Tag Archives: USCL

Back on Track – Part 1 of a Weeks 8 and 9 Recap in the USCL

After our loss to Arizona in Week 7, we fell into a 3-way tie for second place in the division with Arizona and Miami. In Week 8, we faced the Queens (NY) Pioneers. On paper, the Pioneers look like they should have a solid team, but for whatever reason, they don’t seem to have performed up to those expectations. Here’s a somewhat late summary of that match.

We won the match 3-1, with the lone loss being my doing on board 1.  My game was rather forgettable, as I turned in my worst game in my USCL career. I was white against Stripunsky, and after a pretty normal Meran Variation that I normally play as black, we got the following position:

Bhat - Stripunsky 1

Black has just played 19…Qxe7xd6. White’s advantage is pretty minimal, but I think there is some advantage due to the difference in the power of the light-squared bishops. Black’s pawn on c6 cuts down his own bishop, and while White’s e4-pawn does the same, White’s e4-pawn can more easily move forward. If Black plays …c5, then the b5-pawn will drop. Thus, White should watch out for …c5 tricks from Black.

With this in mind, both 20.f4 and 20.Rad1 are pretty normal looking moves. Pushing the f-pawn prepares 21.e4-e5, while 20.Rad1 brings a piece to the center and threatens a discovery against Black’s queen. The rook move would have maintained a small plus.

I didn’t spend much time here though and quickly played 20.f4?, failing to notice Black’s strong response 20…c5!. Stripunsky has played these sorts of positions a lot, and he wasn’t so quick to miss that resource. After 21.e5 Qb6, Black is threatening 22…c4+ and 23…cxd3, so White can’t simply take on f6. After 22.Rf2 c4 23.Bf5 Nd5, White can’t safely take on h7 because after 24.Bxh7+ Kh8 25.Be4 Ne3 26.Qb1 Red8, White has huge problems with his back rank and pieces. Black’s already clearly better. However, in mutual time pressure, Stripunsky made a couple mistakes to give me a chance to get back into the game.

Bhat - Stripunsky 2

Black has just played 29…Ng2-e3, hitting the queen. I quickly played 30.Bc6??, failing to notice that after 30…Rxd6 31.Qxd6, Black can just play 31…Qxc6, since 32.Qxe7 walks into 32…Qh1 mate! Oops.

Instead, 30.Bxb5 would have equalized quite simply and I saw this move. For some reason, I thought that 30.Bc6 was even stronger. After 30.Bxb5, a couple sample lines might be:

(1)   30…Rf8 31.Qd4! Qxb5 32.Qxe3 (32.Nc3 is also fine) Qxb2 33.Nd4 with no problems for White – he even has an initiative on the kingside that forces Black to go for a draw with 33…Qa1+ 34.Rf1 Qa2 35.Rf2 Qa1+

(2)   30…Rxd6 31.Qxd6, and now 31…Qxb5 doesn’t threaten mate, so Black has to play 31…Qxd6 32.exd6 Re6 33.d7, when again White is doing just fine.

Luckily, my mistakes in this game didn’t come back to hurt the team, as they all won their games. IM John Donaldson, FM Daniel Naroditsky, and NM Greg Young all won on boards 2 through 4.

There was one interesting endgame moment in the game between IMs Lev Milman and John Donaldson on board 2. Both players were in time pressure, and had been for some time, when White played 40.g4? here.

Donaldson - Milman

The endgame was about equal when it started, but Lev seemed to be pushing too hard and found himself headed towards a worse endgame. However, John mistakenly traded down into a drawn rook and pawn endgame to bring the correct result back into drawish territory.

The endgame should be a draw – one idea for White would to play 40.Kd3 here. If Black plays 40…Rb3+, then 41.Ke2 guards the f3-pawn and leaves the c2-pawn undefended. Black’s best chance would be to play 40…c1/Q 41.Rxc1 Rg2, but then 43.Ke3 Rxg3 44.Kf2 Rh3 45.Rc4 Rh2+ (otherwise Kg2 traps the rook) 46.Kg3 is a simple draw. Black’s extra pawn can’t be realized here.

Another way to try and draw this would be to play g4, trade the g4-pawn for the h5-pawn, and then go after the c2-pawn, sacrificing the f3- and h4-pawns in the process. The resulting rook endgame with extra f- and h-pawns is a theoretical draw, but given the time constraints, could easily swing Black’s way.

Lev seemed to start out on this path with 40.g4, but Black has a trick here to make sure that never comes to pass. He can play 40…g5!!, forcing the creation of a passed pawn, no matter what pawn White takes. After 41.gxh5 gxh4, the point is that White’s king can never cross onto the 2nd rank because of …c1Q with check. Meanwhile, the rook is tied to the c-file. White can play 42.h6, but then 43…Kg8 stops the pawn dead in its tracks. After 44.Kf4 h3 45.Kg3 h2, one of the two pawns will queen.

Unfortunately, John missed this nice finish and played 40…Ke7. Trading on h5 seems safest here, but Lev played 41.Kd3. This doesn’t throw the draw away, as after 41…Rb3+, White should play 42.Kxc2 Rxf3 43.gxh5 with a theoretical draw. Unfortunately for Queens, though, Lev played 42.Ke4, but after 42…Rb4+ and 43…hxg4, Black had two connected pawns to none on the kingside. John duly won that endgame and we were headed to our first match win since week 4.

