Tag Archives: Ehlvest

Greatest Hits of the 2000s

With no recent games, I figured I’d fill in some of the blanks with older games. Hopefully I can find enough games to keep this “series” going …

Back in 2000, I beat my first FIDE 2600+ opponent at the Koltanowski Memorial in San Francisco. I had started out pretty well at the event: I drew in the first round with black against GM Shulman (where I had the better of the draw), followed by 2.5/3 against non-GM opponents. In round 5, I was paired with Ehlvest. At the time, he was about 2630 FIDE and in the top 50 in the world (not his peak as a top-5 player by rating, but still, I’d take either one!).

I had played Ehlvest earlier in the year, also as Black, and he managed to engineer a miraculous escape in my time pressure:

(FEN: 1r4kr/2q2p2/5Pp1/p2p3P/1P2np1Q/5N2/2P4P/R5RK b - - 0 35)

I was tempted with a little tactic to win White’s queen, and played 35…Ng3+?. If 36.Rxg3, then White is just down an exchange with no compensation after 36…fxg3, while 36.Kg2 Rxh5 37.Qg4 Qxc2+ leads to checkmate.

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Spaghetti Junction

After notching my first in round 6, I was hoping I had turned the corner, but in round 7, I was knocked back down by GM Jaan Ehlvest (2591 FIDE). Ehlvest and I have played a number of interesting games – this was the 5th game between us, and the 4th where he had the white pieces. The first two times around, I outplayed him in different lines of the French Defense, and since then, he has not tried 1.e4 against me.

The first few opening moves were the same as in my game against Altounian from round 4 (1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 c6 3.Bg2), and I decided to go with the …Bg4 setup instead of the …Bf5 setup I used in that previous game. I wasn’t expecting the King’s Indian Attack (Jaan can play just about anything), and I had not really reviewed the opening phase of that game in between, so I figured he had found what both Altounian and I suspected was there (a small advantage for white). Unfortunately, what I tried in this game also didn’t quite equalize.

(FEN: r2q1rk1/pp1nbppp/2p2n2/8/4P1b1/2N2NP1/PPQ2PBP/R1B2RK1 b - - 0 11)

White has played the KIA with c4, cxd5, and then Qc2 and e4. With a little more space and central control, White has a definite plus. It’s nothing amazing, but Jaan likes to work with small positional advantages like this and it was definitely not what I was hoping to get from the opening. In the two games where I had the most success against him, I had quickly created dynamic imbalances and then outplayed him in complications later on. Here, I’d have to sit and defend for a while – not something I’m unfamiliar with, just not something that I’d like to do.

(FEN: r1q1rbk1/1p3pp1/2p2n1p/p1n5/3NP3/1PN3P1/P1Q2PKP/2BRR3 b - - 0 19)

White has just played 19.b2-b3. I thought I had done well to get here from the first diagram above, as the bishop exchange has relieved some congestion and the flank pawn moves (…h6 and …a5) have covered my knights against some annoying threats. Still, White has the more space and a more harmonious position. Black’s main question is how to finish his development and I didn’t answer this properly.

I played 19…Qc7, and after 20.Nf5 Rad8 21.Bf4, I went back to c8 with the queen. Jaan didn’t increase the pressure accurately, and that is why I equalized later on.

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Yes I can – not post in November?!

Somehow I managed to not find the time to blog during the month of November. Pretty amazing, given that I was only playing one event in Florida during that time. Anyways, I’ll try and be more responsible about my blogging duties going forward.

My one tournament in Florida was the Pan-American Continental Championship during the first week of November. The tournament went alright for me, as I finished with 6.0/9, good enough for a tie for 4th place. GM Jaan Ehlvest took clear first with 7.0/9, while then GM-elect Josh Friedel (now a GM) and GM Alexander Ivanov tied for 2nd and 3rd with 6.5/9. I gained a few points, but nothing amazing.

I lost only one game, in the 2nd round as white against the young Colombian IM David Arenas. The game can be seen at Josh’s recap for the USCF website, Chess Life Online. I really struggled in the first half of the tournament, having to work very hard to get a couple wins as black against 2200s, while losing with white against Areans and playing a topsy-turvy game that ended in a draw against FM Alex Betaneli. These four games were rather disappointing, as I normally play much better than that.

Starting with round 5, though, I got in gear with a smooth win over FM Jake Kleiman as black. Then I crushed IM Dionisio Aldama as white. I played the same piece sacrifice I used against Bryan Smith at the Western States Open – which I wrote about here – but this time, I didn’t spend 65 minutes coming up with the 4 move sequence. With plenty of time on my clock, I managed to put Aldama away without much trouble. Only half a point off the pace at that point, I slowed to a halt by drawing my last 3 games against GMs Leon Hoyos, Stripunsky, and Lima. In all 3 games I had good/great chances to win, although in the last game against Lima, I managed to throw away my advantage and had to hang on to a draw.

Ehlvest played great to win the tournament comfortably – he was perfect with white, and while he ran into some small troubles in a couple games as black, he navigated those waters well and came out unscathed. Friedel had a chance to tie for first with a win as black against Becerra in the last round, but the endgame proved to be too tough to play during a short time control, and the game ended in a draw.

