The Chess Cafe website contains interesting articles from a wide variety of chess personalities. One column I like in particular is the monthly Endgame column by GM Karsten Muller (who also recently wrote an excellent endgame encylopedia). His typical article will discuss a particular theme and then leave the reader with some exercises on the theme. Since I've had a bit of lack of topics lately, I decided to be topical and discuss the same theme. January's column was the first part of a discussion of the battle between bishops and pawns. I decided to check my own games to see if anything interesting came up. The first thing that surprised me was the number of games I found. Almost 5% of my games have had a position where one side had a bishop and pawns and the other side had only pawns. About half of these positions represent the last exchange from a bishop ending into a pawn ending, but that still left a good number of games where the bishop was dueling against pawns. I'd like to present some of the more interesting ones over the next few columns.
I'll start with my game against Nick Barber at the 1997 Cumberland County Summer Open after 41. Ke6xBd7
Black has just given up his bishop to stop my passed d-pawn. So now, White has an extra piece for a pawn, but Black has a very active King threatening White's kingside. However, White also has the potential to create a passed a-pawn. The next moves are fairly logical 41...Kf1 42. Bc5 a6 Black, of course, wants White to waste time with his king to capture the a-pawn 43. g3 Kg2 44. Bd6 Kxh2 45. Kc6 g5 46. Kb6 Kg2 47. Kxa6 h5 48. a4? The maxim is "passed pawns must be pushed", but here it cost me a half point. The correct approach was to bring the king back to help assist in stopping the Black pawns 48. Kb5 h4 49. gxh4 gxh4 50. Kc4 h3 51. Kd4 Kf3 52. Bh2 Kg2 53. Bf4 and White wins. 48... h4 49. gxh4 gxh4 50. a5 Now, the approach of the White king would fall one move too short. 50...h3 51. Kb5 h2 52. Bxh2 Kxh2 53. a6 f4 54. a7 f3 55. a8=Q White queens first, but a bishop's pawn on the seventh rank is enough to draw against a queen 55...f2 56. Qf3 Kg1 57. Qg3+ Kh1 58. Qf3+ The point is that 58. Qxf2 is stalemate 58...Kg1 59. Qe3 Kh1 60. Qe2 Kg1 61. Qxf2+ Kxf2 [½:½] It seems that I have a bit of a problem winning piece up endings against Nick!
Congratulations to 18-year-old Ruslan Ponomariov of the Ukraine, who beat his countryman Vassily Ivanchuk 4.5-2.5 to take the FIDE World Championship. While the rise Ponomariov has been on for the past 6 months or so made me pick him as a semi-finalist, I was really shocked that he managed to go all the way. The big questions now are how good is he and how good will he become? As for the first, he is very strong. This result should push his already Top 10 rating even higher. As for the latter, his potential seems wide open. Chessmetrics guru Jeff Sonas pegs Ruslan as clearly the third strongest 18-year old in history behind only Kasparov and Kramnik. I guess what is lacking on his resume right now is a good performance in a supertournament. This is due mainly to the fact that his rise has been so fast that he hasn't gotten to face the big boys in places like Wijk aan Zee, Linares, Dortmund, etc. yet. That should be changing in the very near future. He has been invited to next month's Linares tournament, although his participation is still up in the air. It would be wonderful to see he go up against Kasparov and company, however I can see a number of factors that would stop his participation. The first is a matter of timing. There are only a few weeks until the start of Linares, probably insufficient time to prepare to take on players of such caliber. The second is money. You'll recall that both Kramnik and Anand bypassed Linares last year. Rumors circulated that these players wanted more money than they had gotten in the past because of their new status as World Champions (Braingames and FIDE, respectively). We'll see if this is the case with Ponomariov as well. (BTW, Kramnik's participation in Linares is not yet confirmed either, although Anand's is, but of course he is no longer the FIDE WC). In any case it looks like Ponomariov is the first of the young guns to make a major breakthrough and should be a fixture on the world chess scene for years to come.
I successfully defended my title at the 3rd edition of the North Tennessee Winter Open this past weekend in Clarksville. The tournament seemed a little bit smaller than last year although most of the players in the top section were the same as they had been. A couple of notable exceptions were IM Tim Taylor and last year's other co-winner Fred Kleist.