Bizarro Day in the USCL

This last week’s match in the USCL was one that the SF team would rather forget. Although we ended up losing 2.5 – 1.5, the match could pretty easily have turned in our favor in a number of ways.

We got off on the wrong foot when on board 4, Greg Young blundered a piece to David Adelberg (the full game is here). In the following position, Black executed a simple tactic with 9…e5:

Young - Adelberg

After 10.Nb3 d4, Black is just up a piece. At this point, I sort of chalked the game up as a loss for us, although, as we’ll see, nothing was what it seemed …

Meanwhile, in our other white on board 2, IM John Donaldson didn’t seem to get too much against IM Dionisio Aldama (the full game can be seen here):

Donaldson - Aldama

Still, the position is generally without risk for White, and after a dozen moves or so, they had traded down into a minor piece ending that while looking marginally better for white, didn’t look so amazing. John decided to agree to a 3-time repetition, but as it turns out, according to IM Mark Ginsburg (as can be read here), White was winning in the final position:

Donaldson - Aldama 2

Now 32.Nxh7 doesn’t work because of 32…Ke8, and the knight isn’t going to get out from h7 very easily.

However, 32.Kc4 looks quite strong – White threatens to exchange on d7 and then invade with his king on b5. If now 32…b5+ 33.Kd4 Ke8, then 34.Nxd7 Kxd7 35.Bf1 b4 36.Kc4, and White wins by invading with his king on the queenside. If 33…Be8 (instead of 33…Ke8), then 34.Nxh7 wins, as Black’s king can’t cut off the knight’s re-entry into the game via f8. Meanwhile, if 33…Bc8, then 34.Bf1 Ke8 35.Ne6 b4 36.Bb5+ is also a winning endgame for White.

A missed chance, but this would be the theme for the match. At this point, it was 0.5 – 0.5, with 3 games going, but I figured Young would lose on board 4. That left it up to Naroditsky (black against Rensch) and me (black against Barcenilla).

On board 3, Naroditsky didn’t seem to play the opening correctly. If nothing else, his time management seemed a bit suspect, but as I’m not usually one to talk about such things, I won’t harp on it too much. He did get a playable position, and slowly outplayed Rensch, reaching a completely winning endgame (the full game can be seen here):

Rensch - Naroditsky

Around this point, Greg got up and announced that he had won his game. I was completely floored – wasn’t he down a piece? Well, this was a match which showed both sides exhibiting “great” technique …

Back to Danya’s game – Black had won a pawn on the queenside, and then slowly walked his king up to b5 while giving up a relatively unimportant pawn on g6. Now it’s a pretty straightforward win for Black – he can play 61…Kc4, and White can’t stop 62…Kd3. White’s only chance is 62.Rc8+ Kd3 63.Ne1+, but then 63…Kxe3, and White’s pawn chain falls like the proverbial ripe apples.

Two possible lines then are: 64.g6 Re2 65.g7 (65.Nc2+ Kd3 66.Nxb4+ Bxb4 67.g7 Bc3 is curtains) Rxe1+ 66.Kc2 Re2+ 67.Kb3 Rb2+ 68.Ka4 Rg2 69.g8=Q Rxg8 70.Rxg8, and now either 70…Kxd4 or 70…Kxf4 gives Black too many passed pawns for White to deal with.

Instead, Danya played 61…b3? 62.Rb8+ Ka6? (62…Ka4 might still have held the balance) 63.Na1 (63.Nb4+ was also winning), and Black’s prized pawn has to be put back in the box. The game soon followed.

It was now tied at 1.5 apiece, with my game hanging in the balance. I will humbly submit that our game was reasonably well played until we each started playing on the increment (just after move 30). Barcenilla surprised me with a Scotch, and I in turn, surprised him with 4…Nf6.

I have exclusively played 4…Bc5 against the Scotch, and I figured that having played it twice against Barcenilla’s teammate Danny Rensch, he would be expecting that line and have it well prepared. Meanwhile, he had never played the Scotch from what I remembered, so it seemed like at least now both of us would be on unfamiliar territory rather than just one of us. The opening gamble paid off, as I don’t think he played a very critical line. The full game can be seen here.

Barcenilla - Bhat 2009 1

So far it’s all normal, but here, 8….Ba6 is much more popular than the move I played, 8…Nb6. Still, the knight retreat is probably not so bad and seems to be theoretically quite playable. The game continued 9.Nc3 Qe6 when Barcenilla played a move which seemed a bit odd to me – 10.b3. Instead, 10.Qe4 is by far the most common move.

After 10.b3 a5, White either has to allow Black to make inroads on the queenside with …a5-a4, or stop that with a2-a4 and give Black the b4-square. He chose the latter, and after developing and castling, we reached the following position after 19.Kc1-b1:

Barcenilla - Bhat 2009 2

I wanted to play 19…c4 here, immediately breaking open the queenside, but I couldn’t quite make it work after 20.bxc4 Bg4 (20…dxc4 21.Bxc4 doesn’t leave me with too many open lines, and in fact, the f7-pawn could become rather weak) 21.cxd5 (21.Be2 Bxe2 22.Qxe2 dxc4 23.Qxc4 Rec8 24.Qe4 Rab8 gives Black a strong initiative) Bxd1 22.Qxd1. The two bishops plus strong central pawns seemed to give White reasonable compensation for the exchange in my view. After a 20-minute think or so, I decided on 19…Bb7, simply developing a piece and waiting to play …c4 later. I finally got my chance after to play …c4 in the following position:

Barcenilla - Bhat 2009 3

After 27…c4 28.bxc4, I played 28…Ba6. Not 28…Bc8 because of 29.Bxc8 Rdxc8 30.f5!, when Bh6 is a rather annoying threat. Black has to play 30…Qxe5, when 31.fxg6 hxg6 32.Bh6+ Kg8 (Black can’t go to the e-file due to the threat of a pin) 33.Rxg6+ with a forced draw by repetition.

After 28…Ba6 29.Bd3 Rb8, Barcenilla alertly played 30.f5 – not 30.Ka2 first, as then I wasn’t going to play 30…Bc3 31.f5 Qxe5 transposing back to the game, but 30…f5!, clearing the f7-square for the queen to hit the c4-pawn. Black is then winning.

After 30.f5 Bc3+ 31.Ka2 Qxe5 32.fxg6 fxg6 (I didn’t want to open the f-file, but 32…hxg6 again leads to a draw after 33.Bf4!, so I didn’t feel like I had a choice) 33.Re4, we got the following position:

Barcenilla - Bhat 2009 4

As Adamson writes on the Scorpions’ blog, I had a chance for USCL glory (and maybe GotW, but I’m sure at least one judge hates me already by now – Jeff, your prayer that I lose this game was answered!) with 33…Qxe4!. The point is that after 34.Bxe4 Bxc4+ 35.Ka3, Black has 35…Be6!!, and White is helpless to stop Bb4+, winning the queen back with at least one extra pawn for the endgame. Of course I saw 33…Qxe4, but with about a minute on the clock, I missed 35…Be6, and so I decided to go for the game continuation.

The game continued: 33…Qd6 34.Ba3 Bb4 35.Bxb4 Rxb4 36.Qf2+ Rf7 (36…Kg7 was better) 37.Qxd4 Rxa4+, and in my calculations on move 33, I figured this position was winning. All of Black’s major pieces are involved in the attack and there are a lot of open files for them to pursue White’s king. Unfortunately, after 38.Kb1 Qb4+ (38…Rb7+ is met, paradoxically, by 39.Kc1, allowing a check on a3, after which White is ok!) 39.Qb2, it’s not so easy for Black to continue giving checks – e1 and f1 are covered!

I played 39…Bb7, thinking to myself that he had to keep both squares covered, and so on something like 40.Re4-e3, I would play 40…Bxg2 winning a pawn. However, he again found the correct move with 40.Re2, as after 40…Rf1+ 41.Kc2, there’s no good follow up for Black! After some more mistakes from me, we reached an endgame that was marginally better for White (passed pawn supported by king, rook, and bishop), but it should have been drawn.

In the following position, I played 56…g3:

Barcenilla - Bhat 2009 5

I could have given up my bishop for the c-pawn earlier, and then hoped to liquidate the kingside pawns and reach a R vs R + B endgame. However, I didn’t want to defend that while on the increment – there are some players (namely GM Josh Friedel), who seem to know that endgame backwards and forwards, but I figured that given fatigue and time pressure, I would better avoid it.

The decision (to push my h- and g-pawns) was objectively correct, but at this point, I blundered horribly. After 57.hxg3, I played 57…h3??. After playing this move, I noticed that 58.Bd7 Rxc7 59.Kxc7 h2 60.Bc6 was simply winning for White! I also missed that Barcenilla’s chosen move, 58.Bc6, was also winning for White, albeit in a more difficult fashion.

Had I seen that I wouldn’t be queening my pawn, I would have played 57…hxg3, after which the draw is pretty simple. After 58.Bd7 Rxc7 59.Kxc7 g2, Black’s king gets to f2 or h2 fast enough to escort the pawn through. Thus, White has to give up his bishop for the pawn with Bh3xg2, but the resulting R vs B endgame is a trivial draw (it’s much simpler than R vs R + B).

In any case, after Barcenilla’s mistake, we got to a Q vs R endgame where I had some chances to hold out for a draw, especially had I not blundered after about 39 moves with 99…Kg7? (99…Kf8 would have kept some drawing chances). But so it goes, especially for this match.

Thus, we lost 2.5 – 1.5 and dropped into a 3-way tie for 2nd place in the West with Miami and Arizona. With Dallas 1.5 games back, we’ve got to win a couple matches in the final 3 weeks to make sure we make the playoffs.

End of the road for the for Mechanics

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.

Here and there – the USCL

I’ve played a few games of chess over the past couple weeks, some of which went much better than others. Here’s a quick rundown of my games. The team recaps can be read on the Mechanics blog.

In Week 8, the SF Mechanics faced the Tennessee Tempo. With GM Jaan Ehlvest hired to play board 1, the Tempo are a much more dangerous team this year than in year’s past. Unfortunately for the Tempo, Ehlvest has only played in about half their matches, so they’ve struggled more when he’s away. With GM Patrick Wolff taking board 1 duties that week, I was on board 2 against FM Todd Andrews. The game can be replayed here.

The game was a 6.Qc2 Anti-Meran (As a side note, why didn’t Kramnik play this against Anand? It seems like it’d be more his style than the main line of the Meran) where I chose the 7…Nxg4 8.Rg1 f5 system. I hadn’t played this before, and didn’t prepare it for this game, but the last time I saw Todd play this system as White was from games in 1998, so I thought he might have something up his sleeve against my normal 7…h6 system. We reached the following position after 13…Bd7:

White now played the odd 14.Be1 – I think he wanted to stop 14…Nh4, which now runs into 15.Nxh4 Qxh4 16.f3, and maybe avoid an exchange of knight for bishop. Unfortunately, the bishop is misplaced a bit on e1 and clogs up some of the communication of his rooks. I also don’t have to rush with …Nh4 and can instead go about finishing my development and castling. I was more worried about 14.Bd3 or 14.Be2 at that point, as even if go after the h-pawn right away with 14…Nh4, after 15.Nxh4 Qxh4 16.Rdg1, I expected White to have adequate counterplay on the g-file and in the center.

In the game, though, I soon got to castle queenside when White was left without any obvious targets to attack. With my powerful knight on e4 and the ability to challenge the g-file, the center and kingside are generally in Black’s hands. Thus, Todd looked to attack on the queenside with 16.c5. The problem was that the attack was a bit slow to organize, and in the meantime, I was able to organize some serious threats myself. We reached the following position after some exchanges on the kingside:


I’m threatening to come in on g1, but Todd gave me a big gift here. 22.Rb3? walked right into 22…Nxc5 (thanks to the pin along the 4th rank), but I think White was already in trouble. I expected 22.Qb4, but then I planned 22…Rg1 23.Be2 (23.Rb3 still walks into 23…Nxc5! 24.Qxc5 Rxf1, when White is in huge trouble) Bc7 24.Rb3 Kd8!, simply sidestepping the attack. Black threatens 25…a5 to drive the queen from the defense of the bishop on e1, and meanwhile White’s pieces are strangely tied up on the b-file and in the center. After taking the exchange off his hands, I won in a few more moves. The team won the match as well, as although Patrick was ground down on board 1, we won the remaining boards to win by a score of 3-1.

In Week 9, we faced the 2007 USCL champion Dallas Destiny. They were in 3rd place in the Western Division, but present a very dangerous lineup.  Like the Mechanics, they have a bit of a 3 or 4-headed monster for the first couple boards, followed by FM Igor Schneider and WFM Bayaraa Zorigt as their more regular boards 3 and 4. As in Week 8, I was on board 2, facing IM Davorin Kuljasevic. Davorin beat me in Miami in September, and he beat me last year in the league, so I was hoping that the third time was the charm. The game can be replayed here.

I got a clearly better position after the opening, but in trying to increase my advantage, I missed an important tactical shot after 15…Kg7.

I dropped the bishop back to g3 with 16.Bg3, overlooking that after 16…exd4 17.cxd4, Black has 17…c5! when the exchange sacrifice with 18.dxc5 Bxa1 19.Rxa1 Nxc4 20.Qxc4 is White’s best. White has definite compensation here, and actually I thought White was still slightly better, but I decided just to play 17.exd4 instead, thinking that preserved my advantage. It did, but not for reasons I understood. The next key position arose after 20…Qa5, hitting the a2-, c3-, and c5-pawns.

Instead of 21.Rxb7 Rxc5 22.Qb4!, when 23.Bd6 and 23.Bc7 are both threats, I played 21.Rb5, but after 21…Qa6 22.Qb4 Qxa2 23.Rxb7 Qd5, realized I had nothing. I was nominally up a pawn, but the c5-pawn was falling and the c3-pawn was not destined to live very long after that. With all the material on one side of the board, the game petered out to a draw. Had I won, we would have tied the match. IM David Pruess lost quickly to Schneider on board 3, while NM Nicholas Nip drew on board 4 against Zorigt. To close out the match, Josh Friedel saved a lost position to salvage a draw to bring the final score to 2.5-1.5 in Dallas’ favor.

Week 7 in the US Chess League

Last week in the USCL, the SF Mechanics played the Seattle Sluggers. At the time, the Sluggers were 1 match point behind us, so with a win, they’d tie us for first in the division.

There was some controversy over the match date and lineups. I wrote about this on the Mechanics blog (here), Seattle responded (here), and I responded in the comments section (here) – that seems to have ruffled some feathers in Seattle.

In any case, due to the change, I had the white pieces against GM Hikaru Nakamura. I beat him last year in league play (the game can be replayed here) and narrowly missed beating him in rapid play in Germany this summer (see the post here). He’s the highest rated player in the league, and after crossing 2700 FIDE on the October 2008 rating list, he’s the 2nd-highest rated player in the US behind GM Gata Kamsky. The game can be replayed on the USCL site, here.

