Category Archives: Palma de Mallorca 2009

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.

Ajedrez in Nadal-Land

I’ve just finished my tournament here in Mallorca, but I’ll break my recap up into a few posts to make it more manageable to read (and write!). I arrived here on the 20th with the event starting on the 21st. I was immediately greeted by a ton of posters and cutouts of Nadal in the airport – he’s clearly a big thing here. Too bad he was swept away at the World Tour Finals in London this past week …

Normally, I like to make my plans to arrive at least one full day in advance, not just one night, and my sleep schedule here probably suffered greatly for foregoing this liberty. Even though I was pretty tired after I arrived at about 10 PM, I was only able to sleep for about 5 hours that night. To catch up on my sleep debt before the first round in the afternoon, I took a 3-hour nap a little later in the day. The next day, I again slept only 5 hours at night and took a 4-hour nap during the day. That set the tone for me for the entire event, as after that 2nd night, I didn’t get more than 3 hours of sleep after my games at any point. Instead, I would be awake very early in the morning and then sleep a lot during the day. Not ideal, but I managed to make it work out. Now I have a few days before my next event in Navalmoral, so I’m forcing myself to stay awake during the day to get myself to sleep during normal hours.

Anyways, on to the chess.

The tournament was a bit stronger than I expected based on the pre-registration lists online and it was definitely much stronger than last year’s edition (I didn’t play last year, but I know some people who did). There were about 150 players with 28 GMs, 26 IMs, and over 60 players rated above 2300 FIDE.

In the first round, I was white against Carles Sagrera Balosch (2062 FIDE). He essayed the Budapest Gambit against me, the first time I faced this over the board. Here’s the position after 17…0-0-0:

Black’s position doesn’t look so bad – he’s got all his pieces out and he has more central pawns (and fewer pawn islands). Meanwhile, white has a slightly funny-looking pawn on e3. Unfortunately, for Black, though – his d6-pawn is a real liability and White’s two bishops, while currently not so powerful, will really come into their own once those center pawns are out of the way.

After 18.Ne4, he played the natural 18…Bh6 (Rybka’s first choice on my machine, for example, on depth 11), but after 19.Rad1 Bxe3+ 20.Kh1, Black was in real trouble. He can guard the d-pawn with 20…Qc7, against which I was planning 21.Qc3 Bh6 22.Qa3! (hitting a7 and d6, thereby winning the pawn back favorably).

Instead of 20…Qc7, he played 20…d5, but after 21.exd5 exd5 (21…Rxd5 22.Nd6+ is good for white) 22.Nf6 Qc7 (White was threatening Qf5+) 23.Ng4, he couldn’t save his bishop and deal with the threat of Qf5+, winning the knight on e5.

The following day was the only double round day in the event. In the morning round, I was black against FM Luis Alberto Gomez Jurado. I played the opening a little more provocatively than I might have against a higher-rated player, for example, and it paid off after he played 15.d4-d5 to get to the following position:

My setup with …f5 and …c5 was predicated on playing …cxd4 and …Nc5 later, after which I’d be ready to expand in the center with …e5 and/or take the bishop pair with …Nxd3+.  He wanted to stop that and thought the weak f5- and h7-pawns would justify his central pawn push. Instead of this, though, he should have played 15.Ng5 with a small advantage.

After 15.d5, I responded with 15…exd5 16.Bxf5 Rxf5! 17.Qxf5 Ne5 18.Qc2 Nxc4. Black has a bishop and pawn for the rook, but he doesn’t appear to be so well developed and his kingside is devoid of defenders. Based on this, I didn’t think I would have enough compensation at first, but on closer inspection, I decided Black was already a little better!

I don’t think it’s winning, but I do think Black has some advantage because of the potential in his position. If Black can regroup with say …h6, …Qf7, and …Bf5, it’d be hard to dispute his advantage. White has no attacking chances on the kingside, while Black dominates the center and queenside with his pawns and minor pieces. Thus, it’s up to White to make something of Black’s relatively undeveloped state, but how?

