My Swiss Gambit

The New York International is a 9-round norm tournament held every summer, organized by the Marshall Chess Club. I have really good memories from the tournament. I beat my first GM at the 2015 NY International, got my first IM Norm in the 2016 edition, and became an IM in the 2017 edition. This year was a little different… from the very first round.

While a traditional Swiss Gambit involves drawing the first round to face weaker opposition, I took a more extreme approach at the New York International when I lost my first round. I was the only higher rated player who “chose” this “strategy,” except that I didn’t do so voluntarily. It did work out well in the end—at the expense of any GM Norm chances.

Part 1: Bad start

In the first round, I got black against Brandon Nydick (2329 USCF, 2130 FIDE). After a fairly unusual opening, things heated up.

Nydick 1

I wasn’t impressed with my position here as black. White has control of the d-file and a nice bishop, while black’s pieces are somewhat passive. White’s pawn structure, however, isn’t the most secure. The b3-pawn is hanging, and white’s e3-pawn isn’t awe-inspiring either… I was expecting 23.Rd3, after which I was planning 23… Qc7 with the idea of Ne5. I correctly estimated that the position was about equal.

Instead, I got hit with a surprise: 23.b4?. It’s an enterprising idea, but objectively it’s bad. After 23… cxb4 24.c5 I made a bad decision.

Nydick 2

24… b3! keeping a passer on the b-file and shutting down the a3-f8 diagonal for the white bishop was best. The reason I didn’t play it was because I thought 25.Qc4 hitting the e6-pawn was very strong. Somehow I missed both 25… Qe4! and 25… Qb5! both of which will lead to a queen trade. Black is much better in that endgame. I also spent time calculating the intriguing consequences of 24… bxa3 25.c6, after which white is fine.

Seeing nothing better, I went 24… Nf8? which is an awful move. After 25.c6 Qc7 26.Rfd2 white had full compensation for the pawn if not more. It became difficult for me to play, and I eventually cracked.

That hurt. My GM Norm chances were gone, since I’d get to play relatively low-rated opposition the next few rounds, bringing down my rating average and performance way too low. It would be practically impossible to get my rating average above 2380 (the minimum average rating required for a GM Norm).

A crazy fact was that this was my first time losing the first round in a 9-round Swiss tournament ever. From that perspective, this kind of game was way overdue! I stayed positive and came back. After all, with 8 rounds left, there was plenty of chess left in the tournament. Despite knowing that my norm chances were fictional, I kept going.

Part 2: My comeback

I won a fairly nice game in round 2 against Rey Jomar Magallanes (2325 USCF, 2101 FIDE). It wasn’t the cleanest win ever, but my play wasn’t bad at all. Here’s an interesting moment from the game:

Magallanes

I had been better for most of the game, and I had just won a pawn. My pieces, however, were a bit scattered. Black should go 31… Bf7! here, preparing … e5. White doesn’t have much of an advantage after that. My opponent instead played 31… e5? which I met with 32.d5!. My idea was that 32… Bf7 is met with 33.Bc5! Bxd5 34.Bxd6. Though both of white’s rooks are hanging, c7 will drop with a deadly effect. My opponent reduced the damage by going 32… Kd7 33.Bc5 Rac8, but he’s lost, and I won shortly afterwards.

In round 3, I won another nice game with black against Bahadur Khodzhamkuliev (2283 USCF, 2164 FIDE). I simply got a very good position and was winning by move 25. Not a bad boost!

Unfortunately, my roll came to a temporary halt with a draw in round 4; and trust me, it could have been worse. I was white against Rawle Allicock (2288 USCF, 2198 FIDE) and out of the opening we reached this position.

Allicock 1

This is a strange position. Black’s pawn structure is damaged, but white’s pieces aren’t in the best shape either. I had my eyes on the e4-pawn which was a nice target. If 24.Qb1, attacking the pawn, I wasn’t impressed by my chances after 24… c5. Another option to consider was 24.Nc4, planning to relocate the knight to e3, and white might claim a small edge after that. The best move which I didn’t consider was 24.Ra5!. It looks strange but was actually very strong, since it prevents c5.

Instead, I prematurely played 24.c4? and got hit with 24… c5 25.d5 e3!.

Allicock 2

Black isn’t worse at all after this one. 26.fxe3 Nxd5! Is very strong for black. I went 26.Rxe3 Rxe3 27.Bxf6, eliminating the f6 knight and the Nxd5 tricks with it. After 27… Qe8!, however, I completely overreacted.

