Playing in the USCL is always a crazy experience, and this year didn't fail to live up to that hype. I played 6 times this year, way more than I expected to, scoring only 4/6. Realistically, I could have probably had 5/6 fairly easily in a non-team tournament (definitely my quarter-final game would have been at least a draw in any normal situation), but when you're on a team there are more important issues than individual games. If you're losing the match 1-2, or equivalently tied 1.5-1.5 without draw odds you need to play to win at all costs whatever the situation on the board. Conversely, if you're up 2-1 you find the easiest draw possible and take it, even if you're winning. This explains why very strong players will often make very silly moves or decisions in order to keep a game alive.
The other difference between the USCL and any other "normal" tournament is the fact that players have several days to prepare for their opponent. This is normally only seen at very high-levels in Round Robin tournaments, which very few people have the opportunity to participate in. Having 3 days to prepare for an opponent is a great equalizer, as a well-prepared 2000 player can easily knock off a 2300. On the other hand, this also allows for players to try openings they don't normally play, since they have several days to prepare it specifically for one opponent. This can often reduce the amount of study from an opening to only a sub-variation. It allowed me to play several different openings, none of which I actually play, such as the King's Indian (for both sides!), the Ponziani, the Grand Prix Attack, and the Open Sicilian.
All the analysis below is my own, with the exception of some of the pre-game preparation. As such, much of it is probably directly false. The majority of it is what I was thinking during the game, and I don't want to spoil that pure line of thought by having the 3300 computer refute everything. I'm also quite generous with !'s and ?'s (or both), so don't be surprised if you see a huge amount of them.
The below are all 6 of my games, with a bit of background and some actual chess as well. Maybe it will give a bit more insight to "outsiders" into what happens in the league, from the perspective of the lowly board 4.
Week 3: Playing against Boston
Boston is always a difficult opponent, and the typical sports rivalries between NY and Boston extend to the USCL. While preparing for this match, I noticed that Krasik had played out a long theoretical line against my normal line (interestingly, also against NY), achieving a pleasant position out of the opening. With that in mind, I decided to try and go into something different...
Krasik-BOS vs. Katz-NY
1. d4 d6!?
Basically a move-order trick, as I was expecting to go into a King's Indian anyway, but it gets my opponent thinking early and somewhat reduces his options.
2. e4 Nf6 3. f3!?
A different move order than I anticipated, but back in the line I expected. Krasik had played the normal 3. Nc3 previously, winning the game due to excellent preparation. However, instead of 3...e5, I would have played 3...g6 and been in familiar Pirc territory.
3... g6 4. c4 Bg7 5. Nc3 O-O 6. Nge2 Nc6 7. Be3 a6 8. Qd2 Rb8
Naroditsky played this same line against Krasik a few seasons ago, reaching a complicated position where I had some improvements in mind. That game continued 9. h4 h5 10. O-O-O b5 11. Nd5!? bc 12. Nf6 Bf6 13. g4!? (The computer thought this was near losing, but eventually changes its evaluation after some prodding) 13... Nb4 14. Nc3 c5 15. gh Qa5 16. Bc4 Be6 17. d5 Nxa2!? 18. Bxa2 Rxb2?
Instead, the cold-blooded computer move 18... Bd7! was the point of my preparation, when White must be accurate just to hold the balance.
19. Bc4?, trying to hold the piece, leads to obvious disaster after 19... Qa1+
19. Bh6? Rxb2! when white is in deep trouble, i.e. 20. Qxb2 Bxc3 21. Qb1 Qa3 22. Kc2 Ba4 23. Bb3 Rb8
19. hxg6 Bxc3 20. Qxc3 Qxa2 21. Bh6 Qa1 22. Kc2 Ba4 23. Kd3 Qxb2 is about equal.
19. Rhg1 Bxc3 20. Qxc3 Qxa2 21. Bh6 Qa1 22. Kc2 Ba4 23. Kd3 Qxb2 leads to effectively the same position.
Unfortunately, Krasik chose the "other" main line, which I hadn't bothered to study at all. The only thing I remembered was that the point of the variation was the put the knight on d4, without which Black is effectively without play.
9. Rc1 Bd7
For some reason, I took a very long time on this move. Somehow I was convincing myself that after 9...Bd7 10. d5 would be coming, when after 10... Ne5 11. f4 there is no d7 retreat square. Besides the obvious fact that this isn't too dangerous, after 10... Ne5 the pawn on c4 is hanging, making the concern moot.
