Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Week 9: Playoff bound!

Tonight the Knights beat the Baltimore Kingfishers 3-1 to clinch the #3 seed in the East. In the process, we moved over .500 for the regular season for the first time since October 1, 2006(!). Despite our middling regular season play, we've reached the playoffs for the fifth straight season (out of five), joined only by San Francisco in accomplishing that feat. Next week we play Boston in a preview of our first round playoff match.

On board 1, Giorgi got the better of an Advance Caro-Kann against GM Sergey Erenburg, soon building a massive time advantage. Erenburg was able to wriggle free and forced perpetual.

On board 2, another Advance Caro, Pascal dominated the opening and looked to be on a smooth path to victory before IM Enkhbat played a series of stunning moves (..Rh6 and ..Rh4 to start) that complicated the position. If black had found the natural 31. ..Qb5!, white would be forced to give back his material advantage after 32. Rcc3! (32. Qh6 Ba6 is winning for black) a4 33. Qh6 Ba6 34. Rcd3 Qc6 and black is perhaps even slightly better. Pascal found the accurate Rf3!, Kc2! and e6! to consolidate, reel in the full point and punch our ticket to the playoffs.

On board 4, Yaacov looked to have a comfortable +/= against Jared Defibaugh. Defibaugh defended well and after a tactical miss by Yaacov (29. Qb2! Bc2 30. Bb7!! +/-), Defibaugh had a queen for a rook, piece and pawn and due to white's temporary lack of coordination, good winning chances. The first try was 30. ..Bc2! 31. Rc1 Qd7 32. Rc2 Qd4 33. Kg2 Qd3 34. Rc8 Bf8 35. e6 g5!! and the black queen works miracles, forcing white to shed significant material. After the less accurate 30. ..Bf5, Yaacov improved his pieces and soon liquidated the queenside. Defibaugh's 33. ..a5!? would have been looked back upon as a extraordinarily devious trap if, after the natural-looking 37. Nd5??, black had found the stunning 37. ..Qe2! 38. Ne7 Kg7(h7)!! (not 38. ..Kf8 39. Rd8! Ke7 40. Bc6! and black has to force perpetual). White has a nominally crushing material advantage (rook/bishop/knight/two pawns for a queen), but cannot avoid severe losses and eventual mate!

On board 3, I had the black pieces against WGM Sabina Foisor, fresh off of an appearance at the US Women's Championship in St. Louis.

Foisor - Herman
1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 Nbd7 5. cd?!

Foisor exchanges on d5, as did Andrei Zaremba in our week 3 match. Neither experiment seemed to have worked.

5. 6. Nf3 e6 7. Bd3 Bd6 8. Bd2 a6 9. Qe2 b5!

Black has won the battle for e4 (10. e4 b4!) and is better.

10. 0-0 Bb7 11. Rfc1 0-0 12. a3

White prevents b5-b4, but seems to have no concrete plan.

12. ..Ne4! 13. Ne1 e5!

It was tempting to go 13. ..f5, but white responds f2-f4 and can grovel for equality. With Foisor's pieces in retreat, it's time to open the center.

14. Ne4 de 15. Bb1 Qh4!?

Also possible was to interpose 15. 16. ed, when the game has a decidedly different flavor. Black would have a permanent positional edge, but also potentially free white's pieces. I decided instead to restrain the white N, Q and d2 bishop.

16. g3 Qh3 17. Bc3 Rae8 18. Qf1 Qh5

White's Q is out of moves, unless you count the fianchetto!

19. Ba2 Kh8 20. Rd1 Bb8 21. Bb4 Rg8 22. d5?

White tries to gain counterplay by pushing her d-pawn, but it was necessary to try to simplify with 22. de Ne5 23. Bd6. Now black has a free hand on the kingside.

22. ..f5 23. a4 f4!

The queenside is of no importance as white's king is under siege!

24. ab Ba7! 25. Ng2

A fianchettoed knight with no prospects is never a good sign. Now white has problems defending h2!

25. ..Nf6! 26. d6 Ng4 27. h4 fe

A critical moment. Those who have allowed Rybka to atrophy their calculation skills will declare that 28. d7 provides white sufficient counterplay. Time to take the red pill!

28. ..ef 29. Kh1 Rd8!! 30. Bg8 e3!!

31. Bd5 Bd5 32. Rd5 Qf7!! with threats of Qf3-g3-h3 and Qf3/e3-e2.

White is forced to play 33. Qd1 f1Q 34. Qf1 Qd5 35. Ba5 Rd7 36. Qf8 Qg8 37. Qg8 Kg8 38. b6 Bb8 39. Bc3 Rf7! (the Ng2 continues to be a source of discomfort) 40. Ne1 e4! and black is winning.

