Tag Archives: Spain

These Are Not the Bishop and Pawns You Are Looking For

Sorry for the delay in wrapping up Sants. It’s been over two weeks since the tournament ended, and I’m only now getting to the final two games. Here’s a little clip explaining the title of this blog …

In round 9, I was black against IM Ilya Sidorenko. With 6/8, I was finally back on the stage, and I was hoping to stay there this time. Up to that point, I had responded to 1.e4 with 1…e6 twice (with no success) and 1…e5 once. Against Sidorenko, I went back to 1…e5.

(FEN: r2qrbk1/1bp2pp1/p1np1n1p/1p1Pp3/4P3/PBP2N1P/1P1N1PP1/R1BQR1K1 b - - 0 13)

The opening turned out to be a Ruy Lopez, Zaitsev Variation. He played the very topical 12.a3 and 13.d5 (introduced by Topalov a couple years ago, it’s essentially taken over as the main line against the Zaitsev now). That’s the position in the diagram above.

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R&R: Relax and Rebuild

“I looked at my watch. Nine fifty-four. Time to go home and get your slippers on and play over a game of chess. Time for a tall cool drink and a long quiet pipe. Time to sit with your feet up and think of nothing. Time to start yawning over your magazine. Time to be a human being … and rebuild the brain for tomorrow.”

– Raymond Chandler in The Lady in the Lake

Normally, after my games at these Spanish tournaments, I’d go back to my room after dinner, watch a little TV, prepare a little for my next opponent, then read and go to sleep.

That’d be my routine in a normal tournament. Going into the second half of Sants, though, I was riding a wave of disappointment. My play in rounds 3, 4, and 5 wasn’t going to cut it, and the 1/3 I scored there left me with a paltry 3/5.

I decided a change was in order and I almost entirely stopped preparing! Instead, I focused on “rebuilding” my brain.

I was generally going to dinner with GM Mark Bluvshtein, who I got to know during my two visits to Montreal last summer. I played ping-pong with Mark a few days after the games, mostly doubles with Spanish or Israeli players in the same building. Maybe that served as a bit of an additional release for me, as my play started to pick up starting in round 6.

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How to Trap a Heffalump

A heffalump, for the uninitiated, is an elephant-like creature from the Winnie the Pooh series of children’s books. I think it was also used by Simon Webb in Chess for Tigers, although I forget the details of his use.

After my 3rd round save, I had 2.5/3 and was unceremoniously sent packing off the stage. Back in the main hall with hundreds of players, I felt a bit like a slow-moving creature with a big target on my back. In both the 4th and 5th rounds, I found my opponents to be rather ambitious in their preparation while I foolishly fell into their traps. My 4th round game featured FM Lars Ootes (2315, Netherlands) with the black pieces.

(FEN: r1bqr1k1/pppn1pbp/3p2p1/3Pp2n/2P1P3/2N1BN2/PP2BPPP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 1 10)

Recently this King’s Indian setup with 6…Nbd7 and 7…e5, followed by the seemingly illogical transfer of the Bg7 to e7 (via f8) and the Nf6 to g7 (via h5) has become popular. Black often loses more time because his rook has to move to e8 and then back to f8 (to support his kingside attacking ambitions) in most cases. Strong GMs like Radjabov and Bologan have played it with success, although in my view, the reasonably good score of the opening is more due to some practical considerations than any objective merits.

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The Simple Art of the Swindle

In my last blog about Sants, I wrote how Round 1 was a let-down in terms of the quality of my play, but that I seemed to recover a little bit in Round 2. That seemed to bode well for my chances in the 3rd round, but that game was strange enough to merit its own post.

I was black against FM Lluis Oms (2360, Spain). As is often the case with lower-rated players, there wasn’t a whole lot to go on in the database. I did notice that against 2500+ players, he had played for a draw with some rather insipid lines (e.g., drawing lines in the Four Knights against 1…e5 and the Exchange against the French). Unlike some of the Four Knights lines, the Exchange French at least keeps the chance of some serious play, so I decided to play the French this time. I was mostly expecting 3.Nc3 against the French though, as he had the most games with that.

The game began 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Nf3, a line that I don’t think I’ve ever faced in a regular game. A long time back, when I was about 9 or 10 years old and nearing 2200, I used to play something similar with white (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.Qg4 was what I played). Both versions are supposed to be rather innocuous, and I had no trouble in equalizing (and getting a better position).

Many books on the French recommend a system where Black plays a quick …f6 (with the knight on g8), but while that my work in some concrete sense, it seems unnecessary to me. I played 4…Nc6 5.Bd3 cxd4 6.0-0 Nge7 7.Bf4 Ng6 8.Bg3 Be7 (diagram below), preparing to castle or play …f6/f5 depending on what White does. In this setup, if White exchanges on f6, Black will generally recapture with a pawn and then play …e5. With an extra pawn and a huge pawn center, the slightly weakened kingside is usually of little consequence.

