Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Taking out the Tempo

Our Week 8 matchup was with the Tennessee Tempo - they haven't had much luck over the years in the league, but this year, they're much more dangerous with GM Jaan Ehlvest on board 1. Actually, Ehlvest might have the highest percentage of any board 1 in league history with his undefeated 7/8 over two seasons thus far. With Ehlvest on board 1, they can all slide down a board and get more competitive matchups.

Board 3: Shankland - Bick, 1-0

Sam was the first to finish with a win over John Bick. His opening was a bit weird (9.Nc3 is not something I normally see there, I thought 9.Kf2 is more normal), but he quickly achieved a huge position because Black got carried away on the queenside. After the game, he wondered if he'd get any GotW votes, and maybe he will, but he could've helped himself with 17.f5!

I had walked by after 16...Nb3 and thought 17.f5 was crushing but didn't calculate too much. Then Sam played 17.Bb5+, so I figured I had just missed something, but on a second glance, it looks devastating. One nice line is 17.f5 Nxa1 18.fxe6 g6 19.Bb5+ Kd8 20.Nxf7+ Qxf7 21.Rxf7 gxh5 22.Bg5#

After 17.Bb5+ though, White's advantage disappeared pretty quickly. 28...h4 was a bit too ambitious, and then John probably missed 32.Ne8+!, which sets up a nice mating attack.

Board 2: Andrews - Bhat, 0-1

I was a bit surprised by Todd's opening choice with the 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.g4 Anti-Meran. I was actually expecting 1.e4, but I knew he played 1.d4, and expected the regular 6.Bd3 Meran there. Earlier this year, I met this 7.g4 line (I think it's been called the Shirov-Shabalov Attack elsewhere?) with 7...h6. But in that game, against GM Eugene Perelshteyn, I struggled to get a draw, and figuring that Todd had prepared something special for me in this line, I decided to change things up at the line and play 7...Nxg4.

The game continued on relatively normal paths until 14.Be1. My thought during the game was that he wanted to stop 14...Nh4, which now runs into due to 15.Nxh4 Qxh4 16.f3, and maybe avoid an exchange of knight for bishop. Unfortunately, the bishop is misplaced a bit on e1 and clogs up some of the communication of his rooks. I also don't have to rush with ...Nh4 and can instead go about finishing my development and castling. I was more worried about 14.Bd3 or 14.Be2 at that point, as even if go after the h-pawn right away with 14...Nh4, after 15.Nxh4 Qxh4 16.Rdg1, I expected White to have adequate counterplay on the g-file and in the center.

In the game, though, I got to castle queenside without too much trouble and then White was left without any obvious targets to attack. With my powerful knight on e4 and the ability to challenge the g-file, the center and kingside are generally in Black's hands. Thus, Todd looked to attack on the queenside with 16.c5. The problem was that the attack was a bit slow to organize, and in the meantime, I was able to organize some serious threats myself.

After some exchanges on the kingside, I was threatening to crash through, but then Todd gave me a gift. 22.Rb3? walked right into 22...Nxc5 (thanks to the pin along the 4th rank), but I think White was already in trouble. I expected 22.Qb4, but then I planned 22...Rg1 23.Be2 (23.Rb3 still walks into 23...Nxc5! 24.Qxc5 Rxf1, when White is in huge trouble) Bc7 24.Rb3 Kd8!, simply sidestepping the attack. Black threatens 25...a5 to drive the queen from the defense of the bishop on e1, and meanwhile White's pieces are strangely tied up on the b-file and in the center.

Board 1: Wolff - Ehlvest, 1-0

Patrick ran into a buzzsaw this week, with Ehlvest continuing his strong play in the league. With this win, Jaan now leads BionicLime's USCL Rating List (available here). The opening didn't really go White's way, but I thought Patrick fought back to get a reasonable position. After the game, he suggested 21.a3 immediately (instead of 21.Rc1) was maybe a bit better.

Black cut across White's plan of Rc1-c2-f2 after 21.Rc1 with 21...Qd6 when the knight on d5 begins to feel a bit vulnerable. Patrick gave a pawn up on that square, but got it back before going into a slightly worse endgame with R + B + N + 3P for each side. A computer would probably draw such a position, but it's a tall order to play it in time pressure against a strong player. Ehlvest gradually wore him down until White blundered with 49.Rxb5, which allowed 49...Bxd4! winning.

Board 4: Al-Shamma - Young, 0-1

Like Board 3, this didn't seem to be going our way in the opening and early middlegame stages. As a side note, I think Jim lived in the Bay Area for some time, as I played him in the Berkeley Quads tournament back in 1994!

I'm not an expert on either side of the Dutch, but this line with Qc2 and Bg5 certainly paid dividends in the opening phase. White got his pieces out to good squares while saddling Black with the backwards e7-pawn. 13...Rxf3! was a good practical move, as although Black's position was still worse, the nature of the game had changed a bit and White had to play a little more precisely to maintain his advantage.

After some lengthy maneuvers, Greg still seemed to be hanging in there around move 25. White was tied up a bit on the kingside and Black was circling the g5-pawn. But it looks like 26...Nxg5 was rushed (Black's worse after 26...Bd7, but it's probably better), as White could play 27.Re2!, when 27...Nf7 loses to 28.Rxh3. Missing this, White had essentially just given his g-pawn away for free and was soon struggling to maintain equality. He continued to bleed pawns left and right, although as he was playing purely on the increment by that point it's hard to imagine putting up strong resistance. Greg wisely snatched a bunch of pawns before arranging a queen trade. He had 5 pawns and a bishop for the rook at that point, and even though one pawn was lost right away, it was a trivial win as the central pawns ran down the board.

With this win, we won the match 3-1 and clinched a playoff spot in the West. We now have 6.5/8, which keeps us tied for the best record in the league with Queens. Queens kept pace with a 3-1 win over the Chicago Blaze, with standout IM Alex Lenderman running his score up to 7 for 7 (!) in league play thus far. I don't think anybody has been perfect through 7 games before, and so maybe this breaks Jorge Sammour-Hasbun's record of 6.5 through 7 games last year for a single season performance? Miami beat Dallas, so they're in 2nd place now with 5.0/8. We play Dallas next week and Miami in week 10, so it won't be a cakewalk to maintain the division lead.

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