This plan is somewhat non-standard, but makes a lot of sense. The knight simply gets out of the way, both acting against Nd4 and preparing c5. The downside is that the knight doesn't really do a whole lot on f2, but it can quickly re-enter the game.
On the other hand, now that the c4 pawn is protected, d5 can be considered as Black's pieces get very offside. For example, if it were White's move, the sequence 11. d5 Ne5 12. f4 Neg4 13. Bg1 may be unpleasant, as h3 and g4 follows with a lot of play.
11. c5 Re8!?
This strange looking move prepares Black's next...
I suppose my opponent wanted to renew the threat of d5, but this fails to stop Black's idea.
12... e5 13. d5 Nd4!?!
Amazingly, all captures fail. For example,
14. Nxd4 exd4 15. Bxd4 Nxe4! (the point!) 16. fxe4 Qh4 17. Bf2 (17. Qf2 Qe4 18. Be3 Bd4 19. Kd2 Be3 20. Ne3 Qd4 21. Bd3 Bf5 22. Qe2 Re5!, when White is helpless with nearly all his pieces immobile) Qe4 18. Ne3 Bd4, and Black regains his piece, winning material.
However, the computer points out inserting 14. c6! would have assured White of a slight advantage, as Black will be forced to trade off his strong d4-knight. However, White's queenside play is temporarily stymied, allowing Black to somewhat comfortably keep the balance.
14. Nf2 dc 15. Rc5 Bf8!
The Bishop does nothing on g7, so it swings around to join the fun.
16. Rc1 Ba3 17. Rd1 Qe7
The pawn is still untouchable, as 18. Nd4?? Bb4 wins the game immediately
18. Nd3 c5 19. dc Bc6?!
Better is 19... Nc6! when White is still struggling to untangle.
20. Bg5 Rbd8 21. Nd4 Rd4 22. Qc2 Bb7 23. Be2
With little time left, I have allowed the last of White's pieces to come into play. Black maintains equality but not much more.
23... Rc8 24. Qb1 h6 25. Be3
Not 25. Bxh6? Nxe4! when Black regains the piece with a win
25... Rd7 26. O-O Kg7 27. Qa1 Re8 28. b4?!
This is not really challenging, and allows Black to get strong play in exchange for the bishop pair.
28... Bb4 29. Nb4 Qb4 30. Rd7 Nd7 31. Qc1 Rc8 32. Bh6 Kh7 33. Qg5 Qb2!
Now Black takes a pawn, and the rest is simply making sure to avoid the superfluous threats on the king. Though the rest is far from perfect in mutual time trouble, it is fairly simple to defuse the threats and make the extra pawn count.
34. Bd1 Qa2 35. Qh4 Kg8 36. Qe7 Qe6 37. Qa3 Nb6 38. Bb3 Nc4 39. Qb4 Qb6 40. Kh1 Qc5 41. Qe1 Qe7 42. Qg3 a5 43. Bg5 f6 44. Bc1 Kg7 45. f4 Bxe4 46. f5 Qf7 47. Bb2 a4 48. Bxc4 Rxc4 49. fxg6 Qxg6 50. Bxe5 Bxg2!
The most clarifying way to win. Now 51. Qxg2 Qxg2 52. Kxg2 fxe5 leaves Black with a trivially winning ending, while 51. Kxg2 Rg4 picks up the queen, so White resigned.
Though this game didn't end up having an effect on the match (the other 3 games had finished 2.5-0.5 in our favor long before), it was nice to begin the season with a win, and to convincingly defeat Boston 3.5-0.5.
Week 4: Playing against SF
Already early in the season, a small playoff picture began to form. Looking at our upcoming schedule, which contained, among other strong teams, Connecticut and Dallas, it seemed like beating SF would be necessary if we wanted to comfortably make the playoffs. As it turns out, this win may very well have been the difference between making or not making the playoffs.
Preparation for this match was significantly more difficult. As Viswanadha is a young player playing in the league for the first time, I had to get a bit creative with my googling. Eventually I was able to match him with his ICC handle with some degree of confidence, which gave me a little bit of information. The few scattered games he had online were additionally sufficient to conclude that I would be preparing for a Najdorf Sicilian.
That's all well and good, but there are a lot of different systems in the Najdorf. How would I guess which one he played? The solution? Study them all! The next 2 days were a mixture of me consulting Experts Vs. the Sicilian (which, by the way, is a great book), Houdini, and chess.com's database. By the time the game was about to start, I was still reviewing lines. Not the optimal situation against a young Najdorf player!
