Tag Archives: Kamsky

“Please, a little respect, for I am Costanza, Lord of the Idiots!”

The US Championships ended a couple weeks ago (on May 25th), and I apologize for being a bit slow for writing about that event. It took me a while to come up with the correct title. =)

I’ll start with the finish, and then work my way there from the beginning. I ended up with 3.5/9, tied for 18th place with GM Melik Khachiyan, GM Alex Lenderman, and IM Levon Altounian. The minus-2 result was a big disappointment, as I had been generally playing well leading up to the event, and I had higher hopes for my first US Championship.

The title was taken in tiebreaks this year by GM Gata Kamsky over GM Yury Shulman. Both finished the set of regular games with 7.0/10 (5.0/7 in the main event, and then 2.0/3 in the quad), and by holding a draw with black in the sudden-death tiebreak game, Kamsky won the title.

I knew I would be playing Shulman in the first round (in a closed field, it’s not difficult to figure out where the cut is made), but the colors were up in the air. When Nakamura drew the black envelope at the opening ceremony, it was clear Yury would have the white pieces against me. Not ideal, but so it goes. Shulman and I share a lot of the same openings – as white we both play 1.d4, while as black, we both play the French and Semi-Slav Defenses. Thus, I was a bit wary of walking into some home-cooking and surprised him right away in the opening with the Queen’s Gambit Declined.

There were some interesting middlegame moments, but one of the key moments was when we reached the following endgame:

(FEN: 2r3k1/p4ppp/4n3/p6b/8/P3PN1P/R3BPP1/6K1 b - - 0 24)

White has just played 24.h3, creating some luft for his king. However, there is a second idea behind the idea, which explains why Yury chose that pawn move instead of 24.g3. After h3, White threatens to sideline Black’s bishop with 25.g4 and then 26.Ne5. Black’s bishop could come out to e4 then (or f7 if he plays 24…f6), but the real problem then is that while White’s knight can be used to target the queenside, Black’s bishop has no real active prospects. Thus, while 24…Bxf3! might look a bit unnatural (giving up the bishop for a knight in an open position), it is definitely the right move. After exchanging off the bishop, I activated my rook and knight, fixing the weakness on a3 in the process. Eventually, to save his a3-pawn, Yury had to give up his bishop for my knight and then an exchange of a3 for a7 ensued.

(FEN: 8/4kp2/R5p1/4P1Kp/7P/p5P1/5P2/r7 b - - 4 44)

It’s a rook and pawn endgame with equal material and no obvious weaknesses. Furthermore, Black has an outside passed pawn. So what kind of trouble could he ever be in?

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How Can You Falter, When You’re the Rock of Gibraltar?

I’ve got a backlog of posts to add now that the tournament in Gibraltar is over, so this will be the first of a few before I start my next event in Cappelle la Grande (France) on February 13th.

The Gibtelecom Masters finished yesterday, and I ended up with 6.5/10. Not a bad score point-wise, but I didn’t play up to my expectations or my rating – I lost all the points I had gained in Sevilla to start off this trip. I’ll cover the first 6 rounds in this blog before wrapping up the tournament in a later post. Although 2 Americans tied for first (GM Gata Kamsky and GM-elect Alex Lenderman), neither was involved in the playoff (the top 4 on tiebreaks had a rapid playoff for the title). Emerging from that fight was GM Michael “Mickey” Adams of England. Mickey was once a perennial top-10 player – and one of the “Linares guys” according to Kasparov – but he’s slipped a bit over the past few years and I think this was his biggest tournament win in a few years.

In the first round, I won as black against Rafael Montero Melendez, a 2248 FIDE rated player from Spain. As though it’s an unwritten rule for my first-round pairings, he played the Exchange Slav against me. I’ve played the Slav for about 3 years now, and I face the Exchange Variation in about 1/3 of my games with it. After the game, I checked the database to see what the average incidence of an Exchange Slav is amongst games that fall under the ECO codes D10 to D19 (the range for all the variations of the Slav). As it turns out, in my database, it’s about 1 out of every 7 games, so either I happen to be playing a lot of opponents who normally play the Exchange, or they’re afraid of me and try the Exchange in the hopes of a draw.

