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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pre...monitions for the SF-Boston Match

Predictors are putting up with a lot these days, so I figured I'd do some predicting under another term. My small hope is that nobody realizes it. My larger hope is actually that nobody reads it either. So without further ado, here they are.

Board 1 has two players I basically can't pick against. Vinay was put in for a few reasons. The first being that Patrick is on a business trip in Europe, and can't play. The 2nd is that I'm so terrified of Boston that I'm flying to New York on that very day. The 3rd is, well, because he's Vinay. I have to pick Vinay to win, but I simply can't pick Larry to lose. Therefore, I say Vinay walks away from this game with the full point, while Larry picks up half of one. (1-.5 SF)

Board 2 is another interesting matchup. White is Jorge Sammour-Hasbun, one of the best performers ever in the USCL. It would be hard to pick against Jorge considering his league success. However, it is David's first match, and he is always hungry in his first outing. Therefore, I decided to do it mathematically. David's total league score is 16.5/26 (63%), while Jorge's is 8/9 (89%). Assuming all scores are expected to reach 50% eventually, isn't it logical that both of them need to start losing? Therefore, that is what will happen. (0-0)

Board 3 pits two players who are showing impressive results lately. Sam Shankland, with the white pieces and a FIDE rating recently surpassing 2400, would on paper seem to be the likely favorite. However, I prefer to go by the most recent of results. In the Miami Open, Esserman put up the strong score of 6.5/9. Shankland, however, couldn't even manage a point. Therefore, I have to go with Esserman on this board, and being kind to our team, I'll say he only gets 2-0. (2-0 BOS)

And it all comes down to board 4. So far, the score is 2.5-1 in Boston's favor. We all know Naroditsky is a powerful force, but can he make up the slack? Lest we forget, he's playing one of the most feared players in all the league. While I must pick the kid to pick up a point, I don't want to be unfair to Ilya, so I'll grant him a point too. (1-1)

So, there you have it. We are going to lose 3.5-2. I know this isn't what our fans want to hear, but I have to call it like I see it.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

SF smashes Philly

Ok, a bit of an overstatement. The match was much closer than the score (3.5-0.5) indicated.

On board 1, Kudrin seemed to have a slight edge against Wolff, but before I knew it the game was over, draw. Wolff seemed to hold himself together very well, and it turns out Kudrin never had more than a slight edge. The game can be replayed here.

For a very long time we were in a very tense match situation, with all three boards being very unclear. On board 4, Danya sifted through the complications after playing a nice pawn sac, 18.g5!. After he played 22.e5, I thought he had quite a serious advantage and that Wilson would be under a lot of pressure. After 22...fxe5 23.Bxe5, I think white should be winning (I have not analyzed it at all, I could just be wrong) based on the weak black king and whites well placed pieces and attacking potential. The game can be replayed here.

I was the next to finish, with a win over Richard Costigan on board 3 (The game can be replayed here.). My game was interesting, the plan of c4 closing the queenside and then putting my king there was very risky, but white never got in a4 and b5. I think the key moment of the game was when Costigan played 24.Bf4?. If he had played 24.Nf4 Rxg1+ 25.Bxg1 Nxe5 doesn't work, so I was planning to play 25...Nf8, although I think white must have an advantage there as I am still playing without my light squared bishop.

After 24.Bf4, slowly I made progress and shut his pieces out of the game. The killer was when I managed to swing my pawn on b7 into the game (and promote it to a bishop). If Costigan had tried a3-a4! at some point, planning to meet ...Bc6 with b4-b5, he may have been able to generate some counterplay. The immediate b4-b5 was also an idea, as ...a6-a5 shuts down all play but my bishop is still entombed, and ...axb5 could run into Rb1 or a4 (or both).

30.Bg4 would have been a mistake if not for the beauty it created on the completely occupied g-file after 30...Bg6. You could say that all our pieces had no trouble at all finding their respective g-spots. After 31...Bd3 it was pretty much over.

