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.

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