AACC Championship 2014-15 decided, and some thoughts

On Wednesday, February 4th 2015, the AACC Championship for the 2014-2015 season was decided: Jeremy Berman defeated Gordon Magat to reclaim the AACC Championship.

Unlike last year, the AACC Champion was decided from a 2-game match between the winners of two approximately-balanced sections. This year those two section winners were Gordon Magat and myself, Jeremy Berman. The first game of the Championship match had myself as White and Gordon as Black, and was played on Wednesday January 28th 2015. That game ended in mutually agreed draw.

As for the second game of the match, colors were reversed – myself with the Black pieces and Gordon with the White pieces. In a thrilling King’s Indian Defense, we went for complications in the middle-game: Black gave up a rook and two pawns in exchange for two of White’s minors. However, the imbalance had a unique caveat: White had a pawn securely planted on g6, that would sustain mate threats against my king. As for compensation, I had two terrific knights – one planted firmly on the outpost of the d5 square, and one defending it on f6. Eventually the game trickled down to mutual time pressure, and Gordon timed out before making his move.

Thus for the second year in a row, Jeremy Berman has won the Albany Area Chess Club Championship.

Here are the final results, from the regular season and the Championship (excluding the U1800 Championship, between Tom Clark and Cory Northrup, which still is TBD):

Regular Season Standings (with point total/games played to the right):

Round Robin #1:

1 = Jeremy Berman (7.0/7)
2 = Dean Howard (5.0/7)
3 = Peter Henner (4.5/7)
4 = Thomas Clark (4.0/7)
5 = Arthur Alowitz (4.0/7)
6 = Scott Boyce (2.5/7)
7 = Paul Axel-Lute (1.0/7)
8 = Charles Eson (0.0/7)

Round Robin #2:

1 = Gordon Magat (6.0/7)
2 = Tim Wright (5.5/7)
3 = Peter Michelman (5.0/7)
4 = John Lack (4.5/7)
5 = Cory Northrup (3.5/7)
6 = Paul Moore (1.5/7)
7 = Ryan Rogers (1.0/7)
8 = Stephen Kullas (1.0/7)

The Championship Match Result:

Jeremy Berman and Gordon Magat
Game 1: Draw
Game 2: Berman defeats Magat


1. Berman (1.5/2)
2. Magat (0.5/2)

AACC Champion: Jeremy Berman

Under 1800 championship:

Cory Northrup and Thomas Clark

Result: TBD

Some Thoughts:

Now that everything is mostly said and done, we can now reflect on the tournament. Overall the 2-section structure did what was intended: finish the tournament early! By mid-December nearly all the Regular Season games were complete, and after the winter holidays the final games were played and the championship was promptly determined. As compared to last year, the AACC Championship finished nearly two and a half months earlier, and there were relatively few make-up weeks required, which had dragged last year’s tournament into mid-Spring.

Additionally, there were no dropouts in the tournament. Last year there were two such instances, very early on, that messed up the schedule a bit.

Here are some other notes I have on the tournament, as compared to the last two years:


Number of Players: 14
Total Net Participants (from the previous year): +2
New Faces (to the AACC Championship): (Will Stephenson, Jeremy Berman, Glen Perry)
Notable non-participants (from previous year): Finnerman


Number of Players: 16
Total Net Participants (from the previous year): +2
New Faces (to the AACC Championship): (Paul Moore, Tom Clark, Ryan Rogers, Stephen Kullas, Paul Axel-Lute, Scott Boyce)
Notable non-participants (from previous year): Joe Jones, Jason Denham, Michael Mockler

While the total number of participants this year increased only by two, there were six new participants as compared to the previous year. And given that there were three notable non-participants who had played in the previous year, it is possible that this tournament could have been even larger had they played. One thing is certain: the number of interested players for the AACC Championship is steadily increasing, about two people each year. But most of these ‘new’ players have been around in the area for a while, so we can’t say that the club is growing. However it is noticeable that the Albany Area Chess Club has had a healthy number of interested players each of the past few years, so we can expect more full competitions for the club championship.

As for the new tournament format, I have this opinion: I think it is not the most worthwhile solution. While it may have contributed to a shorter club championship, I think it was perhaps too short. As I said, nearly all the regular season games were decided by mid-December, nearly two months after the championship began! What more could we look forward to until the CDCL starts in Spring?

But my main point is that we deprived ourselves of something unique to the club championship: the ability to play everyone in a rated game.

How often do we get that chance, during the year? How often do less-experienced players have the opportunity to test their wit against some of the most established players in the area? Or have those established players test their abilities against new up-and-coming players? In my opinion it would be more fun and worthwhile if the tournament format went back to the ‘all-play-all’ format. There would be more opportunities to gain rating points, to test out ideas against formidable opponents, and look forward to all the interesting match-ups available.

But now that the AACC Championship is complete, we have something more pressing to look forward to that just next year’s Championship: The Capital District Chess League. I imagine this year’s league will start earlier than last, which should provide the opportunity for people to join a team before it gets started.

Until next time.

Jeremy Berman

A Call to Arms

I’ve been meaning to post for a while, but have been distracted with the end of classes last semester and the holidays. After seeing Bill’s post yesterday, I decided to brush other things aside and provide an update on the Albany Area Chess Club Championship, and analyze a game featuring one of the leaders of the event.

After the annual AACC club meeting in October, it was decided that if there were 12 or more players (which did occur: there were 16 players), the tournament would be split into two round robin sections of roughly equal strength. The top Open and U1800 finishers in each section will play a two game final match for the championship(s). If two players finish tied for 1st or top U1800 in a section, the tie will be broken by a single game rematch with colors reversed from their previous meeting. The time control is game in 90 minutes with a 5 second delay.

The idea was simple: reduce the number of rounds, and therefore reduce the possibility of delays due to personal scheduling, weather, etc. However, the cost was that players were delegated to two sections, and thus we would not have the ‘all play all’ style that most people, including myself, look forward to. How often do you get to play against everyone in the club, despite the rating differences? And have the potential to gain rating points?