In any case, I was not ready to call it a day after seeing 3.cxd5, and we reached a position after 13 moves that was decidedly unlike a normal Exchange Slav:

(FEN: rn2kb1r/1p3ppp/p1b1pn2/q2p4/P2P1B2/1RNBP3/4NPPP/3Q1RK1 b kq a3 0 13)

I had gone an early pawn-hunting expedition with my queen, playing …Qd8-b6xb2-a3-a5 (he had prepared the pawn sac idea, as he blitzed through that phase of the game), and now I returned home with 13…Qd8!?. I came up with this move after thinking for about 18 minutes. The idea is to play …Bd6 to exchange off White’s dark-squared bishop, as that would both clear the way for kingside but also relieve some of the queenside pressure I faced.

13…Be7 is also reasonable, but I rejected this based on a miscalculation in a long variation. After 13…Be7, one line I looked at was 14.Qb1 0-0 15.Rxb7 Bxb7 16.Qxb7 Nbd7 17.Bc7 Qb4 (the only safe square) 18.Bxa6, to reach the following diagram:

(FEN: r4rk1/1QBnbppp/B3pn2/3p4/Pq1P4/2N1P3/4NPPP/5RK1 b - - 0 18)

Now, in my head, I continued 18…Qxb7 19.Bxb7 Ra7 20.Rb1, and I didn’t see a good way to extricate the rook, noticing that the rook is trapped after 20…Ne8 21.Bb8. Unfortunately, there are two mistakes in this long line from the Black side – for one, after 21.Bb8, while it’s true that Black’s Ra7 has no safe square, Black has the simple 21…Nxb8 to save it! Also instead of 18…Qxb7, Black can play 18…Bd6 with a clear plus. White has other ways of continuing after 13…Be7, but since this line doesn’t work, my idea with 13…Qd8 was probably not the best one.

After 13…Qd8, the game continued 14.Qb1 Bd6 15.Bxd6 Qxd6 16.e4 dxe4 17.Nxe4 Qd5 18.Nxf6+ gxf6. White is still down a pawn, but Black’s kingside has been opened up, so his king probably won’t find shelter there. The center has also been opened up a bit, so Black has to be careful about keeping his king on e8 as well! Finally, Black’s still not properly developed, as after 18 moves, all I had to show for my efforts was that I had moved my queen and bishop off their original squares. White had definite compensation at this point, but I managed to outplay him in the ensuing complications, and he threw in the towel 10 moves later when he had shed a couple more pawns to no avail.

I drew the following day against IM Kenny Solomon (South Africa). This was pretty disappointing, since I had achieved a completely winning endgame only to throw it away with two hurried moves. The following day, I drew as black against FM Guillaume Camus de Solliers (France), in a game where my opponent played a rather safe line of the Meran, and I didn’t get any real winning chances.

Then, in the 4th round, I had the white pieces against Yves Duhayon (2241, Belgium). I haven’t played 1.e4 in a long time, but for this game, I decided to go after his Ruy Lopez and I achieved a clear plus. Unfortunately, in the following position, after I had played 21.Qd2-c2, I walked into a very nice drawing combination.

(FEN: 4rqk1/p1p3b1/b1p1r2p/3pN1p1/N2Pn3/7P/PPQ2PPB/R3R1K1 b - - 8 21)

I could have immediately sacrificed the exchange on e4 with 21.Rxe4 dxe4, and then played 22.Qc3 to cement my control over the dark squares. White threatens 23.Nc5 and various knight forks all over the place while Black’s rooks don’t have any good open files. As Kasparov would say, the quality of his pieces more than compensates for the material disadvantage.

Instead, I decided to play 21.Qc2, thinking that I would have time to take on e4 later if need be, and I might prefer to keep the material and kick the knight with f2-f3 instead at some point. Kudos to him for spotting a tactical resource that I just wasn’t looking for.

He played 21…Bxe5 22.Bxe5 Rxe5! 23.dxe5 Bd3!!, which forces a draw. The problem is that if I take the bishop with 24.Qxd3, he has 24…Qxf2+ and there is no safe square for my king. If I play 25.Kh1, he has 25…Qxe1+! 26.Rxe1 Nf2+, picking up the queen; 25.Kh2 allows 25…Qf4+, and now if 26.Kg1, Qf2+ repeats while 26.Kh1? Nf2+ is even worse. Finally, 25.Kh2 Qf4+ 26.g3 escapes the knight forks, but costs White his queen after 26…Qf2+ 27.Kh1 Nxg3+.

I refused the bishop and so avoided any knight forks with 24.Qxc6, but after 24…Qxf2+, there was still no good way for me to avoid a draw in the end. Black’s attack is quite strong, so I had to force a repetition on move 37 with checks on g6 and h6.

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