Two First-Place Finishes in December

Round 5

I did come up with one post-game improvement, but I’ll salt that one away as a “secret”.

Where we agreed to a draw, the position was 0.0.  I saw the game continuing as 17…Bc7, 18.Nc4 Nd5, 19.Rc1 and Stockfish agrees that this position is 0.0 still.  Alex was in fact going to play 17…Bc7, 18.Nc4 e5 which is also 0.0 after I capture twice on e5.  I had 37 minutes on my clock to Alex’s 38 minutes, and so being even on board and clock was a great time to offer the draw.  If I hadn’t offered the draw there, we probably would have played it to the end.

I wanted to win the first place prize, but as it turns out if I had lost this game, I still would tied for first-second with Sam, and made only six dollars less, so it was okay to keep on playing, although I have never been much of a fan of playing on in even positions against equal or stronger opposition, unless it was a position more dynamic than technical.

My post-tournament rating is 1877, whereas I started out December at 1728.


The Sham Win

In Round 4 I was tied for first place with Sam, and had never played him before.

Shades of last week, I played really well with lots of time on my clock, but as soon as I felt my time dwindling, it was back to making those coffee-house moves that I probably knew better not to do given more time.

10…0-0-0??.  There is a long stretch in the game from here where White is totally winning, you just have to analyze it deeply enough.  I was sort of disappointed how Stockfish tore my position up, but not totally surprised.  I was more surprised at how at the end of the lines where I should have lost a pawn that I have no real compensation, according to a computer, even though White would have to defend well to win and avoid losing.

Eventually we both got down to under one minute on our clocks, he started making blunders instead of finding decisive wins, and then it was over.  I actually announced checkmate when I delivered it, which I don’t believe I’ve ever done before, probably just because I was so glad it was over.

Here is a little bit more analysis:

2…e5.  I play this, quite naturally, because I want to make it into an “e4 game”.

3…d5.  I played this because it is my repertoire, and I felt it’s too late to deviate against a high-rated player (Sam was still 1880 at the end of November).  I did consider here playing 3…Nf6, or 3…f5, but didn’t want to risk the uncharted waters aspect of it.

Coming up, there were variations where it looked as though White could win a pawn ending up with Qh5+ and Qxe5, but the key move that steps out of these variation is that after Qh5+ ….Kf8! Black is winning.

10…0-0-0??  10…d4 is the thematic way to hold the position.  I suspect that 10…d4 is the book move, and this is a book position after 10.e4, Sam told me.



A Less Universal Style

Final Round

9…Qe7 was best.  However, I didn’t play 9…a5 because I had miscalculated the line 9….a5, 10.e4 Nxe4, 11.NxNe4 BxNe4, 12.Bxe6 0-0!  -.5  For if 12….fxBe6, 13.Qxe6+ Qe7 (to protect the Be4), 14.Qc8+ Qd8, 15.Qe6+ draw is forced for White because if 15.Qxb7 Nd7, I didn’t notice that the Be4 is now covering c6, and more importantly that White is one tempo short of playing Re1 because the Bb4 is covering it.  For example, if Black loses a tempo with 16.Bf4 h5? 17.Re1 BxRe1, 18.RxBe1 is now +1.5 in White’s favor.  The reason that 9…a5? fails is because it doesn’t prevent dropping either a pawn on b4 or b7 after 10.Na2.

Another thing I was worried about with 9…a5 was 10.Nh4 Bh7, 11.Bxe6 fxe6, 12.Qxe6+ Qe7, 13.Qc8+ Qd8, 14.Qxb7 Nd7, 15.Qxc6 0-0, and now, even though White has four pawns for the piece, it still says that the position is in Black’s favor by -.48.  However, this line is mostly a moot point because Black simply has 12…Bb4-e7! winning (always nice to notice a retrograde or “strong retreat” move that wins).  As pointed out earlier, Black could have forgone all of this analysis simply by noticing that after 9….a5, Black has 10.Na2!.

10…Nbd7?  At this point I was beginning to lose my mind, tactically, and probably in part because I put so much thought into the tactics of that previous move, as I was now worried that White might be winning after 10…0-0, 11.e4? Nxe4, 12.NxN BxN, 13.Nxf7 Rxf7 (Stockfish prefers 13…Kxf7) , 14.Bxe6 a5, 15.Bf4 Nd7, 16.Rfe1 BxRe1, 17.RxBe1 Bd5! and the counter-pin wins as 18.Be6xBd5 QxRe1+ is mate, but other moves also win on move 17 for Black, such as 17…Bg6 or 17…Nf6 as well.