Now, on to Josh's game on board 2 against Bryan Smith (the game can be replayed here). He played nicely for the first half or so of the game, including 32.Re1! with the point being 32...Rxa5 33.Bxf7+ Kxf7 34.Re5! and black will not be able to stop Rxg5 and Rg7+. However, then he lost part of his mind and succeeded in finding some of the worst moves on the board. In all seriousness, he did misplay it, most notably missing the ...Nh8-g6 maneuver, but always had counterplay with his f-pawn.

40...Kf6? was a serious error, when 40...Kh6 should have kept some advantage, though probably not enough to win. Josh made the strong reply 41.Bc7!, where he is back in control. At this point, an esteemed member of the Mechanics suggested 41...Ne7 for black, which would be good if not for 42.Be5#. Josh played very well from then on, including 45.Bf6+!, forcing 45...Kh6 and following up with 46.Bxg6! Unfortunately, however, he then proceeded to play 47.Kh2, which is pretty stupid. Even without calculating any variations, it seems more natural to play 47.Kg2.

However, while many morons such as Greg Shahade have said that black is winning after 47.Kh2, they are wrong. After 47.Kh2 hxg6 48.Be5!, both 49.f6 and 49.Bf4+ are serious threats. Black's best is 49...exf5 50.Bf4+ Kg7 51.Bxc1 fxg4, and of course white is better but will he win? Maybe, maybe not, I'm too lazy to look at the endgame. On 47.Kg2! though, 48.Bg5+ (as played in the game) is decisive. In the game, 48.Bg5+ should have been met by 48...Kxg5 49.f6 Rc2! with a winning position for black. Instead, black probably missed that his rook was hanging and played 48...Kg7, after which it was all over.

Boston next, should be fun.

Sam Shankland

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sinking the Sharks

We actually had a week 3 recap posted earlier, but due to an unfortunate accident, the post was lost for posterity. I'll fill in the blank with this one ...

Board 1: Donaldson - Becerra, 0-1

First off, we originally had a lineup with GM Patrick Wolff on board 1, but due to a last minute family emergency (Patrick has two young children), IM John Donaldson had to fill in for him. This was both psychologically difficult since he was not prepared and was rather inclined to go out for dinner, but also chess-wise, a tough task, as he was up against 2-time league MVP, GM Julio Becerra.

Thus, rather than test the waters in a main-line Slav or Semi-Slav, John tried to play it safe with the Exchange Slav. Actually he drew with Becerra back in 2005 in 15 moves in this line (see Donaldson - Becerra, 2005), but Julio was in a more fighting mood this time around.

John didn't get anything from the opening, but it was relatively symmetric. He could have maintained more of that symmetry with 15.Qf3, since as he said later, "his pieces were not set up to play against the IQP." 21.Bh4 was a more serious mistake, since the bishop pair is not so valuable here - black's knight will cause many more problems than white's dark-squared bishop can solve. Julio concluded the game with a nice and simple demonstration of the value of opposite-colored bishops when attacking.

Board 2: Perea - Friedel, 1/2

This was a pretty standard Nimzo with Josh playing more of a Dutch hybrid setup with ...Ne4, ...f5, and so on.

15.dxe6 was quite accommodating by White since it opens up the diagonal for Black's light-squared bishop, making the attack with 15...Ng5! possible. Actually, this is why Black is in no hurry to play ...e6-e5 himself, since that would relegate his bishop to biting on stone from b7, and it would take time to reroute it to f5 via c8.

Perea made a serious mistake with 15.Nd4 (15.Qd1 was probably better), but Josh played the tempting 17...Nxf2+ which only leads to a draw. The correct move was not that easy to spot, but looking at the game continuation, you realize that White's king now has an escape hatch on f2.

I'll let John take over in his newsletter comments:

"Can you find the win? Imagine the Knight on h4 was gone - ...Qh4 would immediately mate.

The answer is 17...Nf4!

