After 4 rounds, I had used up 3 of my whites (with 3 draws) and was sitting on 2.5/4, half a point behind the leaders.
In round 5, I was black against IM Gergely Antal (2487 FIDE). Antal had been on a roll coming into the event, winning the national Collegiate Championship and then the strong Southwest Open prior to this event. He was also tied for the lead at that point, with 3 wins and 1 loss from 4 games.
In our game, though, he didn’t play particularly well. In the following position, it was my turn after he played 11.Bc1-g5?:
The opening was a Scotch with 6.Qf3 (that is, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5 5.Nxc6 Qf6 6.Qf3), and while I didn’t play the theoretically most-approved solution with …bxc6, I did get a reasonable position. However, 11.Bg5 saw Antal take one liberty too many with his development and he quickly paid for it.
After 11…Nf6, Black is threatening to take on e4, so he played 12.f3. If 12.e5 instead, then 12…Ne4 hits the queen and bishop. After 12.f3, though, I have 12…Nh5 when 13.Qh4 is forced (not 13.Qe5 Rde8, when White is powerless to stop a discovery on the e-file or the fork with …f6). After 13…f6 14.Bd2 (14.g4 fxg5 15.Qxh5 Qf3 16.0-0-0 Qxf3 is no fun for White either) Qxg2, White is down a pawn without any compensation. To add insult to injury, he can’t even guard the f3-pawn with 15.Rf1 because of 15…Qh3!. White’s queen is trapped, so he has to exchange queens, but then after 16.Qxh3 Bxh3 17.Rh1 Bg2, the rook is trapped as well! Note that Black’s bishop on b6 covers the g1- and f2-squares here. Thus, he played 15.0-0-0, but then 15…Qxf3 left me with two extra pawns, after which I had no troubles winning.
So now I had 3.5/5 (or +2), with both wins coming as black. In round 6, I was white against the Brazilian GM (and current champion) Andre Diamant (2526 FIDE). Diamant was having a rough go of it in his first US tournament, but I couldn’t take him lightly.
He surprised me by switching away from his King’s Indian Defense, instead opting for a Queen’s Gambit Accepted. I thought I was better after the opening, and then prepared to play d4-d5 in the following position with Qd1-c1 and Rf1-d1.
I decided to push the d-pawn here with 14.d5. Now if he had played 14…exd5, I would have continued with 15.Nxd5 Nxd5 16.Rxd5 Qe8 17.Rxd8+. After either recapture on d8, White will play 18.Qc3 with some advantage. White is better developed and Black’s king is more likely to be attacked.
However, he surprised me with 14…Nxd5. I can transpose into the above variation with 15.Nxd5 exd5 16.Rxd5, but I thought I could take advantage of his move order with 15.Ba4!?, pinning the Nc6 and leaving the Nd5 pinned. White is hoping to play Nd4xc6 at some point, followed by Nxd5 and Bxc6. In any case, if White can play Nd4xc6, Black’s king’s shelter will be ripped open, which is easily worth a pawn.
He hadn’t see 15.Ba4 at all, but luckily for him, it just barely works for Black! After 15…Be7, White has some trouble actually playing 16.Nd4 because of 16…Nxc3! 17.Nxc6+ Qxc6! (this is why 15…Be7 is important – the rook on d8 is now protected!) 18.Bxc6 Ne2+!, forking White’s king and queen! I played 16.Nf4 instead, but after 16…h3 17.Ncxd5 exd5 18.Rxd5 Qe8, Black was barely hanging on. The game later ended in a draw where both of us had to accept a repetition or end up much worse.
In round 7, I was black against FM Daniel Rensch (2386 FIDE). I have played Danny a few times, although only once recently. That encounter was back in December 2008, where he beat me as white in the first round of the 2008 Berkeley Masters (see https://vbhat.wordpress.com/2008/12/17/the-berkeley-fight-club/). I repeated my opening from that encounter (another Scotch!), and in the following position, Danny played his prepared novelty 14.Kf2:
Back in December, Danny had played 14.Be2, but after 14…f5 15.e5 Nd5 16.Bd2 Be7 17.b3, I could have equalized with 17…f6!. This motivated his search for something better, but in general, this endgame is just equal because while Black’s pawns look funny, they do control some key squares. Meanwhile, White’s knight on a4 is a pain to bring back to the game and White is behind in development.
