Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Big Chess Week Ahead

I was already excited about the prospect of the 2008 Reykjavik Open starting next Monday, but then I found out I need to complete the second leg of the Icelandic Team Championships this weekend also. Too much chess all at once!

I feel honored to be included in the Reykjavik Open. It is a very strong tournament; probably the strongest average rating for an event that I will have ever played in. The rules state that foreigners over 2200 FIDE can compete, and Icelanders over 2000 FIDE. Well, at 2079 I don't quite qualify, but I would like to thank the organizer for allowing me to play. I guess since I do live here in Iceland and compete for an Icelandic club (Haukar) I am an honorary citizen of sorts.

The final round of the Icelandic Team Championships will be on Saturday, and I may face a very strong player as we will compete against the top team, and they fielded a GM on board 1 last October.

I hoped I might get to play a GM in the Reykjavik Open, but looking at the entries so far, it doesn't look promising. I am currently ranked 83rd out of 87 participants that have signed up so far. I guess I had better keep my goals modest; I'll aim for three points from 9.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Continental Open 1999

The 1999 Continental Open was only the second classical tournament in which I entered following my return to the U.S. from Russia in late 1997. I had played in a few action chess events and done quite poorly; in fact, though you can see my rating listed as 1913 for this event, it actually had dropped all the way down to 1791 due to horrible results in action chess. I am not good at fast time controls, so it was good to get back to classical chess. I had recently played in the National Open in Las Vegas, at classical controls, and I had gone undefeated with four wins and two draws. I had no idea that I would also manage to go undefeated in this tournament!

I am always nervous about playing down against lower rated opponents, and this game illustrates why. All it takes is an unfamiliar opening and a few dubious moves on my part to lead to a nearly lost game. Fortunately, I managed to complicate things just enough that my opponent goes wrong…

[Event "Continental Open"]
[Site "Los Angeles, California"]
[Date "1999.07.22"]
[Round "1"]
[White "King, Anthony"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B22"]
[WhiteElo "1738"]
[BlackElo "1913"]

1. e4 c5 2. c3
I have never, even today, gotten used to playing against certain openings, and this is one of them. I play the 2…d5 variation because it seems the most principled to me – after all, the queen can come to d5 after the pawn trade and the white knight cannot attack her because the move 2. c3 has been played. However, I don’t know any of the theory of this opening, so I am always at a loss as to what to do after the third or fourth move!
2…d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nf6
It’s interesting to me to see that I chose Nf6 back then, given that more recently I have played the bishop out first and gotten into some bad games.
5. Nf3 Bg4 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Nc6 8. h3 Bf5 9. Na3 cxd4 10. Nb5
I can’t comment on the accuracy of the opening play, because I simply don’t know whether what we are doing is normal or not. The computer sees this position as equal.
10…Rc8 11. Nbxd4 Bc5 12. Nxf5 Qxf5 13. Qb3 Bb6 14. Bg5 O-O 15. Rad1 Ne5
Around this point in the game I began to feel antsy because my relatively low rated opponent was never making any mistakes. I didn’t want to start off this tournament, for which I had journeyed all the way to Los Angeles, with an upset. I couldn’t see any way of forcing any advantage, so I decided I needed to try complicating a little to see if I might induce a mistake.
16. Bh4 Qe4?!
I played this clearly dubious move for the reasons stated above. It leads to a clear advantage for my opponent. Much better would have been Qf4, plus it has the potential for my opponent to miss the pin from the bishop on b6 by playing the ‘obvious’ Bg3, only to lose it to Qxg3.
17. Bxf6 gxf6 18. Nxe5 Qxe2
Now, Qxe5 was ostensibly the better move, but Qxe2 is, in my opinion, the better try under the current game circumstances, as it has a small trap built into it should my opponent play a move that looks obvious, which he does…
19. Rde1??
For some reason I had a sneaking suspicion that he would fall for this trick. He maintains a large advantage if he plays 19. Nd7 Rfd8 20. Nxf6+ Kg7 21. Nd7.
I win a full rook, so the rest is just making sure I don’t blow it. I play a bit too conservatively, but that is ok under the circumstances.
20. Rxf2 Qxe1+ 21. Rf1 Qxe5 22. Qxb7 Qe3+ 23. Kh1 Rb8 24. Qe7 Rxb2 25. Qxf6 Rb5 26. Rf4 Qe1+ 27. Rf1 Qg3 0-1

My next opponent was the number 2 seed in the Under 2000 section in which I played, so I was expecting a tough game. He arrived late, played quickly, and didn’t quite seem like the higher rated opponent that I was expecting.

[Event "Continental Open"]
[Site "Los Angeles, California"]
[Date "1999.07.23"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Giles, Patrick"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B80"]
[WhiteElo "1913"]
[BlackElo "1986"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6
I love this kind of open Sicilian. It leads to the kind of tactics that fit my style. I play this line differently now; back then I was just trying to get into the main lines of the Najdorf Sicilian, but my opponent seemed intent on not playing a6 no matter what. That is what ultimately destroyed him in this game.
6. Bg5 Be7 7. f4 Bd7 8. Qf3 Nc6 9. O-O-O Rc8?
As I said, his insistence on not playing a6 really hurts him. Now he cannot defend the pawn on d6.
10. Ndb5! Qa5 11. Nxd6+ Bxd6 12. Rxd6 Nb4
My opponent tries to create counterplay against my king.
13. Bxf6
As is often the case, once one side has an advantage it is good to trade off material.
13…gxf6 14. a3 Rxc3
The theme of sacrificing a rook for the knight on c3 is very common in the Sicilian Defense, and here it is clearly the best chance for black to try to save the game.
15. bxc3 Qxa3+ 16. Kd2 Ke7?
This move increases my advantage. Black needed to try Na2, when the queen would both threaten the rook on d6 and a check on c1. I still would maintain the advantage after either Qd3 or e5.
17. Rxd7+!
Returning the rook, but in exchange I am exposing his king to direct attack shortly.
17…Kxd7 18. cxb4 Qxb4+ 19. Qc3 Qxe4 20. Bb5+ Kd6 21. Rd1!
I was very proud of this move! It is clever because it allows black to take either of the ‘free’ pawns on f4 or g2 while checking my king, yet when my king moves it reveals the attack of the rook on black’s king instead.
21…Qxf4+ 22. Ke2+
It is checkmate in two now.
22…Ke7 23. Qc5+ 1-0

[Event "Continental Open"]
[Site "Los Angeles, California"]
[Date "1999.07.23"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Tjokrosurjo, Omega"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B17"]
[WhiteElo "1913"]
[BlackElo "1941"]

