Saturday, September 03, 2011

Play it Again, Sam

Mechanics-Sharks, 2005 USCL Playoffs: Tough loss eliminates SF from the playoffs. Team manager John Donaldson cleans house, brings in new fourth board Sam S. to lead team to 2006 league championship.

Mechanics-Sharks, 2010 USCL Week 10: Tough loss ensures that Mechanics will not make the playoffs for the first time in their history. Team manager John Donaldson cleans house, brings in new fourth board Sam S. to …

Well, you get the idea.

Mechanics fans were happy to see a win for the first time since last September 22nd in what we can only hope is our most successful season yet. We’ve got some flexible lineup possibilities, some underrated folks for the fourth board, and some real power on the top. Here’s some analysis from the first week.

Board One: Finegold-Kraai

A tough positional grind of a game, nicely played by Finegold, although not the sort of struggle that’s going to get much love from the Game of the Week illuminati. Jesse appeared to go a little wrong during the flurry of exchanges in the center and sought refuge in a pawn down ending. A critical moment occurred on move forty:

Here Jesse avoided the exchange of bishops by playing the awkward 40… Ba3. As John Donaldson pointed out in the Mechanics’ Newsletter, the three vs. two rook and pawn ending with e and h pawns is rarely covered in chess literature, and Jesse’s instincts must have told him to avoid this one.

However, it’s here that I believe he missed his last good chance to fight for a draw. Let’s consider the following: 1) rook and pawn endings with all pawns on the same side of the board are generally drawn, particularly those with reduced numbers of pawns, such as three vs. two or two vs. one; 2) the addition of a pair of minor pieces in these types of endings is often enough to flip the assessment from drawn to won; 3) white’s bishop controls the queening square of the h-pawn, reducing a number of drawing plans in a pure bishop endgame; 4) with the bishops off, black can sometimes give up another pawn and hold, such as trading his two pawns for white’s g-pawn, leaving white with the problematic bishop and rook pawn duo.

I’m not saying that black holds the draw easily if he plays 40… Bxe5, but I would assess his chances to hold at about 60 percent, much better odds than I would give him in the bishop ending that took place in the game. Notably, white passed up two chances to enter the rook ending himself (although I’m not sure why he avoided it the first time; isn’t 42. Rxa3 Rxe5 43. Re3 a simple win?).

Board Two: Naroditsky-Banawa

My sense of righteous violence on the chessboard says give Danya GOTW, my little silicon friend says blunder by black on move 23 in time pressure. Unfortunately, as pretty much always the computer is correct, and in fact Banawa missed a good chance a few moves earlier:

Here 20… Qa5 is much stronger than Banawa's 20... Qb6 because the knight is not pinned. Now 21. Bxg7 Ne6 22. Qe5 (22. Bd5 Rf7) 22… Qxe5 23. Bxe5 Bf6 leaves white struggling. Risky play by Danya, but that’s sometimes what you’ve got to do when you take on the ugly pawn structure, and he was rewarded this time with a win.

Board Three: Eckert-Pruess

I don’t have much to add to David’s excellent article about this game; in fact, when I saw him bust out the QGA for the first time ever, I was reminded of a conversation that David and I had before playing at a tournament a couple years back.

David: I’m going to play an opening that I’ve never played against you before.

Me (in my head): So not the Benoni, Benko, Semi-Slav, Dutch, King’s Indian, Budapest …

Me (aloud): So it’s got to be the Slav or the Queen’s Gambit Accepted.

David: Good guess.

Obviously I could have manned up and played 1. e4, and for some reason I forgot about the existence of certain other common openings (Gruenfeld, QGD), but the lesson is clear: dude likes to play a lot of different openings. And I couldn’t agree more that playing this way keeps you fresh in a way that learning one opening straight through to the ending does not. Oh, and sometimes you play something new and get crushed, but that’s chess.

One cool little trick that David passed by in his article:

Here David has just sacrificed his bishop on c3 to help break through on the queenside. White’s rook and bishop are attacked, so he has to give back some materials, and did so, with 33. Bc2, which looked dangerous but lost in short order. But what if he plays 33. Re2?

Then 33… Qxb3 allows 34. Nf6+ gxf6 35. Qg4+ Kf8 36. Qxh4 with a miracle draw. The only way to stop Qh8# is to play the king back to the g-file, and then white simply checks with the queen.

Fortunately, black is still winning after 33… Ba6, but it’s a good reminder to never let down your guard when converting an advantage.

Speaking of opening preparation ...

Board Four: Sevian-Ding

This, in my mind, was the key game in the match. We lose here with white and a tie or loss in the match was quite likely. I wasn’t too comfortable with how the opening went for our latest wunderkind: he was wandering through (and getting way down on the clock) a really dangerous line of the Dragon (and reminding me in the process why I try to avoid the open Sicilian).

Black missed two good chances to gain a big edge against his youthful opponent:

In this position the move 18… Rb6 has done very well for black. The idea is that after 19. h5 g5 20. Rxd6 f6 white is playing without his queen for a very long time. Instead, the game continued 18… Be6 19. h5 Qc7 (now 19… g5 loses to 20. Nd4) 20. hxg6 fxg6 21. Rxd6 Rfc8.

One more diagram:

22. Rc6 is good enough to draw here, although that is something of a defeat of this whole line for white. Instead Samuel went for the unbalanced ending with 22. Qxh7+ Qxh7 23. Rxh7, but instead of the automatic 23… Kxh7, black could have had great winning chances with 23… Bxb3.

So, as almost always in the USCL, both teams had plenty of opportunities to win the match. A good season takes steady play and a little luck, and let’s hope we have both against a tough Dallas team next week.