Tag Archives: Zherebukh

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.

Theoretical Discussions Continued

With 4.5/6, I barely made the cut in the 7th round and squared off as black against GM Reynaldo Vera of Cuba. Although his rating has dropped over the past few years, he’s very experienced and was playing well at Cappelle (with a performance rating over 2600). Throw in the facts that he had been playing both sides of the Semi-Slav for about 25 years and that I used his book (Chess Explained: The Meran Semi-Slav) to learn it, and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy game.

At my tournaments recently, even with one game a day, I only try to spend about 1-2 hours preparing for every game. I used to spend much more time preparing when I was playing sporadically (as in the summers of 2006 and 2007), but now that I work on chess much more, I have less to do in general. It also lets me conserve my energy for the game. Thus, even though I wasn’t sure where he would go in the Meran, I didn’t spend a bunch of time and decided to focus on the line in which Kazhgaleyev clobbered me.

Unfortunately, I guessed wrong and he instead went with a line that has become pretty popular over the past 2-3 years: the 5.b3 Anti-Meran (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.b3). Kramnik won a couple nice games with it, and whenever Kramnik plays, people pay attention. When Avrukh made it a big part of his book, GM Repertoire Volume 1, it really took off.

For example, in 18 games where I tried to play the Semi-Slav last year (i.e., I didn’t play the regular Slav), I saw this line 3 times. By comparison, I only saw the main line Meran with 5.Nc3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 a grand total of 0 times (that’s also why the idea I played against Kazhgaleyev had been sitting on the shelf gathering dust for over a year)!

Most recently, I’ve been experimenting with a Stonewall setup against this system (with a quick …Ne4 and …f5), and this game was no exception. But unlike my 3 previous opponents with this setup, Vera decided to play Nfd2 instead of Nbd2 at a key juncture, hoping to kick my knight away from e4 with a later f3. In the following position, he had succeeded in this aim:

(FEN: r1bq1rk1/pp1n2pp/2p1pn2/3p1p2/1bPP4/1P1BPP2/PB1N2PP/RN1Q1RK1 w - - 1 11)

Ideally, he would break with e3-e4 at some point, putting serious pressure on Black’s structure. If Black takes on e4, he will be left with a horribly weak e6-pawn, while the alternative of allowing White to grab a ton of space with e5 is not particularly enticing. In this specific position, though, I had seen that 11.e4 runs into 11…dxe4 12.fxe4 Nc5!, taking advantage of the pin on the d4-pawn. If 13.dxc5, Black plays 13…Bxc5+ and then plays 14…Qxd3 with advantage. However, 13.Bc2 drops the e4-pawn, so White is not ready for e3-e4.

To this end, he played 11.Qe2, guarding the bishop and preparing 12.e4. I was ready for this as well and played 11…Re8!, putting the rook on the e-file in anticipation of the e-file opening up. The point is that after 12.e4 Black can play 12…e5! and White is in some trouble actually. If White ever takes on d5 or f5, Black takes on d4 with tempo. For example, 13.exd5? exd4 14.Qf2 Ne5! (covering f5 and hitting the bishop) and White is in real trouble – 15.Qxd4 Qa5! is even losing for White, who can’t deal with both …Bxd2 and …Bc5.

Thus, I had defused White’s entire plan with Nfd2 – as GM Anton Kovalyov remarked in our post-mortem (amusingly, he was one of the guys against whom I tried this Stonewall approach last year), the knights on d2 and b1 look a bit funny now. Unfortunately, I relaxed a bit having dealt with White’s main strategic goal and proceeded to make a couple small errors. While it didn’t land me in a horrible position, it did mean things weren’t as comfortable as they could have been. By move 25 or so, both of us were getting a bit low on time and I decided that under those circumstances, the initiative was worth a bit more than usual.

(FEN: r4nk1/ppbbr2p/2p1p3/1PPp2qn/P2P1p2/1N1B1P2/1BQ3PP/R3RNK1 b - - 0 22)

Black has the obvious plan of playing on the kingside, with moves like …Rg7, …Ng6, …Nh4, …Kh8, and …Rag8 all factoring in. However, as soon as Black puts a knight on g6, White is going to take if off – if a Black knight reaches h4, then White is going to be in real trouble (it’s virtually impossible to hold both g2 and f3 forever). Thus, if Black plays 22…Ng6 right now, White will take, and Black has no way of keeping the file open. The h-file is not as useful as the g-file in this case, as the Nf1 guards h2 and it will take Black a long time to triple on the h-file.

There’s more after the jump