I'm back online after more than a week without service from Comcast@Home. Their high speed service is nice when it works, but seems to be a total nightmare when it goes wrong. I ended up having to install my entire operating system and lost all of my email from the last month. I'll ask that the player from the Midwest Chess Center who wrote regarding the Tom Harris game and Lee or Vu from Purdue to please resend their email addresses to me.
There are a number of chess topics I'd like to cover. First off, the FIDE Championship is underway in Moscow. This year the field is up to 128 players including all of the top players in the world except for Kramnik and Kasparov who will be holding an exhibition match in Moscow during the FIDE tournament. With 128 players there were no byes this year, but no one really expected the top seeds to have much trouble in the early 2 game mini-matches. This assumption was turned on its head the very first day when Frenchman Oliver Touzane, rated all of 2382 and had only qualified via the Internet, pushed top seed and defending champion Vishy Anand (2792) to the brink of elimination with a shocking victory with the black pieces. All of a sudden the interesting round 4 matchup between Anand and Anatoly Karpov looked like it could be in jeopardy. And indeed it was!! Not because of Anand, who calmly evened the score with Black and then won the tiebreaker, but because the 12th Chess Champion of the World, Anatoly Karpov, was eliminated by Chinese IM Zhang Pengxiang who swept their rapid tiebreak. People have been writing off Anatoly since he lost the title to Kasparov back in 1985 and this time it looks like it could finally be the end of the line. Still, even though Karpov is certainly a shadow of his former self, this result has to rank up there with some of the greatest upsets of all time.
Several other top players faced some struggles. Peter Leko actually won his first game against South African IM Watu Kabese, but then lost game two (he was probably still in shock from actually winning a game) and had to win a tiebreaker. Morozevich, Ivanchuk, and Gelfand did not score clean sweeps against their sub-2500 opponents. This will probably re-open the debate from 1999 about "tourists" vs. the elite.
Among the first round casualties are former challengers Nigel Short and Victor Korchnoi. Thanks to a loophole (additional qualifiers from the "Championship of the Americas"), the US was able to send 9 players to this years FIDE KO. It doesn't look like there was much strength in numbers as 8 of them were sent packing in Round 1. Only Alexander Shabalov (who beat fellow American Kaidanov) survived. When I first saw the pairings I thought it was unfortunate that two US players had to face off in Round 1. Now, it looks like they would have been better off with more such matchups. Shabba is one of 19 Alexes in the field.
I've read several complaints about the accelerated time control (g/90 + 30 seconds added each move) that FIDE has adopted. I haven't played over any of the games yet to see how this has affected the play.
Now the moment you've all been waiting for, my Final 4 predictions 8-). I'm going with some dark horses this year: Michael Adams, Veselin Topalov, Alexander Khalifman, and Ruslan Ponomariov
In other news, I placed a book order with USCF back in August. I had gotten a letter saying they were out of stock and had back ordered. In early November, I hadn't heard anything further and called them only to find out they didn't expect anything until at least December. I like supporting the federation, but that was too much, so I cancelled my order. I'd like to hear if anyone else has had recent positive or negative experience with the USCF book department. I had heard that they had cut way back on stock, but my order was far from esoteric: an ECO and some Informants, those are usually their best sellers
Last, but certainly not least, tonight I clinched my 4th straight Knoxville City Championship. There is still one round to go, but no one can catch my score since the rest of the field has been beating up on each other. I didn't even realize I had clinched the title until my opponent tonight, Eric Vaughan, congratulated me on it after the game. It was sort of weird since until last Wednesday, I hadn't actually played a single game in the tournament because of various players vacation schedules. I'll have a full report, including annotations of all of my games, starting next week when the tournament officially ends.
I played in the Kings Island Open the weekend before last outside Cincinnati. I ended up on 50% facing pretty tough competition (3 titled players). I delayed commenting on these games until now because I wanted to look at some of the positions in a bit more detail than my initial impressions during the game. I was a bit discouraged by the fact that I got into very difficult positions in the games that I didn't win. However, looking at them more carefully this past weekend, the two games I lost had positions that were easier for my opponents to play, but objectively equal. A bit more concentration and I think I could have scored higher.
In the first round I played Black against Paul Nemeth. We reached a position after 13...Nc6-b8 that had occurred previously in the game Semak-David, Cannes 1996.