Now 18.Bf3 Qh4 19.h3 Nxh3 20.Nxf5 Ng5+ 21.Nxh4 Rxh4+ 22.Kg1 Nxf3+ 23.gxf3 Bxf3 is the prettiest line;

while 18.f3 Qh4 19.Kg1 Qxh2+ 20.Kf2 Qxg2+ 21.Ke1 Nxe6 and 18.Qxf5 Bxg2+ 19.Kg1 Rf8 20.exf4 Qh4 are easy wins."

With this opportunity missed, Josh had to take a draw very quickly. This didn't seem too bad actually, as by this time, even though we were down 1.5-0.5 on the scoreboard, we looked to be winning on boards 3 and 4.

Board 3: Shankland - Galofre, 1-0

Sam's opening didn't go so well in this game, but it wasn't that easy to punish it and he quickly achieved a better position.

One of the pitfalls that was pointed out on ICC during the game was if 13.Bb2? (instead of the correct 13.Bd2), Black has 13...Qf5! 14.Rc1 (14.Ra1 allows 14...a3, when White's bishop can't keep in touch with the knight) axb3 15.axb3 Ra2, essentially winning.

Having avoided this trap, White is still probably not any better, but ...Ba6 was a bit funny as the bishop doesn't have much of a future there in this position. In order to make this setup work, Galofre probably should've taken on c4 at some point, and after 23.Rdc1, there was no doubt White was in control.

Sam played nicely to increase his advantage and squeeze Black into submission, but then he amazingly forgot about the knight fork and just dropped a piece! He might still be able to draw with correct play, given his strong pawn on e7, but he gave SF fans a real heart attack there. Luckily for him and the rest of the team, Galofre was in some time pressure and blundered back, and resigned after letting Sam queen safely with check on move 47.

Board 4: Rodriguez - Naroditsky, 0-1

This was a pretty nice win from Danya, who played the cleanest game of any of the Mechanics this week. I'm not sure what happened to Rodriguez, but in a pretty standard position, he thought for about 45 minutes on 4 moves from 10.h3, 11.a3, 12.Re1, and 13.Bf1. Maybe he wasn't prepared for this position or hadn't played it before?

As John wrote, "[w]hen White trades on e5 in the King's Indian, he hopes to follow up with c5 and Nf3-d2-c4 or Bc4 at some point. He never got close here..." Black managed to maneuver his knights to the key d4-square and then went to work on the queenside and the center, pushing all of White's pieces backwards. The position after 22...Ne6-d4 is especially amusing, as White has all his pieces on the 1st or 2nd rank, while Black has made inroads into White's 4th rank.

The squeeze continued and White gave up the ghost after 41...Qc2 as Black's pawns will crash through.

And so we managed to knock off the Sharks by a score of 2.5-1.5 and hand them their first loss of the season. It was also nice to get the youngsters on boards 3 and 4 back on track after their lackluster performance in week 2 against Chicago.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Held to a draw by the Blaze

In week 2, we were up against an expansion team from Chicago, the Chicago Blaze. They presented a very balanced lineup with IM Angelo Young on board 4! This is probably the first time an IM has managed to make it down to board 4 in the USCL, while still keeping the average rating below 2400.

Still, on paper, we were rating favorites in this match, as our current average team rating was about 2440 compared to 2393 for the Blaze. However, we only came away with a 2-2 tie, and were likely a bit lucky to get that. And now to how the games were actually played ....

Board 3: Pasalic - Shankland, 1-0

The match got off to a bad start for us, with Sam's game finishing first. His position after the opening was fine, but then it seemed he played a little too loosely (I'm not sure about 17...h6 and 18...Bd5, for example), not doing much with his position while White started to make some threats. After 25.Bb4, he simply lost the thread of the game and went down in flames quickly. His position was worse for sure, but he could have put up more resistance with 25...Rbe8 or 25...Rfe8. As it was, it was all over shortly thereafter and we were in the hole 1-0.

