Sunday, January 27, 2008

Playing in Iceland

I'll jump ahead of these older games and show some of my more recent stuff. This was originally posted on the Daily Dirt website and is for a team event played in October 2007:

I finally played some classical chess (or the closest you can call it given the FIDE time control) again after five years away. I felt nervous and rusty, and it showed.

Since moving to Iceland I have seen how amazing the chess scene is here. I joined a small club team called Haukar. This past weekend the first leg of the Icelandic League Team Championships took place, with four rounds. Three more rounds will be played after the new year. I played in the second division (out of four) for the Haukar-B team. Like English league soccer, the top two and bottom two teams from each division (if I understand things correctly) move up or down to the next division each year. So, our team is trying to move up to the first division, though we already have a team there. The first division teams tend to have some rented GMs from overseas. I saw GMs like Kveynis and Nataf playing, but I didn't really look much because I was busy.

I may have only played four games, but I get the impression that Icelanders are vastly underrated, perhaps because they mainly play in a rather closed rating group here on an island. I have played many players between 2000-2200 over the last couple of decades, but these seem better. I Fritzed my games and found that my opponents played only a single significant mistake out of four games! I am used to amateurs making several small to medium mistakes throughout each game; I certainly always do, but these guys simply didn't. It sure made it tough. Two games I lost simply because I made very minor mistakes (that few on this board would see as mistakes at all) and then the games progressed very well all the way to impressive endgames where I simply couldn't save the games. I am not used to opponents playing nearly perfectly. I am weaker in openings and stronger in the rest, so I typically get average or poor positions out of openings and then fight back to win or draw, but that didn't work here. I complicated as best I could, but these guys seem to just be too good. Note that I am NOT suggesting any sort of cheating; it was obvious that everyone was playing real chess.

I played the first round on board three (out of six) and lost a very tough endgame. Then they moved me down to board four for the second game. I played too quickly at a critical point in the opening and blundered. This was my worst game. But, in round 3 our team lost its two best players (one had to leave because his wife was having a baby) and I had to move up to board two! I had to play black against the highest rated player that I faced, and I won! That made me feel a bit better. The last round was again against a player rated higher than me, and again it was a tough, grinding loss in an endgame after only a minor mistake in the opening. Oddly, not one game went into any of the opening lines that I know; they all diverged early into weird lines and I had to make everything up over the board.

Despite my relatively poor showing, our team did very well and finished in second place. This despite having forfeited a game in round 4 when one of our players never showed. So, we are in good position to move up to the first division, especially since out of the three rounds we have left to play, two of them are against the two weakest teams.

I am going to put up three of my games from the recent Icelandic League event in which I played for the Haukar-B team. I think each of these has instructive endgames, and maybe other small lessons for amateur players. Strong players will not want to bother with these.

[Event "Icelandic League Team"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2007.10.12"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Jonatansson, Helgi"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B02"]
[WhiteElo "2108"]
[BlackElo "2075"]
[WhiteTeam "Haukar Chess Club-B"]
[BlackTeam "Reykjanesbaejar-A"]

