In the final round I had Black against Andy Reeder. He played very aggressively, and we reached a very tense middle game position after 21. Rd2
I decided to get my king off of the bishop's diagonal 21...Kg7?! Better was 21... Kg8 22. Rf3 Qb6 23. Nh5+ Because of Black's misstep on move 21, White gets to activate what had been a poorly placed piece. 23... Kh7 not 23... gxh5? 24. Rg3+ with a crushing attack 24. Rg3 This seems to be a crucial position. I added extra defense to g7 with 24...Rf7 but this may not be best 24... Rg8 25. Nf6+ Bxf6 26. exf6 is much better for White but exchanging off White's attacking bishop with 24... Bxe4 25. Bxe4 fxe4 looks all right for black, for example 26. Qg4 Rg8 27. Nf6+ Bxf6 28. exf6 Qc5 29. Rh3 Qf5 30. Qh4 h5 Although intuitively, it seems correct to try to exchange the light squared bishops, I guess I avoided this line because it seemed like one of those position where whoever broke the tension in the center first would be worse. 24... fxe4!? and 24... Qc5!? also deserve investigation 25. exf5 exf5 26. Rd6? I had seen the refutation to this move fairly quickly and had been focusing most of my attention on 26. Nf6+ when I intended to sacrifice the exchange with 26... Rxf6 (the alternative 26... Bxf6 looks dangerous for Black after 27. Rd6 for example 27... Bc6 28. Bxf5! with a powerful attack) 27. exf6 Qxf6 when White is better, but the two-bishops and extra pawn should give Black some compensation. Afterwards, he commented that he also considered 26. Rxd7 but it looks like Black can just eat all of the material 26... Rxd7 27. e6 gxh5 28. exf7 Qf6 26... Bxd6 27. Rxg6 Kxg6 28. Bxf5+ only now did he see that his intended 28. Qg4+ Kh7 29. Bxf5+ Kh8 30. Qg6 is met by the counterstroke 30... Bxg2+! 28... Rxf5 I also considered going boldly forward with the king. 28... Kxf5 29. Ng3+ Kxf4 This also wins, but it seemed more prudent to give some material back 29. Qg4+ Rg5 30. fxg5 Bxe5 finding this move is what tipped the scales for me in favor of 28...Rxf5. The bishop covers key squares on the long diagonal and the queen on b6 now becomes a defensive factor as well. 31. h4 Qf2 32. gxh6+ Kh7 [0:1]
I probably played my worst game in round 4 with White against Negash Bezaleel. He had a very comfortable position out of the opening after 11. a4
11...a6 He probably should have gone for the more patient buildup with b6 followed by a6 and Rb8 and Black will eventually get in b5. 12. a5 Rb8 13. Re1 b5 14. axb6 Rxb6 15. Na4 Rb4 16. Bd2 I had intended 16. c4 here then noticed 16...Ncxd5 Later that night it finally dawned on me that White would then get a clear advantage with 17. Bd2! 16... Ncxd5 17. Bxb4?! Since I didn't play it on the previous move, it is clear that my mind was just not at all focused on 17. c4! transposing to the previous note. 17... Nxb4 18. Rc1 Na2 19. Ra1 19. Nh4!? leads to some interesting tactics 19...Nxc1 20. Nxf5 Nxe2+ 21. Qxe2 Re8 22. Nxe7+ Kf8 23. Qxa6 Rxe7 24. Rd1 Qe8 19... Nb4 20. Rc1 with a draw by repetition [½:½] Looking at it now, 20. Bd3 Nxd3 21. cxd3 Nd5 22. d4 looks good for White. I had mostly considered 22. Nc3 Nb4 when I thought Black had good compensation.