1. e4 c6
I have tended to have good results against the Caro-Kann Defense, so I am always happy to see it.
2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7
This variation was a favorite of Karpov, and I like to play against it.
5. Bc4 Ngf6 6. Ng5 e6 7. Qe2 Nb6 8. Bd3 c5 9. dxc5 Bxc5 10. N1f3 Nbd7?
I am not sure why he made this mistake. A person who plays this line should know better. I suppose he knew my knight was coming to e5 and wanted to be proactive about it.
11. O-O!?
Yep, I chickened out here. I was itching to play the correct move Nxf7!, but I couldn’t quite see deeply enough to be certain I was ok. I should have gone for it - 11. Nxf7! Kxf7 12. Ng5+ Ke8 13. Nxe6 Qa5+ 14. Bd2 Bb4 15. Bxb4 Qxb4+ 16. c3 Qa5 17. Bc4 gives me a winning edge, though what I played still leaves me with a better game.
11...h6 12. Ne4 O-O 13. Nxc5 Nxc5 14. Rd1 Nxd3 15. Rxd3 Bd7 16. Ne5 Qe7 17. Nxd7 Nxd7 18. Bf4
I like to develop while making threats at the same time. The threat may be obvious – Bd6 – but it provokes his mistaken next move.
Playing 18…Rfd8 is better, though white still maintains an edge. Black’s move allows me to win a pawn.
19. Bxh6! Qe6
If he takes my bishop then my queen comes to g4 with a double attack against his king and the knight on d7.
20. Rad1
I had to play carefully to make sure I didn’t mess things up. This is the right move, but I had to see that I could save the bishop after he plays his next move.
20…Nc5 21. Rd6!
This is the trick that saves the bishop, while bringing all of my pieces into active positions. If I had retreated the bishop on move 20 then my advantage would have been much less. Being up only one pawn means that it is easy to blow it; I needed to play carefully and try to find a way to consolidate my advantage.
21…Qf5 22. Bc1 Ne6 23. R1d5 Nd4!
He plays a fine move, since my planned capture of the e5 pawn fails badly to 24. Qe5?? Rfe8! and black wins.
24. Qd1
This is the right move, though I was unhappy to be giving him back the extra pawn I had won. Still, I have a decent positional advantage due to better placement of my pieces; the trick is to find a way to make it pay off.
24…Nxc2 25. g4!?
This is my rather radical solution, though it is not bad.
25…Qe4 26. f3 Qe1+ 27. Qxe1 Nxe1 28. Kf2 Rfc8 29. Bd2 Nc2 30. Rxe5 Rc7 31. Bc3
Having once again won a pawn, I was now trying to find a way to trap the knight.
31…Na3 32. Rg5 Nc4?
Although he was lost anyway, this just gives me another pawn. He should have played g6.
33. Rxg7+ Kf8 34. Rh6 Rac8 35. Bf6
Threatening checkmate on h8, this allows me to win a third pawn.
35…Ke8 36. Rh8+ Kd7 37. Rxf7+ Ke6 38. Rxc7 Rxc7 39. Bc3 Nxb2
At first I was dismayed that I had let him win a pawn back due to the threat of the rook coming to c2, but then I found a funny way to win the knight without allowing him to fork my king and bishop. It made a little staircase pattern that I found aesthetically pleasing.
40. Rh6+! Kd5 41. Rh5+ Ke6 42. Re5+ Kd6 43. Bxb2 1-0
Now I could safely take the knight, because after Rc2+ I can interpose my rook on e2 to save my bishop.

Wow! I never expected to start 3-0 in this event. I was very happy and hoped I could maintain my good play.

[Event "Continental Open"]
[Site "Los Angeles, California"]
[Date "1999.07.24"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Scott, Gene"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "D03"]
[WhiteElo "1969"]
[BlackElo "1913"]

1. d4
I had a feeling my string of wins could not continue, and seeing my opponent’s first move deepened this feeling. Nothing vexes me more than playing against 1. d4. I keep changing defenses, trying different things, hoping to encounter something that feels right to me, but I never find it. For years I had been meeting this move with 1…f5, the Dutch Defense, but my results were less than decent, so now I was dabbling with the Gruenfeld Defense. I liked it ok, but it had the major drawback that opponents could always force me into a King’s Indian Defense if they wanted, and I did not like the KID.
1…Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c3
Ok, well this is a strange treatment of this opening. I doubt it is a good move; probably it grants black equality immediately. It’s very timid, and this boosted my confidence a bit.
3…Bg7 4. Bg5 O-O 5. Nbd2 d5 6. e3 b6
In these kinds of queen pawn positions black always has trouble figuring out exactly what to do with the queen’s bishop. Bring it outside of the pawn chain before playing e6? Leave it on the queenside? I just guessed and decided to leave it on the queenside.
7. b4 c5 8. Be2 cxd4
I always have a tendency to break the tension too quickly in positions. I think it is better to leave it there and play Na6 and then Nc7.
9. cxd4 Na6 10. Qb3 Qd6?
My move gives white an advantage once he protects the pawn on b4. His bishop can harass my queen by coming to f4.
11. a3
Even better is 11. O-O, due to a trick. I cannot take the pawn on b4 with Qb4 or I will lose a piece to Bxa6!
11…Nc7 12. Bf4 Qd8 13. h3 Ne6 14. Be5 Bb7 15. O-O Rc8 16. Rfc1 Ne4 17. Bxg7 Nxd2 18. Nxd2 Nxg7 19. Qa4 Rxc1+ 20. Rxc1 Qb8
My position is teetering on the edge and I am playing just to hold on the best I can.
21. Qd7 Rc8
I decided to give up a pawn in an attempt to gain more activity for my pieces.
22. Rxc8+ Qxc8 23. Qxe7 Nf5 24. Qe5 Qc2 25. Nf1 Bc6?!
This is not a good move, but I was hoping to keep the bishop on the board to generate play. White can simply play b5 now and be winning easily. Frankly though, the alternative was not so good – 25…Qxe2 26. Qb8+ Kg7 27. Qxb7 and white has a won endgame.
26. Ba6?!
White misses the easiest win with 26. b5
26...Qa4 27. b5 Bxb5 28. Bxb5 Qxb5 29. Qb8+ Kg7 30. Qxa7 Nd6 31. Qe7 Nc4
Things have become much more difficult for white, as his a pawn is vulnerable.
32. Qb4 Qa5 33. Qxa5 bxa5 34. a4 Nb6?
A very bad move on my part. Just when equality was within my grasp I allow his knight to come free, and white now maintains an edge.
35. Nd2 Nxa4 36. Nb3 Nb6 37. Nxa5 h5
I suppose a grandmaster might win this endgame, but I felt fairly confident that I would not lose it.
38. Kf1 Kf6 39. Ke2 Ke6 40. Kd3 g5 41. e4 dxe4+ 42. Kxe4 f5+ 43. Kd3 Nd5 44. g3 h4 45. Nc4?
White makes a terrible mistake, going from a slight advantage to a perhaps losing game in one move.
45…g4 46. Nd2 hxg3?
I failed to see the right move here - 46... gxh3 47. Nf3 hxg3 48. fxg3 and I am the only one with winning chances. With the move I chose it is now just a draw.
47. hxg4 g2 48. gxf5+ Kxf5 49. Nf3 Kg4 50. Ng1 Nf4+ 51. Ke3 Kf5 52. Kf3 Ne6 53. d5 Nf4 54. d6 Nd3 55. Kxg2 Ke6 56. f3 Ne1+ 1/2-1/2

So, things were still not bad. I had three and a half points from four, which put me in a small group near the first place spot. I had survived as black against my dreaded 1. d4 opening. Next I had to face a Russian player who had looked pretty invincible through the first rounds. I had to be black again too, so I again felt not so confident. At least he didn’t play 1. d4 against me!

[Event "Continental Open"]
[Site "Los Angeles, California"]
[Date "1999.07.24"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Reznikov, Gennady"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B21"]
[WhiteElo "1962"]
[BlackElo "1913"]

1. e4 c5 2. f4
While I enjoy playing the Sicilian with either color, playing against the Grand Prix attack (2. f4) always makes me nervous. I always feel that white might just blow me off the board. Fortunately I somehow came out of the opening with an advantage this time.
2…Nc6 3. Nf3 d6 4. Be2 e6 5. d3 g6 6. O-O Bg7 7. c3 Nge7 8. Be3 O-O 9. h3 b6 10. Nh2 d5 11. Qc2 d4 12. Bd2 dxc3 13. Bxc3
I am not an expert on this opening, so I am not sure exactly how it happened, but by this point I have a distinct edge due to my control of the d4 square and white’s porous kingside.
13...Nd4 14. Qd1 Nec6
White has no pawns to dislodge my knights, so the d4 square becomes a fortress for my pieces that is a thorn in white’s side. I am amazed I failed to win this position.
15. Nf3 Nxe2+?!
Better is 15...Ba6 as it builds pressure against white’s position while developing.
16. Qxe2 Nd4 17. Nxd4 Bxd4+ 18. Kh1 Ba6 19. Rf3
White defends tenaciously and at this point I begin to have trouble finding a plan.
19…Rc8 20. Bxd4 Qxd4 21. Nc3 Rfd8 22. Rd1 b5 23. e5 Bb7?!
Why did I change my mind? I have no idea. I obviously played 22…b5 with the intention of continuing b4, and that is the right move here - 23... b4 24. Ne4 c4! and black has a big edge again. After my move the position is equal.
24. Rf2 a6 25. Qf1?!
White’s inaccurate plan has once again allowed b4 to be a threat, but I didn’t play it for some reason.
This is not a bad move, but 25…b4 was better, allowing my queenside to come alive after 25…b4 26. Nb1 Bc6 (Also interesting is Be4) 27. a3 a5 28. Rfd2 g5!, exploiting the weakness of the d3 and e5 pawns and cramping white’s queenside.
26. Rfd2 Rcd8 27. Kh2 Bc6 28. Ne2 Qe3 29. Qg1 Qxg1+ 30. Kxg1 Be4 31. d4 c4 32. a3 Bd3 33. Kf2 Kf8 34. Ke3 Bxe2 35. Rxe2 Rd5 36. Ke4 h5 37. g4 hxg4 38. hxg4 Ke7 39. Rh2 a5 40. Rh3 a4 41. Rd2 R5d7 42. Rf3 Rd5
I had to finally admit that my advantage was gone and I just needed to seal up a draw.
43. f5 gxf5+ 44. gxf5 f6!
I needed to play very accurately here or white could even gain the advantage.
45. exf6+ Kxf6 46. fxe6+ Kxe6 47. Rg3 Re5+!
A clever little trick to gain a tiny edge, but not enough to win.
48. Kf3 Rf8+ 49. Kg2 Ref5 50. Rg7 Kf6 51. Rg4 Rd8 52. Kg3 Re8 53. Rf4 Re3+ 54. Kg4 Rxf4+ 55. Kxf4 Rb3 56. d5 c3 57. bxc3 Rxc3 58. d6 Rc8 59. d7 Rd8 60. Rd5 Ke6 61. Rxb5 Rxd7 62. Rb4 Ra7 63. Ke4 Ra5 64. Rb8 Ra7 65. Rc8 Rh7 1/2-1/2

Well, drawing two in a row after three straight wins is not the way to win a tournament. It is better than losing, of course, but each half point given up drops me a little bit behind the leaders, making my margin of error that much smaller. I felt good that I had not lost a game in five rounds, but I wanted to win again!

[Event "Continental Open"]
[Site "Los Angeles, California"]
[Date "1999.07.25"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Dima, Vlad"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B16"]
[WhiteElo "1913"]
[BlackElo "1943"]

1. e4 c6
Ah, I was again happy to see the Caro-Kann.
2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. c3 Bf5 7. Nf3 Qc7 8. g3 Nd7 9. Bg2 e5!?
This was the first new move for me and it threw me for a loop.
10. O-O
I play too cautiously, allowing equality. Better was Be3.
10…Be7 11. Re1 O-O-O 12. b4
I am no expert on this variation; I tend to just throw my queenside pawns at black’s king, hoping to make my white squared bishop stronger on his diagonal.
12…h5 13. Qa4 Kb8 14. dxe5 fxe5 15. Nxe5
I was extremely nervous about taking this pawn, thinking it might be dangerous for me, and I really didn’t want to lose at this point in the tournament, having done so well so far. It turns out this is the right move, though black has enough activity that it is about equal here.
The computer thinks this is bad, but the ‘correct’ line doesn’t look much better - 15…Nxe5 16. Rxe5 Qxe5 17. Bf4 Qxf4 18. gxf4 Rhg8 19. Kh1 and white is practically won. So, Nb6 may be a better practical move for black.
16. Qb3?!
Well, my move doesn’t throw away my advantage entirely, but white was winning after 16. Qa5! Be6 17. c4 Nd7 18. Qxc7+ Kxc7 19. Nxf7 Bxf7 20. Rxe7
16...Be6 17. Qc2 Bd6 18. Bf4
For the next few moves I felt I was walking a razor’s edge, having to make each move just right or black would get the advantage.
18... h4 19. a4 hxg3 20. fxg3 Rh5 21. Rad1!
This was the first really hard move for me to find. I felt I might be in trouble here until I figured out this move. A long sequence of exchanges follows that leaves me with a large advantage.
21…Bd5 22. a5 Bxe5 23. Bxe5 Rxe5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. axb6 Qe3+ 26. Qf2 Qxc3 27. bxa7+ Ka8 28. Bxd5 cxd5 29. Qd4?!
Here I started to worry about maintaining the advantage I knew I had, so I played too cautiously. I should have seen 29. b5! with the plan of advancing the pawn to b6 and hemming in the black king for good.
29...Qxd4+ 30. Rxd4 Kxa7 31. Kf2 Kb6 32. Ke3 Re8+ 33. Kd3 Kc6 34. Rf4 b6?
I can’t understand what my opponent was thinking here. It seems obvious that Re7 needed to be played.
35. Rxf7 Re1 36. Rf4 Rd1+ 37. Kc2 Rg1 38. Rg4??
This move is inexplicable to me. I can only say that I simply did not see the obvious threat of Rg2+ winning the h pawn. I should have played the rook to f2 and consolidated to a won endgame. Now I have to fight for a draw. This was very disheartening, as I had been looking forward to a win for quite a few moves, knowing this would allow me a chance to fight for first place in the tournament. A draw would remove that chance completely.
38...Rg2+ 39. Kc3 Rxh2 40. Rd4?
Now feeling terrible, I pass up my last chance to have any sort of advantage - 40. Rg6+ Kb5 41. Rd6 Rh5 42. Kd4 Rh8 43. Rg6 and white has some slim chances to pull off a win still. Instead I had to settle down and fight hard for a draw.
40...Kd6 41. Rh4 Rg2 42. Rh6+ Ke5 43. Rxb6 Rxg3+ 44. Kd2 Kd4 45. Re6 Rb3 46. Rh6 Rb2+ 47. Kc1 Rg2 48. b5 Kc5 49. b6 Rg7 50. Kd2 d4 51. Kd3 Rg3+ 52. Kd2 Rb3 53. Kc2 Rxb6 1/2-1/2

It is funny how things work. If someone had told me before the tournament that after six rounds I would be undefeated with four and a half points, I would have been delighted. Instead, having glimpsed the possibility of fighting for first place and having it dashed by one terrible mistake, I felt horrible. I felt I had blown everything.

I needed to try to overcome this feeling, because the last round was still a significant money game, at least by chess standards. If I won I would tie for a pretty high place and win over $500.

[Event "Continental Open"]
[Site "Los Angeles, California"]
[Date "1999.07.25"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Zulueta, Jose"]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A48"]
[WhiteElo "1950"]
[BlackElo "1913"]

