Christmas Seals

Let’s talk about a dirty little secret in chess. Sometimes people think that their ratings define their strength as a chess player. Occasionally, stronger players, by rating, will look down upon weaker players, by rating. There have even been instances where the weaker players were referred to as seals, and the stronger player might refer to the upcoming game as “going clubbing.” In the rare event that the weaker player upsets the stronger player, much merriment ensues, wherein the stronger player is described as having been clubbed by a seal.

Earlier this year, during the Capital District Chess League competition, a match between the Siena College team and the Geezers was played. The board 1 contest was between Mr. Bryan Niebanck of Siena, and myself, playing for the Geezers. Based on rating, no one thought that this game would be a serious challenge. I have refrained from publishing this game to allow young Niebanck an opportunity to surprise other players with the quality of his play, perhaps gaining some victories over other over-confident opponents. Time’s up.


An exceptionally well played game by young Bryan Niebanck. He deserved a better fate than having old age and treachery winning out over youth and skill.

The Curious Case of Wesley So

I do not know Wesley So, Tony Rich, or Varuzhan Akobian. I do know they were key participants in a controversial moment at this year’s U.S. Championship, where GM So was forfeited during his game with GM Akobian by Chief Arbiter Rich for writing notes on paper during play. This is forbidden by rule, if for no other reason than as a deterrence for distracting your opponent. There has been extensive commentary about So’s actions, defending his notes as innocuous, unrelated to the game in progress, and incapable of constituting cheating by any definition of the term. I believe all of these arguments to be true.

GM So was warned twice, with the admonition that a third incident would result in forfeiture. He repeated the behavior a third time, and received a forfeiture.

When I teach and educate about chess, particularly to youthful players, and their parents, I emphasize that chess teaches logic, causality, reasoning and analysis in complex scenarios, consequences, and most importantly, honor.

GM So appealed his forfeiture, accepting the loss, but requesting that he not lose FIDE rating points for the forfeiture. The appeal was extended by the committee to review both the forfeiture itself, and GM So’s request that he not lose rating points. On all grounds the committee ruled against GM So.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I do not know any of the principals. GM So appears to be a likeable young man; GM Akobian is an established force in American chess; Chief Arbiter Rich’s comments have been thoughtful reflections on the events. What I see is a progression of warnings with a clear definition of consequences. The continued offending behavior resulted in consequences. Perhaps the consequences were too severe. Perhaps Akobian could have seen something and said nothing.

I think this is a discussion of honor. GM So acted in a way that forced others to respond in undesirable fashion, and this is the crux of the matter. GM So is a young man, facing the learning curve of life, and seems to be viewing this event as a valuable life lesson, that actions have consequences, and that these consequences include embroiling bystanders, in this case CA Rich and GM Akobian, into unnecessary controversy. Recognizing this as an opportunity for personal growth and learning is clearly the best outcome for GM So. Perhaps soon we can view this event as a teachable moment, far more valuable than any single contest between grandmasters might have provided.

And now a game.

I participated in a thematic tournament at the Albany Chess club recently, celebrating the McCutcheon variation of the venerable French Defense. This was intended to be a three round event, game in 30, all games played that night. I, very foolishly, assumed it was one game per week, and left after my first game. I have apologized to all for my lack of manners, and mention this to show that sometimes even good intentions can lead to inadvertent dishonorable behavior.

The one game that I played was against a long time opponent who gets too little coverage in this blog, Timothy Wright. Tim has been champion of the Albany club, and is always a force contending for the prize during our annual tournament. His play is innovative, rich in tactical complexity, and is crowned by a tenacity to find hidden opportunities even in challenging positions. He is a good man, and a fine player, and this game shows his tenacity, provided the reader is willing to overlook the play of his opponent.

A Game From Last Year

It has been some long time since I posted on this blog. My eyesight has gotten poorer as the years have accumulated, and hours staring at a computer screen is unappealing now.

The local club title contests have begun or are about to. At this moment I am uncertain about attending these contests this year, but my archives have many games laid up. To wet your appetite for this year’s battles, and to maybe encourage some would-be writers out there to take up the task of filling the ENYCA Blog with local games, here is a game that I never got to publish.

M. Walter Mockler and John Phillips are two of my favorite players: Mockler because he is not fearful of venturing into the less popular openings and brings a creative flair to the battle, and Phillips because he is “bonny fighter” willing to defend his ideas no matter how much effort is required.

Today’s game was from an early round of the Schenectady Championship last year. When it was played both contestants were solidly in the mid-1900s, Phillips had won the SCC title a year or so before, and Mockler had several strong finishes in both the Albany and SCC Championships.

(Editorial Note: By clicking on the bold faced moves in the main game and the illustrative games a diagram of the position will be displayed.)

Black resigned here. There was no time left and if Black does not hurry his Rook or Queen back to help defend the 7th rank, White will capture on g7 and mate with his two Rooks on the f-file. If say 56…, Qa7 57 Qe6+ Kh7 58 Rf6 Ra2+ 59 Kh1, and the threat of the Rook capturing and checking on h6 wins for White.

This game illustrates a characteristic pattern of contests between the better local players; clock time is used up finding the way through middle game complications leading to a time scramble finish. The wrap-up is marred by serious errors after the majority of the game being played at a high standard. Suggesting a cure for this is not so easy. Apparently the time used early on is needed to keep the standard of play up. It may be that adopting the FIDE/ Continental Chess time control – a 30 second per move increment as opposed to the five second per move delay – would be a step towards reducing errors in time trouble at the end of a game.

Illustrative Games:

A game with 4 h3.

A game from the Ruy Lopez type position.

Time Trouble – A High Wire Act

This is another Editor’s Choice selection. Rummaging through the archives I found this game. It had almost no comments made about it in my Blog Number 39 from 2010. About all I said then was to note the time remaining for each side after certain moves. The main story was the acute time trouble, first for Mr. Sells, and before the end for Mr. Mockler also. In fact time was so short that game scores suffered. It was only through the efforts of the players and Bill Townsend that what we have to look at today was reconstructed.

Part of the very truncated story told in 2010 was Mr. Sells” excellent results in time trouble. Prior to this game, it was the same year I believe, Philip won a game from Steve Taylor, and with the Championship of the Saratoga Club, in a similar time trouble situation. The Editor’s Choice category gives the opportunity to look at this interesting contest in greater detail than just as a discussion of time problems.

