For the first round of the playoffs, we were facing the LA Vibe. As they finished just ahead of us in the regular season, they received draw-odds while we had color choice on board 1. Taking white makes sense mostly because having the white pieces is relatively more important for GM games, while Board 4 games tend to be more of a tossup.
As an aside, with our season over, I think it’s safe to reveal a facet of the team’s strategy this year: maximize the number of whites for GMs Patrick Wolff and Jesse Kraai, and fit me in if needed. Thus, after Week 1 when I was in NY, every time we had black on board 1, I was in the lineup. Whenever we had white on board 1, I didn’t leave work early.
It’s not that I’m so great with the black pieces, but I guess I don’t show as big a differential in results by color as many other GMs. Looking at my database, my performance rating for the past handful of years is only a couple points below my average rating for that time. Given that the standard performance “boost” for white or “penalty” for black is around 35-40 rating points, I guess I have done relatively better than average with the black pieces. If I have to win, it’s not ideal, but otherwise I also don’t really mind playing with the black pieces.
So, with us having white on 1 and 3, the lineup that matched our color strategy was for all 3 GMs to finally play together with Uyanga Byambaa on board 4. I could play above Wolff, but then that’d break the color pattern, so our lineup was Wolff – Bhat – Kraai – Byambaa. As black on board 2, I faced IM Zhanibek Amanov, who’s played all of 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, and 1.Nf3 in the past few years. The full game can be seen at http://www.uschessleague.com/games/zamanovbhat11.htm.
The game started out 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2, and here I played 4…g6. This was a new move for me – I’ve normally played 4…Bg4 or 4…Bf5 setups – but I was looking for something more solid. Maybe it wasn’t the right decision, though, as the positions are often pretty dry and don’t provide too many active prospects for Black. White followed with a double fianchetto and we brought out the rest of our pieces. After 14.e3, we reached the position in the diagram below:
r3r1k1/1p1n1pbp/1qp2np1/p2pp3/2P5/1P1PPNPP/PBQ2PB1/1R3RK1 b - - 0 14)
This is a general problem with Black’s whole setup – he isn’t really much worse at the moment, but he doesn’t have much to do while White can still improve his position. The e5/d5 center is nice but not particularly mobile, and Black’s pieces are largely stuck guarding those pawns. I had trouble coming up with a plan, and the result maybe was a bit artificial, but I think it was reasonable given the situation.