Allicock 3

28.fxe3 Qxe3+ 29.Kf1 Bxf6 doesn’t look fun for white, but white isn’t in bad shape after 30.Qe2!. Instead, I went 28.Bxd8?? Re1+ 29.Qxe1 Qxe1+ 30.Nf1, completely underestimating how bad the position is after 30… Bd4 31.Bh4 g5 32.Bg3 Bc8. The white bishop will be dead after f5 and f4, and his position is just lost. Luck, however, was on my side. While gaining time on the clock, my opponent accidentally stumbled into a threefold repetition. Phew!! Okay, this is NOT the game I wanted. So here I was with 2.5/4 against players whose FIDE ratings were all under 2200. This wasn’t part of my plans at all, but it wasn’t a total disaster either. Oh well, there were still 5 rounds to go…

In round 5, I got back on track with a win against Aaron Jacobson (2373 USCF, 2259 FIDE). Things went exceptionally well for me, and by move 20, I was a clean pawn up with black. What more could I want? I went on to exploit my advantage and won a fairly smooth game.

Part 3: Fun at the top boards

With 3.5/5, I finally got to play up. I was white against IM Alex Ostrovskiy (2508 USCF, 2414 FIDE). Though the rating difference was very small, I was glad not to be playing down! I got a nice position out of the opening, but Alex defended well, and I wasn’t able to get through. I was disappointed that I only got a draw out of it, but I got over it. After all, I had gotten seriously lucky in round 4…

In round 7, I started a late-tournament charge by beating IM Kim Steven Yap (2441 USCF, 2363 FIDE) with black. After turning down two draw offers, I ground him down from a fairly dry position. Going into the last day, I had 5/7. Not bad at all, but I needed a strong finish.

Round 8 was the game that blew the tournament open for me. I got white against Brandon Jacobson (2449 USCF, 2303 FIDE) who, at that point, was leading the tournament with a 2700+ FIDE performance! He needed 0.5/2 on the last day to get a GM Norm. If things went sour, I wasn’t going to hesitate to offer a draw. I knew, however, that winning this game would be huge and blast the tournament wide open for me and others.

Brandon 1

With his last move 25… Kh8, Brandon offered a draw. I declined with 26.Re5!, as I felt that black had problems to solve after this one. 26… Rxe5 27.dxe5 is bad for black (more about that later, since the game got into very similar territory).

If 26… Rg2, I was planning 27.Rf1, since after 27… Nb4 28.Bb3 Rxd4 29.Re7!, black has to go back with 29… Rd8 to prevent mate, and it’s clear that black is in big trouble. Black, however, can play 27… b5!. Things don’t look pleasant for black, but white doesn’t have a crystal clear follow up. For that reason, 27.Bxd5! cxd5 28.Re7 may have been stronger. I missed that after 28… Rc8 29.c3 Rf8 30.Rxb7 Rff2, the b7-rook prevents Rxb2, meaning that everything is under control.

Black’s best move was probably 26… Rg3! If 27.Bxd5 cxd5 28.Re7, it turns into a pawn race after 28… Rxh3 29.Rxb7. White should have the upper hand with the rook on the 7th, but it isn’t clear at all how much he actually has. 27.Rf1 Nc7! is annoying, since the h3-pawn is hanging in a lot of lines. White should be better, but it isn’t anything dramatic.

Brandon instead played 26… h6?!. 27.Rxg5 hxg5 looks nice for white, but 28.Rg1? runs into 28… Nf4!. Instead, I simply played 27.h4, as I felt that the inclusion of the moves …h6 and h4 would help me. Brandon decided to go 27… Rxe5 28.dxe5 b5, but that is just very good for white.

Brandon 2

28… b5 was necessary to prevent white from going c4 and winning the knight. Now, 29.b3 will be met with 29… b4, and white is stuck. Therefore, I played 29.c3! with the simple idea of playing b3 and c4 on the next move, since black will no longer be able to go en passant in case of b4. Black is in big trouble, and he may be lost already. After 29… a6 30.c3 Re8 31.Bxd5 cxd5 32.Rxd5 g5 33.hxg5 hxg5 34.e6, I went on to win.

NY Intl rd 8 pairings

And that’s how I found myself in a tie for first going into the last round! Not bad at all… My last round game against GM John Burke (2600 USCF, 2518 FIDE) was no peaceful draw. It was actually the longest game of the round! I was worse for most of the 5+ hour game, but I scraped out alive. That landed me in a 4-way tie for first with GMs Mikhalevski, Hess, and Burke!

As I mentioned above, my GM Norm was practically impossible after the first round loss. My comeback wasn’t shabby, but I didn’t even achieve an IM Norm performance (it was 2438). Objectively, I lost my first round, and I shouldn’t be whining about not getting GM Norm chances! It’s unfortunate that botching up one game can obliterate my norm chances, but it is what it is. In the end, I’m happy about this tournament. I did my best given the circumstances, and after all, I tied for first! (you can check out final standings here)

Congratulations to Brandon Jacobson and Levy Rozman on getting IM Norms, and thank you to the Marshall Chess Club for running the tournament!

Note to self: There is absolutely no need to repeat this Swiss Gambit experiment!!

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