Mr. Mockler’s flag dropped before he could make his next move. The last 13 moves were played under extreme time pressure. It was one more good performance by Philip Sells in such a situation. This win was his margin of victory in the Schenectady Championship finals for 2010 ahead of: Chi, Mockler, Howard, Phillips and Rotter. The game came not long after another excellent performance in the Saratoga Championship ahead of Steve Taylor and Jon Feinberg. He defeated both of these strong players while in the same kind of difficult time pressure as he was against Mockler. Time trouble brings out some of Sells’ best chess.

Getting Philip Sells into time trouble was not hard around the years 2010 and 2011. Defeating him when he had almost no time on the clock was not so easy. In the last couple of years Sells has improved his handling of the clock. This is not to say he does not fall into time pressure from time to time. Lately I have not seen the extreme time shortages of 2010/2011. I am sure this is good for Philip and for his chess, but selfishly we spectators miss the dances along the high wire of time trouble he had treated us to previously.

Illustrative games:

Bits and Pieces From a Recent CDCL Match

A late piece of League news: The Capital Region team defeated Uncle Sam of Troy last Monday 2½-1½ with draws on boards 1-3 and a win on board 4. The Cap Region team has 2-3 record with the match versus RPI un-played. Although this is about the same result for them as last year, from what I observed they were more competitive in all their matches than they were previously. The revised standings for the League are:

1 Albany B 4½-1½ finished
2 Albany A 3-2 with one to play
3 SCC A 2-2 with two to play
4 Troy 1-2 with 3 play I think
5 Geezers 3½-2½ finished
6 Cap Region 2-3 with one to play
7 RPI 1-3 (remaining matches forfeited I am told)

The disposition of RPI’s matches is an open question. RPI did play three of the scheduled six matches. In round-robin tournaments when a participant completes at least 50% of their games and has to drop out, the un-played games are scored as forfeit wins for the opponents who did not get to play. Presupposing that RPI will not be able to field a team now that the school year is over, it seems a reasonable way to close out the RPI schedule. We must await the League Director’s decision however.

Now on to some chess:

Sometimes there are games that are not particularly interesting tactically over a good part of the play. Then at some point there is a moment when a flash of tactical excitement pops up. In the three games we will look at today there were good and bad strategic and positional decisions made. They are all from the CDCL match between Schenectady’s A team and the Geezers. Rather than labor over a raft of finer positional points, the tactical possibilities found or missed caught my attention.

In the first example Sells and Mockler played a line in the French that is not as well known to most of us; 3…, Nc6. This is a debut carrying with it a drop of poison or two.

Analysis of 7…, Nfxd4!?:

7…Nfxd4 8.Nxd4 Qh4+ 9.Ke2 Qxg4+ 10.Nf3 Bc5 11.Be3 Bxe3 12 Kxe3 g5;
ANALYSIS POSITION

and Black has more than enough compensation for the piece. Leading up to the above position there are several places where White may vary.

One such alternative is: 10 Ke3 Qh4 (not a move one would easily find without a familiarity with this position. Black needs the Queens on.) Then 11 Bb5 f6;
ANALYSIS POSITION

and with two pawns for the piece and the White King wandering shelter-less, Black has probable equality and an easier position to play than has White. The lines will be opened up on the K-side making the White King more vulnerable.

Get out your chessboards and engines to work out the complications. It is a good exercise.

The next position shows a pretty finish that Carl Adamec crafted in his game with me. The lesson to be learned is against strong Experts, if you drift for a moment they can find the tactical key to the position and unlock a sparkling attack.


The finish was:20 h3? Bh4 21 hxg4 Rxe2 22 Rd2 Bxf2+ 23 Kf1 Rxd2 24 Nxd2 Bxd4 25 Bxd4 Bd3+ 26 Resigns 0-1 because the coming capture on d4 will threaten make and a decisive loss of material.
FINAL POSITION

White had to try 20 Bd3 Bxd3 21 Rxd3, and then 21…, Bh4 22 g3 Re2 23 Rd2, is roughly equal although Black does have a persistent initiative.

We now come to the last game for the day: Calderon – Phillips from the SCC A-Geezers match. The position I have taken under consideration is that after Black’s 31st move. It is noteworthy for two points: first, it is pretty uncommon to have two sets of double pawns on the same side of the board and neither King can easily approach the doubled pawns directly, and second, this is one of the cases where a Knight with good outposts clearly has more winning chances than the Bishop. What specifically makes it exceptional is there are pawns on both sides of the board. That usually favors the Bishop. In fact, while watching the game play out, I kept beginning my own analysis from the premise that Black was better, or at least equal. It was only after working down various lines of play and reaching good positions for White several times that it became clear Black in some trouble.

After White’s 31st move this is the position:

It was a game with some questionable moves tactically and in the score I have at hand. What is posted is my best guess at some of the moves. From move 23 on the score is clear.

The position sets a challenge for both sides. Everyone who has played chess for some time would guess Black has chances; he has the Bishop after all, and there are pawns on both sides of the board. In the scales against that fact are that White has an unassailable post for the Knight on d5 that also guards the f-pawn duo, and the White King appears to threaten Black’s duo on the h-file. Additionally the Black d-pawn is weak and his a-pawn can be attacked by the Knight.

Black’s move was 31…, h4; and that is by far the best move in the position. It is only by making the most of the h-pawns can Black hold the balance. White replied 32 b4. This may not be the engine’s recommendation, but it is the right idea: while tension is maintained on the K-side about the mutual weakness of the sets of doubled pawns, expansion on the Q-side will test Black to the utmost. Black then advanced his trailing h-pawn, 32…, h5. Again a nearly only move. It makes the White King’s approach to the h-pawns as difficult as possible. White then began to go wrong with 33 b5. Better 33 a4, continuing to build pressure. It is not that White has a straight forward road to victory, rather it is an intricate set of maneuvers attempting to run Black out of safe moves to force some concession. By move 38 the following position was reached:

White has made some progress, he’s won a pawn. However with the remaining h-pawn secure for the moment and the f-pawn firmly blockaded, very probably the game is drawn. The match situation – SCC A had by now scored enough points to claim victory, and the clock situation – Zachary had the better part of one hour left while John was down to less than five minutes, combined to inspire Mr. Calderon to try for the whole point. His plan was to give up the f-pawns to gain time to send the Knight to collect something on the Q-side. The plan led to this position after move 45 for White:

