Tag Archives: Chicago Blaze

Close Only Counts with Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

I’ve fallen behind in my USCL updates, although this time it was maybe some sort of “strategery.” In Week 7 (now almost 3 weeks ago), the SF Mechanics squared off against the Chicago Blaze. At the time, the Blaze were still perfect with a 6-0 record – now they’re still running away with the division, but Miami handed them a loss in Week 8.

Chicago can feature a 3 GM lineup with a current 2200-USCF player on board 4 which makes them a pretty tough matchup for any team. Against us, though, they had GMs Shulman and Amanov on boards 1 and 2, followed by IM Angelo Young, and NM Sam Schmakel. San Francisco countered with me on board 1, followed by GM Jesse Kraai, IM Daniel Naroditsky, and Uyanga Byambaa. After heading over from work, the games got underway at 5:30 PM. The full game can be replayed on the USCL website here.

Last time I played Yury, it was the 1st round of the US Championship and I surprised him with the Queen’s Gambit Declined, via a 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 move order. This time Yury played 3.Nc3 instead, so I followed through with my “threat” to play the Nimzo Indian with 3…Bb4. Then a bombshell dropped – 4.Nf3.

(FEN: rnbqk2r/pppp1ppp/4pn2/8/1bPP4/2N2N2/PP2PPPP/R1BQKB1R b KQkq - 0 4)

This is obviously pretty common, but when I saw this move, I pretty much said “oh s%!$” to myself. When preparing for the game, I did notice that he had played a bunch of games with 3.Nc3 in the past. However, all those games continued with 3…Bb4 4.e3, a line that I have played with the white pieces. With over 20 games of experience in that line and having tried virtually every move order possible for White, I felt like I’d be able to navigate the opening without much specific preparation. Moreover, I only saw one game in the past decade where Yury had gone that route.

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The man, the myth, the legend … and Game of The Week!

The 2008 season of the US Chess League started at the end of August, and the SF Mechanics got off to a good start by beating the defending champion Dallas Destiny 2.5-1.5. GM-elect Josh Friedel posted a writeup on the team blog.

In week 2, we faced the expansion Chicago Blaze and the match ended in a 2-2 tie. I was on board 2, behind Josh, against IM Emory Tate.

The legendary Emory Tate. If you’re following an American tournament on ICC, or even some international tournaments, it’s hard to escape mention of 3 chessplayers: Fischer, Nakamura, and Tate. Here are a couple writeups I found, at the Chessdrum: a brief intro and part 2.

ICC, where the games were broadcast, billed the game as “Watch the Legendary IM Emory Tate make his debut in the USCL against GM-elect Vinay Bhat!”

Given Tate’s history as a dangerous attacker, I was hoping to avoid any such excitement and instead play some quiet chess. However, the game was rather messy, with a number of complicated lines that were tough for me to slog through in the short time control. The game can be replayed here: http://www.uschessleague.com/games/bhattate08.htm

Bhat – Tate, USCL (2) 2008.09.03

1. d4 b6!?

A surprise, but as I hadn’t done much preparation for this game, it didn’t bother me too much.

2. e4 e6 3. Nd2!?

Clearly not the most testing move, but I was a bit tired before the game, and I wasn’t going to challenge him in what might be considered the main lines with either 3.c4 Bb7 4.Nc3 Bb4 or 3.Nc3 Bb7 4.Nf3 Bb4. The latter is probably White’s best option of punishing Black for his ultra-hypermodern play in the opening, but I simply couldn’t be bothered to do that this early in the game.

3…c5 4. c3 Ne7 5. Ngf3 d5 6. e5 Qd7

We’ve essentially reached a funky version of the Advance French where Black is hoping to exchange off the light squared bishops. To this end, he needs to take away the option of Qa4+ (as after 6…Ba6 7.Bxa6 Nxa6, 8.Qa4+ wins a piece).

Developing the bishop on f1 is natural now, but doesn’t help White’s cause as after 7…Ba6, he’ll have nothing better than to exchange bishops. Thus, I was looking for something useful to do, and realizing my advantage was going to be on the kingside, I decided to start seizing space immediately.

7. h4! Ba6 8. Bxa6 Nxa6 9. Qe2 c4!?

A tough decision for Black. If he retreats with 9…Nb8, he maintains the central tension for a bit more time, but he also loses time with his knight. I was planning 10.h5 Nbc6 11.a3, taking away the b4-square. White can then proceed in a few different ways on the kingside, most probably with h5-h6 (as in the game) or h5 and Rh4-f4, to pressure the weak f7-pawn. Either way, I think White still is a bit better.

10. h5 b5 11. h6

Ramming the pawn into Black’s camp. If he pushes past with 11…g6, he’s left with huge dark-square weaknesses (and a knight coming to g4 would be especially strong then), while if he lets White take on g7, the bishop on g7 is going to be weak, while the f6-square is still soft.

11…gxh6 12. Nf1?!

During the game, I thought it made sense to go after the kingside immediately, but maybe it would’ve been more prudent to play 12.a3. That would take a move out to slow down Black’s queenside counterplay, as in the game, he stirred up some trouble there. White can afford to do this given that he’ll win the kingside battle anyways.

