The games played at the AACC on January 15th answered some of my recent questions. Here is a summary of what took place:
Denham ½-½ Mockler. Mr. Mockler was unable to generate his desired complications in the Exchange Slav. He and I discussed this line once not long ago. Our conclusion was it is a decent try for a lower rated player when faced with a stronger opponent. The trade of the White c-pawn for the Black d-pawn yields a rather balanced pawn structure where White does not have many winning chances, but Black is hard pressed to generate complications. Mockler strove to do so, but in the end White was fine and the game drew on move 21.
Magat 1-0 Berman. This was a KID, Samisch. Mr. Berman found a trick that surprised Gordon early on. However Mr. Magat did what he is good at doing; fighting back. Although he was significantly worse out of the opening (move 15) at move 20 Mr. Berman indulged in some questionable play on the Q-side instead of using his Bishop pair immediately. By move 24 the game was level. In the two Rooks + minor pieces ending that came about both sides missed chances. It resolved into an ending featuring a Rook and two pawns for White against a Rook and Bishop for Black. The problem for Black was the two pawns were the a and b-pawns and far away from his King, and White’s King and Rook supported the pawns well. Although Berman had a couple of chances to make things difficult for Magat, he missed these opportunities. The b-pawn Queened and the game was over for all intents and purposes. At the end Mr. Berman was down to only seconds on his clock which made finding just the right move impossible. A good win for Gordon. The loss for Jeremy drops him back and allowed Tim Wright to overhaul him in the standings. The win brings Gordon back up to fifty percent for the event so far.
Wright 1-0 Perry. The opening was a Semi-Slav and neither player quite had a handle on the opening tricks. Around moves 9 and 10 both overlooked chances to cross the opponent’s plans. Mr. Wright capped this interlude with an oversight that cost a Bishop. Mr. Perry proceeded to logically improve his game and to increase his clearly winning advantage until.. On move 28 he returned Wright’s favor only with much, much interest attached. This mistake left Black down the Exchange and with problems on the back rank. That was enough to bring home the full point for Wright. Mr. Wright now has a score of 8-1 and the most games completed of any of the participants. It is true he has not gotten by all the high rated opponents, but he has been lucky a time or two up to here. If Wright’s luck holds, there is a chance for him to capture the Club Championship once more.
Northrup 1-0 Alowitz. This win comes at a good time for Cory. He has been doing well in the Schenectady event and not nearly as well in Albany. While he is trailing Denham for the under 1800 prize in the Albany tourney, it is now only by one-half point, and anything can happen. So far this year Art Alowitz, out distinguished President, has not had good fortune. This is a bit of a surprise because he often upsets one or more of the contenders. There is still many games to be played, and I expect Art’s “Giant Killer” will emerge again to shake things up.
Stephenson 0-1 Lack. Will continues to fight hard against players with decades of experience. Jonathan did not conduct a flawless game by any means. He just collected bits of material until he had so large of a material plus there was no defense possible. Mr. Stephenson’s tournament experience contains a lesson for all new and improving players: These stronger, more experienced guys don’t always put out a great creative effort against opponents they expect to defeat. Rather they just wait and take the low hanging fruit of pawns and pieces not well guarded. Gather in enough material and the win plays itself. This observation suggests for the new and improving player two things; checking carefully at every move if there are pieces hanging, forks, pins, skewers, etc. on the board after the planned move is made, and it is good technique to try at all time to have all you pieces defended by pawns or other pieces. As one of the British Grandmasters is fond of saying; LPDO – loose pieces drop off. Follow those two suggestions and even the very strong guys will have to work to beat you.
After this round’s play, based on points lost, the standings are:
1-2 Wright 8-1
1-2 Berman 3-1
3-4 Howard 4½-1½
3-4 Perry 2½-1½
5-6 Denham 3-2
5-6 Henner 4-2
7-8 Lack 5½-2½
7-8 Mockler 3½-2½
9-11 Jones 3½-3½
9-11 Magat 3½-3½
9-11 Northrup 2½-3½
12 Eson 0-5
13 Alowitz ½-5½
14 Stephensen 1-7
Wright surged to the front and Berman dropped back. Perry was checked and Denham continues to do well. Mockler, Jones and Magat remain stalled in the middle of the pack. That is plenty of action for a single round of play. Bit by bit as the early leaders play more games, Mr. Howard, our highest rated contestant climbs towards the top of the table. Notwithstanding his shaky start, Dean will likely be in the hunt at the finish. The Albany Championship is maybe the tightest race of the “Big Three” clubs.
Just before the holiday break there was an interesting game at Schenectady. Former club champion John Phillips had gotten off to poor start, and was lingering in the middle of the pack at -1 for the event. On December 19th he played Zachary Calderon. Zack has done very well thus far, excepting a forfeit loss to Northrup, he is staying in close contact with the leaders at +2. Mr. Phillips no doubt saw this game as a chance to get back to even for the event, and he was willing to take risks to make that happen. With that background to help understand some of the decisions taken, here is the game.
Calderon, Zachary – Phillips, John [D35]
SCC Championship 2013–14, Schenectady, NY, 19.12.2013
1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Be7 6.Qc2 Bg4!?
Although the position does not appear all that strange, after Black’s last, I can find nothing in the databases. Just what the Bishop at g4 does for Black is unclear to me.
Is this a subtle error? Better perhaps is 7…, 0-0.
Black must now use a move if he wants to castle short. If 8…, 0-0 9 Bxf6, and the pawn at h7 falls. Logical is 8…, h6; but White can make some progress with 9 h3. The retreat .., Bh4; .., Bg6; costs a pawn once the Black h-pawn is advanced so the Bishop must go to e6. That is not a particularly active place for a Bishop. All this fairly minor positional jockeying really does not tip the balance one way or the other by any great margin.
Black challenges White’s confidence. He offers to accept a wrecked Q-side pawn formation in trade for White’s best Bishop. A bold decision, but questionable. More conservative is 8…, Bh5; intending 9…, Bg6; to eliminate the light colored Bishops. Black should not be worried about: 8…, Bh5 9 Bxf6 Bxf6 10 Bxh7? g6 11 g4 Rxh7; when Black has a small but comfortable edge.
White does not shrink from the challenge. Black takes on two glaring weaknesses; the doubled a-pawns and c6. He has however a pair of Bishops, the half-open b-file and some possibility of controlling the light squares. Objectively, this is not enough to upon which to build a win. In a game where winning is important, I can see accepting such an imbalance would be tempting.
9…, bxa6 10.Nge2 Nd7?
This has to be wrong. In the first place, why trade off the better of his two Bishops? Secondly, there is an immediate tactical danger on the Q-side after 11 Bxe7 Qxe7 12 Qa4, hitting a6 and c6 at the same time. Black is left with choices that will likely concede a pawn in short order, in which case White will have increased his advantage.
11.Bxe7 Qxe7 12.h3,..
As mentioned above 12 Qa4, probably better. The text is slower, but moving the Queen to a4 remains an available threat..
Possibly better is 12…, Bxe2; trading a not-so-great Bishop for a potentially strong Knight.
Understandably motivated by concerns about Qc2-a4, Black takes steps to meet that move. While I am not certain it is a better path to follow, I am inclined to write-off one of the Q-side pawns about here. This looked good to me: 13…, 0-0 14 Qa4 Nb6 15 Qxa6 (Not 15 Qxc6?? Rac8; wins the Queen for a Rook.) 15…, Bc8 16 Qd3 a5. White certainly has the advantage, but Black may be able to get full value for his Bishop by putting it on a6, and it is not easy for White to drop a Knight into c5.
14.Qa4 Qxa4 15.Nxa4 Ke7 16.Rfc1 Rhc8 17.Nc5 Nxc5 18.Rxc5;
Deep Rybka says White’s edge is somewhat less than in my suggested line above. While watching the game I was sure my suggestion was the best course. Sober reflection tells me Mr. Phillips and Rybka were likely more correct than my choice. Black is defending in a passive way, but it is effective. White’s best chances lie in getting his Knight to c5 and using his Rook on the K-side. Instead White tries to attack a6 with his Rook and Knight. Black can meet the threat to a6 even though his pieces get tied up to do so.
18…, Rab8 19.b3 Rb5 20.Rac1 Kd7 21.Nf4 Bf5 22.Kf1 Kd6 23.Ke2 Rxc5 24.Rxc5 Rb8 25.Ra5 Rb6 26.Kd2 Kc7 27.Ne2,..
So far so good, the Knight is headed for c5 via c3 and a4.
Very probably the best move even though the Bc8 hinders the Black Rook going to the K-side if threats develop there.
28.Nc3 Rb8 29.Ke2?!,..
Seemingly White can’t quite find the handle on this position. The correct idea is to return the Rook to c5, then play Nc3-a4, and if .., Rb5; retreat the Rc5 to c1. White will then threaten to open a file on the K-side or in the center with a possible incursion of his Rook. The Knight goes to c5 to worry Black about a6. The structural pawn weaknesses can be defended by Black. White’s advantage is the greater freedom his pieces may obtain: good Knight versus bad Bishop, active Rook versus passive Rook. These are not quite permanent pluses in this position and accuracy is needed to get the most out of this activity.
Pawn moves on the K-side just will help White open files.
But not this way. Best is 30 e4!, then if 30…, dxe4 31 Rxh5, and at least one more pawn will fall. Add the coming material deficit to the activity of the White Rook and White’s advantage is winning.
Black does not see the threat along the 5th rank. Better 30…, g6; to guard h5.
Rook, minor piece and pawn endgames are seldom easy to calculate, but accurate and sometimes long calculations are just what they require. Here White should play: 31 e4! Bb7 (To meet the threat d5.) 32 Ke3 g6 33 e5+ Ke6 34 Na4 Bc8 35 Nc5+ Kf5 36 Nxa6, collecting the pawn with a winning edge.
Now White will have a hard time keeping the Rooks on the board.
A good idea but too late to make a difference; without Rooks open files have far less significance.
32…, hxg4+ 33.hxg4 g6 34.Na4 Rb5 35.Rxb5 axb5
Almost all of the potential winning chances for White in this endgame disappeared with the Rook trade. Someone recently wrote: Even “bad” Bishops defend good pawns. As bad as is Black’s Bishop right now, it is hard to see how White will stop a gradual freeing of the cleric.
Another good move. It threatens .., b5-b4; freezing the White a-pawn on a light square where the Bishop can get at it. Mr. Phillips took maybe too many risks early in the game and found himself in a bad situation. With a stubborn defense he has held things together posing his young opponent subtle problems to solve.
Wrong on two counts: first 37 a3, is necessary to prevent .., b5-b4; and secondly the following pawn trade is just wrong.
37…, dxe4+ 38.Kxe4?,..
White could have recaptured with 38 Nxe4+, and the game is level. White has his eye on a pawn that might be won on the Q-side. Giving up his g-pawn more than offsets material won on the other side of the board. Another benefit of taking on e4 with the Knight is that some of the King and pawn endings that may come about if the minor pieces are traded favor White because of the slight space advantage he has.
38…, Bxg4 39.Nb7+ Kc7 40.Nxa5 Kd6!?
John’s clock showed just six minutes remaining here. With little time to consider alternatives, it is no surprise Black elects to keep the White King at bay rather than chase the Knight. Going after the Knight: 40…, Kb6 41 b4 Be6 42 a3 f6; would allow Black to eventually make a passed pawn on the K-side. Whether or not that is enough to win the game is an open question. Playing that way would have put some pressure on White. Equally good is the idea of keeping the Knight stuck on the rim; 40…, Be6 41 a3 Kb6 42 b4 f6; preventing any entry of the White King. Either way Black has some advantage, but converting that edge to a win is no easy thing. If the Black King goes away from guarding b7, the White Knight can transfer from a5 to c5, a much more attractive post. I like Black better but have doubts his advantage is enough to win particularly in a time pressure situation.
41.Nb7+ Kc7 42.Nc5 f6 43.a4,..
Black is set to create a passed K-side pawn at any opportune moment. The White King will have to measure carefully how far away he can go lest this potential passer becomes a game winner. This break on the Q-side brings the game to a drawn position quickly. The Black King is at hand and the passed a-pawn is easily controlled. The concluding moves were accurately played by both sides and the draw was agreed.
43…, bxa4 44.bxa4 Bf5+ 45.Ke3 Kb6 46.Kf3 Ka5 47.Kg3 g5 48.fxg5 fxg5 49.Kf3 Bc2 50.Kg4 Bxa4 ½–½
Mr. Calderon still has some distance to go before he begins winning from the top local guys. His improvement over the passed two years has been impressive. Of the new generation of players coming up at Schenectady; Dilip Aaron, Calderon, Clough and Northrup, I think Zack has made the most progress.