Friday, October 10, 2008

Playing the Stonewall Dutch All Wrong

Since I got back into chess recently, one of the openings that I gave up on is the Dutch Stonewall, an opening that I played for more than twenty years. My results were simply not good enough, so I decided it was time to try fresh openings against 1. d4. Part of my dismal results is due probably to my simply not playing the opening properly! Here is a good example, from one of the 1st Category round robins in which I played during the four years I lived in Moscow.

[Event "1st Category Round Robin#4"]
[Site "Moscow, Russia"]
[Date "1995.05.16"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Tarshilov"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A85"]

1. c4 f5
Well, what can I say? It is not good to play the Dutch immediately against 1. c4, but I didn't know that at the time. Back then I thought it was pretty clever to have the same opening against 1. c4, 1. d4, and 1. Nf3. Later on GM Aleksander Wojtkiewicz crushed me badly in this line and told me that I can't play the Dutch until white has played d4. He proceded to play the pawn to d3 and use it to support an early e4 thrust. Not what black is after...
2. d4
Until GM Wojtkiewicz's lesson I always got away with it, as every player invariably played d4 at some point and transposed into the Dutch proper.
2...Nf6 3. Nc3 e6 4. Bg5 h6 5. Bf4 d5
I always played the Stonewall Dutch, though I think it does not suit my style of play.
6. c5 c6 7. e3 Be7 8. Be2 O-O 9. Nf3 Bd7
I know this is not the usual move, but I was overly impressed once by a GM game in which black moved this bishop (usually locked away behind the wall of pawns) to h5 via d7 and e8 and then traded it for a knight. It seemed to me to be a logical way to get rid of this usually bothersome bishop, but I adhered to this idea far too faithfully for too many years.
10. Ne5 Be8 11. g4
Uh oh, I always dreaded when white delayed castling and threw the pawns at my king. I have never been great at defending against this and I usually overreact in my attempt at defense.
11...g5 12. Bg3 Nbd7 13. h4
He's coming at me with everything, so my thinking was that I needed to find a way to exploit the fact that his king was still stuck in the center of the board. It wouldn't matter how ugly his attack looked if I could corral his king.
13...Ne4 14. gxf5?
He makes a move that doesn't look so bad to my amateur eyes, but the computer takes white from a significant advantage down to nothing because of this move. The way I see it, this ruined white's potential attack, because black now gets to shut down all the attacking lines, and in fact appears to get more attacking lines himself out of the deal. Taking on d7 followed by Be5 was far better for white.
15. fxg3 Nxe5 16. dxe5
This was the first difficult choice, to take on f5 or c5? I decided I would do better with my bishop on the other side of the pawn chains, but I think taking on f5 is nearly as good.
16...Bxc5 17. f6
It looks slightly better to play 17. e4, though black still has a slight edge.
This move looks obvious but may be a mistake. Fritz likes Qc7 much better and gives black a large edge.
18. Qd3 d4
I thought I was much better here since I was locking his king in with my bishop.
19. Ne4?
Whoops! This gives black a winning advantage due to the check on a5. White needed to try Bg4.
19...Qa5+ 20. Kd1 Qxe5
This move is simple and good, but Bg6 may be even stronger. Black cannot be careless now. Having a winning game is not the same as actually winning the game! A few careless moves and black can easily blow it - something I have learned many times in the past.
21. hxg5 Bxg5
This move is not bad, but it overlooks the far better Bg6, which wins more easily despite giving white some counterplay.
22. Bh5 Bf7
I should have just taken the pawn on f6 - 22...Bxf6 23. Bxe8 Raxe8 24. Rxh6 Bg7 and black wins.
23. Bxf7+ Rxf7 24. Rh5 Qb5
It is also fine to sack the rook on f6 here, but I was happier just trying to trade down to a winning endgame.
25. Qxb5 cxb5 26. Nxg5 Rxf6!
It pays to be accurate. Taking immediately on g5 makes things harder than necessary. Taking on f6 works due to the threat to win the rook on a1.
27. Ke2 hxg5 28. Rxg5+
Rah1 immediately is a better try to save the game, though black is still winning of course.
28...Kf7 29. Rxb5 b6 30.Rh1 Ke7
I get a bit too conservative, but it all works out as black's passed central pawns are simply too strong.
31. Rg5 Rf7 32. Rh6 Raf8 33. Kd3 Rd8 34. Rh4 Kf6?!
The computer really dislikes this move and gives black only a slight edge now. It much prefers 34...Rf3+ and only then Kf6.
35. Rf4+?
White needed to keep both rooks to have any chances. 35. Rgh5 was the better try.
35...Kxg5 36. Rxf7 e5
It is fine to give up the a pawn in order to get the central pawns rolling.
37. Rxa7 e4+ 38. Kd2 e3+ 39. Kd3 Re8 40. Rg7+ Kf6 41. Rh7 e2 42. Rh6+ Kg5 43. Rh1 e1=Q 44. Rxe1 Rxe1 45. Kxd4 Re2 46. Kc3 Kf5 47. b4 Rxa2 48. Kc4 Rg2 49. Kb5 Rxg3 50. Kxb6 Ke6 51. b5 Kd7 52. Kb7 Rb3 53. b6 Ra3 54. Kb8 Kc6 55. b7 Rb3 56. Ka8
This is why white did not give up earlier - one last clever attempt at a stalemate.
56...Kc7 0-1

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Icelandic Team Championships

Anchoring my Haukar club's top boards are Lithuanian GM Aloyzas Kveinys (on the right) and Danish GM Henrik Danielsen.

The first four rounds of the Icelandic Team Championships took place this weekend. It was nice to see some strong GMs out playing for various teams. GM Loek Van Wely was the best known (though he has lost a lot of rating points and was only the fourth highest rated), playing alongside GMs Baklan and Kuzubov. My Haukar team is led by GMs Kveinys and Danielsen. I played for the Haukar B team, though I only got to play in rounds 2 and 3 due to my wife's birthday. They might have been better off without me as I played well up until time trouble (the time control is far too short!) and then blew both wins, actually losing one of them. I was happy with my level of play until I got under one minute left in each game. My blitzing skills are quite poor...

Our team won the first round 5-1, so we hoped to continue this good performance. This round we were paired against one of the strongest teams by rating, so we knew it would be difficult. I didn't know my opponent's rating when I played him, so I just assumed he was around my own playing level, though it turned out he is a master. That makes me feel pretty good since I feel I outplayed him with the black pieces, and only collapsed in time trouble where both sides were moving with under a minute on the clock.

[Event "Icelandic Team Championships"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2008.10.04"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Steindorsson, Sigurdur"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A23"]
[WhiteElo "2208"]
[BlackElo "2088"]
[WhiteTeam "KR-a"]
[BlackTeam "Haukar-b"]

1. c4 e5
This is a new try for me against the English. Few people have played the English against me, so I rarely get to learn anything about it. I decided to try to get a reversed Sicilian down a tempo and see what happens.
2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 c6
I was happy to see his 3. g3 move, since it made me feel that I was catching up a bit on the lost tempo, so it made sense for me here to play a reversed Alapin setup.
4. Nf3 e4 5. Nd4 d5 6. cxd5 cxd5 7. Bg2 Bc5 8. Nb3 Bb6 9. O-O Bf5
This is apparently a novelty, though I don't think it is anything bad.
10. d3 exd3 11. exd3 O-O?!
Castling looked fine, except that I overlooked a weakness in my position, which my opponent duly exploits. I should have played 11...Be6 12. Bg5 Nc6 though white retains a slight edge.
12. Bg5! Nbd7
This was the first move I looked at, knowing it lost at least a pawn. I examined some alternatives, but they all just looked even worse than this, which at least develops.
13. Nxd5 h6 14. Bxf6
It's not so easy to see, but there was a stronger line with 14. Qf3 hxg5 15. Qxf5 Nxd5 16. Qxd5 Rb8 and white has a strong advantage.
14...Nxf6 15. Qf3?
This move throws away the advantage, which could have been retained with 15. Nxb6 Qxb6 16. Qf3 Bg6.
15...Qxd5 16. Qxd5 Nxd5 17.Bxd5 Bxd3 18. Rfe1 Ba6 19. Re7 Rab8?!
I actually looked at the correct move, but not deeply enough. Much better is 19...Rac8! and black suddenly has the initiative.
20. Rae1
Slightly more accurate is 20. Rc1
The time control is simply too quick at game in 90 plus a 30 second increment. We can't spend enough time analyzing, and both of us make some sloppy moves. I couldn't see a better plan for me here than my bishop move, but much better is 20...Rbc8!
21. Rxf7! Rxf7 22. Re8+ Kh7 23. Bxf7 Bc7 24.Re7 Bb6 25. Kg2 Rc8 26. Bd5
More accurate is 26. Be6.
Excellent! Cuts off the danger to that diagonal and now my rook threatens to take over the second rank.
27. Nd2 Rc2 28. Ne4 Rxb2 29. Nf6+?!
Better is 29. Kf3.
29...Kg6 30. Ng4 Bd4 31. Rd7 Kf5 32. Bf3 Rb1?!
I thought that Rb4 looked to dull here and I wanted to force a perpetual check if he took the bishop. Better, though, is 32...Rb4 33. Ne3+ Bxe3 34. Rxd3 Bd4.
33. h4?!
White has a nice shot here with 33. Nxh6+! gxh6 34. g4+ Ke5 35. Rd5+ Ke6 36. Rxd4 Bf1+ 37. Kg3 Rb2 with a large advantage.
33...Rb4 34. a3 Ra4 35. Ne3+ Bxe3 36. Rxd3 Bc1 37. Bxb7 Rxa3
White was in time trouble by now, but my clock was catching up rapidly as I spent a considerable amount of time just trying to keep my king from becoming fatally entangled over the next several moves.
38. Rd7 Bb2 39. f4? a5?
For some reason, probably time pressure, I overlook the rather obvious 39...Kg4 which simply wins for black.
40. Bd5 Bc3 41. Rf7+ Kg6?
I needed to play 41...Bf6, which retains an edge for black.
42. h5+?
White also misses the winning 42. f5+! Kh7 43. h5.
42...Kxh5 43. Be4!?
White spurns any drawing lines, hoping to make me blunder in our mutual time trouble. He could have forced a cute draw here with 43. Rxg7 Bxg7 44. Bf7+ Kg4 45. Be6+.
43...Bf6 44. Kh3 Re3 45. Bf5 a4 46.Ra7?
White misses the winning idea of 46. Rd7!
46...a3 47. Ra6 Rc3?
Since neither side is seeing the winning idea of white moving the rook to d7 it is hard to call this a blunder, but it is wiser here to head for a draw with 47...a2 48. Rxa2 g5 49. Bg4+ Kg6 50. f5+ Kg7 51. Re2 Ra3 52. Bh5.
48. Rc6
Again 48. Rd6! wins for white. Obviously I cannot take the rook on c6 as it will be checkmate.
48...Re3 49. Re6 Rc3 50. Re2?
White gives the advantage to black when he still could have had a big edge with 50. Rd6.
In the crazy seconds with little time left on the clock I blow everything. I simply forgot that his bishop could come back and check me. Without that move my idea works. Anyhow, I could have won here with 50...g5 51. Bg4+ Kg6 52. f5+ Kg7 53. Bh5 Rb3.
51. Bg4+ Kg6 52. Kxh4 Rb3 53. f5+ Kf7
I was so upset at the turn of events that I decided to just 'fall on my sword'.
54. Bh5+ Kf6 55. Re6+ Kxf5 56. Bg4# 1-0

I was shattered by the way this game ended, so much so that despite not having eaten breakfast, I now didn't go to lunch either but simply waited around for the next round. Again I didn't know my opponent's rating, but most of all I was irritated that I again had to play black. I am much better with white. After losing 2.5-3.5 in the second round (thanks to my blown game) we needed to get back on track.

[Event "Icelandic Team Championships"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2008.10.04"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Vigfusson, Vigfus"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B22"]
[WhiteElo "2001"]
[BlackElo "2088"]
[WhiteTeam "Hellir-c"]
[BlackTeam "Haukar-b"]

1. e4 c5 2. c3 d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nf6
I had a poor experience against the Alapin Sicilian last year, so this year I played a bit more soundly with 4...Nf6.
5. Nf3 Bg4 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Be7 8. Na3 cxd4
I shouldn't have traded here, because it leads to my having to place a knight out of the way on a6.
9. Nb5 Na6 10. Nfxd4 Bxe2 11. Qxe2 O-O 12. Rd1 Rfd8 13. Be3 Qh5?!
Not a good idea, but I couldn't see anything better. Funny, but I actually looked for a second at the correct move - 13...Qe4 - but I thought it looked too strange to actually play!
14. Nf3?
He needed to take it! 14. Qxh5 Nxh5 15. Nb3 Nf6 16. Bxa7. I recall looking at the position and wondering how I could possibly drum up any activity. It didn't look likely any time soon, yet I marvelled a few moves later as I actually did get that activity.
14...Nd5 15. Bd4
Taking the pawn leads to a slight black edge after 15. Bxa7 Nf4 16. Rxd8+ Rxd8 17. Qc4 Qg4 18. Qf1 Bc5 19. Kh1 Bxa7 20. Nxa7 Nc5.
Here comes the activity!
16. Qe5 Qg4 17. g3 Nh3+ 18. Kg2 Rd5
I thought I was winning now.
19. Qe3 Rxb5 20. Ne5 Qf5 21. c4 Rxe5?!
I looked at 21...Bg5 but didn't see how it could help me. I looked at moving the rook but it always got trapped. I failed to see that by playing 21...Bg5 I could move the queen away from covering the c5 square, thus allowing my rook to escape with 21...Bg5 22. Qe2 Ra5 23. Bc3 Rc5 and black wins.
22. Bxe5 Ng5?!
With such a short time control it is hard to take the time to see tactics properly. I looked at 22...Nxf2 briefly but just dismissed it because of 23. Rf1. I missed the fact that I had a way out with 23...Ng4!
23. Rd7 Bc5 24. Rad1 f6 25. Bd4 b6 26. f4 Nf7 27. Qf3 Rf8 28. Rxa7 Nb4?!
I looked at the right move but did not see the correct follow-up - 28...Qc2+ 29.Kh1 Bxd4 (the move that I overlooked; I was looking at Qxc4) 30. Rxd4 Qxb2 31. Rd1 Nc5 and black has the edge.
29. Bxc5 Qxc5 30. Rdd7 Qxc4
I was rightly concerned about white taking over the 7th rank and how I could defend against it. I felt I had the edge and didn't want to proceed to lose now. To make matters worse, both of us were now drifting into time trouble.
31. Rac7 Qxa2 32. Qb7 e5
This was my plan for defending. I looked briefly at taking on b2 with check but didn't see that I could still come back and defend the knight on f7. 32...Qxb2+ 33. Kf1 (33. Kh3 Qe2 34. Rxf7 Rxf7 35. Rxf7 Qh5+ 36. Kg2 Qxf7 and wins) 33...Qb1+ 34. Kg2 Qa2+ 35. Kg1 Nd3 36. Qxb6 Qe2 and black wins.
33. Qxb6? Nd5
This looked obvious, but even better is 33...Qxb2+ 34. Kh3 g5 35. Qe6 Qa2.
34. Rxf7 Nxf4+ 35. gxf4 Rxf7?
I miss the required intermediate check - 35...Qd5+ 36. Kf2 Rxf7 37. Rc8+ Rf8.
36. Qb8+ Rf8 37. Qb7 Kh8 38.Rc8?!
He should have gone ahead and taken on g7 - 38. Rxg7 Rg8 39. Rxg8+ Qxg8+ 40. Kf3 and it is hard to see how black can win.
38...Qg8 39.Rxf8 Qxf8 40. fxe5 fxe5 41. Qe4 Qb8 42. b4 g6 43. Kf3 Kg7 44. Ke3 Qd6
A little more accurate is 44...Qa7+ 45. Kf3 Qa3+ 46. Kf2 Qb2+ 47. Kg1 Qc3.
45. h4 Kf6 46. Qc4 h6 47. Qc5?? Ke7?
In time trouble I worried that taking the queen would let the white king gobble up all the pawns on the kingside. I simply didn't have time to calculate or it would have been obvious that I win here with 47...Qxc5+ 48. bxc5 g5 49. c6 Ke6 50. c7 Kd7 51. Ke4 g4.
48. Qa7+ Qd7 49. Qc5+ Ke6 50. b5 Qd5 51. Qc8+ Kd6 52. Qd8+ Kc5 53. Qxd5+ Kxd5 54. b6 Kc6 55. Ke4 1/2-1/2

Although our team won this round 4.5-1.5 we should have done better by me winning. I feel like a liability to the team when I have results like these. An interesting note that I found out later, though I was playing on board 4 this round, my opponent was their team's highest rated player.

On the left are GMs Van Wely, Baklan, and Kuzubov while on the right is Icelandic GM Hannes Stefansson.
Grandmaster Loek Van Wely of the Netherlands played first board for the Bolungarvikur-a team.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My Best Novelty

I haven't bothered to blog for awhile, because I haven't had any chances to play chess. I keep writing to local organizers asking them about things, but no one has been responding. I don't know if they are simply not receiving my emails, or if I am not receiving their replies.

I have never written about correspondence chess, because it is something that I tried for only a few years and promptly decided I didn't like it much. I do have a few interesting games from those years, though. In this one, I came up with my very first novelty; one that I think was quite good, given how poorly white had fared up to this point. In fact, according to my database at that time, white had not won a single game in this particular variation. Even now when I search the database I don't see anyone using my novelty, though some strong players have played into this line.

[Event "1999 Golden Knights"]
[Date "1999]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Hanlon, Richard"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C11"]
[WhiteElo "2246"]
[BlackElo "1897"]
[EventType "tourn (corr)"]
[EventCountry "USA"]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Qb6 7. Be3 a6 8. Na4 Qa5+ 9. c3 cxd4 10. b4 Qc7
No one had played this variation against me before; they had always sacked the bishop on b4.
11. Qxd4 a5 12. b5 b6
After following the percentages in the databases that showed a nice advantage for white in these lines, I was suddenly shocked here to see the percentages plummet. I scanned over the games and saw that white had won none of them, and black had scored many victories from this position. Needless to say, I was suddenly quite worried. I looked over all the games and saw a common theme: black always moved his knight to c5 and it got traded for the knight on a4. I thought this was strange, because to me it looked as if black's pieces were cramped, especially the knights, so why trade the knight on a4 and help black untangle? Was it required? I tried to see how I could prevent the trade. Coming back to b2 with the knight didn't look good, so the only other way to keep black cramped was to free up the c3 square for the knight to retreat to. No one had played c4 before, but looking at it I couldn't see anything wrong with it. The only thing I was unsure of was whether black could get something out of playing bishop to b4 now that it was available. So, I went for it and played my novelty, unsure as to whether it was good or not. After the game was over I analyzed it with a computer and it did not recommend c4, so I remained unsure; however, computers have progressed much since then, and nowadays the computers promptly recommend c4! So, I feel that I actually came up with a good novelty, though I doubt anyone else has ever noticed this.

13. c4! Nc5
He didn't play Bb4+, though it looks like white retains an advantage if he does. (13...Bb4+ 14. Kf2 Nc5 15. a3 Ne4+ 16. Kg1 Bc5 17. Nxc5 bxc5 18. Qd3 Bb7 19. cxd5 and white has an edge)
14. Nc3
This was the point of my novelty, to retain the knight, thus leaving black cramped. Black's queenside pieces have real trouble untangling without giving some other advantage away to white.
14...dxc4 15. Bxc4 Bb7 16. O-O g6?
This is much too slow, and it also weakens the dark squares too much. It is easy for white to bring both knights around to e4 and threaten the f6 and d6 squares.
17. Ng5 Bg7?
This weakens black further, though white retains a significant edge after 17...Nbd7 18. Rfd1 Be7 19. Rac1.
18. Nce4 Nxe4 19. Nxe4 Bxe4 20. Qxe4
Black trades off both of the offending white knights, but white has enough continuous threats to prevent black from castling, meaning that black is essentially lost.
20...Ra7 21. Rac1 Qb7 22. Qxb7
I wasn't sure that trading the queens was the best move here, but I was able to see a fairly straightforward winning plan, so I figured it was fine even if there might be better moves.
22...Rxb7 23. Be2
This is why: I threaten to bring the bishop to f3 and go after the weak pawns on the queenside. This also keeps black from castling still.
If 23...O-O then 24. Bf3.
24. Bf3 Rb8 25. Rc7 Bxe5
Complete desperation.
26. fxe5 Nxe5 27. Bc6+ Nxc6 28. bxc6 f5 29. Rd1 1-0

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Budapest Spring Chess Festival 2003

Because I changed careers in 2001 and went into long term training, along with the fact that I couldn't seem to get involved with any chess in Zagreb, Croatia once I moved there, it took a long time to play chess again. It was nearly two years after my win at the U.S. Amateur that I finally played again. This time I was interested in attempting to get a FIDE (World Chess Federation) rating. In order to do that one must play 9 or more tournament games against FIDE rated opposition. Since the Budapest Spring Chess Festival was nine rounds, if I wanted to earn a rating then I needed to do well enough not to have to face any unrated opponents. I couldn't have asked for a better start.

[Event "Budapest Spring Chess Festival"]
[Site "Budapest, Hungary"]
[Date "2003.03.14"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Gorgs, Alfred"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B57"]
[BlackElo "2164"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Bc4 Qb6
One of my favorite games is Kindermann-Zueger and it starts with this move. No one has played it against me before, so I was eager to see how long we could follow that game. Little did I know that it would follow the game entirely! How often does that happen?
7. Ndb5 a6 8. Be3 Qa5 9. Nd4
This is the idea, to offer a poisoned pawn on e4.
He went for it! Safer would have been 9... Ng4 10. Nxc6 bxc6 11. Bc1 d5 (11... Qc5 12. Qe2 leaves white with a slight edge) (11... Nxf2? 12. Bxf7+ Kxf7 13. O-O Kg8 14. Rxf2 g6 15. Qd3 Be6 16. Ne2 and white has a large edge) 12. Be2 Nf6=; 9... e6 10. O-O Be7 11. f4 O-O leaves white with a tiny edge.
10. Qf3
First I threaten both the knight and the f7 square.
10...Ng5 or 10...Nf6 both leave white with a small edge.
11. Nxc6
Now I create a weakness on c6.
11...bxc6 12. O-O-O
This tempts him to play d5 to seemingly consolidate the position.
12...d5 13. Nxe4
White is all but winning here.
I was amazed that he continued to follow the same moves as the Kindermann game, but other moves are no better - 13...dxe4 14. Qg3 leads to long lines where black cannot untangle his pieces and white wins pretty easily while 13...Qc7 14. Ng5 leads to a win for white too.
14. Qh5+ g6
Losing is 14...Kd8 15. Bxd5 Bd7 16. Qf7 cxd5 17. Rxd5 Qc7 18. Rhd1 Rb8 19. Bf4 Qc6 20. Bxb8.
15. Qe5 Rg8
16. Rxd5!
It felt so good to get to play this astonishing move, even if it wasn't my own creation.
16...Qb4 17. Rd4 Bg7 18. Bxg8 Qxb2+ 19. Kxb2 Bxe5 20. c3 Bxd4 21. Bxd4 wins.
17. Bxd5
I threaten to win his queen. With his move he seemingly finds a way to defend his rooks due to my unprotected queen.
17...Qb5 18. Qxe4
But this threatens his queen again and also continues to fork the rooks.
18...Bf5 19. Bc6+ Kf7 20. Qd5+ Qxd5 21. Bxd5+ e6 22. Bxa8 Bg7 23. Bf3 Rb8 24. b3 g5
Amazingly, this is the first new move of the game! The Kindermann-Zueger game finished with 24...Rc8 25. c4 1-0. White was threatening to win the black bishop with g4. I decided not to take the free g pawn because I was nervous about allowing any sort of counterplay.
25. h3 a5 26. Rd1 Rc8 27. c4 a4 28. Bh5+?!
Now I go ahead and allow him some counterplay anyhow.
28...Kf8 29. Bd4
I could have played 29. Bxg5 a3 30. Rd7 and won, but I was being cautious and worrying about stopping any counterplay.
29...e5 30. Bc3 Rb8 31. Kb2 Be6 32. Be2 Kf7 33. b4 Bf8 34. a3 e4 35. Bd4 Rc8 36. Rc1 Rd8 37. Kc3 Be7
I was being ultra-cautious, not wanting to blow it, and I was searching for a way to get rid of at least one of his biships.
38. c5 Bb3 39. Bc4+ 1-0
That did it! My 11th win in a row and a great way to begin my quest for a FIDE rating.

In round 2 I had to face a master. Though he lost to me, he had a great event and gained a lot of rating points.

[Event "Budapest Spring Chess Festival"]
[Site "Budapest, Hungary"]
[Date "2003.03.15"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Nagy, Bence"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C54"]
[BlackElo "2201"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 d6
I was glad he didn't play the normal Giuoco Piano line; I think it is pretty clear now that white is in trouble in the main lines of the Giuoco Piano, which is why I have now started playing the variation with 4...Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. cxd4 Bb4+ 7. Bd2.
5. d3 Nf6 6. O-O O-O 7. Re1 Bb6 8. Be3 Ne7
Equal is 8...Bxe3 9. Rxe3 Na5 10. Nbd2 Nxc4 11. Nxc4 Be6 12. Re1.
9. Nbd2 c6 10. Bb3 Bc7 11. h3 h6 12. Nf1 Kh7 13. Bc2 g6?! 14. Qd2 Nfg8 15. d4 Qe8 16. N3h2?!
The shifting around of pieces in this type of game is hard for me. I have trouble coming up with a good plan. Better would be either 16. Rad1 or 16. Ng3.
16...f5 17. dxe5 dxe5 18. f4?!
I missed the chance to take a significant advantage with 18. Bc5. I figured with his exposed king I should be trying to bust open the center. (18. Bc5 b6 19. Bd6 Qd8 20. Rad1 Bxd6 21. Qxd6 Qxd6 22. Rxd6 fxe4 23. Bxe4 strongly favors white).
Slightly better is 18...exf4 19. Bxf4 Bxf4 20. Qxf4 fxe4 21. Qxe4 Bf5 22. Qe2=.
19. fxe5 Bf5 20. g4 Rd8 21. Qg2 Be6 22. Bxe4 Nd5 23. Nf3 Nxe3 24. Nxe3 Ne7 25. Kh1
I should have tried 25. g5 here, but I had ambitions of getting a rook to the g file and directly attacking his king.
25...Rf4 26. Nd4
Nc2 was more prudent here.
26...Bg8 27. e6 c5
Suddenly I felt that I was in big trouble, so I thought I needed to lash out and hope the tactics fell my way. I needn't have panicked; the position becomes better for black but not by much if I just play 28. Ne2.
28. Ndf5?! gxf5
I think that black could have had a safer advantage by playing 28...Bxe6 29. Nxe7 Qxe7 30. Bxb7 Qh4 31. Kg1.
29. gxf5
This was my idea, to open up the g file for an attack. Sadly, it doesn't work against proper defense. Fortunately for me he doesn't defend properly.
To me it seemed obvious what black needed to do, so I was really surprised at his move. Clearly better is 29...Kh8, leaving white struggling to complicate things with 30. Rg1 or 30. Rf1.
30. Rg1 Be5 31. f6+ 1-0
My 12th win in a row. I couldn't believe how well I started this quest to get a FIDE rating. I lost the next one to an IM, so my winning streak came to an end, but it sure was great while it lasted.

I'll show one more game from this tournament simply because I felt I played really well and the game is not bad. It is from round 5.

[Event "Budapest Spring Chess Festival"]
[Site "Budapest, Hungary"]
[Date "2003.03.18"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Kerekes, Zsolt"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C42"]
[BlackElo "2134"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3
I don't like playing against the Petroff, so I play this to avoid it.
3...Bb4 4. Bc4 O-O
Bad for black would be 4...Bxc3 5. dxc3 Nxe4 6. Qd5 Nd6 7. Qxe5+ Qe7 8. Qxe7+ Kxe7 9. Bd3.
5. d3 d5 6. exd5 Nxd5 7. Bd2 Bxc3 8. bxc3 Bg4 9. h3 Bh5 10. O-O Nb6 11. Bb3 Qf6 12. g4 Bg6 13. Bg5 Qd6 14. Re1 Nc6 15. Nd2?!
Better is 15. Nxe5! Nxe5 16. Bf4 with a slight edge.
15...Kh8 16. Ne4 Bxe4 17. dxe4!
I spent a long time on this move, because all of my instincts were telling me to keep my pawns intact by taking with the rook, but a long examination told me that it was better to take with the pawn. Sometimes you have to break the rules.
17...Qg6 18. Be3 Rad8 19. Qf3 Nc8 20. Rad1 Nd6 21. Bc5
At this point I felt I had the edge due to my bishop pair, despite my bad pawn structure.
21...b6 22. Ba3 Ne7 23. Rd3 c5 24. Red1 Nec8
Perhaps a better try is 24...f5 but with proper play white retains a solid edge with 25. Bc1 b5 (25...fxe4? 26. Rxd6 exf3 27. Rxd8 Re8 28. R1d6 and wins) 26. Ba3 fxe4 27. Rxd6 exf3 28. Rxd8 Re8 29. R1d6 c4 30. Rxg6 Rxd8 31. Ra6 Nd5 32. Bd6 cxb3 33. axb3 with a large edge.
25. Kf1!
With the idea of h4 to go after the locked-in queen.
A better try is 25...Rde8 26. h4! Nxe4 (26...Qxe4 27. Qxe4 Nxe4 28. Ba4 Re6 29. Rd8 Kg8 30. Rxf8+ Kxf8 31. Rd8+ Ke7 32. Re8+ Kf6 33. Rxc8 and wins) 27. h5 Qc6 28. Bd5 Qa4 29. Bxe4 f5 (29...Qxa3?? 30. Qf5 g6 31. Qf6+ Kg8 32. h6 Qxa2 33. Qg7#) 30. gxf5 Qxa3 31. h6 Qxa2 32. hxg7+ Kxg7 33. Rd7+ wins.
26. Be6! Rde8 27. Rxd6 Rxe6
No better is 27...Nxd6 28. Rxd6 f5 29. gxf5 Rxe6 30. fxe6 and wins.
28. Rxe6 Qf7 29. Rxe5 Qxa2 30. Bc1 Kg8 31. Red5 Ne7 32. Rd7 Nc6 33. Qd3
This was the simplest way to win, with the idea of Qd5+.

I was really proud of this win, because it was a fairly strong win against a good player. I did manage to play all rated players in the event, though I got badly sick and struggled in the middle portion of the tournament. I earned an initial FIDE rating of 2108.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Longest Winning Streak pt. 2: U.S. Amateur Championship

As always before a tournament I was nervous before the first round. I wondered whether my five wins in a row at the National Open meant that I was playing stronger or not. I had scored an undefeated 5 out of 6 the last time I had played in the U.S. Amateur Championship way back in 1993, so I didn't want to do worse than that now that I felt I was a better player.

Event "US Amateur Championship West"]
[Site "Tucson, Arizona"]
[Date "2001.05.26"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Wagner, Patrick"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B16"]
[WhiteElo "1920"]
[BlackElo "1474"]

I have always dreaded playing down against lower rated opposition, because I am prone to being upset at times, just like in the first round of the previous tournament.
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6
I was very happy to see this variation as I have done well with it. I recalled my almost win in this line (where I had just blown it with a dumb move) in the Continental Open a year before.
6. c3 Bf5 7. Nf3 Qc7 8. g3 Nd7 9. Bg2 O-O-O 10. O-O e5
This was new for me and made me nervous. I usually play for Nh4 to seal up the h file and then start attacking the black king. I wasn't sure what to make of this e5 move, so I just started attacking anyway.
11. a4 Nb6 12. a5 Nc4 13. Qa4
Better may be 13. Qe2 Be6 14. dxe5 Nxe5 15. Nxe5 with a slight edge to white.
13...Bd3 14. Rd1 e4?
He misses that I can gain two pieces for a rook.
15. Rxd3 Nxb2
Better, though still losing, is 15...Nd6 16. Rd1 exf3 17. Bxf3.
16. Bxb2 exd3 17. a6 b6 18. Qc4 Rd6? 19. Bc1
I try to take advantage of his placing his rook in line with his queen.
19...Rd8 20. Qxd3 Bd6 21. Qf5+ Kb8 22. Qxf6
Perhaps even better is Rb1 or c4 to directly attack the king.
22...h5 23. Bg5 Rde8 24. Ne5 Bxe5 25. dxe5 Rhg8 26. Bf4 Re6 27. Qh4 Rd8 28. Bh3 Rxe5 29. Bxe5 1-0

I was relieved to get a fairly simple win to start the tournament, though naturally it only gets tougher from here. At the time I never considered the fact that this was my sixth win in a row. I was hoping for another fairly easy game in the next round, but my opponent didn't oblige despite being almost three hundred points lower rated than me.

[Event "US Amateur Championship West"]
[Site "Tucson, Arizona"]
[Date "2001.05.26"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Rodriguez, Orlando"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B33"]
[WhiteElo "1631"]
[BlackElo "1920"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Nb3
I am always happy to see this line, as it cedes the advantage to black straight away.
6...Bb4 7. f3 d5
This is why black now has the edge; he gets the freeing d5 in with no trouble.
8. exd5 Nxd5 9. Bd2 Nxc3 10. bxc3 Bd6 11. Bd3 O-O 12. Qe2 Be6 13. h4 f5 14. O-O-O a5 15. a4 Be7 16. Kb2 Qd6 17. Ra1 Bf6?!
I am doing too much maneuvering when I should be bringing more pieces into the battle with 17...Rac8.
18. Bg5 Rad8 19. Rad1 Qe7 20. Bxf6 Rxf6 21. h5 Rh6 22. g4 e4 23. fxe4 fxg4 24. e5? Kh8
I miss the best continuation - 24...Rd5 25. Bc4 Rxe5 26. Qxg4 Bxc4 27. Qxc4+ Qe6 28.Qxe6+ Rhxe6 with the edge to black.
25. Qe3 Bxb3 26. cxb3 Qxe5 27. Qxe5 Nxe5
I felt that winning a pawn was the way to go, but white gets some compensation and I have given up some of my advantage.
28. Be4 Rb8
I place my pieces in passive positions, giving white equality. Better was 28...Rxd1 29. Rxd1 Kg8 30. Bxb7 Rxh5 with an endgame edge.
29. Rd5 Nc6 30. Rg5 Re6 31. Bxc6 Rxc6 32. Rxg4
We have arrived at an endgame with equal material, but white has a small advantage. I wasn't happy to be in this situation against an opponent I am supposed to be able to beat.
32...Re8 33. Rd1 g6 34. h6 Rc5 35. Rgd4 Kg8 36. Rd7 Rh5 37. Rxb7 Rxh6 38. c4 Rh5 39. Rdd7 Rf8 40. c5
I knew I was on the brink of losing here, so I began desperately searching for tricks to stop his advancing pawns.
40...Rh2+ 41. Kc3 Rc8 42. Kd4 Rd2+ 43. Ke3??
He misplays it and I end up with the advantage again. I can't understand his choice of move, except that perhaps he was really worried about my kingside pawns. Clearly better is 43. Kc4 Rc2+ 44. Kd3 R2xc5 and white is all but winning.
43...Rxd7 44. Rxd7 Rxc5 45. Kd4 Rf5 46. Ke4 h5 47. Rc7 h4 48. Rc1 h3 49. Rh1 Rh5 50. Kf4 Kf7 51. Kg4 h2 52. Kg3 Ke6 53. Kg2 Kd5 54. Rd1+ Kc5 55. Kh1 Kb4 56. Rd3 g5??
I thought it was all over at this point, so I played a careless move that blocks my rook's protection of the a5 pawn. Accurate was 56...Rc5 57. Kxh2 Rc3 58. Rd4+ Kxb3 winning.
57. Rg3?
He failed to see that he could now draw with 57. Rd5! (57. Rd5! Kxb3 58. Rxa5 Kc4 59. Rf5 Kd3 60. a5 Ke4 61. Rb5 Kf4 62. a6 Rh7 63. Rb7 Rh8 64. a7 Ra8 65. Kxh2 Ke5 66. Kg3 Kd6 67. Kg4 Kc6 68. Rg7 Kb6=)
57...Ka3 58. Rd3 g4 59. Rg3 Rh4 60. b4+ Kxb4 61. Rxg4+ Rxg4 0-1

