Tag Archives: Robson

It’s Been a Long Time

“It’s been a long time since I rock-and-rolled
It’s been a long time since I did the Stroll
Ooh, let me get it back, let me get it back, let me get it back”

– Led Zeppelin, “Rock and Roll”

First post of 2012! I’ve managed to go 2 months without writing something here, which is a first for me. Between work, a trip to India (to visit relatives), and the start of some part-time graduate coursework at Stanford, I haven’t found as much time to write as I’d like. I often make grand plans about what I’m going to do but then they fall by the wayside as laziness kicks in.

Today, though, I was playing through a few games from the current RSSU Student Grandmaster Cup (part of the Moscow Open festivities it looks like based on the tournament website) and a few caught my eye. American GM Ray Robson is playing and currently is in 3rd place with 5/8.

His game today, as white against Andrey Stukopin (2460 FIDE) featured some nice tactics. These small combinations were probably not too difficult for Robson to find, but they make a nice impression I think.

(FEN: r3r1k1/2qbbpp1/pn1p3p/1pp1p2n/3PP2B/1PP1NN1P/P1B2PP1/R2QR1K1 w - - 0 18)

Black has just played 17…Nh5?, a novelty according to my now-old databases. It’s a pretty ambitious move: (1) Black puts his knight on the exposed h5-square when White’s queen is still on d1 and (2) contrary to the very “solid” spirit of this Chigorin Ruy Lopez (the Petrosian System, I think), Black is looking to put a knight on f4 rather quickly.

The thinking probably was that something like 18.Bxe7 Rxe7 19.Nxe5 dxe5 20.Qxh5 fails because of 20…cxd4. Unfortunately for Stukopin, he forgot about the little zwischenzug of 20.d5!, making an even bigger threat with 21.d6. After 20…Nc8 21.Qxh5, White had pocketed a clear extra pawn. When playing a move like 17…Nh5, I’d normally double or triple-check that I wasn’t missing something – chess rules are meant to be broken, but not all the time!

Fast forward a dozen moves or so, and they reached the position in the diagram below:

(FEN: 2r2k2/2q2pp1/p3rP1p/1p2p3/1Pn1R2Q/1B5P/P4PP1/3R2K1 w - - 0 32)

Rather than break through a blocked center, Robson gave back his extra pawn for the initiative. Black’s kingside will be opened up, but things don’t look so dire at first glance. But before opening the kingside, Ray makes use of Black’s weak king!

After 32.Bxc4 bxc4, White dropped the hammer with 33.Rxc4! – if 33…Qxc4 34.Qxc4 Rxc4 35.Rd8+, Black is forced to block with a rook, but after 35…Re8 36.Rxe8+ Kxe8 37.fxg7, Black can’t get back in time to stop the g7-pawn. The game soon ended after 33…Rc6 34.fxg7+ Kxg7 35.Qg3+ Kf6 (else the e5-pawn will fall) 36.Rh4 Ke7 37.Rh5 and Black threw in the towel.

Another interesting game from today featured a funky knight on h5. This one was between GMs Alexander Ipatov (2586 FIDE) and Yaroslav Zherebukh (2594 FIDE).

(FEN: rnbq1rk1/1p2p1bp/p4pp1/2p1P2n/2P2P2/2NB4/PP2N1PP/R1BQ1RK1 w - - 0 11)

Black has played this King’s Indian very provocatively, and once again we see a stranded knight on h5. This time it’s protected, but it has no safe squares to go to. If only the Bc8’s influence on g4 could be removed …

Ipatov seized on this aspect brilliantly, hitting Black with 11.f5!. It’s not so hard to see that taking on e5 leaves the kingside decimated after 12.fxg6. Black doesn’t even have the consolation of having good minor pieces there. So instead Zherebukh played 11…gxf5, possibly thinking that White would have to play 12.Bxf5 when he escapes with 12…Qxd1 13.Nxd1 fxe5 (actually, despite his extra pawn, I think he’s the one still trying to equalize, but he’s close).