1. d4
As you know from what I have written previously, this was not an auspicious start for me already.
1…Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Bf4 Bg7 4. e3 O-O 5. h3 d5 6. Be2 c5 7. c3 b6 8. O-O Ba6 9. Bxa6 Nxa6 10. Qe2 Nb8 11. Nbd2 Nc6 12. Ne5 Nxe5 13. Bxe5 Nd7 14. Bh2 e5
There hasn’t been much to say about the opening so far. It reminded me a bit of the fourth round game I played, though it went a bit differently. I felt no advantage; I was just trying to fight to not lose the game at this point. I knew I was playing a strong player, so I didn’t really dream of actually winning the game.
15. Nf3?!
He makes a tiny error here, but I fail to take advantage of it.
I should have played 15... e4, when things are about equal, and if anyone can claim any advantage it is me.
16. Qa6 e4 17. Nd2 f5 18. Qb7 Qe6 19. Qc7 Bh6 20. Qd6 Rf6 21. Qxe6+ Rxe6 22. Rfe1 a5
I felt the game was kind of drawish, though I have at least earned a tiny advantage.
23. a4 cxd4 24. cxd4 Rc8 25. Rac1 Rec6 26. Nb3?!
But now things have gone a bit wrong for white, and black has a nice position.
I allow some of my advantage to slip away. Better was 26…Rc4 27. Kf1 Kf7 28. Ke2 Bf8 with a nagging edge for black.
27. Rxc6 Rxc6 28. Rc1 Rxc1+ 29. Nxc1 Bf8?
It is hard to see why, but the computer rates this as a significant mistake, after which the edge passes from black to white. Much better was 29…Kf7 30. Ne2 Ke6 with equality.
30. Bc7?
The computer considers this to be a mistake also, though it looks pretty decent to me. It likes knight to e2 and then c3 much better.
30…Kf7 31. Ne2 Ke6 32. h4 h6 33. hxg5 hxg5 34. Nc3 Bd6 35. Bd8 g4 36. Nb5 g3 37. Bc7 gxf2+ 38. Kxf2 Bxc7 39. Nxc7+ Kd6 40. Nb5+ Kc6 41. Kg3 Nf6 42. Kf4 Ng4
During the game over the last long sequence of moves I had felt that I had gone wrong and white might be winning, but examining all these moves with a computer, it says that I have played quite well and maintained either equality or a tiny edge throughout.
43. g3 Kd7 44. Kxf5?
I guess he grew frustrated at the thought of a draw here, because he makes a mistake that gives me a better endgame.
44…Nxe3+ 45. Kf4 Nc4 46. b3 Nd2 47. Ke3 Nxb3 48. Nc3 Ke6 49. g4 Na1
At the time I thought this was the right move (though moving a knight to the corner rarely is!), but the computer doesn’t like it. It thinks white could have equality with Kd2 here. Instead white blunders badly and I am winning.
50. Nxe4?? Nc2+
Why didn’t I take his knight? Because I was concerned it just led to a draw. It is hard to calculate that my king can actually stop both of his widespread passed pawns – 50…dxe4 51. Kxe4 Nc2 52. Kd3 Na3 53. Kc3 b5! 54. axb5 Nxb5+ 55. Kc4 a4 56. Kb4 a3 57. Kb3 Kd5 58. g5 Ke6 and black’s king actually does catch both pawns. But, try seeing that over the board! I felt I had better chances with my move.
51. Kd2 Nxd4 52. Ng5+ Ke5 53. Nh3 Nb3+ 54. Kc3 Nc5 55. g5 Nxa4+ 56. Kc2 Kf5 57. g6 Kxg6 58. Nf4+ Kf5 59. Nxd5 Ke4 60. Nc7 Kd4
I was not able to record the rest of the moves, due to time pressure for both players, though I had more time than white did. I had to play very carefully here as it could easily turn into a draw. I even started along the wrong plan once only to realize that it led to a draw, so I was forced to backtrack and my opponent tried to claim a draw since I was repeating moves. I had to explain to the arbiter that I had realized that the moves I intended led to a draw, so I was forced to seek a different path. He let the game continue and I won shortly after that.

What a good feeling it was to finally break out of the drawing rut I was in and finish well! I completed my second straight classical tournament without a loss; I won over $500; and I gained back all the rating points I had lost at action chess.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Murderer's Row

Here’s another, better, story from the same tournament as the Laskatelev game given earlier. I started off this round robin very well, with 3.5 out of 4 points, but after ten rounds I only had 5.5 points, so I had slid a bit during the middle part of the event. A friend of mine pointed out the results sheet and it was an interesting thing to see – I had to face each of the top three players in a row to finish the tournament! Talk about Murderer’s Row! None of them had any losses after ten rounds. If I recall correctly two were tied for 1st and one was a half a point back due to having one extra draw. Given that I had performed only average against the bottom and middle people in the tournament, it would seem logical that I should expect to get savaged by these three fellows. Yet, for some reason I can’t explain, I felt a surge of confidence deep inside myself and felt that I would do well.

I played this first game as if through a mist, not exactly playing very well, yet sure that I was going to win.

[Event "1st Category Round Robin #4"]
[Site "Moscow, Russia"]
[Date "1995.05.29"]
[Round "11"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Baransky, G."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B33"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5
I have always been happy to see the Lasker-Pelikan variation. I really enjoy the wild tactical positions that typically arise.
6. Ndb5
I strike at the weak d6 square.
And black is forced to play this move to prevent my knight from hopping into d6.
7. Bg5
This move not only develops a piece but puts added pressure on my eventual move to d5 with a knight.
Black needs to play this, because he simply cannot allow both white knights to come to the fifth rank to threaten the c7 square.
8. Na3 b5 9. Nd5 Qa5+ 10. Bd2 Qd8 11. Bg5 Qa5+ 12. Bd2 Qd8 13. Bg5 Be7
We had repeated moves a few times. I was willing to accept a draw against one of the best players in the tournament if he wanted to give it. He didn’t, so he varied here.
14. Bxf6 Bxf6 15. c3 Ne7
As far as I know, this is a bit unusual here. Usual is castles or Bg5.
16. Nxf6+ gxf6 17. Nc2 f5 18. Bd3
I think this is not the best move, as it allows black to play d5 shortly, which is black’s biggest aim in this opening line. I should have played either a4 or ef5.
18…fxe4 19. Bxe4 d5
Now black has achieved what he wants out of the opening and stands equal.
20. Bf3 O-O 21. Qd2 f6 22. Rd1
In these types of positions, black’s central pawns can come to dominate the game if left unchecked. I am playing to try to hold off these pawns.
22…Be6 23. O-O
This doesn’t appear to be quite accurate. Nb4 seems to give white the tiniest of edges.
23...Qd6 24. Bh5 Ra7 25. f4
The idea of the last two moves was to try to break up black’s central pawn wedge.
And black finally makes a minor mistake. Naturally he didn’t want his center broken up, but this allows my knight to dominate the center from the d4 square. He was better off playing Nf5.
26. Qe3 Rd7 27. Nd4 Nf5 28. Qe2?
Not sure what I was thinking here. It was just fine to trade off the knight because my rook could come into d4 and control things nicely. Now black could generate good counter-play with 28...b4 and approximate equality.
28…Rg7 29. Kh1 Nxd4 30. Rxd4 f5 31. a4 Qc6 32. axb5 axb5
Taking with the queen was better, hoping for equality, but black is the stronger player and wants to fight for first place in the tournament. He doesn’t want a draw.
33. Ra1
This is the reason why taking with the queen was better. Now I get control over the open a file with my pieces.
33…Qb6 34. Rdd1 Rc7 35. Ra3 Rd8 36. Rda1 Bd7 37. g4?
I get too eager. I smelled blood and overreacted with this impetuous move. The right way to play here is to continue to press on the open file with Ra6. I am not sure I would have seen the follow-up fantastic move though – 37. Ra6 Qb8 38. Bg6!! Whoa, what a move! I would love to get to play something like this. White is flat-out winning after this. After my poor 37. g4 move, black should have played b4 in order to give his pieces more room on the queenside and to try to increase the power of his central pawns.
37... fxg4?! 38. Ra6 Qc5 39. Bxg4 Qf8?!
This isn’t so bad, but it leads in the wrong direction. Better is either Kh8 or Bc6.
40. Rg1 Kh841. Qd2?
Whoops, I screw up. I couldn’t stop looking at getting my queen to d4, since his king was stuck in the corner on h8. My move allows black too much counter-play. Qe3 would have been slightly better, but the best for me would have been 41. Bd7 Rcd7 42. Qe3 with a decent edge.
He has felt considerable pressure for awhile now, so he finally makes a big mistake. Correct would have been 41...Bxg4 42. Rxg4 Qc5 with equality. With his blunder he is just lost.
42. Qd4+ Qg7
The rook is stuck defending the bishop.
43. Qxg7+ Kxg7 44. Bd7+
Yes! This shows exactly why his 41st move was a mistake.
44…Kf6 45. Bxc6 Kf546. Bxd5 Rxd5 47. Rg5+ Kxf4 48. Rxd5 Re7 49. Rf6+ Ke3 50. Rf1 Ke2 51. Rdd1 e352. h3 h5 53. b3 Rc7 54. c4 bxc4 55. bxc4 Rxc4 56. Kg2
I have constructed a little mating net. Black can’t stop checkmate without donating his rook.
56…Rg4+ 57. hxg4 1-0

I was quite pleased with myself for winning this first game of the three. I was hoping to keep it going…

The next game started strangely. I was sitting at the board when my opponent approached. As we shook hands, he said, “I no play for Russia; I play for Soviet Union!” I was a little nonplussed at this, never having thought that I was playing these games for any political reasons! I simply said, “Ok” and we started playing.