In the first round I had the Black pieces against Leonard Dickerson. I reached a very favorable double rook ending after 29. gxBf3
Although material is equal, Black is much better thanks to his two passed pawns. I thought the idea of walking my King over to free one of the rooks from the defense of the h-pawn was a bit slow and instead found a way to go directly after his king 29...a4 30. Kb2 To prevent ...a3 creating back rank problems 30...Rg1 31. Rfh2 a3+ ! but Black forces this move through with tactics 32. Kc2 [32. Kxa3?? Rb1 33. Ka4 Kb6 and 34...Ra8#] 32... Ra1 33. Kd3 Rg8 34. Rxh6 Rgg1? playing directly for mate, but I should have taken time out to first play 34... Rg3 waiting for White to put his rook out of play with 35. Rf2 before playing 35... Rgg1 35. Rxe6? During the game I was more worried about 35. Rh7+ Kb6 36. R2h6 but after 36... Rgd1+ (36... Ka5? 37. Rb7=) 37. Ke2 d3+ (37... Rdc1 38. Kd2; or 37... Rdb1 38. Kd3 and Black needs to repeat moves with Rd1+) 38. Ke3 Rxa2 and wins since the Black king can find a safe haven at c3. However, White has an escape with 35. Rh8! with the idea of R2h7+ followed by perpetual by the other rook along the 8th rank. 35... Rgd1+ 36. Ke2 Rxa2+ 37. Kxd1 Rxh2 38. Ra6 a2 39. Kc1 d3 [0:1]
In the 2nd round I had White against Gerald Larson. The position was approximately equal after 23...Qd5-d6
Instead of patiently playing for the d5 break when White should be a bit better because of Black's looser King position, I became enamored with trying to trap his bishop 24. g4?! White's king also becomes loose after this 24...Ra3 25. Qf2 Rc2 26. Ng3 Rxd2 27. Qxd2 Bd3 28. Qb2 Bc4 29. Ne4 Qe7 30. d5? A weak move starting to run low on time 30...Rxf3 31. g5 I couldn't find anything good after 31.d6 Qh4 hitting my Re1 among other things 31...Bxd5 32. Nf6+ Rxf6 the simple 32...Kf7 also looks good since 33. Nxd5 is met by 33...Qxg5+ and 34...Qxd5 33. gxf6? I avoided the queen exchange here and on the next move because the ending with Black having 3 pawns for the exchange is pretty bad. Still it is nothing compared to the horror the White King now faces 33...Qc5+ 34. Kf1? Bc4+ 35. Kg2 Qg5+ 36.Kh3 the only move since 36. Kf2 Qh4+ and 36. Kf3 Bd5+ 37. Ke2 Qg2+ are both disasters 36... Bd3 37. f7+ Kxf7 38. Qxb7+ Qe7? 38... Kf6 39. Rxe6+ (39. Qb2+ e5 and White is out of checks) 39... Kxe6 40. Qc6+ with a clear advantage to Black since even if White does manage to pick off the bishop he will have a horrible queen ending. 39. Qxe7+ Kxe7 40. Kg3?! 40. Rc1 with the idea Rc7 picks up a pawn since 40... Kd7? 41. Rd1 40... Kf6 41. Kf4I stopped recording here and reconstructed the rest later. I think most of it is correct although a couple of the moves may be out of order. It seems that Black should still even be a tad better in this ending. 41... Bc4 42. a3 g5+ 43. Ke4 h5 44. Re3 Bd5+ 45. Kd4 g4 46. Rc3 Kf5 47. Rc7 a6 48. Rf7+ Kg6 49. Rf8 h4? This advance looks like the culprit, his pawns are much weaker in this structure. 50. Ke5 Kh6 51. Rg8 Bf3 51... Kh5?? 52. Kf6 and mates 52. Kxe6 Kh7 53. Rg5 Kh6 54. Kf6 g3 55. hxg3 h3 55... hxg3 56. Rxg3 Bh5 57. Rh3 a5 58. a4 is also easy for White 56. g4! Bxg4 57. Rxg4 Kh5 58. Rg8 Kh4 59. Ke5 h2 60. Kd4 Kh3 61. Rh8+ Kg2 62. Kc5 h1=Q 63. Rxh1 Kxh1 64. Kb6 Kg2 65. Kxa6 Kf3 66. a4 Ke4 67. a5 Kd5 68. Kb7 [1:0]
In Round 3 I had Black against Bill Melvin. 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c3 The Ponziani Opening is very rare, but was not unexpected here as I had previously had two disasterous results against Bill in this opening 3...Nf6 4. d4 Nxe4 5. d5 Nb8 6. Nxe5 I knew 6...Bc5 was the theoretical move, but at the board I decided I wanted to play more "solidly" 6...Be7!? Black should really play 6...Nf6 first if he wants to play in this manner, now things get a bit crazy especially since he decides to go all out for an attack 7. Qg4 Nd6 8. Bd3 O-O 9. Qh3 f5 10. f4 This is probably incorrect since the dark squared bishop cannot take part in the attack. 10...b5 11. g4 Bb7 12. gxf5 Bh4+ 13. Kd1 Bxd5 14. Rg1 Bf6 15. Nd2 Nc6 16. Ndf3 Be4 17. Kc2 Bxd3+ 18. Nxd3 Qe7 19. Bd2? 19. Re1 had to be played 19...Qe4 picking up the f5 pawn with a clear plus that I managed to convert in 56 moves.
