Tag Archives: Corrales

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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In my last post, I covered my first four games from Metz. After the win against Bauer, I faced another double-round day, and in the morning, squared off against GM Andrei Sokolov.

Both of us were the only players on 3.5/4 (nobody had a perfect score). He had taken a different route, though, as he drew his first game and then won three games. Sokolov was as high as #3 in the world in the late 1980s, but he wasn’t able to maintain his good form for that long. Still, his Wikipedia page described him as a “practical-minded chess player” who would remain “ice-cool under pressure” – at least the latter is sometimes used to describe me!

Our game wasn’t especially exciting. I maintained a small plus for a while, but he defended well, although both of us thought White might have some serious chances in the following position:

(FEN: 6k1/5pp1/4p2p/q1nn4/b1Q5/N3PP2/1B2BKPP/8 w - - 0 27)

Black has just played 26…Nd7xc5. White has the bishop pair and Black’s pieces are somewhat awkwardly placed on the queenside. However, I wasn’t able to find any way to proceed:

(1)   27.Bd4 was an obvious candidate, pushing Black backwards. After 27…Nd7 28.Qc8+ Nf8 (28…Kh7 is also possible, although he thought he was running some risks after 29.Nc4! – however, he didn’t realize that after 29…Qb4! 30.Bd3+ f5 31.Qa6 Nc7!, Black is holding things together) 29.Bc5 Be8! defends everything nicely. The bishop on e8 is hanging, but if White takes it, the bishop on c5 then falls.

(2)   27.Nb5 is somewhat tricky (27…Bxb5?! 28.Qxc5 Nc7 29.Qd4 seems to give White some initiative), but 27…Qd2! kills any dreams White may have had.

(3)   27.Qg4 f6 (not 27…Nf6?? 28.Bxf6) 28.Nc4 Qc7 29.Ba3 Bd7 also defends, and this is what I chose, hoping to keep pieces on the board. We were both in some time pressure, and he later offered me a draw, which I declined, as I felt I hadn’t exhausted all my tricks in the position. However, once he noticed that last tactical shot, I decided I didn’t have much to play for and offered a draw, which he immediately accepted.

In the evening round, I was black against the Cuban GM Fidel Corrales. This was a tough fight – he surprised me in the opening, but I reacted well and actually gained a small plus. However, I made a couple mistakes subsequently in the middlegame and then had to suffer for a long time in an endgame. By about move 35, both of us were down to just a couple minutes left (with the 30-second increment), making the endgame rather difficult to play:

(FEN: 4k1r1/3n2pR/p1p1b1P1/1p2P1K1/1P1BP3/P7/8/3B4 b - - 14 47)

Material is equal, but it’s clear that White is the one who is playing for something. Black’s rook is tied to the g7-pawn, the knight is tied to the c5-square (allowing Bc5-d6 would really cut Black’s options down), and the bishop is tied to e6 for now (as otherwise Bg4 and e6 would be devastating). Note that …Nf8 never threatens anything, as after exchanges on h7, White plays Kg6 and Kxg7, forcing the pawn through!

Still, the question remains of how White is going to make progress, as I had been shuffling my king back and forth for the past couple moves.

Unfortunately, I had neither the time nor the energy to figure out what either of us should be doing here. With the benefit of hindsight, Black should play 47…Ke7 here, waiting for 48.a4 when he can play 48…c5!!.

Black absolutely needs to change the structure if he wants to continue fighting for a draw. White’s idea with Bd1 was to play a4 and exchange on b5. Then, however Black takes, an open file will be created that isn’t already covered. For example, with …axb5, White’s plan is as follows: Be2, Rh1, and Ra1 to a7. If Black “stops” this with …Ra8 (after Rh1), then Rc1 forces Rc8 and then Ra1. Once the White rooks lands on a7, then Bc5-d6 will be a huge improvement as then Black’s king will be pinned to the back rank. Taking back on b5 with the c-pawn (as I did), isn’t all that much better, and I lost without too much trouble.

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Crash Landing

Oops, this post is a long time coming. I simply forgot to add this one after I got back from Brazil.

Well, that was a bad tournament. Last I updated this blog, I had 4 points from 6 games after losing with black to GM Vescovi. With 5 rounds to go, there was plenty of time for me to get back on track and vie for a World Cup spot.

Unfortunately, things went downhill pretty quickly for me, starting with the 7th round. As Black against FM Ivan Nogueira, I beat my head against the wall as black in an Exchange French before acquiescing to a draw. Strangely enough, I avoided playing 1…e5 because against that, he played the Exchange Ruy Lopez (rather drawish), but against 1…e6, he had never played the Exchange French (instead opting for the more popular 3.Nc3. Thus, it was a bit of a cold shower to get the Exchange French.

Against the Exchange French, I’ve played the same basic system for years: 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 Nc6, and now the main line runs 5.Bb5 Bd6 6.c4 dxc4 7.d5 a6 8.Ba4 b5 9.dxc6 bxa4.

Nogueira - Bhat

I’ve played this for about 10 years now, and I have plenty of games in the database in this line. Generally, I’ve scored quite well here, as the position is reasonably unbalanced given that it once was a “boring” Exchange French. Black has the bishop pair and chances to stir up counterplay all over the board. However, on that day, I essentially ran into Nogueira playing Advanced Chess. After 19 moves, we were still in his preparation with Rybka, and I felt I had no choice but to accept a 3-fold repetition. Actually, I could have continued with some chances to outplay him an equal position, but at that point in the game, I wasn’t thinking clearly and didn’t want to risk anything.