But the tournament structure did succeed in significantly shortening the tournament; after starting in October, we have nearly completed the 7-round tournament by the end of December. Here are the standings, as reported by the club treasurer (with point total/games played to the right):

Round Robin #1:

1 = Jeremy Berman (6.0/6) (still to play Arthur)
2 = Peter Henner (4.5/7)
3 = Dean Howard (4.0/6) (still to play Charles)
4 = Thomas Clark (4.0/7)
5 = Arthur Alowitz (4.0/6) (still to play Jeremy)
6 = Scott Boyce (2.5/7)
7 = Paul Axel-Lute (1.0/7)
8 = Charles Eson (0.0/6) (still to play Dean)

Round Robin #2:

1 = Gordon Magat (6.0/7)
2 = Tim Wright (5.5/7)
3 = Peter Michelman (5.0/7)
4 = John Lack (4.5/7)
5 = Cory Northrup (3.5/7)
6 = Paul Moore (1.5/7)
7 = Ryan Rogers (1.0/7)
8 = Stephen Kullas (1.0/7)

There are two games yet to play in Round Robin #1:

Charles Eson vs. Dean Howard
Arthur Alowitz vs. Jeremy Berman

Based on the standings the championship match will be:

Jeremy Berman against Gordon Magat

In the Under 1800 championship, we will have:

Cory Northrup against (TBD, Arthur Alowitz/Thomas Clark)

Round Robin #2 featured a tight race for the top spot, mainly between Gordon, Tim, and Peter Michelman. The games between these three were fierce, and featured interesting battles. Gordon beat Peter, Peter beat Tim, and Tim beat Gordon (got all that?). In the end, Gordon was able to survive with just that one loss, and avoid any playoff to secure a spot in the championship game.

But while all three games were intense, the game between Tim and Gordon featured some of the most exciting, swashbuckling, action of the tournament. Both Tim and Gordon are known for their uncompromising play – Tim for his sharp tactics, and Gordon for his inventive, fighting style.

Today’s game highlights these qualities. In particular, we see them negotiate a game of opposite side castling. Of all the types of positions in chess, these are notorious for their high risk – high reward potential. From countless games, and analyses, it is well known that certain criteria are necessary for success in these positions: open lines against the enemy king, get your pieces into play (whether in attack or defense), and watch out for tactics! One wrong move, and it may be your last. As we shall see, it is this last point that decides this game.

Now let’s get started!


Mistakes and Tension

An editorial note: We, the guys doing most of the work on the blog right now, Mockler (Admin and Technical) and Little (Content), are continuing to improve the looks and function of the posts. Today’s post is the latest and greatest. The goal for some long time was to get the most reader friendly presentation of content. I, Little, think this latest improvement gets us very nearly there.

Essentially what Mr. Mockler has accomplished is to allow us to publish the game in pgn format and to nest comments inside the pgn file. What makes this useful and good from my viewpoint is we retain the clean presentation that the WordPress publishing tool recently acquired.

Let us know if this new format works for you. At any point as you are going over the game, clicking on a move will display the automated board and you can see the position, or you may play through some or all the moves of the game.

I have heard that a couple of other people are interested in getting into posting. That is good news. The more voices the better this blog will do its job of promoting chess in Eastern NY. If you have the interest and something to say about chess, talk to Michael Mockler, our President and technical wizard, about what you must do to obtain access for posting on the blog. End of the editorial note.

Gordon Magat has been a difficult opponent for me. We haven’t met often, but up to this game I have not done well at all in our games. Gordon is a very tough fighter and especially so when he feels his position is worse. There are some players who play their best when in trouble; Gordon and Tim Wright are two that come to mind of that ilk. I seem to be intimidated by grim, determined defense. At the CDCL match where the Geezers faced Albany A in Guilderland, NY I wanted a different outcome.

Tension in a chess game is about as normal as anything can be. Chess is an ego driven contest. While from our earliest days on the playground we all recognize some are bigger, stronger, faster, and somehow in the process of growing up we come to terms with that fact. It is much harder to come to grips with the fact that some of our peers remember more, think faster and more clearly. People who pursue the mind-sport that is chess have a hard time accepting someone is going to out-fox them on the chess board. If it were otherwise few of us would play the game for decades. So, when we sit down to play all our attention and energy is bent to the task of defeating the opponent. That sort of heavy investment of energy and pride brings tension, and tension breeds mistakes. We see it in today’s game, and if you follow the big elite tournament going on now in Norway you have already seen it there among the World’s best chess players. Tension comes with chess. Tension leads to error. We chess players must learn to live with it, but it surely is painful sometimes.

This was a not so well played game by two guys who can do better. Some of the less than correct decisions came from the perception by both sides that a win was important for their respective teams. Nevertheless, it is a useful game for some teaching purposes . Developing players who review it can take heart from the observation of the errors made by these experienced players. It is one more piece of evidence supporting the notion of a need for tactical alertness. Both sides could have benefited had they been on their toes.

Illustrative Game:

(Editorial note: Click on any move in the above game to see an automated board and play through the moves.)

More soon.

The Albany Tourney Nears the Finish and an Endgame

The last local Club Championship is getting closer to a finish. If all goes as planned the very last game will be played May 7th for the Albany Chempionship. Wednesday evening just two make-up games were played:

Alowitz 1-0 Stephenson. This was some kind of mixed bag combining the Sicilian and the Ponziani, and that is no easy thing to do. By move 19 Alowitz had collected two extra pawns and was cruising towards a win. It took another twenty moves, but the issue was never in doubt, and Mr. Alowitz took the full point just after move 40.

Henner 1-0 Perry. The opening here was the Meran System of the Semi-Slav. They stayed in the book up to move 8 or 9. Then Mr. Perry improvised just a bit with the move order, and the game left the well known trail of the theoretical. Mr. Henner came up with an idea of clamping down on the Q-side since Glen did not get in the c6-c5 break when he had the chance. The Q-side situation was stabilized with White in the better position. Peter then switched to play on the K-side before he had all of his pieces in play. That didn’t work out too well, but with a too tempting offer of a Q-side pawn White obtained an advantage. Through the early endgame Mr. Henner’s edge grew until by move 31 it was near winning. Shortly thereafter Henner missed a combinational chance to finish the game. Time was getting short for both sides mostly because both sides were willing to play complex and testing lines. The notoriously difficult Rook plus the f&g-pawn versus Rook ending came about. According to Dvoretsky these endings are usually drawn. To do so you need a high level of endgame knowledge and some time on the clock to work out the details. That was not the case here, and Mr. Henner won in 56 moves. This was one of the most competitive and entertaining games of the Albany event – a close contest right down to the end.