Instead, Ipatov played the real surprising move of the sequence, 12.e6!. Allowing something like 13.Rxf5 isn’t a good idea, so 12…Bxe6 is obvious. White then simply played 13.Bxf5!. It’s this concept that really caught my eye – after a trade on f5 (note that Black can’t take on d1 first as 14.Bxe6 is check), the Nh5 is trapped!

Unfortunately for Ipatov, he threw away his advantage in short-order after 13…Bxc4. He played 14.g4? immediately after 14…e6!, he had a choice of what kind of position to play. If he retreats with 15.Bc2, then Black can play 15…f5! 16.gxh5 Nc6.

(FEN: r2q1rk1/1p4bp/p1n1p3/2p2p1P/2b5/2N5/PPB1N2P/R1BQ1RK1 w - - 0 17)

White is up a piece for 2 pawns, but notice how active Black’s pieces are and how many important central squares are in his control. White’s knights have no outposts and I think the position is pretty unclear actually. Ipatov took the other route, trying for a positional masterpiece with 15.gxh5 Qxd1 16.Rxd1 exf5 17.h6 Bh8 18.Nf4. Black’s bishop is buried on h8 (going for something like the live burial of Short – Kramnik, London 2011), but the problem is that unlike that example, the pawn on h6 isn’t completely secure. Black maneuvered his knight to f7 when White was tied to the pawn’s defense, so neither side could play with a full slate of pieces. In the end, Ipatov lost the endgame actually.

Instead of 14.g4?, I think 14.Qc2 was almost winning. The knight still has nowhere to go, but now the added threat of Bxh7+ means that Black can’t kick the bishop as in the game. He also can’t create space for his knight (…Bh8 allows a mate on g6). After 14…Qe8 15.g4 Kh8 16.gxh5 Qxh5 17.Nf4, White’s pieces swarm the kingside.

(FEN: rn3r1k/1p2p1bp/p4p2/2p2B1q/2b2N2/2N5/PPQ4P/R1B2RK1 b - - 0 17)

Comparing this position to the previous one, we see that Black’s pawns aren’t allowed to advance to e6 and f5 and White’s minor pieces aren’t driven back. That makes all the difference and this position should be a pretty easy win for White.

Taking a Ride on the Reading: The First Half in Philly

In the recently completed World Open in Philadelphia, I started out in the 7-day schedule. This gave me one travel day to get to Philly from Montreal, before starting the event with 1 game a day for 5 days.

In the first round, I had the white pieces against GM Vladimir Potkin. We reached the following position after 18.Ng5:

Bhat - Potkin

White has some small initiative thanks to the fact his minor pieces are more menacing than their black counterparts. After a long think, Potkin decided to play 18…g6. This allows a small tactic starting with 19.Bxf6. Do you see it? The game continued 19.Bxf6 Qxf6 20.Nxh7 Kxh7 21.Qh5+ Kg7 22.Qxc5, leaving White with an extra pawn. The only problem for me was that Black had more than enough compensation after 22…Rfc8 23.Qb5 Bc6 24.Qb6 Bd5. The White queen is oddly placed on b6, the b3-pawn is weak, and White has some back-rank issues. The game soon ended in a draw.

In round two, I had the white pieces against one of my study partners, GM Josh Friedel. It’s never pleasant to play someone you’re good friends with, but we’ve had the odd misfortune (or fortune for Josh, since he normally beats me!) of often playing whenever we show up at the same event. In the following position, after 7.Qb3-c3, Josh calmly uncorked the amazing move 7…Bxc4!??!:

Bhat - Friedell WO

While I was wondering what just happened, GM Evgeny Bareev (Kramnik’s former second) leaned over so far that I had to scoot back in my chair to give him room to see the position. Like Bareev, my first reaction was shock – how could he take my c4-pawn with such impunity when I have it guarded twice? However, I then realized that after 8.Nxc4 Nd5 9.Qc2 Nb4, White has trouble escaping the knight’s attacks while staying in touch with the knight on c4. I rejected the early draw by repetition and went for it with 10.Qc3 Nd5 11.Qc2 Nb4 12.Qa4. After 12…Nxc4 13.a3 b5 (the only move) 14.Qb3 Na5 (again, the only move) 15.Qd1 Nbc6 16.e4, White is actually better. Unfortunately for Josh, the computer misevaluates the capture on c4 because it thinks Black is just better here at first. However, after a few minutes of thought, it realizes White is better. Fortunately for Josh, though, he defended quite well and after 4 hours and a crazy middlegame, the game ended in a draw.

