Tag Archives: France

Flying High

My tournament in Metz is over now, and I finished with only 5 points from 9 games. On the one hand, that’s definitely a disappointment as I had excellent chances to make a better result. At the same time, it was against a field with an average FIDE rating of 2500, so it was still a pretty strong open tournament. Talking to GM Christian Bauer about the event, he said it was once quite strong before slowly shedding players year after year. At his suggestion (he’s essentially the local chess hero), they made it a two-group event this year, thereby taking a chunk of lower-rated players out of the A group.

My first round game was probably the easiest one I had all tournament, but it may have been also the one in which I felt the worst. I had flown in a day earlier and was still a bit groggy with the time difference. Luckily, my opponent also seemed to be a bit out of sorts.

(FEN: r3r1k1/5pp1/p2p2n1/3P4/1QBp1n2/5PPq/PPP4P/R5RK b - - 2 23 )

Black is winning here, and there are many ways to go about it. The way I chose seemed pretty obvious to me: 23…d3. Now 24.cxd3 would allow 24…Re2, so FM Victor Angel Bolzoni played 24.Rae1 instead. I continued with 24…Re2 (the computer points out that 24…Nh4! is even more decisive), with the point that after 25.Rxe2 Nxe2, White can’t play 26.Rg2 because of 26…dxc2, and there’s no good way to stop Black from adding a second queen to his side! Instead, he played 26.Bxd3, and after 26…Nxg1, I was honestly expecting him to resign. White has a bunch of pawns, but they aren’t remotely dangerous. Instead, he decided to play on until move 40, but at least he didn’t spend all his remaining time on it.

My second round game against IM Hugo Tirard of France was also pretty smooth, although it took longer to rope in the full point. My opponent played the Benko Gambit, and I happily grabbed it and tried to hang on. In the following position, Tirard sort of found himself in a nightmare Benko:

(FEN: rr4k1/3n2bp/2qppnp1/2p5/P3PB2/R1N2NP1/1P2QPKP/3R4 b - - 3 19 )

Black’s typical queenside counterplay hasn’t made any real inroads, and his attempt to open the center up has backfired miserably. The d6-pawn is under attack, and …Ne8 or …Bf8 are pretty sad defensive moves (White can up the pressure in a number of ways, the most likely being Qc4 or Ng5). The pawn can’t move forward safely because of the rook on b8, and so he had to play 19…e5. That’s a rather ugly move that takes the dynamism out of Black’s center, and after 20.Qc4+ Kh8 21.Ng5, he was in big trouble. He sacrificed an exchange in the hopes of stirring up some trouble, but he also had to give up the ghost after a while.

The second day was a double-round day, so after this morning round win, I was black against GM Alexander Zubarev in the evening. I was quite happy with my position around move 25, as I seemed to be slowly outplaying him as Black in a Ragozin-type structure:

(FEN: r5k1/1p3p1p/1n4p1/1P1p4/1bpP4/q3PNP1/2Q1NPKP/1R6 b - - 7 26 )

Continue reading


Theoretical Discussions Continued

With 4.5/6, I barely made the cut in the 7th round and squared off as black against GM Reynaldo Vera of Cuba. Although his rating has dropped over the past few years, he’s very experienced and was playing well at Cappelle (with a performance rating over 2600). Throw in the facts that he had been playing both sides of the Semi-Slav for about 25 years and that I used his book (Chess Explained: The Meran Semi-Slav) to learn it, and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy game.

At my tournaments recently, even with one game a day, I only try to spend about 1-2 hours preparing for every game. I used to spend much more time preparing when I was playing sporadically (as in the summers of 2006 and 2007), but now that I work on chess much more, I have less to do in general. It also lets me conserve my energy for the game. Thus, even though I wasn’t sure where he would go in the Meran, I didn’t spend a bunch of time and decided to focus on the line in which Kazhgaleyev clobbered me.

Unfortunately, I guessed wrong and he instead went with a line that has become pretty popular over the past 2-3 years: the 5.b3 Anti-Meran (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.b3). Kramnik won a couple nice games with it, and whenever Kramnik plays, people pay attention. When Avrukh made it a big part of his book, GM Repertoire Volume 1, it really took off.