On Sunday morning I had White against Chuck Lovingood. I played a bit experimentally in the opening and the game ended abruptly when I accepted his draw offer after 11...Qe7xe6 [½:½]
I was unsatisfied with how the opening had gone, so I decided to take a half point lead going into the last round with White against Andrews. (Todd decided to show up on Sunday this year, probably due in part to what was quickly dubbed "the Andrews rule" by the players, that any player who withdrew without telling the TD would be subject to a 1 year ban from Tennessee tournaments.) I also didn't believe I could take on g7. Afterwards, he thought Black was clearly better, but analysis seems to indicate that this position isn't quite that clear. For example, 12. Qxg7!? Qxe4+ 13. Kd1 O-O-O and now White can go for a quite playable ending after 14. Nd2 14... Qg6 15. Qxg6 hxg6. It is much murkier to take the rook, although not as bad as I thought during the game 14. Qxh8 Qg6 when I thought that a maneuver like Bf8-g7 would be killing. But White has some resources like h4-h5 or Bd3. Probably Black's best way to win the queen is with ...Nge7 allowing Qd8+ when White has 2 rooks for the queen although his development is still backwards and his king is a little loose. Another alternative from the diagram is just 12. Nd2 which I thought was bad because of simply 12...f5. But, again, White has 13. Qxg7
In the final round I had White against Todd Andrews. Before the game he complained about the number of times he had Black against me, but I was able to name several games in which I had Black. He claimed that some of those were back when he wasn't yet a strong player, which is fair enough. Still, I decided to check things out. This was our 9th meeting and only my 4th White. Even if we throw out the two Whites he had in our first two games in 1995 and 1996, that is still only a 4-3 White advantage. I certainly didn't have a lot of sympathy with him considering that my first round game with Dickerson was my 9th Black in 14 meetings with Leonard (and it was even worse before last year when I got White in both of our games). Anyway, on to the chess. In a Benko Gambit, Black had his classic compensation and maybe even a little more after he managed to trade off my dark squared bishop for his knight. It looks like he may have missed a shot after 23. Qa2xNa3
Here, Crafty lived up to its name finding 23... Bb5! intending to simply capture a4. Black is doing well if that happens, but 24. a5 will be quickly rounded up. Maybe 24. Ra1!? sacrificing an exchange is White's best chance, but Black must be better. Instead he played for a dark square clamp, but I was not unhappy with my position. I wanted to get a knight to c4 or b5 to stabilize the queenside then play for the e5 break. 23...Rb4?! 24. Na2 Rd4 25. Qc1 Rb7 26. Rxd4 Bxd4 27. Qc2 Ne8 28. Bf1 the exchange of light-squared bishops is essential to Whites plan to play on the light squares. 28...Nf6?! This looks like a mistake allowing the exchange of the dark-squared bishop as well 29. Bxa6 Qxa6 30. Ne2 Ng4?? Dropping a piece, but I think White is going to be much better after the exchange on d4 since he'll be ready to get the queenside passers rolling 31. Nxd4 cxd4 32. Qc8+ Kg7 Black could safely resign here, but played on because he held a half an hour edge on the clock 33. Qxg4 Qd3 34. Qd1 Qxe4 35. b4 h5 36. a5 36. b5 threatening Rb4 and stopping ...Rb5 is probably a bit more accurate 36...h4 37. gxh4 Rb8 38. b5 Rh8 Now I had a long thought and decided to go for a forcing variation. 39. Rb3 followed by the relentless advance of the queenside pawns was another way, but I didn't believe any type of fortress would be possible in the ensuing Q vs. R ending with so many pawns on the board. 39. Rb4 Rxh4 40. Qxd4+ Qxd4 41. Rxd4 Rxd4 42. Nc3 Rc4 43. a6 Rxc3 44. a7 Ra3 45. b6 Ra6 46. b7 Rxa7 47. b8=Q Ra1+ 48. Kg2 Re1 49. f4 Re2+ 50. Kg3 f6 If he doesn't do anything I'm still going to play Qe8, h3 (if necessary) and Kf3 when something has got to give. 51. Qe8 g5 52. fxg5 fxg5 53. Kg4 Re5 54. Kh5 [1:0]