On a side note, my game with Aldama exemplified one of the strange aspects of US tournament play. Despite the fact that this tournament was FIDE rated (it was a FIDE Zonal event after all!) and that it was advertised as using FIDE rules, the tournament directors did not forfeit Aldama when his cellphone rang during a game. This happened twice, the second coming during the game against me. They didn’t impose a penalty either time either. Normally submitting an event for FIDE rating purposes means the event MUST use FIDE rules, but FIDE seems to turn a blind eye to the USCF’s use of their own rules. However, in a tournament advertised as being under FIDE rules, this was a weird incident. GM Nigel Short was forfeited earlier this year when his phone (which both players agreed was off) gave a low-battery warning beep! The story is here.

The tournament itself was reasonably well run.  It’s disappointing that a Continental Championship attracted only 60+ players, when it’s the championship of North and South America. Part of the reason may have had to do with the fact only 1 spot was up for grabs in the World Cup, when normally there are 6 or 7 such spots. Another reason is that Boca Raton is not the cheapest place to stay for a week – the regular room rent at the Marriott we stayed at was listed at $475/night! The hotel was nothing close to special, however – the area is just that expensive. The fact it was in the US, as well, meant that Cuban players couldn’t play in the event. This seemed to me to be a bone-headed move on FIDE’s part, as why disqualify a country from playing in the zonal event?

Tangentially, while Boca Raton is an expensive area, it was definitely McCain territory. We were there during the election on November 4th, and it looked at first like a victory rally for McCain was being set up behind the hotel. Of course, that victory never came to pass!

Here and there – the Western States Open

In between the Week 8 and 9 USCL matches, I went to Reno for the Western States Open. I would need a very long post to go through the games one-by-one, so I’ll stay relatively high level for the discussion here. Maybe I’ll look at them in more detail later.

I finished with 4.0/6, beating 4 much lower rated players, while losing to GM Jaan Ehlvest and IM Bryan Smith. I thought I played pretty well in some of my wins, notably against NMs Dana MacKenzie and Gregg Small – I had lost twice previously to Dana (albeit in games some time back) and had failed to beat Small’s QGA opening at the North American Open in 2005. Actually, that opening will be linked to that tournament for me for some time as I had only recently begun playing 1.d4 then. I hadn’t done any preparation for the QGA, but then 3 people played it against me that tournament! All of them made draws as well, although I had some chances in a couple games. Since then, nobody has dared to repeat the opening! Anyways, it was good to finally beat the QGA, and also to win a pair of Exchange Frenches after I failed to beat a lower rated player in that opening in Miami.

The loss to Ehlvest was an unfortunate one, but I can take some solace in the fact I defended a worse position for 7 hours. Actually, the game took about 6 hours and 55 minutes, but who’s counting? The final 3 hours of the game can be replayed in the USCF’s article about the event, available here. The real disaster came in the evening round, against IM Bryan Smith. I played a brilliant piece sacrifice (if I may say so myself) in the opening and reached what I considered to be an absolutely dominating position. However, the 7-hour morning round seemed to take its toll on me, and I simply couldn’t calculate any variations at the board. The same line would just replay through my head over and over again. In the end, I got into horrible time pressure and blew the win and lost the game.

GM Sergey Kudrin took clear first with 5.0/6. GM Ehlvest headed a group of 3 players who finished on 4.5/6. I came in tied for 5th with 6 other players, including Smith.

I think this was my first time playing the Western States in Reno, and I would say the tournament is well-run in some aspects and rather poorly run in others. The organizers do a good thing by providing a quiet playing hall, boards and pieces for everyone (and often clocks for a number of players), having demonstration boards so people can follow the top 10 boards from afar, and putting together a games bulletin at the end of the event. However, the pairing system (both in philosophy and application) falls short of the mark in my view. Also, unlike the bigger events in Las Vegas, the playing hall is not on the casino floor, so there’s much less smoke around. In Vegas, I feel like you always leave the event smelling like smoke.

On the bad side, for starters I’m pretty sure they still do pairings by hand at this event. This means that virtually every round starts late, up to 30-40 minutes late in fact.

Secondly, Chief TD Jerry Weikel is unique in his pairing process – when there is a score group with an odd number of players, he drops the middle rated player to play the highest rated player of the next score group. This is the only tournament in the world where I’ve seen this system, as normal USCF rules mean you drop the lowest rated player of the odd group to play the highest rated player of the next. Color alternation is also thrown out the window in his tournaments, so it’s not only common to get a 4/2 color split in a 6-round event, it’s quite possible to get 3 colors in a row!

Maybe part of the reason I’m annoyed by this is that after losing a long game to Ehlvest, I came back after a short break to see I was playing a strong player in Smith (and then lost that one too), when the people around me got much easier pairings. But logically and by the letter of the rulebook, I don’t see why he does it this way, and after the event, GM Alexander Ivanov concurred, explaining that he’d been trying to convince Jerry for years that this pairing system does a dis-service to everyone involved.