He’s a bit undersized, and you don’t feel surprised when he tells you he’s only eleven


In round 2, I faced Vignesh Panchanatham, for the third time. We had previously played twice in Sacramento, with each of us winning one game. And, despite what I suggested in the title, he’s only ten. The increase of strong young players is striking: five years ago, I played against Gregory Young, who was at the time the fourth or fifth strongest 10-year-old in the country, rated around 1850. Now, Vignesh, who is rated a bit higher than that, is only ranked #9.

Vignesh Panchanatham (1925) vs. Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo (1950), Round 2

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3

I’m always a bit puzzled to see kids play anything other than the main lines. The conventional wisdom is that young players are tactically strong, so they should play the sharpest lines. In the Sicilian Defense, the sharpest lines are definitely in the open Sicilian, with 2. Nf3 followed by 3. d4.

2…Nc6 3. Bb5 Nd4 4. Bc4 g6 5. Nf3 Bg7 6. Nxd4 cxd4

The pawn is strong on d4, as it prevents white from developing his pieces on their best squares.

7. Qf3!

After 7. Ne2, white’s pieces are a bit tangled. By first threatening mate, he gets better development. I was originally planning to respond to 7. Qf3 with 7…e6, but after 8. Nb5 d6 9. Qa3 (actually, I only looked at 9. Qf4, which is also good), black’s position is no fun. I was a bit annoyed that this didn’t work out, but after calculating a bit, I couldn’t find anything wrong with my next move.

7…Nh6

That’s not the ideal spot for the knight, but it’s not so easy for white to exploit its poor placement, especially while his knight on c3 is still under attack.

8. d3

The most logical move, threatening 9. Bxh6 after which f7 is undefended. Fortunately, after

8…0-0,

my position is fine.

9. Ne2 Qa5+ 10. Bd2 Qb6

I don’t know if I’m really threatening to take the pawn on b2; it looks pretty dangerous to try, but at least it’s worth giving him something to worry about.

11. 0-0 d6

Taking on b2 immediately looks too risky: completing my development is of higher priority than grabbing stray pawns.

12. Nf4 Kh8

I was starting to get a little bit frustrated by my inability to put my pieces on optimal squares, and the best solution I came up with was to play f5 followed by Nf7 and Ne5, if I’m allowed to do so. First, of course, I need to move my king away in order to allow me to play f5.

13. Nd5 Qd8 14. h3 f5 15. Bg5

Oops. I momentarily forgot that the possibility of double-attacking e7 existed. Still, I need not panic too much, as I have a good, if slightly awkward, defense.

15…Ng8 16. Nf4 Bf6 17. Bxg8!?

I was expecting 17. Bxf6 Nxf6, after which my pieces are finally starting to get to sensible squares, and my position is entirely satisfactory. But is the knight on f6 so fearful that he felt the need to give up the strong light-squared bishop for it?

17…Kxg8 18. Bxf6 Rxf6 19. Nd5 Rf7 20. Rae1

Now I think black has a small advantage already. My plan is to play e5, and then I can decide how to resolve the tension between the e4 and f5 pawns. It may be tempting to play f4, although I suspect that would be a bad decision: with a bishop versus a knight, I ought to try to open the center rather than keep it closed. Of course, I can wait for a while and see what the position calls for, as there’s no hurry.

20…e6 21. Nf4

Note that 21. Nb4? loses to 21…a5!, trapping the knight.

21…e5 22. Ne2

A surprising move: the knight would be well-placed on d5 with no black pawn able to evict it. Of course, that’s not quite the full story: I can play fxe4 forcing Qxe4 so that the knight isn’t protected by a pawn.

22…b6

I thought this was the best way to get the bishop out, but it’s not obvious now whether this move has any advantages over 22…Bd7, with the intention of following up with 23…Bc6.

23. Ng3?

Basically losing at once, but white’s position was already problematical. Surprisingly, white has a better chance after 23. exf5 Bb7 (or Bxf5), after which I still have to demonstrate that I can make something out of the kingside. And it’s not obvious to me how to do that.

23…Bb7 24. Qd1 f4 25. Ne2 f3

I was trying to figure out 26. gxf3 Rxf3 27. Nxd4. One option was 27…Rxh3 28. Qg4 Bc8 29. Ne6 Rh4 30. Nxd8 Bxg4. I didn’t realize that after 31. Nc6, black has 31…Bf3! mating immediately, so the knight on d8 is lost. (Actually, not quite: 31. f3 Bh3 reduces white’s material losses somewhat, but it’s still an easy win for black.) Another option I looked at, but couldn’t make work, was 27…Qg5+ 28. Kh2 (28. Kh1 Rxh3 is mate) Qf4+ 29. Kg2 Rxh3 30. Kxh3 exd4. I have an exchange for a pawn here and an attack. Had he taken on f3, I would have thought very seriously about whether I even wanted to take back on f3, and I imagine (with little evidence) that I would have ended up playing 26…Qh4 instead.

However, the move he chose made matters simpler for me: I quickly found a cleanly winning response.

26. Ng3 Qh4!

It’s not possible to prevent Bc8, hitting h3 too many times.

27. Kh2 Bc8 28. Rh1 Bg4!

Now I threaten 29…fxg2 30. Qxg4 gxh1Q+ 31. Rxh1 Qxg4 with an extra exchange.

29. Rhg1 Rf4 30. Qd2 fxg2 31. Rxg2 Bxh3

After 31…Qxh3+, I’m only up a pawn (for now), although it shouldn’t be too hard to win.

32. Rh1 Bxg2+ 33. Kxg2 Qg4 34. Qe2

Offering a trade of queens when down an exchange and a pawn like this is equivalent to resignation, but little kids frequently don’t actually resign for way too long.

34…Raf8 35. Qxg4 Rxg4 36. f3 Rgf4 37. Rf1 h5 38. Ne2 R4f7 39. Kg3 Kh7 40. f4 Kh6 41. c4 dxc3 42. bxc3 exf4+ 43. Rxf4 Rxf4 44. Nxf4 g5 45. Ng2 b5 46. d4 Rc8 47. Ne3 Rxc3 48. Kf3 Kg6 49. Ke2 Rxe3+ 50. Kxe3 Kf6 51. Kf3 a5 White resigns.

I think I played quite a good game. I didn’t make any decisions I seriously regretted. At a few moments, I could have played more precisely: 14…f5 was probably a bit premature, but it turned out that I had sufficient resources even after that. Another mild criticism I might make is my time usage in the opening. I generally play the opening rather fast, wanting to develop my pieces to fairly sensible squares and not spend too much time on making the best possible moves. This gives me more time in the middlegame, but occasionally it lands me in some trouble. I should have been more nervous about 7. Qf3; had I expected it, I might have played 4…e6 instead, which is what Dorian Rogozenko recommends in his book Anti-Sicilians: A Guide for Black. So, my early game time management is something to ponder a bit. I’m not sure I’ll change it, but at least I should entertain the possibility.

On the plus side, I made no serious errors, conducted my attack accurately, and played the (easily winning) endgame confidently. Also, I got my revenge on someone who beat me in July.

The tournament concluded well for me: I ended up with four wins, one draw, and one loss, which was good for a tie for second place (and second place on tiebreaks). Sure, I wanted to win, but my goal for the weekend had been to score 4.5/6, and I succeeded in that goal. Perhaps next time I should set my goal higher.

I made a leap in my quest for expert: I’m now at 1989, only 11 points away. One more good tournament should be sufficient for pushing me over the edge.

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About Simon

Hi. I'm Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo. I'm a mathematics postdoc at Dartmouth College. I'm also a musician; I play piano and cello, and I also sometimes compose music and study musicology. I also like to play chess and write calligraphy. This blog is a catalogue of some of my thoughts. I write them down so that I understand them better. But sometimes other people find them interesting as well, so I happily share them with my small corner of the world.
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