In round 3, I had Black against Keith Eubanks. In a tense middlegame, I let him exchange off some of his poorly placed pieces and got into a difficult position. I decided to go for a pawn down endgame that looked like it had some drawing chances. He played accurately to avoid an ending with light squared bishops, so I had to take my chances in a rook ending after 33...Kxf5
I was also about 50 minutes behind on the clock at this point, but he slowly but surely caught up as he tried to find a plan. 34. Rg1 Kf6 35. b3 b6 36. h4 I thought this was a very good move, but that he didn't follow up correctly 36...Re7 37. Rg8 More consistent is 37. h5 followed by h6 to give his rook a base at g7. In that case Black is probably reduced to playing passively, but White may still have difficulties in converting the point. 37... Kf7 38. Rg2 It was probably better to retrace his steps with 38. Rg1 trying to get back to the previous note. Now Black gets some activity. 38... Re1 39. Re2 Rg1 40. Rg2 Rc1!? Presenting another problem for White, I decide to start looking for winning chances myself instead of blindly repeating the position with 40...Re1 41. Re2 a4 42. Kg4 Black has nothing to fear from 42. bxa4 Rxc4 43. Re6 Rxa4 44. Rh6 Kg8 45. Re6 Rxa2 42... a3 fixing the a2 pawn as a target, I think Black is out of the woods here. 43. h5 Rb1 44. Kf5 Rb2 45. Re6 Rxa2 46. Rf6+ Kg8 47. Re6 Kf7 A better way to try and win is to immediately target the h-pawn with the rook. 47... Rh2!? 48. Re8+ Kf7 49. Ra8 a2 although White should still be holding, he would have to play accurately. 48. Rf6+ Ke7!? This is starting to walk on the edge again. If Black really wants to try and win then he should repeat with 48... Kg8 and go for the previous note 49. Rh6 Re2 50. Rxh7+ Kd8 51. Rg7! avoiding 51. Rh8+? Re8 and Black wins 51... a2 52. Rg1 Rh2 53. Ke6 Kc8 54. Ra1 Kd8 55. f5 Ke8 56. Kf6 Kf8 57. Ke6 Ke8 58. Rg1 Re2+ 59. Kf6 Rg2 60. Ra1 Rh2 61. Kg6 Rg2+ 62. Kf6 Rh2 and a draw was agreed [½:½] White does have some ideas of trying to trade off the h-pawn for the a-pawn, but I haven't found a way to make it work for example 63. Kg5 Rg2+ 65. Kf4 Rf2+ 66. Kg3 Rb2 and it looks like Black is holding.
In round 2 I had White against Patrick Mihelich. I didn't get a whole lot from the opening but still had a nagging edge because of the two bishops. After 22...Kg7
I was a bit impatient with 23. Rc2 23. g3 first followed by doubling the rooks on the c-file and then the minority attack with b5 leaves Black struggling to find counter play. 23... f4 24. exf4 Rxe1+ 25. Bxe1 Bxf4 26. b5 I was trying to keep the bishops, so I avoided 26. g3 Be3+ 27. Bf2 although White may still have a small edge. Crafty likes 26. Re2, but I see nothing for White after 26...Re8 27. Rxe8 Nxe8 28. Kf2 Nd6 26... Re8 27. Kf1 27. Bf2 also deserves attention 27... axb5 28. axb5 cxb5 29. Rc5 Re7 Black should strive for activity with 29... Bxh2 30. Rxb5 (30. g3 Bg1) 30... Re7 31. g3 Nh5 32. Kg2 Re2+ 33. Kh3 Bg1 34. Rxb7+ Kh6 with an unclear position in which both kings might find themselves in danger 30. Rxb5 Rd7 Now he starts to drift into a passive position. Although it is a tempo down on the previous note, still it was better to play 30... Bxh2 31. g3 Nh5 (31... Bg1?? 32. Bb4) 31. Bf2 h5 32. g3 Bb8 33. Be3 h4 34. Kf2 hxg3+ 35. hxg3 Ba7 36. Ke2 Kf7 37. Kd3 Ke6 38. Bf4 Ng8 39. Bg5 Bb8 40. f4 A patient approach, putting the pawns on dark squares to reduce the scope of Black's bishop. But it looks better to initiate concrete play with 40. Rb6+ Kf7 (40... Kf5 41. f4; 40... Bd6 41. Ba4 Rf7 42. Bf4) 41. Ba4 Rc7 42. Bd8 all leading to a clear advantage to White 40... Nf6 41. Bxf6 Again the simple variation 41. Rb6+ Bd6 42. Bxf6 Kxf6 43. Bxd5 wins both the d and b pawns 41... Kxf6 42. Bxd5 Rg7? 42... Ba7 trying to latch on to d4 is much more tenacious and still leaves White with some technical problems to solve. 43. Rb6+ Kf5 44. Be6+ Kf6 45. Bg4+ [1:0]
In the first round I had Black against Cameron Donis. I got a pretty comfortable game from the opening, obtaining the bishop pair. After 25. Qxc7
