Sunday, August 25, 2013

Washington International Wrap Up

The end of Washington International was a blur. Round 8, my opponent no-showed, but I was lucky enough to get paired with a house player, 2331 rated John Rouleau. We played with a slightly shortened time control - game in 90 with a 30 second increment. In that time control, my slightly overconfident pawn sacrifice worked well. Black's position was sound for most of the game, but unpleasant to defend in time pressure. Eventually he cracked, giving me my second win of the event.

The coffee I drank to stay awake for round 8 came back to haunt me as I slept poorly before the final round. I had considered withdrawing, but with 2.5/3 in the last few rounds, I was now in prize contention. I played an uninspiring last round game against IM Roberto Martin Del Campo. I was doing well for most of the game, but didn't concentrate well in a couple of critical moments and found myself in a lost endgame.

This result left me at 3.5/9 for the tournament, and a performance nearly identical to my pre-tournament rating. I gained a single rating point to reach 2325, an easier number to remember than it had been before the nine-round marathon.

I'm planning on taking a few critical moments from the games so far and making a quiz, so please check in again later this week.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Washington International - Round 6

In round six I was gradually outplayed as black by FM Michael Kleinman. My opponent probably could have gotten more, but I was still expecting to lose, down a pawn and with a poorly placed rook in this endgame. 

At this point I took some advice from Jonathan Rowson's book, Chess for Zebras, and told myself a draw from this position would essentially be as good as win. My opponent unexpectedly gave me some hope by bringing his king to c3 to try to play c5. With his king slightly out of the center. In the position below, I was able to gain activity by 42... h4! 43. g4 g5. 

White had to sacrifice a pawn (he played 44. e5!?) or let my king reach e5 and my pieces target the h3 pawn. For the first time all game, I had some counterplay. The game reached 84 moves, lasted well over five hours, and I eventually held the draw!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Washington International Round 6 - Recovery

After playing too aggressively through a difficult 1/5, I made sure to relax for the 6th game. Against NM Busygin, I managed to finally keep my head in the face of an attack. He over-pressed with g4, a move he had been setting up for a long time.  Fortunately, after the tactics died down, material was even, but I had the more centralized king and a passed pawn. White quickly fell apart in the endgame and I scored my first win of the tournament.

Summary: Finally, a win!

Lessons I should have learned: I play better when not making unnecessary attacking moves. I managed to remember this for about one more game.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Washington International Rounds 4 and 5 - Bad Openings

Instead of recovering from my round three loss, rounds four and five were two of the weakest games I've played since leaving Chicago. Round four, against 2400+ rated Sean Vibbert (a rising talent), I allowed white to get away with far too ambitious play in the opening.

What would you play for black in the position below?

I trusted that my opponent wouldn't have allowed me to take on b5 without a good reason, so I traded on e5. This is a serious mistake, letting white get active pieces while my knight on d6 makes development awkward. The position should still be tenable, but I defended poorly and resigned in the face of forced mate on move 32.

I justified not taking the bishop based on the line 1...Nxb5 2.Nd5 - where white threatens Nxc6 followed by taking on e7 with a good position. If I had looked just two moves deep, I would have seen that black has 2... Nbd4, defending against white's threats and keeping an extra piece. As a result, white would have had to accept a slightly worse position with 2. Nxb5.

The following game I had white against IM Adu, but again didn't know what I was doing in the opening and had no advantage in the following position.

What would you play for white?

I'm not sure what the best move is. Maybe white should play Bd3, but really and move that doesn't weaken the position should lead to equality.

I convinced myself that black had serious issues defending f7, so I played my only active idea, e4. Like in my previous two white games (see recaps of rounds one and three for details), I refused to accept equality and entered dangerous complications in the hopes of winning. This time, e4 is just a mistake that isolates my d-pawn for no reason. I ended up sacrificing on d4 to get some activity, but my opponent defended well, I missed some opportunities and I never get back in the game.

Summary and lesson finally learned: Poor calculation and overly aggressive play got me into trouble repeatedly this tournament, and these games were the worst offenders. After the third loss in a row (first time since 2005), I told a friend that I was going to stop forcing things and try to just find decent moves as the position requires. He wished me luck with this type of zen-chess. This lesson sunk in, at least temporarily. My calculation didn't improve much, but I played a couple of games after this one, without going too crazy.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Washington International Rd 3 - Asking too Much

In the third round of the Washington International I was paired with a 12 year old, if he weren't better than me at chess he could have been one of my students. He was actually the reigning Wold Champion for that age group, Samuel Sevian. Here's a picture of us playing the game (actually mostly him looking board).

Unlike most games this tournament, I got a promising position out of the opening. Then, when he threatened to create a dark squared blockade to shut down my initiative, I sacrificed a pawn. By move 21 all of my pieces were well placed and I had the option of regaining my pawn whenever I needed to. However, only a few moves later I started going a bit crazy. I felt that I had an advantage, but none of the variations I calculate led to anything better than some trades and maybe a slightly better endgame. Normally, this would be a great result against an opponent 150 points higher rated than me, but after having drawn the previous two games, I wanted a way to play for more. Instead of going into the endgame, I kept pieces on the board and played a complicated middle game, without ever taking the time to regain my pawn. As we fell into time pressure, my initiative slowly dwindled and my material disadvantage grew, until I found myself in a lost position. This endgame was worse than the games I had held in the previous two rounds, and despite attempts to complicate, I eventually took my first loss.

Summary: I over-pressed after a promising pawn sacrifice in the opening.

Lessons I should have learned: Don't attack just because you want to. Follow the needs of the position.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Washington International Round 2 - Stopping Darwin

I wasn't competing against the theory of evolution, at least not directly. Instead, my second game was against Darwin Yang, probably the strongest scholastic player in the country and rated well over 200 points above me. I've actually known of Darwin since he was little, as he competed each  month with a Madison chess prodigy Brian Luo for the top spot on the nationwide rating list of some single digit age group. While Brian took a break from chess at some point, Darwin kept going and is now an IM very close to the Grandmaster title.

Here's a picture of me playing the game, sitting next to the youngest player in the tournament (also higher rated than me!).

I played the black side of a fairly classical Queen's Gambit and had a fine position for the first 14 moves, before playing a very normal looking and quite bad 15th. I hadn't paid enough attention to my pinned d-pawn, and Darwin continued to slowly crank up the pressure, playing an excellent first 32 moves. By that time he had won a pawn for free and continued to attack with the hopes of winning more. Fortunately, at that point my prestigious opponent failed to switch gears from calm positional pressure to knockout tactics. He had at least three excellence opportunities to shift from pressing an advantageous to winning a decisive amount of material. I think that he was concerned that I would get counterplay in each instance and didn't want to have to risk miscalculating a sharp line. 

Eventually, I was able to trade knights, queens and finally rooks. Still down four pawns to three, the only remaining pieces were bishops on opposite colors. This balance made it impossible for him to make progress. First he declined my draw offer, but returned it a few moves later. In the final position, I can allow white's king to escort the passed pawn forwards. In the meantime my bishop could capture white's f and g pawns. My plan was to sacrifice this bishop for his passed pawn and then bring my king to h8, where it could never be pushed away from blocking white's last pawn. 

Summary: One bad move got me into trouble early on, but my opponent missed some winning chances and I was miraculously able to reach an opposite colored bishop endgame to secure the draw and a great 1/2 score at the end of the first day.

Lesson I should have learned: It's important to calculate vigilantly in the opening, even in seemingly calm positions.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Washington International: Round 1

I took the last week off of work to play the Washington International tournament, a great opportunity to play many of the strongest opponents I have ever faced. There were too many good and bad moments for me to fully analyze so far, so I'm breaking the recap into pieces.

When I arrived for the first round, I found out that I was seeded 49th out of a 60 player field, a sign that this would be an uphill battle. The impression was further confirmed by my first round pairing against Grandmaster Gildrado Garcia, the 11 time champion of his native country, Columbia! Entering this game my lifetime score against Grandmasters in rated games was 0-5, with none of the games being particularly close.

In order to take advantage of his additional experience and rating, my opponent played an unusual, method of development in the opening, sacrificing king safety for an opportunity to grab the bishop pair. After 11 moves we reached the position below where I had three options for how to recapture on g3. I was intrigued by his weakened kingside and chose the overly aggressive (not for the last time this week) fxg3. This severely damaged my pawn structure and king safety, but made it easier for my rook to attack f7. The Grandmaster defended well, and almost by force we reached an endgame where I had a queen against two rooks and a pawn. This was a severe material disadvantage, but the open position of black's king gave me some counterplay and I'm not sure if my position was ever lost with best play. Once the queenside pawns were traded, my opponent allowed a repetition of moves because his king would never find shelter.

Summary: Overly aggressive play got me into trouble, but solid defense held the draw against a strong player.

Lesson I should have learned: Don't enter unclear complications where there are normal moves to improve a good position.