Monday, September 29, 2014

Weeks 4 and 5: A win is a win

We had our best match in a long time (perhaps since week 2 last year against Manhattan) in week 4, a 3-1 victory over the Applesauce.  I managed to equalize quickly with black on board 2 against IM Farai Mandizha .  NM Alex King won a very smooth game against NM Levy Rozman in a Dutch on board 3, centralizing all his pieces and capitalizing when Rozman blundered. NM Gary Huang earned a GOTW nomination for his sacrificial demolition of Shaun Smith on board 4 out of a normally quiet QGD. GM Pascal Charbonneau gave a master class on handling Ruy Lopez sidelines and maintained a clear advantage throughout against IM Victor Shen,  before agreeing to a draw with the match already in hand.

Week 5 was an altogether different story.  The Connecticut Dreadnoughts were fresh off a stunning upset against the previously perfect St Louis Archbishops. 

Board 1 featured a US Championship rematch between GM Gata Kamsky and GM Alex Lenderman.  Gata gradually equalized and looked to have seized the initiative with the plan of b7-b5-b4. 
 Lenderman's 34. g4 admirably complicated matters, with Gata playing on 4 minutes + increment.  After 34. ..hg 35. Bg4, 35. ..Qe4 would have interrupted white's kingside play, but Gata pressed forward with 35. ..b4.  The black kingside was surprisingly and permanently vulnerable after 36. h5 g5 37. h6 Bf6 38. Bf5 ba 39. ba Ba6 40. Qf3 Rb6 41. Rb1! exchanging a key defender.  Continuing to play quickly, Gata blundered with 41. ..Qd8, missing Lenderman's 42. Rb6 Qb6 43. Be6!.  In fact, Lenderman had a surfeit of possibilities, including 43. Rb2! and 43. Qh5!, each highlighting black's lack of coordination and weak kingside.  Lenderman was awarded his second consecutive Game of the Week for his efforts.

Board 4 was very puzzling. NM Yoon-Young Kim surprised NM Qibiao Wang with the Schliemann.  Qibiao chose a line that allowed black to equalize without too much trouble. The game still seemed to go according to script as the stronger player improved his position and, out of nowhere, emerged with a completely winning R+P ending. 

There were many simple methods to convert. To Kim's credit he set and sprung one of the few tricks in the position: a pseudo-rook sacrifice, with capture leading to immediate stalemate. Neither player was in time trouble, but things started to go wrong for Kim as he seemingly did not know the Philidor defense and instead chose (still keeping the draw, but odd) to move his rook to the back rank.  The final blunder came on move 82 and white queened his pawn and won the game.

Board 3 featured two of the country's top juniors. SM Josh Colas chose a placid line against SM Nico Checa's QGD.  Nico quickly equalized and seemed to have everything under control. Colas is known for his tactical awareness and won a pawn when Nico blundered with

  24. ..Qb6?, leaving the back rank undefended. Nico defended well and could have set white tremendous problems with the shot

48. ..c5!!, highlighting the weakness on a2 and awkward placement of white's knight and king.  The prosaic 48. ..Ra8 allowed the strong in-between 49. e4!.  Colas should have won on the spot after 49. ..Ne7 with 50. Rh7!, when black cannot avoid serious loss of material.  All remained well for CT and simply 59. Nxa3 would have removed black's last chance (the Na2 is trapped after 59. ..Nb4 60. Kc4 Na2 61. Nb5 Nc1 62. Nc3).  Colas finally gave away the half point with 65. Kc6? (65. Kc4, rounding up the a3 pawn), continuing to blitz his moves with a 30 to 1 clock advantage.  Nico seized his chance and the draw with 65. ..Nb4 66. Kc7 Kd4 67. Nb1 Na2.  Drawn match, right? 68. b6 Nb4 and Colas, unwilling to acquiesce to the draw after 69. Nxa3 Nd5 70. Kc6 Nxb6 71. Kxb6 Ke3, threw away the other half point with 69. b7??.  Nico mopped up after 69. ..Na6! 70. Kb6 a2 71. Na3 Kd3! 72. Ka6 a1Q 73. b8Q Qa3 74. Kb7 Qb2 75. Kc8 Qb8 76. Kb8 Ke2.

