Tuesday, December 8, 2009


...It was past 1:00 am and Giorgi was getting ready to play black in a sudden death heads-up match against Miami's board 1, Julio Becerra. Memories of our 2006 final against San Francisco rushed back, when Pascal was in a similar situation with the black pieces against Josh Friedel. But that's getting ahead of myself.

(approximately 7 hours earlier)

The New York Knights and Miami Sharks had similar paths to the final, overcoming draw odds and "upsetting" higher seeded teams to win their respective conferences after middling regular seasons. There were no lineup surprises from our end, as we went with the dynamic GM tandem of Giorgi Kacheishvili and Pascal Charbonneau on 1 and 2, legendary blitz specialist Yaacov Norowitz on 4 and I rounded things out on board 3. Miami's board 1 was no shocker as GM Julio Becerra has been the best and most prolific overall performer in USCL history, despite a subpar 2009 regular season. Miami put veteran IMs Blas Lugo and Alejandro Moreno Roman (a fantastic name!) on 2 and 3. Their lineup was capped by one of the league's most consistent and strongest board 4s, NM Eric Rodriguez, an opponent I've faced since our days in Florida as far back as 1996!

Board 1 saw Julio launch a vicious attack against Giorgi's trademark Caro-Kann.

Becerra - Kacheishvili

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. Be2 c5 6. Be3 cd 7. Nd4 Ne7 8. c4 dc!?

Standard is 8. ..Nbc6 9. Qa4 a6 10. Nc3 dc 11. 0-0-0 where popular choices are 11. ..Qa5 and 11. ..Qc8 with a full battle ahead.

9. Qa4 Qd7 10. Nb5 Nd5 11. N1c3 Bb4 12. 0-0-0!? Bc3 13. Nd6 Kf8 14. Qc4 Be5 15. Nf5 Na6!?

This move looks logical, covering the b4 and c5 squares and threatening Ra8-c8, but also worth considering was 15. ..Nc6 16. Bc5 Kg8 17. Kb1 Qc7 18. Ne3!? Nb6! and black seems like he'll untangle with g7-g6 and Kg8-g7.

16. Bc5 Ke8 17. Kb1 Rc8 18. Qe4 Rc5

Also possible was 18. ..Nc5 19. Qe5 f6 20. Qd4 ef 21. Rhe1 Kf7 22. Bc4 Rhe8 23. Bd5 Kf8 and black is holding.

19. Qe5 f6 20. Qd4 Ra5 21. Bc4 Nac7 22. Ne3 Kf7 23. Bb3 Rd8 24. Qh4 Kg8 25. Rhe1 Ra6 26. f4 g6 27. g4!?

Also interesting was the direct 27. f5 gf 28. g4 f4 29. Nd5 ed 30. Qf2 when white will mop-up black's pawns or 29. ..Nd5 30. g5! f5 31. g6!! and black's position collapses.

27. ..Kg7?

27. ..Rd6! offered holding chances. Now white is winning.

28. f5! Qf7 29. g5! fg 30. Qg5?!

Tricky, but white could have won a piece with 30. Qd4 Qf6 31. Qf6 Kf6 32. fe Re6 33. Rf1 Kg7 34. Nd5 Nd5 35. Rd5 Rd5 34. Bd5, though black's kingside pawns might have provided some kicking chances. Both players were in deep time pressure.

30. ..Rad6??

Much better was 30. ..Re8!, where if 31. fe Rae6 and the tables are turned on white.

31. fe??

Immediately winning was 31. Nd5 Nd5 32. fe Qf6 33. Rd5! Rd5 34. Qf6 Kf6 35. Bd5 Rd5 36. e7.

Now black could battle on with 31. ..Qf4! 32. Qf4 Nf4 33. Rd6 Rd6 34. e7 Ne8 35. Ba4 Kf7 36. Nc4 Re6 37. Ne5 Ke7 38. Bb3! and black has a pawn for the exchange. Instead, the game ends immediately.

31. ..Qe7?? 32. Nf5! 1:0

So Miami took a 1-0 lead, but other events were transpiring on board 3.

On board 3, Moreno Roman chose a Kramnik specialty against the Slav.

Moreno Roman - Herman

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5 h6 6. Bf6 Qf6 7. g3!?

