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Black Magic

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?:

Antal - Bhat

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.

Bhat - Diamant

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:

Rensch - Bhat

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:

Ippolito - Bhat

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.

Ippolito - Bhat 2

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.

Ups and Downs at Check ‘Em Tech

I recently competed in the SPICE Cup (Group B) in Lubbock, Texas. Hosted by Texas Tech University, it was a Category 11 round-robin (average rating 2503 FIDE). The top group was a Category 16 (average 2631 FIDE) double round-robin.

As the 3rd lowest rated player in the event, I didn’t expect it to be an easy event, but unlike my previous event in Montreal, the players here were much more tightly bunched in terms of strength. The highest rated player in the group, IM Gabor Papp (2562 FIDE) of Hungary, was not so much higher rated than me, while the lowest rated player, FM Daniel Rensch (2386 FIDE), had beaten me two times in three previous encounters.

I started the event off with white against a nemesis of mine – IM Davorin Kuljasevic (2547 FIDE). He was at UTD for a few years before starting at Texas Tech this fall as a graduate student. We had only played once before in person, but in USCL play, he was one of only two players with a higher performance rating in league history and had beaten me down a couple times. After 14.dxc5, we reached the following position:

Bhat - Kuljasevic 2009

Strangely enough, I had the position after 14 moves before, in 2006 against GM R.B. Ramesh. Somehow, though, Davorin missed this in his preparations and so he had already spent a good deal of time to get to the diagrammed position!

Anyways, Ramesh played 14…f6, which avoids the problem of 14…Nxc5 – namely that the knight capture walks into 15.Rfd1!. The d5-pawn is pinned (since capturing on c4 would lead to mate on d8), but after 15…Be6, White has 16.Qb2!. With the pin broken, the d5-pawn is again under attack, but now the g7-pawn is as well.

After a short think, Kuljasevic played 14…dxc4, which is a better move. After 15.Rfd1 0-0 16.Be7 Re8 17.Bd6 Nf6, I felt I was better, but I struggled to find a way to keep my advantage. On 18.Rac1, I decided that Black would likely play 18…b5 (if 18…Be6 19.Nd4 Bd5 20.Qb2 looks annoying, threatening both Nf5 and Nb5). White would then like to play 19.a4, but without a rook on a1, Black can simply play 19…bxa4.

With this in mind, I played 18.Rdc1?!. Now 18…b5 walks right into 19.a4! bxa4 20.Qxc4 Qxc4 21.Rxc4 Be6 22.Rcxa4 with a winning position. However, with the rook’s departure from the d-file, the Bd6 is slightly loose, and Kuljasevic was alert to this fact. After 18…Be6 19.Nd4 Ne4! 20.Nxe6 Rxe6 21.Qxc4 Qxc4 22.Rxc4, Black gets his pawn back with 22…Nxd6. Unfortunately, White’s other rook is sitting on a1 instead of d1 …

In round 2, I was white against IM Ben Finegold (2513 FIDE). Ben has long been one of America’s strongest IMs, but he somehow has never managed to get the GM title. He surprised me in the opening, but my biggest mistake was thinking that I had the advantage (and so should press). In reality, I was worse, and I should have been playing for equality. By the time I realized what was up, I was already clearly worse, and soon found myself in the following position after 24…Bb4-e7!.

Bhat - Finegold

Black is now threatening to take twice on g3, followed by …Bh4, pinning and winning the rook. White can’t easily defend the g3-pawn and pushing it to g4 isn’t an option because f4 becomes irremediably weak. Meanwhile, 25.f4 doesn’t help as after 25…Nf6, White can’t really guard the e4-pawn properly. The Queen is needed to guard the b5-knight; the b5-knight needs to stay put because the b3-knight is undefended behind it.

In time pressure, I decided to play 25.Nd2. The idea is to guard the g3-pawn from f1. Finegold continued with his plan: 25…hxg3+ 26.hxg3 Nxg3 27.Rxg3 Bh4 28.Nf1 Nf4 29.Qc4! (not 29.Bxf4 Qxf4, and White can’t deal with the threat of …Rd2 later) Nh5 30.e5! (hitting the Bh4, so not giving Black time to calmly pick up the e5-pawn). After 30…Bxg3+ 31.Nxg3 Nxg3 32.Kxg3 Qxe5 33.Qf4, White has escaped the worse and I managed to draw the endgame after the queen exchange.

However, instead of 25…hxg3+, Black had the very strong 25…Rxd2!. The point is that on 26.Qxd2, Black gets two minor pieces for the rook with 26…Bxb5; meanwhile, after 26.Bxd2, Black has 26…Qb6+!, picking up the bishop on a6. It was this move that Ben missed. I saw this before playing the knight move, but as I didn’t see what else to do, I figured I might as well try. Luckily, it paid off.

With two uninspiring draws from my first two games, I faced IM Ray Robson (2527 FIDE) as black in round 3. Ray is one of America’s most promising talents in a while, and he beat me in a very complicated game in July at the World Open (https://vbhat.wordpress.com/2009/07/12/taking-a-ride-on-the-reading-the-first-half-in-philly/).

This time, I decided to go with a Ruy Lopez instead of the French Winawer. However, Ray knew the opening line I chose better than me and quickly got an advantage. After 22.e5, we reached the following position:

Robson - Bhat 2009 1

White controls more space across almost the entire board and has the bishop pair to boot. Among other things, he’s currently threatening 23.Bxg6 fxg6, when Black will never be able to really challenge White’s central dominance and will be stuck with rather weak kingside pawns. I played 22…Nf8, which isn’t particularly inspiring, but Black’s position is a bit tougher to crack than it looks like at first glance.