(FEN: r1bqk2r/pp2bppp/2n1p1n1/3pP3/3p4/3B1NB1/PPP2PPP/RN1Q1RK1 w kq - 5 9)

Up to this point, it all seemed pretty normal to me. I thought he would play 9.Nbd2 here, preparing to go after the d4-pawn with 10.Nb3 next. Instead, he played 9.a3, which seems a bit slow to me. If, for example, his rook and bishop were on e1 and c1, then this plan with a3 and b4 would make more sense to me. With b4, he threatens to dislodge the knight and also prepares Bb2. But here, with the bishop already on g3, there is no good follow up to b4 if Black deals with the threat of b5

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Player in Game is Better than He Appears

I blogged earlier that I was playing in Sants and had 6/8 with 2 games to go. I finished with 7.5/10, and now that I’m back in the States, I’ll start to recap the event over a series of posts.

The Sants Open is supposed to be one of the best events on the summer Catalan Circuit, and it is certainly one of the most popular. There were about 360 players in the top section, which meant that the first round would feature some relatively large mismatches on paper. I was black against a 2121 in the first round, but it turned out to be anything but a mismatch.

(FEN: r1bq1rk1/1pp2pp1/p1np1n1p/2b1p3/4P2N/2NP2PP/PPP2PB1/R1BQ1RK1 b - - 1 9)

I didn’t really know much about this line of the Four Knights with 4.g3 and after his 9.Nh4 to reach the above position, I had a long think. Not a good think, just a long think.

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A Quick (-chess) Recap

I was exhausted at the end of Badalona, so I had my doubts as to whether I’d actually play in the rapid tournament in Poble Nou. Even after the three days in-between, I was still a bit tired, but I decided that a rapid tournament wouldn’t take too much more out of me. As added motivation, I needed at least one rapid tournament to qualify for the overall Catalan Circuit prizes (combined total from 5 events).

Like the previous category-A tournaments on the Circuit, this one featured Lazaro Bruzon at the top of the list and a host of Cuban IMs and GMs behind him. It was a 10-round swiss at a time control of G/25 (no increment or delay). There were 7 GMs and 14 IMs playing, as well as a dozen WGMs, FMs, etc.

Even though I was playing way down, the first round was actually a bit of an adventure. The tournament started at 10 AM, and while I had woken up in time, my brain was lagging a bit behind. I thus decided to try and completely avoid his attack by entering an endgame, but the endgame promised me few objective chances as it was tough to find any active idea. However, he finally made a mistake and I ended up winning. Round 2 was a much smoother affair, as I outplayed my opponent from start to finish.

With 2/2, I was white against IM Vladimir Bukal Jr. in round 3. We reached the following random position after 13…d7xe6:

(FEN: rn2k2r/pbp1b1pp/1p2pn2/8/2PP4/P2B2P1/1PQNN1qP/R1B1KR2 w Qkq - 0 14)

With a G/25 time control, there is the opportunity to think a few times during the game. This was one of those moments for me. The thing is that I need to move my knight on d2, but moving it to b3 (to prepare Bf4/g5 and 0-0-0) allows Ng4xh2, when Black has a nasty check on f3 after the Rf1 moves.

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Achilles Last Stand

In my last blog, I mentioned how even if I beat Konguvel, I would need some help to make the final 8. In a strange turn of events, almost all the results around me worked in my favor, but almost all my previous opponents lost.

Thanks to those results around me, there were 5 people with 5/6. That left 3 spots for the 7 players (including me) who were tied with 4.5/6. Unfortunately, my collective opponents from the first 6 rounds scored a whopping 1.0 out of 6 that day.

Most of my fellow 4.5’ers had played weaker fields up to that point, so even with that 1.0/6, not enough of them leapfrogged me in the Buchholz race. I thus snuck into the final 8 as the #8 seed, but had any of my previous opponents won that day, I would have moved up to #6.

I also wrote earlier that the two-stage design was somewhat similar to the 2010 US Championship. The knockout stage in Badalona, though, was rather different from the second stage of the US Championships. In St. Louis, they had the top 4 break off and play a round-robin. Here, in the first round of the knockout, seeds at opposite ends of the bracket faced off in the first round.

Each round would start with a single slow game with rapid tiebreaks if necessary (and potentially blitz and Armageddon as well). With only one game and no draw odds, the only advantage you can give the higher seed is the white pieces, and that meant that as the #8 seed, I would get the black pieces in all 3 rounds no matter who I played. I would only see the white pieces if I drew the first game.