GM Vinay Bhat (2498 FIDE) – GM Hikaru Nakamura (2704 FIDE)
USCL (Week 7, Board 1), 08.10.2008 [King’s Indian Defense]

1.d4 Nf6

Hikaru showed up late, so he lost 7 minutes on the clock.

2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 Nc6

An offbeat line. Hikaru has normally played 6…e5 here, but he also plays everything under the sun so I wasn’t expecting any specific opening.

7.d5 Nb8

A rather eccentric move. When I looked over the game, I hadn’t expected to find this move in the database, but there were over 300 games with it!

It reminds me a bit of 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Ng8!?!?. I was alerted to the existence of this line when flipping through a copy of Khalifman’s “Opening for White According to Anand, Volume 5”, which at least according to the table of contents, spends close to 10 pages discussing how to get +/= against this line.

Anyways, I didn’t expect to refute 7…Nb8, but this can’t be the most challenging line for Black in the King’s Indian.

8.0-0

8.h3!? takes away the …Bg4 idea, but this may not be a move White wants to play in some lines either. Black can also think about breaking with …e6 here, as his bishop will cover the e6 square.

8…Bg4 9.Be3

I briefly considered, 9.Qb3, which is common in lines where Black deploys his light-squared bishop so early, but with d4-d5 already in, Black can play 9…Nbd7 and eye the weak c5-square.;

9.h3 was the other major option, taking the bishop pair. After 9…Bxf3 10.Bxf3 Nbd7 White will likely play to exchange on c6 when Black plays …c6, to try and open up the position a bit for the bishops. White’s a bit better, but I decided I’d rather have a knight here.

9…Nbd7 10.Nd4 Bxe2 11.Qxe2 Rc8 12.f4 c6

13.Rac1!?

Anticipating …cxd5 at some point. There were two general alternatives I looked at:

(a) 13.dxc6 changes the pawn structure, and if White can play e4-e5, he will be happy, but I didn’t see any way of forcing that in.;

(b) 13.Bf2 tries to push e4-e5, but now the f4-pawn is a bit weak. 13…Nh5 , hits the pawn and covers the e5-square.

13…Re8

Black, meanwhile, anticipates an …cxd5/exd5 exchange, when the e7-pawn will need protection.

14.Kh1 Qa5

14…e6 is not a good idea, as after 15.dxe6 fxe6 16.Nc2 , Black can play neither …e5 (because of f4-f5) nor …d5 (because of e4-e5). Meanwhile, White can even think of c4-c5 pawn sacrifices at times to secure the e4-e5 advance.

15.Bg1!

The bishop gets tucked away to prepare the e4-e5 advance while getting away from any future …Ng4/…Nh5 annoyances.

15…cxd5 16.cxd5!

16.exd5 was my intended recapture had Black recaptured earlier. White retains a bit more control of the position, but I thought I’d only have a symbolic advantage here. The e7-pawn is somewhat weak, but Black has enough defenders while White has no easy inroads elsewhere.

However, since 13.Rac1!?, I thought I had gotten more done with my past two moves than Black had and felt I could play for more with 16.cxd5. The queen is a bit exposed on a5 and e4-e5 is hanging in the air.]

16…Nb6

White was threatening 17.Nb3 Qb4 18.e5 dxe5 19.fxe5 Nh5 20.e6 Ne5 21.Bd4! f6 22.g4, trapping the knight on h5. Thus, Black has to add an attacker to the d5-pawn for now.

17.a3

17.Qb5:

a) 17…Rc5? 18.Qxa5 Rxa5 19.b4 leaves Black’s rook seriously misplaced after the required 19…Ra6 (19…Ra3? 20.Ndb5 Ra6 21.Nc7 is losing.) ;

b) 17…Qxb5 18.Ndxb5 and the a7-pawn and b6-knight are targeted by the knight and bishop on g1.;

c) 17…Nc4 18.b3 a6 19.Qxa5 Nxa5 20.Nf3 is still about equal.

17…Na4 18.Nb1?!

(a) 18.b4 Nxc3 19.Rxc3 Qa4 20.Rfc1 Rxc3 21.Rxc3 a5 is about equal.;

(b) 18.Ncb5! was the right move, and one I had spent some time on. 18…Qd8 (I had seen the nice line 18…a6 19.Nc7!! Rxc7 20.Nb3 and Black’s queen can’t stay in touch with the rook on c7. Black’s lost. For example, 20…Rxc1 21.Nxa5 Rxf1 22.Qxf1 Nxe4 23.b3 Nac3 24.Nxb7+-) 19.Rxc8 Qxc8 20.Nxa7 Qg4. I had seen this far, but was confused as what to do next. I didn’t see any good way to hang onto my extra pawn. I considered 21.Qb5 (21.Qc4! is better for White, though.) 21…Qd7 22.Qxd7 Nxd7 when objectively, the position is about equal, but I didn’t see any way to save the pawn. Black is playing …Nf6 next, to hit e4/d5 if White guards b2. Frustrated, I realized I was running low on time and just played Nb1.

18…Rxc1 19.Rxc1 Qa6 20.Qc2?!

