I miss being the underdog.
The recently concluded Philadelphia Open was an eventful tournament for me. After bouncing back from a second round loss, I almost tied for second – almost is the key word – and ended up losing a bit of rating overall. This wasn’t a bad result, and neither was my play. I had nine very interesting games with no big “moral of the story.” I scored heavily against lower rated opponents which was unfortunately necessary to maintain my rating. I had my little rollercoaster full of fireworks that came close.
In my fail in Charlotte, my play was too conservative, and I didn’t go in at several critical moments. Before this tournament, I resolved to play more energetically. I wasn’t going to hold back. If necessary, I’d start fireworks without looking back.
Seriously, be more enthusiastic than the cat! My games were really interesting and full of instructive material, from blunders to brilliancies. There was so much content that I’ve decided to split my recap into two parts, as I don’t want to set a record for the longest article I’ve written, and there are bits I just won’t let myself cut out.
Round 1: Business!
In this game against Vlad Yanovsky (2112 FIDE, 2240 USCF), my strategy of violence worked very well.
In this strange position, I opened things up with the fairly natural move 19… d5!. After 20.exd6 I automatically recaptured with 20… cxd6. 20… Bg4! was probably stronger. After 21.Rd2 cxd6 22.Ne4, black has several squares where he can move his queen (e3, b4, a5, etc.), leading to massive complications. Importantly, white won’t be able to trade queens like he could’ve in the game. More on that later…
The game went 21.Ne4 Qe3+
From a practical point of view, I believe white should have gone 22.Qd2! here, trading queens. After that it’s equal. 22.Rd2 is plain absurd, and 22.Kb1 runs into a spectacular shot – I missed it, but I’ll leave it for you to find as an exercise. The game went 22.Kc2 d5 23.Rhe1 Qf3
I was expecting 24.Ng5, attacking my queen and going after the h7 pawn. I saw that 24… Qf2+ 25.Re2 Qc5 runs into 26.b4! Qd6 27.c5 winning a piece. The computer points out an unbelievable defense in that variation which I don’t think I would ever find in a game. See if you can! Anyway, instead of 24…Qf2+ I had been planning 24…Qh5, and after 25.Bxh7+ Kh8, white has won a pawn put his king is still in trouble. I felt that black should have full compensation, if not more.
Instead, I got hit with the shocker 24.Nf6+!?. I thought for a very long time before coolly replying 24… Kh8!. I was calculating the madness after 24… gxf6 25.Qxf6.
White is threatening to give a perpetual with Qg5-f6, and he also has dangerous mating threats. 25… Nd7 doesn’t prevent the perpetual because white can play 26.Bxh7+, and white is even winning after 26.Qh4! f5 27.Re7!. If 25…Qg4, then white swings the rook up with 26.Re5. That’s when I saw a fantastic idea: 26…h6 27.Qxh6 Ra2+ 28.Kc3 Qg7!
White can’t go Rg5 because the rook is pinned!! I looked a little deeper and saw that white can go 29.Bh7+ Kh8 (29… Qxh7?? 30.Rg5+ +-) 30.Qh4. White has noise around the black king, and the most accurate summary of my evaluation is “I have no idea what the heck is going on here.” Nevertheless, my computer laughs in my face and says that black is much better/near winning after 30… f6. My silicon friend also refutes my little calculations rather simply: instead of 28.Kc3, it suggests 28.Kc1! Ra1+ 29.Kb2!, where black can’t take the rook with check and is lost. Somehow I missed that. Anyway, this is the kind of stuff that was a bit too much for me.
Back to the game. If white goes 25.Nxh7, then black calmly goes 25… dxc4!, and after 26.Nxf8 cxd3+, the white knight will get stuck and black is winning. Instead, white should go 26.Be4! after which the position is still very unclear. The cool prophylactic move 25.Kc1 is also playable, and it could lead to a “positional battle” after 25… dxc4 26.bxc4 Bf5!!, giving up a piece for a lot of noise around the black king. My opponent decided to go 25.Ne8?!, threatening Qxg7#. After 25… f6 26.Re7?, I went 26… Nxc4! which finishes white off. After 27.Bxc4 Bf5+ black at least wins his piece black, and white’s king is in huge trouble. I won a few moves later.