[Event "1st Category Round Robin #4"]
[Site "Moscow, Russia"]
[Date "1995.06.01"]
[Round "12"]
[White "Koritin, U."]
[Black "Cross, Ted"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B23"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3
Yuck, I can’t stand the Closed Sicilian!
2…Nc6 3. f4 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bc4 e6
You see, I am never sure how to play against the Closed Sicilian. I have never studied it, so I just make it up each time I play it. You can see how much it hurts me in this game.
6. f5?!
This is a bit early to be starting this sort of attack. He has not completed development. Better was e5 if he wanted to do something in the center.
Fortunately for him I screw up even worse. The way to exploit his early aggressiveness was to play a move that is not what you normally think of as good - 6...gxf5 (This weakens the kingside, so I normally don’t consider such things) 7. exf5 d5 8. Bb5 e5 (But notice the huge center I get!) 9. Qe2 Qd6 and black has a slight edge.
7. fxe6 dxe6 8. d3 Ne7 9. O-O a6
This move is commonly seen to keep enemy knights out of the b5 square. Here it also vaguely threatens to trap white’s bishop if I were allowed to follow up with b5.
10. a4
Played to preserve the bishop.
10…O-O 11. Ne2 Nec6 12. Nexd4 cxd4 13. Bf4 Bd7 14. Qe1 Rc8
I’ve been wandering a bit without a real plan here, and now white could get a solid edge by playing 15. Bd6 Re8 16. e5.
15. Bg5 Qb6 16. Qh4 Ne5?!
I grew worried here, though in fact the position should be about equal. I thought I was getting into trouble, because white was attacking my kingside, while most of my pieces were stuck on the queenside unable to help. Notice that the pawns on the d and e files form a sort of wall across the center? This leaves only the e5 square open for passing anything through between the king and queen sides. I should have kept my cool, realizing that white’s attack was not really amounting to anything yet, and just played 16…Na5. After my silly move white’s attack does take on dangerous proportions…if he plays it right.
17. Be7?
He messes it up, but it is hard to blame him. It is only because of a spectacular resource that this is the case. White would be winning after 17. Nxe5 Bxe5 18. Be7 Rfe8 19. Rxf7!

A terrific resource to save the game for me!
18. Bxf8 Rxf8 19. dxc4
Now, I have given up a rook for a bishop, which is often losing, but in this position there is compensation due to white’s weak pawns and the control my pieces exert over the vital portion of the board.
I get a little overeager and play the ‘obvious’ move, but now white can regain an advantage with correct play. I should have played Qb2 or even Bc6.
20. Kh1?
As so often happens, he plays the ‘obvious’ move too! Correct was 20. Qf2 Qxb2 21. cxd3 Qxf2+ 22. Kxf2 Bxa1 23. Rxa1, and though I have regained material equality, white has a significant endgame edge.
20...dxc2 21. Rac1?
It’s not so easy to see under the circumstances, but 21. a5 is the best defensive try.
21...Bxa4 22. e5 Qxb2 23. c5 Bc6 24. Ng5 h625. Nxf7?
He is so desperate at this point that he lashes out, simply hoping that some tactical resource may be there, but it isn’t.
25…Rxf7 0-1

Well, well. Two for two against Murderer’s Row. Could I make it a clean sweep?

[Event "1st Category Round Robin #4"]
[Site "Moscow, Russia"]
[Date "1995.06.05"]
[Round "13"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Lebedev, A."]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B33"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Bf4 e5 8.Bg5 a6 9. Na3 b5 10. Nd5 Be7 11. Bxf6 Bxf6 12. c3 O-O 13. Nc2
There hasn’t been much to say, because the game has gone into the same opening line as the first of these three games, except that black now plays along the more conventional lines.
13…Rb8 14. h4
I was trying to follow an idea of Kasparov’s that I had recently seen.
14…Ne7 15. Nxf6+ gxf6 16. Qd2 d5
This was a new move compared to the Kasparov game, which I believe was against Kramnik. If I recall correctly in their game it was f5 that was played. I tried to see what could be wrong with 16…d5 but couldn’t see anything too bad about it.
17. exd5?!
Not the right way to go. I should have castled queenside, but I was eager to trade queens and head for an endgame. I have always liked endgames.
17…Qxd5 18. Qxd5Nxd5 19. O-O-O Be6 20. g4
Perhaps getting a little too cute. The idea is that he can’t take the pawn without opening up the g file to my rooks against his king.
20…Nf4 21. Nb4 Rb6 22. b3?!
The position was about equal until I played this, weakening my pawn on the c file.
22…Rc8 23. Kb2 e4?!
The tournament leader makes a slight mistake! Better was Kh8 or a5.
24. Rd4
This is why it was a mistake. My rook is well placed here and black’s e and f pawns have become weaker.
24…a5 25. Nc2 Nd5 26. c4 Rbc6?!
Another slight error. Correct was 26…bc4 27. Bc4 Nf4 28. Ne3, though white has a clear edge still. Could I be heading for that clean sweep?
27. Rxe4
I win a pawn.
He lashes out, getting desperate. Now he is just losing if I play correctly. Better was still 27…bc4 28. Rc4 and I retain a significant edge.
28. Nd4!
Exactly right and winning!
28…Rd6 29. a3 bxc4
Saving the knight would leave him in a dead lost position on the queenside – 29…Nc6 30. Nb5 Rd2+ 31. Kc3 Rf2 32. Re3 and white is winning. This piece sacrifice has a bit of venom to it also.
30. axb4 c3+
An excellent desperation idea here, and unfortunately I fall for it…
31. Kc2?
I played this very quickly. I felt completely winning and safe here, so I didn’t examine the position and realize there was some danger. Easily winning was 31. Kc1 Bd5 32. Nf5! Bxe4 33. Nxd6 Bxh1 34. Nxc8 axb4 and white’s extra piece will easily win the endgame.
You see, now the Nf5 idea doesn’t work because the darn king is on c2 where black can take my rook with check! I was so depressed at having overlooked such a simple idea that I failed to look deeper here and see that I am still winning.
32. Re3??
I throw away all of my efforts; black is now winning. Right was 32. Rf4! Bxh1 33. bxa5! I needed to see that my pawns and pieces could coordinate together here to retain an advantage even down the exchange. My rook can come to f5 to defend the a pawn. My bishop can come to c4 to let my king take the pawn on c3. After my move all the rest is just academic.
32...Bxh1 33. Nf5 Rd2+ 34. Kc1 Rcd8 35. Be2 axb4 36. f3 Ra8 37. Bd3 Bxf3 38. h5 Rd1+ 0-1

I was shattered by this loss. I really wanted to sweep these three guys, and I came so close! I had it and let it slip from my hands.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Game from my days in Russia

I decided to present this game for a couple of reasons. The four years that I spent in Russia were a very interesting time for me chess-wise. Everything was different from my years in America. Rather than the Swiss-system events I always played in the U.S., most events in Russia were round-robins, meaning that I played a game against each of the other players in the event. Also, each player was approximately of the same playing strength, so this made every game very tough.

I liked this game because I tried something new in the opening that went very badly for me, then fought back hard for counterplay and found it with a rook sacrifice. It's not the prettiest game in the world, by any means, but it shows the trench-warfare of amateur chess very well.