For example, in 18 games where I tried to play the Semi-Slav last year (i.e., I didn’t play the regular Slav), I saw this line 3 times. By comparison, I only saw the main line Meran with 5.Nc3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 a grand total of 0 times (that’s also why the idea I played against Kazhgaleyev had been sitting on the shelf gathering dust for over a year)!

Most recently, I’ve been experimenting with a Stonewall setup against this system (with a quick …Ne4 and …f5), and this game was no exception. But unlike my 3 previous opponents with this setup, Vera decided to play Nfd2 instead of Nbd2 at a key juncture, hoping to kick my knight away from e4 with a later f3. In the following position, he had succeeded in this aim:

(FEN: r1bq1rk1/pp1n2pp/2p1pn2/3p1p2/1bPP4/1P1BPP2/PB1N2PP/RN1Q1RK1 w - - 1 11)

Ideally, he would break with e3-e4 at some point, putting serious pressure on Black’s structure. If Black takes on e4, he will be left with a horribly weak e6-pawn, while the alternative of allowing White to grab a ton of space with e5 is not particularly enticing. In this specific position, though, I had seen that 11.e4 runs into 11…dxe4 12.fxe4 Nc5!, taking advantage of the pin on the d4-pawn. If 13.dxc5, Black plays 13…Bxc5+ and then plays 14…Qxd3 with advantage. However, 13.Bc2 drops the e4-pawn, so White is not ready for e3-e4.

To this end, he played 11.Qe2, guarding the bishop and preparing 12.e4. I was ready for this as well and played 11…Re8!, putting the rook on the e-file in anticipation of the e-file opening up. The point is that after 12.e4 Black can play 12…e5! and White is in some trouble actually. If White ever takes on d5 or f5, Black takes on d4 with tempo. For example, 13.exd5? exd4 14.Qf2 Ne5! (covering f5 and hitting the bishop) and White is in real trouble – 15.Qxd4 Qa5! is even losing for White, who can’t deal with both …Bxd2 and …Bc5.

Thus, I had defused White’s entire plan with Nfd2 – as GM Anton Kovalyov remarked in our post-mortem (amusingly, he was one of the guys against whom I tried this Stonewall approach last year), the knights on d2 and b1 look a bit funny now. Unfortunately, I relaxed a bit having dealt with White’s main strategic goal and proceeded to make a couple small errors. While it didn’t land me in a horrible position, it did mean things weren’t as comfortable as they could have been. By move 25 or so, both of us were getting a bit low on time and I decided that under those circumstances, the initiative was worth a bit more than usual.

(FEN: r4nk1/ppbbr2p/2p1p3/1PPp2qn/P2P1p2/1N1B1P2/1BQ3PP/R3RNK1 b - - 0 22)

Black has the obvious plan of playing on the kingside, with moves like …Rg7, …Ng6, …Nh4, …Kh8, and …Rag8 all factoring in. However, as soon as Black puts a knight on g6, White is going to take if off – if a Black knight reaches h4, then White is going to be in real trouble (it’s virtually impossible to hold both g2 and f3 forever). Thus, if Black plays 22…Ng6 right now, White will take, and Black has no way of keeping the file open. The h-file is not as useful as the g-file in this case, as the Nf1 guards h2 and it will take Black a long time to triple on the h-file.

There’s more after the jump

Bad Prep Days

It’s been a few days since my last blog about Cappelle la Grande, but it’s now high time to wrap up the tournament. I finished with 6.0/9 –the same score I had last year – but I got there in a completely different manner. Last year, I played only two players above 2400 FIDE in 9 games; this year, I faced my weakest opponent in round 1 (GM Arkadi Vul).