Katz-NY vs. Viswanadha-SF
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cd 4. Nd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 Nbd7 7. f4
So far, so good. Still well within my prep.
This caused me a brief moment of panic. Though it turns out to simply be a nuance of move orders, anything unfamiliar in such a crazy opening I had just learned is not usually a good sign.
8. Qf3 b5 9. O-O-O Bb7 10. Bd3
He took a few minutes to think here, and I was beginning to sink more and more into panic. I knew his pawn was supposed to be on e6 by now, but I couldn't come up with any way to exploit it (right after, I looked up this annoying move order). Fortunately,
Phew, now we're back into my prep.
11. Rhe1 Be7 12. Qg3 b4 13. Nd5!
The only convincing try. This position has been played many times before. Black has to accept the sacrifice or will be quickly destroyed.
13... ed 14. ed!
The older games in this line went 14. e5, but this eventually leads to a long convoluted forced draw by perpetual.
14... Kd8 15. Nc6 Bc6 16. dc Nc5
Both sides are still playing extremely quickly, and are obviously still within prep. Black's other option here is 16... Nb6, when the game develops in a slightly different fashion. Here it is appropriate to explain the piece sacrifice. In return, White has a strong pawn on c6 (which, for the moment, is untouchable), but more importantly Black's pieces lack coordination. White's next move, 17. Bh4, highlights this fact. In order to defend the g7 pawn, which must be defended lest White collect all the kingside pawns, Black must resort to 17... Bf8 or the game continuation 17... Rg8. Should Black continue with 17... Bf8, white will play the simple 18. Bc4 when Black is very tied down. Eventually, White will play Bxf6, ruining Black's pawn structure and forever encasing the dark-squared bishop in its prison. White will continue by doubling rooks on the e-file, and penetrating Black's position. While Black has some hopes of surviving this, it is an unpleasant task for the defender, who has few prospects for counterplay.
Should Black continue with the most principled 16... Qxc6, White will play 17. Bxf6 when either Black must allow 17... Bxf6 18. Be4 Qa4 19. Bxa8 Qxa2 20. Rxd6! Qxb2 21. Kd1 Qb1 22. Ke2 Qc2 23. Kf1 when there is simply not enough compensation for the material, or 17... Nxf6 18. Qxg7 Rg8 19. Qxf7 when White is clearly in the driver's seat.
This move sacrifices a second (!) piece in exchange for some pawns, but ties Black's pieces down.
18... Rh8 19. Qxg7 Rxh7 20. Qxf6! Rxh4! 21. Qxf7 Rh8 22. Re5 Na4 23. Re6 Nc5 24. Re5 Na4 25. Re3!
No draw! The first repetition simply gains some time due to the increment, and allows Black the opportunity to make a mistake. It's a good general rule to repeat the position once when possible. Now Black must defend against the threat of Rde1.
The computer likes this move, but it makes little practical sense. Now every single one of Black's pieces will be tied down.
26. Rde1 Nc8 27. Qg7!
Not 27. f5?? Bg5 when White can resign
27... Re8 28. f5 Qxc6! 29. f6 Kc7! 30. h4!
The bishop can't go anywhere, so there's no need to take it yet. This is another good general rule to follow - if you don't have to do something, check to see if you really want to do it immediately. h4 is simply a useful move that starts the pawns rolling, while Black effectively needs to lose a tempo forcing fxe7.
And Black blinks first! Up until now, this has all been theory/computer recommended, but this is a simple blunder. During the game I expected the stronger 30... Kb6!, which forces 31. fxe7 with an unclear position. Black needs to try and quickly organize a blockade of the rolling pawns, while White simply moves the h and g pawns down the board.
31. f7! Rd8 32. Rxe7 Nxe7 33. Rxe7
White is down a full rook, but is clearly winning. The f7-pawn is worth more.
33... Qc8 34. Qd4! Qc6 35. Qxb4 Kc8 36. Qg4 Kb8 37. Qg8??
Instead the simple sequence 37. Qb4 Kc8 38. Qf4! effectively ends the game, as 38... Rf8 39. Qh6 (the point of inserting 37. Qb4; now there is no Qc8 defense) wins everything.
Black proves resourceful and finds the only try
This totally throws away the win. 38. Re2! maintains a winning position.