The situation has changed utterly. The passed Black d-pawn is too fast a danger for White to meet successfully. That is if Black can see everything clearly with just seconds to think. He did not do so, and in a time trouble flurry Black dropped a piece and resigned when, had he a bit more time, there were still moves to be reasonably made. Errors there certainly were on both sides of the board, but the endgame was far enough out of the ordinary to make error understandable. Though flawed in actual play, the position singled out is worth some effort. Working over this position can aid the developing player to achieve a deeper understanding of Bishop versus Knight endings. The specific features of the ending can trump the usual adages about Bishops being better than Knights.
Here is the complete game score as I have it:


The End

A Won Position is not the Same as Winning a Game

Dean Howard and Michael Mockler have met many times over the years and lately, in the CDCL and in the annual Albany Championship and elsewhere. Mr. Mockler often does very well in the opening of their games. Here is an example from this year’s AACC event:

Here is the position after White’s 25th move in the above game:

Howard Mock 3

Mr. Howard is a hard fighter who knows the one great truth about chess at the club level: obtaining a winning position and actually winning the game are not the same thing. In the above game Mockler obtained a significant material advantage more-or-less out of the opening; three minor pieces and two pawns for a Queen. Mr. Howard made use of each and every chance his was given redress the balance, fought hard and eventually won. The lesson for developing players is hard work in a bad position can bring great rewards.

Today’s game fragment

Howard, Dean – Mockler, Michael [C02]
CDCL Match Albsny A – Schenectady Geezers, Guilderland, NY, 28.05.2014

Howard Mock 1

BLACK TO MOVE

After interesting opening play in the Advanced French the above position was reached. Black has done well: He has a passed pawn on c4, the Bishop pair and some lead in development that may be realized by using his Rooks on the f or d-files. The advantage lies with Black.

How may Black proceed? A couple of plans are obvious: a) 19…, a6; intending 20…, b5. Most likely White will meet that idea with 20 b5, leading to very complex play after: 20…, Nd8 21 b6 Qc6 22 h4 Be8 23 Bg5 Bxg5 24 hxg5 Bg6 25 Rb4, when the engine says Black is better no doubt because of the weak pawns on b6, e5 and g5. Or, b) Offering a pawn to activate the Bishops with; 19…, Rfd8 20 Qe2 Be8 21 Qxc4 Nd4; when the game simplifies. White appears to be able to hold things together even though his pawns are damaged and the Black Bishops have room to maneuver. Both are reasonable plans. There is a third possibility, 19…, Be8. This is harder to find because at the club level retrograde maneuvers are often passed by. Play might go: 19…, Be8 20 Ng5 Bxg5 21 Bxg5 Bg6 22 Rc1 Rf5 23 Bh4 Rxe5 24 Qg4, hitting both the c and e-pawns. Black will have to return the pawn he picked up. The game remains complex, but is trending towards equality.

Rybka recommends the third option, 19…, Be8; even though it means giving up the Bishop pair, something a human being would be reluctant to do. After much back-and-forth analysis with the machine, it seems to me 19…, a6; is the best choice for Black. That does not however lead to Black obtaining a clear advantage by any means.

Mr. Mockler, confronted with this great complexity, searched for another path.

19…, Rxf3?!

An Exchange sacrifice not so different from the famous Russian Exchange sacrifice on c3 in the Sicilian Defense. In the Sicilian the “sac” on c3 is especially potent if White has castled long and may well be a winning try if Black can pick up the e-pawn as a result of eliminating the Nc3.

20.gxf3 Nxe5?

Howard Mock 2

It looks to me Michael was thinking along the same lines as in the Russian Sicilian c3 sacrifice, and he believed the same idea applies; if the e-pawn falls, Black may well win. Often in our making of combinations there is a but. Here the but is tactical – the loose Bd7.

A cautious reexamination at this point was necessary. It would have uncovered a better path for Black: maximum activation of his pieces with: 20…, Rd8; then 21 f4 Be8 22 Qg4 Rd3 23 Ne4 Nd4!; with a game that is dynamically balanced and where Black has good compensation for the Exchange given up.

ANALYSIS POSITION

Howard Mock 4

White would have been motivated to reexamine the position if he had accurately calculated everything.

21.Bf4 Bd6 22.Bxe5 Bxe5 23.Rxe5!,..

Howard Mock 5

Simple, convincing and winning. There are times when even our good local players lose sight of what is happening in the heat of a tough game. Mr. Howard seldom falls prey to that fault. This could be the move Black missed in his calculations, or it could have been on the 26th turn the error crept in.

23…, Qxe5 24.Qxd7 Rf8

Howard Mock 6

It is possible Mr. Mockler calculated this far and thought his threats were sufficient to hold, or even win, the position.

25.Ne4 Rxf3 26.Qc8+ Rf8

Howard Mock 7

Here Black may have realized that 26…, Kf7?; loses to 27 Nd6+! Qxd6 28 Qxb7+, winning the Rook on f3. This allows White to hold on to the material, and one of the compensating Black pawns fall. If Black instead runs with his King; 27…, Kg6 28 Qe8+, when the fork on f7 will cost Black a whole Rook.

27.Qxc4 Qf5

Howard Mock 8

For developing players careful note should be taken of how White proceeds from here forward. There is no rush, just a steady improvement of the posting of the White pieces until Black is left without choices. The focus of the White forces is on g7 with a secondary job of screening the White King from annoying checks. The pressure on g7 ties up all of Black’s units and in the long run the b-pawn will fall. Then the Knight may come to a post where it attacks g7, and White trades off all the pieces on g7 and Queens the b-pawn. Good technique means no drama, just a steady squeeze until the opponent’s position cracks.

28.Rb3 b5 29.Qe2 Rc8 30.Nc5 e5 31.Qf3 Qg5+ 32.Qg3 Qc1+ 33.Kg2 Re8 34.Qe3 Qd1 35.Qf3 Qd2 36.Rd3 Qg5+ 37.Qg3 Qh6 38.Rd7,..

Howard Mock 9

38…, a5 39.Ne4 1–0

These two games point up the truism that getting to a better or winning position is not the same thing as winning a game.

