In other November chess news, the SF Mechanics were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the defending champion Dallas Destiny. We lost the match by a score of 2.5-1.5, after I lost the final game as black to my apparent nemesis – IM Davorin Kuljasevic.
After stumbling in the last two weeks of the regular season, we dropped to the #2 seed and faced the #3 seed Destiny with black on boards 2 and 4 (by Dallas’ choice). This made sense as Kuljasevic and Zorigt are both clearly stronger with the white pieces, while Zivanic is tough to beat on board with either color. Still, we liked our chances as IM Sam Shankland was back from the World Youth (fresh off tying for first and automatically getting the IM title!), as was FM Daniel Naroditsky.
On boards 1 and 3, we probably went in with small advantages (Josh and Sam both out-rated their opponents by a bit and had the white pieces), while on board 4, Naroditsky vastly out-rated Zorigt, so despite having the black pieces, was probably a small favorite. While Kuljasevic is still only an IM, he’s higher rated than me by USCF and FIDE standards, and with the white pieces, was also probably somewhat of a small favorite going in.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite play out as we had hoped. On board 4, Danya got slaughtered when he failed to find a good plan after a dozen or so moves of a King’s Indian. He fought on for a while, but the result was not in doubt for a while. On board 3, Sam seemed to get a clear advantage out of the opening, but then after a couple inaccuracies, was probably only about equal. However, the complications had taken a lot of time off Schneider’s clock, and that cost Igor later on as he blundered the game away. On board 1, Josh was maybe a little worse out of the opening, but he came back to be a little better. However, a small mistake or two gave up any hope of an advantage, and the players agreed to a draw.
That left me defending as black against Davorin. The opening was a small surprise (the 6.e3 Slav, rather than the main-line 6.Ne5 Slav he normally plays), but I got a reasonable position from the opening. The game can be replayed here.
I wasn’t especially familiar with the resulting middlegame, though, and I spent some time coming up with a good plan. However, I lashed out with 22…g5?!, hoping to kick the knight away before it got to the nice d3-square (from where it could hop into c5). This created a hook for White to attack, which Davorin figured out with the very nice 24.Rf1! Instead of 22…g5?!, I could have simply sat tight, as White doesn’t have a real weakness to attack. Black is passive, but his position remains super solid.
After 24.Rf1, we were not too far apart on the clock, but the position was clearly better for White. I played what I think is the only good defensive idea for Black in that position with 28…g5 and 29…Qh7, as otherwise, Black has no communication between the kingside and queenside. The position looked dangerous for me, but the hasty 33.Nh5 threw away White’s gains after 33…Qg6. By the time I played 39…Ng6, I thought I was close to being out of the woods, and was only down a minute or two on the clock.
But the position was still dangerous, as my king was still exposed on h8. 40…R8c3? was the first mistake, as Black had a host of better moves, the simplest being 40….R1c3. After 41.Rdg3 Rxg3 (as in the game), Black has a rook on c8 instead of c1, which makes a huge difference. For one, the rook is not a target on c8 (as it is on c1, where White always is threatening Qd2, hitting c1 and h6). Secondly, the rook on c8 can swing over to the kingside to help out on defense, say to the g8-square. Anyways, after 40…R8c3, the game slipped away and Davorin put me away nicely. The game garnered him Game of the Week honors for the playoffs.
The loss also meant that the book was closed on the 2008 season for the Mechanics. I finished the season with 4.5/8 (2.0/4 on board 1, 2.5/4 on board 2), my worst performance in 4 years in the league. Still, I guess I out-performed my rating, playing at a clip of 2558 FIDE. Over the previous 3 seasons, I scored 12/16 with a performance rating of about 2662 FIDE. Sam was the star of the team on board 3, scoring a massive 7.5/9.
Strangely enough, my score against Kuljasevic is a dismal 0.5/4 since I first faced him in the USCL in 2007. I’ve lost all 3 times as black, and only drew as white. He’s a strong player, and still improving rapidly (he’s up to 2530 or 2540 FIDE now), but I can take some solace in the fact that I’ve achieved decent positions against him only to screw them up later on. The last two people I remember to have such massive scores against me in the first 3 or 4 games were Jordy Mont-Reynaud and Dmitry Zilberstein, and I can happily say that I turned those negative scores around against them. After losing 4 times to Dima (3 times as black), I have scored an undefeated 5.0/6, with wins in my last 4 games. Against Jordy, I went 7.0/10 after struggling to put a full point on the board at first. Hopefully I can say the same thing about Davorin in a couple years!
Dallas has since went on to beat the top seed Miami Sharks, and will now face off against the Boston Blitz in a rematch of the 2007 Finals. As in 2007, I expect Dallas to come out on top of this match.