Just Another – Ha ha ha ha – Laugher

Last year, when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the first time (they’d only won in their previous incarnation on the East Coast), the name of the game seemed to be “torture.” With an anemic offense and stellar pitching staff, the Giants made it a habit of making every game close. Often when it was an apparent blowout, they’d let the other team back in only to sneak out with a win in the end. This game was an (unplanned) homage to that spirit.

The full game can be replayed here (http://www.uschessleague.com/games/bercysbhat11.htm).

I saw that Bercys had played 3.Nf3 a bunch of times, but more recently he had been favoring 4.Qc2, so this didn’t come as a surprise. A welcome difference from my game with Shulman! Bercys repeated a line that he had played a few times before with 4…0-0 5.Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Na6 7.c6.

(FEN: r1bq1rk1/pp1p1ppp/n1P1pn2/8/1bP5/2N2N2/PPQ1PPPP/R1B1KB1R b KQ - 0 7)

Morozevich introduced this move in 2008 against Ponomariov and won a miniature. He’s since played it a bunch of times with great results – 7/9 with 2900+ performance rating. Interestingly, the rest of the crowd hasn’t scored well with it – 50% and no performance rating bump for having the white pieces.

Anyways, I think there are two reasons behind the move: (1) it’s relatively new, which is already something these days;  and (2), it attempts to close the c-file as later on in the usual lines, the c4-pawn and Queen can be a bit exposed.

The next few moves were pretty natural: 7…bxc6 8.a3 (8.g3 and 8.e3 have also been played, and I suspect they are better) Bxc3+ 9.Qxc3 Nc5. Sal now introduced a novelty with 10.Be3?!, although given his 20-minute think, I don’t think it was worked on at home.

Following the simple 10…Nce4 11.Qc2 d5, White is already in some trouble I think. The immediate threat is 12…Ng4, when White’s pawn structure is going to be ruined. Stopping that with 12.Ne5 doesn’t really further White’s development, and after 12…Qd6 13.Nd3 e5, Black is clearly better. Bercys played 12.Nd2, which covers that threat, but White still isn’t developing.

After 12…Ba6 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.c5 (opening the c-file with 14.cxd5 would be disastrous, although even 14.c5 shouldn’t be fun) f5, we reached the position below:

(FEN: r2q1rk1/p5pp/b1p1p3/2Pp1p2/4n3/P3B3/1PQ1PPPP/R3KB1R w KQ f6 0 15)

Black’s got nothing to complain about – after 14 moves, he has an almost winning advantage! With …f5, Black introduces ideas of either …f4 or …d4. The knight can’t be kicked with 16.f3 because of 16…f4, while 16.Bd4 Qh4 leaves the bishop on loose ground – …e5 is a threat, but 17.g3 Nxg3 picks up the bishop as well.

After 15.g3, I felt there should be something big, but although I saw the right idea, I wasn’t able to find the precise moves required. I played 15…e5, which looks nice (it prepares …d4), but I was quite tempted to play 15…Rb8!. The idea was to keep White from castling or developing, as …Qa5+ is generally a threat. Normally White would play b4 in response to …Qa5+ (as Bd2 would drop the c5-pawn after an exchange), but with the rook on b8, Black has …Rxb4. If White plays b4 before the check, then he’s probably never going to go queenside and Black can try to run him over in the center immediately with …e5 and …d4.

However, I didn’t see how to meet 16.Bd4, which indirectly covers the Ra1 and stops …e5. After 16…Qa5+, though, Black is winning: 17.b4 Rxb4! 18.axb4 Qxb4+ 19.Bc3 Nxc3 20.Qd2, Black can simply gobble some more material with 20…Qxc5. Despite being up a rook after 21.Rxa6, 21…Rb8 leaves White defenseless!

After the game continuation of 15…e5 16.0-0-0 Rb8, Black is still on top, but with the moves reversed (15…Rb8 16.0-0-0), Black would like to play 16…Bc4 instead when he’s pretty much winning. As it was, after 16…Rb8 17.f3, Black has a decision of where to put the knight.

This was where I made a real error – not objectively, but practically. My original intention was to play 17…Ng5 here (leaves the f5-pawn guarded and heads for e6, where it’ll hit c5), but then I noticed the interesting maneuver 18.Qa4 Bb5 19.Qh4. That still is better for Black, but I expected more from the position and I started looking at 17…Nf6. Both moves looked good and I couldn’t make up my mind. Instead of just picking one then, I squandered almost all of my time advantage trying to find a big difference. In the end, I sacrificed the f5-pawn and played for a more direct initiative with 17…Nf6.

The game continued 18.Qxf5 Qe7 19.Qc2 Bc4 20.b4 a5 21.Bd2 axb4 22.axb4 Ra8 23.Bc3 Ra2 24.Bb2 Rb8 25.Qc3, reaching the position below:

(FEN: 1r4k1/4q1pp/2p2n2/2Ppp3/1Pb5/2Q2PP1/rB2P2P/2KR1B1R b - - 0 25)

I played 25…Qf7 with 16 seconds on the clock (there was a 30-sec increment after every move as well). As we’ll see, 25…Qa7 was a little better, as the check on b3 isn’t particularly serious so long as the Ra2 is guarded. However, 25…Qf7 prepared a nice idea, so I’m happy about that.

The threat of …d4 forces 26.e3, and after 26…Bxf1 27.Rhxf1, I got to play my big idea with 27…d4! 28.exd4 Nd5 29.Qb3 Qa7. The clearance of the d5-square has brought all of Black’s pieces to bear on the queenside, and I expected this to now be a simple win. That’s true, but what I hadn’t counted on were a couple specific variations and the pressure of the clock.

