Tag Archives: Miami

Catching up – the Miami Open, part 2: Rounds 6 – 9

Round 6: Black vs. GM Alexander Shabalov (2657)

Another tough matchup, a morning round against Shabalov, who simply plays everything. Also, he tends to get stronger as the tournament progresses, as he’s made a habit out of playing badly to start off an event, but finishing strong to get back in the money. Elizabeth Vicary wrote a whole article on this topic for Chess Life Online, and it can be seen here. Actually, the same happened in Miami, as he drew in the very first round and was slow to get started. Unlike some other events, though, he also didn’t end up finishing too strong, although maybe I had something to do with that.

This was my first real attempt as Black in the regular Slav with my planned 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6 8.Ne5 a5 line. He played the currently very popular 9.Bg5!?, which cuts across Black’s usual plan of 9…e6 because of the reply 10.e4!. (As a side note, this position has been discussed in the current SPICE Cup in Texas, as GM Becerra has championed the Black position a couple times – in both games, he played 9…h6).

I played 9…g6, which seems to make some sense as alternative way to develop the dark-squared bishop. In his first game, Becerra played the more radical looking 9…h6 10.Bh4 g5 to bring the bishop out, and while he drew without any huge problems, it looks a bit less solid. Shabalov then played a new move, taking on f6 right away. The resulting pawn structure is one that is sometimes seen in the Slav (especially in Nh4 lines, where White takes the bishop on f5), or even the Nimzo (in the Romanishin line with 4.Qc2 d5 5.cxd5 Qxd5, followed by 6…Qf5 7.Qxf5 exf5), but the minor piece arrangement is more reminiscent of the structure arising after the Trompowsky with 2…d5 (3.Bxf6 exf6 4.e3, with c4 and so on).

The middlegame featured a lot of heavy, positional maneuvering, but I drifted a bit too much and let him achieve more than he should have been allowed. Actually, we reached the following position after 41.Nxd5 (yes, that is move 41!) and both of us were down to just under a minute at this point. The time control was G/90 minutes with a 30 second increment, so there wasn’t too much danger of losing on time, but there certainly was danger of losing because of time.

Here I played 41…Qf7, and after 42.Ncb6 Be6 43.Bxe4 (playing 43.Rc7 first is similar, but with Black’s knight on e4, Black can play …Rd2 more easily while White’s king has to go to h2 square because g2 is occupied) fxe4 44.Rc7 Qxc7 (actually 44…Re7! would have secured an advantage for Black) 45.Nxc7 [not 45.Qxf6+ Kh7 46.Nxc7 Rxd1+ 47.Kh2 (47.Kg2 walks into 47…Bg4, threatening 48…Bf3+ and 49…Rh1#) Bg7! 48.Qg5 Rf8, winning] Rxd1+ 46.Kg2 Re7!? (46…Bg4 is good enough for a draw, but I thought I could maybe try for even more in White’s time pressure).

The game ended in a draw after 47.Nxe6+ Rxe6 48.Qc2 Rd3 49.Qc7+ Re7 50.Qc4 Re5 51.Qc8 Re7 52.Qc4. Black has nothing better to do at the moment that shut White’s knight out on b6 with rook moves to e5 and e7, while if White takes the time to bring the knight back into the game (say via a8 and c7), Black can try to play …Re5, …Bd6, and …Rd2, planning …Rf5 next to target the weak f2-pawn. However, 52.g4!? was a rather interesting try and would’ve really made a mess of things given the time situation, although I’m not sure that is still enough for White to be clearly better. Still, given that Black wasn’t any better, 46…Bg4 was the correct way to go. Still, a draw with Black against another GM was not a horrible result, especially as it was my first outing in the main lines of the Slav.

Round 7: White vs. GM Alexander Ivanov (2625)

Another round, another GM! After my long with Shaba in the morning, I expected to play down, but I had no such luck. Actually, it wasn’t such a bad pairing, since I was hoping to play good players, and to get the white pieces meant I could probably do a bit more damage that I had previously.

