This past weekend, I played a chess tournament. I was brimming with confidence going into it: I needed 11 points to clinch the expert title, and my recent results in 15-minute games on the Internet Chess Club have been spectacular, including a win over IM Andranik Matikozyan. I’d also been studying a bit more than usual in the few weeks before the tournament, so I felt that my chances to make expert were very good. In an instance of sheer folly or at least extreme overconfidence, I elected to play in the open section, with three international masters. I didn’t have much expectation of being able to survive in any games I landed against them, but at least I wanted to avoid embarrassing myself.
Since all my games from this tournament were so interesting to me, I’m going to post three of them over the next few days. Here is my game from round 1.
Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo (1989) vs. Neel Apte (1916), New Year’s Open, Round 1
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6
In the weeks before the tournament, I had looked over some of my recent games and found that I had shockingly bad results with white in the accelerated dragon. There are two main ways to play it: one is to pretend, more or less, that black is playing a normal dragon, and the other is to try to take advantage of the different move order by playing the Maróczy Bind. Previously, I had always elected to take the first option, but over the past few weeks, I had studied the Maróczy Bind and felt pretty comfortable about it. So, even though my opponent’s move order isn’t exactly a typical accelerated dragon, I was ready to overlook this point and try out my shiny new toy.
5. c4 Bg7 6. Be3 Nc6 7. Nc3 Nf6 8. Be2 0-0 9. 0-0 Bd7 10. Rc1 Ne5
At this point we deviate from the main line, in which black captures on d4. This position is nice for me: if nothing else, white has more space and the potential for a kingside attack at some point, or perhaps white can do something clever in the center. Furthermore, black’s main attempt to get some counterplay is likely to come from an f5 break at some point, which causes the e7 pawn to become weak, so white might have some targets in an endgame as well. In short, it’s the sort of position that appeals to me: I can play slowly, trying to make progress without having to worry too much about shocking tactics. Since my opponent is only 12, he’s unlikely to be patient or experience enough to deal with positional subtleties.
11. h3 Rc8 12. b3 a6 13. Qd2 Re8 14. f4 Nc6 15. Nf3
I wasn’t thrilled to make this retreat, but I felt that if he could get in e5 in such a way as to force me to take on e5 or c6, then he would have achieved one of his goals. Now after 15…e5, I could consider sacrificing a pawn with 16. f5 to weaken his king position for a kingside attack. It’s not clear whether this is a good idea or a foolish one, but it’s pleasant to have such options.
Seeing the hole I’ve made on g3 by playing h3 and f4, my opponent was presumably quite excited about the prospect of putting a knight there, or at least forcing me to make some concession in order to avoid this possibility. But, white has a more imminent threat that cannot be ignored.
The threat of 17. Bb6 cannot be ignored.
16…Be6 17. Kh2
The computer kindly points out that 17. f5 Bxd5 18. exd5 Ne5 19. Nxe5 Bxe5 20. fxg6 hxg6 21. Bxh5 gxh5 22. Bh6 wins for white. I didn’t even consider playing f5 though.
17…Bxd5 18. cxd5 Nb8 19. Qb4?!
Better is 19. Rxc8 Qxc8 20. e5, after which the knight on h5 is stuck, and white is threatening to play g4. But during the game, it seemed sensible to put pressure on black’s queenside pawns. White is still much better, but I missed a few opportunities to put the game away quickly.
19…Nf6 20. Nd2 b5 21. g4 Nfd7 22. Nf3 Bb2!
This strong move impedes white’s piece coordination a bit. While the bishop may seem strangely placed and might be a target, white is not quite fast enough to punish its strange placement.
23. Rxc8 Qxc8 24. Qd2 Bc3 25. Qc2 Bb4 26. Qb1 Qb7 27. Bd4 Rc8 28. Rc1 Bc5 29. Qc2 Nb6 30. Qb2 Bxd4 31. Nxd4 Rc7 32. h4 Qc8 33. Rxc7 Qxc7
Okay, I’ve just broken the Cardinal Rule of playing chess with kids, which I think is best explained with a simple flowchart:
For some reason, I decided it made more sense to keep queens on the board and to get rid of the rooks rather than the other way around. But there was a point I wanted to try: I expected to be able to weaken black’s king position; if the knight can get to e6 or f5, mate on g7 is threatened, and it’s rather awkward for black to defend. If I make something happen then quickly, I may also have an opportunity to cause some problems on the queenside: the black knights are awkwardly placed and aren’t doing a lot.
34. h5 Qc8 35. hxg6 fxg6 36. f5 Qf8
Well, okay, I guess that stops the mating ideas, but the black queen is so passively placed. It’s hard to imagine it being much fun to play black at the moment.
37. fxg6 fxg6!
Impressive! I thought he would be tempted to play 37…Qh6+ 38. Kg2 Qxg6, but then 39. Nf5! is annoying to meet.
I made sure that black didn’t have a perpetual check or anything similarly obnoxious before entering into this line.
If I were to trade queens, I could get a better endgame with strong chances to win. But I believed that he’d eventually do something suicidal if I kept pressuring him with the queen and knight, and I felt more comfortable trying to win that sort of game.
39. Qc2 N8d7 40. Kg2 Ne5?
It must feel nice for black to activate the knight that has done little of importance in the game, but the more relevant issue here is that the knight now blocks the queen. It would be better to allow the queen to have access to the entire diagonal, so that if I abandon c2 and attack the queenside, black has a menacing queen to distract me.
41. Qc7 Nbd7 42. Qc8+ Kh7
I was concerned about how to win after 42…Nf8, noting that 43. Nxf8 Qxf8 44. Qxa6 Qf4! seemed tough to crack. But, white is still doing by waiting a while to grab the queenside pawns. Black is tied down and has nothing to do but sit around as I improve my piece first, with something like 43. g5 Qf7 44. a3 Ned7 45. b4 Qh7 46. Qe8 Qh4 47. Bf3 Qh7 48. Kg3 Qf7 49. Qc8 Ne5 50. Be2 Ned7 51. Nxf8 Nxf8 52. Qxa6, with good winning chances.
An inexplicable blunder. After 43. g5! first and then 44. Qxa6, black has little counterplay. But after my move, black is probably holding with best play.
44. Qxb5 Nxg4 45. Bxg4 Qxg4+ 46. Kf2 Ne5?
46…Qh4+ looks like a draw. Now it’s not as clear.
47. Qe2 Qh4+ 48. Ke3 Qg3+ 49. Kd2 Qh4 50. a4 Qh6+ 51. Kc2 g5 52. Qf2 g4 53. a5
At this point, as I was down to under 2 minutes, I stopped taking notation. White is completely winning here though. I don’t remember the move sequence we took to get there, but we eventually reached the following position, if my memory is correct:
Despite the fact that I was in my last minute, I was able to notice that my opponent threatened to play 1…g2+ 2. Kg1 Nf3#. Ouch! The game finished with
1. Ng5+?! Kg6 2. a8Q g2+ 3. Kg1 Kxg5 4. Qe3+
and, as he was about to be checkmated,
Black resigns. 1-0.
I had 23 seconds left at the end of that. These delay clocks can come in handy from time to time! My opponent had around a minute and a half.
So, it was pretty far from a perfect game: I missed a number of wins, but I was fairly pleased anyway. My opening experiment had proven successful, as I achieved a stable advantage out of it and had a pretty good idea of what to do with it, so the Maróczy Bind will remain a part of my repertoire.
Playing kids tends to feel quite different from playing adults, even when they’re the same strength. Contrary to what one might expect, kids seem to be much more stable and consistent: they rarely do brilliant things, but they’re unlikely to do anything disastrous either. In this game, even though Neel was worse for the entire game, he never self-destructed, but instead kept finding interesting defensive tries. Adults usually collapse in such situations. But, adults also sometimes come up with ingenious and creative ideas that are out of reach of kids. It’s interesting to speculate about why this might be the case.
In my next game, I faced expert George Mandrusov with black in my favorite opening, the Leningrad Dutch. Strangely, I had never defeated an expert, although I had achieved a number of winning positions. It was a bit of a shock, then, when he erred on move 13; I had little trouble finding a winning tactic, and after that, winning the game was entirely effortless.
So, I ended the first day with 2/2. Soon I’ll discuss two more of my games, which I found to be even more interesting than this one.