More soon.

Target Fixation

The title of this post refers to a phenomena revealed during WWII, when a pilot would become so focused on his target that he would fly into it in his effort to destroy the target. The fighter pilot would follow his gaze during a strafing run so intently that he would fail to recover in time, crashing and burning into the target. This would be bad.

Our first example is my game against one of my favorite local players, Phil Thomas, who was representing the Uncle Sam team against the venerable Geezers. The opening play was questionable, and I would ask the reader to be gentle in their critique. I had just stumbled on an old tome by Andy Soltis on the Bird Larsen Attack, and had been eager to give it a try. Mr. Thomas applied a remedy which had been seen locally when Ronen Har-Zvi was here, and which led me to abandon the Bird’s opening for more stable and substantial openings.

I have promised Mr. Little that I will generate at least one post on my long held fascination with Bright Shiny Objects, BSO’s, so this second example shows another side of target fixation, where another good friend, Jon Lack, convinces himself that victory is assured. I will admit that I felt bad about publishing this game, but Jon appears to believe that there is no such thing as bad press, and has allowed me to offer this object lesson for the reader’s edification.

The draw by perpetual is at least of an amusing character, so perhaps the reader might find something to add to their repertoire.

Howard – Mockler from the Albany Championship

Wednesday, 19 March, 2014 saw some more play in the Albany Championship. The results were:

Howard 1-0 Mockler. The game and its details are the subject of today’s post.

Henner 0-1 Alowitz. Arthur used his Petrov’s Defense against Peter’s 1 e4, no surprise. White did not do badly in the early part of the opening. Mr. Henner then began to run astray as the opening moved towards the middle game. There was a quick simplification to an ending and Mr. Alowitz found a shot that picked off a pawn. From then onwards White was working hard not to let the game slip away from him. Eventually the game came down to a Rook and pawn ending, and Black had held on to the extra pawn. Further hard work by Henner got to an even pawn and Rook end game. All the effort had taken a great deal of time. Peter Henner’s clock ran out in a dead even position.

Jones 0-1 Magat. This was an unusual English where Black took some big risks and lost his d-pawn as a result. With a very unpromising middle game and ending to look forward to, Gordon worked to complicate the game. Mr. Jones made an unfortunate choice on move 17; he decided to maneuver pieces when the position called for tactics to force simplification to a won ending. Mr. Magat laid a trap for the adventurous White Queen and Joe stepped into it. Several more moves were played, but a full Queen’s difference was too much. The game ended on move 27.

Stephenson 0-1 Northrup. A short and sharp fight wherein Will Stephenson left his Queen hanging. This is the first time in ten rounds of play that Will hung decisive material early on. Cory wrapped things up quickly after the gift.

One of my ongoing challenges is getting the scores and standings from each of the club tournaments. With several delayed games, my occasionally missing a round of play due to other commitments, and sometimes just plain mistakes, it is hard to be certain the standings and scores are correct. For the Schenectady event I have been aided by Philip Sells and his computer program producing up-to-date cross tables regularly. Albany does not the benefit of that technology. There I have relied on keeping a running tally and the help of the participants. This most recent Wednesday, Peter Henner had put together a cross table of the results he has in hand. I’ve made use of Peter’s work to try and update and correct the Albany standings as I have them. Any errors in these standings and scores are my responsibility not Peter’s.

1-2 Wright 9½-1½ w/ Berman and Lack to play
1-2 Berman 5½-1½ w/ Wright, Henner, Perry, Northrup, Eson and Stephenson to play
3 Howard 8-2 w Lack, Denham and one other to play
4 Perry 2½-2½ w/ 7 to play incl. Berman, Jones, Magat and Henner
5 Magat 5½-3½ w/ Perry, Northrup, Denham an Eson to play
6 Denham 3½-3½ w/ 6 to play
7 Lack 6-4 w/ Howard, Wright and Perry to play
8 Mockler 6½-4½ w/ Jones and Stephenson to play
9 Jones 5½-4½ w/ Mockler, Henner and Perry to play
10 Henner 3½-4½ w/ Howard, Berman, Jones, Perry and Eson to play
11 Northrup 3½-5½ w/ 4 to play
12 Alowitz 1½-8½ w/ 3 to play
13 Eson 0-8 w/ 5 to play
14 Stephensen 1-9 w/ 3 to play

As is seen easily there is still a long way to go before this event is over. The most critical game is Wright versus Berman. This head-to-head encounter may well decide the title this year. By dint of great effort Dean Howard has gotten close to Berman and Wright. If the leaders falter, Dean just may pull through to take the title once again. Although Glen Perry stands fairly high up on points lost basis, he has a very tough line-up to face. My guess Glen will fall back some places as he plays Berman, Jones, etc. The same can be said for Jason Denham. Gordon Magat, at +2 so far, may also be in contention for one of the top three spots. Everyone else seems to be out of the running or nearly so. I am hoping to see these delayed games played in the next few weeks. If not, the beginning of the Capital District Chess League season will cause the Albany Championship to stretch out through the Spring.

The race to the under 1800 prize in the Albany Championship is between Cory Northrup and Jason Denham. Both have scored 3½ points on the positive side. Cory has lost 5½ points and Jason 3½. With four and six games to play respectively, almost any outcome is possible. None of the other under 1800 players appear to have any chance to get into the mix.

It is not so often I get to publish a game close to its actual date of play. There are frequently games lined up from earlier events to get out of the way. This time I have a gap in the queue, and this game was most exciting to watch for three reasons: first, it features two very good players who have met many time before, and second, the outcome of the game is important to the tournament standings. Mr. Howard’s win keeps him close to the leaders, and Mr. Mockler’s loss probably means he has no chance at a high place. Thirdly, the game itself was an example of sharp and uncompromising chess. What more could this watcher ask for? And, because it has an immediate bearing on the Albany standings, I think it should be published now.

Howard, Dean – Mockler, Michael [C06]
AACC Championship 2013–14 Guilderland, NY, 19.03.2014

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7

This is the mainline Tarrasch Variation of the French Defense. There are hundreds of Grandmaster games in the database for this line.

5.Bd3 c5 6.c3 Nc6 7.Ngf3 Qb6 8.0–0 cxd4 9.cxd4 Nxd4 10.Nxd4 Qxd4 11.Nf3 Qb6 12.Qe2?!,..

