Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Very Old Post From Week Three That No One Is Likely to Read

Well, that’s not really the way we drew it up in practice. Seriously; I mean, I left my preparation on move two, which isn’t very surprising, but makes me feel like I should just get a good night’s sleep and show up at the match alert and awake. The excuse, “Honey, I can’t do the dishes, I’ve got a couple more variations to look at,” doesn’t carry as much weight when you have a three minute think on your third move.

Perhaps the only person with more wrecked opening prep was my opponent, although I haven’t asked him; I was simply surprised to see him sink into thought even earlier than me (move two!). For a long time I was only a queenpawn player; I’ve since tried to teach myself 1.e4, with mixed success. Still, I’m guessing that most of my available games start with the queenpawn.

To continue: my opponent from the Windy City played 2… g6 and I was a bit flummoxed, as I had been expecting a Najdorf. I considered playing casually with 3. c3, but then remembered that this had already been played in the league (the day before, in fact, in the game Costigan-Williams [see, it does pay to follow the league outside of your personal team affiliations]). I hadn’t much liked Costigan’s position after he took on d5, although it’s probably fine, so I tried to recall half-remembered variations and thought that there was one that involved moving the queen a bunch of times. I couldn’t find anything wrong with it and decided to give it a shot.

Around here I took a minute to wander and observe the rest of the team, or Dima and the Ninos, as I affectionately call them. Daniel’s game amused me: I found it a bit ironic that a guy who writes a book called Mastering Positional Chess goes out and plays some sort of an Austrian Attack with Bg5 thrown in for good measure. When’s Mastering Angry Caveman Chess coming out? The position after 9. Qxf3 reminded me of the comment about a similar recapture in My 60 Memorable Games: black doesn’t really slow down white’s development, because as soon as he takes the knight the queen replaces it. Definitely the sort of position I enjoy.

The other boards (where Chicago had white) were looking a little dicey. Chicago apparently went with a very specific strategic game plan: 1) lure opponent’s pawn to f5, 2) break with g4, 3) obtain extremely strong positional advantage. The Dmitry v. Dmitry matchup concerned me the most, as after 9. gf gf, white is two moves from castling queenside while black is not close to completing his development.

I was relatively happy with my game after 11. Ng5, which I felt offered me good attacking chances despite being quite double-edged. Although the potential discovery on the queen from the Bb7 is annoying, it works both ways, as now black cannot reply 11… Nxe5 and must find another way to cover f7. My opponent decided that castling was an unacceptable risk, and we continued 11… Ne6 12. h4 Rb8 13. Bd5 (I was not happy
about this move after the game, but I felt that the alternatives were speculative) 13… b4 14. Ne2 Nxg5 15. Bxg5 h6, and after a quick search, I tried to bail out with 16. Bf6.

A quick survey showed that we weren’t in Dallas or Miami any more. Daniel was still fine on two, although Felecan’s … f6 had broken the center phalanx. The real problem was on boards one and three. Gurevich had just played 15. Ne5, the kind of angry move that gets in your face as says, “Yo! Hand over the dark squares.” I was sort of horrified to see Dima accede to this request by taking twice on e5, and playing … Qh2. However, I see the logic: if your position is crummy, you can always grab a pawn and hope for the best. But given white’s position, what black had to hope for was a little limited. Heart attack? Massive nationwide internet failure? All of the above?

Stephen’s position seemed more weird than bad by this point. As he was playing on his laptop in the corner of the room, I could only see his screen from a weird angle, and although I could see that there were three e-pawns, I wasn’t completely sure whose they were. I figured one of them must be his. Wrong! I mean, take a lot at this thing after 20… Ke7! So, he’s down two pawns, but it’s not at all clear what white’s supposed to do with them. I had a brief flashback of a game where I had three extra e-pawns again Larry Christiansen – unfortunately, I had sacrificed a piece to get them and promptly resigned.

Back to my game, definitely feeling like I needed to win. Shankar continued to feel that discretion is the better part of valor, playing 16… Bxf6. After 17. ef e6 I had a brief vision of 18. Qf4 ed 19. Qd6 Rc8 20. Rh3, but 20… d4 kills it. White just cannot prepare the attack and keep the queen on d6 at the same time. So I continued bailing out, but by the time black played 22… Kf8 I realized I was in some trouble. Now my planned 23. Qxa7 Kg7 24. Qc7 Bb5 25. Rxd6 Qf5 26. Re1 loses to 26… Qf5, so I played 24. Kb1 and tried to hold things together.

About this point Dima’s game fell apart and he had to resign after a smooth mating attack. Felecan kept finding ways to liquidate the position and Daniel took a perpetual in the endgame. Stephen’s game looked as weird and strange as it had for the past hundred moves or so. Interestingly, it was turning out that the tripled e-pawns were crippling white’s winning chances, as he much rather would have had his king on e4 than a pawn.

So the pressure was on. Fortunately, despite my positional problems, Shankar was pretty low on the clock (if there’s one thing you can say, good or bad about the USCL, it produces some entertaining time scrambles), and he blundered a pawn with 27… Ba4 28. b3 Bc6 29. Nd3. One pawn became two, and I breathed a big sigh of relief. Oops.

A quick digression: two weeks ago, against Dallas, I had been happily finishing off the end of summer vacation. But now, two weeks into the school year, the names of 150 kids memorized (to the loss of countless opening variations), I was not in prime chess condition. I had tried to play in the CalChess Labor Day tournament the previous weekend and found out that: 1) I was so tired that I needed to be up more than 4 points of material to win a game, 2) that it’s hard to win an endgame without pawns, and 3) that when the end of your combination involves moving a rook to a square that is attacked you should resign and probably withdraw from the tournament.

So although I was happy with my two pawn edge, I probably shouldn’t have gotten too relaxed. After the sneaky 44… Rb2, I played the boneheaded 45. Re4 only to be shocked by 45… Rexb3+, a move which I had been considering in another variation only a few moves before. Calm down, I told myself, you’re probably still winning. I played a couple more quick moves, watched my opponent play 48… f5, and thought to myself, “That’s stupid, I just play 49. gf gf 50. Kc4 Re3 51. Rxf5 and he doesn’t get my h-pawn.” Then it hit me: 49. gf g5! and I can’t stay on the f-file.

I played the rest of the game pretty shell-shocked, and Shankar held the draw easily. Stephen made a valiant effort, but he was working from a pretty tough starting point. And so we lost our first match of the season. Chicago should be congratulated for playing two outstanding matches in a row; they were extremely solid this week, offering us very few chances to score cheap victories. Let’s hope for a better result against Seattle next week.

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