Board 2: Bhat - Tate, 1-0

This was a crazy game, with many more complications than I had hoped for. I was a bit tired before the game, so I decided not to challenge his opening of 1...b6 and 2...e6 and soon we reached a position that could arise from a French (albeit a rather odd move order). I was quite happy with my position after 7.h4 Ba6 8.Bxa6 Nxa6 9.Qe2, as Black must either lose more time with his knight (going back to c6 via b8), or close the center and release the tension with 9...c4.

Emory chose to close the center, and I probably should've stopped a move to play a2-a3 to slow down his queenside play. White has a clear advantage on the kingside there. However, I thought I could make use of the b-file after 15.Rb1. My original plan had been to play 17.Rb7!? Qc6 18.Qb2, taking the b-file (and if 18...Ba3 19.Qxa3 Qxb7 20.Qd6, virtually winning), but while he was thinking, I realized he could play 18...Kd8!! there, with the simple idea of 19...Kc8. All of a sudden, my "control" of the b-file just gets me into serious trouble.

Therefore, I played 17.Bxh6, but then he wisely closed the b-file and then castled queenside. At that point, I felt it was becoming more of a mess as I didn't see how to checkmate Black or take all his center pawns. Actually, that was a bit of a mirage, as after 21...Nh4, White can play 22.Qxf7. I was worried about 22...Bg5 23.Qxe6 Nc7, seemingly trapping the queen, but 24.Rb4! saves White and leaves him winning. The game line, after 25.g4 Nfxd4 (a necessary sacrifice, as if 25...Bxf6 26.gxf5 Be7 27.fxe6 is winning) devolves into a real mess. Throw in my time situation (down to 1 minute as usual after 33.Kh1) and I was not too happy with myself.

But then Emory started to slip a bit, first with 34...Qe3, then more seriously 37...Kb4, and then fatally with 39...d4?. I found 40.Rf4! (40.Rf2 is actually even better according to the computer), which cuts Black's queen off from giving any checks, opens the long diagonal for White's queen to give a check on b7, and eyes Black's king along the 4th rank. He played on a bit, but it was too much to deal with.

Board 1: Felecan - Friedel, 0-1

This was a smooth performance from Josh on board 1. Felecan chose the offbeat Worrall Attack with 5.Qe2, and then shuffled his knight around to the kingside before castling. From what little I know, the point is normally to not lose a move with Rf1-e1 (to make way for the knight), but Josh seemed to equalize quite easily. With ...Bg5 and ...Ng6, he seemed ready to start pressing, but then Felecan lashed out with 19.h4?! Bxh4 20.Ngf5 Bg5 21.g3. It looks to me like 21...Ne6 might be simpler, but Josh decided to ignore the threats with 21...g6!?. Felecan then made a serious mistake with the imaginative 25.Qg3?, when 25.Qxf4 would have sufficed. The difference is that if 25.Qxf4, we get to the same position in the game after 27.Bxh6, except that Black doesn't have a pawn on g3!

After that mistake, Josh pounced with some very accurate moves starting with 27...d5, saddling White with a weak e4-pawn. Felecan tried to mess up the position with a piece sac, but Black's cool defense left him with a trivial endgame win.

Board 4: Naroditsky - Young, 0-1

Josh's win was key because while this game was the last to finish for us, it was virtually over much earlier. It was a rather weird opening, sort of a hybrid between a Pirc and a Philidor to my untrained eye. Daniel must have been a bit flummoxed by the opening line, as he made some decisions I'm not used to seeing him make (like putting his knight on h1, and then cementing his own dark-square weaknesses with g2-g4). It took a little while, but the result was never in too much doubt, as Young squeezed all the life out of White's position.

Thus, we finished the match in a 2-2 tie. A little lucky, perhaps, to come away with 2 points from the top 2 boards, but also a bit unlucky to see our strength on boards 3 and 4 come away empty for the first time in club history.

Next week, we have a special Monday Night Matchup with the Western Division leading Miami Sharks. They've given us some trouble in the past and have stomped some pretty solid teams from Seattle and NY so far this year, so we'll have our work cut out for us.