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.

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