Earlier in the tournament, Ivanov had struggled with the black pieces, but he was playing 2nd and 3rd string openings like 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 Bg4 and the like. He’s normally a Nimzo/QID player, and against me, he gave me his regular Nimzo. We went down a bit of a sideline, in which I had done such preparation a while ago, but as I didn’t remember most of it, I had to rediscover a good chunk of it at the board. After 15…g5, we reached the following crazy position:

15…g5 appears to be a new move (15…Nc6 has been played before, but Black is in trouble regardless). Despite his extra piece, White has a pawn deep in his position on e6 and the rook on a8 is lost. Giving back a knight on c6 frees the rook, but White’s still up a pawn with a better position to boot.

After 15…g5, 16.Nfe2 is quite reasonable, but I spent some time and played the very strong 16.0-0-0!!. Black can’t safely take on f4 because after 16…gxf4 17.Bxf4, 17…Qh5 loses to 18.Qxa8; 17…Qf5 loses to 18.Bh6+; and 17…Qxe6 loses to 18.Qxa8. The only tough move from my point of view was 16…Be2!.

I had then planned 17.Bh6+ Ke8 (17…Kg8 loses to a beautiful idea: 18.Nxe2 Qe4 19.Nc3!!, as after 19…Qxf3 20.gxf3, Black has no good way to stop 21.Rhg1+!) 18.Qxa8 Bxd1 19.Rxd1 Bf8 20.Bd2! (threatening 21.g3 or 21.Nb5) and White is still winning.

As it was, there was a bit of extra excitement, as I played for the beautiful win rather than the prosaic one, and missed a key defensive opportunity for Black. It didn’t change the final assessment (White was much better/winning), but it did make me work for the full point a bit longer than I had anticipated. Still, a win is a win, and this brought me up to 4.5/7 heading into the final day.

Round 8: Black vs. IM Davorin Kuljasevic (2528)

The final day saw the tournament begin at the early hour of 10 AM. The previous morning rounds had taken place at 1 PM and 11 AM (twice). The problem for me this game was partly the early start, but also that I was supposed to play GM Jaan Ehlvest with the white pieces (the pairings had been posted the previous night). A few minutes before the round, however, the pairings changed for seemingly no reason. Kuljasevic was supposed to have the white pieces against Marc Esserman, so he was at least prepared to play with white, and in fact, after the game, said he knew I’d play this line and had looked at it accordingly (he showed up about 10-15 minutes late for the game).

This was my second outing with the main line Slav, but this one didn’t go so well. I couldn’t remember the lines I had prepared over the summer too well, and while I came up with something similar, it wasn’t quite as good. In the following position, I had to play 22…Bd6, with the point that on 23.Qc2 Nc5 24.Nxc5 Bxc5 25.Nd5, Black has 25…Rxd5! and the e4-pawn is pinned because of the bishop on h7

I missed this little detail, and so I played 22…Rac8?, both in order to guard the c5-square after …cxd5 in that line, but also to make a8 available for the knight, so that it could go to e6 via c7. This was much too slow and too subtle to work though. After 23.Bh3! Na8 24.Nb1! Bd6 25.Nd2, White had regrouped quite nicely while Black was all bottled up on the queenside. Davorin put me away pretty easily to send me to my 2nd loss of the tournament.

Round 9: White vs. Victor Kaminski (2514)

This was another game in which I played someone with a higher USCF rating (although Kaminski has a lower FIDE rating; the other 5 higher USCF players were also higher in FIDE), but they had mysteriously dropped Kaminski’s rating to 2291 mid-way through the tournament. It was all the more amusing since for the first half of the tournament, he was the only player to take half a point off Marc Esserman (2350), who had otherwise rampaged through the field with Robson.

The opening was not very standard, and after 16…Qe5, we reached the following position:

I played 17.0-0! Qxc3 18.Rb1! [not going in for the attractive, but bad, 18.Qxb6 Qxa1 19.Qxb7 Rc8! (not 19…Rd8? 20.Nxc4 0-0 21.Bg5, winning), when White is hard pressed to prove an advantage anywhere and should start playing defense]. After 18…Nc8 19.Nxc4 Qxb4 20.Rxb4 Bb5 21.Bf4 Ke7 22.Rc1, I had a large advantage. I ended up being ahead 2 pawns with 2 Bishops against Bishop and Knight (all the pawns on the kingside), and while I took my time to win the game, the result was not in much doubt.

This win brought me up to 5.5/9, good enough for a tie for 10th-16th place and $108.33 in prize money. After starting out with 5/5, IM Ray Robson slowed down a bit, scoring on 2/4 to finish on 7/9. This was good enough for a tie for first with GM Darmen Sadvakasov, who beat him in the last round to catch up. However, Robson then won the armageddon blitz playoff to take the official title. Unfortunately for him, he only played 2 GMs the whole way, and so was ineligible for a GM norm. Marc Esserman was the other big story of the event, beating GMs Ehlvest and Mikhalevski en route to a strong 6.5/9 result. He too only played 2 GMs, but his result was good enough for an IM norm anyways.

My fellow Bay Area chessplayers didn’t fare too well with Josh Friedel withdrawing after having 5.0/8 and David Pruess scoring 5.5/9.

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Catching up – the Miami Open, part 1: rounds 1 – 5

It’s a week overdue, but I figured I should write about the Miami Open. It was held from September 10-14 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Miami. It was a much bigger tournament last year, and they banked on a big turnout again this year until Hurricane Ike decided to make its presence felt. A number of players told the organizers they would no longer make the trip because of concerns Ike would hit Miami directly.

As it was, the hurricane passed by Miami at the last moment, and missed Florida pretty much altogether. Actually, this was why our USCL match with Miami went on as scheduled on Monday, September 8. It was originally under a bit of a cloud because of the same concerns (shameless plug: the writeup on the team blog is here).

As for the tournament, I didn’t play up to my hopes, but I did play a pretty strong field (with 6 guys over 2500 USCF). A problem was that I kept either just missing, or just making the cut, meaning that I played up often or played way down, a product of my USCF rating being 2462 going into the tournament. I finished with 5.5/9, enough to gain 12+ USCF points and just over 1 point in the FIDE category. This will be a long post, and instead of including the full gamescores, I’m going to post some diagrams with some of the more critical positions.

Round 1: White vs Christopher Heung (2092)

This was a nice, easy game to start off the tournament. He chose the odd 6…Nc6 variation instead the standard 6…e5, and immediately found himself with a good deal less space, reaching the following position:

The knight required some help to find a safe square on c5, buty he never played …a4 to stop b2-b4. Even if he had, White is doing good there, as he can simply play Nf3-d4 and expand with f2-f4, etc. As it was, I got to play 14.b4, and after his blunder with 14…axb4 15.axb4 Na4? (15…Na6 was necessary, but Black is relegated to 3 ranks with no counterplay after 16.Qb3), his knight was permanently sidelined with 16.Nb5!. He tried to confuse the issue with a piece sacrifice on the kingside, but he lost that piece and the knight on a4 before resigning.

Round 2: White vs. GM Victor Mikhalevski (2680)

This was a bit of a surprise, since I expected to get the black pieces in round 2 and instead got white against the top seed in the tournament. It was a Grunfeld (Mikhalevski’s specialty) where he made an implicit draw offer with a knight maneuver in the middlegame. I wasn’t aware at the time, but afterwards he said this draw is known to theory, whereas the way I refused the draw seems to be a novel approach.

The new way won a pawn, but with Black’s two bishops and my misplaced knight on e7, he had definite compensation. We reached the following position on after 18…Rad8:

I played 19.Rfd1, as on 19…Rd7, White has the tricky 20.Nxe6! Rexe7 (20…Rxc7 21.Nxc7 and 22.Nxe8 is winning for White) 21.Nxg7! Rxc7 (21…Kxg7 is better, but after 22.Bxf6+ Qxf6 23.Qc3, white is just up a clear pawn) 22.Nxe8! Rxc1 23.Rxc1 (not 23.Bxf6+ Qxf6! 24.Nxf6 Rxd1+) is winning for White!

After some more excitement, we reached the following endgame after 33…h6. Black is threatening to play …Ke8-d8, leaving the rook short of air.

