Once more this unending winter weather struck Wednesday afternoon. Rain turning to freezing rain to sleet to snow. Out Altamont way the snowfall was not much. Other parts of the Capital District I heard got more than our inch or two of ice. In any case the sour predictions led to the Albany meeting being cancelled. No chess Wednesday evening.
With no Albany news at hand, I looked back at some games I wanted to publish that for one reason or another had not yet made it to the blog. Here is one between two Schenectady stalwarts who have very often contended for the title. This year they were outstripped by Jon Leisner, but back in October it was early days. They could not then know what fate had in store for their chances. They played hard knowing well their encounter might be the difference giving one of them the title.
Mockler, Michael – Phillips, John [B07]
SCC Championship 2013–14, Schenectady, NY, 10.10.2013
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 c6 4.h3 Nbd7 5.Bc4,..
Conventionally White plays either 5 Nf3, to shore up his center, or 5 a4, to prepare a place for the Bishop on c4 at this point. Michael really does like to find his own way even in the opening where, today, all seems to have been done before. At the higher levels of competition that might be dangerous. On our local level it is not without benefits. A move not in the books, or one that is very much a footnote to a main line, can often be an unsettling surprise to the opponent.
I expect Mr. Phillips was not surprised. He plays the Black pieces this way often and has seen many of the possible answers. The text, or 5…, e5; appear to be about equal in value. Black is doing fine here. Mixing things up early with 5…, Nxe4!?; may be taking unnecessary risks: 5…, Nxe4 6 Nxe4 d5 7 Qe2 dxe4 8 Qxe4 Nf6 9 Qe5, when White is comfortable, and Black has to come up with a plan to catch up on development.
Continuing the theme on the Q-side with 6…, b4; is another possible path for Black. It may over-extend Black’s Q-side.
7.Nf3 e5 8.0–0 Be7 9.Re1 0–0 10.Ne2 c5 11.c3 Bb7 12.Ng3 Re8 13.Nf5,..
The game has taken on the shape of a Ruy Lopez! The position is not quite one from a main line in the Spanish, but all of elements are there; piece placement and pawn formation. Here is something to note; the Pirc, the 3 Bb5 – Rossolimo/Moscow Sicilian, and Ruy Lopez all can lead to this kind of position. These openings start from very different points of view and all can end up in the same place! The insight is, I think, even if the Ruy is not part of your usual opening preparation, it is not waste of time to study it.
The text move is a standard idea from the Ruy Lopez. While the position is in general a Spanish-type, there is a difference; most of the time in the Ruy the White light squared Bishop is consigned to b1-h7 diagonal. Usually it is on c2 without much chance of going elsewhere. Here there is a choice. White could play 13 d5, and if 13…, c4 14 Bf1 Nc5 15 b3, going to work on the Black Q-side pawns while waiting for a more propitious moment to drop the Knight into f5.
13…, Bf8 14.d5 c4 15.Bc2,..
White sticks with the standard Ruy-type development. Possible is 15 Bf1, and planning to break up the Black Q-side with a timely b2-b3 as mentioned already.
15…, h6 16.Nh2 Kh7 17.g4!?,..
An interesting idea, but it is not at all clear this is better than taking the strategic pathway and working on devaluing the Black Q-side.
17…, g6 18.Ng3 Ng8 19.Qf3,..
White continues to build-up force on the K-side, but Black has sufficient material at hand to meet the danger.
19…, Qf6 20.Qg2 Be7
I am uncertain of just what this move does to improve the Black position. My thought was 20…, Bg7; was a more likely continuation. The position is continues in the Ruy Lopez mode. The Lopez calls for much delicate maneuvering. That is one large reason I have never had the urge to play the Ruy from either side; I am not good at this kind of careful juggling of small advantages and lack the patience to lay and spring subtle positional traps. That is not true of Mr. Phillips; it is very much his style.
21.Be3 Bf8 22.Nf3 Be7 23.Nd2 Bd8 24.Rf1?!,..
Grandmaster practice shows White doing better when he takes action against the Black Q-side with something like 24 b3. Mr. Mockler had made up his mind that direct action against the Black King was what he wanted to do. Styles make fights in boxing and in chess. Mockler likes the all-in cut and thrust of direct tactical action, and Phillips does very well at the slow build-up of small advantages and so we have the analogy of the Boxer versus the Puncher.
24…, Bb6 25.Bxb6 Nxb6 26.f4 exf4 27.Nh5,..
And it was this neat little trick that most probably persuaded Michael to make the try. If 28…, gxh5? 29 d5+!, wins.
28…, Qe7 28.Nxf4 Nd7 29.Nf3 Ne5?!
Making life too easy for White. It is better to bring the Ng8 to f6 and not to risk giving White a permanent positional plus.
Recapturing with the Queen gives White the f-file upon which to work. The text concedes a protected passed d-pawn to White. Neither White’s access to the f-file nor a protected passed White pawn are good things for Black.