Ok, so this was my first FIDE rated game since March, 2003. I felt extremely nervous and rusty, especially since I didn’t want to let my new team down.
1.e4 Nf6
Ugh, I was already unhappy because I can't stand the Alekhine's Defense. I tried for many years to play normally against it, but recently I have tried to avoid it. In my last FIDE event I even beat a master with my 2.Nc3 variation.
2.Nc3 d5
But this was new to me, and I also really dislike playing against the Center Counter, so I didn't want to play 3. ed5. I didn't know if playing 3. e5 would be ok, but I decided to go for it.
3.e5 d4 4.exf6 dxc3 5.fxe7?!
Apparently this is a slight mistake, though not too bad. The GMs all seem to play 5.fxg7 cxd2+ 6.Qxd2 Qxd2+ 7.Bxd2 Bxg7 8.0–0–0 with equality.
5...cxd2+ 6.Bxd2 Bxe7 7.Nf3?!
I didn't realize that normal development in this position would be wrong. I overlooked the fact that my pawns on the queenside could be weak and easily besieged by my opponent's bishop-pair. So, better is 7.Qf3 (with the idea of castling quickly) 0–0 8.0–0–0 Be6 with equality, or even a simple 7. Bc3.
7...0–0 8.Bd3?!
Given the pawn weaknesses on the queenside, it is better here to play 8.Be3with equality.
8...Bf6 9.Rb1
Now I understood what I had done wrong, and while I never like to put a rook into such a ridiculous situation as defending on b1, I didn't see any compensation if I just gave up the pawn. However, Fritz seems to prefer doing just that - 9.0–0 Bxb2 10.Rb1 Bf6 11.Re1, with some compensation for the pawn.
9...Re8+ 10.Be3 Bg4 11.h3 Bh5?!
One of the only inaccuracies my opponent makes in the game. The bishop is better off on e6 to continue putting pressure on the weak queenside.
I failed to take advantage of his inaccuracy. I could have taken a slight advantage by playing 12.g4! Bg6 13.Bxg6 hxg6 14.Qxd8 Bxd8 15.0–0.
12...Nc6 13.Be2
I still could have had at least equality with 13.g4 Bg6 14.Bxg6 hxg6 15.Qxd8 Raxd8 16.c3=
13...Qe7 14.Qd5
Loads of small inaccuracies on my part, though at my amateur level these are not usually as fatal as they were on this particular weekend. These Icelanders played unbelievably well for their ratings! I thought my move was the only obvious one, but once I saw Fritz's recommendation (14.c3 Bg6 15.Ra1=), I thought that was even more obvious!
14...Bg6 15.Qb3 Qb4 16.Bc4 Rad8 17.Rfd1 a5 18.Ne1?
I had trouble coming up with a good plan here. I thought that by bringing the knight over to d3 I could undo the bishop's pin of the c2 pawn and finally free up my b1 rook. Fritz says I can hold black to a tiny edge by 18.Rxd8 Rxd8 19.a3 Qxb3 20.Bxb3 b5 21.a4.
18...Rxd1 19.Rxd1 Qxb3 20.Bxb3 Bxb2 21.Ba4 Rd8?
Finally, black makes a real mistake, and I actually find the correct plan at first! Better for black was 21...Bc3 22.Rb1 Bxe1 23.Rxe1 Re6 24.c3 Ne5 25.Rd1.
22.Rb1 Bc3 23.Rxb7 Nb4 24.Nd3 Nd5 25.Bb3?
But here I blew it. I had a slight edge if I just played 25.Bc5.
25...c6?! 26.Bxd5 cxd5 27.Rb3?
It has long been amazing to me how many small mistakes one can make in chess and still survive on the amateur level. This is another big mistake on my part, after many small ones, and yet later I still could have saved the game. Here I could have had equality with 27.Bb6 Rc8 28.Nf4 Bxc2 29.Nxd5 Be4 30.Rd7 Bxd5 31.Rxd5 a4=
27...d4 28.Bf4 h6 29.Rb8 Rxb8 30.Bxb8 Kf8 31.Bd6+ Ke8 32.Kf1 Be4 33.f3 Bd5 34.a3 h5 35.Nf4 Bc4+ 36.Kf2 Kd7 37.Bf8 g6 38.Ne2 Bb2 39.Bc5 Bxe2 40.Kxe2 Kc6 41.Be7 Kb5 42.Kd3 Ka4 43.Bc5
Now, looking at this endgame I was unsure whether I could pull off a draw or not. I know he had the edge, of course, due to the advanced a-pawn. I thought I couldn't move my king in front of his a-pawn since his bishop could just defend it on a2 while his king roamed over to the other side and won. It turns out I was wrong, though it is difficult to see it.
43...Bxa3 44.Bxd4?
How many times do we quickly play the moves we think are obvious only to find later that there was something more going on? Here I could have saved the game with 44.Kxd4! Bxc5+ 45.Kxc5 f6 46.f4 h4 47.c4 Kb3 48.Kd5 a4 49.c5 a3 50.c6 a2 51.c7 a1Q 52.c8Q=
44...Kb5 45.g4 Bc5 46.Bf6 a4 47.f4
Pretty much blowing my last chance, though it is hard to see the amazing defense over the board. By playing 47.Kc3 Bd6 48.g5 h4 49.Kb2 Kc4 50.Ka2 Kd5 51.Bc3 Be7 52.Bd2 the bishop and pawns would have coordinated to keep the enemy king away from my pawns.
47...hxg4 48.hxg4 Bd6 49.f5 a3 50.fxg6 fxg6 51.c4+?
Here 51. c3 gives me better chances to hold on.
51...Kb4 52.Kd4 a2 53.Kd5 Bc5 54.Be5 Be3 55.Bd6+?
Basically giving up. I could have made it really hard by playing 55.Ba1 Bf2 56.Bb2 Be1 57.c5 Bc3 58.c6 Bxb2 59.c7 a1Q 60.c8Q
55...Kb3 56.Be5 Bc1 57.c5 Bb2 58.Bxb2 Kxb2 59.c6 a1Q 60.Kd6 Qd1+ 61.Kc7 Qxg4 62.Kb8 Qb4+ 63.Ka8 Qa5+ 64.Kb7 Qb5+ 65.Kc7 g5 66.Kd6 Qd3+ 67.Kc7 g4 0–1
Yeah, I played on longer than I should have. I had just never been in an endgame before where my pawn was on the 6th against a queen. I was still thinking about how one can draw with a bishop pawn on the 7th, though in this case it doesn't work due to black's extra pawn – he can always just take my pawn with his queen and advance the other one, though he doesn't even need to do that.