There was a time when I used to score about evenly with both colors, but this year, I’ve struggled with the black pieces (especially in beating lower rated players). From 2008 through 2009, I have 95 games in my database with the black pieces – I scored 65% with black in those games and outperformed my own average rating by 13 points then. In 2010, though, things have changed – in 44 games, I’ve underperformed my rating by about 90 points. Hence, Achilles Last Stand …

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The Rat Race, part 2

In round 5, I was black against GM Lazaro Bruzon. Bruzon was listed at 2653, but having played through the Catalan Circuit (and Pamplona) with nothing but success, he was up to about 2675 at game time. I had played him once before, in 2008, and while I got into serious trouble there, I managed to escape with a draw. This time, I was not in any trouble until I managed to lose!

(FEN: r1bqk2r/2p1bppp/p1np1n2/1p2p3/P3P3/1B1P1N2/1PP2PPP/RNBQ1RK1 b kq a3 0 8)

He surprised me by playing an Anti-Marshall with 8.a4 (in the Ruy Lopez), even though I wasn’t “threatening” to play the Marshall. With the pawn already on d6, it’s not supposed to be very dangerous because Black doesn’t have to play …Rb8 (giving up the a-file), …b4 (weakening the b-pawn and the c4-square), or …Bb7 (putting the bishop on a diagonal where it just hits against the strong e4-pawn).

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The Rat Race, part 1

Following Balaguer, I continued my play in the Catalan Circuit with Badalona. The Badalona tournament is a pretty unique one on the calendar, although I guess it shares some similarities with this year’s US Championship.

In the top section at Badalona, everybody plays in a 6-round swiss to start the event. The top 8 (using tiebreaks) then advance to play a 3-round, 8-player pseudo-knockout. Those not lucky enough to make it top the final 8 continue playing 3 more rounds of a swiss. Thus, everybody gets 9 regular games, but amongst the top players, it’s a real race to make that final 8.

My tournament started off well as I beat Francisco Rojano (2127 FIDE) in the first round pretty handily. He played a Semi-Slav against me, and at the board, I decided to switch things up from my normal repertoire and played the 5.g3 gambit line instead of my normal 5.e3 (that is, 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.g3). It’s always had its adherents, but in general, most top players don’t believe that the gambit offers White anything special with the knight on c3. In the Catalan, a similar position can easily arise, but White’s knight isn’t on c3 so early there. That early development puts it in the line of fire with …b5-b4 (in response to a typical a4, for example), or …Bb4 and …c5 ideas. My opponent didn’t know the theory of the line, though, and let me develop very smoothly. In the diagram below, he just played 19….Qc7.

(FEN: r1b1r1k1/ppq3pp/2p1p1n1/2P2p2/3P1P2/2P3P1/P4QBP/1RB1R1K1 w - - 0 21)

White is clearly better, but to make progress, he needs to open the position to take advantage of this greater potential. With that in mind, I played 21.c4 here. I want to play d5 next, opening the long diagonal for the Bg2 and also clearing a diagonal for my dark-squared bishop. After 21…b6, I continued forward with 22.d5. There isn’t really anything for Black to do now; his position is pretty much lost. For example, 22…cxd5 23.cxd5 Qxc5 loses to 24.Qxc5 bxc5 25.dxe6 (or 25.d6), when the Ra8 is trapped. He tried 22…cxd5 23.cxd5 Bb7, but that offered no respite after 24.c6 Ba6 25.Ba3. I wrapped up the game on the 30th move.

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The White Period

I finished my last blog on a positive note, with a win where I finally played well from start to finish. As it was, I did manage to continue to play well through the rest of the tournament, but I wasn’t able to parlay that into any wins. Instead, all three of my games ended in draws (and thus, the title is inspired by Picasso’s so-called “Blue Period”).

In round 7, I had the black pieces against GM Daniele Vocaturo. Vocaturo had started off with 4 seemingly easy wins before falling back to earth with a couple of draws. The first critical moment came after he played 13.Bc1-e3:

(FEN: r4rk1/bppq1pp1/p1np1n1p/4p3/4P3/1QPPBN1P/PP3PP1/R3RNK1 b - - 2 13)

His last move was a new one for me, and so I sat down to think about my move. I can’t avoid the bishop exchange, but should it take place on e3 or a7? I played 13…Rfe8, and both of us agreed after the game that this was the right move. One problem with exchanging on e3 right away is that after 13…Bxe3 14.Nxe3, Black cannot easily chase the queen away from b3 because the b7-pawn will still be hanging (for now, …Rfb8 would trap the queen if it took the pawn). Black also has to think about a Ne3-d5 jump, as after an exchange on d5, White might quickly play d4 and gain a small advantage in space and activity.

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