This position seemed to be begging for a combination, since there are so many loose and pinned White pieces, but the move Be3 seems to solidify his position. I eventually settled on 25... Bc5 26. Be3 Qe4 with the idea of Bd5 27. Qf4 Qxf4 28. Bxf4 b5 29. b4 Bf8 30. Be3 g6 31. Rc1 Bc4 32. Nf3 a5 This is too impatient. Instead, Black keeps a solid edge by activating the king with 32... Kf7 33. Nd2 Be2 34. Bc5? He should have tried to gain counterplay using the a-pawn with 34. bxa5 Bxa3 35. Re1 Bd3 36. a6 34... Bh6 35. Rc2 Bd1 36. Rb2 axb4 I avoided the false mating attack 36... Re1+ 37. Kh2 Bf4+ 38. g3 Bxd2 39. Rxd2 Bf3 when the White king gets out with 40. g4, which is just equal37. Bxb4 Re1+ 38. Nf1 Re2 39. Rxe2 Bxe2 40. Ne3 This move was accompanied by a draw offer, which I of course declined. Black is very much better, if not already winning. At least he said "draw" when he stuck out his hand. There were some instances in the first round of campers just sticking their hands out thinking they were offering a draw while their opponents thought it was a resignation. I would have thought the latter here. 40... Kf7 41. Nc2 f5 42. g3 Bg7 43. f4 Bd3 44. Ne1 Bd4+ 45. Kg2 Be4+ Everything is clear from this point. The Be4 dominates Ne1 and the dark-squared bishop endings are horrible for White because of his numerous pawns on dark squares. 46. Kf1 Ke6 47. Ke2 Kd5 48. Nf3 48. Nd3 Bxd3+ 49. Kxd3 h5 50. Be1 Bc5 51. Bb4 Bf2 -+ 48... Bxf3+ 49. Kxf3 Bc5 50. Bc3 Bxa3 51. Ke3 Kc4 52. Be5 Bc5+ 53. Kf3 Bd4 54. Bd6 b4 55. g4 b3 56. Ba3 b2 57. Bxb2 Bxb2 58. gxf5 and Black soon won. I showed the last several moves to get to this point where White could almost set one last trap with 58. g5 followed by Kh4 with a self stalemate idea. Both Kxf4 and Bxf4 by Black would be stalemate, but the move Be1+ destroys this hope. I found it interesting that in this position if the bishop was on a light-square, the only way to win looks like sacrificing it on h3 (or g4 though that is a bit more complicated). Not hard to find, but I thought it was unusual that the only way to win that piece up position is to return the piece.
I played in a tournament at Atlanta's Emory University last weekend. This was the concluding event of the Castle Chess Camp. There were quite a few campers playing, but most of the instructors also played making it a strong field with 4 GMs (Shulman, Becerra, Krieman, and Bisguier). I was hoping to get an opportunity to avenge a couple of my Chicago losses against Shulman and Becerra, but didn't get the chance to play either one. I had a solid result with an undefeated 3 wins and 2 draws which was good enough to be part of a massive tie for third place. Becerra tied for first with David Vest, who upset Irina Krush in the final round. I was happy to see that while Shulman and Becerra did draw in the final round, it was a battle, not a GM draw. Of course Shulman trailed by half a point and had White, so he had little motivation to draw. The tournament was run fairly smoothly, it was just kind of grueling if you played long games (which I did) since there wasn't much time in between the rounds. I'll start presenting some of my games tomorrow or over the weekend, I still want to analyze a few more positions.
Entering the last round, I was still in contention for both the U2400 prize and qualification to the US Championship. I caught a tough last round pairing, though. I was just below the cut in the 4-point score group, so I played black against the top rated player with 4 points, GM Ildar Ibragimov. Of my three losses, I was most satisfied with my play in this one. I got a reasonable position out of the opening, but perhaps made an incorrect decision in the middle game when I tried to blockade the kingside. He was able to break through tactically sacrificing two pawns to reach a winning attack after 27. Qh2
Black can't deal with the threats of Rg1 and Ne4. I tried to swap queens with 27... Qg3 but after the accurate 28. Qh1 there is nothing left. I allowed a pretty finish with 28... Qf2 29. Rxg6+ Kf7 30. Qh7+ Ke8 31. Re6+ and it is mate with a queen sacrifice and artificial back rank after 31...Kd8 32. Qe7+ Kc8 33. Qe8+ Rxe8 34. Rxe8# [1:0] I briefly thought about playing the joke 31...0-0-0!? before resigning, but decided to be more professional.