The standings in the Albany event now are:

1-2 Wright 10½-1½ with Berman to play
1-2 Berman 10½-1½ with Wright to play
3 Howard 9-3 with Henner to play
4 Magat 8½-3½ with Perry to play
5 Mockler 8½-4½ finished
6 Denham 5½-5½ with Eson and Perry to play
7 Henner 6½-5½ with Howard, to play
8 Perry 4½-5½ with 3 to play
9 Lack 6-6 with Perry to play
10-11 Jones 5½-7½ finished
10-11 Northrup 5½-7½ finished
12 Alowitz 3½-9½ finished
13 Stephensen 1-12 finished
14 Eson 0-12 with Denham to play

The final standings in the Albany Championship are taking shape. It is Wright or Berman for the top spot. I am told unofficially that Tim Wright has the better tie-breaks if their game is drawn. The 3rd and 4th places will go to Magat or Howard depending on the results of their last games. Michael Mockler will finish 5th , no one below him in the standings can match his score. Steady and consistent play by the two top guys separated them from the field. Regardless of the outcome of their head-to-head encounter, both Mr. Wright and Mr. Berman can look back on a very fine performance this year.

Chuck Eson has had a tough tournament in this year’s AACC Championship. It has been difficult for him to score even one half-point. Mr. Eson has made progress in his chess notwithstanding his score. Today’s tidbit shows how close he came to making an upset in a recent game.

Magat, Gordon – Eson, Charles
AACC Championship 2013–14 Guilderland, NY, 09.04.2014

Playing against one of the highest rated contestants, Charles held his own up to about move 30. Gordon had tried out the Polish Opening; 1 b4, and 2 Bb2. Using good sense and careful play Eson kept the balance until he dropped a pawn around move 30. Even then he did not panic, and he was able to get enough activity for his two Rooks to almost balance the pawn minus. Black’s active Rooks induced White to trade down to one pair of Rooks. The game then reached the following position:

Eson Magat 1


So far so good. Neither side was in bad time trouble. Eson had about 30 minutes remaining on his clock. That probably is enough time to negotiate even a tricky Rook and pawns ending if you have correctly evaluated the position, and you know a few principles.

One of the rich veins of chess culture is the field of Rook and pawn end games. On the surface they appear to be fairly simple. Maybe they are to those gifted with great chess talent. For the rest of us, Rook and pawn endings are like icy roads to night time drivers; nerve-wracking and dangerous. The least bit of inattention can land you in a ditch.

2.Kf3 Rb6?

A brief conversation after the game was over leads me to believe Chuck had calculated things out for several moves and arrived at an incorrect evaluation. I believe he thought with the Rooks off the position was drawn.

Maybe the first principle of Rook and pawn endings is that trading off the Rooks is a critical decision. Once they are off the outcome depends on the resulting pure pawn ending. Having the Rooks on allow for such techniques as cutting off the opposing King from his passed pawns, creating threats to the opponent’s pawns and the defense from a distance of your own weaknesses. Without Rooks on the board everything depends on the pawn position and where the opposing Kings stand. So, deciding on a trade requires accurate calculation and visualization of the positions after the trade. Once the Rooks are off the die is cast, you can’t go back.

In training chess players pure pawn endings are often used as exercises to improve calculation. I think this idea was first brought to general popularity by various trainers from the Russian School. It is so because pawn endings are simpler than positions with several kinds of pieces and pawns. In them there are just two types of pieces that have to be manipulated; Kings and pawns, but in many practical positions fairly long sequences have to be visualized and compared to arrive at the correct evaluation. Studying pure pawn endings is a way a player can train himself to handle long strings of data, and to comparatively evaluate positions distant from the current board position.

Progress in understanding chess is not a smooth process. We individually move forward in fits and starts. Sometimes it takes a great disappointment to drive home a particular point. Today’s example was such for Chuck. He’d held one of the strongest of our Club’s players even for a couple of hours and even fought back from one error. Now all that is required is to get through a “simple” Rook and pawn ending and secure the draw.

With the game move Mr. Eson jumps into a lost pawn ending because he misread the resulting pawn endgame. He’d be better served by keeping the Rooks on with either 2…, h3; or 2…, a5. Both moves fit a general endgame principle; passed pawns must be pushed. This brings us to the question of the general evaluation of the position. Black’s two passed pawns don’t look particularly strong. They are isolated and lack immediate support. Their wide separation, oddly enough, gives them extra value. To stop and maybe to capture them will require both of the White pieces to take some action. The farther the Black pawns advance the greater the pressure on White to decided what to do. That fact should give Black time enough to: first, eliminate a White pawn, probably the c-pawn, and second, to set up a drawn position around the pawns on f4/g5/g6.

It is my suspicion that Black feared the line: 2…, h3 3 Rxg6 Rxc4 4 Rh6:

Analysis Position
Eson Magat 2

And Black may have been thinking the h-pawn is doomed. There is a trick here however. If Black sees clearly enough he can play 4…, Rc2!; and if then 5 Rxh3? Rc3+; when the White King ends up on h3 after the Rook trade.

Analysis Position
Eson Magat 3

That is outside of the “square” of the Black a-pawn. Then the moves: a7-a5,a4,a3,a2,a1 (Q) wins long before White can get his King and two connected passed pawns anywhere near making his own Queen.

So, the capture of the h-pawn on the 5th move is no good. What else can White do here? Push a “passer” of course. Since sending ahead the g-pawn, 5 g6, is easily met by 5…, Kg7; and after 6 Rh7+, it is clear the game will become a Rook+ 1 pawn versus Rook+ 1pawn ending that is drawn. That judgment leaves only 5 f5,

Analysis Position
Eson Magat 4

then: 5…, h2 6 Rh7.., and now Black has to find just the right move to make a fight out of it.

Analysis Position
Eson Magat 5

The natural 6…, a5; is wrong because: 7 f6! a4? 8 g6, setting up a mating position and forcing 8…, Kg8; then 9 f7+ Kf8 10 Rh8+, when White makes a Queen with check. Even improving slightly with 7…, Kg8; does little good after: 8 g6 h1(Q) 9 Rxh1 Rc6 10 f7+ Kg7 11 Rh7+ Kf8 12 Rh8+, Queening once again with check. Black’s best is 6…, Kg8!;

Analysis Position
Eson Magat 6

first forcing the g-pawn forward, and then chasing the White King to f6 where he obstructs the f-pawn; 6…, Kg8 7 g6 Rc5 8 Kg4 Rc2 9 Kf4 Rg2 10 Ke5? a5 11 Kf6 Rb2 12 Rc7 Rb6+ 13 Kg5, and the Black h-pawn Queens. Finding these moves over the board if you is difficult even if you have studied Rook and pawn endings diligently. White can bailout by giving up his connected passed pawns when Black attacks them with the Rook. White then captures the h-pawn, and since his King is closer to the a-pawn than is Black’s King, there little trouble blockading the a-pawn and then winning it. The bare Rook ending is obviously drawn.

3.Rxb6! axb6

Eson Magat 7

The situation is now very different. The passed a-pawn is gone. The h-pawn will be taken with relative ease, and Black is left defending a pawn down endgame.

4.Kg4 Ke7 5.Kxh4 Kd6 6.Kg4,..

Eson Magat 8

The h-pawn is gone, and the White King is ready to support the f-pawn’s advance. That will bring into being a passed g-pawn which can draw the Black King to it like a magnet. If the Black King goes towards the g-pawn White then pushes the f-pawn recovering it by virtue of zugswang then the White g-pawn occupies the Black King long enough for the White King to race over, clip the b-pawn leaving the White King ideally positioned to escort the c-pawn to the 8th rank.

6…, Kc5

It could be Mr. Eson calculated going this way would allow him to obtain his own passed pawn. The problem is the pawn is not far enough forward to offer adequate counter-play.

7.f5 gxf5+ 8.Kxf5 Kxc4 9.g6 1-0

Eson Magat 9

Mr. Eson resigned here. If the game were played out it might have continued as follows: 9…, b5 10 g7 b4 11 g8 (Q)+ Kc3 12 Ke4 b3 13 Qd5 b2 14 Qd3+ Kb4 15 Kd4 Ka4 16 Kc4, and the pawn falls in short order.

I have in my library five works that touch on Rook and pawn endings. The earliest is Reuben Fine’s Basic Chess Endings, 1941, and the most recent is Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, 2006. In none of these wonderful books was I able to find the piece of advice I gave early on in this article: In Rook and pawn endings deciding to trade Rooks is a critical decision. Memory is a slippery thing when you older, and I can’t recall where I first heard that fragment of chess wisdom, or from whom. For High Experts, Masters and titled players it is probably so obvious as to not need saying. For the rest of us it is something usually learned the hard way, as Mr. Eson did in this game.

More soon.

Almost an Upset at Albany

Thursday February 27th a full slate of games were scheduled for the last scheduled round of the Schenectady Championship. Once more lousy weather interfered. There was not much snow, but what little fell was blown around vigorously by a nasty wind. Several games were rescheduled. Only two games were played:

Henner 1-0 Miranti. Peter Henner ran out his Bird’s opening, and as ratings predicted he won. This was Joel’s first serious tournament, while Peter has decades of serious chess behind him. It was no walk-over. Mr. Miranti has quite a bit of natural talent. He has given a good account of himself in most of his outings in this event. I hope he continues to play at Schenectady because with a couple of year’s experience Miranti can win some games.

Leisner 1-0 Clough. The experience difference in this game was not so great as the difference in Henner – Miranti game, nevertheless, Jon Leisner is very strong with several years of playing in the high Class A/Expert ranks. Mr. Leisner opted for the Ruy Lopez, Exchange Variation, a technical debut if there ever was one. He brought home the point with patience and better knowledge.

The standings after the truncated final scheduled round are:

1 Leisner 9-1
2 Mockler 7½-2½
3 Northrup 6-3
4 Calderon 5-3
5 Adamec 6½-3½
6 Henner 7-4
7 Phillips 6-5
8 Clough 4½-5½
9 Canty 5½-6½
10 Chu 3-7
11 Hill 1-8
12 Varela 3-9 Withdrew, un-played games scored as forfeit losses.
13 Miranti 2-9

The standings are ranked by point lost because of the uneven number of games played by various individuals. Jon Leisner’s lead is becoming very clear. He has just two games to play; Henner and Miranti. In the unlikely event Jon scores only one of the two points, he will finish on 10-2. Michael Mockler also has played ten games scoring 7½-2½. If he wins his two remaining games his best score is 9½-2½. The rest of the field is out of the race or very nearly so. For Mr. Mockler to get a piece of first required is for Mr. Leisner to have rather dramatic collapse of form in his final two games. Leisner has been playing well this year. I expect to see crowed Champion shortly. This will be he first title at Schenectady.

On Wednesday March 5, one make-up game was played in the Albany Championship,

Howard 1-0 Perry. Mr. Howard once more took the field with his favorite line this year, the 2 c3, Sicilian Defense. In none of Dean’s games that I have watched this year has anyone tried the 2…, d5; answer. Black didn’t quite know the line he chose well enough to play it against an Expert. After move 8 White had a more comfortable position, and Black had a long term problem to solve; a really bad Bc8. By move 11 White’s development was very much better than Black’s. Then Black overlooked a center break, 12 12 d5!, after which White’s advantage grew. The lead in development turned into a direct attack on the un-castled Black King with pretty mate delivered on move 20. If you mean to play the Sicilian against Dean Howard, some serious study of the c3 Sicilian lines is necessary. Otherwise it may be a very short night for you.

After this game the standings based on point lost are:

1-2 Wright 9½-1½
1-2 Berman 6½-1½
3 Henner 5-2
4-6 Howard 7½-2½
4-6 Mockler 6½-2½
4-6 Perry 2½-2½
7 Denham 4-4
8-9 Jones 4½-4½
8-9 Magat 4½-3½
10 Lack 5½-5½
11 Northrup 3½-5½
12 Alowitz ½-6½
13 Stephensen 1-8
14 Eson 0-7

While Saratoga’s Champion is crowned – Jon Feinberg – and Jon Leisner is likely the winner at Schenectady this year, the Albany race still remains open. Tim Wright is leading, but Berman, Henner, Mockler, Howard and even Perry are not mathematically out of contention. The next full round of play is scheduled for March 12th . Maybe then we will get an idea of who is on their way to the title.

Here is a game that came close to making the ranks of upsets for this season. But for Gordon’s resourcefulness Jason would have taken another scalp in his run of surprising results. As I have said before, these Experts are difficult to beat. You may get them on the ropes, however, they fight hard especially when in trouble.

Denham, Jason – Magat, Gordon [D31]
AACC Championship 2013–14 Guilderland, NY, 26.02.2014

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 dxc4

The Semi-Slav Defense. This particular line is sometimes called the Marshall Gambit or the Noteboom Variation. It can arise from a plain Slav Defense if Black wants to come at the position from that direction. The tricky bits of the Slav/Semi-Slav set up are the possibilities for transposition from one line to another.

5.a4 Bb4 6.e4,..

Denham Gordon 1

This move is not very popular with the top flight players. It leads to lots of complications. Here is an example:

The key feature that distinguishes this line is Black does not play .., Ng8-f6; early on. Here is where I would wish for a GM to consult. It is my guess Black’s idea underlying holding back the Knight is to avoid the Botvinnik line where White pins the Nf6 with Bc1-g5, when a whole different set of complications come up after White pushes the e-pawn to e5.

6…, b5

Alternatively, Black can now bring the Knight out to f6, and if 6 Bg5 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 Qa5; is complex in its own right. Black is saying with the text he means to hang on to the pawn if he can.


Whether it was his intention or not, White sacrificed the pawn to first obtain a predominance in the center, and second to pressure the Black Q-side pawn mass with his pieces. After the game move the position is one that can arise in the Geller Gambit of the Slav. White has several alternatives here: 7 Bd2, 7 Ne4, and 7 Rfd1, or the adventurous 7 Ng5!?, trying to provoke some K-side weakness that can be attacked.

7…, cxb5 8.Be2 Nf6 9.Qc2?,..

Denham Gordon 2

This is wrong. Better 9 Bg5, now that .., Qd8-a5; is precluded. Reversing the order of the moves lets Black get in some vital developing moves.

9…, Bb7 10.Bg5 Bxe4 11.Bxf6 Bxc2?

Denham Gordon 3

Black either ran out of his opening knowledge, or he just calculated wrongly here. Best is 11…, Qd5 12 Qd2 gxf6 13 Qe3 Qc6 14 0-0 bxc3 15 bxc3 a5; when Black’s advantage is close to winning.

12.Bxd8 Kxd8 13.Ne5!,..

The point. The threatened fork at f7, and another on c6 if the Nb8 moves, along with the wide open h1-a8 diagonal are bleeding wounds in Black’s position. He will lose material. How much is the question.

13…, Ke7?

Denham Gordon 4

This move tell us Black had not anticipated the sudden turn of events. Best here is 13…, f6; when a) 14 Bf3 fxe5 15 Bxa8 exd4 16 0-0 dxc3 17 bxc3 Bc5; ; and Black has the Bishop and Knight plus two pawns for the Rook. He is winning. The alternative b) 14 Nf7+ Kd7 15 Nxh8 Nc6 16 d5 exd5 17 Bf3 Rxh8 18 Bxd5 a5; leaves Black better but not yet clearly winning. He has two pawns for the Exchange. The pawn mass Black has on the Q-side is not particularly mobile, therefore White may be able to mount a defense.

Neither variation is very long or complex. A player of Gordon’s strength can certainly calculate them. That is why I think he had not foreseen the position.

14.Bf3 Nd7?

Ills come in bunches sometimes. With 14…, Bxc3+ 15 bxc3 Nd7 Black could limit the damage to some extent.

15.Nc6+ Kf6 16.Nxb4 Bb3 17.Bxa8 Rxa8

White is up a Rook for two pawns. Black may have saw a glimmer of hope in that, if he can win one more pawn, three pawns may be able to cause trouble for the Rook.

There are several players in the mix locally who play their best when in deep trouble: John Phillips, Jon Leisner, Dean Howard and Tim Wright are the names I think of with that characteristic. Gordon has a place in that group. His aim seems to be over the next several moves to be to keep the game going hoping for an error by Jason.

18.0–0 a5 19.Nxb5 Rb8

This is Black’s best chance. He will recover some material.

20.Rxa5 c3 21.bxc3 Bc4

The point of the sequence; Black cuts the material deficit to the Exchange and a pawn. That is a big improvement, but his game is still lost.

22.Rxb5 23.Re1 Rb3

Black is making concrete threats, the c3-pawn in this case. What should White do? At the highest levels of competition annotators dismiss play after such a material imbalance occurs as no more than a matter of good technique. In our club level battles we have all experienced desperate fights against determined opponents who just will not believe their opponent can see these kind of advantages through to the end without error. One of the problems White has in this position is back rank weakness. Solving that problem with 24 g4!?, makes taking the c-pawn dangerous. For example; 24 g4 Rxc3? 25 g5+ Kg6 26 Ne7+ Kh5 27 g6+ Kh6 28 gxh7 Kxh7 29 Rh5, checkmate. Black can improve by not taking the c-pawn, but with a little work it is easy to see White has a significant edge, probably sufficiently large to say it is enough for a win.

Chess players in general, no matter the skill level, have a common tendency to think a winning advantage plays itself more or less. Chess teachers and Grandmasters, whether in writings, lectures, videos, or one-on-one lessons seem always to make a point about winning won games. That to do so takes hard work and concentration and just as much effort and creativity as it does to obtain an advantage in the first place. At this moment in today’s game White faces a choice: routinely defend against a threat, or look deeply for some way dynamically increase his advantage. White routinely defends as most of us would have done in the same circumstances. It is a position useful for teaching us a lesson about chess judgment.

24.Rc1 Nb6 25.Nb4?,..

Denham Gordon 5

Another lesson, this time it is about activity of pieces. Setting up the “chunk” made up of Rc1 defending c3 and Nb4 defended by c3 appeals; everything is defended except the Rc1, and there is no easy road by which Black can attack the Rc1. However it is the complete opposite of seeking activity. Much better is: 25 Ra7, then if 25…, Bb5 26 Ne5 Be8 Rb7; and the c-pawn threatens to advance

Compare this position to any of the positions White achieves subsequently in the game. The difference I see is much greater activity of the White pieces.