More popular are 7. e3 and 7. Qb3/c2

7. ..Nd7 8. Bg2 dc 9. 0-0 e5!?

Vallejo Pons held Kramnik without difficulty after 9. ..Be7 in the 2003 edition of Linares.

10. d5 Nb6 11. Ne4 Qe7 12. dc bc 13. Qc2 Qc7!?

Also possible are 13. ..f5 and 13. ..Qe6 which I had opportunity to play later that night.

14. Ned2 Be6?

14. ..Bd6 15. Nc4 Nc4 16. Qc4 should be +/=

15. Ne5! Qe5 16. Bc6 Bd7!?

I also could have tried 16. ..Ke7 17. Ba8 Na8 18. Nc4 Qc5, but white is in good shape after 19. Rfc1 and it's harder for him to go wrong.

17. Ba8 Na8 18. Nc4 Qe6

The critical juncture in the game. White has a nominal material edge (R+2p vs 2B), but needs to pursue his temporary lead in development if he wants to have a comfortable game. Best was 19. Rfd1! Be7 20. Qd3 when black has trouble getting his pieces out (something I misjudged when playing ..Qc7). Instead, probably based on a miscalculation, white lets his entire edge slip with one move.

19. Nb3? Nb6! 20. Nb6 ab 21. Qc3?!

White was certainly not intending 21. Qe6 fe! or 21. Rfd1 Be7, but he needed to bail out. He likely missed black's simple response.

21. ..Be7!

Of course if 22. Qg7 Bf6 traps the queen.

22. Rfd1 0-0 23. Rac1 Rc8 24. Qd3 Bc6 25. b3 Bc5 26. e3 Re8

The first in a weird sequence where I amazingly refuse to play either Qg4-f3 or Qf5-f3, immediately forcing material gains. This move, with the ideas of eventually taking on e3, preventing e3-e4 and the Re8-e6 lift does nothing to spoil the win, however.

27. Qc4 Qh3?

This can be called a mistake as 27. ..Qf5! 28. Qe2 Qe4 wins on the spot. I'd seen the game continuation, which also wins, though white can give back an exchange at points and grovel down a piece.

28. Qf1 Qg4 29. h3 Qf3 30. Kh2 Re6! 31. Rc4 Bd6! 32. Rcd4 Bc7 33. R4d2 Re3! 34. Rd8 Kh7 35. Qg1 Bd8 36. fe Qe2 0:1

That win tied the match at 1, leaving us with what appeared to be slightly better positions on boards 2 and 4. If only things were that simple...

Board 4 was a matchup of two of the league's best, with Yaacov saving the fight for the middlegame.

Norowitz - Rodriguez

1. d4 Nf6 2. e3 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. Be2 0-0 5. 0-0 d6 6. b3 c5 7. Bb2 b6 8. c4 Bb7 9. Nc3 e6 10. Qc2 Na6 11. Rad1 Qe7 12. Qb1 Rfd8 13. Qa1 Rac8 14. dc Nc5 15. Nd4 a6 16. h3 h6 17. Rfe1 Ne8 18. Rd2 f5 19. Bf3 e5 20. Bb7 Qb7 21. Nc2 b5

Rodriguez gets in the programmed b6-b5 break and has gained space on the kingside. White has the d5 square as compensation.

22. cb ab 23. Nb4 Rd7 24. Red1 g5!?

Black must have believed he needed to win for the team, so went with this commital push. Also possible were waiting moves.

25. Ncd5

I had a preference for 25. Qb1 (on this move and later), eyeing black's weakened kingside light squares

25. ..h5 26. f3 Rf7 27. Rf1 f4 28. Qd1 Qa7 29. Kh1 Bh6 30. Rc2

Yaacov plays prophylactically, removing the R from the c1-h6 diagonal, but also possible was 30. ef! gf 31. Qb1 Kg7 32. Rg1 when it is white who attacks!

30. ..Ng7 31. e4 Nge6 32. Nd3 Rcf8 33. Nc5 Nc5 34. Qe2 Rb8 35. b4 Ne6 36. Rfc1 Qb7?

Safer was 36. ..Bf8

37. Rc6 Bf8

Yaacov's logical play should be crowned with 38. Be5 after which black can practically resign. Instead...

38. a3? Qd7 39. Rb6 Rb6 40. Nb6 Qd8

Eric has neutralized white's queenside probes and begins his kingside counterattack.