I had white on board 2 against GM Oliver Barbosa. Barbosa chose the Berlin and I sacrificed a pawn, then an exchange, a piece and finally a rook. He defended well and the game ended in perpetual.  I could have played for more with the "greedy" 31. Rh6 (playing on down only a single rook), but 31. ..Rh8! is quite unclear and we were both playing on the increment. The joint effort was nominated for GOTW, finishing 3rd behind Lenderman-Kamsky and Bartell-Stukopin.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Week 3: Plugging Along

We had a tense 2-2 draw against the defending champion Miami Sharks. 

FM Michael Bodek continues to deliver for the Knights, scoring a critical victory on board 3 against NM Tony Arencibia.  Arencibia played the opening well (14. ..Be6 looks like an excellent novelty) and had he continued with the principled
 18. ..dc! 19. Bh6! cb! 20. Rae1 Ne7!, white would have been fortunate to hold.  Instead, 18. ..Ne7 allowed white to stabilize the position.  Michael did his best to generate chances with [insert diagram after black's 21st move] 22. b4 cd 23. b5, but Arencibia could have put up firmer resistance with 23. ..a5! 24. b4 Rd5!. 23. ..Bb6? was a significant mistake and after 24. ba Ra8 25. Nd4 Ne5 26. Re5 Bd4 27. Rd5 Bf6 28. a7, Michael converted easily.

FM David Brodsky made his Knights debut with a very solid draw with black on board 4 against NM Carlos Gaston Andretta.  The game followed Portisch-Smyslov 1972 and white maintained a small but annoying pull. Andretta seemed to lose the thread around move 26 and the N+R endgame actually looked better for David. One small opportunity presented on move 44


when black could have defended b7 with 44. ..Nf7-d8!, creating the threat of Ke7-d7 and white's Rb8 is trapped.  After 45. Rc8 Kd7 46. Rc2 Ne6, white would have had to prove the draw in a pawn down rook ending.  Instead, after 44. ..Nd6, the position rapidly simplified and the players agreed to a draw a few moves later.

GM Gata Kamsky drew a tough game against GM Julio Becerra.  Becerra managed to neutralize Gata's queenside play and win a pawn, but Gata comfortably held the resulting R+B+5p vs R+B+4p ending.
My game on board 2 against FM Marcel Martinez was by far the sloppiest of the match and I committed the last oversight.  Martinez outplayed me in a Ruy Lopez that and won a clean extra pawn by move 20.  I set one last challenge with 20. ..Ne7 (preventing Qd1-d3-h7) 21. Nfd4 Ng6!?

 White is still winning, but can only prove it with 22. e6! after which all the complications work in his favor.  Marcel's 22. Qh5? was met by the previously impossible (due to Bb1-e4) 22. ..Qd8-d5! and the threat of mate forces white to retreat 23. Qh5-g4 and part with his extra pawn.  23. ..Re5 24. Re5 Qe5 25. Be3 followed and the super-solid 25. ..Qe5-e8, defending g6 and c8, would have forced white to find some accurate moves.   After 25. ..Nc4 26. Bg6 fg 27. Qc8 Kh7 28. Qa8 Ne3 29. fe Qe3 30. Kh2, I completely missed white's Qa8-g2 retreat idea and blundered away the game with 30. ..Qf4?? 31. g3!.  Instead, 30. ..Qe5! 31. g3 c5! 32. Nb3 Qe2! picks up the Nb5 and a draw would soon follow.  White was simply up a piece and I resigned shortly thereafter.

We return to divisional play on Wednesday against the Manhattan Applesauce.
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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Week 2: Slow and Steady

The Knights scored our first match win of the season against the always tough New England Nor'Easters.

New England's strategy seemed to be to secure a draw on board 1 and take advantage of their rating edges on boards 2 and 3, while hoping for lightning from their talented board 4 Carissa Yip, fresh off her record-breaking victory over New England board 1 GM Alexander Ivanov.

Ivanov played the Exchange Variation of the French (though, historically, this has not guaranteed white a draw - see Gurevich-Short) against Knights' board 1 and reigning US Champion GM Gata Kamsky (making his USCL debut) and achieved a comfortable position that petered into a draw.

NM Qibiao Wang made his debut for the Knights on board 4 against the aforementioned Yip. The game was a Be2 Dragon and Qibiao innovated on move 12 by snatching the risky-looking a7 pawn. Yip responded with the thematic exchange sacrifice 12. ..Rc3, and had she spotted

18. ..Nc6-b4, maintaining her powerful Nc3 would have had substantial chances.  Instead, the retreat 18. ..Nc3-a4?! began a sequence where Qibiao seized back the initiative, trading off black's Dragon Bg7.  Qibiao was able to successfully reorganize his heavy pieces and 33. Rfb3! ensured black's demise, with mate coming four moves later.

NM Gary Huang, fresh off his heart-stopping, match-saving draw against Boston's NM Ilya Krasik, had arguably the toughest pairing of the match on board 3: black against New England's FM Steven Winer, who I was lucky to draw against last season.  Gary missed a great chance to stabilize the position with

18. ..Nd6-b5, forcing Winer to demonstrate how to make progress.  Instead after 18. ..Nd6-c4 19. Ra1 Bc5 20. bc Na5 21. Nd2 Nc4 22. Nc4 dc 23. Bf5 Nf5 24. Qc4, white had all the trumps, with a dominating dark-squared bishop and mobile central majority.  Gary's exchange sacrifice was not enough and Winer smoothly brought home the point.

I made my 2014 debut on Board 2 in an intriguing matchup against noted theoretician and author IM David Vigorito. We both spent a lot of time in the opening*, which resulted in a fairly comfortable late middlegame for white, given the pawn structure and bishop pair.  The b2-b4 break pried open black's queenside and after carefully preventing any black counterplay associated with the pin on the Bf1, I took advantage of Vigorito's last bid with h6-h5 and g7-g5-g4 by picking up both minor pieces with Qb4-e7-h4.  Vigorito resigned giving us the match.

Our finals rematch against the Miami Sharks is on Wednesday.
 --Matt Herman
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* I would like to congratulate Arun Sharma, whose insightful answer "17" won the ICC spectator prediction contest question "On what move will Matt Herman have less than 5 minutes?"' --ES

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Week 1: The USCL is back!

No shortage of excitement in week 1. Pascal kicked things off with a short, sharp draw against FM Denis Shmelov.  Pascal's preparation was excellent:

11. ..Qh5 deviated from GM Conrad Holt's brilliancy against IM Jonathan Schroer. Shmeliov played the comparatively rare 12. Be2 and after 12. ..Qg6 13. a3, Pascal chose to secure comfortable equality with 13. ..Nc3!?.  After the forcing sequence 14. Bd3 Nb5 15. ab Nd4 16. Bg6 Nc2 17. Bc2 dc, Pascal's extra pawn was compensated by white's lead in development, bishop pair and a-file pressure.  They drew six moves later.

The match looked grim on boards 3 and 4, but on board 2 FM Michael Bodek played a powerful game against NM Vadim Martirosov to keep our chances alive.  Small nuances often matter in chess and evaluating Bodek's transformation of the position with

 10. ed Nd5 11. Nc4 Nb6 12. Nce5 Ne5 13. Ne5 Re5 14. d4 Bd4 15. cd depended on the placement of black's h-pawn.  Off its home square, black had to resort to desperate measures to close the b1-h7 diagonal after 15. ..Re7 16. Qd3 Nd5 17. Bc2. Bodek pounced on black's dark squared weaknesses  after 17. ..f5 and later finished the game with a nice tactic

 39. h4 Kh4 40. Bf6#!.

Veteran Boston NM Chris Williams won a nice Grunfeld game against SM Nicolas Checa after Nico failed to generate timely counterplay against white's pawn center.  The top three boards all reduced to bishops of opposite colors and Williams showed their attacking potential with the sequence 

 28. Rc7 Qd5 29. Bc2 Qh5 30. Rb5! Qh6 31. Rg5! and after 31. ..Rg8 32. Qf5 d3 33. Bd3 Rdf8, the nice shot 34. Rcg7! ended matters.  Williams netted a GOTW nomination for his victory.

NM Gary Huang made his debut for the Knights against NM Ilya Krasik and what a start! Gary started to go astray in the opening and Krasik steadily increased his positional advantage, initiating play on both wings, backed by his dominant dark squared bishop.  In the finest tradition of Boston-NY matches, Gary dug in and awaited his swindle chance.  The door cracked open on move 38

when Krasik's natural 38. ..Rb1 allowed white's oddly placed Nb7(!?) to rejoin the fray and empower white's last trump, the seemingly blockaded c6 pawn: 39. Nd6 Be6 40. Ne8! Qh6 41. Nc7! Raa1 42. Ne6 Qe6 43. c7Krasik, not wanting to abandon the double-pin on the f1 Bishop, did not play it safe with 43. ..Ra8 and instead blockaded with his queen.  After 43. ..Qc8, white continued to fight with 44. Qg4!. Krasik defended with 44. ..Ra8 and after 45. Qh4 b4

Gary had a ridiculous chance pointed out in the kibitzes.  White would have secured a place in the tactics books with the geometric 46. Rf4!! (opening the 5th rank!) 46. ..ef 47 .Ra2!! (deflecting the Ra8 from d8)

 47. ..f6 48. Qh5! Ra2 49. Qd5! and now white's point is apparent: the black K cannot cross the f-file due to Qd8, so he must acquiesce to perpetual with Kh7/8.  

Krasik was again on the verge of victory following 46. Rg2 Qc7 47. Qf6 g6 48. h4 Qd8 49. Rf4 ef 50. Qf4 Raa1 51. Rf2 Qd7 52. Qg3 b3 as it seemed nothing could stop black's plan of b3-b2/Rb1xf1/Ra1xf1/b2-b1Q.  After Gary's 53. h5, all required of Krasik was 53. ..Qe6 controlling the e5 square.  Instead this game entered USCL lore after 53 ..b2??

 and Gary pounced with 54. Qb8!, not only equalizing (black cannot avoid perpetual) but requiring black's position to contain study-like resources not to lose after 54. ..Kg7 55. Qe5 Kg8 56. Qb8 Kh7?! 57. hg Kg7! 58. Qe5 Kg8! 59. gf Qf7!

Krasik impressively found only move after only move, despite being down to the 30 second increment and contemplating the myriad lost wins.  Even if Gary won the d4 pawn with check and then the Q for the R, the Q+2p vs RR ending would likely have been drawn.  As it was, Krasik could have set one last trap for Gary on move 78 (with an echo on move 81).Black's most dangerous try is 78. ..Kc6!?.  If white plays the natural 79. Rc2, black's K escapes the checks after 79. ..Kb5!.  White (at that point up to over 10 minutes by accumulating increment) would have had to find 79. Kg2!!, the only move to maintain a draw, with the primary point being 79. ..Rf1 80. Rb2! and perpetual. The game ended on move 88, securing the match draw.


The Knights face New England on Wednesday, September 3rd at 710pm. Four time US Champion GM Gata Kamsky will make his USCL debut for the Knights, playing black against GM Alexander Ivanov. Also making his debut for the Knights, Qibiao Wang plays white on board four against the talented child Carissa Yip.

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