That wasn’t a particularly interesting game from my point of view, so the next day, I was out for blood. I was playing the young Brazilian FM, Evandro Barbosa. He’s normally a King’s Indian player, but this game turned out to be a Fianchetto Benoni, something I was ill-prepared to play, and something, as it turned out, he had been studying before this tournament. We followed the real heavyweight fight, Korchnoi-Kasparov, Lucerne (Olympiad) 1982 to reach the following position:

Bhat - Barbosa

This was my first time playing the Fianchetto Benoni as white, and I hadn’t prepared it for this game. In fact, the last time I looked at it was back in March when I could have faced it against IM Miodrag Perunovic in Iceland! Thus, all the lines were hazy in my head, and the main thing I remember about the Korchnoi game was that what he did was fine, but that in the extremely messy complications that followed, the young Kasparov tactically outplayed him.

Unfortunately, generalizations like that weren’t going to tell me what to actually play at the board, so I came up with the interesting 16.g4!?. I was expecting 16…Nf6, when I wasn’t totally sure I was really better, but he blitzed out 16…Qh4!?, which is the most common move in this position. After a long think where I convinced myself that all my following moves were forced (they weren’t), I played 17.gxh5 Bxh3 18.Ne2?! f5 19.Bf4? Bxg2? (19…fxe4 is the only way to win!) 20.Kxg2 Qg4+ 21.Bg3 Qf3+ 22.Kg1 f4 23.Nxf4 Rxf4 24.Qxf3 Rxf3, we reached the following endgame:

Bhat - Barbosa 2

I was kicking myself at this point, since now I’m stuck defending a worse endgame. Comparing minor pieces, my knight on a3 is pretty stupid and my bishop on g3 isn’t doing much. Meanwhile, his knight on e5 is sitting pretty on a central outpost while his bishop is unopposed on the long diagonal (and eyeing my b2-pawn). As I compared the situation of the rooks, my opinion of the position further decreased – his rook on f3 is quite active and can swing to b3 to target my weak queenside pawns, while his rook on b8 supports the …b5 push. Uh oh.

In full damage control mode, I started to play pretty well and continued 25.hxg6 hxg6 26.Bxe5 (Black’s knight is better than my bishop, and I need the c4-square badly) Bxe5 27.Nc4 Bf4 28.Ra3!? (28.a5 is probably a bit better) Rxa3 29.bxa3 Re8 30.e5! Bxe5 31.Rb1 Re7 32.Rb6.

Bhat - Barbosa 3

I’m down a pawn here, but my pieces are no active while Black’s are relatively passive, and his extra c-pawn is securely blockaded for the time being. In the end, I managed to hold a draw here.

So after two draws in which I didn’t generate any real winning chances, I was really ticked off and the following morning, played an absolutely horrible game against another young Brazilian FM, Yago de Moura Santiago.

To his credit, he played a pretty solid positional game against my 3.Nc3 Nc6!? French (I wanted to avoid any preparation for once, and so I decided against my normal 3…Bb4 Winawer French), but I certainly missed some chances.

By this point, I was down in the dumps. I had 4/5, and then managed a whopping 1 out of 4, with 3 opponents being clearly lower rated. With one more round that evening and then the final round the next day, I decided I could do something other than prepare and I sat down and watched about 4 hours of Season 1 of Lost.

I guess it worked, as I won my 10th round game pretty easily in a Trompowsky (I decided to return to my 1.d4 roots by playing the Trompowsky, and in so doing, pushed my score with it up to 25/27, a nearly 2700 FIDE performance).

The following day, I had the black pieces against FM Cesar Quinones. This was a certifiably weird opening line, but I was happy with what I got: 1.e4 e6 2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 (the King’s Indian Attack was my main weapon against the French for many, many years; I don’t usually get to face it as black!) Nf6 4.Ngf3 b6 5.g3 dxe4 6.dxe4 Bb7 7.Qe2 Nc6!? (threatening 8…Nb4 and 9…Ba6) 8.c3 a5 (insisting on getting the f1-a6 diagonal) 9.Bg2 Ba6 10.Nc4 e5! 11.0-0 Bc5:

Quinones - Bhat 1

Black has brought out all his minor pieces and has staked an about equal claim to the center. White’s structure is marginally better, as he his c3-pawn gives him nice control over the otherwise weak d4-square, while Black can’t do the same with his d5-square. However, the knight on c4 is rather awkward and this is what gives Black an ok position here in my view. He immediately went wrong with 12.h3 0-0 13.Re1 Ne8!, threatening to transfer the knight to d6, when White won’t be able to avoid a bad queenside structure with b3 and bxc4.

After many moves and lots of time, we reached the following endgame position:

Quinones - Bhat 2

Black’s plan is relatively simple – he needs to create some open lines for his rook as the d-file doesn’t have any good entry square on it at the moment. To that end, I wanted to probe on the kingside, hopefully creating (e.g., …f5xe4, creating an isolated e4-pawn) or fixing a weakness (e.g., …f5-f4, fixing the e3-pawn) while preparing to break on the queenside with …b5. After about 30 more moves (making this the last game of the tournament!), I managed to arrange all that and my opponent had to throw in the towel. I went for a plan with …f5-f4 and then arranged …b5. While my opponent’s rook got active behind my pawns, I managed to snag the f3-pawn and then my c- and f-pawns carried the day. I’m not totally convinced the endgame is winning despite all my maneuvers in the game, though, but it’ll take a long time to figure out the “truth” about this position.

So, my tournament was a bit of a disaster, but at least I managed to avoid a total crash and won my last couple games. My finish of 7/11 was good enough for a tie for 29th place. GM Josh Friedel tied for one of the World Cup spots with 8.5/11, but in the rapid chess tiebreak, he wasn’t able to grab one of the 4 spots available. The tournament was won by GMs Shabalov and Corrales with 9/11.