41. Nd5 g4! 42. fg?

White's sense of danger deserted him. Easier was 42. Qf2.

42. ..Qh4! 43. gh??

43. Rf1 was called for.

43. ..Rg7??

Throwing away the win and possibly the match. After the thematic 43. ..f3! 44. gf Ng5 45. Rc3 Nh3 46. Rc7 Rf3!! 47. Qf3 Ng5 48. Kg2 Nf3 49. Kf3 Qh3 50. Kf2 Bh6! (white threatened Nf6 and Rh7#) and white cannot save the b2 B or the game.

44. Rf1 Ng5 45. Nf4

45. Qe1! trading queens seemed much better

45. ..ef 46. Bg7 Bg7 47. Qb5 f3! 48. Qe8 Kh7 49. Qg6 Kh8 50. Qe8 Kh7

0.5 : 0.5

After that double-edged battle, the season rested on Pascal's Scotch against IM Blas Lugo.

Charbonneau - Lugo

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cd 4. Nd4 Bc5 5. Be3 Bb6 6. Nf5 Be3 7. Ne3 d6 8. Nc3 Nge7 9. g3

White could also try 9. Qd2 and wait to see where black will place his king.

9. ..0-0 10. Bg2 f5 11. 0-0 Kh8 12. ef Nf5 13. Ncd5 Ne3 14. Ne3 Be6 15. f4 Qd7 16. Qh5 a6 17. Rae1 g6 18. Qd1 Rae8 19. c3 Qf7 20. b3 Qg7 21. Qd2 Re7 22. h3 Rfe8 23. g4 Bf7 24. g5 Be6 25. Kh2 Kg8 26. Ng4 Bg4 27. hg Re1 28. Re1 Re1 29. Qe1 Qd7 30. Kg3 Nd8 31. Bd5 Kf8 32. Qe3 c6 33. Bf3 Ne6 34. f5?!

Perhaps 34. c4 was worth a try.

34. ..gf 35. gf Ng7 36. Qf4 Qf5 37. Qd6 Kf7 38. Qf4?

38. Qc7 Kg6 39. Qb7 Qg5 with a draw had to be better than the game.

38. ..Kg6 39. Qf5 Kf5 40. Kh4 Kf4 41. Bg4 a5??

41. ..Nf5! was a much better try for black. If 42. Bf5 Kf5, the K+p endgame is a win after 43. b4 b6. If 42. Kh5 Ng3 43. Kh4 Ne4 44. Bc8 Nd6, black has a much improved version of the game, as d6 is a much better square for the knight than g7 and should be winning.

42. Bc8

Now 42. ..Nf5 43. Bf5 Kf5 44. c4! is drawn

42. ..b6 43. Bd7 c5 44. a3??

44. c4! Ke3 45. Kg4 Kd4 46. Kf4 Kc3 47. Ke5 Kb2 48. Bg4!! Ka2 49. Bd1! Kb2 50. Kf6 is drawn.

44. .. Kf3??

44. ..Nf5 wins again! 45. Kh5 Ng3 46. Kh6 Ne4 47. Kh7 Kg5 48. Kg7 Kf4! 49. Kf7 Ke5! shoulder blocks the white king and black wins after 50. Bg4 Nc3 51. Ke7 a4 52. ba Nd5 53. Kd7!? Ne3!! 54. Kc6 c4 55. Be2 Ke4!

45. Bc6 Ke3 46. Kg4 Kd3 47. Bd5 Kc3

47. ..a4!? 48. ba Kc3 49. Kf4 c4 50. Bg8 is still drawn, though black has the fun.

48. a4 Kb4 49. Bf7 b5 50. ab Kb5 51. Kf4 a4 52. ba Ka4 53. Ke5 Kb4 54. Bg8 c4 55. Bh7 c3 56. Bd3 Kb3 57. g6 c2 58. Bc2 Kc2

0.5 : 0.5

With that lucky escape, the match was tied at 2 and headed to a blitz tiebreak. As noted on http://www.uschessleague.com/, this is the fourth consecutive year that the finals have gone to a blitz tiebreak (the first being our loss to San Francisco in 2006).