After winning my first two games, I had the black pieces against the young Italian IM, Sabino Brunello, of Italy. He recently wrote a book on the Ruy Lopez from Black’s point of view (Attacking the Spanish), and so I guess he’s a bit of a theoretical expert. After about a dozen moves, the difference in opening knowledge showed:

(FEN: rnq1kb1r/pp3pp1/2p1pnp1/2P5/3PPB2/1QN3P1/PP5P/R3KB1R b KQkq - 0 13)

White has the two bishops, better development, and more space. It’s pretty amazing that I can find myself in these sorts of positions. Luckily, that also means I have some experience defending bad positions and so I wasn’t about to give up right away.

I decided that I couldn’t just sit around and wait for him to improve his position with an eventual e5 (and Nc3-e4-d6) or d5 (if the c5-pawn is well protected), so I played 13…b6!, sacrificing a pawn. The point is that after 14.cxb6 axb6 15.Qxb6, Black has 15…Nh5!. The bishop is stuck to f4 because if it moves, then 16…Nxg3 wins the material back (the h2-pawn is pinned). Meanwhile, if he lets it get taken on f4, then his kingside will be quite open and potentially somewhat weak; the queenside, though, would also be open, and so he probably wouldn’t be able to use his extra pawn there for quite some time.

For what it’s worth, RobboLito (C) agrees with Brunello’s decision in the game to not take the pawn on b6! He played 14.cxb6 axb6 15.Bg2, guarding the Rh1 so that …Nh5 no longer does anything useful. Meanwhile, White eyes the c6-pawn now that the c-file has been opened. I played 15…Nbd7, guarding the pawn and preparing …e5 in some cases. I wanted to try and keep the Bg2’s diagonal closed, so I was hoping to play …e5 and take back with a knight at some point. My bishop would then get the c5-square as well. In order to stop that, he played 16.e5. However, a very interesting position would have arisen if he had played 16.0-0:

(FEN: r1q1kb1r/3n1pp1/1pp1pnp1/8/3PPB2/1QN3P1/PP4BP/R4RK1 b kq - 2 16)

I had seen an amazing defensive resource here. After 16…e5!, Black looks to be committing suicide – the Qb3’s diagonal is opened and White has castled, so f7 is going to be targeted. After 17.dxe5 Bc5+ 18.Kh1 Ng4, White is in some trouble, since mate is threatened on h2 and Black will take back on e5 with a knight next, guarding f7 and keeping the Bg2 shut in. However, 17.Bxe5 looks quite good – after 17…Nxe5 18.dxe5, what is Black going to do? The knight can’t move from f6 because of Qxf7+. Luckily, I had seen 18…Bc5+ 19.Kh1 Qc7!!, which is quite reasonable for Black! The point is that after 20.exf6 Qxg3, White has no dangerous check and he can’t stop mate on h2 or h3 (if 21.h3 Rxh3+ and mate follows). He also has no way of guarding the e5-pawn, so if he doesn’t take on f6, Black takes on e5 with his queen and all of a sudden, Black’s position makes sense. After the game, he admitted he hadn’t seen this line, but he had felt that allowing …e5 was not worth considering.

On a side note, I’ll refer to another book, FM Daniel Naroditsky’s Mastering Positional Chess. I haven’t read it, but I flipped through it briefly in Gibraltar, and in his chapter on “Defense in Worse Positions,” I was pleasantly surprised to see this example:

(FEN: 2kr3r/pbpnbppq/1pn1p2p/4P3/QPP5/PN2RNP1/1B3PBP/R5K1 b - - 0 19)

I was black against Ernest Real de Azua at the World Youth U-16 in 2000, and after an opening debacle found myself in the following situation. Luckily, though, White had just played 19.Nd2-b3?, which allows a stunning rejoinder – 19…b5!!. The point is to clear the b6-square for a knight so as to trap White’s queen! After 20.Qxb5 a6 21.Qa4 Nb6 or 20.cxb5 Nb6, the queen is trapped. Admittedly, White gets compensation after either move, and after 21.bxc6 Nxa4 22.cxb7+ the game eventually ended in a draw. Still, given Black’s position prior to 19.Nd2-b3, that’s something to be happy about. I’m pretty sure I could write a whole book based on this chapter’s theme!

There’s more after the jump

Who’s Afraid of the Exchange Slav?