Denham Gordon 6

In balance of the game it is the Black pieces becoming more and more active while White reacts to threats. This concession of the initiative is what makes the difference in this contest.

25…, Be2 26.f3 Nc4 27.Rc5?,..

Denham Gordon 7

Even though I have recommended emphasizing activity for the White pieces for the last several moves, White elected to play to just maintain his material advantage. Here he ought to continue in that vein with 27 Ra2! That move keeps the Black Rook off the 2nd rank for sure. There is a nice extra added attraction in that 27 Ra2, hits the Be2. The direct defense 27…, Rb2 28 Rxb2 Nxb2 29 Rc2, will leave White up a full Rook. Black’s only choice is then 27…, Bxf3; which is also sees Black down a full Rook.

27…, Rb2 28.Kf2?,..

Here is a bit of chess theory: White has an extra pawn and the Exchange. What should his general plan be? According to Soltis it is; trade off a pair of Rooks. The game would then be close to the situation Capablanca identified a long time ago. The late World Champion proved the best way generally to win up the Exchange is to sacrifice the Rook for a minor piece. With the White Knight on the board such a sacrifice can easily bring another pawn with it.

Best here is: 28 Rc2, then if 28…, Rb1+ 29 Kf2 Bd1 30 Ra2 Bb3 31 Re2, and if 31…, Bd1; perhaps hoping for a repeat of moves, 32 Rxc4, leaves White clearly winning.

28…, Bd1+ 29.Kg3 Ne3!?

Not objectively the best, but Black has put all his marbles on the line with aggressive play. The decision is completely understandable. The other possibility; 29…, Bb3 39 Re1 Nd6 40 Nd3, tapping the Rb2 while on the way to e5 threatening f7 and the rest of the Black K-side. The situation would then become very similar to the suggested improvement on move 25; the White pieces achieving a really dangerous level of activity.


Up to this move the criticism has been White is not making the most of the possibilities. This move lets go of a large part of the advantage White has held from the end of the opening. White seems to want to secure his King against any possible threat. Laudable, but not always possible. This is another case of offense being better than pure defense. It would be better for White to try: 30 Re5, to take advantage to tangle of Black pieces behind the lines. One possible line is: 30 Re5 Nf5+ 31 Rxf5+, simplifying the ending to R+N versus lone Rook, and White retains the extra pawn. This a fairly easy win for White. I don’t think 30…, Rxg2+ 31 Kh3 Re2; is at all tempting for Black, the Bd1 falls and White is a Rook up. It is very much the same for 30…, Nxg2. If the Knight goes back to c4, then 30…, Nc4 31 Rxd1 Nxe5 32 dxe5+ Kxe5 33 Nd3+ forks the K&R.

Neither player was in time trouble here. In fact Mr. Denham had managed his clock quite well and had the better part of one hour remaining. There was a glimmer of impending time problems for Mr. Magat. He was down to 18 minutes, but that is not really time trouble for Gordon. He can play very well when under the gun. Jason may have fallen into the trap I have stumbled into against Gordon, Phil Sells and a string of others over the years; everything is going your way so almost any quickly played move will do. If you ever find that sort of mind set arriving, you have to fight hard to eliminate it. It can, and often will, lead to something like what follows.

30…, g5!

A very good move. It does not change the evaluation of the position that much immediately, but it does introduce real danger to the White King. Further, White must now calculate carefully lest something is missed and mate follows.


This move is very nearly worthy of a second query, an annotation I use almost never. White is worried about .., Nxg2; .., Nf4+; and .., Rg2; checkmate. The sudden change of fortunes is hard to take. Mr. Denham sees the threat but not the solution. Best for White is; 31 Ra1!, then 31…, Nxg2 32 Ra2!, killing the mate threat and just about forcing a Rook trade. Black has won back the extra pawn, but White is still holding the winning cards. If Black continues 32…, Nf5+ 33 Kg3 Rb1; which may be the best course and continues in the manner that got him here, then, 34 h4, allows the White some room and reduces the danger of mate. White is still holding a large edge, but Black has gotten some counter-play.

The game move gives Black some small edge mainly in the form of danger to the White King.

31…,Nxd1 32.Rb5?!,..

A bit of trickery. White hopes for 32…, Nxc3? 33 Nd5+. Obvious and Black is too good to fall for it. Best for White seems to be 32 Nd3, and if 32…, Rc2 33 f4, breaking up the looming Black pawn charge.

32…, h5!

Quite a nice move and concept. When you one of these strong Class A/Experts down, finishing them off quickly is crucial. Dawdle and they will find something to make your day lousy.


The alternatives; 33 g3, and 33 g4, are about as bad as the text each in their own way.

33…, h4+ 34.Kg4 Rxg2+ 35.Kh5 Nxc3 36.Rc5 Ne2 37.d5 Nf4+ 38.Kh6 g4 39.fxg4 Rxg4 40.d6,..

White seems to have lost heart here. A much more stubborn defense is possible with: 40 dxe6, and then 40…, Rg8!? 41 Kh7, and while Black has what looks like a winning endgame, there still a way to go. Black could improve with the straight forward 40…, fxe6.

40…, Rg8 41.d7,..

If 41 Kh7 Rd8 42 Rc6 Ng6; spells the end; it is mate from h8, or the Knight will have to be sacrificed on d5 to prevent it. Unappetizing is 42 Nc6 Rxd6. White might string out the game for some moves, but it looks hopeless.

41…, Rh8# 0–1

It was a fascinating struggle. Seldom do we see Gordon outplayed in the opening. One must admire his resilience. Mr. Magat gave us who tend to give up too quickly a lesson in how to fight back. The negative lesson drawn from Jason’s play is two-fold: Don’t become complacent after winning the opening battle, and trying to defend even a material advantage with passive play leads to trouble. In the property business the watch words are: location, location, location. Similarly in chess the watch words are: activity, activity, activity. It is a very rare occurrence that making your pieces more active is not the correct path.

More soon.

