Foxwoods: A Near Miss Part 1

Last year, at the last round of the traditional (for me) Philadelphia Open, it was announced that the tournament was moving to the Foxwoods Casino/Resort the next year. Before I knew it, it was Easter time again, and it was time to go play a strong 9 round norm tournament—this time in Foxwoods. My Easter tournaments have ranged from truly disastrous (aka the first time I ever withdrew from a tournament) to highly memorable. After all 2 years ago, I got my third IM norm at the Philadelphia Open, and had I won the last round I would have walked away with a GM norm to top it off. Let’s see where this year fits in…

Playing in the world’s 4th largest casino definitely added an interesting feel to the tournament as opposed to your average hotel. It was definitely a strange feeling when people in the elevator wished each other good luck—not in chess but in gambling. I stayed in an adjacent tower, and it took about five minutes of fast walking to reach the tournament hall from the hotel rooms, and that was only one small part of the resort. Who needs a gym to stay in shape when you have Foxwoods?

The tournament area was separate from the casino and provided a peaceful refuge from the crowds outside. There was, however, one special thing about the play room which we found out in round 1—it was located below a bowling alley! Imagine balls rolling and pins falling… The admittedly intermittent noise was not very loud but extremely annoying. I have to give credit to the organizers for switching the play room with the directors’ room, so that in round 2 there was much less noise, and in round 3, after they moved us even deeper into the room, there was no noise at all.

Ok, now it’s time for chess!

In round 1, I got white against Mardon Yakubov (2128 FIDE, 2159 USCF) It wasn’t the greatest game… I butchered a large advantage out of the opening, and my opponent defended well to reach this position:

Yakubov 1

Black is a pawn up, but he’s under fire. With my last move 21.f4, I was naturally trying to break down black’s center. 21… exf4 loses on the spot to 22.Ne6+, and 21… e4 runs into 22.Rxe4. Black’s best option here is to get his king out of the way with 21… Kg7!, after which white has nothing better than 22.fxe5 fxe5 23.Qe3. This wins the e5-pawn back after 23… Nf5 24.Qxe5+ Qxe5 25.Rxe5, but white’s advantage is minimal if at all existent after 25… Rhe8.

Instead of that, however, my opponent played 21… Rc7?. The idea of this move was most likely to prevent my threat of fxe5 fxe5 Rxe5 (it stops the Nd7 fork), but it gives white a chance to pounce. After 22.fxe5 fxe5 I saw that I could still play 23.Qe3—after 23… Nf5 white can still play 24.Qxe5 because after 24… Qxc5+? 25.Kh1 black is losing a rook or is getting mated. However, after 24… Qxe5 25.Rxe5 Re7, he’s not in such bad shape. Instead of doing that, I played another move which was much stronger: 23.Qa5! threatening Qxc7 Qxc7 Ne6+ winning a rook. Black’s best chance was to play 23… Kg8, but after 24.Ne4 Qd8 25.Ng5, he’s in really bad shape. My opponent instead played 23… Rc8? but after 24.Rxe5! I’m crashing through. I won a few moves later.

Not too bad for a first round I guess. In round 2, I had black against William Sedlar (2217 FIDE, 2411 USCF) and this time professional swindling was required

Sedlar 1

I had been doing fine previously, but then a silly mistake got me into a worse position. Fortunately, I wriggled my way out, and by the time we reached this position, I thought I was doing fine. Material is equal and fairly reduced, and while black’s e-pawn is under fire, black has plenty of activity to compensate for that. White could play 40.Rdxe5 (or 40.Rexe5) immediately. I saw that I had at least a draw with 40… Rxe5 41.Rxe5 Qc1+ 42.Kh2 Qf4+ 43.Kg1 Qxa4, but I wasn’t sure there was anything more, and my engine confirms that it’s indeed a draw. For a human, however, it’s not clearly obvious that there is nothing for black. Instead of taking on e5, white’s best move is actually to play 40.Kh2! simply getting off the first rank. Black doesn’t have anything that concrete, but I think that with reasonable play he should hold a draw without any real problems.