After my stop for some R&R in London, I caught a flight to Brussels and then got on the ChessBus from the airport to Cappelle la Grande. After last year’s event, I was not so keen on returning (mostly because of the food situation), whereas the other American players in the same group (Josh Friedel, Jesse Kraai, and David Pruess) were generally more interested on playing again. However, one year later, and I’m on the only one of the group who has made it back.

Cappelle is an interesting chess event and in many ways is like none other across the world. The organizers essentially give conditions (free room + food) to most titled players, as well as modest appearance fees for GMs. Meals are served in a mess hall of sorts, where they provide lunch and dinner for hundreds of players every day. Although the prizes are relatively small (the prizes don’t seem to be advertised, but my guess is that first prize is around 2500 Euros), the tournament is quite strong because of the generous conditions. About 100 GMs show up every year, the record being 112 in 2005. While Gibraltar is a bit stronger at the top, Cappelle has much more depth.

The tournament also attracts a number of lower-rated players, and this year there are about 700 players in all. If this was paired as a straight swiss like the US Open, then the top players would be stuck playing way down for a number of rounds. In order to make things more competitive and interesting, they accelerate the pairings. Thus, last year I played a 2350 IM in the first round, while this year, I played a GM in the first round.

Pairings for the first round went up soon after the masses were served their lunch – I got the black pieces against GM Arkadi Vul. He’s an old GM whose rating has dropped quite a bit from its peak, but still, I couldn’t take him lightly. More troublesome than playing a GM, though, was that when I pulled up his games in ChessBase and made a tree to see his opening choices, I noticed that in 22 of 23 games against the Slav, he took on d5 right away!

In Gibraltar, I had to deal with the Exchange Slav in my first round game, and I really seem to get a disproportionate number of them in my games. Well, this time I was having none of it. Instead of my standard …d5/…c6 move order, I played with the Triangle approach – …d5/…e6/…c6. If he wanted to play an Exchange Variation, he was going to have to play an Exchange Queen’s Gambit Declined – White might have better chances for an advantage in some of those lines, but it’s often less boring than the Exchange Slav!

Instead of taking on d5, though, he played an early Nbd2 and e3, and the game effectively transposed into an Anti-Meran with 5.Nbd2. I played my normal response to this system and the game was channeled into an IQP position:

(FEN: 2r2rk1/1p1bqppp/1bn2n2/pN1p4/3N4/PP2PP2/1B1QB1PP/2R1R1K1 w - - 5 21)

The position is dynamically balanced, and in fact, I almost saw this position as a bit of a mutual zugzwang! Both sides have a couple weaknesses (White has weak pawns on e3 and a3, while Black has a weak pawn on d5 and a weak square on b5), but neither side can really go after them without jeopardizing something in his own position. My opponent had already eaten up a lot of the clock in the late opening and early middlegame phase, and he continued to do so here. It’s not clear what either side’s plan should be, and as a result, this is a position where the time can just tiptoe by without you noticing.

He played 21.Bd3, which looks quite reasonable, possibly threatening 22.Nf5. I didn’t particularly want to play 21…g6, but I also didn’t want to see him put a piece on f5. The long diagonal is weakened, but it’s difficult for White to take advantage of that.

After another long think, Vul slid his king over with 22.Kh1. A somewhat mysterious move and it was accompanied by a draw offer. Objectively, I think the position is balanced, but with him only having 15 minutes (and the 30-second increment) to get to move 40, I decided there was no harm in playing on a bit. I played 22…Rfe8.

This is where he really started losing the thread – his next 4 moves were 23.Bf1, 24.g3, 25.Kg2, 26.h4, 27.Qc3, and 28.Qd2. Not exactly the most inspired play. To fill in the blanks, the game continued: 23.Bf1 Nh5 24.g3 Nf6 25.Kg2 h5 26.h4 Ra8 27.Qc3 Ne5 28.Qd2, reaching the following position:

(FEN: r3r1k1/1p1bqp2/1b3np1/pN1pn2p/3N3P/PP2PPP1/1B1Q2K1/2R1RB2 b - - 4 28)

I now played 28…a4, trying to wrest control of the c4-square from White. He had already made some unnecessary kingside weaknesses (with g3 and h4), and now I was hoping to get something on the queenside as well. Down to a few minutes, he now blundered with 29.Nc7 – after 29…Bxc7 30.Rxc7, Black has 30…Bh3+!, picking up the exchange. Admittedly, White does have the two bishops and there is no opposite number to White’s bishop on b2. Unfortunately, once the b3-pawn goes, a knight will land on c4 and remove that piece before it gets too strong.

The game continued 31.Kxh3 Qxc7 32.Bb5 Red8 33.Bxa4 Nc4! (one of the bishops will go now) 34.Qc3 Qc8+! 35.Kg2 Nxb2. White is left with only a bishop and pawn for the rook and that’s not enough compensation in this position. Although it took another hour or so, I reined in the full point without any real trouble.

In round 2, I was white against the young German IM, Tobias Hirneise. He had played in Gibraltar as well, and he was on the board next to me while I was playing IM Irina Krush. Amusingly, both games followed the same variation of the Slav (the Sokolov …Nb6 variation), and I was debating whether to copy his opponent (GM Pia Cramling), who was playing the opening moves for white quite quickly. I decided to deviate though, and although I got a better position, I ended up losing – Cramling, though, ended up winning!

Over the past 2-3 years, he had played the Slav, the King’s Indian, and the Nimzo/QID complex, so I couldn’t prepare for everything. I concentrated on the Slav, since that was all he had played the past few months. For better or for worse, he forced me to throw my preparation out the window when he played a KID. In the following middlegame, though, he made an instructive error:

(FEN: r1bq1rk1/1p4bp/3p2nn/p1pPppp1/2P1P3/P1N2PP1/1P1NBB1P/1R1Q1RK1 b - - 0 17)

This was a new position for both of us, as while I had never looked at it before, he had just left his preparation on the previous move (and had gained 6 minutes on the clock along the way). On his own, he played 17…g4?, which has been played before, and turns out to be a serious error in my view. I didn’t realize it right away, but after a 20-minute think, I realized how to continue.

I played 18.fxg4 Nxg4 19.exf5! Nxf2 (forced, as otherwise the Ng4 hangs) 20.Rxf2 Bxf5 21.Nde4. He had seen this position when he played 17…g4, but had assessed the position after 21…Bh6 as fine for him.

(FEN: r2q1rk1/1p5p/3p2nb/p1pPpb2/2P1N3/P1N3P1/1P2BR1P/1R1Q2K1 w - - 2 22)

It’s true that his position looks fine at the moment, but after 22.Qd3, what is Black to do? His bishops look nice on f5 and h6, but they’re not actually doing much. Meanwhile, the Ng6 is silly, the Bf5 will be hit soon with Rbf1, and the d6-pawn is under fire from the Ne4 and potentially a Nb5.

On a side note, this incident reminded me of Magnus Carlsen’s response in a recent TIME Magazine interview.

Q: How many moves ahead can you calculate on the chess board?
A: Sometimes 15 to 20 moves ahead. But the trick is evaluating the position at the end of those calculations.

The full interview is at: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1948809,00.html#ixzz0fXpO4w80

Back to my game though … After 22…Qd7 23.Rbf1, White threatens to take on c5! If then 23…dxc5, 24.Rxf5 nets White a pawn, while on 23…Bxd3 24.Nxd7, Black has no way to get his material back – 24…Bxe2 25.Rxe2 and 24…Be3 25.Bxd3 don’t help his cause. Meanwhile, if the bishop moves, then a knight fork on f6 will be devastating, so he found nothing better to do than to give up his bishop with 23…Bxe4.

He managed to later get all the rooks off (this wasn’t necessary to allow, but as it happened later on, I wasn’t in the mood to calculate too much at this point and just wanted to cut off any chance of counterplay) to reach the following position:

(FEN: 5n2/1p2q1kp/3p3b/p1pPp3/2P1N3/P4QP1/1P2B1KP/8 w - - 2 29)

I played 29.Qg4+ Kh8 30.a4!? – this is another luxury, but I figured I could afford it as he can’t keep me out forever. Meanwhile, the pawn on a4 means that …Bc1 can be met with b3, and Black doesn’t even get the small consolation of a queenside pawn. Instead, 30.Qc8 was obvious and strong (planning 31.Qb8 and 32.Nxd6), but I didn’t want to give him anything on the queenside in return.

