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.


At 2:29 PM, Blogger Tom Panelas said...

It was an enjoyable match to watch, and Bhat-Tate was really a wild game. In Chicago, we were all really impressed with the way you played under time pressure.

I assume you've seen that it's been named the USCL Game of the Week?

Tom Panelas
for the Blaze

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Vinay Bhat said...

Yup, I saw that. As Greg said, I'm not sure this game was so brilliant (probably wouldn't have won last week, for example), but I guess they thought the other games were more flawed.


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