How Mock 1

More standard is 12 Qa4. Here is one example:

Worth noting is that the play is not too dissimilar to what goes on in our game, other than the Black Queen’s sortie to the K-side.

Another example is:

 

Grandmaster Soltis used the less popular alternative; 12 Qc2, and a willingness similar to Howard’s in the giving of pawns to obtain a win from an experienced opponent in the US Championship thirty years ago:

What can be gleaned from today’s game and the foregoing examples? I’d say offering the d-pawn is a very playable idea for White. A very old chess saying is: When A. is said, B. follows. If you are going to give the d-pawn you have to be ready to put more material at risk to get the benefit of the first sacrifice.

12…, a6 13.Bf4 Be7 14.b4?!,..

How Mock 2

White has given up one pawn to obtain a lead in development. He now tosses another pawn in the hopper for what? Apparently to extend that lead. Objectively this is risky, but maybe Mr. Howard wanted to test Mr. Mockler in a tactical melee?

It is easy enough to commiserate with White. After all, isn’t White supposed to come to this point of an opening holding on to the advantage of the first move? The chess books say White in this line can offer up the d-pawn and obtain compensation, but unless you closely read the books and dig a little on your own, finding the right moves is not easy.

Here, a normal continuation with 14 Rfc1, makes it likely another pair of minor pieces will be traded off on c5. Each reduction in material increases the value of the pawn plus. As long as White has the light squared Bishop on the board there are potential Bxh7+ tricks if Black hurries castling. How long can White wait around for Black’s decision on castling is a question begging an answer? As moves go by minor piece trades on c5 are more and more likely. The pawn structures are not likely to be dramatically changed immediately, so if things are to happen it will involve the placing of pieces, and the logical and likely active posts for pieces will provoke trades. All this ambiguity must have driven White’s decision to shed another pawn. Black’s development is still behind White’s, and the absent pawns mean open lines for the White “long” pieces. Certainly, one of the attractions of making the further material investment is avoiding normal minor piece trades.

14…, Qxb4 15.Bd2 Qg4

Black has the advantage wherever his Queen goes. Both 15…, Qa4; or 15 Qa3, are good moves. This move to g4 is both the least advantageous and the most aggressive. It fits with Mockler’s style, and that maybe what Howard counted upon.

16.h3 Qh5 17.Kh2?!,..

After taking stock of the position with a second pawn gone, White decides on direct action on the K-side. It is not absolutely correct, but the alternative, 17 Rac1 Nc5 18 Bb1? (White likely would be reluctant to see his light square Bishop off the board and with it many of his attacking chances. According to the mighty Rybka that is a better path. A human is unlikely to see it that way.) 18…, Bd7 19 Rfe1 Rc1; and the lead in development is gone.

17…, f5!?

How Mock 3

I expected nothing else from Michael. It does appear that 17…, f6; is calmer possibility. If 17…, f6; play could continue: 18 g4 Qf7 19 exf6 gxf6 20 Bh6 Nc5 21 Bc2 Bd7; when Black holds on to his two extra pawns and has solved the development problem. White has some compensation; open lines and a Black King that, at best, will have to seek sanctuary on the Q-side where White can bring his Rooks to bear on him.

The choice here was fascinating to this observer. The game move attempts to shutdown activity on the K-side to some extent or to make White capture on f6 leading to the line mentioned above. White for his part decides to go all in.

18.Rg1 0–0 19.g4?,..

An error that came close to ending the game. If White calculated the coming sequence accurately, Mr. Howard is even more of a cold-eyed Riverboat gambler than I thought he was. Perhaps he missed the capture on f3 and the subsequent double attack with check on e5 and made the best of a bad deal. He may have thought Black would only capture on e5 with the Knight when Rg4xg7+ wins the Queen for a minor piece and a couple of pawns.

19…, fxg4 20.Rxg4 Rxf3!?

How Mock 4

Dean dangled a “bright and shiny” object and Michael goes for it. My question about the move has to do with the difficulty of calculating the upcoming sequence. Safer is 20…, Kh8; but the game would then enter a period of maneuver in obscure circumstances. This is one of those junctures where almost all players struggle; is it the correct moment to shift into concrete tactics, or is it preferable to maneuver for some while longer in hopes of a better chance? Mr. Mockler is correct to opt for the tactics now, I believe.

21.Qxf3 Qxe5+!

This is the move that Mr. Howard may have misjudged. It is possible he overlooked this check picking off the Ra1.

22.Kg2 Qxa1 23.Bc3!,..

How Mock 5

The other possibility is that Dean saw this resource and was willing to gamble there would be enough play for his Queen to compensate for the lost material.

23…, Qxc3 24.Bxh7+ Kxh7 25.Qxc3 Bf6

The combination was pretty much forced. Black has three minors for a Queen and a couple of pawns to boot. We don’t often see this kind of material imbalance around here. It is this feature of the game that captured my interest most of all.

Black has just two pieces out and working, the QR and QB are at home, and getting them out and about may easily cost material. Mr. Mockler, with a substantial material edge, tries to hang on to as much as he can. He might have done better to hark to the old adage: What do you do with extra material? Give some of it back to simplify to a won position.

26.Qc2+ Kg8 27.Qg6 Kf8 28.Qh7 Ne5 29.Qh8+ Ke7 30.Rxg7+ Bxg7

How Mock 6

Not bad, but better may be 30…, Nf7. Black should not shrink from letting one or even both of his extra pawns go to get his pieces out and about. Two Bishops and a Rook will ably handle a Queen in an open position.

31.Qxg7+ Nf7 32.Qc3 Bd7 33.Qb4+ Nd6?

How Mock 7

Black evaluated the situation wrongly here. Giving up some pawns with 33…, Ke8 34 Qxb7 Rc8 35 Qxa6 Rc4; gets the pieces are on their way to activity. None of White’s pawns are very strong. Black would have retained a winning advantage in this way. Granted there would be many moves to be played. After the text Black has to give up a minor piece and the advantage.

34.Qh4+ Kf7

Going to the back rank drops the Rook.

35.Qh7+ Kf6 36.Qxd7 Rg8+ 37.Kf1 Nc4 38.Qxb7 a5 39.Qh7,..

