Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Eastern Semifinals: Spectacular Frustration

There will be a new USCL champion. Monday night marked the end of a terribly disappointing season for the New York Knights (5-6), as we lost 2.5-1.5 to the incredibly consistent New England Nor'Easters, who at 10.5-0.5 are smashing every USCL team record.

After a 4-1 start to the season, we backed into the playoffs with a +0 -3 =2 finish, losing each match by the 2.5-1.5 margin that was emblematic of missed opportunities this year.
I was unfortunately unable to watch the match, given wifi problems (thanks, Telecom Italia) while in Rome, but managed to connect shortly after New England had advanced, so these impressions will perhaps lack some chronological flavor. It was a match where NY was better for most of the game on boards 2 and 3, equal on 1 and while worse, had compensation on 4. In short, the sort of match that we won last year en route to the championship and that New England has made a habit of winning this year.

IM Sam Shankland won a topsy-turvy game on board 1 against GM Alex Lenderman, a fourth straight victory for Shankland and another difficult result on top for the Knights.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Ne4 4. g3 d5 5. Bg2 Be7 6. O-O O-O 7. Qc2 Nd6 8. Nbd2 Nc6 9. b3 b6 10. Ba3 Bb7 11. Rac1 a5 12. cd ed 13. e3 Nb5 14. Be7 Qe7 15. a4 Nb4 16. Qb1 Nd6 17. Rc3 Rac8 18. Rfc1 Ne4 19. Ne4 de 20. Nd2 f5 21. Bf1 Kh8 22. Nc4 Nd5 23. R3c2 Rf6 24. Ne5 Nb4 25. Rd2 Rd8 26. Bc4 g6 27. Qb2 Bd5 28. Rdd1 Kg7 29. Rc3 c5 30. Rdc1 cd 31. ed Rc8 32. Bd5 Rc3 33. Qc3 Nd5 34. Qc8

Lenderman can hold easy equality with 34. ..Rf8! 35. Qc6 Rd8 but, perhaps influenced by the match situation, plays for a win.

34. ..f4?! 35. Qa8! Rd6 36. Rc8 Nf6 37. Qb8 Rd4 38. gf!

38. Rc7? Rd1! 39. Kg2 f3 40. Kh3 Rd7! (if 41. Nd7 Qe6 is mate in 2) and black is better.

38. ..Nd5?!

Allowing white a spectacular sequence, but it is hard to improve. If 38. ..e3 39. fe Qb4 40. Qc7 Kh6 41. Nf7 Kg7 42. Ng5 Rd7 43. Qc3 +/-

39. Rg8 Kh6 40. Rg6! Kh5

A supremely critical moment. White has only one move that wins and four that draw.

41. Nc6?!

This is not it! 41. Rg4! was the only winning move (h3, Rg5 and Qf8!? also draw) with the idea Qc8-f5.

41. ..Rd1!?

Also drawing was 41. ..Qc5! 42. Rg5 Kh4 43. h3 Rd3 44. Kg2 Ne3 45. Kh2 Rd2!! (diagram) 46. Rc5 Rf2 with perpetual.

42. Kg2 Qc5??

Losing! Forced was 42. ..Ne3! 43. fe Rd2 44. Kf1 Qa3 and white has no better than perpetual after 45. Qe5.

43. Qe5 Kg6 44. Qg5 Kf7 45. Ne5 Ke8 46. Qh5 Kd8 47. Qd1! Kc7 48. Qg4 Kb7 49. Qf5 e3 50. Qh7 Ka6 51. Qd3 Kb7 52. fe Ne3 53. Kf3 Nd5 54. h4 Nf6 55. Kg2 Qc1 56. Qf3 Kc7 57. h5 Qc2 58. Kh3 Qf5 59. Kh4 Ne4 60. Ng4 Kd6 61. Qe3 Kc6 62. h6 Kb7 63. Qc1?

63. ..Qg6?

Lenderman's last chance to resist was 63. ..Nf6! after which there is no clear win for white!

64. Qb2 Ka6 65. Qg7 Qd6 66. Qg8 Qe7 67. Kh3 Qb7 68. h7 Nd2 69. h8Q Qf3 70. Kh4 Qh1 71. Kg5 Nf3 72. Kf6 Qa1 73. Ne5 1:0

On board 2, GM Pascal Charbonneau overpressed a slightly better endgame and, having to play for a win while worse, hung a piece (see diagram: Ne6??) and lost a difficult game to IM Robert Hungaski.

On board 3, FM Alec Getz was better from almost the outset with the black pieces, but allowed FM Christopher Chase to escape into a slightly worse endgame. Getz looked well on his way to victory when disaster nearly struck on move 38.

Getz played 38. ..Kf5?? (38. ..Kg6 was the only move and then 39. Rb8 Bd4 and black should eventually win as in the game) 39. Nh6 Kf6 and Chase, looking to repeat the position, played 40. Ng4?? overlooking a forced win after 40. Ng8!! as 40. ..Kg7 41. Rb7 Kg8 42. Re8 is mate and other continuations allow a deadly knight fork on e7. Getz found 40. ..Kg6! and forced resignation a few moves later.

NM Alex Ostrovskiy fought hard for a win against NM Alex Cherniack's Winawer French, but had at best a perpetual and was in fact losing in the final position where Cherniack forced perpetual.

Spectacular drawing tries could be found early

22. Bf5 Nf5 23. Nh4 Ra6 24. Qg2 g5 25. Rg5 hg 26. Qg5 Ng7 27. Ng6 Qc2! 28. Qh6 Qd3 with perpetual or

25. Qh3 Ng6 26. Ng5 hg 27. Qh5 Nh4 28. Rf4 gf 29. Bf5 ef 30. Qh8 Ke7 31. Qh4 with perpetual

In the final diagram, 38. ..Rb6! 39. Rd7 Kb8 wins for black as his king is perfectly safe and white's will perish.

In the other Eastern semifinal, Boston made quick work of Baltimore, seizing a quick 2-0 lead with the white pieces on boards 2 and 4 that, coupled with draw odds, sufficed to advance (Baltimore's GM Sergey Erenburg, one of the top performers in the league this year, won in "garbage time" on board 1 and Zimmer-Martirosov was drawn on board 3).

On board 4, Boston veteran NM Ilya Krasik won a very clean game as white against Baltimore's NM Adithya Balasubramanian. Krasik tells it best as he used some of Erenburg's analysis in ChessBase Magazine to achieve a winning position from the opening and converted it with precise technique.

Board 2 was the early front-runner for game of the week (and another contender for Game of the Year, though we shall have to see what transpires tonight) as IM Marc Esserman demolished IM Tsegshuren Enkhbat in 22 moves!

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. g4!? Bd7!

The main line. Having provoked g2-g4, black retreats his bishop away from white's advancing pawns and retains control of the e6 square.

5. c4 e6!?

Enkhbat deviates from his 2009 game against Charbonneau where he played 5. ..Na6 and after 6. cd!? should have played 6. ..Nb4! but instead was worse after 6. and lost in 45 moves.

6. Nc3 Ne7 7. Nf3 Ng6?!

Enkhbat has an ambitious positional plan to enact a blockade on the dark squares with Bf8-e7, Ng6-h4 and h7-h6, but he presumably he did not see far enough ahead when playing Ng8-e7.

8. h4 Be7 9. h5!

9. ..Nf8

Condemned by commentators as too passive, but Esserman's point is revealed after 9. ..Nh4 10. Rh4!! Bh4 11. g5 h6 12. Nh4 hg 13. Qg4!! gh 14. Qg7 Rh5 15. Be2 Rf5 16. Bg4 when black can safely resign. White now has a very pleasant space advantage.

10. g5 Na6 11. c5!

Nine of the first eleven moves are with pawns!

11. ..Nc7 12. Be3 b6 13. b4 bc 14. bc Rb8 15. Rc1!

Prophylaxis against Nc7-b5.

15. ..Rb2 16. Bd3 Qb8 17. Nd2 f5

Enkhbat lashes out, forcing Esserman to immediately decide whether he wants to risk his space advantage by opening up the game with an exchange on f6.

18. gf!

18. 0-0 would have sufficed for a stable advantage, but black can definitely fight on.

18. 19. Qg4 Kf7

Enkhbat envisaged a harmonious rearrangement of his pieces with this king move and Nc7-e8, covering the entry squares on the g-file...

20. Rg1 Ne8

All that remains is for black to play Be7-d8 and f6-f5 and, though worse, he is still kicking.

21. Bh7!

Shattering black's illusions.

21. ..Bd8

Either capture on h7 leads to mate (21. ..Nh7 22. Qg6 Kf8 23. Bh6 or 21. ..Rh7 22. Qg8)

22. Bg8!

and Enkhbat resigned, denying viewers the spectacular finish of

22. ..Ke7 23. Qg7!! (23. ef is a quicker mate, but this is most picturesque) Ng7 24. Rg7 Ke8 25. Bf7 Ke7 26. Bg6 and the bishop completes the h7-g8-f7-g6 diamond, giving mate.

In a bit of chess irony, the Bh7-g8 maneuver (with the black bishop!) in the Caro-Kann was pioneered by David Bronstein (Porreca-Bronstein, Belgrade 1954) who also championed the g4/c4 assault in the Advance Variation.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

MVP Race - Redux

The current MVP system is easy to understand/follow, with points being given for wins, deducted for losses, bonuses for scoring with black and benefits to playing (and winning) on higher boards.

Given that the USCL is a team "tournament" and that match points are what counts, I propose a different system.

Plus Score + Number of Match Points "Contributed"

How does this work in practice? If the other three players on your team score either 0, 0.5, 2.5 or 3, your game has no theoretical bearing on the match outcome (though this doesn't quite reflect reality). You should still get the benefit, however, of winning and be penalized for losing, but all boards should be treated equally as should the piece colors. In the "central" cases, however, your game is a key determinant of the match's outcome.

If your teammates score 1.0/3, -1/3 if you lose or draw and +2/3 if you win

If your teammates score 1.5/3, -1 if you lose, 0 if you draw and +1 if you win

If your teammates score 2.0/3, -2/3 if you lose, +1/3 if you draw or win

This has the advantage of the aggregate score being zero-sum across the league, also allowing us to measure "LVP" and use the maximum gain from one season to the next to measure "most improved".

All numbers are scaled 3x to remove the fractions.

Maximum score over the course of a year is +60, minimum is -60.

League Leaders

+13: David Vigorito, Craig Jones

+12: Robert Hungaski, Eugene Perelshteyn, Daniel Naroditsky, Daniel Rensch

+11: Hikaru Nakamura

+10: Pascal Charbonneau, Alex Ostrovskiy, Joel Benjamin

-15: Jonathan Schroer, Slava Mihailuk, Eric Rodriguez

-13: Bryan Smith, Arthur Shen, Robert Perez

-11: Denys Shmelov, Spencer Finegold

-10: Carlito Agner, Angelo Young

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Week 5: Happy Birthday!

Wednesday night got off to a celebratory start, as GM Pascal Charbonneau and super Knights fan Beth Windsor had organized a surprise birthday party for GM Alex Lenderman (who turns 21 on Thursday!), FM Alec Getz (who unfortunately could not be there, but turned 17!) and Mrs. Ostrovskiy (Alex Ostrovskiy's mom). Sandwiches from Lenny's, birthday cake and champagne provided by Marshall Chess Club manager Marcus Fenner set the tone for a great night.

The Knights have followed a very simple formula en route to a 4-1 record, with 15/20 game points: win with white and draw with black. After tonight's match, the Knights are a staggering 9.5/10 with the white pieces and a very respectable 5.5/10 with black.

I took a short hiatus from blogging this week, as work and preparing for my first USCL match this year (with the black pieces against an IM, no less!) provided a full plate.

The match flowed well, with Pascal quickly achieving a winning position against GM Larry Kaufman on board 2, while Alex Lenderman, though overlooking a pin tactic, seemed to fully neutralize GM Sergey Erenburg's white pieces on board 1. On board 4, NM Alex Ostrovskiy (New York State Champion!) was establishing a considerable space advantage on the white side of an Alekhine against NM Ian Schoch who had scored two crazy victories in his first two outings this season. Meanwhile, on board 3, IM Tegshsuren Enkhbat and I were battling it out in a very strategically complex Slav/Grunfeld.

As the match wore on, Pascal demonstrated highly accurate technique against Kaufman and though his game was technically the last to finish, its result was never in doubt. Alex Lenderman traded down into a bishops-of-opposite-colors endgame and played precisely to establish an unbreakable blockade. On board 4, Schoch missed a few critical moments and put his queenside knight into a self-pin, immediately resigning with Ostrovskiy on the verge of an extra piece with no compensation. These positive results lifted some of the pressure from what I felt to be an enormously intense battle, with both Enkhbat and myself drifting into deep time pressure. With the tension reaching its apex, a more-or-less forced liquidation appeared on the board and, like Lenderman, I had reached a BOOC ending. When the smoke cleared, I had a nominal edge but with the match nearly in hand and the clock nearing midnight, I offered Enkhbat a draw which he graciously accepted.

On to the games!


1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nd2 e6 5. Nb3 Nd7 6. Nf3 Qc7 7. Be2 f6 8. 0-0 fe

This natural move appears to be a novelty.

9. de 0-0-0 10. Nbd4 Ne5 11. Re1 Nf3!?

Also possible was 11. ..Bd6!? 12. Ng5 Re8 13. f4 Nf7 14. Nge6 Re6 15. Nf5 Nf6 16. Nd6 Qd6 17. Bg4 Ng4 18. Qg4 Rhe8 19. Bd2 h6 with near equality.

12. Bf3 Qd7

Not a bad move - in fact it may be black's best. Fortunately black's position is solid enough that the following pin tactic only regains white's lost pawn.

13. Ne6 Be6 14. Re6! Nf6 15. Qe2 Bd6 16. Bg5 Rde8 17. Re1 Re6 18. Qe6 Qe6 19. Re6 Kd7 20. Re1 Re8 21. Re8 Ke8 22. Be3 Be5

Erenburg begins to make some progress, but Alex comfortably holds the draw.

23. c3 a6 24. Be2 Kf7 25. h3 Ne4 26. Bd3 Nd6 27. f4 Bf6 28. Bc5 Be7 29. Bh7!? g6 30. Bd6 Bd6 31. f5 g5

Alex was banking on this blockade when he "sacrificed" the h7 pawn.

32. Kf2 Bf4 33. Ke2 Kf6 34. Bg6 Be5 35. Kf3 a5 36. Ke3 Bg3 37. b3 Bh2 38. Kd3 Bd6 39. c4 dc 40. Kc4 Ke5 41. a4 Bb4 42. g3 Be1 43. g4 Kf6 44. Kc5 Bf2 45. Kd6 b5!

White's 2nd extra pawn is as meaningless as the first.

46. Kc6 ba 47. ba Be1 48. Kd5 Bf2 49. Be8 Be1 50. Bb5 Bf2 51. Be8 Be1 52. Bb5 Bf2 53. Be8 0.5:0.5


1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. Be2 c5 6. Be3 Qb6 7. c4!?

Rare. More popular is 7. Nc3 and either 7. ..Nc6 8. 0-0 or 7. ..Qb2 8. Qb1! with sharp play.

7. .. Qb2 8. Nbd2 Nc6 9. cd cd??

9. ..ed! was forced. 10. dc would follow with an interesting game ahead.

10. Nc4 Qc2 11. dc!?

White is winning in all of these lines, but Pascal's first chance to quickly end the game was 11. Qc2! Bc2 12. dc de 13. cb Rb8 14. Rc1 Bb4 15. Kf1 Ba4 16. Nb6!! (diagram) Rb7 17. Na4.

11. ..Qd1 12. Rd1!?

Again, Pascal had an opportunity to win in style with 12. Bd1 de 13. cb Bb4 14. Ke2 Rb8 15. Ba4 Kf8 16. Rhc1 Rb7 17. Na5!! (diagram).

12. 13. Nd6 Bd6 14. ed bc 15. d7 Kd8 16. Ne5 Nh6 17. Nc6 Kc7 18. d8Q Rhd8 19. Nd8 Rd8 20. Rd8 ef 21. Kf2 Kd8 22. Rc1!

Cutting off the king. The rest is a matter of Pascal's precise technique.

22. ..Ng8 23. Rc4 Ne7 24. Bf3 Nc8 25. Rb4 Nb6 26. a4 Kc7 27. a5 Nd5 28. Bd5 ed 29. Ke3 Bc8 30. Kd4

30. ..Kc6 31. Rb8 Kc7 32. Rb3 Be6 33. Kc5 g6 34. Rb4 h5 35. g3! d4 36. Rd4 Bd7 37. Rf4 Be6 38. Rb4 Bc8 39. Kd5 Be6 40. Ke5 Kc6 41. a6 Kc5 42. Rb7 Bc4 43. Ra7 Kb6 44. Re7 Ka6 45. Rf7 Bf7 46. Kf7 g5 48. Kg6 h4 49. g4! 1:0


1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 3. c4 Nb6 5. ed cd 6. Nc3 g6 7. Be3 Bg7 8. Rc1 0-0 9. b3 N6d7?!