An Important Game From Albany and a Saratoga Update

Sunday January 26th at Saratoga two make-up games were played:

Gausewitz 0-1 Little. It was a Pirc with an early f2-f3. As is frequent with the Pirc things became complicated quickly. There was not much to choose between the sides into the endgame. Glen was pushing hard in the ending and went a step too far allowing a neat trick that gave me a Bishops of the same color ending a pawn up. A single pawn plus can be problematical in such. Fortunately, I had the additional positional advantages of a much better placed King and the right colored Bishop if things got down to only a h-pawn remaining. The good King position allowed me to shoulder the White King away from the critical squares and my f-pawn was unstoppable.

Kuperman 0-1 Finnerman. This was an offbeat looking opening; it began as a Pirc and morphed into some kind of KID. Oddly at the finish it was Black with the big center. Somehow White was unable to hold together his e4-d5-c5 central formation. Pawns fell and Black took over the center and the mass of passed pawns that came about brought resignation soon.

The standings at Saratoga are:

1 Farrell 9½-2½
2 Feinberg 7½-2½
3 Little 6-5
4 Gausewitz 5½-4½
5 Finnerman 5-5
6 Kuperman 2-9
7 Connors 2½-9½

Joshua and I plan to skip the Super Bowl next week and finish up with chess instead. If my notes are correct: Feinberg has Finnerman and Gausewitz to play, while Gausewitz has Feinberg and Finnerman. The outcomes of this three-way contest will have a big influence on where all of us in the middle of the standings end up.

Two weeks ago an important game was played in the Albany Championship. In it Gordon Magat a former title holder faced the new club member and tournament leader, Jeremy Berman. The outcome shook up the standings.

Magat, Gordon – Berman, Jeremy [E81]
AACC Championship 2013–14 Guilderland, NY, 15.01.2014

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3.e4 d6 4.d4 Bg7 5.f3 0–0 6.Bd3?!,..

In the Samisch Variation of the KID this move is not a favored continuation.
The move is not refuted immediately by some tactical scheme, rather it allows Black to go ahead in a positional fashion, that just may yield tactics later on.

Magat Berman 1

These un-refuted but questionable tries show up from time to time in even the games of the very good players. Here Granda Zuniga tries to surprize Barlov, and does so.

(186556) Granda Zuniga, Julio E (2525) – Barlov, Dragan (2555) [E81]
Zagreb Interzonal (5), 1987
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0–0 6.Bd3 c5 7.d5 e6 8.Nge2 a6 9.a4 Qc7 10.0–0 exd5 11.cxd5 Nbd7 12.a5 Ne5 13.Bb1 Bd7 14.Qb3 Rab8 15.f4 c4 16.Qd1 Neg4 17.Kh1 b5 18.axb6 Qxb6 19.Qe1 Ne8 20.h3 Ngf6 21.e5 Nh5 22.g4 dxe5 23.gxh5 Bxh3 24.Rg1 exf4 25.Nxf4 Bc8 26.hxg6 hxg6 27.Ne4 Nf6 28.Ra3 Bf5 29.Nxf6+ Qxf6 30.Nh5 gxh5 31.Rf3 Rfe8 32.Qg3 Rb3 33.Bxf5 Rxf3 34.Qxf3 Re5 35.Rf1 Qh4+ 36.Kg2 Qd4 37.d6 1–0

6…, c5

Just so. The problem with 6 Bd3, is it neglects the safety of d4, and Black accurately begins operations against that point. More usual for White is 6 Be3, for just that reason.


The foregoing illustrative game is really a transposition into a kind of Benoni where White certainly has good chances. The text grants Black equality and then some.

7…, cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nc6 9.Be3 Ng4

This move and 9…, Qb3; both are tries at exploiting the weakness of White’s coverage of d4. Both also will give Black certain equality with chances for an advantage. A guess is Gordon just did not expect the text.


Magat Berman 2

Keeping the balance closer is 10 fxg4 Bxd4 11 Bxd4 Nxd4 12 0-0 Nc6. Of course after taking the Ng4 White has weakened pawns and has a Bishop that inspires little enthusiasm, but the powerful Black dark squared Bishop is gone. The path selected leads to a clear plus for Black.

10…, Nxe3 11.Nxd8 Nxd1 12.Nxd1 Rxd8

The game has become a Queen-less middle game where Black retains the very strong dark squared Bishop. Black has the advantage, but turning it into something concrete absent the Queens requires great patience and much maneuvering.

13.Rb1 Bd7 14.Ne3 e6 15.Ke2 Bc6 16.Rhd1 Re8

Magat Berman 3

Mr. Berman thought for sometime before making this move. He may have decided ginning up some tactics based on the White King residing on the e-file was more appealing than a quieter positional approach such as 16…, a5; to hold back a White Q-side expansion, or 16…, Rac8; just developing apace. I suspect the correct course is positional approach.

17.Bc2 Rad8 18.b4 b6 19.Bb3,..

White has for the moment stopped the .., d6-d5; break that could embarrass the White King.

19…, h5 20.Rd3,..

This is an interesting decision. The alternative; 20 Kf2, looks safer, but if White can keep his King on the e-file without falling into some tactical problem as a result of Black breaking with .., d6-d5; he just may get an advantage. Mr. Magat is most times willing to undertake risks in hopes of improving his position, as he does here.

20…, b5 21.Rbd1 bxc4 22.Bxc4 Ba4 23.R1d2!?

Magat Berman 4

Objectively this is not quite as good as 23 Bb3, when White has to accept a draw after 23…, Bb5 24 Bc4 Ba4; etc., or 23 Bb3 Bxb3 24 Rxb3 d5 25 exd5 exd5 26 Kd3, bringing about a tricky position where he has realized the goal of obtaining an active role for his King. I believe Gordon saw the drawing sequence. He wanted a chance to win the game and so passed on the draw.

23…, d5 24.exd5 exd5 25.Rxd5 Rc8

Also possible is 25…, Rb8. This move as well as the text can keep the game balanced.


Magat Berman 5

An error that could well have cost the game. Better is 26 Bb3, then 26…, Bxb3 27 axb3 Bf8 28 b5 Bh6 29 R5d3 Rb8 30 g3 Rxb5; recovers the pawn. In this line of play, Black has whatever winning chances there are; he has the Bishop with pawns on both sides of the board. In the hands of a GM this may be enough to win. For more ordinary mortals winning is far less easy, especially with all of the Rooks on the board. Magat must have still wanted to fight for a win and plunged ahead into complications willingly.

26…, Rc3?!

White gets rewarded for taking a risk. Mr. Berman was drifting towards time trouble with just 13 minutes remaining on the clock. That pressure may well have kept him from finding and accurately evaluating: 26…, Rc6 27 Bd3 Bh6 28 Be4 f5 29 Rd8 Bb5+!; which gives Black a big edge.

27.R5d3 Rc6 28.b5 Rce6?!

Magat Berman 6

Missing or passing on an opportunity to bailout to equality with 28…, Rxa6! 29 bxa6 Bb5; recovering the Exchange, and eventually the pawn a6 will fall. The activity of the White King and Knight offsets the theoretical superiority of the Bishop.

29.Ra3 Bh6 30.Rdd3 Bc2 31.Rdc3 Bf8 32.Bc8 Rxe3+

Both players have diced with danger and found good moves over this last little bit of the game. Mr. Magat had 26 minutes on his clock and Mr. Berman was under 10 minutes. Even in time trouble Jeremy is unafraid to gamble. He now wants to try conclusions with two Bishops versus a Rook; not a bad call at all; a Bishop pair can be extraordinarily effective on an open board.

33.Rxe3 Rxc8 34.Rxa7 Bc5 35.Rc3 Re8+ 36.Kd2 Bxa7 37.Rxc2 Re3 38.Rc3?!,..

Magat Berman 7

This is very probably wrong. With the Rooks off before the White Q-side has advanced some steps further makes Black’s task easier. When the opponent is in time trouble why do anything to make his life less difficult?

38…, Re5?

The easy life does not appeal to Mr. Berman. 38 Rxc3 Kxc3 39 Kf8, seems to me to be best. Black has to get his King over to aid in the stopping of the passed pawns. Black must be afraid the Rook trade may only give him a draw, and he wants to win to keep his streak alive. Such an unwavering drive to win the game may not be the best formula for results, however it surely does make for good entertainment for the watchers.

39.a4 Bb6 40.Rc6 Ba5+ 41.Kd3,..

The result of Black’s ambitions is White has had to hope an active King and a pair of passed pawns can be adequate compensation for the Bishop. Even the mighty Deep Rybka is uncertain about Black’s chances. First the computer favors one side and then the other depending on how long you let a particular position percolate.

Two things incline me towards White; first Black’s time trouble has worsened, Black has less than five minutes remaining, and second, the Black King is far away from the scene of the action. Calculating even in positions with few pieces on the board where single tempos are critical is nerve wracking and prone to error. Doing such in time trouble is doubly difficult.

41…, Re1 42.Ra6 Bd8 43.Ra8 Kg7?

Correct is 43 Rd1+. Both sides were feeling the pinch of the clock now. Black’s time problem was much the worse; he had under 4 minutes left, while White had had just over 10 minutes remaining. Mr. Berman lays his wager on tactical trick that should not work. In time trouble often finding some forcing line that gets us forward through several moves without a devastating loss is all that can be done. You then trust the time saved by being able to play those moves with little thought may be used to find the next resource. Sometimes that works and sometimes it does not. Black dangles the Bishop for just that reason.

44.Rxd8 Rd1+ 45.Kc4 Rxd8 46.b6 Kf6 47.a5?,..

Magat Berman 8

White falters. Much more challenging is 47 Kc5. Black then must be very accurate lest the two passed pawns are not to become so threatening as to win the game. It appears that best play for both sides is: 47 Kc5 Rd2 48 a5 Ke7 49 b7 Kb2 50 Kc6 Kd8 51 a6 Rc2+ 52 Kb6 Rb2+; when 53 Ka7?,.. Lets Black wins after; 53…, Kc7; and White will run out of moves losing his Q-side passers. Drawing is; 53 Kc6, when Black’s Rook can not do other than keep checking the King, otherwise the a-pawn will go to the 7th winning the game.

47…, Ke6 48.Kc5 Ra8?

Magat Berman 9

In his turn Black makes the fatal error. Jeremy was now under one minute on the clock. Instant moving is demanded and his intuition lets him down. Black would win after; 48…, Kd7!; getting the King in front of the pawns is the key. After 48…, Kd7 49 a6 Kc8; with a bit of patience Black will run White out of moves, improve his blockade of the Q-side pawns and then harvest the K-side. Of course the unanswered question is: Could Black find the patience and icy control to make the several moves required to carry this idea out with now only seconds, not minutes, on the clock?

Failing to get his King one vital step closer is the end of meaningful resistance.

49.Kb5 Kd7 50.b7 Re8 51.Kb6 Re1 52.b8Q Rb1+ 53.Ka7 Rc1

Taking off the Queen leaves the a-pawn just out of reach of the Black King. The game went on for a few more move because of momentum.

54.Qb5+ Kc8 55.Qe8+ Kc7 56.Qxf7+ Kc8 57.Qf8+ Kd7 58.Qf7+ Kc8 59.Qxg6 Rc7+ 60.Ka6 Re7 1–0

And so Mr. Berman’s glittering start was checked. It was a tough battle between two strong locals, not perfect chess but very much like the chess played at our clubs; plenty of good ideas with little willingness to compromise for a draw. This fighting to the last for a win certainly entertains.

More soon.

Uncle Sam Sweeps Albany A

There are upsets and there big upsets. Last Wednesday evening a big upset took place; Albany A went down 0-4 to the Uncle Sam team from Troy. Elihue Hill, the perennial captain of the Uncle Sam team, had found a new and strong board four for this match; Chibuzo Ilonze. Also returning to the Troy line up was Odunayo Ogundipe, who they sorely missed last season. The combined effect was a sweep of a strong Albany A team, a most unexpected outcome. Continue reading “Uncle Sam Sweeps Albany A”

More About the Albany Championship and a Report From Saratoga

On Sunday the 18th I took a trip to Saratoga to find out what progress they had made towards deciding their Championship for this year. Essentially it is all over. Jonathan Feinberg has accumulated 8 points so far in the double round robin event. His nearest competitor, Alan Le Cours has 5 ½ points with two make-up games to play. Continue reading “More About the Albany Championship and a Report From Saratoga”