How Mock 8

White is not quite winning yet, however what is Black to do against the advance of the h-pawn?

39…, Rg7 40.Qh8 Kf7 41.Ke2 Rg5 42.h4 Re5+ 43.Kf1 Rf5 44.Kg2 Ne5 45.h5 d4

How Mock 9

Things now were becoming clear to the several watchers of this game. The Rook and Knight are just not working together well enough to balance the lust to expand of the h-pawn. Even worse tidings are coming. If White should for some reason give up the h-pawn, he can scoot his Queen over to the Q-side, capture the a-pawn and create a similar problem there for Black. In that case the Black King would be far from the scene of the action.

46.h6 Rg5+ 47.Kf1 d3 48.Qh7+ Ke8 49.Qe4 1–0

How Mock 10

Mr. Mockler resigned here. A possible finish is: 49…, Rh5 50 h7 Nf7 51 Qxd3 Kf8 52 Qg6 Rh6? 53 Qxh6+, and the pawn Queens with check. A very entertaining battle. I will ask Mr. Howard if he calculated the combination beginning with 19 g4, out to the position with three minor pieces for the Queen? He did use a considerable chunk of his clock leading up to the move. Whether the decision was the product of calculation or intuition, it did give us thrilling contest to watch.

More soon.

Harking Back to the Beginning of the Season

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.

5…, b5

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.

6.Bd3 a6

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,..

Mockler Phillips 1

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!?,..

Mockler Phillips 2

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?!,..

Mockler Phillips 3

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,..

Mockler Phillips 4

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.

30.Nxe5 dxe5

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.

36.h4 a5

Mockler Phillips 5

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?

Mockler Phillips 6

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.

41.Qe2 Ng8

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?!,..

Mockler Phillips 7

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.

46…Qd6?

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.

54.Be6?,..

Mockler Phillips 8

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.

55…, Kxg8

Mockler Phillips 10

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.

More soon.

Albany and Saratoga Updates and a Game

The games last Sunday evening at Saratoga were games delayed in the regular schedule. Last week was the last regularly scheduled round. The results Sunday February 2nd were:

Feinberg 1-0 Gausewitz. This was an English Opening with KID flavor. Both players stayed true to their styles of careful positional preparation before getting to hand-to-hand fighting. After 16 moves some things were obvious: Black believed he could dominate the a-file doubling his Rooks there, and White was relying breaking in the center while covering entry points on the a-file with his minor pieces. I think Black’s plan was better than White’s counter. Finding no ready entry on the a-file, Black then switched to a K-side advance. All was going reasonably well for Black until the very tactical on move 23 when Black offered the Exchange for the privilege of sinking a pawn on f3. White ignored correctly the material temptation and carried out his central advance netting instead an advanced d-pawn on the 6th . A good lesson there for the developing player: When there is a choice, the dynamic – in this case a dangerous passed pawn – is often to be preferred to the static – winning a Rook for a Bishop. At this critical point Black was in difficulties no matter what. He decided on an all-out K-side offensive that had a dangerous look to it, but too much additional material had to thrown into the pot. The d-pawn advanced, more material was lost and the game ended on move 37.

Little 1-0 Kuperman. If I wanted to make any advance in rating, I had to win this game. Mr. Kuperman had taken full points from Finnerman and Gausewitz in earlier rounds meaning this contest could not be treated lightly. I did not play the Scotch Game in the best way possible, and by move 15 trickery was the best I could come up with. Fortunately for me Mr. Kuperman miscalculated the trick I tried allowing a transition into an ending where I was a pawn up. More important than the pawn was my more active Rook and King. While Mr. Kuperman demonstrated how well and creatively he can attack in his wins from Finnerman and Gausewitz, his tactical flair deserted him in this ending. A couple of further mistakes and I was able to force resignation on move 36.

After these make-up games, the standings in the Saratoga Championship are:

1 Farrell 9½-2½
2 Feinberg 8½-2½ with Finnerman to play
3 Little 7-5
4 Gausewitz 5½-5½ with Finnerman to play
5 Finnerman 5-5 with Feinberg and Gausewitz to play
6 Connors 2½-9½
7 Kuperman 2-10

Clearly the class of the field at Saratoga this year were Farrell and Feinberg. They ran away from the rest of us. Jonathan Feinberg can tie Gary Farrell for first with a win over Finnerman. If the title is decided on tie-breaks, Mr. Feinberg may have the edge with his 1½-½ head-to-head score against Mr. Farrell. My third place finish, alone or equal with Mr. Finnerman is not too bad for an old guy. David Connors did well again placing ahead of the strong Class B player Kuperman. As consolation for coming last, Joshua has the very pretty win from David Finnerman, a game anyone would be proud to have in their record. No doubt Finnerman and Gausewitz are disappointed they could not mount a greater challenge to the leaders.

Next week Finnerman and Gausewitz are to play. The week following Feinberg and Finnerman meet. I plan to make the long drive to Saratoga for both of these games if the nasty winter weather does not interfere.

On Thursday February 6th the next round of the Schenectady event was played. The results were:

Calderon ½ – ½ Adamec, Zachary decided on the Colle System to deal with his strong opponent. Not a bad choice, the Colle has a sound reputation even if it is not particularly good as a serious try for something substantial out of the opening. The first dozen moves in this game produced a kind of reversed French Defense with Black’s pawns on d5 and e4 to White’s pawns on e3 and d4. In addition Black owned the half-open h-file. White castled short, and I expected there might be some kind of direct attack on the White King in the offing. Then there was an odd little transaction where Black traded off White’s last Knight for a Bishop and the game became a struggle between White’s Bishop pair and the Black’s two Knights. Black castled long and White was quicker off the mark in getting his own attack on the King going. Black offered a Queen trade on move 23. White would have done better than to decline. By keeping the Queens on White would have maintained a substantial edge. With the Queens off it became an endgame B+R versus N+R with pawns on both sides. The game simplified further when White lost his a-pawn in the trade of minor pieces. Black’s extra pawn – a not very far advanced a-pawn was insufficient to win. White was able to get his King to the a-file ending any hopes of Black stealing the point. The draw was agreed on move 63. Carl has but one game to play, and is out of contention for first place after this draw. Zach, also with one game to play, will likely end up in the middle of the pack. His quest for a +2000 rating was not harmed by drawing with Phillips, Mockler and Adamec in this event. He may even have gained some rating points.