The new FIDE rating list is out. It looks like US Chess got their act together and sent in the results for both the Chicago Open and the World Open. I found out from Bill Goichberg that it is the federation and not the organizer who submits events to FIDE to rating. This makes sense since FIDE is an organization of federations not of individuals. The result was that my rating jumped 20 points to 2333 with 9 games played. I'm a bit confused by this. I thought I had 5 FIDE rated opponents in Chicago and 4 or 5 in Philadelphia, with the player in question being Kurt W. Stein, who had somehow through the years been morphed into Kurt Walterstein in the FIDE database. However, I now find that Kurt is back into the list with his correct name, so it looks like they fixed that problem, which would seem to give me 10 games. Who knows. Anyway, 9 is enough in this case for me to have met all the playing requirements (rating of at least 2300 after playing 24 games) for the FIDE master title. Now, I guess it is up to US Chess to step up again and pay FIDE a 100 Swiss Francs (~$60 or ~68 euro) application fee before FIDE will actually award the title 8-(.
Anyway, the rating gain also moved me up to #118 among active US players (#216 among all FIDE rated US players). While, 2400 and IM norms seem to be the big mountain to climb, for now I'll set my sights on the more modest goals of reaching the top 200 of all rated US players (within sight at 2341) and the top 100 of active players (2360).
The top US players are pretty much the same. #47 Yasser Seirawan (2644) continues to lead the way, although he'll drop to number two after #35 Alexander Onischuk (2655) has his country code officially changed. #58 Alexander Goldin (2660) is still climbing. #79 Alexander Shabalov(2606) jumped back into the top 100 and into the #3 US spot. #88 Boris Gulko (2601) is just hanging onto his membership in Club 2600, while #100 Gregory Kaidanov (2596) dropped out of Club 2600 and is just hanging on as the 5th US player in the top 100. Also at 2596 is Yuri Shulman, who has been living here for several years, but is still officially listed as BLR. If Onischuk and Shulman are counted as US players, it would put the US into a tie with Germany for the second number of players in the top 100. Russia still leads with 26.
There was a bit of a shakeup among the elite. #1 Kasparov(2838) and #2 Kramnik(2809) were unchanged with no games played. #3 Anand(2757) continued his fall and can now be considered as a part of the trailing pack. Adams(2742) jumped back to #4 tied with Morozevich. Topalov(2739) has climbed back to #6. The big climber is #7 Ponomariaov(2727). The 18-year old Ukrainian has been on a tear lately culminating in his reaching the finals of the FIDE KO championship. He'll face his countryman #8 Ivanchuk(2717), who upset Anand in the other semifinal, later this month. #9 Shirov(2715) is back in the top 10, which is rounded out by the falling #10 Leko(2713), which shows that you do need to win some games to keep your rating up. Club 2700 is rounded out by #11 Gelfand (2708), #12 Bareev(2707) and #13 Smirin (2702).
Generally, January is a good time to see how the top 10 will shake out at the Wijk aan Zee tournament. However, this year, the field will be missing several top players. I read only just today that Kasparov has caught a virus and will be unable to travel. Kramnik is not playing so he can prepare for his delayed match with Deep Fritz. Of course, Ponomariaov and Ivanchuk will be contesting their FIDE Championship match. I'm not sure why neither Anand nor Shirov are playing (maybe it's just coincidence that these two players contest the last FIDE KO final). Topalov is also not playing. Still, it will be a fairly strong and interesting event with #4 Adams, #5 Morozevich, #10 Leko, #11 Gelfand, #12 Bareev, #14 van Wely(2697), #15 Kasimdzhanov(2695), #18 Khalifman(2688), #19 Lautier(2687), #20 Dreev(2683), #25 Grishcuk(2671), last-years group B winner #48 Mikhail Gurevich(2641), and the two other top Dutch players #29 Piket(2659) and #82 Timman(2605).