Not bad, but 9. ..e5 and 9. ..a5 are more popular.

10. Nf3 Nf6 11. h3 d5 12. Bd3 Nc6 13. 0-0 Bf5 14. Be2 Qa5 15. Qd2 Rfd8 16. g4!?

Ostrovskiy goes for it with this risky/aggressive move.

16. ..Bc8 17. Rfd1 dc 18. bc!?

18. Bc4! looked to put more pressure on black

18. ..h5!

Schoch is up to the task and challenges white's kingside pawn spike.

19. g5 Ne8 20. Bf1 Qf5?! 21. Qe2 Nd6?

Black had to go for the complications starting with 21. ..Bd4!? 22. Nd5 e5! 23. Bg2! Be3 24. Qe3 Bd7, though white has massive compensation for the pawn.

22. Bg2!?

22. d5! Na5 23. Nh4 Qd7 24. c5 Nf5 25. c6! and black gets overrun or 22. ..Ne5 23. Nh4 Qd7 24. c5 Nf5 25. Nf5 Qf5 26. f4! Nd7 27. Nb5 Nf8 28. Bg2 and white controls the entire board.

22. ..Qa5 23. Nb5

23. ..Nb5??

Shoch cracks under the pressure. Better was 23. ..Bd7!, waiting for white to show his hand.

24. cb Nb4?

Immediately losing a piece, but 24. ..Nb8 was depressing.

25. Bd2 Bf5 26. Qc4 1:0


1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Qc2 dc 5. Qc4 g6 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. e4 0-0 8. Be2 b5 9. Qb3 Qa5 10. Bd2 b4 11. Na4 Ne4 12. Bb4 Qc7 13. 0-0

13. ..Bg4N

A novelty! This tabiya was quite popular in the 60s and 70s, with luminaries such as Petrosian, Portisch and Simagin taking the white pieces and Hort and Larsen playing black. Portisch-Hort went 13. ..Na6 14. Ba6 Ba6 15. Rfe1 Nd6 16. Rac1 (Epishin played 16. Qa3 against Romanishin in 2000) Rab8 17. Ne5 (Petrosian played 17. Qc3 and won against "not-David" Bronstein at the Rio de Janeiro Interzonal in 1979) Bb5 18. Nc5 Nf5 with an eventual draw after 34 moves in 1966. More recently, players such as Mamedyarov have chosen 13. ..Be6 for black, following Suetin's play in 1968 against Antoshin. The idea of Bg4 is simply to maximize black's activity, while keeping pressure on white's center and hoping to disrupt white's development with the pin on the e2 bishop. I wasn't thrilled with 13. ..Be6 14. Bc4 Bc4 15. Qc4 when 15. ..Rd8 is met by 16. d5!, though of course black has other choices. Probably best is 15. ..Nd6, but I wanted to keep the N on e4.

14. Rad1 Nd7!

Played after a 30-minute think. My original intention was 14. ..Qb7 15. Rfe1 a5 16. Ba3 Qb3 17. ab Nd6 18. Nb6 Ra7, but I saw an interesting possibility to keep queens on and solve some of black's problems (primarily what to do with the b8 knight and the e7 pawn) with one move.

15. Qc2!?

A pragmatic choice from Enkhbat. If 15. Be7!? Rfe8 16. Bh4 g5!! 17. Ng5! Be2 18. Qf7 Kh8 19. Ne6 Re6 20. Qe6 Bd1 21. Rd1 Ndf6 (diagram) =/+ . Alternatively, 16. Ba3 Rab8 gives black tremendous activity for the pawn, with potential for the d7 N to hop f6-d5-f4 or to b6, forcing white to fix black's pawn structure, while harassing the queen.

15. ..Nd6 16. h3 Bf5 17. Qc1 Qb7!?

Also playable was 17. ..Nb6 18. Nc5 Nd5, but I wanted to keep the N stuck on a4 for a while and keep the white bishop out of a6.

18. Ba3 Rfd8 19. Rfe1 Rab8 20. b3! Be4!

Trying to regroup by putting the B on d5 and the Nd6 on f5.

21. Ne5! Bd5! 22. Bf1 Nf5 23. Nc5

Also possible was 23. Nd7 Qd7 24. Nc5 Qe8!

23. ..Nc5 24. Bc5 a5!

Preventing white from going Qc1-a3, Bf1-a6 and squeezing the life out of black and also preparing an eventual a5-a4, cracking open white's queenside.

25. Qc3 Ra8! 26. Nc4 Bc4!

It looks counterintuitive to trade the monster bishop on d5, but white's N was a great piece and this allows black to gang up on d4. The prior three exclaims refer to near-only moves for black. White did a fantastic job in building pressure on black's position.

27. bc!?

Or 27. Bc4 e6!

27. ..e6!

28. Rd3!?

Possible is the crazy-looking 28. g4! Nh4 29. Qg3 g5 30. Bd3 Ng6 31. a3! when tactical means justify white's seemingly antipositional play. One line runs 31. ..Rd7 32. Qe3 Rad8 33. Qg5 Bd4 34. Bd4 Rd4 35. Bg6 hg 36. Qd8 Rd8 37. Rd8 Kg7 with a double-edged endgame.

28. ..Rd7 29. Red1 a4 30. Qe1 Rad8 31. Qe4 Nd6 32. Bd6?!