Phillips 1-0 Henner. “Once more into the breach my friends” is a good title for this game. Mr. Henner continues on his mission to explore 1…, f5; in answer to 1 d4, and he again was met by the Staunton Gambit. For his trouble Mr. Henner got a lousy pawn structure and a slow development this time. White recovered his pawn on move 16, and I thought Black did not have great chances to hold the game even though it might take many moves before White obtained anything substantial. On move 22, instead of occupying the half-open b-file to put a crimp in any White plan to use his mass of pawns there, Black took over the f-file. That choice allowed White to force off the Rooks reducing the game to an ending of Bishop versus Knight with pawns on both sides of the board. Black’s Knight had a strong post on e4 so the position was not lost for him, but it is often more comfortable to have the Bishop in such cases. Both players are from the very determined school of chess competitors. They battled down to a pawn ending, and then to a single pawn on each side position with only seconds on the clock. It was all instinctive reactions over the last dozen moves. Mr. Henner’s memory and intuition failed to see a fundamental drawing trick, and Mr. Phillips won.

Leisner 1-0 Miranti. The opening was a Queen’s Pawn Game. The position was more or less equal for 15 moves or so. Mr. Leisner began crafting a breakthrough on the K-side. Mr. Miranti did not see the coming storm. It broke, and Black’s game was fatally compromised by a rush of White pieces and pawns.

Hill 0-1 Clough. White let his King to become exposed in a King’s Gambit Declined. As it so often happens in the KGD, tactics came to the fore, and the White King had to pay the ultimate price of checkmate.

Canty ½ – ½ Mockler. This was a kind of French Gran Prix Attack which is a favorite of Mr. Canty. Mockler put his own spin on the opening early with the eccentric development of his Ng8 to h6. By move 14 Black was clearly better, and then, and then.. the fun began. In the French with closed centers; White pawns on d4 and e5 and Black pawns on e6 and d5, Black does not always have to castle on the K-side. There are many times he can leave his King in the center or castle Q-side avoiding White’s natural attack. There are even occasions when Black can put his g-pawn on g6 trying to just hold the light squares and not worrying over much about the dark squares. There are however very few times Black can try the advance of his own K-side pawns to the 5th rank. Mr. Mockler did that on his 15th turn. On the 18th move Black gave up his very useful dark squared Bishop for an oddly placed Knight on b4. A Bishops of opposite color middle game was reached with both sides’ Bishops restricted by their own pawns. The far advanced Black h-pawn looked vulnerable. Guarding it put a damper on the activity of Black major pieces. White repeated moves around moves 28 and 29 and a draw was agreed. At the end White might have had more freedom for his pieces than Black, but getting his Rooks into action absent any wide open files looked difficult. A draw was a reasonable decision. While there not a lot of fireworks in this game it had a significant effect on the battle for the title between Leisner and Mockler. Jon’s win from Miranti and this draw dropped Michael to two points behind Jon. Mr. Mockler with only one game to play versus Mr. Leisner’s four games to play, has much slimmer chances now to match scores for first place. It was a good result for Mr. Canty. He has been the “Giant Killer” of this year’s tournament; this draw and a win over John Phillips had a real effect on the places at the top.

I reported earlier about Mr. Varlela’s withdrawal from the Schenectady event. When I received the information from the TD it was said his games would not count for the tournament standings. It turns out that was incorrect. There 13 rounds of play in this tourney but only 12 games are to played, everyone has at least one Bye. Since Varela played 6 games, and that is 50% of the games, his games will be counted in standings. The standings reported below includeing Varela’s score and the February 6th results, based on points lost are now:

1 Leisner 7½-½
2 Mockler 8½-2½
3-4 Henner 6-3
3-4 Northrup 5-3
5 Adamec 7-4
6-8 Phillips 5½-4½
6-8 Calderon 6½-4½
6-8 Clough 4½-4½
9 Canty 4½-6½
10 Chu 3-7
11 Varela 3-9 Withdrew, un-played games scored as forfeit losses.
13 Miranti 2-8
12 Hill 1-8

With most of the confusion behind us now, the standings are becoming clear. Mr. Leisner is in fine shape to take his first Schenectady title. Jon has a 2 point lead over Mockler, 2 ½ over Henner, and Northrup and 3 ½ on Adamec. Although Leisner has four games to play it is hard to imagine him not scoring two points out of these four games. Anything more than two points and Jon has the title locked up.

Michael Mockler has strong views of how the opening of a chess game should be conducted. Recently he has been playing the Morra Gambit against the Sicilian Defense regularly. It is a line full of tricks and positions that are not well known. Very often the Morra can lead to pretty wins, and sometimes White ends up suffering, just down a pawn for no compensation. Perhaps the most frequent result is the game becomes difficult for both sides. For those of us unfamiliar with the Morra, it is not so easy to evaluate the resulting positions.

Mockler, Michael – Henner, Peter [B21]
SCC Championship 2013–14 Schenectady, NY, 30.01.2014

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 g6 4.Bc4!?,..

Book is 4 cxd4. Mockler has been working on the Morra this season. The move played is maybe something he has worked out for himself. The move is not utterly unknown. It has been tried a few times but with very poor results for White according to the games in my database. Could it be Michael has found an improvement?

4…, dxc3?!

Mockler Henner 1

This move seems not to be the way to go. It helps White’s development. More usual is 4…, Nf6; getting on with development, or 4…, e6; looking to forestall White’s potential Queen and Bishop battery on the a1-g8 diagonal.

5.Qb3!?,..

White bets on the battery. The straight forward 5 Nxc3, is equal.

5…, e6 6.Qxc3?!,..

A tempting move that is probably wrong. White likely wanted to preserve his light squared Bishop. Leaving his Queen on b3 gives Black the Knight tour .., Nc6/..Na5; hitting the Queen and Bishop. The text avoids that.

6…, f6!?

Mockler Henner 2

Better 6…, Nf6; (development) and then if 7 Bg5 Be7 8 Nd2 0-0 9 e5 Nd5 10 Bxe7 Qxe7 11 Qb3 Nb6 12 Ngf3, when 12…, f6; is a kind of standard reaction against the not-so-strong pawn on e5. Black will then retain his extra material, have the open f-file on which he may put his Rooks to work, and when the e5-pawn disappears, Black has two good center pawns to none. The probable answer to the earlier question is: I don’t see the makings of some significant improvement for White by playing this way.