38... Qc4! 39. Re8 Qf1 40. Kd2 Qf2 41. Kd3 Qf1 42. Ke3?? Kb7!!
This is what I missed when playing 38. c3. Now 43. f8Q Re8 44. Qe8 Re8 45. Qe8 Qe1 loses, so White is suddenly scrambling to maintain the balance.
43. Qh7 Kb6 44. Re4?
White fails to properly adjust to the new situation and continues to play for a win. Instead, 44. Rxc8 would allow White enough pawns to hold the game.
44... Rc4 45. Re8
I realize the danger too late! Now I simply want a repetition with Re8-e4 and Black's rook following.
Black obliges with this plan, but apparently 45... Rg4 would have won the game. In all fairness however, this is particularly difficult for a human low on time to calculate, and indeed I didn't even consider this option during the game.
46. Re4 a5
Black plays for the win!
47. Qg6 Qe1?!
I don't understand the point of this move. It simply forces White's king to a good square.
48. Kf3 Qd1 49. Kg3 Qd5??
A losing blunder. The g3-square is perfect for the king (this is where I wanted to get to with Kc1-d2-d3-e3!), as there is nowhere to give check from.
50. Re8 Qf7 51. Qf7 Re8 52. Qd5 Rad8
The rest is fairly poorly played in time pressure, but again White's position is easily winning. The g and h-pawns, as they do so often in this variation, carry the game.
53. Qd4 Kc6 54. c4 Re5 55. a3 Rb8 56. Kh2 Rb3 57. g3 Re2 58. Kh3 Re5 59. Qg4 Ree3 60. h5 Rb8 61. Qf4 Re5 62. g4 Rb2 63. h6 Rb3 64. Kh4 Ree3 65. h7 Rh3 66. Kg5 Rb8 67. Qe4 Kc7 68. Kf6 Rd8 69. g5 d5 70. Qe5 Kc6 71. Qe6 Kc7 72. Qh3 1-0
A brief note:
71. Qe6 was not blundering the queen, it was intentionally played as 71... Rd6 72. cd Kc5 73. Kg7 is trivial.
Sometime during the point where I was blundering away the game (6 times?), Matt Herman fell to IM Naroditsky and Michael Bodek drew with Yian Liou, leaving us in a 0.5-1.5 hole. My win pulled us even, and Giorgi pulled off a fantastic grind, ending with an very nice theoretical win with the wrong-colored bishop over GM Kraii.
Week 6: Playing against Dallas
When I got the e-mail asking if I was available to play against Dallas, I really was not expecting to be playing on board 3. As a result, I prepared for Guenther for several days, only to find out that I would instead be playing against Getz! Getz has a number of accolades to his name, recently being the runner-up in the US Junior Championship. He also plays about 17 different openings, making it very difficult to prepare. This was made additionally difficult when I discovered that I had been preparing for the wrong color! Since I was playing on board 3, not my usual board 4, my color assignment also changed to White. I then decided to try and get out of theory and into a position where we could both think for ourselves...
Katz-NY vs. Getz-DAL
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c3!?
The Ponziani is a rare guest in serious play, having been analysed to "death" over a hundred years ago. This made it a good choice to try and surprise Getz with...
3... Nf6 4. d4 Qe7!?
...only to be surprised myself. Now neither of us know any theory.
5. d5 Nb8 6. Qc2 g6 7. c4 Bg7 8. Nc3 O-O 9. Be3 d6 10. Be2
We've now reached a fairly standard position in the King's Indian Defense. Unfortunately, I know practically nothing here, and so I'm forced to play just based on of what I can calculate on the board. On the other hand, Getz does actually play the King's Indian, and is thus far more prepared for these types of positions.
10... Ng4 11. Bg5 f6 12. Bh4 Nd7 13. Nb5 Nc5
The point of 13. Nb5 was that 13... Nc5 could be answered by 14. b4, after which 14... Nd7 15. Nfd4!? was my idea, aiming at the e6 square. However, I realized just in time that 14. b4 fails to 14... Ne4!, when 15. Qe4 Bf5 traps the Queen.
14. h3 Nh6 15. b4 Na6 16. Qd2 Nf7 17. O-O Bh6 18. Qc3 c5!
Up until now, I've about held my own in this position, never really being worse. However, I've used quite a bit of time to get there.
In hindsight, the simple 19. a3 would probably have been better.
19... bxc6 20. Na3 c5!? 21. Nc2
Heading to the weakened d5 square.
21... Bb7 22. b5?!
Releasing the tension too early. Instead 22. Bd3 is better.
22... Nc7 23. Bd3 Ne6 24. Nh2 Bg5 25. Bg3!?
With little time, 25. Bg5 should have been preferred, when White is worse but not seriously so.
25... Bf4 26. Ng4 Ng5 27. Rae1 h5!
This ensures a big edge.
28. Nh2 Bg3 29. Bg3 Nd4 30. Nd4 cd 31. Qd2 Ne6
Without doing anything ridiculously special, Black has totally outplayed White and has a practically winning position. While this was partially caused by me trying a bit too hard to win, since the match was not looking good, I also just didn't really play particularly good moves. The knight will find a home on the c5 square, where it will be nearly impossible for White to remove. Black will slowly improve his position, while White has little play.
32. Nf3 Nc5 33. Nh4 Kg7 34. Qe2
Desperately fishing for counterplay based on g4.
34... Bc8 35. Rb1
Black's move ...Bc8 shuts down the kingside play, so I pretend like I actually have something on the queenside.
35... Be6 36. Nf3 Rfb8 37. Ra1 Qd8 38. Kh2
White clearly has no plan, while Black simply builds up his position.
38... Na4 39. Ne1 Qc7 40. Nc2 Qc5 41. Rfc1 Rc8 42. Qd2 a5 43. ba Nc3 44. a3 Ra6 45. Nb4 Ra4 46. Bc2?
White has managed to get something, however small, by getting the knight to b4. However, Bc2 simply loses the c4 pawn.
46... Ra7 47. Nd5 Bd5 48. cd Ra3 49. Ra3 Qa3 50. Rf1
White is simply down a pawn with a worse position. Totally lost, I just start throwing things at my opponent and hope for a miracle.
50... Rf8 51. g4!
The only practical shot.
51... hg 52. hg g5 53. Kg3 Qb5 54. Rh1
With low time, the threats look slightly dangerous with Qf5 coming.
54... Ne2 55. Kf3
The simple 55... Nf4 should win without too much difficulty. This allows a perpetual, and Black is actually slightly lucky it doesn't allow mate.
56. Qa7 Rf7 57. Rh7! Kh7 58. Qf7 Kh6 59. Qf6 Kh7 60. Qf7 Kh6 61. Qf6 Kh7 1/2-1/2
White may be able to try and press on with 62. Qf5 Kg7 63. Qg5, but with the match saved it wasn't worth the risk.
This match was absolutely amazing in terms of how we saved it. Tamaz played a fairly clean game, exploiting GM Chirila's over-extension and bringing home a key point, while Charbonneau was eventually worn down from a nice-looking position after an unfortunate oversight against GM Holt. This left me and Isaac in lost positions, struggling to save the match.
Sometime into the match, Isaac's computer ran out of battery (What? How could this have possibly happened? It was full [aka 20% full] when I got here!!11!1!!!!11!), so he went into the office to finish his game. Down a clear piece, I just assumed he had lost. However, by a ridiculous series of events, beginning with Guenther's unwillingness to take the clean piece, instead favoring 2 free-moving pawns, and ending with a drawn position, it was left on me to try and hold my miserable position. After the blunder 55...d3, we managed to save the match with a 2-2 tie.
Week 7: Playing against Baltimore
With our incredible escape last week, it seemed like nothing would prevent us from making the playoffs, save a giant collapse. Up next was Baltimore, a team that is always strong but was under-performing this season (partially due to an unfortunate mouseslip error).
I was slated to play FM Zimmer. This was another game where I wasn't quite sure what opening to prepare for. Upon entering the game, the Scandinavian was the one opening I hadn't prepared for, and so of course it was played. Fortunately, I wasn't totally clueless, as Matt had sent me some analysis to prepare for Getz (thanks Matt!), which still applied here.
Katz-NY vs. Zimmer-BAL
1. e4 d5 2. ed Qd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Bc4 c6 6. Bd2 Qc7?!
This move doesn't really make much sense to me. White just develops and gets a good game.
7. Nf3 Bf5 8. Ne5 e6 9. Qe2!?
This plan of castling queenside may not be objectively best, but it is aggressive and leads to a nice position for me to play.
9... Nbd7 10. O-O-O Be7
Black would have preferred to play 10... Bd6, but 11. g4! renders this impossible.
11. f3 Ne5
Practically forced, or White's big space advantage will simply roll black over. Castling queenside is impossible as f7 hangs, and castling kingside walks right into a big attack.
12. de Nd7 13. g4 Bg6 14. f4
White has a slight but pleasant advantage here.
14... b5 15. Bb3 Nc5 16. Qf3!
This move represents a double threat of f5 and Nxb5.
16... b4 17. f5! bc 18. Bc3!
The bishop goes nowhere, so I don't need to capture it yet (similar to my game against Viswanadha).
18... Nb3 19. cb!?
I was afraid of 19. ab a5 when the open a-file seems dangerous.
Now I'm left with a bit of a dilemma. After 20. fg hg, the c6-pawn is weak, but so is the e5-pawn. Black is probably fine, and I may just get rolled over on the queenside if I'm not careful. After thinking about this for a while, one of the main problem is that after 20. fg hg, I don't have 21. h4 because the h-file was opened...
This solves the problem, since I still don't have to take the bishop. Keep the tension!
20... Rd8 21. Rd8 Bd8 22. h5!
This keeps the pawn structure intact.
22... ef 23. hg fg 24. gf
Perhaps 23. gf, keeping the tension even longer, was stronger.
24... gf 25. Qf5 g6?
This loses, but it's not so obvious why.
26. Qe6 Be7
Now I have another dilemma. Obviously, White is much better. I have several ideas here, such as pressuring the h7-pawn, or bringing the rook to d6 to attack the c6-pawn. However, 27. Rd1 allows the rook to come out with 27... Rf8, when the position is not so clear. Now however, the rook is tied down to h7. This really leaves black with no useful moves....
Black is simply in zugzwang! Every move directly loses, except for pawn moves when I will simply move my king back and forth until they run out...
I can't really call this a mistake, as there simply is nothing else. The computer actually ranks this second best.
28. Qd7 Kd7 29. e6! 1-0
The rook falls.
Unfortunately, this victory couldn't aid the team, as we fell 3-1 to a strong Baltimore squad. Bodek fought hard to try and win to save the match, which was at 1-2, against GM Kaufman, but the GM eventually defended against the threats and turned the desperate winning tries around for the victory.
Week 10: Playing against NJ
In the midst of multiple storms, many people had to play away from their home site, me included. Fortunately, the new NJ site is barely 20 minutes away from my house, and so such arrangements were easy to make. Despite this, my opponent was not actually at the NJ site, as he was unable to make the long drive in such conditions.
I noted that Burke played 1. e4 e5, and was very solid in these openings. Instead of trying to crack this difficult nut, I decided to try 1. d4 for the first time in my life.
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cd Nd5 5. e4 Nc3 6. bc Bg7 7. Nf3 c5 8. Rb1 O-O 9. Bc2 Nc6
The other option is 9... cd, but this pawn grab is quite risky after 10. cd Qa5 11. Bd2 Qa2 12. O-O with strong compensation.
10. d5 Ne5 11. Ne5 Be5 12. Qd2 e6 13. f4 Bc7 14. O-O ed 15. ed Ba5 16. d6 Rb8!?
The first new move. 16... b6 is more common.
17. Ba3 b6 18. Rad1
I think this reaction was correct. Rb8 basically loses a tempo, as the rook doesn't really do anything there, and so I can take advantage of this by simply putting my pieces on good squares.
18... Bf5 19. Bb2 Qf6 20. Bb5!?
I have two ideas here - I want to play either g4 and f5 with an attack, or prepare c4 to open the diagonal. This move indirectly makes c4 a threat, as 21. c4 Bd2 22. Bf6 would leave the d-pawn unstoppable.
This removes the rook from the d1 square, but also makes f5 a threat.
21. Rde1 Rbd8 22. f5!
The chess.com commentators seem to think that I was so much worse here, but in reality I'm close to winning. After the game sequence, which is effectively forced, we are left with an opposite colored bishops position where I have a strong attack.
The only move. Instead,
22... Rd6 23. Qf4 h5 24. h3 Bf5 25. g4 leaves Black with insufficient compensation for the piece.
22... Bf5 23. g4 is simply a worse version of the above.
22... gf 23. h3 Bh5 24. g4 Bg6 25. gf Bf5 26. Qg2 Kh8 27. c4 Bc3 28. Rf5! wins
23. Qg5! Qd2! 24. Qg4 Qb2 25. fg! hg
Black is lost after 25... Qb5 26. gf Kh8 27. Qg3! when there is no defense... e.g. 27... Rd5 28. Re8 Re8 29. f8Q and black is mated.
This move is shocking, but it leads to only a draw. There are two reasons I played this move. The first is that the team only needed a draw to clinch the playoffs, Tamaz had already won, and Bodek was in a position he couldn't really lose. As such, a draw here would have clinched a playoff spot. The second reason is that I totally overlooked that after the reply 26... Rxf7, the f2 square is now attacked and so mate is threatened. Instead, 26. Bc4 Qc3 27. Re4!? (27. Qg6 Qg7 28. Qg7 Kg7 29. Re7 leads to a pawn-up opposite-color bishop ending that should be a draw). leaves White with excellent winning chances. The commentators seem to think Rxf7 was this brilliant way to escape a losing position, but they also think I'm Alena Kats so I wouldn't put too much stock in their judgement ;)
26... Rxf7 27. Qxg6 Kf8 28. Qh6 Kg8 29. Qg5 Kh7 30. Qh4 1/2-1/2
I had intended 30. Qxd8, which would indeed be winning if not for the annoying 30... Qf2 31. Kh1 Qxe1 32. Bf1 Rxf1#. Instead, this is a simple perpetual.
This left us up 1.5-0.5 and with no real possibility of losing. I stayed around to the end of the match just to make sure we were ok, and to see if we might overtake Manhattan in the standings. Incredibly, while I was sitting there, Bodek accidentially resigned a dead-equal position that he was actually attempting to win. The result stood, and so we were left at 1.5-1.5 with the entire season resting on Matt. With nearly no time and a lost position, it seemed inevitable that the quirks of chess.com may deny us the playoffs. However, Matt defended well, and Gulko was unable to find the computer line resulting in a forced mate, leading to a perpetual which saved our season.
Quarterfinals: Playing against Manhattan
This is the only match I didn't really prepare for. I was away for the days preceding the match, and so didn't even know my opponent until Monday morning. At that point it was too late to do any serious prep, so I just went into the game with the prep I had already done for previous opponents. King surprised me on move 1, as he had played 1... e5 against me previously. On the bright side, preparing for 2 opponents in a row that play 1. e4 e5 gives me some very evil preparation for 1...e5, which I look forward to smashing people with in the future.
Katz-NY vs. King-MAN
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3!?
I didn't want to get into an open Sicilian, since I figured he'd have something prepared for me (why else play Sicilian?). Instead I fell back to an opening I used to play as an 1800, and remembered little of.
2... Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bb5 Nd4 6. O-O Nb5 7. Nb5 d5 8. ed a6 9. Nc3 Nf6 10. d4
I remembered that this was mainline, and that 10... Nd5 11. dc Nc3 12. Qd8 Kd8 13. bc Bc3 14. Rb1 Kc7 15. Rb3 Bf6 16. Bd2 was somehow supposed to give me good chances to mate him. Instead, he plays this strange move that I hadn't seen before, and thus had to work out OTB.
10... c4?! 11. Qe2 b5 12. Re1! Ra7?!
I think 12... Bb7 was better. Re1 prevents castling for now, so Black needs to either prepare castling or try to collect the d5 pawn.
13. Ne5! Rc7 14. Nc6! Qd6 15. Qe5! Qe5 16. fe Nd5 17. Nd5 Rc6 18. Bg5!
For some reason FM Mike Klein in his summary seems to think this is resignable for Black. In reality, he's just totally wrong and the exchange-down ending is not difficult to hold. On the other hand, this is definitely the best try for White, as it really leads by force to this exchange-up ending.
18... Be6! 19. Ne7 Rc7 20. d5 Re7 21. Be7 Ke7 22. de Ke6
It's now time to take serious stock of the situation. The e5 pawn is dead and will be captured very soon. White would like to exchange rooks and open some lines, leading to victory. However, at this point there are no open lines, and there is no clear way of how to trade rooks. I originally thought 23. a4 would be strong here, but the simple 23... Be5 24. ab ab 25. Ra5 Rb8 shows that it's not that simple.
23. b3!? Rc8! 24. a4 Be5!
However, 23. b3 just isn't really that good. It was based on a miscalculation, as the game showed.
25. ab ab 26. Ra5 cb!!
This shows the hole in my calculation. Now 27. Rb5 is met by 27... bc when the pawn cannot be stopped. The game is now equal.
27. cb Rc5 28. Rd1 Bc3 29. Ra6 Ke5 30. Ra7 Ke6
In a normal tournament situation, I would have played 31. Ra6 here and taken the draw, as Black has sufficient compensation for the exchange. However, at this point Matt's game was very unclear, Tamaz looked at least ok, and Michael was probably drawing, so a draw would have forced Matt to win. At the time this was far from given, and indeed I thought he was losing (No offense to Matt, but seriously, who else called Rxf7 and Nxe6? :D). Instead I tried to keep the game alive, aiming for a position with a slight edge that I can play for 2 results.
31. Rd3 h5 32. Re3 Be5 33. g3 f6 34. Rb7 Kf5 35. Re2 g5 36. Kg2?
Instead, 36. Rd2 keeps the rook immobile. Here I've essentially failed to accurately sense all the danger, and this is certainly not a position that "I can't lose." Indeed, there are practically no winning chances for me anymore.
36... Rd5 37. Rb6 Bc3 38. Ra2 b4 39. Rba6?
A miscalculation here.
39... Rd3 40. Rb6 Rd1 41. Rb5 Ke4! 42. Rb8?
Instead, 42. Rf2 Rb1 43. h4 should leave White ok. Around here Tamaz was in trouble, so it was clear I needed to win. In this desperation to win, I begin to lose the thread here and make horrible moves.
42... Rb1 43. Re8 Kf5 44. Ra5 Kg6 45. Rg8 Kh7
Since I'm obviously not going to grind out this fortress, I go for my only possible winning hope, which is to somehow mate him in the corner. I want to put my King on f5 when the chances are real.
This is the wrong square. Instead, 46. Rc8 Rb3 47. Kf3! would have given me decent winning chances, since we were both under a minute for the last few moves.
46... Rb3 47. h3?
With just 30 seconds, I realize my error as 47. Kf3 Bd4 48. Ke4?? Re3 is impossible, but instead play this stupid move that not only throws away all winning chances but simply nearly loses.
47... Be5 48. g4
48. Rxe5 (either rook) is a pretty easy draw, but I still need to win, so I hope for a blunder or mouseslip or something.
48... hg 49. hg Rg3 50. Kf2 Rg4
And Black went on to win without too much trouble. FM Mike Klein calls this an amazing turnaround, but his underlying assumption that Black was lost is faulty inofitself. Congratulations to the Manhattan team, and good luck to them in their semi-final match against Philadelphia next week.
As previously stated, we were tied 1.5-1.5 at the time, so with my desperate attempts at a win repulsed, the NY season came to a disappointing end. This loss represented a triple whammy. Not only did this lead to our playoff elimination, but less importantly, in the terms of individual honors, probably knocked both me and Tamaz out of All-Star team contention. A draw for either of us probably would have left us in contention, so it can be taken as another example of what players have to do when on a team. Sometimes I feel like the team aspect of all of this isn't stressed enough while watching games from home online, but I never felt that way with the NY team.
One final word, regarding chess.com: While the site is definitely a great one in most ways, most notably for me in its online database (since I have no commercial one of my own), as well as a chesstempo-esque tactics trainer, there were definitely numerous play-related issues. While I am of course biased since one of the most major issues, Bodek's accidental resignation, directly impacted our team, it is still true that it shouldn't have happened to anyone at all. This is intended as constructive criticism and not to be rude or anything, particularly since I don't understand the technical side of it all, but there should be some basic safeguards in place similar to ICC's such as a takeback system and resignation confirmation. I'm also not sure what the interaction between disconnection and running out of time is, since the clock still runs while disconnected, but if this results in a loss on time that's also an issue that should be addressed. On the plus side, I really like the commentary on the games, and I usually watch it afterwards if I happen to be playing that night.
It is, of course, the first year that chess.com is involved with the USCL, and so issues are expected. Overall, it's gone surprisingly smoothly. Hopefully when next season rolls around, the issues will be solved and playing on Wednesdays will not be synonymous with dread :)
One final-..er word: Thanks so much to Elizabeth, who did a great job running the team even when left with short notice (it was multiple times that my playing situation was switched shortly before the deadline, and I was almost not even on the team at all before she changed her mind a few days later!), and for her great work before the season in getting the support of ChessNYC. Thanks also to ChessNYC, who sponsored the team this season. While I'm not privy to the effects of this arrangement, and I'm not sure if it directly impacted me or not, it's a fair bet that their support helped out the higher boards greatly. Finally, thanks to the entire NY Knights team, who all had strong seasons this year, for bailing me out when I played badly, taking advantage when I played well, and just all-around awesomeness.