[Event "Icelandic League Team"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2007.10.13"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Larusson, Petr"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B31"]
[WhiteElo "2134"]
[BlackElo "2108"]
[WhiteTeam "Haukar Chess Club-B"]
[BlackTeam "Akraness"]

Despite my losses in rounds one and two, I was moved up to board two for our team due to our two top players not being able to show up for this round. One of them had a wife in the hospital having a baby. We thought it would really hurt us, but we actually won this round 5.5 - .5! Only with some luck in my game though.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5
These guys magically all seem to know the best lines to play against me! I have never done well against this variation; I really prefer the straight 3. d4 lines.
3...g6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.h3 Bg7 6.d3 Nf6 7.Nbd2 0–0 8.0–0 b6 9.Qe2 Ba6 10.a4 Qc7 11.Rd1 Rad8 12.e5 Nd5 13.Nf1 e6?!
Fritz doesn't seem to mind this move much, but later in the game I really regretted having played it. It got in my way for defense.
14.N1h2 Rd7 15.Ng4 c4
I was feeling a bit desperate here, with my black square weaknesses around my king. I needed counter-play in the center but the only idea I could see was to have a rook or queen on d8, and if the pawn was no longer on d3 then I could threaten to play my knight to c3. This is why I played 15...c4.
16.dxc4 h5 17.Nh6+ Kh8 18.g4 Qd8
This is the point of my earlier 15...c4 move; I now have the threat of playing Nc3. It is not really a solid threat, but I was grasping at straws here!
19.Bg5 is even better.
19...Bxh6 20.Bxh6
I sure didn't want to give up this bishop for the knight, but I couldn't go through with my plan otherwise, since at the end of the combination his knight would be able to take on f7 with a fork.
20...Nc3 21.bxc3 Rxd1+ 22.Rxd1 Qxd1+ 23.Kg2
Ok, here I was, hoping I might finally be in better shape having won the exchange, but the longer I looked at the position the less I liked it. He had too many threats, so I felt I had no choice but to offer the exchange back in return for removing his dangerous bishop.
23...Qd8 24.gxh5?!
He didn't want it, so I decided to keep it!
24...Rg8 25.Bg5 gxh5 26.Qh4 Rg6??
Ouch! A real howler just when I could have drawn the game with 26...Rg7 27.Qxh5+ Kg8 28.Kh2 Qd1 29.Bf6 Qf1 30.Bxg7 Qxf2+ 31.Kh1 Kxg7=
27.Qxh5+ Kg8 28.Kh2??
Lucky me! The one real blunder my opponents made all weekend! He could have simply played 28.Qxg6+ and then taken my queen.
28...Qf8 29.Bf6?
He could probably still have won by playing the knight to h4 - 29.Nh4 Rg7 30.Bf6 Qc5 31.Qf3 Bxc4 32.Bxg7 Kxg7 33.Qg3+ Kh8 34.Nf3 Be2 35.Ng5 Bh5 36.Ne4+-
Now I knew I should win if I could just get my rook out of the corner.
30.Qxh6 Rxh6 31.Nd2 c5 32.Ne4 Bxc4 33.Bg5 Rg6 34.h4 Be2 35.Nd6?!
Better is 35. Nf6+, though I would still win after 35...Kh8 36.Kg3 Bd1 37.Kf4 Bxc2 38.h5 Rg7 39.Ng4 Bxa4 40.Bf6 Kh7 41.Bxg7 Kxg7 42.Ke3 Bd1 43.Nf6 Kh6–+
35...Bd1 36.Nc8 Kh7 37.Nxa7 Rg8 38.Nc6 Ra8 39.Nd8 Kg6 40.Kg3 Rxa4 41.f3 Bxc2 42.Bd2
I was proud of myself for seeing right here that I could trap his knight. No matter where he goes, my pawns hem in the knight.
42...Ra8 43.Nc6 Ba4 44.Ne7+ Kg7 45.Kg4 Re8 46.Bg5 Kf8 47.f4 Rxe7 48.Bxe7+ Kxe7 49.f5 0–1