Objectively best is 32. Qe1, when black can do no better than to repeat the position with 32. ..Nf5. If 32. ..Nc4 33. Rb1 Qa8 34. Rb4 Nd6 35. Ra3 and white can fight on, as dictated by the match situation.

32. ..Rd6 33. d5 cd

It was possible to keep the position unbalanced with 33. ..c5!?

34. cd Rd5 35. Rd5 Rd5 36. Qa4 Rd1 37. Qd1 Qb4

Black can still squeeze by pressuring the f2 point, but with the match in hand (Pascal was easily winning), I offered a draw and this was accepted by IM Enkhbat.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Week 4 Roundup / League Overview (part 1)

Another exciting week of USCL play. The GOTW contest, which til this point has been less than competitive, ought to pick up steam and controversy this week, with a number of sparkling games and upsets taking place. We are now 40% through the season and the playoff picture is starting to emerge.

In the East,
New England (3.5-0.5, 9.5) and New York (3-1, 12) have emerged as front-runners, with Baltimore (2.5-1.5, 10) and Boston (2.5-1.5, 8) close behind, while Manhattan (1-3, 4.5) and Carolina (0.5-3.5, 5.5) need to make a mid-season surge to remain viable.

Out West, Arizona (4-0, 11.5) and San Francisco (3-1, 10.5) have created some distance from the field, though Chicago (2.5-1.5, 8) remains within striking distance. Storied franchises and perennial contenders Dallas (1-3, 6.5) and Miami (0.5-3.5, 5.5) have a lot of ground to make up to stay in the hunt.

What has separated the best from the rest? After four weeks, it looks to be the performance on board 2. The top 4 teams in the league (Arizona, New England, San Francisco and New York) happen to have the top 4 scores on board 2 (though not necessarily in that order), while the bottom 4 teams (Miami, Carolina, Manhattan and Seattle) have 4 of the bottom 5.

This was also the case in the regular season for 2009 (board 2 being most significant as a predictor of team result). In 2008, board 3 was most indicative.

On to the games!

The Philadelphia Inventors (1.5-2.5, 7.5) drew the Baltimore Kingfishers (2.5-1.5, 10) in a rare match where all the games were drawn! On board 1, GM Magesh Panchanathan drew GM Sergey Erenburg in a relatively placid game, where first minor pieces, then rooks left the board leaving a drawn queen and pawn endgame. Board 3 saw FM Karl Dehmelt play the Panov-Botvinnik against IM Ray Kaufman's Caro-Kann. In a very theoretical line, Dehmelt played a dubious novelty (17. Rc1 vs the standard 17. 0-0-0) and soon his king was far away from the action developing on the queenside and in the center. Instead of the critical 25. ..Kd7, Kaufman acquiesced to a 3-fold repetition with 25. ..Kf5, returning to that square on move 27. Board 4 was the next to finish, where NM Ricky Selzler was unable to convert his slightly better position against IM Richard Costigan into a concrete advantage and a drawn N vs B endgame soon resulted. The longest and most exciting game of the match was a battle between GM Larry Kaufman (2008 World Senior Champion) and FM Thomas Bartell, an early front-runner for league MVP. Bartell chose the rare 10. ..h6 (10. ..c6 and the sharp 10. ..ed are more popular) and quickly found himself in a difficult position with little space and even less counterplay.

Kaufman chose 21. f5!? which soon netted him a pawn, but 21. e5! would have nearly won the game on the spot. If 21. 22. Re5 Qb6 23. Na4 Qc7 24. Re6! decides or 21. ..d5 22. cd cd 23. Rc1! and white's positional advantage is overwhelming. Bartell was able to escape into a pawn-down endgame. On move 35 (diagram), Kaufman had a chance to win in style with 35. Nd8!! cb 36. Be2! when the c-pawn and the lineup on the d-file will cost black at least a piece. Instead, 35. Kg1 kept black on life support.

Bartell defended resourcefully and move 58 began to seize the initiative with ..h4, weaving the beginnings of a net around white's king. Kaufman bailed out on move 67 and forced a 3-fold repetition draw.

St. Louis (2-2, 8.0) drew a bizarre match against Miami (0.5-3.5, 5.5), last year's Western champions who need a strong finish to get back to the playoffs. A big problem this year for St. Louis' top heavy lineups has been the lack of production on board 4. Shocking, then, was the ease with which Spencer Finegold achieved a winning position with the black pieces against NM Andres Santalla and, more surprisingly, his decision to take a draw (diagram) when after 21. Bc5 Nc3! 22. Be7 Rd7 23. Rd2 Re7, black not only has a clean extra pawn, but superior pieces as "compensation".

Next to finish was GM Ben Finegold getting into opening trouble for the second consecutive week with the black pieces and Miami's GM Renier Gonzalez was up to the challenge and finished him off in style. In a sharp Grand Prix (diagram), Finegold played the disastrous 19. ..Bd5 and was lost after 20. c4! Bc6 21. Rd1!. Forced was the "greedy" 19. ..Ba2! 20. Rd1! Kd5! 21. c4 Bc4 22. Nb3 Ke4! 23. Nd2 with perpetual.

GM Hikaru Nakamura's homage to the late, great Bent Larsen was as volatile as the legendary Grandmaster's own play and quickly landed him in a difficult position. Already up two pawns, GM Julio Becerra missed an opportunity for an immediate knockout (diagram).

28. ..Re5! 29. Ne5 Qh2 30. Kf1 Qh1 31. Ke2 Ne3! 32. Kf3 Qh5! 33. Kf2 Qd1! would have been a picturesque finish. Instead, after 28. ..Ne5?! 29. Ne5 Qg7?! (29. ..Qd6! would have been better, with the idea 30. d4 f5!!) 30. d4 f6 31. b4! fe 32. ba Rd8 33. Qe5 Qe5 34. de, Nakamura had escaped into a likely drawn R+P endgame, though he still had to demonstrate some technique (keeping the pawn on g2). This game was the last to finish as Becerra played on to the bitter end (50-move rule draw), though the drama had been lost for the spectators long prior to the official result.

The Archbishops needed a win on board 3 from IM Michael Brooks against All-Star NM Eric Rodriguez. Brooks chose the rare 7. a4 in the Ne7 Winawer (as played by Fischer in the first game of his match against Larsen - more usual is 7. Qg4) and Rodriguez chose Korchnoi's 7. ..Qa5 treatment. Brooks innovated by finally playing 9. Qg4, rather than the usual 9. Nf3, which has been championed by GM John Nunn and netted him a sparkling victory against Tiger Hillarp Persson in 2000. Both players seemed a bit out of sorts as Rodriguez eschewed castling and Brooks refused to take the proffered g7 pawn. Perhaps influenced by Rensch's convincing win against Abrahamyan in last week's GOTW, Rodriguez played the creative but incorrect 13. ..Ke7?! (diagram), which was not necessary as the e6 pawn is taboo after 13. ..0-0! due to the pin on the Qg4.

After 14. h4 h6 15. Nh3 Be8 16. Nf4 Bf7 17. Ng6 Bg6 18. Qg6, Brooks had won a pawn but Rodriguez fought hard and after queens left the board was close to being equal (diagram)

Unfortunately, Rodriguez chose a too-passive regroupment, starting with 28. ..Rc8 29. Rf3 Ke8 30. Rf1 Rc6 31. Rb1 Rb6 32. Rb6 ab and now white's extra pawn would tell after 33. h5! as it is impossible to avoid zugzwang given the plan of Ke2-f3-g4-f5 and Bd2-c1-a3. Instead, 28. ..a5! would prevent a rook exchange (29. Rf3?! Rf3! 30. Kf3 Nc7! and black creates an outside passed pawn ensuring at least a draw) and give black sufficient counterplay.

Monday night's final match was an exciting battle between two teams headed in opposite directions. The Arizona Scorpions (4-0, 11.5) defeated the Dallas Destiny (1-3, 6.5) by a narrow 2.5-1.5 margin to cement their grip on the West. Most games in this match were at critical moments simultaneously, so I'll aim to avoid a too-chronological narrative. First to finish was IM Julio Saddora refuting FM Warren Harper's interesting but incorrect exchange sacrifice with precise, aggressive play (27. ..d5 and 28. ..d4 were star moves) on board 2, giving Dallas an early lead. FM Keaton Kiewra risked the condemnation of opening theoreticians and certain GOTW judges when he played 1. e4 c5 2. a3!? against FM Robby Adamson (whose league excellent recap post this week beat me to the punch!). After the standard 2. ..g6!, Kiewra surprisingly backed away from his enterprising opening and transposed (a tempo down) into "main lines" with 3. d4? and Robby took full advantage (see his excellent annotations at . If you're going to say "A", you must say "B" - next time, play 3. h4!

IM Salvijus Bercys outplayed IM Levon Altounian in a Dutch, starting with the extremely nice 18. e4! in the diagrammed position.

After piling up and winning the e-pawn, Bercys had a chance to clarify matters on move 30 with 30. d5! (the bishop is taboo due to Rf8) cd 31. Qd5 and white's extra pawn should tell. Instead, after 30. Bg2?! Bg2 31. Kg2 Rad8 black organized a defense in a heavy-piece endgame and held the draw.

The decisive game, then, was a battle between two of the league's top board 4s, NM David Adelberg and two-time All-Star WFM Bayaraa Zorigt (looking to bounce back from an 0/3 2009 campaign after scoring 11.5/16 in 2007-2008, including 4-0 in the playoffs). It was classic USCL - sharp, sometimes sloppy but always entertaining. Zorigt had the better of it early, but missed 25. ..Bd4! (instead playing 25. ..Nd6) and the more straightforward 30.! (instead 30. ..Ne4?? allowing 31. Nf5!). Adelberg seized the initiative with gusto, finding the strong 35. b4! / 36. e4! / 37. f5! sequence (see diagram) but failed to continue with 38. h4!! Rg4 39. Bh3, winning a piece. After 38. Kh2??, Zorigt had an excellent opportunity to turn the tables and level the match with 38. ..Qc7! after which white is forced to shed a pawn and close the beautiful a1-h8 diagonal with 39. e5 Nf5. Alas, it was not Dallas' night - Zorigt played 38. ..Nh5 and after 39. Qb2 f6 40. Qd2 Qc7?? (h6 was necessary) 41. e5! and white converted 15 moves later.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Week 4: Lucky

The final score often fails to tell the full story and so it was Monday night when the New York Knights beat their cross-town (and not really, because we both play on what is technically the West Side of Manhattan) rivals, the Manhattan Applesauce by a 3.5-0.5 margin. There were no boring games as the advantage changed hands and clocks ticked toward 0.

New York quickly got into trouble on boards 3 and 4, where GM John Fedorowicz and Alex Katz (making his Knights debut) faced SM Greg Braylovsky and James Black.

Braylovsky found a novel opening plan against the BronxBattler.

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. d4 e6 3. c4 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. Nbd2 Bb4 6. Qc2 Bb7 7. Bg2 (69) Be4 (83)

Greg spent 12 minutes on Bg2 and his time disadvantage would later play a decisive role.

8. Qb3 Bd2 9. Bd2 0-0 10. 0-0 d6 11. Rfd1 Nbd7 12. h3!?N (45)

Played after a 13 minute think, this move (and associated plan) is new. More popular is 12. Rac1, after which Michael Adams has ably defended the black side of the resulting complex position.