I played 34.f4! Ke8 35.f5 gxf5 36.gxf5 Kd8 37.fxe6 Kxc7 38.exf7 Nd7 39.Nd5+ Kd6 40.Nxb6. Originally, when I played 34.f4, I thought this position was winning because I’m threatening Nc4+, picking up the rook, in addition to queening the pawn once I remove his knight from d7. However, as we approached this position, I realized he can play 40…Rd1+ 41.Kf2 Nf8, when he stops the pawn. We played the endgame for a while longer, but neither of us were really able to muster up any winning chances and the game ended in a draw. A solid result against a good GM, and while I could’ve obviously taken the draw much earlier and saved myself 3 more hours of tough play, I wouldn’t have played such an interesting game.

Round 3: Black vs. GM Julio Becerra (2642)

This was a tough matchup, as it was a short turnaround after my long game with Mikhalevski. Also, Julio is a much more dangerous player with the white pieces (I had played him twice before with white, achieving won positions in both games, although he did manage to beat me from one in Oklahoma earlier this year). It was also tough because I’m still learning to play the Ruy Lopez, and that’s probably his best opening as he plays it exclusively from both sides.

I showed some Lopez naivete by playing 15…c3 in the following position:

I was hoping to play …c6 to break up his central pawn chain, and thought that by playing …c3 first, I’d break up his queenside pawn structure a bit. Unfortunately, 15…c3? opens the b-file, a fact that Julio was quick to notice and first to take advantage of. After 16.bxc3 Nb6 17.Rb1, Black’s already in some trouble and after 17…Rb8 18.Nc4 Nxc4 19.Bxc4 c6 20.dxc6 Nxc6 21.Be3, the torture began. Julio put me out of my misery pretty quickly and very accurately to pocket the full point.

I should’ve just played 15…Nb6 right away, as after 16.Nxc4 Nxc4 17.Bxc4 c6 18.dxc6 Bxc6, Black has broken the central chain and can hope to play …d5 at some point. White is still a bit better, but Black’s position is certainly playable. I was aiming for that position, but with White’s pawn on c3 instead of b2. However, I never got the chance.

It was disappointing to lose, but on the other hand, I did pick up a useful lesson in Lopez ideas and also a good demonstration of how to put away an opponent – I set up some tactical tricks near the end and many an opponent would fall for them thinking they faced no difficulty. But that was precisely when Julio started to spend more time to make sure he was not allowing any counterplay.

Round 4: Black vs. Karel Gonzalez (2170)

This was a frustrating game, because my opponent played the Exchange French as White and tried to exchange all the pieces as quickly as he could. I actually managed to find a good plan to gain a very tiny edge, but then I misplayed it a bit. My biggest mistake was burning up a lot of the clock debating whether to castle kingside or queenside. In the end, I think my decision to castle kingside was right, but it cost me too much time, and then I followed it up poorly, not playing incisively enough on the queenside. The game ended in a draw after a long struggle.

Round 5: White vs. Brian Goldstein (2152)

I was a bit angry this game, which explains my more aggressive than normal play. It started out as a Trompowsky that turned into a Torre Attack of sorts, but Goldstein didn’t find a viable plan and allowed me to expand in the center. I probably could have played it more sedately, but I decided to forego castling in an attempt to checkmate Black quickly. We reached the following position, after I played 18.Rf1:

Here, he played 18…N7b6 19.Nd6+!? (19.Nd2 was also possible) Bxd6 20.exd6 Na4!. Actually, he touched his knight at first, and I thought he was going to move it to d7 (which allows the beautiful finish 21.Qxe6+! fxe6 22.Bg6#), but then he sat and thought for a bit longer and played it to a4, which I think might well be the best move in the position, even if he hadn’t touched his knight! The threat is …N(a/d)c3+, winning the white queen, while also faciliating …Bd7 and …Rc8 or …Qb6 in some lines.

I thought for a while and played 21.Ke1!!, which escapes the checks on b2 and c3, while simply threatening to continue with the kingside attack. After 21…Bd7 22.Be5 f6? (23…Rf8 was necessary; 23…Rg8 loses to 24.Rxf7!) 23.Qh5+ Kf8 24.Bxf6, Black resigned and I was back in the win column.

So after 5 rounds, I was sitting on 3.0/5. Ray Robson had jumped out to a huge lead with a perfect 5/5 score, so I wasn’t in serious contention for 1st place. There were still 4 more rounds to go, and those games will be discussed in the next post …