Win seven in a row, though not without some luck. I felt doomed before round 3 because my opponent was one that I feared more than any of the others. I had played him previously when he was a mere class B player and I had nearly lost then, and he had since skyrocketed in rating with some impressive results. He was significantly higher rated than me now, and young kids are often very underrated at that.

This game is very imperfect, yet it is one of my favorite games due to the sheer excitement of it. Early in the game I could see some of the teenage friends of my opponent laughing and joking due to the fact that I was obviously collapsing badly very quickly in the game. Later though, the tables inexplicably turned and their faces turned grim. I have never seen such a large crowd gather to watch one of my games before. I was playing before an exhibition board and there were twenty or so seats filled with people, and more were standing and watching. There was a palpable excitement near the end of the game that I have never felt before or since in chess. When the game finished a small group of people mobbed me, asking how it was possible that I pulled this off!

[Event "US Amateur Championship West"]
[Site "Tucson, Arizona"]
[Date "2001.05.27"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Martinez, Leonardo"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C11"]
[WhiteElo "1920"]
[BlackElo "2045"]

1. e4 e6
I had several reasons to be worried about this game. I have pretty poor results against the French for one. The previous round also contributed - if I had so much trouble scraping out a win against a weaker player, how the heck was I supposed to do much better now?
2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 a6 8. Qd2 b5
This is a common Steinitz French position with black trying to crash through on the queenside before white can do the same on the kingside. In our previous game I got into trouble after I castled queenside, so this time I planned to castle kingside. However, my inaccuracy on move 10 caused me to change my mind.
9. dxc5 Bxc5 10. Nd4?!
Why give black the pin with Qb6? Better would be Rd1 or Bxc5.
10...Qb6 11. O-O-O
Perhaps I should have considered Rd1 to preserve my original plan of castling kingside.
11...O-O 12. h4
I played this move not with the intention of attacking the kingside, but rather with the idea of allowing my rook to come to h3 to protect the e3 bishop.
12...f6 13. Rh3?
But, this was the wrong time to play this move. I should have played exf6 to keep black's advantage to a minimum.
13...Nxd4 14. exf6!?
This was the only move I could see that would give me any counterplay to try to save the game. Taking back the knight on d4 would simply put me in a dead-lost endgame down two pawns. (14. Bxd4 Bxd4 15. Qxd4 Qxd4 16. Rxd4 fxe5 17. Rd1 Rxf4 and black wins easily.)
(14... Nc6!?)
15. Bxc5 Qxc5 16. fxg7
g4 immediately is probably better. I was hoping somehow that my rook might be good on g3.
16...Rf7 17. g4
I gave up on the idea of getting the rook to g3, realizing that I just needed to create as many complications as I could, especially near the enemy king.
17...Nxg7 18. Bd3 Qb4
Black would love to trade queens into a won endgame with either Qxf4 or d4.
19. f5 d4 20. fxe6 Nxe6
21. Qh6!
This was the only way I could hope to continue the game. I could not allow the queens to come off the board.
21...dxc3 22. Bxh7+ Rxh7 23. Qxe6+ Kh8 24. Rxc3 Qe7
Black would love to consolidate the position into an easily winning endgame, but white now finds a way to tie-up black's pieces on the queenside. Perhaps better for black would be Qf4+ since it prevents white's queen from going to c7 as in the game.
25. Qc6 Rb8 26. Qc7
Now black must constantly worry about moves such as Rxd7 followed by Qxb8.
White would have some compensation after 26... Rxh4 27. Rcd3 Qe8 28. Qxb8 Nxb8 29. Rd8.
27. Rcd3
It is amazing to be down two pieces yet still have some chances. A computer would win this easily, of course, but the pressures of over-the-board play are more complicated.
27...Qe5 28. Rd6
Again, I must prevent the trade of queens, plus this move begins my attempt to produce some pressure against black's exposed king.
Now was the time to play 28... Bb7! to finally free up his pieces.
29. Kb1 Qxg4 30. a3
With blacks pieces still tied-up, I needed to give my king some breathing room.
30...Kh7 31. R1d4 Qg8 32. b3
I had to prevent Rf1+.
32...Rb7 33. Qc6
Now that the threat against black's queenside rook is gone, I needed to make direct threats against his king.
33...Qf8 34. R4d5 Rf5?
Black finally makes a mistake. Better would have been Nf6 with black finally freeing up his extra pieces.
35. Rxf5 Qxf5 36. Qxc8 Ra7 37. Rxa6 Rxa6 38. Qxa6
White now has the only winning chances, and black is in time trouble.
38...Kg7 39. Qc6 Kf7 40. h5
This pawn proves to be the deciding factor.
40...Ke7 41. h6 Nf6 42. Qc7+ Ke6?
The knight had to come back to d7.
43. Qc8+ Nd7 44. Qg8+ Ke7 45. h7 Qf1+ 46. Kb2 Qf6+ 47. Ka2 Qf5
Black would now like to get a perpetual check on c2 and c1, but white's queens will cover the b2 square.
48. Qg7+ Ke6 49. h8=Q 1-0

I was stunned at winning this game, my eighth win in a row. By this time I wondered if I didn't have some sort of 'fate' happening to me. It seemed that no matter how poorly I played I was somehow continuing to win. The next game only strengthened this suspicion, as I played my worst opening yet and got into a dead lost position yet again. Prior to the game I had talked with an old friend of mine, Ed Yetman, and he had told me that my next opponent was very strong. In a recent Arizona state championship event, Kiven Plesset had been the only player that GM Tal Shaked had not been able to beat...and I had to play him with black.

[Event "US Amateur Championship West"]
[Site "Tucson, Arizona"]
[Date "2001.05.27"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Plesset, Kiven"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A80"]
[WhiteElo "2063"]
[BlackElo "1920"]

1. d4 f5 2. Bg5
Wow, I never saw this against the Dutch before. I wasn't sure what to play.
2...Nf6 3. Bxf6 exf6 4. e3 d5?!
This seemed obvious to me at the time, but it turns out that this pawn becomes very weak here.
5. c4 c6 6. Nc3 Be6 7. Qb3 Qb6 8. Qxb6 axb6 9. cxd5 Bxd5 10. Nxd5 cxd5
I can't believe how ugly my position has become. It has to be lost already for all practical purposes.
11. Bb5+ Nc6
Better is 11... Kf7.
12. a3 Bb4+ 13. Ke2 O-O? 14. Rc1 Na7 15. Bd7 Bd6 16. Bxf5
I'm thankful for small favors. 16. Be6+ would have let him have the more important pawn.
16...Rfe8 17. Kd3 g6 18. Bg4 Nc8 19. Ne2 Ne7 20. Nc3 Ra5 21. Bf3 Kg7 22. g3 Rd8 23. Rc2 b5
I had to let him have the second pawn if I wanted to be able to generate any counterplay.
24. Nxd5 Nxd5 25. Bxd5 b4 26. Bxb7 bxa3 27. bxa3 Rxa3+
Now, this is a clearly losing position, so I had nothing to play for but tricks and traps.
28. Ke2 f5 29. Rd1 h5 30. f3 g5 31. e4 f4 32. e5?
He gets careless for some reason. I suspect that my terrible play led him to believe that I couldn't put up any resistance.
Or 32... Bxe5 33. Rcd2 Bd6.
33. Kf2 Bxe5 34. gxf4 Bxf4 35. Be4
Now I actually have realistic chances to save the game.
35...Ra3 36. Kg2 h4 37. Kh3 Re8 38. Kg4
His recent moves and the setup of my pawns and bishop around hisking reminded me of the mate I had in the fourth round of my previous tournament. I began playing to try to reach a similar situation.
This cut off one flight square for his king.
39. Rb1 Ra6
This allows my king to remain on f6, at least for now.
40. Rb7 Rh8
This threatens the final part of the mating web, and for some reason he never suspected a thing.
41. Rc5
Here it was, the position I had been aiming for. I saw that if I played h3 he could 'win' one of my rooks, but by doing so he would place my king in just the right position. I didn't expect he would actually fall for it, but he did.
41...h3 42. Rf5+?
He thinks he is winning my rook. I think it would be a draw after 42. Bh7 Rd6 43. Rf5+ Ke6 44. d5+ Rxd5 45. Rxd5 Kxd5 46. Kxh3 Rb8 47. Be4+ Ke6 48. Rxb8 Bxb8 49. Kg4 Kf6 or 42. Rh7 Rxh7 43. Bxh7 Rd6.
42...Ke6 43. d5+?
He still fails to see the danger. He could still draw with 43. Bd5+ Kd6 44. Rf6+ Kxd5 45. Rxa6 Kxd4 46. Rd7+ Ke5 47. Re7+ Kd4 48. Re4+ Kd5.
43...Kd6 44. Rf6+ Ke5
See? My king comes to the right spot and he is welcome to my 'free' rook.
He still had one last chance to notice the mating web. He could have left black with a slight edge with 45. Rf5+ Kd4 46. Rff7 Ra2 47. Rb4+ Kc3 48. Rfb7 Rxh2 49. Rb3+ Kd4 50. Kf5.
45...Rh4# 0-1

I wasn't thinking about this being my ninth win in a row; I was thinking that it was my second major miracle in a row! Notice how similar this mate was to the one I had in the fourth round of the National Open.

In a tournament where I was ranked 15th by rating, I ended up playing each of the top four seeds in a row. Leo Martinez was ranked fourth and Kiven Plesset was ranked number 2. Now my next opponent was the third ranked player. I figured that I was fated to win this event, so it was okay to just keep getting losing games right out of the opening!

