Thursday, September 25, 2008

The harder you fall, the higher you bounce?

Well, that was embarrassing. In what was quite possibly our worst match ever, we lost yesterday to the Boston Blitz by a score of 3-1. It could easily have been much worse, as I'm not sure we were ever really better on any of the boards.

Board 3: Shankland - Esserman, 1/2

Board 3 pitted two rapidly improving players that many predicted to be a slugfest. The game was a regular Najdorf until 8.Qe2, which I've never seen before. I didn't get a chance to ask Sam if this was his preparation, but in any case, it certainly didn't work out. Esserman achieved a clearly better position right away, and then Sam had to play defense.

Black could easily have played for more (for example, 27...Qa5 looks quite strong), but having looked at the other boards, Marc decided to play it safe and exchange queens. The endgame left nothing special to play for and a draw was agreed.

Thus, it looked like we dodged the first bullet of the evening.

Board 1: Bhat - Christiansen, 0-1

Well, I can't say much positive about my play in this game. I normally don't play the Trompowsky these days (it was my main weapon with 1.d4 back in 2005), but it was what I felt like playing in this game. I decided to steer the game out of any theoretical waters with 3.Nd2!?. Larry has previous experience in this 2...d5 line in the league itself, as he played it against Nakamura last year (see the game Nakamura - Christiansen, 2007, which ended in a draw).

Larry played 3...Nbd7, and looking back now, there was clearly something wrong with me as I played 4.e3 and after 4...e5, realized that I was playing the black pieces. Somehow Black had gotten the center! Oops.

Actually it wasn't too serious, as after 9.Bxc4, I thought that it was probably equal, but that White's position is a bit easier to play. The check on b4 is not very dangerous, as after 9...Bb4+ 10.Ke2, White's king is not a problem (Black can't get at it), while the bishop on b4 is misplaced and White is ready to do exactly what he wants: put the queen on b3 (targeting b7 and f7), rooks on the open files, and maybe even put a knight on e5. If Black exchanges queens, White's king is already in the center while the e5-square is still available. Meanwhile, unlike in the game, White's pawn structure is fine and his development is better.

However, I completely missed 11...g5 which forces the queens off, negates the development issue to a large extent, and messes up my structure a bit. Thus, 11.0-0 was a bit of a mistake, and 11.Qb3 was better. I saw this move, but saw no reason to rush as I thought Black was just going kingside as well. After the surprise, I immediately erred with 13.hxg3 (13.fxg3 was better, making use of the open f-file and the weak squares on f7, f6, and f5 created by ...g5 - I'm not sure why I rejected this during my long think) and then played the rather eccentric 15.Re1?!.

Around this point, Sam was in some trouble (queens were still on the board) and Daniel seemed to just be down a rook for nebulous compensation. David's position appeared to be a mess, but with his queen soon to be a blockader on g7, I wasn't overly optimistic (after the game, David explained that his 2 extra pawns outweighed that queen, but he that he missed some tactics later on).

In my game, the normal plan would be to put the knight on d4 and leave the rook on d1 - to this end, 15.Be2 (or maybe 15.Rac1!?), followed by 16.Nd4 is natural. However, in an effort to keep more pieces on the board, I decided that a plan of pushing the e- and f-pawns offered some hope of complicating things again after I didn't play 11.Qb3. But, this plan is just a pipe dream. I shifted the pieces around for a while, and while my position stayed slightly worse, it wasn't over by any means.

Somehow, though, I missed 26...Rad7 (rather obvious, as Black had essentially just played ...Ra7 preparing to double) and blundered with 27.Nxg5. After 27.Bc2 (which, sadly, I saw) Rg8 (to guard the g5-pawn), 28.Bh7 Rg7 29.Bb1 still keeps fighting. As it was, Black's rook invades on d2 with clear advantage.

Then maybe the most embarrassing moment for me came up - I flagged on move 31, trying to play f2-f4. The endgame is bad, of course, but after 31.f4 Rxb2 32.Be4, White can still play on a bit longer. However, I typed f5 the first time, and then on noticing the move wasn't being made, I tried again and again typed in f5! Wishful thinking to push the f-pawn to f5 at once. The last time I remember losing on time (I've certainly lost because of time, or resigned with a couple seconds on my clock but to actually let my clock run out?) was back in 1994 or so, when I lost track of the moves, saw the clock turn over to the next time control, and thought I made it when in fact I hadn't. Anyways, no offense meant to Larry - I didn't purposely let my clock run out. I just was too incompetent yesterday to figure out where the 4 was on the keyboard.

Board 4: Krasik - Naroditsky, 1/2

This was a miraculous save by Danya. The game devolved into a mess very quickly, with what I think is a Panno version of the Saemisch with opposite-side castling. It turns out Christiansen had written an article on this exact variation some time back, but recommending 15...Be6 instead of Danya's 15...Qa5. The entire line looks fishy to me, but as I don't play this from either side, it may just be my ignorance showing.

After 17.d5, if Black retreats, White can simply play a3 and ask where Black plans to put this knight. The kingside is still a problem and Black might just be down a piece. So, Danya just sacrificed a whole rook with 17...Nxa2+, 18...Rxb2, and 19...Bxc3. I missed this sequence, but then saw the position after 20...Bd7 21.Bd2 and decided he was just down a rook for essentially nothing.

Actually, 20...c4 seems like a better objective try, but I'm sure he saw something to dissuade him. 21.Qb6 Qxa2 22.dxe6 Qa3+ 23.Kb1 Bb4! looks like a saving try, as Black might be able to escape into an exchange down position if he gets White's bishop.

Krasik managed to defend pretty well and consolidate his extra piece, but then tripped up horribly with 40.Kg1??. 40.Kg2 would have won as Black doesn't have a perpetual then (40...Qg4+ 41.Kf2 Qd4+ 42.Ke2 Qg4+ 43.Ke1 Qg3+ 44.Qf2), but in the game, he has checks on g3, e1, and h4 forever.

Board 2: Sammour Hasbun - Pruess, 1-0

The last game to finish, and the only team member to think he had a serious advantage at any point in the game. This is not a line of the French I normally play, but 10.0-0-0 is certainly not the most popular move (usually White exchanges on c5 first, in order to prevent Black from playing ...c4 after White goes long). Maybe Jorge had prepared something specially for David here.

In my view, 12...Nb6 was a bit of an error and I'd prefer 12...f6. I think it might force White to pay a bit more attention to his center and prevent the wholesale assault that Jorge launched in the game. David won two pawns, but after 24...h6, his queen was relegated to being a big defender of the passed g6-pawn.

While this was a serious weakness, he did have an extra two pawns, and it wasn't clear how White would break through. Instead of pushing on the queenside immediately, Black could have taken some time out to solidify his central situation (some ideas include doubling rooks on the e-file, sliding the king over to f8, trying to get the queen away from g7 earlier, etc), but he missed the nice shot 31.Nxe6!. White executed perfectly after that, not falling for any of the tactical tricks David set up.

And so we were handed out first loss of the season, dropping us into a tie for first in the west with Dallas at 3.5/5. Hopefully we managed to get all the bad chess out of our system at once, as we have a short week with a Monday Night matchup against Arizona coming up.

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