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.