For all his pluses, White has two problems – Black’s knight on g4 controls some nice squares around White’s king, and White’s central pawns, if they can’t make any threats, can quickly become weak if Black puts pressure on the d-file.

Ray decided to solve this by going after the knight on g4 (and the pawn on h5), but landed himself in some trouble. After 23.Bf5 Qb6 24.Kg2 Rbd8 25.Nh2 Nxh2 26.Kxh2 c4 27.Be3 Qb7, I was threatening to take on e5 and then d5. Thus, Ray played 28.e6, and after 28…Bf6 29.axb5 Qxb5 30.Qxh5 Re7 31.Re2, we reached the following position.

Robson - Bhat 2009 2

Black is now down a pawn and it looks like White is in charge, but unlike the previous diagram where Black was retreating, Black now has an opportunity to move forward. After defending for a while, I didn’t need a second invitation.

With 31…fxe6 32.dxe6 d5, I got my pawns moving. Surprisingly, White’s position is not so easy. One threat, for example, is 33…d4 34.Bf2 Rd5 35.g5 g6, trapping White’s queen! Ray played 33.Bd2 d4 34.Ra5 Qb6, but there is still no real attack on the kingside, while Black is definitely threatening something with his pawn mass. After 35.g4 d3 36.Rg2 Bxb2 37.Be4 Qd4 38.Re5 c3, we reached the following position:

Robson - Bhat 2009 3

Black’s pawns are rolling, so Ray found the only way to make things interesting with 39.Be3!. By this point, by the way, we were both in horrible time pressure. With no second time control, all we could rely on was the 30-second increment. Thus, intuition has to take over, as the position is still rather complicated and you don’t have time to calculate everything.

I immediately played 39…Qxe3 40.Bh7+ Nxh7 41.Rxe3 d2, but after 42.Qc5, I had to think a little bit. I have two minor pieces for the queen, but with my d- and c-pawns, I felt my position had to be winning when I gave up my queen.

Still, it’s not trivial. For example, 42…Ree8 43.e7 Rd7 would lose to 44.Qc4+! Kh8 45.Qf7!, and White’s threats carry the day. Similarly, 42…Kf8 also loses, this time to 43.Rd3!! Rxd3 44.Qc8+ Re8 45.e7+ Kf7 (not 45…Kxe7 46.Re2+) 46.Qc4+ and after 47.Qxd3, Black’s pawns are frozen.

With that in mind, I played 42…Rxe6!, and after 43.Rxe6 d1/Q 44.g5 (trying to restrict Black’s knight on h7) Nf8 45.Re7, I found 45…Qh5. White’s h4-pawn is surprisingly weak, and moving the king up to the 3rd rank entails allowing Black to play …Ng6, hitting the pawn again. Thus, Ray tried 46.Qc4+ Kh8 47.f5, but at this point, I took advantage of some nice chess geometry to play 47…c2!. The pawn is going to queen, but if White plays 48.Rxc2, then 48…Rd4 wins the h4-pawn and White is not going to survive that attack. Ray tried 48.f6, but after 48…c1/Q (double promotion!) 49.fxg7+, Black has 49…Bxg7!. The end was 50.Qxc1 Qxh4+ 51.Kg1 Bd4+ 52.Kf1 Qh1+, and White is going to lose his queen, so Ray resigned.

Phew!

In round 4, I was white against Gabor Papp. This time I got in an effective opening surprise and he reacted poorly. After 24.Qd2-h6 Rf8-e8, we reached the following position:

Bhat - Papp

White’s position looks dominating, but how does he make progress. My original plan was to play 25.Nf5 here, but while 25…gxf5 loses after 26.Qg5+ Kf8 27.Rxe8+ Qxe8 28.Rd8, 25…f6 was a considerably tougher nut to crack over the board. I looked at all sorts of variations for close to half an hour before deciding that nothing was particularly clear.

I then spent another chunk of time to find something else to do, and decided on 25.c4. It’s a rather tricky move, but sadly, not the right one. After something like 25…Nc3 26.R5d6 Qxe2, White has the amazing 27.Qd2!! which wins a piece! Other moves similarly lose after 26.R5d6. White also gets the advantage after two other natural replies by Black: 25…Ra8 26.Rxa8 Rxa8 27.Nf3! is good for White, while 25…Nd4 26.e3! is also pleasant. Papp admitted after the game that he didn’t see what was wrong with 25…Nc3, but that after my 40 minute think, he figured I had found something. Buying the act, he decided to play the correct 25…Nc7!.

After 26.R5d6, he again reached correctly with 26…Qxe2 27.R8d7 Qxc4!. Black needs to break the pin on the c7-knight, so he needs to free the b5-square for the knight. He also threatens Re1+ and Qf1+ himself, so I played 28.Nf3. After 28…Nb5, though, I had no choice but to go for a repetition with 29.Ng5 Re1+ 30.Kg2 Qf1+ 31.Kf3 Qe2+ 32.Kg2 and the game was agreed drawn shortly.

Back in that diagram, though, White did have a win with 25.Nf5 – after 25.Nf5 f6 26.Rxe8+ Qxe8 27.Qd2! Ra8 28.Nh6+ Kh8 29.a4!, White is winning. 29.Rd7 would have failed to 29…Nd4!!, but by kicking the knight away first, White’s rook and queen invade with decisive impact.

So with a few ups and downs, I found myself with 2.5/4. At the time, GM Perelshteyn was leading with 3.0/4, along with IMs Finegold and Antal.