31.Ne2 f6 32.Rf2 Qc5 33.Kh2 Rf8 34.Raf1 Kg7 35.Ng3 Kh7
Black has run out of ideas maybe. More useful is 35…, Ne7; improving the Knight’s position while the King and Rook guard f6.
White has both pluses he wanted; a protected passed pawn and pressure on the f-file. Black is faced with a choice; stand pat, or try something active. Going over to passivity is not often a good option when playing someone like Mockler, who is nothing if not persistent and creative. I’d very probably do something similar to Mr. Phillips’ choice here. The computer suggests waiting with a move like 36…, Bc8.
37.h5 g5 38.Qf3 Bc8 39.Nf5,..
Has White increased his advantage? The Nf5 looks threatening and the passed pawn is still present. However, the d-pawn does not appear at all ready to go forward, and I don’t see anything immediate the Nf5 can do tactically. It has to be admitted that sitting on the Black side of this position would a worrying experience.
39…, Ne7 40.Ne3 b4?
A better result could have been obtained with 40…, a4; putting the onus on White to instigate the opening of the Q-side. Play might go: 40…, a4 41 b3? cxb3 42 axb3 a3; when the far advanced Black a-pawn most certainly balances the passed d-pawn. White should leave the Q-side pawns alone. He might try 41 Qe2, threatening the f6 point. The answer 41…, Ra6; makes the small edge White has more theoretical than concrete, and a drawn outcome is nearer. The biggest problem brought on by moving the b-pawn is the c-pawn becomes vulnerable.
Black has to decide what weakness to protect; f6, or c4.
42.Nxc4 Bxg4 43.Qxg4 Qxc4 44.Bb3,..
And now the rather unimpressive White Bishop is transforming into a piece with prospects of making a serious contribution to White’s game. Black’s chances of holding are dimming.
44…, Qc5 45.Qf5+ Kh8 46.Qg6?!,..
Time troubles have come about for both sides. White was down to about 2 minutes and Black had just over 3 minutes on the clock. Without time for thoughtful consideration White missed, or passed on, the better move 46 d6! The intention is then to take the Ng8 setting up real dangers to the Black pawns on f6 and h6. Worse still, the constrained situation of the Black King could have cost a decisive loss of material. Play might continue: 46 d6 Qxd6? 47 Rd1 Qc5 48 Bxg8; and Black is in trouble. If Black tries to improve with 46…, Ra7; then 47 Bxg8, and Black can not safely recapture on g8 without the f6 and h6-pawns falling. After the text White is only marginally better than Black.
Driving back the Bishop with 46…, a4; is probably a better choice. The shortness of time dictates moves that can be found quickly be played to avoid immediate loss. The text fills that bill.
47.Bd1 Ra7 48.c4 a4 49.Bg4 Rg7 50.Qf5 Qc5 51.b3 axb3 52.axb3 Ra8 53.Qf3 Ra3
Given neither side had the leisure to dig in to find the most exact move because of the clock. White has now two protected passed pawns, and Black has staved off a debacle on the weak light squares. That is a very decent performance in time trouble.
White needed to consolidate, instead he plunges onwards into an attempt to finish things off tactically. 54 Qd3, threatens to push the d-pawn and excludes the Black Queen from d4, leaving White with a very comfortable and probably winning advantage. Reaching such a conclusion when under the obligation to move almost instantaneously is no easy matter.
54…, Qd4 55.Bxg8,..
So close yet so far. With both sides having to play almost instantly, I hesitate to append a query to this move or any move at this stage of the game. The computer suggests: 55 Qg4 Rxb3? 56 Bxg8 Kxg8 57 Rxf6 Rb2+ 58 Kh1, and the threat of check on f8 is very strong indeed. The best Deep Rybka can come up with is for Black to ignore the Bishop after it captures on Ng8, and that is hopeless as well.
The only chance is 55…, g4!; according to the computer. Then if 56 Qg3, the Bishop can be taken on g8. Play could go: 55…, g4 56 Qg3 Kxg8 57 Rxf6!? Ra2+ 58 R1f2 Rg5! 59 Rxa2 Rxh5+ 60 Kg2 Qxe4+ 61 Rf3 Rg5!; and White has to take a perpetual check with his Rook on the a-file to avoid a worse outcome. Calculating such a long line with almost not time on the clock is asking more than some full-fledged Masters can do.
Time ran out for Black just as the position fell apart for Black. White’s next, 56 Qxf6, will end the game quickly. This game set the pattern for the two participants. Mr. Mockler was to go on making every effort to make each game as interesting as possible. The result was some nice wins and a couple of losses that let Jon Leisner get a nose in front from the early going. Mr. Phillips continued to have a problem with his form ending up at 50% for the event. His careful accumulation of small advantages can use up the clock. Solving problems in time pressure can be risky business. This year Mr. Phillips could not pull it off and paid the price.
