I played in the CalChess Labor Day tournament this past weekend, in the A section. I finished with 3.5/6: 3 wins, 2 losses, and 1 draw. I got the same score two years ago in the same section, even though I think I’m a much better player now. I was reasonably pleased with my first four games this time (1 loss and 3 wins, and I didn’t play too badly in the loss), but my last two games left something to be desired. Here are three of my more interesting games (from rounds 2, 4, and 5):
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. f3 Bg7 7. Be3 0-0 8. Qd2 Nc6 9. 0-0-0 Nxd4 10. Bxd4 Be6 11. Kb1 Qc7 12. g4 Rfc8 13. h4 Qa5
So far this is theory that I know well; I think I had used less than 30 seconds off my clock to play these moves (albeit with 5-second delay). The move I’m most used to seeing is 14. a3 (after which I would continue with Rab8 and b5), although Chris Ward claims that 14. Qg5 is becoming very popular. I should learn that line.
And with this move he made the first of many draw offers. I liked my chances in the endgame given white’s dark-square weaknesses. I spent a bunch of time seeing if I could make anything out of 14…Rxc3, but it doesn’t win or give me a position I’m particularly fond of, so I chose to play a tamer line.
14… Bxf6 15. Nd5 Qxd2 16. Nxf6+ Kg7 17. Rxd2?!
I was expecting 17. Nh5+ first. I was thinking about playing 17…Kh6 after Nh5, although it’s not much good due to 18. Rxd2 gxh5 19. g5+, and white is better. But with the move played, black just gets a very nice endgame. It will take a long time for black to win it, but I didn’t think that white had much of a chance to hold it.
17…Kxf6 18. b3 Rc3 19. Rd3 Rxd3 20. Bxd3 Ke5 21. h5 Kf4
21…g5 would have been a more normal move, but I didn’t think white could make much out of the open h-file after 22. hxg6 hxg6. More importantly, though, I didn’t want to allow 22. h6 with eventual ideas of playing e5 and Bxh7, when the passed pawn is dangerous.
22. Be2 g5
Now the bishop isn’t on the b1-h7 diagonal, so I need not worry about the aforementioned idea.
23. c4 Rc8
If the white king ever moves to the c-file, then I have b5.
24. Rc1 Ke3
My computer tells me that 24…b5 still works (i.e. leads to a big advantage for black), but my plan involves less error-prone calculation.
25. Bd1 Bd7 26. Kb2 b5! 27. a4
Not 27. cxb5? Rxc1 28. Kxc1 Bxb5. After that I just put my bishop on d3 and wait for him to run out of pawn moves. Then he has to move his king, so I can play Kd2 and Be2 and win a large number of white pawns. That’s probably not the only winning plan, but it was the first thing I saw during the game, and I was convinced it was more than sufficient.
27…bxc4 28. bxc4 Kd2 29. Bb3 Rb8
Threatening 30…Rxb3+ 31. Kxb3 Kxc1, winning a piece.
30. Rc2+ Kd3 31. Rc3+ Kd4 32. Kc2 Kc5
I wanted to play 32… e6 so that after 33. Rd3+ Kc5, he cannot play 34. Rd5+, but then 33. c5 is annoying since 33…dxc5?? loses to 34. Rd3+ and 35. Rxd7. Of course, 33…Rc8 stops all that nonsense, but there’s no point in allowing tricks.
33. Rd3 f6
Stopping any e5 tricks.
34. Kc3 e6 35. Rd1 a5 36. Rf1 Rb4
I had to calculate 37. f4 Bxa4 38. Ba2 gxf4 39. Rxf4 Bd1 40. Kd2, and here I was planning on playing 40… Rb2+ 41. Kxd1 Rxa2, which should be sufficient to win for black, but 40…e5! is far stronger.
37. Ra1 e5 38. Rd1 Be6 39. Rd2 Bxc4 40. Bxc4 Rxc4+
Finally I have managed to win a pawn! I think I calculated out everything to around move 50 here to make sure I was really winning, but I was originally planning on taking on g4 before a4, but I later decided that that was stupid.