[Event "US Amateur Championship West"]
[Site "Tucson, Arizona"]
[Date "2001.05.28"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Richardson, Brian"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B19"]
[WhiteElo "1920"]
[BlackElo "2056"]

Only now did I begin to wonder if I actually had a chance to win the U.S. Amateur Championship. I kept facing the top-seeded players, and with luck I was beating them.
1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 Nd7 8. h5 Bh7 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 Qc7 11.Bd2 O-O-O 12. O-O-O Ngf6 13. Qe2 e6 14. Kb1 Bd6 15. Rhe1?
This is inexplicable. I have known and played this position for many years, and I was well aware that I needed to play Ne4. Somehow my mind got things transposed and I played a move I was supposed to play later on.
15...Bxg3 16. fxg3 Qxg3
I felt dejected. On my way to a restroom break I saw local master Paul Gold and I shook my head and said that I had blown it already. Despite my levity above, I truly didn't believe that I could continue to get away with terrible openings against strong players.
17. Ne5 Nxe5 18. dxe5 Ng4?
Now I perked up a bit. His queen is hemmed in with his move. He should have played 18...Nxh5! 19. Rf1 Qg6 20. Qf2 Kb8 21. Be3 Ng3 22. Bxa7+ Kc8 23. Bb6 Nxf1 24. Bxd8 Rxd8 25. Rxf1 Qh5 26. a3 Rd7 with a strong black edge.
19. Rf1 Rd7 20. Bf4 Rxd1+ 21. Qxd1
I was playing to try to take advantage of his poor queen position. I saw that he couldn't touch the pawn on g2.
21...Qh4 22. Rh1 Nf2?
My luck continued to hold. He makes a mistake that allows me to reach a better endgame. He should have played 22... Rd8 23. Qf1 Qf2.
23. Rxh4 Nxd1 24. Rg4 Rh7?
He puts his rook in an awful position, failing to see that the simple 24...Rg8 does just fine, though white retains a slight edge. Now I can trap his knight. (24... Rg8 25. Bxh6 Rh8 26. Bf4 and white has a minimal edge.)
25. Bd2! Nf2 26. Rf4 Nh1 27. Be1
The knight is trapped and I just need to play accurately to seal up the win.
27...g5 28. Rf1 f5 29. exf6 Rd7 30. Kc1 Rf7 31. Kd2 Kd7 32. Ke3 e5 33. Rxh1 Rxf6 34. Bg3 Ke6 35. Ke2
This seems like an odd move, but my agenda was to get the rooks off the board.
His move allows me to do just that.
36. Rf1 Rxf1 37. Kxf1 Kf5 38. Ke2 e4 39. Ke3 Kg4 40. Bb8 Kxh5 41. Bxa7 Kg4 42. Bb8 Kf5 43. a4 h5 44. b4 g4 45. g3 1-0

There is no point in showing the last round game against the top seed. Both of us had 5 out of 5. He made a transposition error very early and offered a draw. I believed my tiebreaks were better, because I had no idea that my previous opponent had withdrawn from the event (My fourth round opponent had also withdrawn), so I accepted the draw. I tied for first place, and even with the withdrawal of two of my strong opponents I still would have won the tiebreaks if it had not been for the fact that my second round opponent had won his first round game by forfeit. That took an extra half point away from my tiebreaks, and the first tiebreaker became dead even. The second, third and fourth tiebreaks were also even. I ended up losing on the fifth tiebreak! A real disappointment considering that to me the idea of tiebreaks is to determine who played the better tournament. I played and upset each of the top four seeds. The winner faced no one stronger than the fifth seed. I upset four strong players and was upset by no one, while he upset nobody and was upset once (by drawing with me). I don't agree with the tiebreaks, but they are the rules.

One last note is that this form of tiebreak favors the higher rated players. How often do you see lower rated players withdraw from a tournament because of a loss to a higher rated player? Not so often. But it is quite common to see higher rated players withdraw after losing to a lower rated player. Their withdrawals hurt the lower rated players tiebreak points.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Longest Winning Streak pt. 1: National Open

In the year 2001 I had the longest winning streak of my chess life. If I discount one very short draw that sealed up 1st place in one of the events, I had twelve wins in a row! I don't believe I had ever had more than a four or five game winning streak prior to this. The winning streak began in the second round of the 2001 National Open, extended through the 2001 US Amateur West Championship, and finished in the third round of the Budapest Spring Chess Festival in 2003 (Yes, I had a long layoff from chess due to a change of career).

The National Open in Las Vegas has long been one of my favorite tournaments in which to play. I love Las Vegas, or at least The Strip portion of Las Vegas, and there is something special about going on a road trip with good friends to such an event. I had played in several National Opens in the late 1980's and early 1990's, and I had scored 4.5 out of 6 in all but one of those tourneys. I began to feel that I could never score anything but 4.5 in the National Open! After living in Russia for four years I came back to the U.S. and again began to take part in the National Open. I finally broke my scoring streak by scoring 5 out of 6 in the 1999 National Open; I had a chance to score 5.5 from 6, up a pawn in an endgame in the last round, but I couldn't find a way to convert it and had to settle for a draw. The following year I had a dismal performance, only scoring 3.5 from 6. So, in 2001 I was hungry to put that bad performance behind me and score at least 5 if not higher.

Round 1 crushed my hopes immediately. I played the opening terribly and had a lost position. I fought back hard, though, and ended up in a better endgame with some winning chances. I miscalculated at an important point and actually blew the game. I was so disappointed with myself that I could not have conceived that I was about to have the longest winning streak of my life!

[Event "National Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas, Nevada"]
[Date "2001.03.09"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Schmahle, Klaus"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D94"]
[WhiteElo "1674"]
[BlackElo "1903"]

I came into this game feeling that it didn't matter at all. I had lost interest in the event after my poor showing in round 1. I really blitzed through the opening even though I don't know it well. I took a devil may care attitude to the game because I felt the tournament was ruined already. I knew that I would have to win five games in a row to salvage the tournament, and I didn't feel that was likely to happen.
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5
I experimented a bit with the Gruenfeld Defense around this time, because I was so unhappy with my results with the Dutch.
4. Nf3 Bg7 5. e3 O-O 6. Bd3 c5 7. O-O cxd4 8. Nxd4?! Nc6
Better here was 8... e5
9. Nxc6 bxc6 10. cxd5 Nxd5 11. Nxd5 cxd5 12. Rb1 a5 13. b3 Ba6 14. Bxa6 Rxa6 15. Qd3 Qa8 16. Rd1 e6 17. Bb2 Rc8 18. Bxg7 Kxg7 19. Rbc1 Rac6 20. Rxc6 Qxc6
All of this had just been blitzed out by me (he took his time) and I had no real idea what I was doing, who was better, nor did I care. Around this point I began to play a little more carefully since endgames take subtlety and I can often beat opponents in the endgame even if they are equal.
21. Kf1 f6 22. Ke2 Kf7 23. Kd2 Ke7 24. Ke1 a4 25. b4? Qc4!?
I didn't notice the two hanging pawns after 25...Qd6. I was too intent on examining my move, which leads to a black advantage.
26. Qxc4 Rxc4 27. a3 Rc3 28. Ra1
This is why I am better here. His rook is stuck defending that a3 pawn, while my rook has more options.
28...Rc2 29. g3 h5 30. Kd1?
I'm not sure what his thinking was. I suppose he thought his rook could come through the c file and get compensation for the pawns he was dropping.
30...Rxf2 31. Rc1 Rxh2 32. Rc7+ Kd6 33. Ra7 Rg2 34. Rxa4 Rxg3 35. Ra6+ Kd7 36. Kd2 h4 37. Ra7+ Kc8 38. Re7 h3 39. Rxe6 Rg5
So that my rook could come behind my pawn.
40. Rc6+ Kb7 41. Rc1 h2 42. Rh1 Rg2+ 43. Kd3 g5 44. e4 dxe4+ 45. Kxe4 g4 46. Kf4 g3 47. Kf3 Rg1 0-1
My mental approach to this game was lousy due to my emotions following my first round upset, so I was lucky that my opponent was just not so good at endgames.

[Event "National Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas, Nevada"]
[Date "2001.03.10"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Newton, Michael"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C57"]
[WhiteElo "1903"]
[BlackElo "1700"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5
At this point I had not yet given up on playing this move. I like its aggressive intentions, but I have lost too many games in this line for me to continue to play it now.
4...d5 5. exd5 Nd4
No one had played this against me before. I knew a little bit of the theory, enough to know that my bishop needed to come back to f1 shortly, but that is all.
6. c3 b5 7. Bf1 Nf5 8. Bxb5+ Bd7 9. Qe2 Bd6
I had no idea what the correct moves were at this point, so I just played by what looked right to me.
10. Bxd7+ Qxd7 11. d4 O-O 12. dxe5 Bxe5 13. O-O
I was too worried about my queen and king being lined up on the e file, plus my pieces being undeveloped, so I played it safe. Quite possible was 13. Qxe5 Rae8 14. Ne6 fxe6 15. d6 cxd6 16. Qe2 with a significant edge to white.
13...Rfe8 14. Qc2 Qxd5 15. Nf3 Rad8 16. Bg5 Bd6
It seems very strange to me that he would voluntarily allow me to ruin his kingside pawns. I didn't do it immediately because I wanted to use attacks against his queen to complete my development.
17. Nbd2 h6 18. c4 Qe6 19. Rfe1 Qd7 20. Bxf6
Now that I am comfortably developed I felt that I must be winning.
20...gxf6 21.Ne4 Kg7 22. Nxd6
I should have applied more pressure on him with 22. Rad1.
22... Nxd6 23. Rad1 Rg8 24. Re2
I was well aware that I could play c5 and pick up another piece, but I was more concerned with preventing any and all counterplay, so I decided I wanted my knight to be able to come back to e1.
24...Kh8 25. Ne1 Rxg2+?
Wow, he must have been feeling desperate at this point and hoped there might be some miracle here.
26. Nxg2 Rg8 27. f3 Qh3 28. Rxd6
I did this to simplify things for me.
28...cxd6 29. Qe4 1-0

[Event "National Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas, Nevada"]
[Date "2001.03.10"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Delgadillo, David"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B33"]
[WhiteElo "1800"]
[BlackElo "1903"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Nd5
This is a variation of the Sveshnikov that I don't like and know very little about.
7...Nxd5 8. exd5 Ne7 9. c4 a6??
You see? This shows how little I knew about this line. I had no idea he could beat me now with 10. Qa4.
10. Nc3?
Fortunately for me he didn't know it either!
10...g6 11. Be2 Bg7 12. O-O O-O 13. Qb3?
He had a slight edge until this move. Now my reply gives me at least equality.
13...Nf5! 14. Bd2 Nd4 15. Qd1 Bf5 16. Rc1 Rc8 17. b3 Bd7
I floundered a bit for a plan. I realized that I wanted to play f5 at some point.
18. Be3 Nxe2+19. Qxe2 f5 20. f3 Rf7
Better is 20...b5.
21. Qf2 Qe7
Still better is 21...b5.
22. Rfd1 Rff8 23. Kh1 f4?
I chose the wrong way. Better is 23...e4.
24. Bb6 Bf5 25. c5
Uh oh, now white has a substantial advantage.
25... e4 26. Nxe4 Bxe4 27. fxe4 Qxe4 28. Qf3?!
He allows me to liquidate much of his advantage with this move. Better was 28. Rc4.
28...Qxf3 29. gxf3 dxc5 30. Bxc5 Rfd8 31. b4 Bf8 32. a4 b6
Better was 32... a5 33. Bxf8 Rxc1 34. Rxc1 Kxf8.
33. Bxb6 Rxc1 34. Rxc1 Rxd5 35. Bc5 Bxc5 36. bxc5 Rd7 37. Rc4 g5?
Much better was Rc7.
38. c6 Rc7 39. Kg2 Kf7 40. h4 h6 41. hxg5
He should have tried 41. Kh3! here.
41...hxg5 42. Kh3 Kf6 43. Kg4??
I couldn't believe it. I had been looking at the idea that he could be mated over here for a couple of moves, but I didn't expect he would actually walk into it.
43...Rh7 0-1
An interesting note is that during this long win streak, I later have a checkmate almost exactly identical to this one. See round four of the U.S. Amateur West Championship in my next posting.