After 14.Kf2, the game continued: 14…c5 (threatening 15…Bd7) 15.c4 (allowing the knight to return, but giving Black the d4-square) Nc6 16.Nc3 f5 17.e5 Bf8 (avoiding e7 because of White’s next move) 18.Nd5 Nd4!. Black shouldn’t play 18…Bxd5 19.cxd5 Rxd5 20.Bc4 Rd7 21.e6, which was Danny’s preparation. However, after 18…Nd4, he was on his own and quickly realized that he didn’t really have any advantage. The game was agreed drawn in about 5 more moves.
With 4.5/7, I was white against GM Eugene Perelshteyn in round 8. Both of us were on 4.5, trailing the leader, Ben Finegold, by a point. I would have liked to fight, but Eugene was well-prepared, and by essaying a sideline of the Ragozin Defense that IM Kuljasevic played against me in round 1, he caught me off guard. I didn’t react particularly well and decided to agree to a draw after only 16 moves. In the same round, Finegold had a quick draw with GM Diamant to get to the magic mark of 6 points, enough to secure his last GM norm. Meanwhile, IM Robson won to join Eugene and myself in joint 2nd place with 5 points.
Thus, going into the last round, there was a chance for a 4-way tie for first. GM Perelshteyn had white against IM Finegold (which Perelshteyn ended up winning); I had black against IM Ippolito; and IM Robson was black against FM Rensch (a game which ended in a draw).
After playing 14.a3 to reach the following position, Dean offered me a draw:
With first place potentially on the line, and an interesting position to play (where I thought was at least ok, and maybe even a bit better), I decided to continue with 14…0-0 15.b4 Rac8.
After 16.Qb3, I played 16…Ne5!. The tempting 16…Ne4 doesn’t really do anything, as after 17.Bb2 Rxf3 18.Bxf3 Nd2 19.Qd1, Black has only succeeded in exchanging some pieces. Instead, after 16…Ne5!, Black is threatening to meet 17.Bb2 with 17…Nc4, when the other knight will join its colleague in the center with 18…Ne4 with advantage. Thus, Dean played 17.Nxe5 Bxe5 18.Bb2, but then I played 18…Qd6!. It’s important to try and claim the a1-h8 diagonal, and if the bishops get exchanged on e5, Black’s queen is beautifully centralized on e5.
Dean reacted poorly with 19.f4? (both 19.Bxe5 and 19.g3 were better, although I think 19.g3 was really the best move by far). After 19…Bxb2 20.Qxb2 Qb6 21.Qe5 Ne4 22.Qd4 Qxd4 23.exd4, Dean surprisingly thought he could hold this endgame. However, after 23…g6! (putting an end to ideas of Bg4 and f5), Black is in total control. White has a number of weak pawns and squares, and it is only a matter of time before Black wins.
After about 10 moves, we reached the above position. Now if white plays 34.Bxb7, he is completely lost after 34…Nxd4. He’s only down a pawn, but more importantly, he has no way to meet 35…Ne2+. The knight check will either win the unprotected rook on c4, or set up a checkmate on f1 after the king slides over to h1.
Thus, Dean played 34.Ra4, but after 34…b6 35.Bd1 Nc3 36.g3 Nxd1 (not the only way, but visually more pleasing) 37.gxf4 Nb2, White’s rook is trapped on a4! Ippolito resigned, rather than play on down a whole piece with absolutely no hope.
So with my 3rd win with the black pieces (in 4 games, as compared to 5 draws in 5 games as white!), I finished with 6.0/9. As mentioned earlier, Finegold lost to Eugene and Robson drew with Rensch, so there was a 3-way tie for first with Finegold, Perelshteyn, and me. Perelshteyn won the trophy on mathematical tiebreaks. Finegold made his final GM norm while Rensch made his final IM norm – congrats to them both! Thanks also to Susan Polgar for organizing a fun, professionally done event.