41. Kb3 Rb4+ 42. Ka3 Rd4 43. Rc2+ Rc4 44. Rd2 Rc3+ 45. Kb2 Rxf3 46. Rd5+ Kc6 47. Rxa5 Rf4 48. Ra6+ Kc5 49. Ra7 Rxe4 50. Rxh7 Rxa4 51. Rf7 Rxg4 52. Rxf6 Rh4 53. h6 g4 54. Rg6 g3 55. Rxg3 Rxh6
Now it’s trivial.
56. Kc3 Rh4 57. Re3 Kd5 58. Rd3+ Rd4 59. Rh3 Rf4 60. Rd3+ Ke6 61. Kd2 Rd4 62. Ke3 Rxd3+ 63. Kxd3 0-1 (White resigns)
I think I was well-disciplined in this game; I didn’t need to rush my plans since his pieces were so tied down from an early stage. Therefore I was able to take time to stop any desperate counterattacks before they could get off the ground.
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 g6
I don’t really know the lines in the Grand Prix Attack, so I just concerned myself with avoiding any really dangerous attacks.
4. Bc4 Bg7 5. Nf3 d6 6. 0-0 Nf6 7. d3 0-0 8. Qe1 e6
I originally wrote down 8…Na5 on my scoresheet but then changed my mind. Both moves are fine.
9. Bb3 Rb8 10. Qh4 Nd7
Trading queens is a good way not to get checkmated in 20 moves.
11. Ng5 h6 12. f5?
I was not surprised by his decision to sacrifice the piece, although I had predicted 12. Rf3 as the most likely way for him to do it. Anyway, this move just loses for white, but I have to avoid a few opportunities to lose horribly first. The first thing I looked at was 12…hxg5 13. Bxg5 Bf6 14. fxg6! fxg6 15. Bxe6+ Kg7 16. Qh6# and quickly realized that I needed to do a bit better than that! My plan was to trade off the bishop on b3 and then take the piece (if possible). The computer confirms my suspicion that 12…hxg5 is losing for black.
12…Nd4! 13. fxe6 fxe6 14. Rxf8+ Nxf8 15. Bd2 Nxb3 16. axb3 hxg5
Now it’s safe to take the piece since the bishop on g7 and the knight on f8 cover all the important squares: h8, h7, h6, g6. Now I just try to trade off as many pieces as possible.
17. Bxg5 Qe8 18. Rf1 b6 19. Rf3 Rb7 20. Rh3 Bd4+ 21. Kf1 Rh7 22. Bh6 Bg7 23. Qg5 Bxh6 24. Rxh6 25. Qxh6 Qf7+ 26. Ke2 Bd7 27. e5 d5
There’s no point in allowing the knight to get into the game quickly via e4.
28. Nd1 Qf5 29. Ne3 Qh5+ 0-1 (White resigns)
1. e4 e6
This was the game I played in the tournament that didn’t feature the Sicilian Defense. I sometimes play 2. c4 against the French and follow up with 2…d5 3. cxd5 exd5 4. Qb3(?), but I’m playing in the A section, and we each have two and a half hours, and five hours is a long time to suffer for trying a cheap trap that doesn’t really work.
2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Qc7
I’m more used to 6…Ne7 7. Qg4 and a crazy mess follows. 7. Qg4 is also a book move against 6…Qc7, but it’s a bit more uncomfortable after 7…f6!, so I chose to play a tamer line.
7. Nf3 Ne7 8. Bd3
After 8…c4 9. Be2, I would be very happy with the opening position: it’s difficult for black to counter the idea of a4, Ba3, Bd6 and white is clearly better. One possible way of countering this plan is with Nf5, so I would probably play g4 first.
But this is even worse for black! Now I get a fairly decent pawn structure (which white hardly expects in the Winawer!), the bishop pair, more space, great attacking chances, and lots of nice outpost squares. In short, this is white’s dream position in the Winawer. It’s a testament to the excessive stupidity of my 18th move that I managed not to win this game.
9. cxd4 Nbc6 10. 0-0 h6
Not falling for 10… 0-0?? 11. Bxh7+. Okay, so white has to play the attack carefully, but with good calculation from white, black will end up down a bunch of material, as the computer confirms.
11. Bd2 Bd7 12. Qe2 Na5 13. Rfb1 Nc4 14. Bf4 Rc8 15. Nd2 b5 16. Nb3 Nc6 17. Qg4 Kf8
Actually 17…g6 is possible, since after 18. Bxg6 (which I was strongly considering should this position show up) Rg8! and black is okay.
I’m not sure what I was thinking. I wrote 18. c3 on my scoresheet before deciding that it was unnecessary. White is completely winning after 18. c3. I remember convincing myself that after 18. Nc5, 18…N6xe5 doesn’t work due to 19. Nxd7+, but I guess I somehow forgot that the pawn on d4 was just hanging. Fortunately, after I managed to shake off my disbelief at my blunder, I was able to find a tactic to regain my pawn.
18…Nxd4 19. Nxd7+ Qxd7 20. Bxh6 Rxh6 21. Qxd4
I’ll have trouble in this endgame if all the pieces come off, so I have to try to find something in this middlegame. I wasn’t sure who was supposed to have the advantage here.
21…a6 22. Rb4 Qc7 23. Bxc4 bxc4
Black threatens 24…f6 25. exf6? Qxh2+, so I avoided that problem.
24. h3 Rh5 25. f4 Rh8 26. Rab1 g6
That worked out better than expected. Now I have doubled rooks on the most important file and much more active pieces. The problem is that black’s c and d pawns become very dangerous when some pieces come off.
27. Rb6 a5 28. Rb7
Now black’s queen can’t go to a5, so putting the rook on b7 is better than it was one move ago.
28…Qc6 29. Qa7 Qc5 30. Kh2 Qxa7 31. Rxa7 Kg7 32. Rbb7
At a first glance, this looks very nice for white, but it’s actually not as nice as I had initially expected. In fact, I’m pretty sure this position is just drawn.
32…Rhf8 33. Rxa5 Ra8! 34. Raa7 Rxa7 35. Rxa7 Rb8!
Suddenly I was worried about losing. I’m not really losing, and there are at least two ways I can hold this. The first way (and probably the easiest) is to advance my a-pawn far enough that he has to give up either the c or d pawn for it, and then it’s pretty straightforward to draw. The move I chose leads to far more hair-raising variations, but I was able to conclude that it too was a draw.
36. g4 Rb2 37. f5 Rxc2+ 38. Kg3 gxf5 39. gxf5 exf5 40. e6!
When we reached this position, I was certain that I had managed to hold it. But he wanted to test my endgame abilities for a few more moves.
40…Re2 41. Rd7 c3
It shouldn’t change the result, but a more testing line is 41…Rxe6. I think I then lose after the natural 42. Rxd5. Instead, the following line is a draw: 42. a4 Re5 43. a5 c3 44. a6 Re3+ 45. Kf4 Rxh3 46. Rxd5 Rh4+ 47. Kg5 Rc4 48. Rd1 Ra4 49. Rc1 Rxa6 50. Rxc3, and now it’s easy. Another possibility is 42…Ra6 43. Rxd5 Rxa4 44. Rxf5 Ra3+ 45. Kg4 c3 46. Rc5 Kf6 47. h4 Ke6 48. Rc8, which is also a draw, but black shouldn’t try to be too clever with 48…Kd6 49. Rc8 Ra4+ 50. Kf5 Ra5+ 51. Kf4 Rc5?? 52. Rxc5 Kxc5 53. Ke3 Kc4 54. h6 c2 55. Kd2 Kb3 56 h7 Kb2 57. h8Q+.
42. e7 c2 43. Rc7 Rxc7 44. Rxc2 Re3+ 45. Kf4 Rxa3 46. Rd2 Rxh3 47. Rxd5 1/2-1/2
We’re playing in the A section, so we don’t find the need to play out this position.
My rating change is 1779–>1793. It’s not what I had hoped for (breaking 1800), but it’s something. I think my level of concentration was better than it has been in past chess tournaments, and I was more disciplined about calculating lines rather than playing somewhat intuitively. I still spent a considerable amount of time just staring blankly at the board, seeing what ideas would spontaneously make their way into my brain, but perhaps that’s not a terrible thing.