When this particular post was beginning to be written there was no Albany news because of one more of the endless storms of this year. Thursday evening the 13th I traveled over to the Schenectady Club and found there Michael Mockler and Tim Wright playing their game from the Albany event. The local clubs are accommodating to each other regards completing tournament schedules, and it not unheard of to get a game in at another venue. Neither Mockler nor Wright wanted to drive Wednesday night in freezing rain and sleet and who could blame them. Thursday was cold and windy but nothing was falling from the skies and the streets were clear, and so they met to play out one of the crucial games of the Albany Championship. The result was:
Mockler 0-1 Wright. It was the Sicilian Defense, Morra Gambit once again for Mr. Mockler. He used what I am coming to believe is an improvement Michael worked for himself; 6 a3, in place of the book moves; 6 Nc3, or 6 Nf3. White sacrificed a pawn to prevent Black’s castling. Whether this was absolutely correct or not it is hard to say. The least that can be said is Black has some problems along with the extra pawn. When you undertake a very sharp opening, the Morra in this case, justification is very often only possible through some kind of sacrifice. Mr. Mockler almost never shrinks from such aggression. After sacrificing a pawn and accepting some damage to his Q-side pawn formation, White refused the chance to trade off the last set of minor pieces. Doing so was the best chance to bring the game to a situation where White could hope to draw the pawn-down ending. Mockler had given up material to strive for a win. He must have reasoned retaining the dark squared Bishops offered better hopes for victory. As the middle game went onwards Black’s Bishop proved to be a much better piece than its White counter-part. Mr. Wright did not play flawlessly. He gave White chances to mix things up by a self-pin of his most active Rook. All White was able to do was to recover one of two pawns he was down, but in doing so the White King was exposed to dangers. Eventually a plain Rook and pawn ending came about where Black had a protected and passed a-pawn, and the remaining White pawns were all weak. This was enough for Wright to win the game.
The standings in the Albany event are now:
1-2 Wright 10½-1½
1-2 Berman 6½-1½
3 Henner 5-2
4-6 Howard 7½-2½
4-6 Mockler 6½-3½
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
With only a single game to play, Tim Wright has staked out a strong bid for the Albany title this year. Other than Jeremy Berman, it will be very difficult for anyone mount a challenge.
In the Schenectady event one game was played:
Chu 0-1 Northrup. Cory Northrup scored his 7th point in this event with his win from our Club President, Richard Chu. Mr. Chu launched a speculative attack with a Bishop sacrifice. Had he followed up vigorously there were chances for success. One overly cautious move in the midst of the sequence and all hope was gone. Mr. Northrup brought home the victory with not too much trouble.
I reviewed the up-to-date cross-table for Schenectady while watching the games Thursday. The following was taken directly from the cross-table including Northrup’s win:
1 Leisner 10-1 with Henner to play
2 Mockler 9½-2½ Schedule complete
3-5 Adamec 7-4 with Hill to play
3-5 Northrup 7-4 with Clough to play
3-5 Henner 7-4 with Leisner to play
6 Calderon 6½-4½ with Miranti to play
7 Phillips 6-6 Schedule complete
8 Canty 6½-5½ Schedule complete
9 Clough 5½-5½ with Northrup to play
10 Chu 3-9 Schedule complete
11 Varela 3-9 Withdrew, un-played games scored as forfeit losses.
12 Miranti 2-9 with Calderon to play
13 Hill 1-10 with Adamec to play
Jon Leisner has won the Schenectady title for 2013-14. His remaining game will only determine how close the final standings are. He played confidently and resourcefully throughout the tourney. There were moments when Jon got himself in trouble, most recently against Elihue Hill. In those few instances where things went wrong for him, Mr. Liesner dug in and fought hard and is undefeated so far. This is his first Schenectady Championship. It is well earned. Congratulations to Jon on an excellent performance.
Michael Mockler made a determined effort to keep pace with Liesner. His desire to play interesting chess gave Michael several wins and a couple of losses that made the difference between 1st and 2nd place.
The rest of the field was not able to close the gap to these top two top finishers. Most notable of the other contestants were: Cory Northrup and Matthew Clough. Cory has the chance to finish well up in the top group if he can defeat Clough, and Matthew had a number of excellent results against leading club players. If he can defeat Cory, Matt will move up significantly in the standings.
While young if compared to say the Team Geezers line-up (Mockler, Leisner, Little and Chu) Northrup and Clough are adults. A great deal of the time we are watching school kids and teenagers make a mark in chess. Not so often do we see adults battle their way into the higher levels of club play. If Cory and Matt continue their progress from this year, next season they could be in the mix for the top spot. It would not be unprecedented. In years passed Philips Sells and David Finnerman joined local clubs and eventually won titles after beginning with lesser ratings. Today, when players who did not begin their rated play in grade school are felt to be hopelessly late in the race for some chess glory, it is good to see progress by adult players.