[Event "1st Category Round Robin #4"]
[Site "Moscow, Russia"]
[Date "1995.04.17"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Cross, Ted"]
[Black "Laskatelev"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C55"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3
I normally play the straight Two-Knights Defense lines here with 4. Ng5, or at least that is what I normally played for most of my chess life; I have recently been experimenting with 4. d4 in online blitz, though I haven't gotten a chance to use it in a tournament yet. I believe I was feeling very down about my results, so I played 4. d3 in order to try to be more solid and safe.
4...Be7 5. Nc3 O-O 6. O-O d6 7. a4 Bg4 8. h3Bh5 9. Be3 a6 10. Ne2?
What an ugly move! All I can say is that I have always had trouble finding a plan in these types of positions, and that pin by the bishop on h5 was really annoying me. I didn't want to weaken my kingside by playing g4, though I suppose that might be the best move. At least something like 10. a5 would have been fine. Lashing out like I did just turned my position into junk. For some reason I think I felt I would get an attack after he took the knight on f3, by playing my king to h2 and swinging a rook over to the g-file. This wasn't a realistic plan here...
10...Bxf3 11. gxf3 d5
Excellent. Black immediately forces the issue, spotlighting the new weaknesses in my position. If I take on d4 with my pawn then my two f pawns are terribly weak and ineffective, while any other move allows black to play d4.
12. Ba2 d4 13. Bg5?!
I didn't want to put this bishop in a passive position on c1 or d2, but I didn't quite realize that this bishop is critical, since it is the only thing maintaining any grip on the dark squares. Once the bishop comes off the board my position is simply terrible.
Correct again. Get rid of my bishop so that my kingside becomes even more porous.
14. Bxe7 Qxe7 15. Kh2 Qh4 16. Rg1
Yes, I saw that I was giving up two pawns here, but I knew I was in serious trouble, and I felt that I had to strike out for desperation counterplay on the only open file available.
16...Qxf2+ 17. Rg2 Qxf3 18. Qg1 Qe3
Another good move. He disrupts my g-file attack before it even begins.
19. Rf2
I tried to move over to the f-file now, since that would allow my bishop to participate.
19...Nf4 20. Nxf4 exf4 21. Re1 Qg3+ 22. Qxg3 fxg3+ 23. Kxg3
Black's plan over the last few moves may not have been the best, but I think he believed he was winning easily, so he was willing to give me back one pawn in order to liquidate my queen.
23...Ne5 24. Ref1 Rae8 25. h4
This move is a sign that I have no idea what to do. Look at the position - there is basically nothing for me to do. I cannot dislodge his knight. I have no pawns to attack it, and my bishop is the wrong color. Therefore I can put no pressure on the f7 square. The h4 move is simply a 'hope move', thinking that maybe I could switch over to the g file with my rooks and use that one remaining pawn to stir something up. I didn't expect it to amount to anything, but you have to make a move, so...
25...Re7 26. h5 h6 27.b4 Kh7 28. Rf5 f6 29. Bd5 c6 30. Bb3 Rc8
All of these recent moves are basically my way of saying, "Ok, I have nothing I can do; I know you are technically winning, so prove it."
31. Rb1 c5 32. bxc5 Rxc5 33. Bd5 b5?!
This appears to be a slight mistake on his part. It would have been better to liquidate the queenside with 33...Rc2 34. Rb7 Rb7 35. Bb7 Ra2 36. Ba6 Ra4.
34. axb5 Rxb5 35. Ra1 a5 36. Ra4 Ra7
He knew I couldn't take the 'free' pawn on d4 without making his a pawn too powerful. Oddly enough, though, when I examine it with the computer it looks like it could have been my best try for saving the game - 37. Rd4 a4 38. Rf1 a3 39. Bb3 Nc6 40. Rc4 and things are not so simple for black. Best is probably 40...Rg5+ 41. Kh4 Ne5 in order to utilize his kingside pawns for attack.
37. Kf4 Rc5

38. Rxe5!
What I love so much about this move is that my computer doesn't even consider it, yet it is clearly my best chance now.
38...fxe5+ 39. Kxe5 Rxc2 40. Kxd4
Ok, what has been accomplished here? Black should still be winning, but he must play very accurately to do so. My bishop and rook work well with the connected, passed central pawns and can be very dangerous.
40...Rh2 41. Kc5!
Another good move! Note how the rook on the a file cannot defend the a pawn once my king arrives at b6.
41...Rxh5 42. Kb6 Re7 43. Rxa5
So, this is it, the point where black must find the right plan or get into trouble.
He doesn't find it. 43...g5 gets blacks pawns going. The move chosen just helps me to get my own pawns moving first.
44. d4 Rg5 45. e5 g6
I have no idea what this move was supposed to accomplish. If black wanted to try to do any more than draw the game he needed to play h5 or Rg4 here.
46. Kc6 Kg7?
This is normally a logical move in endgame positions like this, but here it actually turns the advantage over to me. Better was Rg4 or Rg3 with a hope for salvaging a draw.
47. Kd6 Kf8?!
Although this move ends things quickly in my favor, the game was really over anyhow - 47...Re8 48. Ra7+ Kh8 49. Bc6 Rd8+ 50. Rd7 and white is won.
48. Ra8+ Re8 49. Rxe8+ Kxe8 50. Bc6+ 1-0
Black has no way to stop my pawn from queening.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Hafnarfjordur Championship 2007

I originally posted this topic here. My second chess event in Iceland was the Hafnarfjordur Championship in December 2007. Hafnarfjordur is the small town outside of Reykjavik where I live and where our Haukar club is situated. The funny thing about this event is that it was played in Reykjavik rather than in Hafnarfjordur, and about half the players are not from Hafnarfjordur either! It was quite a strong event; the rating average was in the mid-2000s. There was one GM, Henrik Danielsen from Denmark. There were also two FMs and a couple of other masters.

The first two rounds were G/30, which I don't like at all as I am not good at speed chess, but at least they are not FIDE rated and can't hurt me. I played a strong master from Egypt and lost, and lucked into a draw from a bad position in the other action game. Luckily, I really didn't care about these two games as they aren't rated, and since I knew I would not be competing for a prize anyhow, given how many super strong players there were, I didn't much care about my score. The way I saw it, the tournament really began with the first FIDE rated game. At least I played one really solid game...

Benediktsson,T (1956) - Cross,T (2108) [B33]
Hafnarfjordur Championship Reykjavik, Iceland (3), 14.12.2007

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5
The Sveshnikov Sicilian has been one of my favorite openings for more than twenty years.
6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Nd5 f5 11.c3 Bg7 12.Bd3 Be6 13.Qh5 0–0
Sorry, there hasn't been much to comment on because this is all standard theory; I have reached this position many times before.
Now this was the first time I have seen this move, but checking the databases it turns out to have been played quite a bit.
14...f4 15.Nf5 Qf6
I thought a bit about this move because this was the first position where I wasn't quite sure about the correct plan. I figured an advance in the center would open the long diagonal for my queen and bishop.
In almost all of the games that have reached this point white played 16.g4 and reached a complex middle-game. Castling here just seems to hand black a ready-made attack down the middle.
16...Bxf5 17.exf5 d5 18.f3 b4
Looking at this game with the computer later I was surprised that my moves through almost the whole game went right along with the evaluations. Playing the pawn to b4 is a typical idea in these positions to weaken the diagonal.
19.Nc2 bxc3 20.bxc3 Rfe8 21.Rfe1
According to my old Fritz 8 it is better to play 21.Rab1 with just a slight edge for black, though I believe black's edge must be bigger due to the pawns in the center. The next part of the attack seemed to play itself, at least until my mistake on move 26.
21...e4 22.fxe4 Qxc3 23.Rad1 Ne5 24.Qe2 Nxd3 25.Rxd3 Qc5+ 26.Kh1 Rxe4?
I thought this move looked obvious and winning, but it turns out to be a mistake as black has the tricky 27.Rxd5! Rxe2 28.Rxc5 Rd2=. So, instead I should have played 26...dxe4 27.Rb3 Qxf5 with a winning advantage.
27.Qd1? Qxc2 0–1

I felt this was about as well as I had played in a long while, and it gave me a boost in confidence. My next opponent made me nervous though. He plays at my club and always, always beats me at speed chess. Even when I get completely winning games he still manages to find some trick to beat me. He tends to mostly play a line of the Sicilian that I don't like, so I prepared for it, and naturally he didn't play it. He also slept in late accidentally and started with a time disadvantage, which may have contributed to what follows.

