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.

No comments: