf7+ and Qb3+; and two, there could be a time when if White sacrifices a knight on h6 and plays Qg6+ and Bxf7, the rook would en prise on e8.

Now White made a clear mistake in my view, with the apparently natural 13.Nf5?!. After 13…Bf8, Black is now ready to play …Nb6 (there’s no pressure on e5 anymore), and so Roeder played 14.a5, cutting the knight down. This allowed me to unwind nicely with 14…Nd5!.

(FEN: r1br1bk1/ppqn1pp1/2p4p/P2npN2/2BP4/2N1P2P/1PQ2PP1/R1B2RK1 w - - 1 15)

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