What Has Been Happening During This Winter Weather?

The Capital District of New York has lived through a period of what some call an old-fashioned winter.  While bad weather has caused some delays and rescheduling of games, in the occasional breaks when the roads are clear quite a lot gets done.  Today’s post is lengthy, and there is more to come in the next day or two.

I missed the round played on January 22nd at the Albany Club. A summary of that round is; all the higher rated players won. No upsets the 22nd . Here are the results:

Mockler 1-0 Lack. Jonathan reported that after fighting from an inferior position for much of the game he was within one move of equalizing. He than found the only move that would lose. We all can sympathize, are there not such tales of woe in every chess player’s memory banks?

Howard 1-0 Eson. I don’t have details on this game.

Alowitz 0-1 Berman. Again no details.

Denham 0-1 Henner. No details.

Jones 1-0 Northrup. Reportedly an interesting game with the fairly rare material imbalance of a Queen versus pieces. I want to track down the score. Maybe Cory or Joe can provided it the next time I see them.

After this round’s play, based on points lost, the standings are:

1-2 Wright 8-1
1-2 Berman 4-1
3-4 Howard 5½-1½
3-4 Perry 2½-1½
5-6 Denham 3-3
5-6 Henner 5-2
7-8 Lack 5½-3½
7-8 Mockler 4½-2½
9-11 Jones 4½-3½
9-11 Magat 3½-3½
9-11 Northrup 2½-4½
12 Eson 0-6
13 Alowitz ½-6½
14 Stephensen 1-7

On the evening of Wednesday January 29th the next round of play in the Albany Championship took place. The games played and results were:

Mockler 1-0 Eson. This was a Closed Sicilian where not much could be done until one side or the other broke things open. Mr. Mockler began to do so around move 17 on the K-side. The breakthrough was successful and Mr. Eson lost material and the game shortly thereafter.

Alowitz 0-1 Magat, Another Sicilian, an open line this time. Arthur sacrificed or lost a pawn early on. For that investment he got some initiative and some of the makings of an attack on Gordon’s King on the Q-side. White’s attack was not quite enough to offset the strong passed d-pawn Black used to drive back the White pieces.

Howard ½ – ½ Wright. This was a hard-fought Two Knights Caro-Kann. An intriguing but unsound pawn sacrifice by Black on move 5 created a unique position that favored White significantly. Black did get some play for his “button”, and both sides used much clock time figuring things out. By move 30 a Rook and opposite colored Bishops ending with pawns on both sides of the board had come about. White still had his extra pawn. Such endings are notoriously prone to slipping away to a drawn result. This required a great deal of thinking time. While Mr. Howard’s clock was in much worse shape than Mr. Wright’s, both were feeling the pinch. The time scramble ended in mutual errors and a draw when all play was exhausted.

Berman ½ – ½ Denham. Jason Denham has made great strides as a chess player since beginning as a novice in 2010. He’s a very strong Class C now who on occasion plays at Class A level. Still Mr. Berman is on the cusp of moving into the +2000 Expert class, and their game, on paper, seemed to be a mismatch. It didn’t quite turn out that way. At the end of the opening Denham was entirely equal. After some tricky middle game maneuvering Black erred on move 27. The unexpectedly tough fight through to the middle game caused Jeremy to use up a great deal of his clock. Even though he had the better ending, there just wasn’t enough time to bring home the point, and a draw was agreed.

Lack ½ – ½ Henner. Once more Mr. Lack played his patented Closed Sicilian. It worked quite well for him here, and in fact he had a tactical win in hand by move 15. Then some hesitation in untangling the results of an inspired assault on the Black central formation led to just an extra pawn and a much superior pawn structure for White. The fly in the ointment was White’s only remaining minor piece, the light squared Bishop was rather badly constrained by its own pawns. White retain an advantage right down to the end. Time troubles for both sides led to an agreed draw.

The standings based on points lost are:

1-3 Wright 8½-1½
1-3 Berman 4½-1½
1-3 Perry 2½-1½
4 Howard 6-2
5-6 Henner 5½-2½
5-6 Mockler 5½-2½
7 Denham 3-3
8-9 Jones 4½-3½
8-9 Magat 4½-3½
10 Lack 6-4
11 Northrup 2½-4½
12 Eson 0-7
13 Alowitz ½-7½
14 Stephensen 1-7

The race for the under 1800 prize is definitely between Denham and Northrup. The battle for the title continuous to be between Wright and Berman. Mr. Perry is trailing in the total number of games played making it hard to say where he will stand overall at the finish. Howard, Henner and Mockler are staying close to the leaders. Some slip-ups by Wright and/or Berman, and one or more of these three could suddenly be at the top. There is plenty of excitement in store for the wind-up of the Albany tournament.

On Thursday evening January 30th a make-up round was played at Schenectady. There was a pretty good turnout; four tournament games played and some skittles besides. The results were:

Mockler 0-1 Henner. Once more Michael brought out the Morra Gambit against the Sicilian. Peter accepted the pawn and was more or less forced to take up what appeared to me to be an awkward position. I was convinced Mr. Henner was in deep trouble by move 8 or 9. Later, at home, that night the mighty Rybka disabused me of my error. As strange and offbeat as his position looked, according to the engine Henner was never worse. After the game Peter and I had a short discussion about the game. I must apologize to my friend Mr. Hennerfor for saying so adamantly he was busted after the opening. His position looked bad but apparently really wasn’t bad at all. By move 19 the game was level, but Mockler was still down the invested pawn. With his long term prospects unpromising, Mr. Mockler schemed tactically. Shortly thereafter Mr. Henner erred (21…, Nc6?), and Michael recovered the pawn with some advantage to boot. A few moves later Mockler found a trick that unfortunately had a hole in it.. The hole cost him a full Rook and the game. The Sicilian Defense was never something I played as Black, nor I have I ever tried the Morra Gambit as White. After getting the evaluation of the position around move 9 in this game so wrong, I think I’ll continue to stay away from it.

Phillips 0-1 Adamec. This was an Advanced French where Mr. Adamec took the game away from the usual with an inventive idea: ..,Nge7; .., Nec6!?; and .., Nbd7. This is not a typical way to handle the Black Knights in the French. It is however very much something that fits Carl’s style; get the game out of the books and test the opponent’s understanding not his memory of theory. The approach worked because between moves 9 and 12 Black began to obtain a small advantage. As the middle game went on White came up with his own ideas including an inventive opening of dangerous lines bearing on Black’s King castled on the Q-side by sacrificing a pawn. Just when White’s attack was about to become really serious, Mr. Phillips decided to simplify to an ending. The problem was he was still down the sacrificed pawn. That fact must have drove him to working hard to recover the pawn, which he did. Unfortunately for Phillips, the resulting position was winning for Black. He had a far advanced c-pawn supported by his King while White’s King was cut off. This part of the technical ending was handled in a masterly fashion by Mr. Adamec to secure the win.

Canty 0-1 Clough. Matthew took up the Hungarian Defense in this game. White either did not know or did not care to try the Max Lange Attack. The Max is one reason why the Hungarian not much seen in master practice. White did create some good attacking chances on the Black K-side, but he was overeager and cashed in the attack giving two Knights for a Rook. Without even one minor piece to help out, the slightly exposed Black King was not in danger from the White forces; the Knights were more than adequate to cover potential threats. Mr. Canty’s efforts to open the game up for his Rooks resulted in Black gaining strong posts for his Knights in the center. White then switched to driving forward his Q-side majority, and this looked quite promising if not for a victory, at least for dynamic equality. With the choice of pushing either the passed a-pawn or the b-pawn, White picked the b-pawn to push. That was the wrong pawn. Black then got his Knights swarming in the center and his lone Rook working on the open g-file. Objectively the game was dynamically balanced, but Mr. Canty must have believed the Black attack was too dangerous. He gave up a Rook for one Knight because I think he miscalculated a simplifying transaction. The result was the adventurous passed b-pawn was easily stopped by Black’s extra piece, and material won the day.

Hill 0-1 Leisner. Mr. Hill tried a page from the Mockler approach to chess and played the Morra Gambit in this game. For his pawn White reached a middle game position that the engines call equal; White has some lead in development and a possibly weak Black d-pawn on an open file as compensation for the material minus. It’s a game with chances for both sides. It can be said White got what he wanted and Black did too. After getting a playable position, White elected to go off into the very complex on move 12. He offered a piece for a pawn, a very advanced pawn it is true – on d6 – but it did not seem to be worth a full piece to me. Black very quickly put together a strong attack on the White King. Then, just at the point where it seem the game would end a flurry on the K-side, a casual move presented White with the chance to do a combination that changed the material imbalance from a minor piece for a pawn to a Rook for a Bishop and a pawn. White’s chances were distinctly improved. White was then the proud owner of two Bishops and the board was open. Just as the huge pawn on the 7th with a pair of Bishops to support it looked like it might obtain a draw, Mr. Hill erred and the pawn fell, more material was lost and the game ended on move 47. There were some scary moments for Mr. Leisner in this contest. In those moments I sure Jon could see his hold on first place being loosened. By keeping, not losing his head, Mr. Leisner held onto first place and even improved his tournament position.

The standings after the make-up round and adjusted for Mr. Varela’s withdrawal are:

1 Leisner 5½-½
2-3 Mockler 7-2
2-3 Henner 4-2
4 Northrup 4-3
5-7 Adamec 5½-3½
5-7 Phillips 4½-3½
5-7 Clough 3½-3½
8 Calderon 5-4
9-10 Canty 3-5
9-10 Hill 1-5
11 Chu 2-6
12 Miranti 1-7

Jon Leisner has opened up his lead over Michael Mockler. As Jon said after play was complete: “This is a result I wanted.” Peter Henner is working his way into contention, and Cory Northrup has fallen off the leader’s pace. Some participants have only two games remaining, others such as Mr. Leisner have as many five games to play. Those with several games to make-up are where they are through no fault of their own. Cancellations because of weather and schedule conflicts are usual in these long club events. The fond hope of the local club tournament directors is to get the tournament games done before the Capital District League play begins. If that does not come about, everything gets very complicated indeed.

Here is a game from the rapidly winding-up Saratoga Championship. There are four other Experts/Class A players in the event. I did not do well against these guys; winning only one game, drawing four and losing three.

My friend Michael Mockler takes a jaundiced view of annotating one’s own games. There is certainly valid concern such notes will be skewed and not objective. The opposing argument is; by analyzing your games in writing and publishing them you undertake a stern test of your chess thinking. This is according to Botvinnik, the founder of the Soviet School. He believed it the essential work a chess player must do to improve. So, once more I will try to explain what I was thinking about in this game. Here is my lone win:

Gausewitz, Glen – Little, Bill [B07]
Saratoga Championship 2013–14 Saratoga Springs, NY, 26.01.2014

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Be3 Bg7 5.f3,..

The Pirc Defense again. The last few years locally the Pirc has become very common. Both Finnerman ad Mockler use it regularly against 1 e4, and Phillips, Michelman, Feinberg and Henner have tried out the Pirc as a secondary defense. Over the last thirty years the Pirc almost exclusively has been my defense to 1 e4.. Mr. Gausewitz decides on a Samisch sort of treatment. It is not the most popular path for White but it is well regarded by theory.

5…, a6?!

Gausewitz Little 1

More common and sounder is 5…, c6. I have been puttering around looking for unique lines in my openings. The .., a7-a6; idea was mentioned in passing by Alburt and characterized as perhaps too sharp to be quite sound. Duncan Suttles the Canadian GM and the brothers Byrne, Robert and Donald, moved the a-pawn up one square in similar positions very often in the 1960s. Recalling that got me thinking why not?

Researching the specific move in my database gave me mixed results: thirty or so games but very few between titled players. Where titled contestants were found, the game scores were weird with some apparent score keeping errors. Therefore I relied on my engine to guide me. Using Deep Rybka in what is called the Human mode, I could not find a refutation to 5…, a6. I decided to give move a try against any of non-Austrian Attack lines in the Pirc except Bc1-g5. Maybe 5…, a6; is just too dangerous for Black to be experimenting in the Bc1-g5 line.

6.Qd2 b5

Black has to be ready for “interesting” chess if White plays 7 Bh6, immediately. After 7…, Bxh6 8 Qxh6 b4 9 Nd1, and 9…, e5; or 9…, c5; it is a messy position with chances for both sides.

7.a4,..

Glen reacts in a more staid fashion going for a standard prophylactic positional move.

7…, b4 8.Na2 a5 9.c3 Bd7?

Gausewitz Little 2

A bad choice. Black could have equalized with 9…, bxc3 10 Nxc3 0-0 11 Bc4 Ba6; planning to get play on the b-file and to place his Knights on d7 and a6. The square b4 may become a useful outpost, while the Bg7 can do good work on the long diagonal.

10.cxb4 axb4 11.Nxb4 Rxa4 12.Rxa4 Bxa4

I believed White’s lagging development might give opportunity for Black to improve from equality to something more. How to get at the opportunity was not so clear.

13.Nh3!?,..

Gausewitz Little 3

A more principled approach is 13 Bc4 0-0 14 Ne2, when the White pieces are on pretty normal squares, and Black has yet to demonstrate a clear equality. This was another opening experiment that I did not adequately prepare. Too casual opening prep has been my bane for my whole career. I must unconsciously believe it is impossible to remember enough detail to justify the effort to dig deep in preparation. That leads me to trust I will find sufficient resources over the board. The lessons are piling up for me, particularly after the last four years of writing out my analysis of my games, I don’t always find the best move during the game. Winning games happens most often because my opponent errs in some way greater than I did. Knowing preparation – memorizing critical positions, lines and plans – is important to my doing well in actual games.

13…, c5?!

More sensible is to castle first. I saw a little tactical sequence that eliminates the b-pawn, and not believing my position was particularly good, thought such was my best hope was for equality.

14.dxc5 dxc5 15.Qxd8+ Kxd8 16.Bxc5 Nfd7 17.Be3 Bxb2

This was the position I saw in my mind, and I have what I want, but when we arrived here all was not as rosy as anticipated. White can develop with threats making his laggard K-side pieces very active.

18.Ng5 Ke8 19.f4?!,..

Gausewitz Little 4

Mr. Gausewitz is a strong Class A player (1990+) and a sometime Expert, however he has a tendency to take a too slow approach on occasion. He does so here. He did the much same thing against Farrell in a earlier round. This quirk maybe the reason why he is not knocking on the 2200 door. Preferred here is 19 Kf2, h6 20 Nh3 g5 21 Bd3, and the White Rook will be out and about definitely putting Black on the defensive. My notion was my Rook would get out of “Coventry” at the same time as White deployed his Rook or maybe a move earlier. The suggested line demonstrates that was not a correct evaluation.

19…, h6 20.Nf3 Nc6 21.Nxc6 Bxc6 22.Bd3 e5?!

Gausewitz Little 5

Taking unnecessary chances. The straight forward 22…, Nf6; hitting e4 is better, it gets the position very close to equality.

23.Kd2 Ke7 24.Rb1 exf4 25.Bxf4 Bg7

Now I have h6 and the Rh8 guarded leaving only some worries about the unstable position of my two minor pieces on the Q-side to bedevil me in the ending. With so many pieces on the board, and the only significant difference in positions is the slight weakness of the White pawn on e4, I was beginning to think a draw was not far distant.

26.Ke3 Nc5 27.Ne5 Ba8

This move is probably OK, but if a draw was what I wanted, then 27…, Bxe5 28 Bxe5 Ra8; is a more certain path to follow.

28.Ra1 Bxe5 29.Bxe5 Rd8?

Gausewitz Little 6

Not the best Black has. If 29…, f6 30 Ra7+ Ke6 (An only move I think.) 31 Bb2 Nxd3 32 Ra6+ Kd7 33 Kxd3 Re8; looks equal. The text makes a simple threat on the Bd3. The simple answer 30 Bc2, avoids unnecessary complications, and White can make Black work hard for the draw.

30.Bd4?,..

It is hard to say what comes over us chess players at the end of a difficult game. After more than three hours of striving to see his way through murky positions with many pieces on the board, Mr. Gausewitz, with only three pieces and three pawns per side remaining, misses a basic tactic. When something similar has happened to me it seems to be a letdown of attention because of relief at having passed the tough part of the game. Maybe that is what happened here.

30…, Rxd4!

Glen may have just glanced at this possibility, saw the Knight fork and that the Knight can not get out alive from a1, and went no further.

31.Kxd4 Nb3+ 32.Kc3 Nxa1 33.Kb2 Kd6

Gausewitz Little 7

The point of the combination: Black’s King is immediately on the scene and White’s King is far away. This means the e-pawn falls, which in itself is not the end of resistance. The important follow-on fact is Black will be able to shoulder the White King away from the best defensive post for him on the K-side.

34.Kxa1 Ke5 35.Bc4 f6 36.Kb2 Bxe4 37.g3 Kd4 38.Be6 f5 39.Kc1 Ke3 40.g4,..

Gausewitz Little 8

Desperation. White sees 40 Kd1, is met by 40…, Bd3; cutting off the White King from a place in front of the f-pawn. There is a second factor making the situation hopeless for White, Black has the right color Bishop even if White wins a pawn and gives up his Bishop for the g-pawn, the h-pawn will Queen.

40…, f4 41.h4 f3 42.Kd1 f2 0–1

Now 43 Bc4 Bd3; and the f-pawn becomes a Queen. The story of this game is: My speculative opening innovation was not properly followed up. Then I had to be very careful not to fall into an inferior position. Treading the narrow path to equality was testing. Mr. Gausewitz had an unlucky moment of “chess Blindness” just as the game was headed to a drawn result.

More soon.

News From the North Country

I dislike posting a column the same day as one of my associates and friends have posted. Doing so sort of steps on their work. So I call your attention to Dean Howard’s report on the Vermont Open and his game there. It follows right after this post and is a very worthwhile read. The article provides insights from a very good player who made an error against another very good player. Mistakes happen to all chess players high and low. It is rare for very good players to show us theirs. Continue reading “News From the North Country”