I considered this during the game, but I thought I would actually be able to use the open b-file faster than Black. With that in mind, I doggedly pursued my strategy on the kingside.

12…b4 13. Ng3 bxc3 14. bxc3 Qa4 15.Rb1 Ng6 16. Nh5 Be7

17. Bxh6

This was where I was hoping to make real use of the b-file by playing 17.Rb7!?. Black can’t leave the rook on the 7th in his camp, and so he must play 17…Qc6 (17…Rb8 and 17…0-0-0 both kick the rook away from b7, but allow White to take the pawn on a7). I then had planned 18.Qb2, taking the b-file and on 18…Ba3, White has 19.Qxa3 Qxb7 20.Qd6, when White is winning due to the threat of Nf6#. Fortunately, while he was thinking, I realized he could play 18…Kd8!! there, with the simple idea of 19…Kc8. All of a sudden, my “control” of the b-file just gets me into serious trouble.

17…Nc7 18. Nh2 Nb5 19. Qf3 O-O-O 20. O-O Rd7 21. Ng4 Nh4 22. Qh3?

Up until now, my play had been pretty logical and to the point. However, here, I missed my chance with 22.Qxf7. I was spooked by the possibility of 22…Bg5 23.Qxe6 Nc7, seemingly trapping the queen, but 24.Rb4! saves White and leaves him winning.


23. Bf4?!

23.Bd2 might look more natural, as it guards the weak c3-pawn, but the bishop is exposed on d2 and will be vulnerable if Black ever puts a queen on the 2nd rank (either after …Qxa2 or …Qc2). Thus, I decided to put it on f4.

However, 23.Nhf6! was correct. I saw this move, but for some reason, I kept wanting to avoid calculating in my tired state. The lines are pretty simple, though:

(1) 23…Rb7 24.Nxd5 exd5 25.Ne3

(2) 23…Nxh6 24.Nxh6 Bxf6 25.exf6 Nd6 (25…Rb7? 26.Nxf7!) 26.Rb2 and White just doubles on the b-file.

(3) 23…Bxf6 24.Nxf6 Rb7 25.Nxd5 Nxh6 26.Rb4! Qa5 27.Rxc4+ Kb8 28.Nb4, and the threat of 29.Nc6+ means White can take the knight on h6 later.

23…Rb7 24. Ngf6 Rd8

White was threatening to remove the support from under the f5-knight with 25.Nfxd5.

25. g4 Nfxd4

A visually pleasing sacrifice, but it was virtually forced. The knight had no other safe squares, and 25…Bxf6 runs into 26.gxf5! Be7 27.fxe6 fxe6 28.Qxe6+ when White is crashing through.

26. cxd4 Nxd4 27. Rxb7 Kxb7 28. Ng3 Bxf6 29. exf6 e5 30. Be3 Qc2 31. f4!?

After the game, David Pruess told me this was move was insane, and I agreed. However, I didn’t like 31.Qh5 Rd7, when I can’t take on e5 because of the weak f3 square. And without that double attack, I needed to find another way to break up his central pawn phalanx.

31…Qd3 32. Bxd4 Qxd4+ 33. Kh1?!

I was now down to 1 minute.

The computer rightly points out that 33.Kg2 was better. I didn’t see anything clear after any of the king moves to g2, h2, or h1, but I decided against putting it on the 2nd rank because of some possible checks or pins from b2 or d2.

33…exf4 34. Ne2 Qe3?!

After playing pretty well for the rest of the game, Tate started to go wrong here and got too ambitious. 34…Qe4+ was better, as after White interposes, Black can choose to exchange queens and enter relatively drawish endgames at will. Given the match situation (where they won on board 3 and were winning on board 4), this would have been the more prudent option for the team as well.

35. Qg2 Kc6 36. Rxf4

White is already better again, as the pawns are temporarily stopped and Black’s king is somewhat exposed. The ensuing king walk is somewhat counter-intuitive, but it’s hard to sit tight sometimes.

36…Kc5 37. Rf5 Kb4?

The previous king moves were not too bad, but this one starts a real downward trend for Black. What’s the king doing on b4?

38. Rf3

In time pressure, I missed that 38.Nf4! was much stronger.

38…Qh6+ 39. Kg1 d4?

Black had to prevent his queen from getting shut out and so 39…Qd2 was called for.

In time pressure, I missed that 38.Nf4! was much stronger.

40. Rf4!

The finisher. White cuts Black’s queen off from giving any checks, opens the long diagonal for White’s queen to give a check on b7 (and as it can later check from b6 or d8, it indirectly is attacking the rook on d8 already), and eyes Black’s king along the 4th rank. White is completely winning now.

40…Ka3 41. Qb7 Qh4 42. Qxa7+ Kb2 43. Qb6+ Kc2 44. Qxd8 d3 45. Nd4+ Kc3 46. Qa5+, 1-0

White is going to deliver checkmate soon, and so Black resigned. This brought us up to 1-1 in the match, and after Josh won and Naroditsky lost, the match was finished at an even 2-2.

This game was also awarded the Game of the Week prize for week 2 in the USCL. Here’s the writeup from the judge of the Game of the Week competition: http://usclnews.blogspot.com/2008/09/week-2-game-of-week.html