Cross,T (2108) - Gudmundsson,S (2110) [B06]
Hafnarfjordur Championship Reykjavik, Iceland (4), 15.12.2007

1.e4 g6
So, he surprises me already to blow away my preparation. I have never bothered to study the Modern or Pirc openings, so I pretty much make them up as I go along and end up with different lines each time I play them!
2.d4 Bg7 3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 Nc6 5.Be3 Nf6 6.Nc3 0–0
A good alternative here is 6...Nxe4 7.Bxf7+ (Fritz prefers Bd3 but I like this better) Kxf7 8.Nxe4 Rf8 9.d5 Ne5 10.Neg5+ Kg8 11.Nd4 c6 12.Nde6 Qa5+ 13.c3 ( 13.Bd2? Qxd5 14.Nxf8 Qxg2 15.Rf1 Bg4 16.f3 Rxf8 17.Rf2 Nxf3+ 18.Nxf3 Qh3 and black is winning) 13...Bxe6 14.Nxe6 Rf7 15.Nxg7 Kxg7 with a slight white edge.
7.Qd2 Ng4 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bh4 g5
The computer doesn't seem to mind this move, but I was happy to see it. I felt that it gave me good chances to burst open black's kingside later with a timely h4.
10.Bg3 e5?! 11.d5
With this move I felt in control of the game, since I saw good attacking chances against black's king while I felt pretty safe.
11...Na5 12.Bd3 f5 13.h3
The computer really likes 13.exf5! Nf6 ( 13...Bxf5 14.Bxf5 Rxf5 15.Ne4) 14.0–0–0 with a large advantage for white, but I thought I was winning a piece...
13...Nf6 14.b4!?
I played this move instantly, believing I was winning a piece. I have a bad habit of doing this. Better was 14.0–0–0, though I still retain some advantage even with my move.
14...fxe4 15.Nxe4 Nxe4 16.Bxe4 Nc4 17.Qd3 b5 18.Nd2 Nxd2 19.Kxd2 a6 20.f3
With this move I started my plan of attack. I wanted to immobilize the g5 pawn so that I could play h4 without black replying g4. Thus, I wanted to play f3, Bf2, g4, and then h4. Although this takes some time, I didn't see any great plan for black to stop me.
20...Bd7 21.Bf2 Qe8 22.g4 Rc8 23.h4! Bxg4 24.Rag1?!
I again played instantly, having looked at Bxg4 and believing that it only helped me in my attack. I only looked deeply enough that I thought he would have to retreat the bishop after my move. I saw Bxf3 but dismissed it. In a desperate situation, black looked deeper than me and saw a nice trick involving the loose bishop on f2. My original plan was not wrong, as white is truly better here if I just played 24.Raf1! Bd7 25.hxg5 with a large advantage.
24...Bxf3! 25.Bxf3 e4 26.Bxe4?
Even here I could have redeemed myself with correct play - 26.Qxe4! Qxe4 27.Bxe4 Rxf2+ 28.Ke3 Rf7 29.hxg5 hxg5 30.Rxg5 and white retains a slight edge.
26...Rxf2+ 27.Kd1 Qe5! 28.c3 Re8
It may have been better to play 28...Qxc3 29.hxg5 Qa1+ 30.Qb1 Qxb1+ 31.Bxb1 hxg5 32.Rxg5 with a slight edge for black.
29.Bh7+ Kh8?
A major mistake. Black wins with 29...Kf8 30.Rf1 Qe2+ 31.Qxe2 Rexe2 32.hxg5 hxg5 33.Rh2 Rxf1+ 34.Kxe2 Rc1
30.Re1 Re2
I don't suppose it matters since white still wins, but Fritz points out that slightly better is 30...Rh2! 31.Rhf1 Re2 32.Rxe2 Qxe2+ 33.Qxe2 Rxe2 34.Kxe2 Kxh7 35.hxg5 Bxc3 36.Rc1 Bxb4 37.Rxc7+ Kg6 38.gxh6 Kxh6 39.Rc6 a5 40.Rb6.
31.Rxe2 Qxe2+ 32.Qxe2 Rxe2 33.Kxe2 Kxh7 34.Kd3
I wanted to play it safe here, but an easier win is 34.hxg5! Bxc3 35.Rxh6+ Kg7 36.Ke3 Bxb4 37.Kf4.
34...g4 35.h5 Be5 36.c4 Kg7 37.cxb5 axb5 38.Rc1 Kf6 39.Rxc7 g3 40.Ke3 Kg5 41.Kf3 Kxh5 42.Rb7 Kg5 43.Rxb5 h5 44.Rb8 h4 45.Rg8+
More accurate is 45.b5! h3 46.b6 h2 ( 46...g2 47.Rg8+ Kf5 48.b7) 47.Kg2, but the plan I saw was forcing enough.
45...Kf5 46.Rg4 Bf6
I was expecting 46...h3 when I win with 47.Rxg3.
47.b5 Bd8 48.Rb4 Bb6 49.Rxh4 1–0

I felt a mix of emotions when this one ended, because my opponent was clearly very upset, and he is a nice guy. I know he blew his winning chances, but I also had a right to be a bit unhappy since I was the one who originally blew winning chances. I was lucky that he was short on time (though not that short) and probably didn't get to think long enough at certain critical junctures. Notice, though, that with my full compliment of time I still didn't bother to think enough at critical points either!

This game ended late but other games looked like they were going to go on for quite some time, so I went home without knowing who my next opponent would be. So, I had no preparation, which in FIDE tournaments is often a big help. It turns out it would have been very important for me, since my opponent is one I play regularly at the club. I would have known he was going to play the Alapin Sicilian against me and I could have prepared for it. As it was, once I saw the pairing the next morning I felt doomed. I know next to nothing about the Alapin, and in our blitz games he always wins. Before we even sat down to play I already felt lost, and it shows in the game. Oh, and by the way his rating is quite a bit higher than it shows here, as he has played quite a lot lately, and he is one of those young people who shoot up in rating very rapidly.

Thorgeirsson,S (2061) - Cross,T (2108) [B22]
Hafnarfjordur Championship Reykjavik, Iceland (5), 15.12.2007

1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Bf5?!
I give this move a dubious mark even though in the databases there are strong masters who have played it. The reason is that no one has played the line my opponent chose, and as far as I can see through analysis with the computer, black never gets a decent game after his line. Normal is 4...Nf6 though since I don't know the Alapin I didn't know this until now. I may be wrong, but I think my opponent may have a bust for this line of the Alapin.
5.dxc5 Qxd1+
We had just played this exact line last week in blitz at the club and I had been unsure whether to take the pawn or trade queens. I didn't like the position after taking the pawn, but in the queen trade line I can't find a way to get my material back once he plays b4. Fritz likes the queen trade, too, and calls it equal but I disagree. If anyone can find a good line for black here I would really like to see it!
6.Kxd1 e6
Nothing really seems to work. Maybe if I had a better chess engine than Fritz 8? 6...Nc6 7.Bb5 e6 8.b4 Be7 9.Nf3 0–0–0+ 10.Ke2 Nxb4 11.cxb4 Bf6 12.Bg5 Bxa1 13.Bxd8 Kxd8 14.Rd1+ Kc8 15.Nbd2 Bc3 16.Nc4 Nf6 17.Nd6+ Kb8 18.a3 and white has a big edge, or 6...Nd7 7.b4 g6 8.Nf3 Bg7 9.Nd4 and again white is quite content.
7.b4 a5?!
The computer shows me 7...Nf6 8.Bb5+ Nc6 9.Nf3 0–0–0+ 10.Ke2 Nd5 11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.Bd2 with just a slight edge for white, though I don't much like black's prospects.
8.a3 Nf6 9.Nf3 Bxb1?!
No, I wouldn't normally trade off this bishop for the knight, but I was feeling desperate and thought there might be a good tactic here for me. It didn't turn out too well, but I am not sure regular development would have helped either in the long run with those queenside pawns looming.
10.Rxb1 Ne4 11.Bb5+ Nc6 12.Kc2! axb4 13.cxb4 Nxf2 14.Rf1
Even better is 14.Re1. The rest isn't worth commenting on as it is just a matter of technique.
14...Ng4 15.h3 Nf6 16.Ne5 Rc8 17.Bf4 Be7 18.Nxc6 bxc6 19.Ba6 0–0 20.Bxc8 Rxc8 21.Kb3 Nd5 22.Bd2 Rb8 23.Kc4 Ra8 24.Ra1 Bf6 25.Ra2 Kf8 26.a4 Nc7 27.Kb3 Ke7 28.Bf4 Nd5 29.Bd6+ Ke8 30.Rf3 Be7 31.Bxe7 Kxe7 32.Kc4 Nc7 33.Rd3 e5 34.Rd6 Ra6 35.Rad2 Ne6 36.Kb3 Nd4+ 37.R6xd4 exd4 38.Rxd4 Ra7 39.b5 cxb5 40.axb5 f5 41.b6 Ra1 42.Rd2 Rc1 43.Rc2 Rb1+ 44.Rb2 Rc1 45.b7 1–0

After that demoralizing experience I tried to boost my confidence for the next round. At least this time I knew who I would play and what color I would have. I also knew he always seemed to play a particular line of the Center Counter defense. I spent the evening studying as hard as I could for this line, so naturally he did an end-around on me and played completely differently. Smart move.