Oh man. What a game… I could probably write an entire article about it alone. It goes without saying that I felt great after this one.
Round 2: RIP GM NORM
The good feeling could only last so long. It should have lasted much longer, but that’s another story. I got white against Balaji Daggupati (2273 FIDE, 2316 USCF).
This is a somewhat unusual position. White’s pawn structure is better on the queenside, and black’s knights are superfluous. On the other hand, white’s knight on a3 isn’t so useful and he doesn’t have a clear plan. I decided to go 18.Ra2 here, as a) my rook is probably more useful on the a-file and b) I wanted to leave the b1 square open for my knight. My opponent replied with 18… Bc8 and I went 19.Nb1!? Bd7 20.Nbd2 which is perfectly reasonable. I that knight to do something. Though in principle I shouldn’t trade black’s superfluous knights, I should worry about my own pieces. Besides, if 20… Nxd2 21.Nxd2, black’s position doesn’t look pretty at all. My opponent played 20… Rfb8 after which I decided to strand black’s knights by playing 21.Nf1 which was met with 21… Nc5
So far, so good. Here’s where I made a terrible mistake by going 22.N3d2? giving my opponent the chance to go 22… Nd3! 23.Bxd3 cxd3. Instead, the best move was actually one I didn’t seriously consider: 22.Bxc5!. It appears stupid to give up such a nice-looking bishop for a knight that is semi-superfluous, but it’s very strong. After 22…Qxc5 23.Ne3, white has a simple plan of going Nd2, Qe2, and Rfa1, piling up on black’s position. He’s much worse.
The game spiraled downward for me, and here came my next fail:
Black has dropped a bomb with a Bxh3 sacrifice, and white’s king really is naked. After 32.Qxd3!, however, black has a perpetual with Qg3-h3. He actually has a win with 32… Qg4+ 33.Kh1 Rf8!, but that’s hard for computers to find, and I didn’t see it at all. Instead of doing that and allowing a perpetual, I saw too much for my own good. After 32.Rf3? which is a fairly natural move, black has a sick shot: 32… Bg3! 33.Nf1 Rf8!
If white goes 34.Rxg3, he gets hit with 34… Rxf1+ 35.Qxf1 Qxg3+ picking up the bishop on e3. 34.Qd1 also runs into murder after 34… Rxf3 35.Qxf3 Rf8!. I had, however, foreseen this and had my genius idea. I played 34.Rxf8+ Rxf8+ 35.b4. How about that? The rook on a2 saves the day! It’s a beautiful idea, except that it loses. Can you find how I got demolished?
That was painful. It basically ended my dream of getting a GM Norm, as keeping my rating – not even going as far as getting a 2600+ performance rating – was difficult. Still, I didn’t lose hope as there was plenty of time for a comeback which I did end up pulling off.
Round 3: I’m back!
Losing with white is embarrassing in a way because you have to try to get revenge and win in the next game with black. In round 3, I managed to pull out a victory in another violent game. It wasn’t as complicated as round 1, but the spirit was there. To increase the instructive value of this article, I’ll give you one puzzle from early on in the game
Was white’s last move 12.h4 too much? If so, how to punish it?
Round 4: Continuing!
I won a quick smooth game with white against Carissa Yip (2290 FIDE, 2323 USCF). I did, however, have a little botch up in the middle.
Material is technically equal, but it’s clear white is on top. The most logical move is 22.d6!, running the pawn down the board. Black can resist, however, with 22… Qc6! 23.d7 Nc7 where white has coordination problems because the rook on h1 is hanging after 24.d8Q Raxd8 25.Rxd8. White nonetheless has an embarrassingly simple win that I missed. Instead, I played another winning move 22.Nc5 going after the rook on f8. After 22… Qb4 23.c3 Qb5 I made my mistake by going 24.Nd7?. After 24.Rhe1! Nc7 25.d6! white is so dominating he’s winning, and for some reason I didn’t think it was enough. My move ran into 24… Nd6! 25.Qxd6 (25.Nxf8?? Nc4 is actually lost for white) 25… Rfd8 26.Nf6+! gxf6 27.Qf4
Black can resist after 27… Rxd5! 28.gxf6 Rg5 29.Rhg1 Rg6!. Black’s position looks fishy, but it isn’t lost. Instead, after 27… f5? 28.Qxf5 white is back to winning. After 28… a4 29.Rhf1 a3 30.Qxf7+ Kh8 white has a nice finish, and it’s your job to find it. White technically has several wins, but choose the one you’d play in a game.
Despite the unnecessary circus in the middle, this win felt great, especially because I didn’t find any real improvements on my play.
Round 5: Chess is hard
With 3/4, I had been expecting to play up with my FIDE rating of 2409… WRONG! I got to play Jianwen Wong (2153 FIDE, 2353 USCF) who had pulled off a few dangerous upsets and went off to do some more. His opening of 1.b3 let me get an original game where I played for complications. I got a “fake advantage” after getting away with a bit of monkey business. I wasn’t able to find anything concrete, and around move 30 things started falling apart for me…
I was fairly frustrated that I didn’t have anything real here, and my brain stopped working. I played 30… Qb7? which is actually a terrible move. White can smash into the position with 31.c5!!, totally destroying black’s coordination. 31… Nxf3+ 32.gxf3! Nxc5 33.Bxg7 Qxg7 34.Rxd6 is a disaster for black, and the best move 31… Nf7 isn’t pretty. Instead, my opponent played the second best move 31.Nd2. I should’ve retreated with 31… Nc5 after which white is better, say after 32.e4!?. Instead I decided to go 31… Nxd2? 32.Qxd2 c5?
If I feel that I got unlucky this tournament, I’ll just take a look at this position. We both missed that white can play 33.Qxd6! winning a pawn and the house. There’s no mate on g2 whatsoever. White is just winning. Instead, my opponent played 33.Bf1? after which black is still in trouble. After a time scramble, I found myself in a pawn down rook + opposite colored bishop endgame where white could press but he didn’t have enough to win. I held a draw without any real problems.
If you asked me before the tournament if I’d be happy with 3.5/5, I’d probably say yes before asking the trick question: how did I get there? It’s crazy that I was losing rating points with such a score, though it was nobody’s but my own fault. I didn’t let rating points occupy my mind and instead stayed positive and concentrated on the second half of the tournament.
Answers to exercises:
Variation of round 1: After 26.b4 black has 26… Qxc4+!! 27.Bxc4 Nxc4 where he has full compensation for the queen with his attack. If that’s not a jaw-dropper, then what is??
End of round 2: 35… Rf6! finishes white off. 35… Bh4 also wins technically speaking, but Rf6 is a killer. After 36.Rg2 Rg6 black is threatening Bh2+ with impending mate. After 37.Qb2 Bh2+! 38.Nxh2 Qxe3+ 39.Qf2 (39.Kf1 Rf6+ 40.Rf2 d2 is another spot where white resigns) 39… Qxf2+ 40.Kxf2 Rxg2+ 41.Kxg2 d2 I resigned as I can’t stop the d-pawn from queening.
Round 3: In the game I played 12… Be7? which doesn’t punish white enough. 12… Nd4! was very strong. The idea I missed is that after 13.Nxd4 Bxd4 14.e5 hxg5 15.hxg5 Nh7 16.Qh5 Bxc3+ 17.bxc3 black has 17… Be4! saving the day. 12… hxg5 13.hxg5 Nd4 is also strong.
Variation of round 4: Instead of 25.Rxd8, white can just go 25.Qxd8!. If 25… Qxh1 26.Qxf8+ Kxf8 27.Rxh1 white is a clean rook up, and after 25… Rxd8 26.Rxd8+ Ne8, I’m pretty sure I missed that white has 27.Rhe1! winning the knight on e8.
Stay tuned for part 2 which will cover my last four rounds, full of fails, fun, and fireworks, and my advertised fail in the last round money game.