[Event "National Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas, Nevada"]
[Date "2001.03.11"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Peterson, Thomas"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B89"]
[WhiteElo "1903"]
[BlackElo "1800"]

Having won three in a row, I began to take the games a bit more seriously now. I still doubted I could win five in a row, but I figured I might as well try.
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Bc4
This is one of my favorite opening lines, as I often get tremendous attacks against the black king.
6...e6 7. Be3 a6 8. Qe2 Qc7 9. Bb3 Be7 10. O-O-O O-O 11. Rhg1 b5 12. g4 b4
I had never had this played against me before, and I had always worried about it. I didn't know that there is an extreme tactical solution to the problem by playing 13. Nxc6 Qxc6 14. Nd5!. In fact I later got my first upset of an IM in this line.
13. Na4?
This just gives black the edge.
13...Nxe4 14. Nxe6 fxe6 15. Bb6
I was just trying to regain my lost pawn.
15...Bg5+ 16. Kb1 Qb8 17. Qxe4 d5?
He makes a big mistake, overlooking a tactical shot.
18. Bxd5 1-0

[Event "National Open"]
[Site "Las Vegas, Nevada"]
[Date "2001.03.11"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Parker, William"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A83"]
[WhiteElo "1813"]
[BlackElo "1903"]

Well, I had not expected to have a shot at reaching 5 out of 6 in this event. It is not often that I win five games in a row. I expected this round to be really tough, since some money would be coming to the winner.
1. d4 f5
I reverted to the Dutch here because I knew it better than the Gruenfeld, even if I lacked confidence in it.
2. e4
Wow, now this is a highly dangerous line against the Dutch. I wish I knew it better because I like black's chances in it, but although I have studied it a few times, I keep forgetting the theory.
2...fxe4 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 c6
I knew I had read something that showed a good line for black after c6, but I couldn't recall anything else about it.
5. Bxf6 exf6 6. Nxe4 d5 7. Ng3 Bd6
But, this all looked fine to me. It took some of the craziness out of the game and made it look more solid. Knowing how tactical this line can be, I had worried that I might get blown off the board early, so I was relieved to be able to settle things down.
8. Bd3 Qe7+ 9. Qe2 Qxe2+
I was happy to get queens off the board since my biggest worry was that he would throw a big kingside attack at me.
10. N1xe2 O-O 11. O-O-O Na6 12.Kb1 g6 13. c3 Nc7 14. h4 Be6 15. h5 Kg7 16. hxg6 hxg6 17. Rh2 Rh8 18. Rdh1 Bf7
In order to save my g6 pawn.
19. Rxh8 Rxh8 20. Rxh8 Kxh8 21. Kc2
I didn't have any winning aspirations at this point. I was still thinking that he was slightly better and I was just trying to hang on.
21...Ne6 22. Kd2 Kg7 23. Ke3 f5 24. f4
Good for me that he played this. I hadn't noticed the tactical 24. Bf5 available to him leading to an equal endgame. (24. Bxf5 Bxg3 25. Bxe6 (25. Nxg3 gxf5 26. Nxf5+ Kf6 is better for black)25... Bxf2+ 26. Kxf2 Bxe6=).
24...Kf6 25. Kf3 b6 26. Nf1 g5 27. fxg5+ Nxg5+ 28. Ke3 Ne4
Well now my pieces are all better placed than his and my bishop pair can start to assert itself.
29. Nd2?
This is a mistake that loses a piece, but I failed to notice it.
See, I was busy thinking about my dominating bishops, so I failed to notice 29. f4+ winning.
30. Nf3 Bh6+ 31. Nf4 Ng3 32. Ng1
It was really difficult to figure out how to increase my advantage during this phase of the game. The pieces were dancing around all over the place.
32...Bh5 33. Ngh3 Bg4 34. Kf2 Bxh3?!
This mistake gives him equality if he takes my knight. I should have played Ne4+ instead. (34... Ne4+ 35. Ke3 a5 with a slight edge)
35. Nxh3?
(35. Kxg3!=)
35...Ne4+ 36. Bxe4 fxe4
Now I was happy and felt I had a chance to win the endgame. At the very least I felt I couldn't lose it.
37. b3 b5 38. Ke2 Kf5 39. a4 Kg4 40. axb5 cxb5 41. Nf2+ Kg3?!
I was too concerned about his g pawn and he could have reached equality now. I should have played Kf5.
42. Nd1?
Happily, he misses the drawing move of 42. c4. (42.c4! bxc4 43. bxc4 dxc4 44. Nxe4+ Kxg2 45. Nd6=).
42...a5 43. c4
He plays it now but it is too late.
43...dxc4 44. bxc4 bxc4 45. Nc3 e3 46. d5 Bg7 47. Na2 Kf4 48. d6 Bf6 49. d7
I had a hard time in this position figuring out the right way to proceed. It finally came to me.
49...Bg5! 50. Nc3 Ke5 51. d8=Q?!
He could have made the win much harder with Nd1 here. (51. Nd1 Kd4 52.Nxe3 a4 (better is 52... Kc3 53. Nf5 a4 (53... Kb2? 54. Nd6 c3 55. Nc4+ Kb3 56. Nxa5+ Ka4) 54. Nd6 Kb3 55. Nf7 Be7 and black wins) (52... Kc5 53. Kd1 a4 54. Kc2 a3 55.Kb1 c3 56. Ka2 Kd6 57. Nc4+ Kxd7 58. Nxa3=) 53. g4 Kc3 and black wins).
51...Bxd8 52. Kxe3 Bg5+ 53. Ke2 Kd4 54. Na4 Bh6
I was trying to put him in zugzwang to make him play weakening moves.
55. Kd1 Kd3 56. Nc5+ Kc3 57. Ne4+ Kb2 58. Nc5 Be3 0-1
It was a bit tricky, but it is finally all over. I was thrilled to win five in a row and win a bit of money. I never dreamed that I would continue the winning streak on into another tournament.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Chess and my kids

I haven't posted in a while since I am in a month and a half of training in the states. I miss my kids; I was thinking about them and started going through some old photos. I noticed some chess pictures and decided maybe it would be nice to throw them out here.

My older son, Anton. He was fascinated any time I pulled out the chess board. He really seemed to like chess a lot for a number of years, but appears to have lost interest lately. He is about to turn 10 now; how time flies!

I always let Anton put my set away when I was done studying. A friend had the t-shirt made as a gift for Anton.

Both of my boys could set up a board by their first birthday. Here is my youngest son, Alexei, as a baby. He is almost 8 now. I did a posting a while back about his first chess tournament. He still loves chess, though my job is interfering with my ability to get him to clubs and tournaments regularly.

Ready to play!

Here are Anton and Alex in Croatia, when Anton is 4 and Alex is 2.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Reykjavik Open round 9

This is what I had feared all tournament long, no longer playing against someone well above me in rating. I was quite unhappy that I ended up being given two blacks in a row, because I had clearly played much better with white, and I had lost all of my blacks. My opponent showed up more than half an hour late for the game, and then kept jumping up and running around to other places for some reason. This probably contributed both to my dropping a pawn early on and to him dropping a piece in return!

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2008"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2008.03.11"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Ingvason, Johann"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B48"]
[WhiteElo "2105"]
[BlackElo "2079"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6
I have never played this before, but there wasn't much in the databases to help against this opponent in my normal Nc6 lines, plus I found that he pretty consistently played the same way with this e6 variation.
3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 Qc7 7. Qd2 Nf6 8. f3 Bb4
This was the line that I planned out in my preparation, because this guy liked to attack the black king with g4 and queenside castling, and I felt that getting him to play a3 would help my attack against his castled king.
9. a3 Be7 10. Be2 b5
I showed my hand too soon, I think. I should have held onto this move, hoping that he would castle queenside first. Now I think he got scared of castling queenside and chose to castle the other way instead.
11. O-O d6?!
(better is 11... O-O)
12.Nxc6 Qxc6 13. a4
With this move I felt I was in a bit of trouble, since my unfamiliarity with the typical tactics of this line meant that I didn't see the ideas that could have saved the pawn for me.
13...b4 14. Na2 Qxa4?
I played this because I couldn't see any way to save the pawn, but this is bad and gives white a strong advantage. 14...d5 contained enough tactical finesses to keep black in the game. (14...d5 15. Nxb4 Qd6 16. c3 dxe4 17. Qxd6 Bxd6 18. Rad1 Bxb4 19. cxb4 Nd5 20. Bc5 exf3)
15. Nxb4 Qd7 16.Nxa6 O-O 17. b4 Bb7 18. c4??
I think he felt he was just going to steamroll me now, plus his jumping out of his seat after each move may have contributed to his oversight. This was easily the biggest mistake any opponent made against me in this event.
18...Rxa6 19. Rab1 Rfa8
Now I just wanted to ensure I didn't embarrass myself by blowing this win. I wanted to find logical ways to reduce material on the board.
20. Rfd1 Ra2 21. Rb2 Rxb2 22.Qxb2 Qa4
With one rook removed, I now wanted to either force queens off the board or at least undermine his queenside pawns.
23. c5 dxc5 24. bxc5 Bc6 25.Kf2
I was hoping he wouldn't play this, since then Qa2 would have forced the queens off.
25...h6 26. Qb6 Nd7
I saw that I could get rid of that last annoying queenside pawn. I didn't quite realize how careful I needed to be with the two pieces that would be lined up on the 'c' file. (26... Nxe4+ 27. fxe4 Qxe4 28. g3 Ra2 29. Qb8+ Bf8)
27. Qc7 Bxc5 28. Bxc5 Nxc5 29. Rc1
Now I understood that I needed to be very careful here, as I could easily lose my extra piece.
I didn't look much at 30. Kg3 because my intuition told me I would have something I could do if he played that. I concentrated on him playing 30. Kf1 and I was pleased to see that I could play 30...Nd3! and win pretty easily.
30. Kg3
If 30. Kf1 Nd3! 31. Bxd3 Qxd3+ 32. Kf2 Qd2+ 33. Kg3 Qxc1
30... Nxe4+
I was glad that this tactic was available since I think he would have gained a piece back otherwise, though black was still better. He can't take the knight due to Qe3+.
31. Kh3
If 31. fxe4 Qe3+ 32. Bf3 Qxc1
31... Ng5+ 32. Kg3 Bd5 33. Rb1 Ra2
I thought about playing the rook to a4 to threaten mate on h4, but he could play h3. So, I played this so that if he defended with Re1 I could then play Ra4 and he could no longer play h3 to defend since he would drop the rook on e1 to Qh4+.
34. Rd1 Qe3
My main concern here was that he would play Bd3 to threaten checkmate, but I happily found that 35...Rg2+ would mate him first.
35. Rxd5
If 35. Bd3 Rxg2+ 36.Kh4 Nxf3+ 37. Kh3 Ne5+ 38. Kh4 Rxh2#
35... exd5 36. Qb8+ Kh7 37. Qb1+ Ne4+ 0-1
A great way to finish the tournament. By rating I should have scored only 2 or 2.5 points, but I scored 3.5 instead, and I gained around 30 rating points. Best of all, I did well enough that I only competed against players higher rated than me.

The day after the tournament finished there was a knockout blitz tournament to wrap things up. As I waited to find out my pairing, my son Alexei was fascinated by the blitz games being played by the two top Chinese GMs, Wang Yue and Wang Hao. He stood and watched game after game. Finally the pairings were announced and I had to face IM Jon Viktor Gunnarsson. I played well with white to reach an endgame with bishops of opposite colors, but my poor blitzing skills couldn't hold up. I lost with black pretty badly. All in all, it was a terrific, fun tournament and I learned an amazing amount. Getting to meet luminaries like Boris Spassky, Pal Benko, Vlastimil Hort, Lajos Portisch, and Fridrik Olafsson was great.

GM Lajos Portisch with former world champion GM Boris Spassky

GM Fridrik Olafsson and GM Pal Benko

My son watches GM Wang Yue and GM Wang Hao play blitz

Reykjavik Open round 8

My thinking before this game was that I needed to do something positive with black. I had not lost any whites this tournament, but I had lost every black so far. My opponent didn't have a much higher rating, but looking at her games showed me that she was very experienced against strong competition, plus she played the Alapin Sicilian a lot, which I can't stand. However, I found an interesting plan to play against her Alapin, so I was actually hoping she would go for it! Sadly, she didn't.