[Event "Icelandic League Team"]
[Site "Reykjavik, Iceland"]
[Date "2007.10.14"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Finnlaugsson, Gunnar"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B45"]
[WhiteElo "2108"]
[BlackElo "2125"]
[WhiteTeam "Selfoss og nagr"]
[BlackTeam "Haukar Chess Club-B"]

Sadly, one of our players didn’t show up for this round, so we started with a forfeit. I actually knew the night before who I was going to play, so I looked up his games. He played a whole lot of Winawer French Defense games, so naturally he didn’t play it against me!
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Ndb5 Bb4
Uh oh! I had played this line many times but everyone always transposed into a Sveshnikov by playing 6...d6. I had vaguely seen Bb4 before but didn't know the line. I just assumed I was better after my move, but it turns out that black holds a slight edge.
Correct is 7.a3 Bxc3+ 8.Nxc3 d5 9.exd5 exd5 with a tiny edge for white.
7...Ke7 8.Bf4 e5 9.Nf5+?!
I felt that taking on c8 was wrong since it helps black get his rook to c8 quicker, aiming at the weak point on c3, but it turns out that white still holds a slight edge after 9.Nxc8+ Rxc8 10.Bg5.
9...Kf8 10.Bg5 d5 11.exd5
Keeping black's edge to a minimum would be 11.Bxf6 gxf6 ( 11...Qxf6 12.Qxd5 Bxf5 13.exf5 Rd8 14.Qe4 Rd4) 12.exd5 Bxf5 13.dxc6 Qxd1+ 14.Rxd1 bxc6.
11...Qxd5 12.Ne3?!
I didn't like the looks of Ng3 here, but Fritz thinks it is a little better than what I played - 12.Ng3!? Bg4 13.f3 Bxc3+ 14.bxc3 Qxd1+ 15.Rxd1 Be6 with a small edge to black.
12...Qd4 13.Bd3 Bxc3+ 14.bxc3 Qxc3+ 15.Kf1 Be6 16.Qb1?!
It felt wrong to play this, but I was desperately seeking some sort of counterplay and felt that getting the knight to d1 was my only chance. I wanted to bring my bishop back into the game via e3 and was ok with him taking it since I could take back with my pawn, which I thought might give me some chances. Fritz likes 16.Bxf6 gxf6 17.Rb1 Rd8 better though black clearly stands better.
16...Nd5 17.Nd1 Qd4 18.Be3!?
18. Qxb7 was worth a try here, because black would need to choose the correct responses or end up passing the advantage on to me, and for amateurs I think that 18...Rb8 is harder to see. 18.Qxb7!? Rb8 ( 18...Rc8? 19.Rb1 Nf4 ( 19...e4 20.Ba6 Nc7 21.Qxc6 Nxa6 22.Qb7 h6 23.Ne3 hxg5 24.Qxa6 gives black a tiny edge) 20.Bxf4 Qxf4 21.Ne3 e4 22.Bb5 Nd4 23.Bd7 Rd8 24.Bxe6 Nxe6 25.Qxa7 and I take over the advantage) 19.Qxc6 Rc8 20.Qxc8+ Bxc8 21.Rb1–+.
18...Nxe3+ 19.fxe3 Qd7 20.Nf2 f5 21.Ke2 e4 22.Bb5 a6 23.Rd1 Nd4+ 24.Rxd4 Qxb5+ 25.Qxb5 axb5 26.Kd2 Ke7 27.a4
Ok, so this endgame is hopeless, but I actually get a kick seeing how well I do to cut things closer than they look like they should have been!
27...Bd7 28.Rb1?!
Better is 28.a5 Ra6 29.g4 g6 30.gxf5 gxf5 31.Rg1 Rg6 though black should still win.
28...Rxa4 29.Rxa4 bxa4 30.Rxb7 Ra8 31.Nd1 a3 32.Rb1 Kd6 33.Nc3 g5 34.g4 Ke5 35.gxf5 Kxf5 36.Ra1 Ke5 37.Nb1 a2 38.Nc3 Be6 39.Kc1 h5 40.Ne2 h4 41.Nd4 Rf8 42.Kb2 Rf2 43.Rg1 Rxh2 44.Rxg5+ Kf6 45.Nxe6 Rxc2+ 46.Ka1 Kxe6 47.Rg4 Kd5 48.Rxh4 Re2 49.Rg4 Rxe3 50.Kxa2 Rc3 51.Kb2 Rc6 52.Rg5+ Kd4 53.Rg3 e3 54.Rg8 e2 55.Re8 Kd3 56.Rd8+ Ke3 57.Re8+ Kd2 58.Rd8+ Ke1 59.Kb3 Rf6 60.Kc2 Kf1 0–1

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