In the third round, I had the black pieces against IM Ray Robson. The game was a crazy Winawer Poisoned Pawn, where he certainly outprepared me and squashed most of my counterplay in the early middlegame. However, once he reached an ideal position for White, he didn’t know what to do and let me back into the game. After some twists and turns, we reached the following position after 32…Nd7-f6!:

Robson - Bhat

If White takes the knight, he loses his great bishop on d6, so Ray played 33.Bd3. This is where my time trouble problem reared its ugly head. With less than half a minute to reach move 40, and no increment to rely on (I repeatedly looked at the clock after I moved, hoping in vain that it would add 30 seconds to my time!), I lashed out with 33…d4 34.cxd4 Nd5 35.Qf3 Qxd4+ 36.Kg3. With the dust settling, and the clock ticking down, I realized I didn’t have any good continuation! Instead, I’ve just opened the c-file for White’s benefit, as now Rhc1 follows with ideas of Rxc6+ or Bxa6. Black would have been doing just fine with 33…Ne4+ 34.Bxe4 dxe4. The c-file remains closed and White doesn’t have the two bishops anymore. Meanwhile, the bishop on d6 can be undermined with …f6. After my mistake in the game, though, Ray managed to put me away with both of us getting into a big time scramble.

The next day featured one of my most interesting games of the tournament. Not interesting in itself, as the game was not particularly good, but interesting in the way a draw was declined and then finally agreed upon. In the following position, FM Thomas Bartell played 34.Ne3 and offered a draw:

Bartell - Bhat 1

Black’s position isn’t particularly great (I had achieved some advantage in the early middlegame but had slowly watched it disappear and turn into an advantage for White). I also only had 22 seconds for 7 moves before reaching time control. And I said “No, let’s play on” and played 34…Bd8. I suffered for my foolish pride for the next two hours, as Bartell slowly increased his advantage and reached the following winning position at about 12:10 AM after 53…c3:

Bartell - Bhat 2

At this point in the night, there was only one other game going on, between FM Raja Panjwani and NM Chris Williams. They were pretty far away, so I don’t know what the position on the board was, but Chris Williams flagged and lost on time. As he’s from Boston, I doubt he’s a Chicago Cubs fan, but he did a pretty good verbal impression of Big Z’s outburst, unleashing a torrent of expletives for the next 5 minutes or so. The TDs were unable (or unwilling) to shut him up and his protests continued for a little while. My opponent was down to about 5 minutes left here while I had about 7 minutes. (As a side note, one of the best ejections in baseball history has to be this one, of Phillip Wellman.)

With a couple accurate moves, he can put the game out of reach. One winning line, for example, is: 54.Rd7 Qc6 55.Rc7! Qxe6 56.b7! – not 56.Qxc3 Qxb6+, when Black is fine. My opponent also had some doubts about the rook endgame after something like 56.Rxc3 Rb8 57.Rc7 Qxb6 58.Rxg7+ Kh8 59.Qxb6 Rxb6 60.Rf7, but White should win this one. Maybe if everything was quiet in the tournament hall, Bartell would have found the correct continuation. As it was, with Williams’ long outburst, his clock wound down and he played 54.Rxf5?. After 54…c2, he found the only way to hold his position together with 55.Rc5 Qxb6 56.Kh2!, and the game ended in a draw about 15 moves later.

After this game, I had 1.5/4 and the 7-day schedule was going to merge with the 4- and 5-day schedules on Friday night. My 5th round game, as white against Seth Homa, was not particularly interesting – it ended in a draw after some minor adventures. On this day, though, I met my brother’s wife’s brother (Lee Huang) and his two kids in the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. I played a good amount of Monopoly as a young kid, but I finally got to take a ride on the Reading! The farmer’s market they had going was pretty good too.