He tried to keep me out with 30…Nd7, but his efforts were in vain. After 31.Qf5 (threatening 32.Bd3 and 33.Nxd6 – it’s mate on h7!) Kg7 32.Qe6!, Black is completely lost. He resigned a couple moves later when it was clear that he’d either have to shed a piece or the d6, b7, and c5 pawns.

Food and chess

The first round is in the books at Reykjavik. I won my game as Black against Hakan Ostling (2151 FIDE, from Sweden). The tournament is pretty strong for an open swiss. There are about 110 players led by GM Areschenko (about 2675 FIDE); there are about 20 GMs and a lot of players around 2200 – 2400 FIDE. Tomorrow, I’ll probably play someone around 2350 FIDE. The tournament site is here.

One of the things I was worried about before coming to Reykjavik was whether there would be a good amount of vegetarian food to choose from. In France, I generally struggled mightily to find vegetarian food. In Cappelle la Grande, the meals were provided at the tournament site, and while I normally pass on provided meals that aren’t vegetarian, the buses to/from the hotels would leave for the meals and they sandwiched the rounds in between those trips. Meanwhile, in Paris, I had the unfortunate experience of running into the stereotypical Parisian waiter – when asked whether his restaurant had anything for vegetarians (in French), he responded, “This isn’t a pharmacy.” I was served some bread and cheese, along with a small bowl of plain, pureed vegetables.

Here in Reykjavik though, people are in general much nicer. One example is from a restaurant called Caruso from two days ago. GM Yury Shulman (the current US Champion) and I were having dinner there, and Shulman asked the waiter if he could order a calzone (even though it wasn’t on the menu). The waiter said, “Of course. Everything is possible.” Yury was happily provided with the calzone he ordered. The provided food here is also better – at dinner, they have 4 different vegetarian appetizers and 4 vegetarian main dishes to choose from as opposed to the tried and true, plain egg omelet available in Cappelle.

Oh yes, and my game. The diagram is after I just played 17…Nxe6. Rather than be stuck with a bad pawn structure and material equality, White pushed his pawn all the way to e6. However,  that pawn wasn’t going to make it back home:


Ostling played 18.c4, and after 18…Bxc4 (not 18…Bxf3 19.Qxe6 is check, and then he’ll take on f3 next) 19.Bxa8 Qxa8, he had “won” the exchange for two pawns. However, Black was already winning because of his two pawns and the powerful light-squared bishop. White had been kind enough to weaken the long light-squared diagonal with g3 on move 2, so after I rearranged my queen and bishop on the long diagonal, White found himself short of moves and quickly resigned.

Long overdue: The Cappelle la Grande Roundup

This is a few weeks late, but better late than never. The GM House made an excursion to France in February/March 2009 for the Cappelle la Grande tournament. The tournament started on the 28th of February, but we went to Paris a few days earlier to do some sightseeing and the like.

The tournament went alright, which was some relief after a couple bad tournaments in Berkeley and Delhi. I finished with 6.0/9, performing at about a 2490 FIDE clip. I lost two games – as white to Bobras, a GM from Poland, and as white to Graf, a GM from Germany – and drew a pair of games against lower rated players. I beat everybody else (but they were all lower rated). Josh played the best tournament of us, also finishing with 6.0/9, but he played some strong players in the last 4 rounds. David also finished with 6.0/9, although he struggled a bit more at the beginning of the event, while Jesse finished with 5.5/9. Josh was the only one to finished undefeated.

I’m now off on a tour of Europe and Asia. My first stop is for the 2009 Reykjavik Open in Iceland. I arrived a couple days ago, and the tournament starts tomorrow (the 24th). It ends on the 1st, after which I’ll make my way to Spain for a couple events. After that, I’m going to India to visit relatives.