White had two better choices, both leading to unclear endgames. Due to the reduced material, I’d guess both should end in draws.

(a) 20.Qxa6 bxa6 21.Nd2 Nc5 (21…Nxb2 22.Rc6 Nd3 23.Rxa6 is another way to continue.) 22.b4 Ncxe4 23.Nxe4 Nxe4 24.Rc6 with an unclear endgame.;

(b) 20.Nd2 Nxb2 (20…Qxe2 21.Nxe2 Nxb2 22.Rb1 Nd7 23.Nd4²) 21.Qxa6 bxa6 22.Ne2! with an unclear endgame.

20…Nc5 21.Nd2 Nd3

21…Qd3 22.Qxd3 Nxd3 23.Rc7 is not crystal clear, but likely about equal. 23…Nxb2 (23…Ng4 24.N4f3 Bxb2 25.a4 Nxf4 26.Rxb7) 24.Rxb7 Nd3 25.Rxa7 Nxf4 In these lines, White will end up with an extra a-pawn, but Black takes a kingside pawn and has some active piece play. In some lines, he’ll also play …e6 to activate the rook along the e-file. The endgames are not crystal clear to me, but likely about equal in the end.

22.Rf1

22…Nd7?

A strange oversight from Hikaru. After the game, he explained he was under the weather, so that might explain this lackadaisical move. Black wants to bring the knight to b6, to play …Rc8, but he won’t have enough time here.

22…Ng4! is a move he’d normally see and play right away. Black threatens …Ndf2+, forcing some exchanges on f2 followed by a capture on d4. White’s problem is that he has no really constructive move:

a) 23.Nc4? Nxb2! wins a pawn.;

b) 23.N2f3? Nxf4 wins a pawn again.;

c) 23.N4b3? b6! and with …Rc8 next, Black is still in charge. (23…Nxb2 24.h3! misplaces the black knight a bit.) ;

d) 23.h3 Ngf2+ 24.Rxf2 (24.Bxf2 Nxf2+ 25.Rxf2 Bxd4 26.Rf3 b6 when Black is clearly better. He has the more compact pawn structure, the bishop, and the open c-file (after …Rc8). For example,  27.b4 Rc8 28.Qd3 Qxd3 29.Rxd3 Bb2 leaves Black clearly better) 24…Bxd4 25.Rf1 Bxg1 (25…Bg7 when I think Black enjoys a steady advantage. The computer, however, finds an interesting resource: 26.b4 Qxa3 27.Nc4 Qc3 28.Qxc3 Bxc3 29.Rf3 Rc8 30.Nxd6 exd6 31.Rxd3 Bxb4 32.Bxa7=) 26.Kxg1 b6 again with a clear advantage for Black.

23.b4 Bxd4

23…Qxa3 24.Nc4 picks up the knight.

24.Bxd4 Nb6

24…g5 doesn’t save Black. The hope is to open the e5-square for the knight to retreat, but White simply plays 25.g3 , when Qb3 and b5 are still on tap. Meanwhile 25…gxf4 26.gxf4 only helps White because he can add Rg1+ to his list of threats.

25.Qb3

The finishing blow – there’s no way to stop b4-b5 next, cutting the knight of from its support. Maybe Hikaru was banking on 25.Bxb6 axb6 26.Qb3 Ra8 27.b5 (27.a4 still wins a piece, though, although after 27…Nxf4 28.Rxf4 Qxa4 , it’s marginally more difficult than in the game.) 27…Qxa3 , which keeps in touch with the knight.

25…Nxf4

25…Qb5 26.Bxb6 axb6 27.a4 also wins a piece.

26.Rxf4 Rc8 27.Rf1 Qe2 28.Qf3

28…Qxf3

28…Qxd2?? 29.Qxf7#

29.Nxf3

With the queens off the board, the rest really is just a matter of technique. Black can safely resign, but Hikaru decided to see if I could blow a piece-up ending two weeks in a row.

29…Rc2 30.Bxb6 axb6 31.Kg1 Ra2 32.Rc1 Rxa3 33.Rc7 Kf8 34.Rxb7 Re3 35.Rxb6 Rxe4 36.Kf2 h6

37.Rb5!?

There are, of course, other ways to win this endgame. I decided that transferring the knight to the queenside (either a5 or c6, depending on the situation) was the simplest, and for that, I wanted to have the d5-pawn protected. Right now, Black can’t approach the pawn because the knight covers e5 and d4, but once it leaves, it will be useful.

37…e5 38.Nd2 Rd4 39.Nb3 Rc4 40.Na5 Rc2+ 41.Kf1 Rc1+ 42.Ke2 Rc2+ 43.Kd1 Rxg2

The kingside pawns aren’t so important, as I just want to queen my b-pawn.

44.Rb8+ Kg7 45.b5 e4 46.b6 Rg5 47.Ra8 and Black resigned.

After 47.Ra8 , Black resigned because if: 47…Rxd5+ 48.Ke2 Rb5 49.b7 . The pawn queens, leaving White a rook and knight up.

Recent USCL play

After my week 2 win against Emory Tate, I sat out the next few matches and rejoined the team in its week 5 clash with the Boston Blitz.