Back Home … and Musings on Strange American Tournaments

We all got to have, a place where we come from
This place that we come from is called home
We set out on our travels, we do the best we can
We travel this big earth as we roam

We all got to have, a place where we come from
This place that we come from is called home
And even though we may love, this place on the map
Said it ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at

–          Mos Def in Habitat

I’m back in the Bay Area after my two tournament trip to Montreal and Philadelphia. I wasn’t able to get online much in Philadelphia, especially once the schedule shifted to include two games a day.

In the end, I finished with 5 points from 9 games – not a particularly inspiring performance – but I did play a lot of good players and some interesting games. In the first round of the 7-day schedule, I played up against GM Vladimir Potkin. The last time I played up in the first round of a swiss was in 2002 in China when I was much lower rated! Actually, I played up in the first 3 rounds, which was quite a surprise. The rest of my field was over 2400 FIDE on average, so it was a pretty strong tournament. I squandered a couple opportunities in rounds 5 and 9 that would probably have improved my final position. I did get quite lucky, though, in round 4 against FM Thomas Bartell (I should have taken the draw he offered when I was worse!).

Thanks to that save, I only lost one game, to IM Ray Robson (the most recent Samford Fellow). If this were Shakespeare, the moment would have been rife with imagery and symbolism, but for now, I’ll just say that on the first day of his Fellowship, he beat the 2008 recipient. Then on the following day, he beat the 2007 recipient, GM Josh Friedel!

I’ll post more details about my games in the coming week, but for now, I’ll make a few comments about the tournament in general. First, Mark Crowther’s comment at TWIC:

“I’ve always found the World Open a bit odd. Multiple schedules, re-entries allowed and so forth. So what to make of Hikaru Nakamura’s tournament? Turns up one day plays 5 g/45 minute games to get in contention, plays two proper games the following day (quick draw and a win), then takes two half point byes in the final two rounds to share first place and is already flying to [San Sebastian, Spain] before the tournament ends. I guess my main reaction is ‘What kind of tournament is this?’”

This is no knock against Nakamura, who played quite well and took advantage of both his strengths and the scheduling quirks. However, it is kind of silly in my view to have a tournament that gives you the opportunity to win like this. The 4-day Open Section schedule was a farce, with only 3 players showing up, so everybody got a full-point bye. The 3-day schedule Open Section only had 2 GMs, and with 5 rounds amongst themselves at G/45, it was almost like a different tournament than the more popular 5- and 7-day schedules. The 7-day and 5-day schedules, by comparison to the 3-day, were much stronger – the 7-day featured a GM-GM pairing in round 1! Najer played 8 GMs, and as some consolation for a more brutal schedule, he won the tournament title on tie-break as Nakamura wasn’t there to contest the blitz playoff.

Of course, Goichberg runs his tournaments in the purest capitalist sense, so he probably won’t change his ways. Multiple schedules allow for more re-entries and a few extra bucks in his pocket. For a few players, it also helps avoid taking time off from work and cutting down on hotel costs. But when there are such prizes at stake, it difficult to imagine another sporting event where this is possible – there are amazingly different schedules with different fields and time controls and a co-champion doesn’t even show up for the last two rounds and gets something more than a zero-point bye for those rounds. Foxwoods is a rather strong open tournament, but the Open Section there has only one schedule. I would think the World Open should adopt the same format.

As a side note, what happened with GM Leonid Yudasin in round 8? The wallchart at the time said he had withdrawn, but when I walked around, there he was playing Robert Lau around board 80 in round 8! Yes, the same Robert Lau who was not playing in the Open Section until that round! Yudasin won that game, and then won a marathon game against GM Kacheishvili in the last round to claim $2160 in prize money. How is this possible? He received a ridiculous pairing, much easier than his fellow 4.5 pointers in round 8, and it counted? I’m not sure how the pairings would have shaken out had Yudasin been paired correctly, but GM Josh Friedel, who is right around Yudasin’s rating, played GM Gata Kamsky in that round. I wonder which is an easier pairing: a 2200 with black (who isn’t even in the section), or Kamsky with black? I’m not sure if there was any debate at the tournament about this, but it seems rather odd to me. Here’s a link to the wallchart, and I’d appreciate if someone could explain this one to me.

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.

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 …