Chess took a backseat for a few weeks due to AP Exams. I was still studying chess, but I didn’t play for a while. Fortunately I wasn’t missing out on anything important. With the exams over, it was time to concentrate on chess again.
There are plenty of places to play over Memorial Day weekend. Of course, the Chicago Open is the big one, and I’m hoping to play in it one of these days. In the past I’ve played at the Massachusetts Championship and the Cherry Blossom Classic. This year I decided to give the newly established East Coast Open a shot. The tournament is organized by Maryland Chess, and I have had only the best experiences with them.
How did it go? The tournament was a bit strange for me. After a rough start, I managed to get my game rolling. My games were fairly short, but there were a few interesting moments.
Rounds 1 & 2
I won my first round against Robert Forney (2032 USCF, 1835 FIDE) in a fairly smooth game, even if some of my ideas were a little suspicious. I lost my second round game to GM Priyadharshan Kannappan (2620 USCF, 2530 FIDE). It was an interesting game, but long story short, I didn’t play well and got rightfully beaten.
A fascinating and strange game
My round 3 game, against FM Ivan Biag (2298 USCF, 2322 FIDE), meets the above description. I got a very nice position with white out of the opening and eventually reached the following position:
What’s the deal here? The d6-pawn is a thorn in black’s position, and he is really cramped. On the plus side, black has a knight on d5. How should white get through? It’ll certainly involve Bxd5, and the first move to consider is playing 25.Bxd5 right at this moment.
If 25… cxd5, then white is really happy. He piles his rooks on the c-file, and by the time black jams it up with Bc6, he’ll be able to sacrifice an exchange on c6. White will be dominating if he manages to do that, no question about it.
Black can also play exd5, and that’s where my problem lay. After Rde1 (or Rfe1, I don’t think there’s a real difference), black can go Re8 and Kf7-e6 on his next moves, barricading the white pawns. I saw that I have e6 Rxd6 Bc5 but wasn’t convinced after Rxe6 Bxf8 Rxf8. Still, white is better there, and maybe I should’ve gone for it.
Is this endgame actually winning? I asked the computer and even let it run overtime. It gave a wonderful evaluation of +1.80 and suggested 25.Be2. What? This really confused me. Isn’t white’s position supposed to revolve around Bxd5? The computer’s idea is to play in one order or another g3, Bf3, and h4. Black, in the meanwhile, can run with his king to the queenside, while white doesn’t gain much on the kingside. My silicon friend’s other top suggestions include 25.g3 (going along with operation Be2) and 25.Rc1 (a rook which goes back to e1 in a couple moves in the engine’s top line), neither of which particularly impress me.
I played it a bit against the engine, and it’s quite fascinating. I had to prod it to do something constructive (i.e. bring the king to the queenside), since it was suggesting seemingly random moves with no plan while giving everything the same high evaluation.
Is the position actually winning? I don’t have an objective answer to that, and it won’t be easy to find. Computers are useful for blunder checks and calculating potential sacrifices/forcing lines, but they won’t be too handy in finding a plan. The computer’s high evaluation doesn’t convince me that white is winning. One thing is clear: white has excellent winning chances, and in a practical game, figuring out the mathematical evaluation of the position is the least of white’s concerns. When given an opportunity to reach this kind of position, just go for it! Don’t obsess if you’re objectively winning. You have excellent winning chances and, with a bit of luck, your opponent will help you win.
In the game, I decided to open a second front which turned out not to be the wisest idea. I went 25.h3 with the idea of going g4 in the near future, and I was met with 25…Be8. Now, if 26.Bxd5, he’ll go 26…cxd5, and he’s in time to jam up the c-file with Bc6. I decided to continue engineering the g4 break which somehow helped black more than it did me. A few moves later we reached this position:
I was getting tired of all the threats, namely those against my f4-pawn, and I decided to jam things up on the kingside with 32.g5. If 32… h5, my plan was to swing back to the queenside and aim for Bxd5 at the right moment. Instead, my opponent played 32… hxg5 33.Rxg5 Rh8 trying to get play of his own.
Black may be planning to go Kg8 and Rgh7 with the idea of tying me up to the h3-pawn. That doesn’t seem to be a serious problem, since I can defend the pawn by putting a rook on the 3rd rank. My f4-pawn, however, is annoying. I decided to relocate my bishop from its idealistic home on the g1-a7 diagonal to d2 to defend the pawn. Looks good, right? I calmly played 34.Bc3?? casually forgetting about 34…Ne3. Oops!!! What just happened??
Now, had I been in my right mind, I would’ve just gone 35.Be2 or 35.Bd3, because after black takes the exchange, there’s no way he’s going to win. The position is too closed. Instead, I overreacted and went on a suicide run with 35.Bxe6??! (the ! is for creativity). This looks good, but that’s the only positive thing I can say about it. The game went 35… Nxf1+ 36.Kg2 Ne3+ 37.Kf3 Nd5 38.Bxd5 cxd5 39.e6 Bc6 40.Ke3 Re8 41.e7
With my last move, I decided to keep my bishop and my pawns and claim to have compensation for the rook I’m down. My opponent thought for a bit and offered a draw which I, of course, accepted. It isn’t easy to get through with black, though I suspect he’s winning.
A strange game. I could spend ages analyzing it and could probably write several more articles about it. If I have a bit of spare time, I may try to find the objective evaluation of that endgame. Note to self: always look for simple tactics, even when feeling extremely safe. Nobody is above that!
My round 4 game against Evelyn Zhu (2193 USCF, 1983 FIDE) was pretty good. I came out on top with black in a positional struggle where I played fairly accurately. My round 5 game against Stanislav Busygin (2287 USCF, 2213 FIDE) was fun. Really fun.
I was white, and if I expected the game to be quiet, I was wrong. Things really exploded when he played 13…Nxg4!? 14.hxg4 Qh4 here. I took a long think on my next move, trying to figure things out.
White clearly has to bring defenders to the party. 15.Qe1 Qxg4+ 16.Qg3 looks promising, but on a second glance, I found that black can go 15…Qh3! hitting the bishop and threatening Bd4+ at the same time. That’s no good. 15.Rf2 and 15.Rf3 are possible but aren’t impressive. Black will just go 15…Nf6, and white doesn’t have a clear follow-up. I played the best move, 15.Kg2!, but not before calculating the consequences. If 15…Qxg4+, white has 16.Ng3 after which black’s attack is in shambles. After 15… Nf6 16.Rh1! Qxg4+ 17.Ng3, black’s attack doesn’t amount to much either. My opponent played the move I had been expecting: 15…Ne5!. I correctly went 16.Rh1!. After 16.dxe5 white indeed has nothing better than a draw, but I didn’t see all the details correctly. The main line goes 16…Qxg4+ 17.Ng3 Qh3+ 18.Kf2 Bxe5 19.Nce2!
White is two pieces up, but his king is really shaky to say the least. The last move 19.Nce2 was forced to both protect the g3-knight and stop Bd4+. I rejected this on account of 19…Bg4? and missed that white has 20.Rh1! which wins for him. It turns out black has a slick defense here: 19…Qh2+ 20.Kf3 h5! (including Bxg3 Nxg3 is also fine).
Black is threatening mate on g4, and white has nothing better to do than go 21.Nf5 or 21.Bf5, after which black will secure a perpetual. I’m glad I didn’t go for this! Yeah, I did miss things, but intuitively white’s position is rather alarming.
Back to the game. After 16… Qxg4+ 17.Ng3 Nxd3 18.Qxd3, my opponent played 18… Bxc3?!. Fighting for compensation after 18…Bf5 19.Qd1 was better. I replied 19.bxc3 (19.Qxc3 was also good) 19…Bf5 20.Qd1!. White isn’t losing anything and can enjoy his material advantage. I went on to win in a few moves.
Suffice it to say that I was relieved once this game was over, but it also felt great to win in this style.
The last day was arguably my best. I drew my round 6 game against GM Alexander Fishbein and won my round 7 game with GM Sergey Erenburg, both with black. What a finish! It was a really nice way to end the tournament. After starting with 1.5/3, I plowed my way back up and got 5/7 landing myself in a 4-way tie for first with 3 GMs in the process.
Not bad after a break! Of course, the rook blunder was a wakeup call… Obviously, I’m not 100% immune to 1200-level blunders.
I was pleased that I got to play 3 GMs in 7 rounds in this tournament which was much better than the 1 GM I got to play at the Philadelphia Open over Easter this year. Big thanks to Maryland Chess and Mike Regan for running a well-organized tournament!
Until next time!