I lost that game in horrible style to GM Larry Christiansen (he’s now 2-0 against me, having beaten me in our previous encounter in China in 2002 – I had the black pieces in that game). It was the first time in ages I remember actually losing on time. The game can be replayed on the USCL website, here. I recapped the action on the entire week at the SF Mechanics blog, here. We lost the match by a score of 3-1 (although it easily could have been a 4-0 sweep from Boston).

That dropped us to 3.5/5 in match-play and a tie with Dallas for first in the Western Division. It was my first loss of the year, and the team’s first match loss of the year.

The following week, we played a division rival in the Arizona Scorpions. This match went much better for us. I had the black pieces against the strong IM Rogelio Barcenilla. Rogelio doesn’t play much anymore, but he had been rated near 2500-FIDE for years. The game was equal for a while, but then I got the advantage and was easily winning (up a whole piece after …Rxb3!). However, I was having trouble seeing more than 1 move ahead and with my head hurting, I managed to completely botch the win over the next 20 moves or so. The game ended in a draw, but we won the match anyways, 3-1. Actually, we could have had a 4-0 sweep if Naroditsky and myself were even remotely in form. You can see the game at the USCL site, here. The recap, again written by me, is on the Mechanics blog here.

This win took us to 4.5/6 in match play this season, and we again took clear first in the West, as Dallas lost to Tennessee by a score of 2.5-1.5. There are 4 weeks left in regular season play, after which the first of 3 playoff rounds begins.

Our history in the league has been pretty good – we won the Division in 2005, won the Division in 2006 (and went on to win the League Championsip) with the best team record in league history, and placed 2nd in the Division in 2007 behind later league-champion Dallas.

The man, the myth, the legend … and Game of The Week!

The 2008 season of the US Chess League started at the end of August, and the SF Mechanics got off to a good start by beating the defending champion Dallas Destiny 2.5-1.5. GM-elect Josh Friedel posted a writeup on the team blog.

In week 2, we faced the expansion Chicago Blaze and the match ended in a 2-2 tie. I was on board 2, behind Josh, against IM Emory Tate.

The legendary Emory Tate. If you’re following an American tournament on ICC, or even some international tournaments, it’s hard to escape mention of 3 chessplayers: Fischer, Nakamura, and Tate. Here are a couple writeups I found, at the Chessdrum: a brief intro and part 2.

ICC, where the games were broadcast, billed the game as “Watch the Legendary IM Emory Tate make his debut in the USCL against GM-elect Vinay Bhat!”

Given Tate’s history as a dangerous attacker, I was hoping to avoid any such excitement and instead play some quiet chess. However, the game was rather messy, with a number of complicated lines that were tough for me to slog through in the short time control. The game can be replayed here: http://www.uschessleague.com/games/bhattate08.htm

Bhat – Tate, USCL (2) 2008.09.03

1. d4 b6!?

A surprise, but as I hadn’t done much preparation for this game, it didn’t bother me too much.

2. e4 e6 3. Nd2!?

Clearly not the most testing move, but I was a bit tired before the game, and I wasn’t going to challenge him in what might be considered the main lines with either 3.c4 Bb7 4.Nc3 Bb4 or 3.Nc3 Bb7 4.Nf3 Bb4. The latter is probably White’s best option of punishing Black for his ultra-hypermodern play in the opening, but I simply couldn’t be bothered to do that this early in the game.

3…c5 4. c3 Ne7 5. Ngf3 d5 6. e5 Qd7

We’ve essentially reached a funky version of the Advance French where Black is hoping to exchange off the light squared bishops. To this end, he needs to take away the option of Qa4+ (as after 6…Ba6 7.Bxa6 Nxa6, 8.Qa4+ wins a piece).

Developing the bishop on f1 is natural now, but doesn’t help White’s cause as after 7…Ba6, he’ll have nothing better than to exchange bishops. Thus, I was looking for something useful to do, and realizing my advantage was going to be on the kingside, I decided to start seizing space immediately.

7. h4! Ba6 8. Bxa6 Nxa6 9. Qe2 c4!?

A tough decision for Black. If he retreats with 9…Nb8, he maintains the central tension for a bit more time, but he also loses time with his knight. I was planning 10.h5 Nbc6 11.a3, taking away the b4-square. White can then proceed in a few different ways on the kingside, most probably with h5-h6 (as in the game) or h5 and Rh4-f4, to pressure the weak f7-pawn. Either way, I think White still is a bit better.

10. h5 b5 11. h6

Ramming the pawn into Black’s camp. If he pushes past with 11…g6, he’s left with huge dark-square weaknesses (and a knight coming to g4 would be especially strong then), while if he lets White take on g7, the bishop on g7 is going to be weak, while the f6-square is still soft.

11…gxh6 12. Nf1?!

During the game, I thought it made sense to go after the kingside immediately, but maybe it would’ve been more prudent to play 12.a3. That would take a move out to slow down Black’s queenside counterplay, as in the game, he stirred up some trouble there. White can afford to do this given that he’ll win the kingside battle anyways.

I considered this during the game, but I thought I would actually be able to use the open b-file faster than Black. With that in mind, I doggedly pursued my strategy on the kingside.