I apologize in advance for all the long variations in this game. It is short and extremely tactical, so there isn't much I can do about it. I usually prefer to explain moves rather than give lines, but this type of game doesn't lend itself to that...

Cross,T (2108) - Fonseca,J (2057) [B01]
Hafnarfjordur Championship Reykjavik, Iceland (6), 16.12.2007

1.e4 Nc6
My darn, clever opponent knew I knew his favorite line (1.e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6), so he chooses something else to thwart my preparation.
2.Nf3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.Nc3 Qh5
Agh! I have never seen this! It never ceases to amaze me how variable chess is. Only four moves into the game and he can play something I have never seen, and from the analysis of the databases it seems it is a perfectly viable idea.
Playing the knight to b5 looks really good, but isn't as good as it looks - 5.Nb5 Kd8 6.d4 Bg4 7.Bf4 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Qxf3 9.gxf3 Nb4 10.Kd2 Nd5=. Still, I think this line suits my style more.
5...Bg4 6.d4?!
Odd that such a natural seeming move should be a mistake, which makes this an excellent line for black to play. Better would have been 6.0–0 0–0–0 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Bxf3 Qg6 9.d3 e5 10.Re1 in order for white to retain a slight edge.
6...0–0–0 7.Be3 e5 8.Ne4?
Yes, I knew this might be a mistake, but I couldn't see deeply enough to know for sure. I was not happy with the state of my position, so I thought active measures were called for. It was better, though, to play 8.d5 f5 9.Ng5 Bb4 10.Bxg4 fxg4 11.a3 Bxc3+ 12.bxc3 Nf6 13.c4 Rd7 14.Rb1 b6 15.Qd3 Re8 16.0–0 e4 17.Qb3 g3 18.hxg3 Ng4 19.Nh3 Na5 20.Qc3 Nxe3 21.fxe3 Qe2 22.Rb4 c5 23.Ra4 with an unclear position, and it is doubtful either of us would have found all of these moves.
8...f5! 9.Ng3 Qe8 10.Bg5 Be7 11.Bxe7 Qxe7 12.d5 Nf6
Also good is 12...Qb4+ 13.c3 Qxb2 14.0–0 Qxc3 15.Nd2 Rxd5 16.Bxg4 Rxd2 17.Bxf5+ Kb8 18.Qg4 with a large edge for black.
13.c4 f4!?
The computer prefers 13...Bxf3 14.Bxf3 e4 15.Be2 f4 16.Nf5 Qe5 17.Qb3 Qxf5 18.dxc6 Qa5+ 19.Kf1 bxc6, but only because f4 gives white a surprising resource.
Naturally I miss the surprising 14.Nd2! Bxe2 15.Nxe2 Nd4 16.0–0 which keeps white afloat.
14...e4 15.Nd4 Qb4+
From the safety of your computer it might seem simple to win for black, but the position is crazier than might first appear. Relatively best was 15...Ne5! 16.Bxg4+ Nfxg4 17.Qb3 Nd3+ 18.Ke2 Qf6 with a clear winning edge for black;
Also good enough though more complex is 15...f3 16.dxc6 bxc6 ( 16...fxe2 17.cxb7+ Kb8 ( 17...Kxb7?? 18.Qb3+ =) 18.Nc6+ Kxb7 19.Nxd8+ Kc8 20.Qa4 exf1Q+ 21.Kxf1 Rxd8 22.Qa6+ Kd7 23.h3 Bh5 24.Qxa7 with only a slight edge for black) 17.Ne3 fxe2 18.Qd2 Qc5 ( 18...c5?? 19.Nc6 and white should win) 19.Nb3 Rxd2 20.Nxc5 Rhd8 21.Nxg4 Nxg4 22.Nxe4 Rxb2 23.Nc3 Rc2 24.h3 Nf6 25.Nxe2 Re8 26.0–0 Rexe2 and black has a winning position.
16.Nd2 Nxd4 17.Bxg4+ Nxg4?!
This move seems obvious, but oddly enough it turns out to be a mistake. Winning is 17...Kb8! and white will be smothered by black's central pawns.
18.Qxg4+ Kb8 19.0–0–0 h5?!
Another mistake. Black would still retain a large edge after 19...Qa4! 20.Kb1 Qc2+ 21.Ka1 Qd3 22.a3.
I know, I know, anyone would see this is horrible. The sad thing is that the first option I looked at was the right one...20.Qxg7 Ne2+ 21.Kb1 e3 22.fxe3 fxe3 23.a3 Qa4 24.d6 cxd6 25.Ne4 Rhg8 26.Qh6 Rxg2 27.Qf6 Rgg8 a) 27...Qe8 28.Nxd6 Qg6+ 29.Qxg6 Rxg6 30.Nf5 Rxd1+ 31.Rxd1 Rg2 32.Rh1 Nf4 33.Nxe3 with a slight edge for white; b) 27...Qa5 28.Rd3 Rg6!? 29.Qe7 (b) 29.Qxg6!? Nf4 30.Qg3 Nxd3 31.Qxe3 Ne5=) 29...Qc7 30.Qxc7+ Kxc7 31.Rxe3 Rg2 32.Ng3 Nxg3 33.hxg3=; 28.Nxd6 Qb3 29.Ka1 Ka8 30.Rhe1=.
All I can say is that for some weird reason when I glanced at 20.a3 my brain decided that all black could do was either take my queen or play Nb3+. I examined both of those and was happy with them, so I went for it. I had plenty of time on my clock, so with a move that leaves my queen hanging I should have looked a little longer. It isn't hard to see the problem, after all.
20...Qa4 0–1

I was so down after this one that I withdrew from the tournament. I knew I was likely to lose the last round simply because of lack of confidence and energy.

My Son's First Tournament pt. 2

The next day was the wrap-up of the weekends chess activities. They did the award ceremony for the previous days winners, so Alex got a very nice medal and a book about the Kasparov-Short world championship match.

Following this, GM Helgi Olafsson gave a simultaneous exhibition. Alex jumped onto a board right away. He played ok for a kid, but played a long bishop move when he should have completed the development of his kingside. GM Olafsson wrote a nice note in the book that Alex won.

Olafsson,H (2535) - Cross,A [B13]
GM Helgi Olafsson Simul, Hafnarfjordur, Iceland, 28.10.2007

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 dxc4 6.Bxc4 Nbd7 7.Nf3 Nb6 8.Bb3 Bg4?? [ 8...e6 9.0-0 Be7=] 9.Ne5 Be6 10.Bxe6 fxe6 11.Be3 Nbd5 12.0-0 Nxe3 13.fxe3 g6 14.Qa4+ Nd7 15.Ne4 Bg7 16.Nf7 Qb6 17.Nc5 Qc6 18.Qxc6 bxc6 19.Nxe6 Rg8 20.Nc7+ 1-0

Look at the expression on Alex's face when he realizes he is lost!

Here Alex gets GM Olafsson's autograph.

I ended up playing in the simul also, as they had empty seats they wanted filled. I spent so much time observing how Alex did that I didn't focus very well on my own game. I played to a decent middle-game position, but then tossed it away in one move by overlooking a simple tactic.

My Son Alexei's First Tournament

I am going to repeat a post I originally placed on the Daily Dirt site on October 27, 2007:

Sorry, I know some won't have any interest in this, but I am such a proud father! Today my youngest son played in his first chess tournament. It was played in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland where we live. It was an 8 round blitz event, 7 minutes per player and it was an open event for youth and retirees. Naturally for the first round they paired my son, Alexei, against the oldest player, 88 years old, since Alex was the youngest by far at only 7. Alex played adults twice and lost both of those, but he did very well otherwise, scoring 4 out of 8. He tied with three 9 year olds for 1st in the 7-9 age group, though since Alex was the only 7 year old they awarded him a special medal for his fine result. I took some photos: