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.
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.
This is not it! 41. Rg4! was the only winning move (h3, Rg5 and Qf8!? also draw) with the idea Qc8-f5.
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?
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. ..cd 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!
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. 0-0 would have sufficed for a stable advantage, but black can definitely fight on.
18. ..gf 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.
Shattering black's illusions.
Either capture on h7 leads to mate (21. ..Nh7 22. Qg6 Kf8 23. Bh6 or 21. ..Rh7 22. Qg8)
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.