12…b4 13. Ng3 bxc3 14. bxc3 Qa4 15.Rb1 Ng6 16. Nh5 Be7

17. Bxh6

This was where I was hoping to make real use of the b-file by playing 17.Rb7!?. Black can’t leave the rook on the 7th in his camp, and so he must play 17…Qc6 (17…Rb8 and 17…0-0-0 both kick the rook away from b7, but allow White to take the pawn on a7). I then had planned 18.Qb2, taking the b-file and on 18…Ba3, White has 19.Qxa3 Qxb7 20.Qd6, when White is winning due to the threat of Nf6#. Fortunately, while he was thinking, I realized he could play 18…Kd8!! there, with the simple idea of 19…Kc8. All of a sudden, my “control” of the b-file just gets me into serious trouble.

17…Nc7 18. Nh2 Nb5 19. Qf3 O-O-O 20. O-O Rd7 21. Ng4 Nh4 22. Qh3?

Up until now, my play had been pretty logical and to the point. However, here, I missed my chance with 22.Qxf7. I was spooked by the possibility of 22…Bg5 23.Qxe6 Nc7, seemingly trapping the queen, but 24.Rb4! saves White and leaves him winning.

22…Nf5

23. Bf4?!

23.Bd2 might look more natural, as it guards the weak c3-pawn, but the bishop is exposed on d2 and will be vulnerable if Black ever puts a queen on the 2nd rank (either after …Qxa2 or …Qc2). Thus, I decided to put it on f4.

However, 23.Nhf6! was correct. I saw this move, but for some reason, I kept wanting to avoid calculating in my tired state. The lines are pretty simple, though:

(1) 23…Rb7 24.Nxd5 exd5 25.Ne3

(2) 23…Nxh6 24.Nxh6 Bxf6 25.exf6 Nd6 (25…Rb7? 26.Nxf7!) 26.Rb2 and White just doubles on the b-file.

(3) 23…Bxf6 24.Nxf6 Rb7 25.Nxd5 Nxh6 26.Rb4! Qa5 27.Rxc4+ Kb8 28.Nb4, and the threat of 29.Nc6+ means White can take the knight on h6 later.

23…Rb7 24. Ngf6 Rd8

White was threatening to remove the support from under the f5-knight with 25.Nfxd5.

25. g4 Nfxd4

A visually pleasing sacrifice, but it was virtually forced. The knight had no other safe squares, and 25…Bxf6 runs into 26.gxf5! Be7 27.fxe6 fxe6 28.Qxe6+ when White is crashing through.

26. cxd4 Nxd4 27. Rxb7 Kxb7 28. Ng3 Bxf6 29. exf6 e5 30. Be3 Qc2 31. f4!?

After the game, David Pruess told me this was move was insane, and I agreed. However, I didn’t like 31.Qh5 Rd7, when I can’t take on e5 because of the weak f3 square. And without that double attack, I needed to find another way to break up his central pawn phalanx.

31…Qd3 32. Bxd4 Qxd4+ 33. Kh1?!

I was now down to 1 minute.

The computer rightly points out that 33.Kg2 was better. I didn’t see anything clear after any of the king moves to g2, h2, or h1, but I decided against putting it on the 2nd rank because of some possible checks or pins from b2 or d2.

33…exf4 34. Ne2 Qe3?!

After playing pretty well for the rest of the game, Tate started to go wrong here and got too ambitious. 34…Qe4+ was better, as after White interposes, Black can choose to exchange queens and enter relatively drawish endgames at will. Given the match situation (where they won on board 3 and were winning on board 4), this would have been the more prudent option for the team as well.

35. Qg2 Kc6 36. Rxf4

White is already better again, as the pawns are temporarily stopped and Black’s king is somewhat exposed. The ensuing king walk is somewhat counter-intuitive, but it’s hard to sit tight sometimes.

36…Kc5 37. Rf5 Kb4?

The previous king moves were not too bad, but this one starts a real downward trend for Black. What’s the king doing on b4?

38. Rf3

In time pressure, I missed that 38.Nf4! was much stronger.

38…Qh6+ 39. Kg1 d4?

Black had to prevent his queen from getting shut out and so 39…Qd2 was called for.

In time pressure, I missed that 38.Nf4! was much stronger.

40. Rf4!

The finisher. White cuts Black’s queen off from giving any checks, opens the long diagonal for White’s queen to give a check on b7 (and as it can later check from b6 or d8, it indirectly is attacking the rook on d8 already), and eyes Black’s king along the 4th rank. White is completely winning now.

40…Ka3 41. Qb7 Qh4 42. Qxa7+ Kb2 43. Qb6+ Kc2 44. Qxd8 d3 45. Nd4+ Kc3 46. Qa5+, 1-0

White is going to deliver checkmate soon, and so Black resigned. This brought us up to 1-1 in the match, and after Josh won and Naroditsky lost, the match was finished at an even 2-2.

This game was also awarded the Game of the Week prize for week 2 in the USCL. Here’s the writeup from the judge of the Game of the Week competition: http://usclnews.blogspot.com/2008/09/week-2-game-of-week.html