I liked our chances, given that we had three of the world's best blitz players going and I'd also get a free shot. Anything can happen past midnight, though, and in the first game, Yaacov had black against Eric Rodriguez. After a Petrosian-like exchange sacrifice, Yaacov looked to have a comfortable game with dark-square control and a dangerous passed b-pawn. Eric drummed up some impressive counterplay and could have equalized with 42. Bb1!, with ideas of Re6-f6.

Instead, Eric played 42. Rh1 and lost after 42. ..Qc4 as his kingside attack came to nought.

Having eliminated Rodriguez, Yaacov took the white pieces against Moreno Roman. Moreno Roman's 14. ..c5! secured key central dark squares and he gradually dominated the entire position and converted.

With Yaacov gone, I took a crack at Moreno. We repeated our earlier slow game and I "improved" with 13. ..Qe6, but then ensured a difficult defense by capturing 14. ..cb after 14. b3. With perfect squares for all his pieces Moreno soon won back his pawn and was pressing. I defended tenaciously, but missed my one opportunity with 39. ..Nc3! (instead playing 39. ..Qe7?), which would have kept an interesting fight going. Instead, Moreno shortly won and grabbed the black pieces against Pascal.

Pascal again repeated the Scotch, but blundered with 22. h4 and then again with 23. Bb4. He put up admirable resistance, including the spectacular 28. e6, but had lost too many pawns as Moreno scored a stunning upset, bringing Miami one win away from the 2009 title.

In 2006, we were also down to our board 1 (Pascal), who survived a completely lost (forced mate on the board) position against David Pruess and eventually went on to reach the finals against Josh Friedel. This time, Giorgi's task would be tougher. He had to go +3 against strong opposition and started with the black pieces against Moreno.

After 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 g6 3. d4 Bg7 4. dc Qa5 5. c3 Qc5 6. Na3 d6 7. Nb5 a6 8. Be3 Qc6, Moreno could have gone for 9. Na7!?, securing the two bishops. Instead, after 9. Nfd4, Giorgi got a comfortable position and steadily took control of the game. Moreno dropped a piece with the disastrous 19. Bh6 and lost without much of a fight (though Giorgi missed his first mate in 2 of the blitz tiebreak with 27. ..Rf7 instead of 27. ..Qg1!! (which was also available after 28. Nh4). Mate appeared on the board 7 moves later and next up for Giorgi was IM Blas Lugo.

Blas chose the rare 3. ..Ba5 after 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Bb4 3. Nd5, leading to a crazy position after 4. b4 c6 5. ba cd 6. cd. The dubious 9. ..Na6 was all Giorgi needed to secure a comfortable technical edge, which he converted without consequence (though 24. Rc4! would have won on the spot).

So the entire 2009 season would come down to Becerra vs Kacheishvili.

Becerra - Kacheishvili

1. e4 c5!

No Caro-Kann!

2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cd 4. Nd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 Be7 8. 0-0-0 Nd4 9. Qd4 0-0 10. f3 a6 11. h4 b5 12. g4?!

Standard is 12. Kb1. Now Giorgi gets an opportunity to transform to a standard Najdorf structure with b5-b4 and e6-e5.

12. ..Qa5 13. Kb1 b4 14. Ne2 e5 15. Qd2 Be6 16. Nc1 Rad8 17. Bf6 Bf6 18. g5 Be7 19. Bh3 Qb6 20. h5 d5 21. Nd3 de 22. fe Rd4 23. Qg2 Bc4 24. g6 Bf6 25. Bf5 a5 26. gf Bf7 27. Nf2 Rd1 28. Rd1 Rd8 29. Nd3 a4 30. Qe2 b3 31. Nc1 ba 32. Ka1 Rb8 33. b3 ab 34. cb Bg5 35. Qb2 Be3 36. Ne2 Bb3 37. Rd3 Bc4 38. Qb6 Rb6 39. Rd2 Ba5?

39. ..Bd4! and mates

40. Ra2 Ba2 41. Ka2 Rb6 42. Nc1 Bc3 43. Nd3 g6 44. hg hg 45. Bg4 Kg7 46. Nc5 Kh6 47. Ne6 Rb2 48. Ka3 Rg2 49. Bd1 g5 50. Kb3 Ba1 51. Kc4 g4 52. Nd8 Kg6 53. Nb7 g3 54. Kd3 Rb2

and Becerra resigned, making the Knights the 2009 US Chess League Champions!