I played my best game of the tournament in Round 6 against Paul Gallegos. For a change, good opening preparation led to an advantageous position for me and I reached a pawn up ending after 28. Rxh7
28...e3+ trying to use the passed pawn to obtain counterplay. Instead, 28... Nd3+ 29. Ke3 and the e-pawn is more of a weakness than a strength and White is ready to attack with his rooks along the seventh rank after 29...Nxb2 30. Rxb2 29. Kf3 also possible was 29. Kg2 Rd2 30. Kf3 Nd3 and White has the stroke which occurs in the game 31. Bg7+! +- 29... Rf1+ 30. Kg2 It wasn't too late to take a misstep with 30. Kg4? Rf2 when White doesn't seem to have any more than a perpetual with 31. Rh8+ Kf7 32. Rh7+ since 31. Bg7+ Kg8 32. Rh8+ is met by 32... Kxg7 -+ 30... Rf2+ 30... Rb1 31. Rh8+ Kf7 32. Rxe8 Kxe8 33. Kf3 collecting a second pawn doesn't offer Black much so he tries to bail out into a pawn down minor piece ending. 31. Rxf2 exf2 32. Bg7+! after 32. Rh8+ Kf7 33. Rxe8 Kxe8 34. Bc3 Nd3 it looks very difficult to make progress. To collect the f2 pawn, White would have to play his bishop to e3, but this allows N-b2xc4-b6xd5, so White would have to try an advance his kingside pawns. Instead, the text ends all resistance 32... Kg8 on 32...Ke7 the discovered checks are promising, but I think 33.Kxe3 is simplest of all 33. Rh8+ Kf7 34. Rxe8 Kxe8 35. Kxf2 Kf7 36. Bc3 Nc2 37. Ke2 [1:0]
I played a very interesting game with Craig Stauffer in the fifth round. I had an advantage out of the opening, but didn't proceed forcefully enough. He played an interesting idea of letting his pawn structure get damaged in exchange for pressure against a backward pawn of mine. I decided to sacrifice that pawn to obtain the bishop pair rather than passively defend it. We were headed into mutual time pressure with Black about to get his pawn back after 28... Rae8
I think Black can claim an edge here. The White king is a bit more exposed, so Black should have chances to attack on the dark squares. Craig decided to liquidate the potential weakness on b2. 29. b4 axb3 30. Qxb3 Rxe5 30...Bxe5 is less accurate because of pins along the e-file, for example 31. Kg2 Rf8 as in the game, could then be met by 32. f4 +- 31. Rxe5 Bxe5 32. Kg2 Rf8 33. Re3 on 33. f3 I intended the tricky 33...Bg3!?, but White would be able to exchange queens with 34. Qe3 so it may be stronger to reposition the bishop via 33... Bd6 34. a4 Qg5+ 35. Kh1 Bc5, however, in a practical sense 33...Bg3 might be stronger because in time pressure, White's natural tendency would be to move the attacked rook 34. Re2 Qg5 with a strong attack for Black 33... Bd4 34. Rf3 Bxf2?? A time pressure blunder, black would still be slightly better with 34... Qg5+ 35. Kh1 Qe7 35. Rxf8+ Qxf8 35... Kxf8 36. Qf3+ 36. Qxb7?? All the moves from the diagram were played very rapidly. Here he missed his opportunity to win with 36. c5+! when 36...Kf7 blocks defense of Bf2 and a move on the long diagonal allows the fork 37. Qb2+. Instead, Black gets his chance to end the game immediately 36... Bd4! A tragic situation for White. It is hard to place his pieces on worse squares. He used up most of his remaining time, but there is no defense 37. h4 Qf2+ 38. Kh3 Qxf1+ 39. Kh2 Be5# [0:1]
I figured that with my luck in pairings that if I got paired up I would get my alternating black, while if I got paired down I would get my balancing White. Instead, I was happy to have the White pieces in round 4 against GM Julio Becerra. I probably played the opening a bit too aggressively, but had definite chances in a complicated middlegame. However, some inaccuracies led me to a two pawn down ending after 30...Be4
I thought I was going to get a pawn back and perhaps have some compensation but he saw a little further than I had 31. Re3 Maybe 31. Ra3 first is better trying to provoke a weakness on the b6 square 31... Rf4 32. Rb3 Rh4 33. Bg5 Rh1+ 34. Kd2 b6 35. Re3 Bxb2! the shot I had overlooked 36. Rxe4 Bc1+ 37. Kc2 Bxg5 with 3 extra pawns. The opposite colored bishops don't help White at all.