In hindsight, 10…Nbd7 is better than 10….0-0 (which runs into f3-e4, as I saw in the game), and that as in many Slav lines from this type of variation, Black is going to sac a pawn for most of the game in order to get play.  I realized that I would probably be giving something up, such as castling, if not a pawn, when I played 8….h6?!, as I understood that Black doesn’t have enough time in this variation for such perfect play.

Alex played 13.d5? quickly, and I knew that it was just as weak as the amount of time spent behind the move.  I played 13…e5, but I also considered 13….Ne5, 14.Be2 as my second choice, which equalizes, and would have favored my more dynamic style, but I was more fascinated by the move played, at the time.

With move 14.f3, Alex offered a draw, which I ignored as I would have needed a win to have won any prize-money, and just as importantly we were both pumped up and this chess game looked as though it had only begun.  Psychologically, it did the trick however, as I played the crazy blunder 17…b5?? looking for tactical chances.

The correct way to play this position was with 17…Bd4, 18.Bd2 cxd5, 19.Bxd5 Nf6.  I had treated his 19.dxc6 as if it were a mere tactical feature of the position (almost didn’t play it because of that, or at first decided not to) when it was actually the entire point of the position.

In hindsight, the reason I lost this game is that although my first twelve moves were excellent, it had cost too much time and energy.  If I could have blitzed out those first twelve moves, then the outcome could have been very different.  This is the real reason to have a repertoire, particularly as Black, is that it’s a time-saver OTB, and not because you are trying to blow anyone away in the opening, but more that you want to make sure to find your best equalizing chances out of the opening, and quickly.

Hat’s off to Alexander with his tournament victory.  He showed that his style has matured and that he’s played himself into that style quite nicely.  In round 1, he beat Selah with an endgame finesse from a drawish-looking position, and kept up that precision of technical play throughout the tournament.





The Pillow-Fight

Round 3

I know that Alex has played this opening against me before while sparring (years ago), but I believe this is the first time that I’ve faced it OTB in a rated game.  The last time I’ve seen the Ponziani in a blitz game would be a year or more ago as well, and that would have been against a low-rated blitz player, which means the opening wouldn’t have counted for much.

After move 5…Nf6-d5, I pointed out to Peter, after the game, that we’ve transposed into a C3 Sicilian line!

I was happy to see 8.Qxd2 instead of 8.Nxd2, but perhaps the difference in advantage isn’t as significant as I had felt.

8…d6.  I played this instead of 8…d5 because his king is stuck in the center, and the dynamic play means my queenside pieces won’t be offside.

14…Nd5.  I contemplated 14…Qb4 15.Qg3 (best) Qg4, trading queens.

15.Qg3?!  15.Qe4 was best, and I was relieved to not see it.

17.Nd3  Stockfish likes this move best, but part of me didn’t want to try to win the pawn right away, and wanted to play something solid-looking, like 17.Ne7, 18.c6, 19.Nd5, and stay in the middlegame.

A non-descript “safe move” to continue the game would have been 28…Qg5, but I wasn’t even finding this, OTB.

One of the two best moves is 28…Rd2! for if 29.Nc2 (which had been my concern, which is best illustrated in the variation 28…Nb4, 29.Nc2 Qc5, 30.NxN but now me, Alex, and Peter missed 30…RxR!  31.RxR QxN hitting the Re1 so that Black doesn’t have the time to win his pawn back but it’s still only -1 here ), then if 29…RxNc2! winning, for if 30.RxQ, then RxRc1+ is mating.  Still, after 28….Rd2, you could get into this line 29. Ra1 h6 30. Nc2 Re2 31. g3 Qe4 32. Qxe4 R8xe4 33. Kg1 Rxe1+ 34. Nxe1 Re2 35. Nd3 Rd2 36. Nc5 b6 37. Na6 Ne5 38. Nxc7 Ng4 39. Rf1 Rxa2 where Black is still fighting for a draw, needing just a slip-up or two from White.

After 28…Qb2!, 29.Rc1, and Pete’s engine said to play 29…Qa3 here, and that is probably because after 29…Qe5, 30.Rc2-c1! has repeated the position.  So, Black may as well play 28…Qa5!  I thought here that White could play 29.a4? followed by 30.Nc4, but I did not see that 28….Qa5, in this case, had freed up the e5 square to allow 29.a4 Ne5, 30.Qg3, Nd3 fork.  Therefore, Black can still play 29.Ra1!  Now, Black has to make progress, so 29…Rd4, 30.h3 Rd4-e4, 31.Red1 Nd4, 32.Qg3 h6, 33.b4! Qb6!, 34.Nd5 Ne2, 35.Qf3 Qc6, 36.Ne3 Nd4, 37.Qg3 f5, 38.b5! Qc5! 39.Rac1 f4! 40.Qg6 Qb6, 41.QxQb6 axQ, 42.Nd5 Nxb5, and now we finally have something resembling an endgame win, where Black is up at -2.