28. fe Ne3 29. Ne3 Be3 30. Kh2 Ref8! 31. Bg8 Rf1 32. Rf1 Qe2 33. Kh1 Bf2!

The last finesse. It was not too late to blunder the game away with the over-cute 33. ..Bg1 34. Kg1 e3 35. Bd5!! and wins. White decides to play til mate.

34. Kh2 Bd4 35. Kh3 Bc8 36. g4 Qg4 37. Kh2 Qh3#


Playoffs?? Don't talk about playoffs!

With New Jersey's win and Boston's draw, the first three seeds in the East are set, while Baltimore and Philly will battle for the 4th and final playoff spot in week 10 [Chris correctly points out that Queens has not been eliminated, though they need some help]. Amanda Mateer's stunning 300-point upset over Josh Sinanan means that 1/2/3/4 are up for grabs in the West, though Seattle is still in the driver's seat, with a one match lead. Miami has clinched at least the #4 seed with their draw against Boston.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Week 8: Draw death

In week 8, the Knights inexorable sideways march continued, with a tense 2-2 draw against the cellar-dwelling Carolina Cobras. The white pieces went 4-0 as tight and tough losses on boards 2 and 4 were balanced by Pascal's masterful handling of the two bishops and space advantage on board 1 against IM Jonathan Schroer and SM Greg Braylovsky's steady victory against FM Ron Simpson on board 3.

This match marked NY Knights all-time MVP points leader Braylovsky's 2009 debut and NM Raven Sturt's 2nd match of the season, making him eligible for playoff action.

On board 1, a Bb5/Bb4 Four Knights led to a position where Pascal seemingly held all the positional trumps: space, two bishops, pawn breaks. Schroer's response was to, borrowing a phrase from John Fernandez, "barnacle" -- retreat his knights to f8 and d7, and shuffle his rook between e8 and d8, hoping that white could not defeat his fortress. With the match situation looking critical, Pascal finally began pushing his kingside pawns, eventually winning the f7 pawn. He temporarily sacrificed the exchange to reach an easily winning rook and pawn endgame.

On board 2, Irina solidly defended a Queens Indian Declined against FM Oleg Zaikov, but faltered in time pressure, as her weaknesses on the light squares and back rank proved too much to handle.

On board 3, Greg built a massive time advantage with the subtle 3. c3, a move that Simpson had apparently not prepared for. After a tactical hallucination (..c4), Simpson played with extreme resourcefulness, developing significant kingside counterplay. Greg was up to the challenge, eventually giving back his extra pawn to activate his knight. The very pretty Qd8 ended all of black's hopes and he lost on time.

On board 4, Raven and NM Craig Jones engaged in a move-order duel, as an English became a KID became a Maroczy Bind/Accelerated Dragon. Raven played quickly and confidently, building a dynamic position while Jones slipped behind on the clock. Unfortunately, Raven went for the positionally dubious ..d5, after which Jones' pieces activated and he soon won a pawn. Undeterred and perhaps assisted by some dubious technique from white, Raven soon developed massive counterplay and looked to be better in the rook, knight and pawn endgame. In mutual time pressure, though, Raven managed to lose back a pawn and could not hold the resulting rook and pawn endgame, as Jones reeled in the full point.

Playoffs?? Don't talk about Playoffs!

With two weeks remaining, the Knights are a half point ahead of fourth-place Baltimore, whom we will conveniently play next week. To modify the Russian adage, four results are possible. If the Knights can beat Baltimore, we'll practically wrap up 3rd, with a shot at 2nd if Boston loses to Miami (not San Francisco as pointed out by Ilya). A drawn match would also keep the Knights in good playoff position, but require another draw in week 10 to hold on to 3rd. A loss to Baltimore would have the Knights in 4th going into the final week, potentially needing a win against a motivated Boston team.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Week 7: Another draw

The Knights again failed to break .500 with a 2-2 draw against the Philadelphia Inventors, with Evan Rosenberg's clutch victory on board 4 balancing IM Bryan Smith's upset of the red-hot Giorgi Kacheishvilli on board 1.

The match marked the 2009 debuts of recent HOF inductee GM John Fedorowicz and the ever-dangerous NM Evan Rosenberg, best known for his loss "to a can" and unusually measured blog posts.

On board 1, Giorgi played a strangely passive opening and Smith found the critical 15. ..b4!, highlighting his edge in development and the awkward placement of the white pieces. Smith's accurate play continued with 19. ..e5 and he soon won an exchange and converted the ensuing endgame.

On board 2, John played a very energetic game with black against FM Tom Bartell and agreed to a draw after 32 moves, but appeared to miss the promising 29. ..h3 that would have given him a permanent pull.

On board 3, Yaacov made his board 3 debut against IM Richard Costigan and turned a drawish middlegame into a favorable knight endgame, but missed an opportunity to win a pawn and the game petered out into a draw.

On board 4, Evan gained an optically favorable position in the Exchange Caro-Kann, but the rising Kavinayan Sivakumar soon developed counterplay. Sivakumar twice missed opportunities to simplify into slightly better endgames and went down in flames as Evan's kingside attack won an exchange, leaving white with little compensation.

Week 6: Implosion

The Knights drew a disappointing match against the Baltimore Kingfishers, despite getting impressive victories from Giorgi on board 1 and Yaacov on board 4, as I imploded with the white pieces on board 3 and Pascal failed to hold a reasonably drawish position on board 2 against GM Erenburg. This drawn match left us at 3-3.

On board 1, Giorgi rattled off another impressive example of opening preparation, winning almost effortlessly vs GM Kritz on board 1 in a Hedgehog.

On board 4, Yaacov won a very steady game, finishing with a cute mating attack.

On board 2, Pascal ably defending a Hedgehog-like position before making some inaccurate simplifications that led to a difficult and then lost knight endgame.

My implosion on board 3 was in stark contrast to the prior week's effort against Naroditsky. In the 9. Nd5 Sveshnikov, Uesugi played the very interesting 15. ..Bd7, championed by Radjabov and avoiding the complications that usually follow 15. ..Rb8. Taking advantage of a series of subpar moves by your humble blogger, capped by 19. f3, Uesugi quickly developed a strong initiative and won in short order. A potential improvement was 19. Bd5, sacrificing a pawn for light-squared compensation.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Week 5: All systems go; back to .500

Last night we beat the powerhouse San Francisco Mechanics by a comfortable 3-1 margin on the strength of a very classical +2 with the white pieces and =2 with black.

On board 1, as alluded to by Irina, Giorgi unfurled a devastating piece of preparation against Josh Friedel's Nimzo-Indian. In a rare piece-sacrifice line played before by both Aronian and Kharlov, Giorgi was soon up two pawns, with a massive edge on the clock and converted with precise endgame technique.

On board 2, Irina played the super-solid QGA and played a very strong game against new American GM Jesse Kraii. Kraii was unsatisfied with equality and blundered a queenside pawn which gave Irina winning chances in a rook and pawn endgame. With the match in hand, Irina played for a win without risk, unfortunately missing a very good try and had to settle for a draw.

On board 4, Yaacov again trotted out his trademark Nf6 Caro-Kann and reached a balanced double rook endgame against phenom Yian Liou. Sidestepping any tricks, Yaacov steered the game to a peaceful conclusion.

On board 3, I faced former World Under 12 champion FM Daniel Naroditsky, one of America's brightest stars. He chose to repeat a line that had arisen during my disappointing loss last year to Eric Rodriguez.

Herman - Naroditsky

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cd 4. Nd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 b5 8. f3 Nbd7 9. Be3 Nc5 10. Qd2 Bb7 11. 0-0-0 Be7 12. g4 Nfd7 13. g5 Ne5 14. h4 0-0

Against Rodriguez, I played 15. f4 and could only muster equality, before blundering a pawn and losing. White has better!

15. h5! b4 16. Nce2 a5

Pawn rushes against opposite-castled kings. This is definitely a Sicilian!

17. g6 a4 18. h6!

Now at least one kingside file will be opened.

18. ..Ng6!?

A very interesting choice, as black removes a knight from the center, while maintaining queenside threats.

19. Bd5!!

Computers seem to love 19. hg, but black has the very simple 19. ..ab! and after 20. gfQ Bf8, full compensation for the exchange.

19. ..b3

Black's a/b pawn duo mimics the advance of white's h/g tandem.

20. Nc3! a3?! 21. cb

The potential counterplay against the white king has dissipated.

21. ..ed 22. hg Re8 23. Qh2 Bh4

If 23. ..Nh4 24. Nf5 Bg5 25. Bg5 Qg5 26. f4 Qg2 27. Qg2 Ng2 28. Rh7!! and wins

24. Nf5

Kasparov has often said that a strong Nf5 is worth a pawn -- here it is worth a king!

24. 25. Rd6 Nd7 26. f4!

The prosaic Qd2 also wins, but it is impossible to avoid a simple pawn move that deadens every black piece save the a8 rook!

26. ..Re6 27. Bd4! h5 28. Re6 fe 29. Nh6 Kh7 30. g8Q Qg8 31. Ng8 Rg8 32. Rg1 Ndf8 33. f5!

Black loses another piece and thus resigned.


Knights off to a FANTASTIC start!!

Hi all, for a long time I have claimed I am about to post. I found the most lame way to do so, posting someone else's post! So without further ado, I hereby present Irina's post and make my first post on this blog. I continue to promise that I am about to post. Don't lose faith in the Knights!

Hey guys,

Did you SEE Matt’s game against Daniel Naroditsky!!?!? Oh my god!! I only saw it after getting home from the match. Thankfully, Matt was sitting on the opposite side of the room, and I never had an inkling of what was going on in his game…Well, actually, I did glance at his board once, the position was already totally crazy; I made a guess that he was doing alright, and stopped thinking about it, since there was no way I could evaluate it while playing my own game.
But back to his game. WOW!!! I had no idea we had such a killer on our team. I’ll let him tell you about it in more depth, but what stood out to me…first, Matt offered his light squared bishop twice in the game! (on b3 and then on d5). I also like the cold-blooded move 20.Nc3, dealing with Black’s threats on the queenside and simultaneously opening the second rank for operations by White’s queen. Then 26.f4 was another non-obvious move, taking a time-out in the attack to clamp down on any counterplay by Black.
I haven’t studied the competition closely, but to me…this game looks like GOTW winner. Go Matt!!
On to our other beautiful victory…right before the match, Giorgi told me he’d prepared the line that you saw in the game. He said he got so into the analysis that he stayed up till 3:30 in the morning working on it! And then it appeared on the board…I don’t know how far his preparation went, but I’m assuming it contributed a lot to the final result. Looking at the game from home, I’d describe it as: very good preparation, leading to a position ripe for finding knockout blows, which were found, and then precise endgame technique. This is Giorgi’s first win in the USCL, and now that he’s broken out of his mouse slips, move order mix ups, and one move blunders, I think we’ll get to see his real level of play. Because he is that strong.
Well, Matt won fairly quickly, and Giorgi was nursing two extra pawns in the endgame, so all that remained was for me and Yaacov to hold with Black.
My game with Jesse was a tense, strategic battle in the dxc5 line of the QGA. I’ll admit, I spent most of my day searching for equality for Black in the dxc5 QGA, and it was not the most inspiring day! I guessed this line was likely to come up, based on the fact that Jesse had played it before, and that Jesse enjoys playing endgames, and has a tendency to choose lines that transition from opening-endgame right away when given the opportunity (ie, his dxe5 against the King’s Indian, with which he won a very nice game against Bruci Lopez earlier this season). It’s the kind of line that is not much subject to concrete analysis, so even spending many hours on it with the computer doesn’t get you that far.
So why did I allow a line where Black has to fight for equality from the get-go, with very little prospective of playing for a win himself?
Well. If I can not defend Black’s position in the dxc5 QGA, an outwardly innocuous endgame line, how can I play the QGA at all? But the QGA…is my opening. I’ve played it since I was eleven years old. So I’ll defend it against the sharpest 7.Bb3 lines and against the dry, bore-you-to-tears 7.dxc5.
You know, 7.dxc5 has inflicted pain on me in the past. I didn’t appreciate its nuances, and I lost a number of games in it. But because I lost ,I was forced to learn how to play it. And I did learn. It’s actually a structure of position that I feel comfortable in now. And here’s the funny thing: I could have played into Jesse’s pet King’s Indian line, and tried to fight my way out of += there, but Jesse has so much more experience in it than I do. But in the 7. dxc5 Queen’s Gambit Accepted, I have more experience. So that’s why I chose to fight on this turf.
Actually, the game didn’t bore me to tears. We left ‘theory’ very early, when Jesse came up with the Nb3-Nfd4-Na5 setup, and I was left to my own devices. I think I reacted pretty well (Bd6-Nb6-e5), maybe optimally, because I got a very comfortable game. Somewhere along the way Jesse overpressed, maybe under the influence of how SF was doing on their Black boards, and his knight got stuck on c6. The game turned in Black’s favor. I didn’t do exhaustive analysis, but I think I should have won the rook endgame (56...Kd5 was just a blunder; 56...g5 seems to be a very good winning attempt).
Yaacov also reached some rook endgame, and his game ended in a quite logical draw.
So in the end we won 3-1. We could have gotten a little more out of that, but that’s okay. It was an important victory for our team, and as for me…I was glad to get in a match before leaving for Saint Louis! With all my traveling (three weeks in China and now two in Saint Louis), this is the only match I’ll have played until at least week Eight.
Yeah, for a ‘manager’ I’m not there that much. But I am always with the Knights in spirit! When I was in China, I followed their games live, because with the twelve hour time difference, the games were played during my mornings. That was convenient, except my own preparation didn’t advance that much during the Knights games 
Anyway, when I’m not there, Pascal takes care of the Knights for me. I leave them in the most competent hands you’ll ever find 
Good luck to San Francisco for the rest of their matches. I hope to face them one more time this season.