An Upset at Schenectady

Thursday March 7th the following make-up games were played:

Canty 1-0 Chu. Mr. Chu played the Pirc and Mr. Canty went his own way going into one of the miscellaneous lines for White. Much of what is published about the Black side in the Pirc focuses on how to react to White grabbing big space in the center. In these less played lines White delays expansion in the center right away. Black is then on his own to a large degree. He has to come up with an active plan all the while keeping a wary eye out a sudden expansion by White. In this game Black engineered his own break with 16…, b5. It initially worked well for him, and Richard reached a position where he had a small edge with chances for more. Around move 30 he went astray, overlooked potential dangers White was creating on the f-file, and lost a piece as a result. Mr. Canty found a tactical way to exploit his material advantage with a sacrificial attack on the Black King to take the point.

Leisner 1-0 Northrup. I wrote my last post that Jon Leisner had two games to play. I had left out the Northrup pairing somehow. Anyway, Cory was pretty confident his Schliemann Defense to the Ruy would surprise Jon. It didn’t quite work out that way. Mr. Leisner knew enough of the Schliemann to have a winning advantage by about move 20. It consisted of a solid pawn plus. What turned a single pawn plus into a win was it was a passed a-pawn solidly supported. The game continued for several moves, but the relentless advance of the a-pawn was decisive.

Hill 0-1 Mockler. Mr. Hill gave Michael a dose of his own medicine; the Morra Gambit in the Sicilian. Although Mr. Mockler managed to once again to create a very odd looking position – his Q-side pieces looked as if they might never get out – the extra pawn was in the center. Eventually Black’s center mass advanced, the Q-side pieces came to life, and Michael Mockler finished his schedule with a victory.

Clough 1-0 Phillips. This game is the upset of the week. Mr. Clough is a solid middling Class B player just beginning to reach for 1700. Mr. Phillips was the Schenectady Champion two years ago and is one of the group of 1950-1990 rated Class A players who in the past held an Expert title. On paper it should have been a tough game where, if John didn’t blunder, he would do no worse than draw. Our ratings may be reasonably accurate for a long series of games, however, betting on the outcome of an individual game based on ratings alone is not at all certain. This game proves the point. It was another Pirc miscellaneous line. White emerged from the opening with a better than average advantage. Black tried a pawn led Q-side attack against where the White King had taken refuge. The question became would the attack shake Matt? White’s judgment was more correct. He conducted his own direct attack on Mr. Phillips’ King. This attack wasn’t perfect, but the one slip Mr. Clough made was not picked up by Phillips. Matthew finished off the game with a very pretty sacrificial combination. This was a very nice win for Mr. Clough, and I am sure a big disappointment for Mr. Phillips.

The standings after these make-up games are:

1 Leisner 10-1
2 Mockler 8½-2½
3 Calderon 5-3
4 Adamec 6½-3½
5 Northrup 6-4
6 Henner 7-4
7 Phillips 6-6
8 Clough 5½-5½
9 Canty 6½-6½
10 Chu 3-8
11 Hill 1-9
12 Varela 3-9 Withdrew, un-played games scored as forfeit losses.
13 Miranti 2-9

Jon Leisner has locked up the title although there a few games yet to be played. Michael Mockler will finish second it seems. Carl Adamec has a chance to tie with Mockler. And, Zachary Calderon has a mathematical chance to even finish ahead of Mockler, but it will take a much steadier performance than he has achieved so far. Maybe the biggest surprises so far are the good results for Cory Northrup and Matt Clough. They have labored away these last several years trying to move up from the lower half of the cross table. Northrup will certainly finish with a 50% score, and Clough has the same opportunity. A little more progress by either or both and we will see some new faces contending for the title.

John Phillips has had a difficult tourney. With one title under his belt and a determined style of play, I thought Mr. Phillips would be in the mix for one of the top spots at this point in the event. His form was definitely off.

I have watched Matt Clough defeat class A players before, most notably John Barnes three years back. Mr. Clough is dangerous, but has a tendency to become very discouraged when surprised. Knowing Mr. Phillips careful and grinding style, I did not think Clough could win this game. I was very, very wrong.

Clough, Matthew – Phillips, John [B07]
SCC Championship 2013–14 Schenectady, NY, 06.03.2014

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Bd3 e5

Clough Phillips 1

This is not a big surprise. Mr. Phillips has been using with success the Pirc?Phillidor’s, and Mr. Clough has typically avoided things like the Austrian Attack and the Classical Defense when up against the Pirc. The game is now really a Phillidor’s Defense.

4.Ne2 Bg4?!

This excursion by the Bishop is questionable because it is easily met by a good move. More in line with theory are 4…, Be7; 4…, exd5; or even 4…, Nc6; and if 5 d5 Nb4; harassing the Bd3.

5.f3,..

And here it is. White gets to reinforce his center and gain time.

5…, Bh5?

The Bishop will not have an easy time of contributing to Black’s game from the K-side. Better is 5…, Bd7.

6.Be3 Nbd7 7.Nbc3 a6

Clough Phillips 2

Mysterious at first sight, this move does have a point: Black does not want to allow White to trade off his light squared Bishop for the Knight on d7 after .., c7-c5. The computer take a jaundiced view of the move. It suggests 7…, Be7; and completing development as a better way to go. Black is planning a quick assault against the White King. I believe his eye was on the rather constrained Bd3 and thought to make headway by threatening it.

8.Qd2 c5 9.dxc5 dxc5 10.0–0–0 b5 11.Ng3 Qa5?

Black is trying a bull-rush on the White King. The problem is Black’s development is lagging. White on the other hand has completed deployment and is ready for action. The major flaw in Black’s idea is there is an overworked piece in his position; the Knight on d7!

Clough Phillips 3

12.Kb1?!,..

A move that is OK letting White retain a pleasant edge, but 12 Nxh5!, he wins a piece. That is a much better choice: 12 Nxh5! Nxh5? 13 Bxb5!, and Black is lost. Facing this position over the board, White had to evaluate the possibility of the attack crashing through. So, what if: 12 Nxh5 b4?! 13 Nxf6+ Nxf6 14 Nb1 Qxa2 15 f4 exf4 16 Bxf4 c4 17 Bxc4! Qxc4 18 e5, and White is winning. This line of play is a fairly difficult piece of visualization. The play is wide ranging, and both Kings at least appear to be in danger. The truth of the matter is only the Black King is in real trouble.

12…, Be7?

It is obvious Black has not seen the trick involving the Bishop on h5.

13.Nf5?,..

Clough Phillips 4

And White misses it also. Here 13 Nxh5 Nxh5 14 Bxb5 axb5 15 Qxd7+ Kf8 16 Qc6 b4 17 Nd5 Qxa2+ 18 Kc1 c4 19 Bc5, when the direct 19…, c3; is answered by 20 Bxe7+ Kg8 21 bxc3, ending any hopes the under-supported attack by Black will work. If Black tries: 19…, Bxc5 20 Qxc5+ Kg8 21 Ne7+ Kf8 22 Ng6+, with the standard smothered mate after 23 Qf8+. This is another tough calculation requiring clear and accurate visualization. Mr. Clough played this game at a very fast pace. At the finish he had used only 42 of the 1 hour and 45 minutes allocated for his moves. That is an average of 1 minute and 13 seconds per move. At that speed it is no wonder tactics are missed. The other surprising thing is he saw and played a very neat finish to the game at the speed at which he palyed.

13…, Bf8

Not a very happy kind of move to make, but it is the best Black has here.

14.g4 Bg6 15.h4?!,..

White misses again the thematic idea. Here 15 g5, puts the question to Black. If the Nf6 moves to say h5, then 16 Bxb5, is decisive. If 15…, Bxf5 16 exf5 b4 17 Ne2, is similar, a piece is lost. And if: 15…, b4 16 Ne2 Ng8 17 Bc4 Rd8 18 h4, is very good for White.

15…, Rd8 16.Qh2?,..

Clough Phillips 5

Once more fast play misses a neat chance. Black’s problems with development are difficult to solve. Getting his cluster of pieces on the K-side into action will likely cost a pawn somewhere. If he’d used a few more minutes to think, Mr. Clough could have found 16 Nxb5, winning a pawn because 16…, Qxd2 17 Nc7, is mate. Then the developmental problems remain. Black’s best after 16 Nxb5, is 16.., Qb6 17 Nc3, and if 17…, Rb8 18 b3, when no breakthrough will be possible, the Queen and Rook alone just isn’t enough force to prosecute the attack.

16…, b4 17.Nd5 Nxd5 18.exd5 f6 19.Be4 c4 20.h5 Bf7

Taking off the Nf5 is a better use of the Bishop. Mr. Phillips had been working hard trying to create some counter-play. He used all but 33 of his allotted time by this point in the game.

21.g5!?,..

This move is not quite as accurate as 21 h6, then a) 21…, g6 22 Ng7+ Bxg7 hxg7; or b) 21…, gxh6 22 Bxh6, are good for White.

21…, Nb6 22.gxf6 gxf6 23.d6,..

This is a pretty good move emphasizing the undeveloped state of the Black forces.

23…, Nd5 24.Bxd5,..

White has his own ideas and pursues them. I like 24 Qh4, piling on the tension.

24…, Bxd5 25.Qd2?,..

Clough Phillips 6

This is a better move than I thought it to be during the game. It does have a serious flaw however. My choice was 25 Qf2!?,.. then after 25…, b3 26 cxb3 cxb3 27 a3 Be6 28 Bb6 Bxf5+; and White is still better, but it is not as clear as one might hope for. The offer of allowing a double attack on the White Rooks is inspired, if not quite correct.

25…Bxf3 26.d7+ Kf7 27.Nd6+ Bxd6?

Clough Phillips 7

The move 27…, Ke6; which looks like something from a study, may be Black’s last real chance to keep the fight going. The situation becomes very complex after 27…, Ke6. The many lines possible followed out with the computer all seem to lead to White winning, but I shudder to imagine trying to make sense of them in a game. The text presents White with the opportunity for a brilliancy.

28.Qxd6 b3 29.cxb3 Be4+ 30.Ka1 cxb3 31.a3 Bxh1 32.Bg5!,..

Clough Phillips 8

What a neat point. If Black captures; 32…, fxg5 33 Rf1+, mates quickly.

32…,Rhf8 33.Qxf6+ Kg8 34.Qe6+ Rf7 35.Bxd8 1–0

Clough Phillips 9

The attack on the Black Queen demonstrates the sorry position of the Black King. If 35…, Qxd8 36 Rg1+ Kh8 37 Qxf7, threatening mate at g7 and 38 Qe8+, with mate shortly. Or, if 36…, Kf8 37 Qd6+ Re7 38 Qf6+, and mate the next.

White came out of the opening with a very substantial advantage. Black was not able to mount any coordinated scheme after he let his light squared Bishop be driven back to g6. Matters were made worse by John betting the house on a direct and brutal assault on the White King. The effort was insufficiently supported because of Black’s lack of development. This game was the epitome of Mr. Phillips’ season; some ideas pushed too far costing points. For Mr. Clough this was an up and down season. He had wins from John Phillips and Carl Adamec, and a draw with Peter Henner. Those all were upsets based on ratings. On the other side of the ledger Matt lost to tail-ender Joel Miranti. After play was over in today’s game I asked Mr. Clough why he played so quickly. His reply tells much: impatience. He said he just wants to get to the finish as quickly as possible. Apparently Matthew is blessed with good intuition and a quick sight of the board. If he can master his desire to wrap up the game fast, there is no reason Mr. Clough can not advance to the ranks of the Class A players.

More soon.

An Update on the Club Title Races and a Game

On Wednesday February 20th the Albany Area Chess Club Championship for 2012-13 finished with a draw in the game between Jon Lack and Peter Henner. As I drove to the Club, I wonder if the game would be a pro forma draw. It was not. While the club rooms were chilly, the heating system was not working much at all, these two gentlemen did their very best to create some heat on the chessboard. Continue reading “An Update on the Club Title Races and a Game”