Here, Semek played 14. Qd3, but after 14...c6 15. Ne3 d5 he was obliged to sacrifice a piece. However, White still managed to win. 14. Qb3 I played the consistent 14... c6 tempting him to play his next move. 14...b5 should also be OK for Black 15. Nb6?! this leads to a very unbalanced position, but I think Black ends up with the upper hand 15...Qxb6 16. Bxf7+ Kf8 17. Qxb6 Bxb6 18. Bxe8 Kxe8 19. dxe5 dxe5 20. Nxe5 After a long forced sequence the dust clears. Black has two pieces for a rook and two pawns. Ordinarily, this should be an advantage for the two pieces, but here I wasn't so sure since my pieces didn't have a lot of good outpost squares. Also, White already has a passed pawn and can potentially get a pawn roller going on the kingside. However, there are not a lot of open lines for the rooks and Black's two extra pieces are both bishops, which because of their long range don't necessarily need outposts to be effective. All in all, the position is slightly advantageous to Black. 20... Be6 21. b3 Bc7 22. Nf3 Better was 22. Nd3 to try to mobilize the kingside pawns. 22... c5 23. Nd2 Nc6 24. Nf1 Be5 25. Rac1 Rd8 26. c4 Better was 26. Rc2 now there are some weaknesses in the White queenside that can be exploited by the minor pieces. 26... Nb4 27. Re2 Bf4 28. Rb1 b5 29. cxb5 axb5 30. g3 Be5 31. Kg2 Ra8 32. Ne3 I thought the only chance was 32. a4 in order to exchange one set of pawns. After the text the b-pawn is going to eventually fall giving Black connected passed pawns. 32... Rxa2 33. Rxa2 Nxa2 34. f4 Bd4 35. Kf3 Nc3 36. Ra1 Bxb3 and Black soon won.
In round 2, I had the White pieces against GM Alex Wojtkiewicz. I've been paired up in the second round of this tournament before and this time it wasn't too much of a shock since Wojtkiewicz had played Doug Hyatt in the first round. The past few years I have traveled to Kings Island with Doug and since he started entering the Open section we have had the rather strange experience of swapping opponents the first and second rounds. Sure enough round two saw Bereolos-Wojtkiewicz and Hyatt-Nemeth. I got a difficult position straight out of the opening, then he sacrificed a pawn to put me in a bind after 25...Bg7-d4
26. Re2 not 26. Rxe7?? Qf2+ 27. Kh2 (27. Kg4 Qxg2+ 28. Kh4 Bf2#) 27... Rh1+ 28. Kxh1 Qg1# or 26.Rf3?? Qe1+ 27. Kg4 (27. Kh2 Bg1+ 28. Kh1 Bf2+ 29. Kh2 Qh1#) h5+ 28. Kg5 Kg7 with mate shortly. 26... Bxc5? regaining the pawn, but allowing White a tactical escape Black keeps a big edge with 26... Qf1 when it seems that White must sacrifice the exchange with 27. Be3 Rxa1 28. Bxd4 since 27. Qc2 Rb8 -+ looks deadly 27. Be3! this blow equalizes the game 27...Bxe3 28. Rxd1 Bf2+ 29. Rxf2 Qxd1 30. Qc2 Qd6 31. Rd2 Qf6 32. Qe4 Ra5 33. Rd4 e5 34. Rxa4 Rxa4 ½:½ 35. Qxa4 exf4+ 36. Qxf4 Qxb2 37. a4 is dead. I want to run the entire game through Crafty before posting it to the GM games section to see if the beast has anything to add to my impressions on the opening and middlegame.
In round 3 I had White against IM Calvin Blocker. He completely outmaneuvered me in the middlegame and reached the following overwhelming position after 24...a5-a4
The only saving grace was that he only had a few minutes left to make it to move 40. But my next few moves show how pathetic my position is. The sad thing is that there were several times earlier in the game I could have played Bg5 followed by BxNf6 to remove the knight that is now jammed in the middle of my position. 25. Nc1 Qa6 26. Qe2 Rd7 27. Qc2 Qb5 28. Ne2 Be3 29. Rb1 Rad8 30. Rfd1 f6 31. Rf1 Kf7 32. Rfd1 h5 Of course there is nothing wrong with this move, but it is probably a mistake from a practical point of view. White is completely bound so Black should just keep the position until he reaches the time control rather than risk having something go wrong with a hasty move 33. Ng1 h4 34. Qe2 Ba7 35. f4 Rh8 36. Qf3 Bxg1 37. Rxg1 Qc5 38. Rgf1 h3+ 39. Kh1 Qc6 40. g4 g6? and there it is. I had stolen a win and a draw from Calvin from difficult positions in the past and it looked like it was going to happen again. 41. Bxf6 Rh7 [41... Kxf6 42. e5+] 42. Bc3 Ke8 Trying to sidestep 43. f5 43. Rbd1? A very superficial move. I didn't appreciate the danger my king was in. Better was 43. f5 looking to exchange queens by exf5 no matter which way Black captures. The endgame should probably be lost for Black because of the weakness on h3. 43... Rhf7 44. Qe3 after long thought. Now, I got hit by a couple of surprises.