I finally got White in the third round against James Ellis. I had played Mr. Ellis once before, in 1983, making this one of the longest stretches I have ever had between consecutive games with the same opponent. I didn't make very good use of the White pieces, and he achieved a comfortable position out of the opening. I spent enormous amounts of time trying to come up with ideas and had left myself with only 6 minutes to make my last 18 moves after 22. g4
Here, I got a gift when he played too aggressively 22... Be4? chances would be more or less equal after 22... Bg6 23. Bb4 My first winning position of the tournament. After a bit of thought he decided to resign. [1:0] White picks up a piece after 23... Qe6 24. Ng5 Qc6 (24... Qxc4 25. Rac1) 25. Nxe4 Nxe4 26. Qb1
There was a strange incident early in this game. After Ellis' 12th move (I remember this because I didn't think he could play it and that I was going to get a large advantage) as I reached for my pen, still looking at the unexpected position on the board, I knocked over my water cup, spilling it on to the adjacent board, but mostly onto the table in front of the White player. His reaction was pretty surprising, he hardly reacted at all! Luckily for me, I decided to go get some towels and wipe things up before playing my move. After I took care of that and apologized (again to little reaction) I settled back to my game and noticed that the line I had been intending had a huge tactical hole in it. Later I had a good laugh about that stoic-like performance with Matthew Hoekstra, who was playing on my other side. The guy was literally sitting there thinking about his position with his arms crossed in a pool of water!
I was pretty psyched up for Round 2 reckoning that I was going to get white against a strong player, most likely a GM. Unfortunately, I arrived to find that I had black against GM Yury Shulman. Apparently, Yermolinsky lost with White in the first round so Shulman moved up a board and got his due color. My play was a bit disappointing. It was a classical case of a premature flank attacking getting countered in the center. I'm going to annotate the games against GMs in full after presenting the fragments from all the games, so I'll just show the bloody finale after 22. Nh4
22...g5 I saw most of what was about to happen, but thought maybe I could get a piece for my problems. Anyway, 22... Nh8 (another corner knight) or 22... Kh7 didn't look too appealing after 23. f4 23. Nf5 h4 24. Ne7+ Kh7 25. e5! Threatening e6 on top of everything else 25...fxe5 25... Qe6 26. exf6 Qxf6 27. Qc2+ is no better 26. Qh5+ Nh6 27. Qg6+ Kh8 28. Bxe5 [1:0] 28...Qxe7 is the only way to avoid 29. Qxh6#, but Crafty says it is still mate in 7.
In the first round I had the Black pieces against Nick Faulks. I thought I got fairly comfortable equality out of the opening, maybe even a slight edge since he had a out of play bishop on g3.
In the diagram White is getting ready to bring the bishop back to life with f3, but Black can still claim a small plus because of his control of the open h-file. I launched a plan to target g2. 26...Nh5 27. f3 challenging the h-file doesn't work 27. Rh1 Nxg3 28. Nxg3 (28. Rxh6 Nf1#) 28... Rxh1 29. Nxh1 Nh4 winning a pawn since 30. g3 Nf3 is just brutal for White, despite Crafty's evaluation of only "slight advantage to Black" . That would have been a nice one to add to the collection of knights in the corner. However, even with the extra pawn there would have been considerable technical difficulties in converting the point since the extra pawn is doubled. I thought I was winning a pawn anyway after 27... Nxg3 28. Nxg3 Rh2 29. Rd2 Nf4 calculating the variation 30. fxg4 Nxg2+ 31. Kf2 (31. Ke3 Nd1+ -+) 31...Nf4+ 32. Ke3 Rh4 33. g5 Rg4 picking up g5 although there would again be a long struggle to convert the point. Instead, he surprised me by resigning [0:1]? GM Blatny was walking by the board and asked me why my opponent resigned. When I played out the last variation on the board, I noticed that 33. Kf3 holds the g-pawn and keeps the material balance. Black's position is a bit easier to play after 33...Ke7 or 33... Nh3, but White is far from beaten. I caught up with my opponent a few rounds later and asked him about it and he said that he hadn't realized that he could move to the second rank on move 31.
Last weekend's Chicago Open lived up to the strength of previous editions with 20 GMs and 12 IMs. US Champion Alexander Shabalov was the clear winner with a 6-1 score including wins over GMs Blatny and Kaidanov. Much like the US Championship, there was a 4-player score group at 5 points heading into the last round. GM Stripunsky (who was also one of the players who drew quickly in a similar situation at the US championship) and GM Mitkov agreed to a draw in one or two moves, while Shabba decided to slug it out against Canadian IM Bluvshtein. As in the US Championship Shabalov prevailed to take clear first.
I ended up with a 4-3 score, which wasn't too bad as all 3 of my losses were to grandmasters (Shulman, Becerra, and Ibragimov) and I did make it to the final round with a chance for a big prize and US Championship qualification. I had a head cold for the entire tournament and I think that caused me to be very pessimistic about my positions. Looking back now, I can see that I misevaluated quite a few positions, usually for the worse (although a couple of positions that I thought were OK for me probably were closer to equal). I'll start posting fragments tomorrow, I think I'll stretch it out a bit and do one a day.