12. ..Qe7 (80) 13. g4 Rfc8 14. Rac1 (27) a5 (78) 15. Bg5 Qe8 16. Qe3 (19) h6 (73) 17. Bf4 Bb7 18. g5 hg 19. Bg5 Rab8 20. h4 Ne4 21. Bh3 Nf8 22. d5! ed 23. Bc8 (5) Qc8 (54)

Braylovsky has achieved a much better position, but is dangerously low on time. Fedorowicz's position looks to be tough to crack, with strong squares (c5 and f8) for his knights, pressure on d5 and the c8-h3 diagonal for the queen.

24. cd Nc5 25. Kh2

An interesting idea was 25. Rd4 f6 26. Bf6!! gf 27. Kh2! when white's heavy pieces will overwhelm black's defenses. Black had the resource 25. ..Qf5.

25. ..Qd7 26. Qe7! Qc8 27. h5!?

Safer was a regroupment starting with 27. Be3 Ng6 28. Qg5, when it's hard to find black's compensation for the exchange. Braylovsky saw an opportunity to plunder white's queenside, but Fedorowicz calculated further!

27. ..Qf5 28. Rc5?

It was better to immediately capture the c7 pawn. 28. Qc7 Re8 29. Rc4! Re2 30. Rf4 forces 30. ..Qd7 and white maintains the extra exchange.

28. ..bc 29. Qc7 Re8! 30. Qb7 (2) Re2 (47)

The last critical moment of the game.

31. Kg3??

In desperate time pressure, Braylovsky misses the narrow path to a draw: 31. Qb3! Rf2 32. Kg3 Rf3 33. Qf3 Qg5 and white holds the balance.

31. ..Re4 32. Qb3 Qg4 33. Kh2 Qh5 34. Kg2 c4 35. Qc3 g4 36. Kf1 Rg5 37. Rd4 Rd5 38. Rh4 Qf5 39. Rc4?

39. Ne1! prolonged resistance

39. ..Rd3! 40. Rf4 Qh3 41. Ke2 Rc3 42. bc Qe6 0:1

The Knights got the better of extreme time pressure on board 4 as well, in a shocking turn of events that changed the complexion of the match.

1. e4 (74)

Alex arrived 15 minutes late and, unfortunately, stayed in severe time trouble throughout the game.

1. ..c5 (88) 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cd 4. c3 Nf6 5. e5 Nd5 6. cd d6 7. Bc4 Nc6 8. 0-0 Nb6!?

Rare. More popular is 8. ..Be7 9. Qe2

9. Bb3 de 10. de Qd1 11. Rd1 (71) Be7 (80)

Alex began spending lots of time trying to generate an advantage.

12. Be3 (63) Nd7 (78) 13. Ba4 (58) 0-0 (76) 14. Bc6 (52) bc (76) 15. Nbd2 (45) Ba6 (74) 16. Nb3 (30) Rfd8 (69) 17. Rdc1 (18) Rdc8 (66) 18. Nc5 (9)

Also worth considering was 18. Bc5!?

18. ..Bc5 (62) 19. Bc5 Bd3 20. Bd6 (5) Be4 (61) 21. b4 (3) a6 (60) 22. Nd2 (2) Bd5 (59) 23. Nc4 f6 24. f4 Kf7 25. Rc3 Bc4 26. Rc4 Nb6 27. Rc2 Ke8 28. Rd1 Nd5 29. Rf2 Kd7?!

29. ..f5 seemed most straightforward

30. Bc5 a5 31. a3 ab 32. ab Rcb8 33. Rf3 Ke8 34. f5 ef 35. ef g6! 36. Rh3?

36. g4! was necessary

36. ..h5! 37. Rb3 Nf6 38. Re3 Ne4 39. h3 Rd8 40. Rf1

Down to a minute and in a losing position, Katz looks for a miracle swindle...

40. ..Rd2??

And gets it! 40. ..Ra2! was the right way to double on the 2nd rank. Another tragic miss for James.

41. Re4!

and white is just up a piece

41. ..Kf7 42. Re7 Kf6 43. Rc7 Raa2 44. Rc6 Kg7 45. Rc7 1:0

Pascal won a smooth game on board 2 against IM Dmitry Schneider

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Bd6!?

This unsightly move has become quite popular. In the absence of an exchange on c6, the d6 square is a temporary home that allows black to cover e5 while completing his kingside development, before redeploying the bishop to a more active square.

5. 0-0 0-0 6. d3 h6 7. a3 Re8 8. Ne2 Bf8 9. Ng3 g6 10. Re1 Bg7 11. c3 a6 12. Ba4 b5 13. Bb3 d6 14. a4 Rb8

And...we have a Ruy Lopez.

15. ab ab 16. h3 Be6 17. Be6 Re6 18. d4 d5!

Black achieves this standard break and is close to equalizing.

19. ed Qd5 20. de Qd1 21. Rd1 Ne5 22. Nd4 Ree8 23. Bf4 Nfd7?!

First step in the wrong direction. More dynamic was 23. ..Nc4! 24. Bc7 Rb7 25. Ba5 Nb2 26. Rdb1 Nc4 27. Bb4 Nd5 when black is for choice.

24. Nc6 Rb6?!

Again, a less critical path. More accurate was either removing the offending knight with 24. ..Nc6 25. Rd7 Ne5 26. Rc7 Nd3 27. Bd2 Nb2 28. Raa7 Rf8 29. Ne4 Nc4 30. Bf4 Rbe8 31. Nd6 Nd6 32. Bd6 Re1 33. Kh2 Be5 34. Be5 Re5 when white's advantage is slight or 24. ..Rbc8 providing additional support for c7.