44... Nf2+! I didn't think this worked. I had only reckoned on 44... Nxf4 45. Rxd7 Qxd7 46. Qb6 When White is generating some threats against the Black king. 45. Qxf2 Qxe4+ 46. Kg1 Rxf4! Another move I overlooked. I had only counted on 46... Rxd1 47. Rxd1 Rxf4 48. Rd8+! with perpetual check [0:1]
The next morning I got a chance for revenge with the Black pieces against Jake Kleiman. After his interesting move 14.Ne3-g4 I faced a decision
14...h5 I probably should have just ignored him and played 14...b4 but I wanted to try and prevent the exchange of bishops which would occur after 15.Bh6 15. Nh6+ Kh8 16. g4 hxg4 17. Nxg4 b4 18. Bh6 this move came as a pleasant surprise. Black now welcomes the exchange of bishops which relieves the congestion on his kingside enabling him to play Kg7 and bring his rook to the open h-file. I was more worried about 18. Ng5 aiming for a quick attack on h7. I intended 18... Nf6 19. Nxf6 Bxf6 20. Qg4 Kg7 After the game we briefly looked at 21. f4 e5 22. f5 with attacking chances for White, but looking at it now, the knight sacrifice on f7 does not look that dangerous as the Black king will find a safe home on e7. In this line Black might also consider simply 21...bxc3 18... Bxh6 19. Nxh6 Kg7 20. Ng4 Nf6 21. Nxf6 Qxf6 22. Qd2 Rh8 My original intent was 22... e5 with a nice edge for Black because of his suerior bishop and better pawn structure, but I saw an opportunity for some tactical play after the text move. 23. d4 bxc3 24. bxc3 cxd4 25. cxd4 Rb3 26. Rfc1 Rxf3 27. Rxc6 27. Bxf3? Qxf3 28. Rxc6 Qg4+ 29. Kf1 (29. Kh1 Qxe4+) 29... Rxh2 soon mating 27... Bb7 28. e5?! 28. Bxf3 Bxc6 leaves Black with a more comfortable position. Also possible is (28... Qxf3 29. Rc3 Qxe4 30. f3 Qf5 with good compensation for the exchange.); best is 28. Rc7 Bxe4 29. Raa7 Rd3 30. Rxf7+ Qxf7 31. Rxf7+ Kxf7 when Black will probably will have some difficulties winning because his king won't have a lot of places to hide from perpetual check. 28... dxe5 The computer suggests 28...Qf5 as stronger. 29. dxe5? the final chance to bail out with 29. Rc7 29...Qxe5 30. Bxf3 Bxc6! the move Jake overlooked counting only on 30... Qxa1+ 31. Rc1 when Qb2+ will win the bishop. Now, he's helpless against the threats to h2, f3, and a1. 31. Ra3 Qxh2+ 32. Kf1 Bb5+ [33. Be2 Qh1# and 33. Ke1 Qg1# are artificial back rank mates, so he has to give up an additional exchange with 33. Rd3][0:1]
In the final round I had the Black pieces against IM Osman Palos from Bosnia. Thinking about this later I was kind of puzzled by this pairing since we were right next to each other on the wall chart. I had equalized out of the opening, but his position was easier to play as he had a free hand on the dark squares. Things began going wrong as the time scramble was beginning after 31. Re5-g5
31...Bg8? Trying to set up 32...Rd1+ 33. Kh2 Ree1, but this move totally takes the bishop out of the game and also allows White a shot. It was better to immediately start fortifying g7 with 31... Re7 intending to meet 32. Ne3 with 32... Be4 covering f5. 32. Ne3?! 32. Rxg7! Qxg7 33. Nf6! Re6 (33... Rd1+ 34. Kh2 Ree1 35. Rxg7 Kxg7 36. Nh5+ Kf7 37. Qg7+ picking up the bishop) 34. Rxg7 Kxg7 35. Ne8+ Kf7 36. Qg7+ Kxe8 37. Qxg8+ Kd7 38. Qxh7+ when the queen and 3 connected passed pawns should easily outduel the rooks. Black isn't out of the woods after the text as White is preparing Nf5 at some point to overload the g7 square. 32... Re7 33. Qa1 Rdd7 34. Qxa6 h6 35. Rc5 Qf4 36. Qa1 Rd2 37. Qf1 Qd6 38. Kh2 simpler was 38. Rxb5 38... Rf7 39. Rf5 Qxb4 40. Rxf7 Bxf7 Reaching the time control. Although Black is much better off than he was a few moves earlier, he still has a bunch of trouble with the g7 square and his queenside pawns. He now found a nice maneuver to break down my position. 41. Qa1 c3 42. Qa8+ Kh7 43. Qf3 Be6 Black would love to put his bishop on g6 to help block the g-file, but 43... Bg6? 44. Rxg6 Kxg6 45. Qf5# 44. Qc6 Rd6 45. Qe8 Qe4? After this, defense of g7 breaks down. It was better to surrender a pawn with 45... Qd4 46. Qxb5 but Black would still have a tough defensive chore. 46. Qe7 Qe5 47. f4 Qd4 48. Rxg7+ Qxg7 49. Qxd6 Bd7 50. Nd5 [1:0]