Well, during the game I was still battling a cold (I touched my face with two fingers of cold water in the restroom, and almost got the chills), whereas Peter’s stomach wasn’t feeling well, and I just could not find a solid continuation, OTB, to continue the game with.  I had 2 min, 30 seconds on my clock when I offered the draw, but it was more out of frustration of not wanting to spend the last two minutes before forcing three-fold repetition because it was so difficult to come up with a plan.  With more energy, and more on the line, I may have continued on, but my brain wasn’t feeling right on Tuesday, nor on Wednesday, so that I decided not to play on Wednesday night either, but do plan on playing on Thursday.  BTW, Mark called our game (as opposed to his game with Daniel) a “pillow fight”.








Blunder Exchange

Round 2

I was still battling a cold when I noticed I had dropped a pawn, as I looked up from writing down my move.  Luckily, and perhaps by playing those first eleven moves in no time, he returned the favor with 8…Nf6?? which I was delighted, and a bit incredulous, to see.  I knew that my pawn drop wasn’t a game-ending blow, but his exchange loss did turn out to be one.

Winter Springs Open

I took clear first in the Under 1800 section

Round 1

I won a piece, and then struggled against a determined opponent.  It’s weird how I often have to “play myself into” a tournament.

Round 2

Not a well-played game, but obviously I played better than my opponent (who shows a lot of promise!).  For example, on move 32…Rxh2+?  I saw the right move (32…Rf5, but wasn’t sure why it was best and so succumbed to this dud instead – curiously, my intuition was correct that the former was probably the right move, and this move was probably not working for some reason, but I was in time-pressure and this was the easier move to go with).  Luckily, my opponent resigned.  I wonder if he realized that I cannot trade rooks because my pawn will not queen on a square of the same color as my bishop?  Nevertheless, it was a relief when he did.

I made some other mistakes, but could have won quickly with 20.Rd2! rather than 20.Rhf8.  Give me credit for surviving what seemed like a terrifying attack at the time (I saw his piece-sac before he played it, but didn’t believe it).

Round 3

An odd, interesting game which ended too soon for my opponent.  The analysis would probably be more interesting, and fruitful than what acutally happened OTB, even though my opponent was a rather thoughtful player.

Round 4

I’ve never gone into a last round needing only a draw to win a tournament with clear first place before, it’s a situation that I’ve only really read about in books, or maybe a magazine before.

Day one was the “back-breaker” of the two, although I was feeling sick on both days, and much moreso on the second day.  In fact, I had half an hour remaining on my clock at the end of Round 3, and I only used a total of twenty minutes on my clock for Round 4.  Luckily, Anthea also only needed a draw to either take clear second place, or to share it with one other player.

For the record, I didn’t feel sorry for the other players because Anthea’s third round opponent had flagged when she was up five pawns or so (I had left two hours earlier thinking she was about to checkmate him), and eventually drew her (she didn’t notice his flag when that had happened).  So, all in all, I think the result of our section of the tournament was quite fitting.

Tal Technique

…is what this game felt like for me when I played 22.Rc1.

8…Qd7?? A big blunder, but Black always plays …e6 before it gets to this point.

14.Qe4  Actually, Tal would have played the more precise 14.BxN, as …bxB is forced.  For example, if 14…RxB, 15.Qe5! Rc8, 16.Qb5+ Rd7, 16.Rd1 wins.

18…Rc4.  18…Ba3 doesn’t work because 19.axB RxN, 20.Rc1! forces the trade of rooks.

18.0-0 I considered strongly 18.Ke2 (as I did 0-0-0 earlier), but felt I could wither any storm even with a seemingly less precise orthodox defense, since it feeds into my style and intuition better.

19.h3?!  19.f3 is more accurate, since it doesn’t commit the h-pawn to moving.

22.Rc1  The engine may not like this move so much, but it is a solution to the position.

23…RxR.  Forced.  If 23…Rb4, then 24.Rc8+ Bd8, 25.Rd1 wins the bishop.

24…Rh3  I missed this (best) move, but it’s the only move which drags out the outcome a bit longer.

25.Bg5!  Putting the game out of reach.

Actually, my game was more about an opening blunder, but I watched Pete and Alex’s game for well over an hour after mine finished, and it was very entertaining, instructive, and educational.  Alex eventually won, but it was back and forth.