The first unpleasant shock was after 30.Rf2 Rxb4 31.Qd3.

(FEN: 6k1/q5pp/2p5/2Pnp3/1r1P4/3Q1PP1/rB3R1P/2KR4 b - - 0 31)

My original plan was to play 31…Ra1+ here – after 32.Bxa1 (32.Kc2 Rxb2 and 33…Qa2 is mate) Qxa1+ 33.Kd2 Qa5, White’s only way out of discovered checks is 34.Ke2. But after 34…Rxd4, I thought I had a winning attack with 35…Nc3+ next. It was only now that it hit me that 35.Qb3 pins the d5-knight! Uh oh.

Spooked by that miscalculation, I played 31…Qa4 and after 32.dxe5, I wanted to gain some time – so I played 32…Rc4+ 33.Kb1 Rb4. Because my only aim with the rook moves was to gain time with the increment, I didn’t realize that 33…Rxb2+! was winning (34.Kxb2 Qb5+ and 34.Rxb2 Nc3+ do the trick). Instead, after 34.Kc1, I ran down to 3 seconds and played 34…Rb3. After 35.Qe4, we reached the following position:

(FEN: 6k1/6pp/2p5/2PnP3/q3Q3/1r3PP1/rB3R1P/2KR4 b - - 0 35)

I was very, very close to playing 35…Ra1+ here. I had even typed the move in and was about to hit ‘Enter’, but I just wasn’t able to pull the trigger. With 2 seconds left on my clock, I instead played 35…Qa5?.

Here, though, is how Black should have won with 35…Ra1+: 36.Bxa1 Qxa1+ 37.Kd2 Qa5+ 38.Kc1 – I had seen this far, but I wasn’t sure I had seen a real win. The actual win is with 38…Qa3+! 39.Kd2 Re3!, cutting White off the e-file and forcing White’s queen to a more exposed position. For example, 40.Qd4 Qa2+ or 40.Qc4 Qa5+ and …Rc3+ wins.

Instead 35…Qa5? actually loses after 36.Rxd5! Ra1+ 37.Bxa1 Qxa1+ 38.Kd2 Rb2+ 39.Ke3 Qe1+ 40.Kf4 Qxe4+ 41.fxe4! (not 41.Kxe4 cxd5+ 42.Ke3 d4!+, winning the rook) Rxf2+ 42.Ke3 and white should win. Not the easiest line to see with less than 45 seconds I suppose. Both us missed it (or at least the 41.fxe4 nuance). So luckily for me, Bercys played the entirely logical 36.Rc2?. Phew.

Black again has a couple ways to win (36…Rba3! and 36…Rbxb2!, followed by some precise checks), but I completely missed …Rba3 and I didn’t see the very specific checks after …Rbxb2. At almost a dozen moves now with less than a minute on the clock, I wasn’t seeing much. I played 36…Re3? and after 37.Qd4 Ra4 38.Rc4 Ra2 (diagram below), I was desperately hoping for more time to think after a repetition with 39.Rc2.

(FEN: 6k1/6pp/2p5/q1PnP3/2RQ4/4rPP1/rB5P/2KR4 w - - 0 39)

Instead, Bercys completely surprised me with 39.e6!. I had forgotten that White could make some threats too. After my initial shock, I was actually not so unhappy about it as I played 39…Qa7 and thought I had covered g7 and would pick up the e6-pawn next. At least then I could continue to play and try and win maybe. That idea was banking on 40.Rc2 Rxe6, but White has two other serious moves – one I saw, one I didn’t.

First the one I did see: 40.Qxe3?. The idea is simple: if Black takes back, it’s mate on d8. However, Black now has an aesthetically pleasing series of sacrifices to sweep the board – 40…Ra1+! 41.Bxa1 Qxa1+ 42.Kd2 Qxd1+ 43.Kxd1 Nxe3+ 44.Kd2 Nxc4+ and wins.

The move I didn’t see was 40.Rb4!. Again the Nd5 is stuck, but there’s a big threat of 41.Rb8+ here that Black can’t escape. After 40…h6 41.Rb8+ Kh7, White has the brilliant 42.Ra8!! to overload Black’s queen and win the game.

If you’re guessing along at home, I did win this game, so Bercys probably didn’t play 40.Rb4!. Instead, he kindly obliged by playing 40.Qxe3. I typed in 40…Ra1+ quickly, double checked I had entered the move correctly, hit enter and breathed a big sigh of relief. He resigned a couple moves later.

As the Giants announcer, Mike Krukow, would say – this was “Just another – ha ha ha ha – laugher!”

This win, coupled with Jesse’s win over Julio Sadorra (an excellent game that won Game of the Week honors) were our only 2 points of the match. On board 3, IM Conrad Holt continued his ridiculous run this year by trampling over IM David Pruess, while on board 4, Todd Rumph was ground down. The tie, though, wasn’t the end of the world, as it kept us in a 3-way tie for 3rd – 5th places going into the final week of the regular season.

As Dallas and Miami (two of the teams in that group) would be facing each other, we’d still have excellent chances of making it in and in fact, SF did just that, with a final week victory over St Louis. Coupled with a Dallas victory over Miami, and SF entered the playoffs tomorrow as the 3rd seed in the West. We’d have to overcome draw odds against the LA Vibe, but that match will have to wait for another post.

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