I shall have to be contented with a tulip or lily


I came to the Labor Day tournament this year full of high expectation. I’d just done a large overhaul of my openings and was feeling quite well-prepared.

In my first game, I faced Philipp Perepelitsky, whom I had known since high school. (Philipp beat me once in a high-school league game back in 2002. Back then, Philipp was rated around 1800, and I around 1400.) I played his (very) identical twin brother Edward in February, and we got a draw in a poorly-played game.

Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo (2047) vs. Philipp Perepelitsky (2151), Round 1

1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. Be2

Well, I didn’t prepare for the Pirc, so already I was making it up. I wanted to play 4. Be3 but then thought that 4…Ng4 might be a bit annoying, so I might as well put a stop to that move first.

4…Bg7 5. Be3 Nc6

I was surprised to see this move; the knight gets kicked around while white gains space. It’s probably okay, but I was under the impression that black intends to play …c6 instead of …Nc6 in the Pirc.

6. d5 Ne5

I’d love to play 7. Nf3 here, but after Neg4, I thought black would be quite happy. In retrospect, this seems like a stupid thing to have been concerned about: 8. Bd4 c5 9. dxc6 bxc6 10. h3 Nh6 looks excellent for white.

7. h3 c6 8. dxc6 bxc6 9. Nf3 Qa5 10. Bd2 Qc7?

After 10…Nxf3+, black has equalized. Now, white is close to winning.

11. Nxe5 dxe5 12. 0-0 0-0

White has a position with no weaknesses, and all the white pieces have at least decent scope. On the other hand, black has weak pawns on a7 and especially c6, and the bishop on g7 has nowhere to go. My plan is to get my pieces to good squares on the queenside, and especially to put either a knight or bishop on c5, and start pressuring the c6 pawn.

At this point during the game, I thought it might make more sense to neutralize some of black’s pieces on the kingside, so I played

13. Bg5.

This move is okay; my idea was to prevent the knight from moving to a better square. (Black would probably like to play something like Nd7-b6.) But the knight isn’t the most dangerous black piece at the moment, so I should discourage play with a black rook on the d-file instead. 14. Be3 with the idea of Bc5 is better.

13…Be6 14. Qc1 Rfd8

Black wants to place the rook on d4 to gain counterplay against the e-pawn. I can stop this by playing f3 at some point, but then black can play Nh5-f4, so I’d prefer not to have to do that.

15. Be3

At this point, I was expecting my opponent to play 15…Rd4 anyway; if 16. Bxd4 exd4 17. Na4 Nxe4, I think black has fantastic compensation for the exchange: he has managed to get his bishop on g7 active, and it’s now a strong piece. Furthermore, black’s center pawns are now strong; it’s hard to stop ideas of c5-c4. So, on 15…Rd4, I was planning to play 16. Bd3 (now threatening to take on d4). After 16…Rd6 17. Na4 Rad8 18. Nc5, white is doing well.

15…Rab8 16. Bc5 Ne8

Black’s plan is to play Nd6, followed by either Nc4 or Bc4, getting a bit of activity. I thought about playing 17. b3 in order to control the c4-square, but in the end I decided on

17. b4,

which I think is a stronger move. My idea was to fix the pawn on c6 as much as possible so that I can attack it and win it when the time is right. This move also has the advantage of making the rook on b8 less powerful.

17…Nd6 18. Qe3 f5 19. f3 f4 20. Qf2 a5 21. a3 Bf6 22. Rfd1 Kh8 23. Na4 Nc8 24. Bd3 g5 25. Qe2 Nd6 26. Qf2 Nc8

I didn’t know how to make progress here if my opponent “passed” for the rest of the game (perhaps, playing Kg8-h8 endlessly). But the computer suggests that I play for bxa5; for instance, I can play 27. Ba6 h5 28. Bxc8 Qxc8 29. Ba7 Rxd1+ 30. Rxd1 Rb7 31. bxa5 Rd7 32. Rb1, and white has a delightful position. It’s not completely straightforward to win, since black is going to open up the kingside and develop threats, but with careful play, white should be winning.

27. Be2 Rxd1+ 28. Rxd1 axb4 29. Bxb4 Nd6 30. Nc5 Bc8

At this point, I felt much more comfortable about my position than I had at move 26. I have a passed pawn, a weakness on c6 to pressure, and black’s dark-squared bishop is still dismally placed.

31. Na6

My opponent looked a bit surprised when I played this move. I guess that’s understandable: the knight had a great square on c5, and the bishop was serving a purely defensive role on c8. But getting the two bishops was appealing to me, and I also reasoned that the queen would be as well-placed on c5 as the knight had been before.

31…Bxa6 32. Bxa6 Rd8 33. Qc5 Nf7 34. Rxd8+ Qxd8 35. Qxc6

And the rest should be easy, with two passed pawns on the queenside. Right? (Apparently not.)

35…Qd1+ 36. Bf1?!

I saw that after 36. Kh2 g4? I had 37. Qc8+ and 38. Qxg4(+), but I rejected it for some reason I now cannot understand. I think that’s the most sensible way to play though: I should then continue with Bd3!, cutting the queen off, and then try to get in Qg1 with a queen trade if possible. Black will make it difficult to do these things, but they might be possible.

36…Kg7 37. Qc3 h5 38. Qd2 Qa1 39. c4 e6 40. c5 Bd8

This can’t be bad either. The problem is that black’s king is frustratingly safe. Another problem is that 41. c6?? loses to 41…Bb6+, so that makes it more difficult to advance the c-pawn.

41. Kf2 g4 42. hxg4 hxg4 43. fxg4

At this point, I didn’t believe that black had any counterplay to speak of. And, in fact, that’s correct, assuming that I avoid being a complete idiot. (Sadly, I proceeded to fail spectacularly at that task from this point on.)

43…Qb1 44. Qd3 Qc1 45. Kg1 Qb2 46. Qc3 Qb1 47. c6 Bc7 48. Ba5 Bb8

So far, I’ve still been doing everything right, but now black threatens 49…Ba7+. The best move, which I strongly considered, is 49. Qc5. I was scared, however, of putting my queen and king on the same diagonal, where the queen might get pinned by the bishop. But there’s no way for black to do that. I was starting to get low on time here, though, so it’s somewhat understandable that I didn’t want to enter into something where I thought I might fall for a cheap tactic.

One possible continuation is 49. Qc5 Bd6 50. Qc4 Bxa3 51. c7 Nd6 52. Qxe6 Bc5+ 53. Kh2 Qxf1 43. Qxe5+ Kg6 55. Qh5+ Kf6 56. Qxc5 Qd3 57. e5+ Ke6 58. Qxd6+ where black’s only move is to resign.

But instead, I played the hideous blunder

49. Qc4??,

and after

49…Ba7+

I can get a draw with 50. Kh2. But, not sensing any danger, I played

50. Kh1??,

completely missing black’s next move.

50…Qb8!

with the threat of Qh8#!

51. Qd3 Be3 52. g3

I can prolong things with 52. Bd8, but that loses as well.

Qh8+ 53. Kg2 Ng5 54. Qd7+ Kg6 55. Qxe6+ Nxe6 56. gxf4 Nxf4+ White resigns

A horrific end to what seemed certain to be a well-played win for me against a rather strong player. On the plus side, though, I get to use a G&S quote for a post title.

I was devastated by this loss and proceeded to play uncharacteristically bad chess the rest of the tournament, losing 25 ratings points in the process. But that happens sometimes. I’ll try to recover my form in the next one!

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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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