7.Nf3 Nc6 8.0–0 Qc7 9.Bb3 Bd6?!

Mockler Henner 3
It was here I had the chance to look in on this game long enough to make my own evaluation. The Black position looks suspect. Just its strangeness led me to conclude Black was worse. In fact, if Black had played 9…, b6; he would have been on his way to some small advantage. The text, according to the engine is approximately equal.

It is possible this the sort of position that tempted White to pursue his scheme. There is little doubt the Black position appears disorganized. The finest flowering of chess theory and practice before the age of computers was the ascendancy of the Russian School after WWII. Now in the time of strong chess engines, the Russian preference for the dynamic and concrete calculation in conducting the game has become ever more the watchwords of modern chess. Forming an opinion about a position on how well it conforms to some general rules is less relevant than the very specific possibilities that can be calculated. The present position is an example to prove the point.

10.Qe1?,..

This retrograde maneuver hands Black the advantage. White may have been worried about simplification after: the natural 10 Rd1 Ne5 11 Nxe5 Bxe5; when unless White is willing to put his Queen on h3, there will likely be a trade on c7. Very often, if a pawn is sacrificed in the opening, the player who gave the pawn is reluctant to see the Queens off. That is likely Mr. Mockler’s motivation for this move.

10…, b6

A pretty good move threatening .., Ba6; attacking the landlocked Rf1. I rather like the alternative 10…, Ne5; and beginning to direct Black pieces to the K-side anticipating a possible piece sacrifice on f2 if White disturbs a future Ne5-g4 with h2-h3.

11.Qe2 Ne5 12.Nd4 a6 13.Nc3 Ne7!?

It might be better to play 13…, h5; but it is not clear Black’s K-side pawn roller is really dangerous.

14.Bh6,..

When this move was played my intuition was White was doing well. Rybka says the game is equal.

14…, Nf7

The alternative: 14…, N7c6; is worth a look also. It could conceivably lead to exchanges of some minor pieces and maybe Queens in the center when the game equalizes.

15.Bg7 Bxh2+ 16.Kh1 Rg8 17.Bxf6 Be5 18.Bxe5 Qxe5 19.Rfd1!?,..

I suspect this is the wrong Rook. Keeping this Rook on f1 to support f2-f4 looks better to me.

19…, Bb7 20.Rac1 Ng5 21.Ba4?!,..

Mockler Henner 4

True to his style, Mr. Mockler seeks complications. Safer is 21 f3, and the game is tending towards equality, although there plenty of fight left in the position. The threat Mr. Mockler makes is to capture on d7 with the Bishop and win the Black Queen with a discovered check by the Nd4.

21…,Nc6?

There is nothing wrong with 21…, b5. It pushes back the Ba4 and gives Black some advantage. Now the obvious trades on c6 result in a marked edge for White.

Once more we see an example of the uneven quality often apparent in our games locally; good and accurate play mostly with intervals of blindness to sometimes simpler and sounder methods. I have experienced the same phenomenon in my own play. GM Aagaard’s well known comment about similar mental flaws in his play is: “What was I thinking here?, The answer is I wasn’t!”. This is an area where we all can seek improvement, and improvement is possible. Mostly this is true because we are not talking about chess skill, rather at issue is how closely we are paying attention to what is happening in front of us, the willingness to test the assumptions we make regarding chess positions encountered and the willingness to put out your best effort on every move.

My conclusion is this: Many of the players in the sub-2000 bunch (1950-1990) have all the specific technical chess knowledge to stay over 2000 if they consistently apply the knowledge. In one game they will play technically sound and sometimes inspired chess, in another game there comes moments of lassitude where they, as Aagaard puts it; just don’t think. No amount of GM coaching, DVD and book studying or analysis of Master games will deal with this problem. It is a matter of competitive character. Paying close and systematic attention to every move is just plain hard work. The discipline to do such work is the difference between a good strong 1950 player and a 2050 player who someday may break 2200.

22.Nxc6 Bxc6 23.Bxc6 dxc6 24.Qd2 Nf7 25.Qd7+ Kf8 26.Qxc6,..

Mockler Henner 5

White has recovered his pawn and has control of the d-file. Not yet quite enough to claim victory is near, but certainly something to build upon.

26…, Rb8 27.Rd7 Kg7 28.Rcd1 Rgc8 29.Qa4 a5?

Mockler Henner 6

Black has been fighting a holding action. Here he could have considered active defense with 29…, b5. Then, if 30 Qxa6 b4 31 Ne2 Kg8 32 f3 Ra8 33 Qb7 Rab8; with a possible repetition, or better for White is: 30 Qxa6 b4 31 Ne2 Kg8 32 Kg1! (getting out of a possible double attack by the Queen from h5.) 32…, Qxe4 33 R1d4, and Black has two weak pawns to defend; e6 and b4. In this case the initiative is firmly in White’s hands, but Black has chances. White now comes up with a flawed idea.

30.Nb5 Rd8 31.Nd6?,..

Mockler Henner 7

Losing the game in a single stroke. 31 Nc7, puts pressure on e6, a glaring weak point in the Black setup. A logical line of play is: 31 Nc7 Rxd7 32 Qxd7 Rb7 (Not 32…, Rd8? 33 Nxe6+ Qxe6 34 Qxd8, and the White Queen has the many targets needed for a Queen to fight a Rook and a minor piece.) 33 Nxe6+ Kf6 34 Qd5, and not 34 Qxb7? Qh5+; when Black wins using the double attack as in the game.

31…, Rxd7 32.Qxd7 Qh5+ 0–1

Because 33 Kg1 Qxd1+ 34 Kh2 Qxd6+; and all resistance is over. For whatever reason; my own weakness as a chess player, or too much confidence in Mr. Mockler’s opening experiments, once again I misjudged his opponent’s resources and overvalued Mockler’s ideas while watching the game. Michael’s drive to find “interesting” chess positions often outstrips his opponent’s ability to find the right path through complications. Sometimes the search boomerangs as it does here. It can not be denied this search make for interesting games and plenty for a commentator to talk about.

More soon.