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2008"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2008.03.10"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Andersson, WIM Christin"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B33"]
[WhiteElo "2194"]
[BlackElo "2079"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3
I had really prepared hard for the Alapin, so this disappointed me. I did see that she once played into an Alapin after 2. Nc6, so now I hoped for that.
2...Nc6 3. d4
Nope, she was playing something that was not in her large collection of games in my database.
3...cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Nxc6
Even worse, she now played a move that no one had played against me before. I had lightly analyzed this move, of course, since it is always a possibility in the Sveshnikov Sicilian, but I wasn't truly familiar with it. If she prepared this at home, knowing that I played the Sveshnikov, then she had a huge advantage over me right now!
6...bxc6 7. Bc4 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Bg5 h6 10. Bh4 Bb7
Over the past few moves I kept spending lots of time trying to figure out whether I could get a decent position after taking on e4 with my knight, but it never quite looked okay.
11. Qd3 Qc7 12. Rad1 Rad8 13. Rfe1 d6
Apparently I could have had an advantage here by playing 13...d5. (13... d5 14. exd5 cxd5 15. Bb3 d4 16. Nb5 Qc5 17. Qc4 g5 18. Qxc5 Bxc5 19. Bg3 (19. Rxe5 Nd7) 19... Ne4 20. Bxe5 d3 21. Rf1 d2 22. c3 Ba6 23. Bc4 Bxb5 24. Bxb5 Rd5 25. Bg3 Bxf2+ 26. Rxf2 (26. Bxf2 Rxb5 27. b4 Rd8 28. Bd4 Rxd4 29. cxd4 Rxb4) 26... Rxb5 27. Rfxd2 Nxd2 28. Rxd2 Rc8)
14. Bb3 Bc8
I felt that finding a plan here for black was difficult and I didn't want to just make waiting moves, so I decided to swing the bishop over to e6. I was glad to see later that Fritz thinks it is the right plan.
15. f3 Be6 16. Bf2
I was happy to see this move, because I had not felt comfortable playing d5 as long as that bishop kept pinning my knight. Now I felt that d5 was playable and had to give me at least equality.
16...d5 17. exd5 Nxd5 18. Nxd5 Bxd5 19. Qe3
Hmm, I suddenly realized that I needed to worry about the two loose pawns on a7 and e5. I figured out how to save them for now, but I didn't know whose position was better afterwards.
19...Bxb3 20. axb3 Rxd1 21. Rxd1 a5 22. Qb6 Qxb6 23. Bxb6 Ra8 24. Rd7 Bf8?!
Since I saw a trick to keep her from winning the c6 pawn, I didn't look further to see that later she could still force the win of a pawn. Plus, the plan with 24...Kf8! has some very hard to see ideas in it. (24... Kf8! 25. Rc7 Ke8 26. Be3 (26. Rxc6 Ra6 27. Rc8+ Kd7 28. Rc7+ Kd8) 26... Ra6)
25. Rc7 Ra6
The funny thing was that she actually reached for the rook as if to take the c6 pawn. Oh, how delicious that would have been! But, she saw the skewer of course.
26. Be3 f6?!
I didn't realize here that I was about to lose a pawn. Her advantage in this position was not apparent to me. I think black can always draw this position, but the endgame is quite difficult really. (26... g5 27. Ra7 Rxa7 28. Bxa7 f5 29. Bb6 Kf7 30.Kf2 Ke6 31. Ke2 Bd6 32. Kd3 h5 33. Bxa5 g4 34. h3 Be7 35. Bd2 g3 36. b4 Kd5 37.c4+ Ke6 38. b5 cxb5 39. cxb5 Kd5 40. b6 Bd6 41. b7 e4+ 42. fxe4+ fxe4+ 43. Ke3 Ke5 44. Bc3+ Kf5 45. Kd4 Bb8 46. Bd2 Bc7 47. Kd5 h4 48. b4 Bb8 49. b5 Be5 50.b6 Bb8 51. Bh6 Be5 52. Be3 Bb8 53. Bc5)
27. Ra7
Now I understood that I was going to have a very difficult endgame to try to draw.
27...Rxa7 28. Bxa7 Kf7
There is no way to save the pawn on a5, so I simply get my king into the center, hoping that this will allow me to force a draw somehow.
29. Bb6 Ke6 30. Bxa5 Bc5+ 31. Kf1 f5 32. Ke2 g5 33. Bd2 Kd5 34. h4 Be7
I thought that taking the pawn on h4 would be bad, but apparently I can draw with this. (34...gxh4 35. c4+ Ke6 36. Bxh6 Be7 37. Be3 e4 38. fxe4 fxe4 39. b4 Bxb4 40.Bg5 Ke5 41. b3 Kf5 42. Bxh4 Bf8 43. Be1 c5 44. Bh4 Ke5 45. Bd8 Kf4 46. Bc7+ Kf5 47. g3 Bg7 48. Bd6 Bd4 49. b4 cxb4 50. Bxb4 Kg4 51. Bd6 Ba7 52. Bf4 Bd4 53. Be3 Be5 54. Bf2 Bd6 =)
35. hxg5 hxg5 36. c4+ Ke6 37. Kd3 c5 38. Be3?
This is a mistake that gives black a fairly straightforward draw, but I didn't see the right idea. (38. g4 e4+ 39. fxe4 fxg4 40. Ke3 Bd6 41. Bc3 Bf4+ 42. Kf2 g3+ 43. Kf3 g4+ 44. Kg2 Kd6 45. b4 cxb4 46. Bxb4+ Ke5 47. Be1 Kxe4 48. Bxg3 Bd2 49. Bf2 Bf4 50. b3 Kd3 51. c5 Kc3 52. Bg3 Be3 53. c6 Bb6 =)
I overlooked the power of the coming b4 move, so I thought that getting the pawn to f4 with tempo so that my king could come to f5 would then allow me to play an eventual g4 or e4 and draw. The right move here was 38...g4! since it allows a consolidation that makes it pretty easy to draw. (38... g4 39. Bf2 gxf3 40. gxf3 Kd6 41. Bg3 Ke6 =)
39. Bf2 Kf5 40. b4 cxb4 41. c5 Ke6 42. Kc4 b3 43. Kxb3 Kd5 44. Kb4 g4 45. Kb5 g3
Playing e4 instead doesn't quite work either.
46. Bg1 Bd8 47. b4 Bc7 48. Ka6 Kc4 49. b5 Kd3 50. b6 Bb8 51. c6 Ke2 52. c7 Bxc7 53. bxc7 Kf1 54. c8=Q Kxg2 55. Qc7 Kxg1 56. Qxe5 Kf2 57. Qxf4 g2 58. Qg4 1-0

Reykjavik Open round 7

I was very nervous before this game. As before, I wanted to at least not lose so that I could continue to play people above me in rating. Already I was dropping down to play someone lower than anyone else I had played so far, so losing this game would be a real blow to my tournament aspirations. I had played this gentleman before, in the October Icelandic Team Championships, and he had beaten me with the black pieces. I prepared for the two main defenses he used - the 2...e6 Sicilian or the French Winawer.

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2008"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2008.03.09"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Finnlaugsson, Gunnar"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C10"]
[WhiteElo "2079"]
[BlackElo "2128"]

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4
This made me really worried. I had not prepared for this, and I had no knowledge of how to properly play against this line. Only twice before had anyone played this line against me, and that was back in the 1980s!
4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. Nf3 b6 7. Bf4 Bb7 8. Be2
I didn't want to play this move,and I don't know why I worried that he would take my f3 knight with his bishop. I should have simply played Qd2 and castled queenside. (8. Qd2 Bd6 9. O-O-O Sadvakasov-Privman)
8...Nd7 9. O-O
I didn't want to castle kingside, yet I convinced myself that I had no choice.
9...Bd6 10. Bxd6 cxd6 11. Re1 Qc7 12. c4 O-O-O 13. b4
I was relatively content here, thinking I might be able to build up a huge attack against his king, but I worried about how fast his attack against my king might come.
13...Kb8 14. Qb3
I think now that I should have played Bf1 instead, with the idea of playing g3 and bishop to g2. That is far better than my lame idea that placed my knight on h4.
14...Rdg8 15. Nh4?!
I shouldn't have worried so much about his attack. I could have simply gone for my own attack with 15. a4 here. (15. a4 Rg7 16. a5 Rhg8 17. g3)
15...f5 16. Bf3
This was why I played the knight to h4. I wanted to try to trade off the white squared bishops.
This is the problem, though. I needed him to trade bishops; I don't want to take his and help him get his queen into the attack.
17. Rac1 Ne4 18. d5?!
I overlooked the best way to seal up an advantage with 18. Qe3! (18. Qe3 Ng5 (18... Qd8 19. Qh6 Rg5 20. Red1 Rhg8 21. c5) 19. Bxb7 Qxb7 20. d5)
An excellent move. Now I am in some real trouble due to that terrible knight on h4.
19. Bxe4 Qxh4?
A bad mistake. He could have had a clear advantage with 19...fxe4. (19...fxe4 20. Rxe4 (20. Qh3 exd5 (20... Bc8 21. f4 exd5 22. f5 dxc4 23. Rxe4 d5 24.Rd4) 21. cxd5 Bxd5 (21...Bc8 22. Rxc8+ Qxc8 23. Qxc8+ Rxc8 24. Nf5 Rc2 25.Kf1 Rxa2 26. Nxd6 Rb2 27. Nxe4 Rxb4 28. Nf6) 22. a3 Qg5 (22...Be6 23. Qc3 Rg4 24. g3 Rhg8 25. Ng2 d5) 23. g3 Rc8 24. Rcd1 Be6 25. Qg2 d5 26. f4! exf3 (26...Qf6 27. f5 Bd7 28. Rxd5 Bc6 29. Rdd1) 27. Nxf3) 20...f5 21. Rxe6 Qxh4 22. g3 Qd8 23. a4 f4 24. a5 h5 25. axb6 axb6 26. Qf3 fxg3 27.fxg3)
20. Bf3 Qe7
I had been nervous about 20...e5, but it turns out white retains a big advantage. (20...e5 21. c5! (21. g3 e4 22. Bg2 Qd8 23.Red1) 21...e4 22. g3! Qe7 (22...exf3 23. Re8+ Bc8 (23...Kc7 24. cxb6+ Kxb6 (24...Kd7 25. Qa4+ Bc6 26. Qxc6#)) 24. cxb6) 23. Bg2)
21. dxe6?!
Well, I blew it with this move. I was still worrying about his attack against me. Instead I should have looked at how I could attack him! 21. c5! is the start of an overwhelming attack here. (21. c5! e5 22. c6 Bc8 23. a4 Qg5 24. g3 f4 25. c7+ Kb7 26. b5 h5 27. Qa3 Qf6 28. a5 bxa5 29. Rc6 fxg3 30.fxg3 h4 31. Rxd6 Qf4 32. Re4 Qd2 33. Qc5 Ka8 34. Ra6 Bxa6 35. bxa6 Qh6 36. d6)
21...fxe6 22. Bxb7 Qxb7 23. f3 1/2-1/2
I made the draw offer here for a few reasons. First, I had just gone from feeling I may be lost a few moves ago to now not knowing who was better. I felt that I might be better, but I just couldn't tell. I figured if he accepted the draw it would suit me since it would allow me to still play up the next round, while if he declined it then that would help me mentally. Why? Because my mind at this point kept thinking about a draw, and since I believe firmly in only offering a draw once per game, if he declined the draw then I could get my mind off of the draw idea and simply concentrate on playing the game.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reykjavik Open round 6

Oh what a tough round this one turned out to be. For the third time in a row my preparation got me through the opening. He varied just prior to the new move I was going to try out on him, just as FM Arngrimsson did in round 4.