25. Nb4 Rb7 26. Ne4 f5 27. Be5 Ne5 28. Nc5 Rbb8 29. Ra7 Nc4 30. b3!?

Also playable was 30. Nc6 Rbc8 31. b3 Nb2 32. Rd7 Bf8 33. Nb7!?

30. ..Nb2 31. Rc1 Rbd8 32. Rc7 Rd1 33. Rd1 Nd1 34. Ncd3 Nc3 35. Nc6

Material balance has been restored, but white maintains a pull with his piece activity. Black falls headlong into a trap.

35. ..Re2?? 36. Ne7 Kh7 37. Ng6! Rc2

If 37. ..Kg6 38. Rc3! Rd2 39. Nf4 and white retains an extra pawn

38. Nf8 Kg8 39. Ne6 Ne2 40. Kf1 Rc7 41. Nc7 Nd4 42. b4 Kf7 43. f4 Ke7 44. Kf2 Kd7 45. Nd5 Kd6 46. Ne3

46. ..Ke6?!

More accurate was 46. ..h5 forcing white to trade at least a pair of pawns on the kingside.

47. g4! Bf6 48. Nc5 Kd6?

48. ..Kf7 was safer

49. Nf5 Nf5 50. Ne4!

The point

50. ..Ke7 51. Nf6 Nd4 52. Nd5 Kd6 53. Nc3 Kc6 54. h4 Nc2 55. g5 hg 56. fg Kd6 57. h5 Ke5 58. h6 1:0

With the match turning New York's way on the lower boards, the battle between Giorgi and GM Alex Stripunsky had less say on the outcome of the match than the high drama and creative play between the two grandmasters warranted.

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nd4 4. Bc4 e6 5. Nge2 Nf6 6. 0-0 a6 7. a4 d5 8. ed ed 9. Ba2 Bd6!?

Carlsen chose 9. ..Bg4 against Radjabov earlier this year. That game continued 10. f3 Be6 11. d3 Nc6 12. Nf4 Qd7 13. Bd2 Be4 14. Nce2 0-0 15. c3 b5 16. Bb1 Rab8 17. ab ab 18. Bc2 with a double-edged game that eventually ended in a draw. Kacheishvili's move order sets some additional problems for white, as he waits for the exchange on d4 to develop his c8 bishop.

10. d3 0-0 11. Nd4 cd 12. Ne2 Bg4 13. f3 Bd7 14. Nd4 Qc7 15. Kh1 Ba4

16. Be3?!

Too passive. More energetic was 16. Nf5 Bh2 17. Qd2! menacing the kingside. After 17. ..Be5! 18. d4 Bd6 19. Qg5 Ne8 20. Re1 white appears to have ample compensation for the pawn.

16. ..Rfe8 17. Bg1 Bd7

White's pawn structure may be slightly better, but black's pieces are much more actively placed and that allows him to grab the initiative.

18. c3 Re5! 19. f4 Rh5

Guarding d5 and hitting h2!

20. Qf3 g5!?

Giorgi not holding back. At this point in the match, it was quite possible black would have to press for a win, given the situation on the bottom two boards.

21. Be3 Bg4 22. Qf2 Re8 23. Bd2 Bc8

As GM Alex Lenderman put it "a real grandmaster move"

24. Rae1 Re1 25. Qe1 gf 26. Nf3 Bf5

Consistent, but also possible was 26. ..Bd7, intending to pressure white on the a6-f1 diagonal.

27. Bb1 Kg7 28. Qd1 Bg6?!

A bit slow. Possible was 28. ..Ng4!? 29. h3 Ne3 30. Be3 fe 31. Nd4 Bg6 with an extra pawn.

29. Qa4 Ng4 30. h3 Nh6 31. Qd4 f6 32. Qf2 Nf5 33. Kg1

33. ..Bc5?!

Why rush? White is in a sort of middlegame zugzwang, where most moves contain a positional or tactical concession. 33. ..a5, intending a5-a4 continues to put the squeeze on white. One venomous idea is 34. Bc1 a4 35. Bd2 d4!! 36. Nd4 Nd4 37. cd Rb5 38. Bc3 a3!

34. d4 Bd6 35. Bf5 Bf5 36. Ne1 Rg5 37. Qh4 Qb6 38. Bf4 Bf4 39. Qf4 Be4 40. Rf2 Qe6 41. Nf3 Rf5 42. Qc7 Qf7 43. Qf7 Kf7 44. Nd2 Rg5!?

Better to suffer in a pawn down R+P ending than get squeezed in N vs B.

45. Ne4 de 46. Rf4 f5 47. Kf2 Ke6 48. g4 fg 49. hg h5 50. Re4 Kd5 51. Kf3 Kc4! 52. gh Rh5 53. Re7 b5 54. Rc7 Kd3

54. ..Kb3 55. Ke4 Kb2 56. d5 a5 57. d6 Rh8 58. d7 Rd8 59. Kd5 a4 60. Kd6 a3 61. Rb7 Kc3 62. Rb5 a2 is also drawn.

55. b4 Rf5 56. Kg4 Rf1 57. Rc6 Rf8 58. Kg5 Ke4 59. Rc5 Rf1 60. Kg6 Rf2 61. Re5 Kd3 62. Rc5 Ke4 63. Rc6 Kd5 64. Rf6 Rc2 65. Rf3 Kc4 66. Kf7 Re2 67. Kf6 Re1 68. Kf5 Re8 69. Rh3 Re1 70. Kf4 Re8 71. Re3 Rf8 72. Kg3 Ra8 73. Rf3 a5 74. ba Ra5 75. Kf4 Ra3 76. d5 b4 77. cb Rf3 78. Kf3 Kd5 79. b5 Kc5 80. b6 Kb6! 0.5 : 0.5