If 19.Ng5, then 19…g6 prepares 20…Bf5. If 19.Be3, Black has 19…Nb6, guarding the d5-pawn and preparing …d4 amongst other things. Finally, if 19.Rhe1, Black has 19…Bg4, when the bishop can be rerouted to a nice square on g6 via h5, or come back to f5 after something like …Rf8. He chose 19.Qd3, hoping for 19…Nb6 20.Ba5!, but after 19…Qf7 20.Ng5 Qf5, he found nothing better than to enter the endgame, but that was very much in my favor.

In order to remove my powerful bishop from e4, he played Ne1 and now f3, but his dark-squares and 2nd rank were too weak. After 28…Bf4+ 29.Kc3 b4+ 30.Kb2 Bg6, he has no good way of dealing with …Re2 and …Be5 mating. He tried 31.Nd3 Re2+ 32.Ka1, but 32…Bg5 finished him off. A nice finish is 33.f4 Bf6+ 34.Ne5 Rxe5! 35.fxe5 Bxe5 36.Rd4 Bxd4 checkmate!

With 2 points, I played the Canadian IM Leonid Gerzhoy in the nightcap. For most of the game, I was in the driver’s seat, but around the time he got into horrible time pressure, I missed a nice defensive resource and almost threw the game away! Here’s the position after 29.Rd6:

At this point, I figured I was winning – with Rd6, I would win the g6-pawn next with check and invade, and to add to his troubles, he was essentially playing on the 30-second increment at this point while I had 37 minutes left!

However, he found the best move in this position with 29…Qe7!. I was expecting him to play 29…Qf5, when I had planned: 30.Rxg6+ Kh7 31.Rxh6+! Kg7 (if 31…Kxh6 32.Qd6+ wins the rook on c7 with check and then the bishop on b7, as 32…Kh5 loses to 33.g4+) 32.Rg6+ Kh7 33.g4!!. The g4-move isn’t the only way to do the trick, but it is particularly effective since now Black has to deal with Qh3 mating ideas. He can check my king forward with 33…Qb1+ 34.Kf2 Qc2 35.Kg3 Qg2+ 36.Kh4 Qxh2+ 37.Kg5, but the king is quite safe on g5 and he is powerless to stop White’s queen from entering his position on d6 or f8 with decisive impact.

After 29…Qe7, the game continued 30.Rxg6+ Kh7 31.Qh3? (31.Qc3 was winning, when White has 32.Qc2 and 32.f5 as his big threats) Qc5+! (it’s important to check the king to h1 as it sets up back-rank mating ideas) 32.Kh1 Qf8 33.Qe6?.

From 29.Rd6 to this point, I had spent 8 minutes, and I thought this position was winning. Sadly, it’s Black who has the winning chances in this position! With 33…Bc8! 34.Qd5 (White’s best is 34.Qd6 Qxd6 35.Rxd6 c3 36.Rd1 with chances to hold the endgame) Rc5! 35.Qe4 Rxe5!!, Black wins. On 36.Qxe5, the rook on g6 falls, while on 36.fxe5, we see why the check on c5 was so important as 36…Qf1 is mate.

Luckily for me, Gerzhoy overlooked his only chance to get into the game here. Instead of 33…Bc8, he played 33…c3 34.Rf6 (White is now threatening 35.Qf5+ if the Black queen moves) Bc8, spotting the idea one move too late. Here, though, it doesn’t work as White has the very nice 35.Nd7!!, jamming up the works.

On 35…Rxd7, White wins with 36.Qf5+ (he can’t take the queen right away because of …Rd1+) Kg7 37.Qg6+ Kh8 38.Rxf8 mate. If 35…Qg7, 36.Qf5+ Kg8 37.Rf8+ wins the Black queen with mate soon to follow. He played 35…Bxd7, but resigned after 36.Rf7+! Qxf7 37.Qxf7+ Kh8 38.Qf8+, as 38…Kh7 39.Qe7+ wins the rook on c7 by force. If Black moves to g6, White checks from d6, while if he goes to g8 or h8, White checks on d8. With this win, I moved up to 3/3 along with a handful of other players.