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2008"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2008.03.08"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Thomassen, FM Joachim"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B33"]
[WhiteElo "2308"]
[BlackElo "2079"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 9. Nd5 Be7 10. Bxf6 Bxf6 11. c3 Bg5 12. Nc2 O-O 13. a4 bxa4 14. Rxa4 a5 15. Bc4 Bd7
All of this was blitzed out by both sides. Apparently he plays just like this each time he chooses the Sicilian (He plays 1. d4 also, so I had to prepare for that too). I was following a specific game of his, but in that game he played 16. b3 rather than his next.
16. Ra2
In the game I was following he later followed with this move, so I still had hopes of transposing back into that game.
16…Ne7 17. O-O Nxd5 18. Bxd5 Rb8 19. Na3
This killed off any chances for transposition back into my preparation. I saw here that he wanted to go after my 'a' pawn. I looked at two moves, either 19…a4 or the move I chose. I believe I should have gone with a4.
It seems to me to be about equal after 19...a4 20. Nc4 Bb5 21. Re1 Kh8.
20. b3 Qc7 21. Qc2 Be6 22. Bxe6 fxe6 23. Nc4 Rb5 24. Rfa1
I moved too hastily without thinking things through. I assumed I could gain enough counterplay against his queenside pawns. I actually could have had a nice potential advantage here if I had seen the right move - 24...d5! 25. exd5 (25. Nxa5 Bc5 26. Qc1 (26. Qd1 Bb6 27. b4 Qxc3 28. exd5 exd5 29. Rb1 Rxb4 30. Qxd5+ Kh8 31. Rf1 (31. Nb3 Rbf4 32. Kh1 Bxf2 33. Ra8 Be1 34. Rxf8+ Rxf8 35. g3 Qe3 36. Qg2 Bb4 37. Qd5 Rf2 38. Ra1 Qe2 39. Kg1 Bf8 40. Rd1 e4 41. Qd2 Rg2+ 42. Kh1 Rxh2+ 43. Kg1 Qh5 44. Qf4 (44. Qxh2 Qxd1+ 45. Kg2 Qf3+ 46. Kh3 Qxb3 and black wins) 44...Kg8 45. Rf1 Rh1+ 46. Kf2 Rxf1+ 47. Kxf1 Qd1+ 48. Kg2 Qxb3 49. Qxe4 h6 and black wins) 31...Rb2 32. Rxb2 Qxb2 33. Kh1 e4 34. Nc4 Qe2 35. Rg1 Ba7 36. h3 Qxf2 and black wins) 26...Bxf2+ 27. Rxf2 Rxa5 with equality) 25...exd5 26. Ne3 (26. Nxa5 Bc5 27. Qd1 Bxf2+ 28. Rxf2 Rxa5 equality) 26...Bh4 27. Qd3 Qb7 28. c4 e4 29. Qd1 dxc4 30. Nxc4 Qa7 31. g3 Be7! 32. Qe1 (32. Nxa5 e3 33. Nc6 exf2+ 34. Kf1 Qb7 35. Rc1 Re5! 36. Re2 (36. Rxf2 Rxf2+ 37. Kxf2 Bc5+ 38. Rxc5 Rxc5 39. Nd4 Qe4 and black wins) (36. Nxe5?? Qh1+ 37. Ke2 f1=Q+ 38. Qxf1 Qe4+ 39. Kd2 Bb4+ 40. Rc3 (40. Kd1 Rxf1#) 40...Rxf1 black wins) 36... Rxe2 37. Qxe2 Bg5 38. Qc4+ Kh8 39. Rd1 Be3 with a large edge to black) 32...Bc5 33. Qxe4 Rxb3 34. Rxa5 Bxf2+ 35. Kg2 Qb7 36. Qxb7 Rxb7 equality)
25. Nxa5 d5
This is still my best try now, though I wish I had seen the idea the previous move while my rook was still on f8 and could contribute to an assault on the f2 square.
26. Qd3 dxe4
26…d4 may have been a better practical try for counterplay here.
27. Qxe4 Qxc3 28. Nc6 Re8 29. Nxe7+ Rxe7 30. Ra8+ Kf7 31. Qxh7 Rb8!
This is the only move that gave me any chance at holding on for a bit.
32. Qh5+ g6
It is hard for me to tell, but it may have been better to just play 32...Kf6 33. R8a3 Rxb3 34. Qh4+ Kf7 35. Ra8 Rb8 though white still has a clear edge.
33. Qh7+ Kf6 34. Qh4+ Kf7 35. R8a4 Reb7 36. Rf1
I felt this was a great idea by him, threatening to play f4 and open up dangerous lines against my king.
36…Qxb3 37. Re4 Kg7?!
I give up too much. I could have fought a bit harder with 37...Qd5 38. Re3 (38. f4 Rb1 39. Qh7+ Kf8 40. Qh8+ Kf7 41. Qxe5 Rxf1+ 42. Kxf1 Rb1+ 43. Kf2 Rb2+ 44. Qxb2 Qxe4 45. Qd2 with a white edge) 38...Kg7 39. Rfe1 Rf7 40. h3 Rf4 41. Qg3 Rb2 42. f3 Qd4 43. Kh2 Rb5 44. Re4 Rxe4 45. Rxe4 Qd6 46. Rg4 Qd3 47. h4 Qf5 48. Rg5 Qf6 49. h5 and white is winning.
38. Qg5 Qc3?!
Again missing a better defensive try with 38...Rf8 39. Qxe5+ Rf6 40. Rh4 Qc2 41.Qe3 Kg8 42. Re4 Rb1 43. f3 (43. Rxe6?? Rxf1+ 44. Kxf1 Qc4+ and black wins!) 43...Rb2 44. Qg5 Qd2 45. Qg3 Rb4 46. Rxb4 Qxb4 47. Re1 Qd4+ 48. Kh1 Kg7 49. h3 Qc5 50. Kh2 Qc3 51. Re4 Qc5 52. Qe5 Qxe5+ 53. Rxe5 Kf7 54. Kg3 Ke7 (54... Rf5 55. Rxf5+ exf5 56. Kf4 Kf6 57. h4 Ke6 58. h5 gxh5 59. Kg5 h4 60. Kxh4 Kf6 61. Kh5 Ke5 62. g4 and white wins).
39. Rg4 Qd3 40. Qxe5+ Kf7 41. Rf4+ Kg8 42. Qxe6+ Kg7 43. Qf6+ Kg8 44. Rg4
A quicker win was 44. Rh4 Rh7 (44...Rg7 45. Qe6+ Rf7 46. Qe5 and wins) 45. Qe6+ Rf7 46. Qe5 and white wins.
44...Rb6 45. Qg5 Qxf1+
Sure, I could have struggled on longer with 45...Re8 46. f3 Kg7 47. Rc1 Qe3+ 48.Qxe3 Rxe3 49. Kf2 Rbe6 50. Rc7+ Kh6 51. Kg3 but what was the point? I at least felt better with my try, hoping vainly for a perpetual check that I knew wouldn’t come.
46. Kxf1 Rb1+ 47. Ke2 R1b2+ 48. Kf3 R2b3+ 49. Qe3
Exactly, he just gives the queen back with a winning endgame.
49…Rxe3+ 50. Kxe3 Kg7 51. h4 Rb5 52. Kf4 Kf6 53. Rg5 Rb4+ 54. Kg3 Rb3+ 55. f3 Rb4 56. Kh3 Rf4 57. Rg4 Rf5 58. f4 Ra5 59. Rg5 Ra1 60. Kg4 Ra4 61. h5 gxh5+ 62. Rxh5 Kg6 63. Rb5 Ra6 64. f5+ Kf6 65. Rb4 Ra5 66. Rb6+ Kf7 67. Kg5 Ra7 68. g4 Rc7 69. Rh6 Kg8 70. Ra6 Kf7 71. Ra5 Rc6 72. Ra7+ Kg8 73. f6 Rc5+ 74. Kg6 Rc8 75. Rg7+ Kf8 76. Rh7 1-0

Reykjavik Open round 5

Now I was back in the same situation as before round 3, where I didn’t want to lose and end up playing down against lower rated opposition; I wanted at least a draw. To make matters worse, I was really stressed out over what had happened in the game from round 4, and this didn’t allow me to get much sleep. I got up and dutifully began to prepare, but my heart was not in it today. I simply felt burnt out on chess. This is sad because my preparation really helped out today, more than in any other game I have played.

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2008"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2008.03.07"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Bjornsson, Bjorn"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C54"]
[WhiteElo "2079"]
[BlackElo "2194"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5
I had seen from the databases that he always met Bc4 with the Giuoco Piano, though there were no instances showing how he plays against the 7. Bd2 variation. For more than twenty years I had played the mainline 7. Nc3, but my experiences with that had shown me that too many players knew the line cold and black just plain comes out better, so I decided to switch to the more solid Bd2 variation. This game was the first time I got to use it in a real game.
4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. cxd4 Bb4+ 7. Bd2
It really is nice when your preparation works out, because you feel that you are much better prepared than your opponent for what is coming. This line is considered boring by most people, and it is very drawish, but it is hard for white to lose and does give white some practical chances at an advantage. That is exactly what I wanted for this round when I didn’t want to lose and I wasn’t truly in the mood to even play.
7…Bxd2+ 8. Nbxd2 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Qb3 Nce7 11. O-O O-O 12. Rfe1 c6 13. Ne4 Qb6
Well darn. This line is very drawish, and I was hoping he would play the more active 13…Nb6. I had studied the Qb6 move at home, though, so I was ready for it.
14. Nc3 Be6 15. Qxb6 axb6 16. Ng5 Nf5?
This was the first new move for me, and I had not seen it in my home preparation. I had no idea whether it was an ok try or a blunder. I examined the position for awhile, especially the obvious move 17. Nxe6. I became worried about letting him take my d4 pawn with the knight, and since I recognized the endgame after taking on d5 instead and knew it left me with a small edge, I went with that. A better move for black is 16...b5 17. Nxe6 fxe6 18. Bb3 and white retains a small edge.
17. Bxd5?!
If I wanted to win then I needed to go for it with 17. Nxe6 fxe6 18. Rxe6 Nxc3 (18...Nxd4 19. Re4 Nc2 (19...Nf5 20. Nxd5 cxd5 21. Bxd5+ Kh8 22. Rd1 Rfd8 23. a3 Rd7 24. g4 Nh4 25. Kf1 g5 26. Bb3 Rxd1+ 27. Bxd1 Rd8 28. Ke2 Ng6 29. Bc2 Nf4+ 30. Ke3 and white wins) 20. Nxd5 cxd5 (20...Kh8 21. Ne7 g5 22. Rc1 Nb4 23. a3 Na6 24. Bxa6 and white wins) (20...Nxa1 21. Ne7+ Kh8 22. Ng6+ hxg6 23. Rh4#) 21. Bxd5+ Kh8 22. Rd1 Rad8 23. Rc4 Rfe8 24. g3 Ne1 25. Kf1 g6 26. Rc7 Re5 27. Rxe1 Rxe1+ 28. Kxe1 Rxd5 29. Rxb7 b5 and white wins) 19. bxc3 and white has a winning advantage. Notice the cute little checkmate if he takes the rook on move 20!
17...Bxd5 18. Nxd5
I offered the draw despite knowing I had an endgame advantage. I had seen a very similar endgame on my computer that morning, and though white had the clear edge, it nearly always still turned out to be drawn. Since I wasn’t in the mood and just wanted to get out of there, I figured this was a convincing position to offer a draw and expect that he would take it. At least it offered me one more round against strong opposition. {18...cxd5 19. Nf3 Rfe8 and white has only a slight edge.}