My opponent instead played 40.Rd1 and offered a draw. While this position is objectively equal, I didn’t see myself losing this one and wanted to try a little… The game went 40… Rf2 41.Qc4 Qb6 42.Qb5 Qa7

Sedlar 2

Here, my opponent played the logical move 43.a5?? and ran into more or less the only trap I had in store for him: 43… Rxg2!

Sedlar 3

If 44.Kxg2, black has 44… Qf2+ 45.Kh1 Qf3+ 46.Kh2 Qxe4, after which he’s a pawn up and is on the verge of mating white. Besides that, white is just broke. My opponent tried 44.Qxe5 but after 44… Qf2 45.Rde1 Rg3, he had to give up his queen with 46.Qxg3 and resigned a move later.

2/2 so far! Admittedly it was a shaky 2/2, but I was going to take it…

In round 3, I got white against GM Zhou Jianchao (2623 FIDE, 2702 USCF) This game would’ve been exciting had it not been entirely my preparation. My opponent found all the right moves to equalize, and I decided to repeat moves as I thought I might do in my preparation. While I’m not a fan of making “nothing draws” with white, this was fairly principled and wasn’t a bad decision, especially against the #2 seed with a 2600+ FIDE rating…

In round 4, I got black against GM Kamil Dragun (2585 FIDE, 2666 USCF). I had lost to him at the Southwest Class in February, and I was looking for revenge. This game was fortunately better than the last one. I’d say that overall it was a fairly accurate draw; maybe I was slightly worse, but it was nothing really serious and I held my own.

In round 5, I got white against GM Vladimir Belous (2520 FIDE, 2621 USCF). In a nutshell, this game got spicy pretty quickly…

Belous 1

So far, this looks like a fairly normal Sicilian, but after 12… d5! it got flashy. After my move 13.exd5 I was expecting one of two options: 13… Nxd5 or 13… Bxa3.

After 13… Nxd5, white obviously can’t play 14.Nxd5 because of Qxc2#, and 14.Rc4 Bc6 is not awe-inspiring. Instead, I was planning on sacrificing an exchange with 14.Rxd5! exd5 15.Bd3, after which white has plenty of compensation—he’ll win the d5-pawn, black’s king is still in the center and will come under fire, etc. After 13… Bxa3, white should play 14.Rc4 Qa5, after which he has options: Bd4, Bd2, Kb1, dxe6, etc. In both cases, the position appears to be rather unclear.

Instead, 13… b5? came as a big surprise to me. The idea is to prevent Rc4, but will it work…? The game went 14.Bd3 Bxa3 15.Ne4 Nxe4

Belous 2

Now… once I recapture on e4, that bishop on a3 is getting evicted. Then it’ll be time to start going after black’s king! 16.Qxe4 is an exchange sacrifice after 16… Bc5, though there’s plenty of compensation there. It’s actually best to play 16.dxe6! fxe6 17.Qxe4, after which white has a massive initiative. Instead, I played 16.Rxe4 which isn’t best but isn’t bad either. Black’s best option is to retreat with 16… Bd6 or 16… Be7, but my opponent played 16… Qc3

Belous 3

After 17.bxa3 Qxd3, white can more or less resign, but fortunately I had spotted 17.Bd4! in advance. Black can play 17… Bxb2+, but after 18.Kb1 he has nothing better than 18… Qxd4 19.Rxd4 Bxd4, after which he is probably lost. My opponent tried to defend with the creative 17… Qb3!?, but black is lost after that. While my play afterwards wasn’t the most accurate, I managed to convincingly get this job done.

4/5, 4 foreigners and 3 GMs down, performance well above 2600, and a large rating gain. What could possibly go wrong…? Stay tuned for part 2!

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