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Attack and Defense in the National Chess Congress

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Dec 13, 2012

Although I am doing a new column - "My Bookshelf" - I will from time to time revisit "Attack and Defense" for some variety. And this is one of those times.

I recently played in the National Chess Congress in Philadelphia. This is a tournament where, for some reason, I have had lots of success. In 2008 I won clear first ahead of seven grandmasters, and in 2009 I tied for first. This year I also did well, tying for third-fourth with GM Zviad Izoria. However, the tournament was the strongest ever, with a total of ten grandmasters, so even a very good performance was not enough for first place.

In the months preceding this tournament I had really been moving away from chess. Of course I did my work and wrote my articles here, but I was not studying or thinking about chess, and had played only one tournament since the beginning of September (and withdrew from that tournament after a few rounds because I did not feel like playing). So going into this tournament I generally expected it to increase my feeling that I was done with chess.

In the first round I won fairly easily against a player rated 2180. The game I'm going to cover in this article is actually - rather than one of my later games against GMs - my round two game, because it had many very interesting moments and my young opponent showed great fighting ability and promise. The final position is also very...let's say...interesting.

By round two the top players were already playing against players rated 2300-2400. For example, on the board next to me GM Huschenbeth played against a 2300. However, there was one player rated slightly over 1900 in the group with one point, since in the first round he was supposed to have a full point bye (there being an odd number of players) but ended up being paired against a lower-rated player who came late. I was the lucky one who was paired against him in round two - so it seemed, at least.

I was thinking it was a good thing - I get an easy game and can save some energy. However, my opponent was a young kid (twelve years old it seems) and any experienced tournament player knows that it is better to play against an older opponent, assuming the ratings are the same. Young players could be rapidly improving and therefore underrated, and they have more fire and resilience. Also, my opponent was Indian and it seems that the Indian players might be infused with the spirit of their compatriot, Viswanathan Anand. Nevertheless, a 600+ rating difference is pretty extreme.

As it turned out, the game was very tough - perhaps my toughest of the tournament. Here it is:


At the end of the game it was pretty late and there were very few games still going. Despite taking five hours to beat a 1900-player - I could at least feel satisfied that there was a beautiful finish to the game. First the bishop sacrifice in the ending, and now the attractive point that the only move 54.Bxe5 is met by 54...g5!, ignoring the bishop and simply passing it by, in order to cover f4.


Seemingly mate is inevitable, since after 55.hxg5+ fxg5 56.Ra6+ Kh5 57.Rh6+ Kxh6 58.Bg7+ Kxg7 (obviously 58...Kh5 is better, with mate next) 59.Kxg7 White still has a knight and therefore it is not stalemate! In view of this the kid resigned, and I was a little disappointed that I did not get to play 54...g5 on the board.

Later, however, I discovered that White actually has a defense. After 54...g5 55.hxg5+ fxg5 56.Bg7+! Kh5 (not 56...Kxg7 57.Ne6+ and 58.Nxg5, covering h3 and drawing) 57.Rxg5+ Kxg5 58.Ne6+ Kg6 (or 58...Kf5 60.Nf4 leading to the same kind of position) we get the following unusual position:


Black threatens 59...Kf7, so White has to move the bishop. The only move is 59.Bc3!, so that after 59...Rh3+ 60.Kf4 Rh2, White can defend the f-pawn with 61.Be1. Thus the rook can achieve nothing on its own, and next White will put the knight on f4, e.g. 61...Kf5 62.Nf4


Now White has a fortress. The rook cannot achieve anything by itself and Black's bishop has to stay where it is to guard the pawns and cannot do anything anywhere else. The black king cannot break through on the kingside, so the only hope is to make the gigantic circular journey down to f1. However, the king will be stopped before it gets there:


The white bishop can stay on the diagonal a5-e1, while the knight stays on f4; together they form a barricade against the white king. There are enough squares on the diagonal that Black cannot use zugzwang to chase the bishop away.

Therefore I think my opponent resigned in a drawn position. The funny thing is: had resignation been prohibited, he would have been almost forced to find the correct defense. Most of the above moves are the only legal way to avoid mate in one or two moves. So the lesson is clear - don't resign until you are 100% sure! It's one thing to resign when you are down a queen for no compensation, but another when you are up a piece, seemingly getting checkmated, but have various tactical tries to look at. In that case you might as well play on and see the position that arises on the board.

In any case, this was a very tough game and Sahil Sinha deserves praise for his play. It was rather disturbing for me to have to spend five hours to beat a 1900 - yet I don't think on the whole I played badly. As a result I was even too late to catch the subway and had to stand in the cold waiting for the bus. Anyone want to guess at what elo level Mr. Sinha actually played in this game?


  • 22 months ago

    GM BryanSmith

    I see. So the bishop doesn't get to g3. Looks convincing.

  • 23 months ago

    GM dretch

    Now you guys have made me enter the position into the computer  instead of studying for finals Tongue out  The key is that white will lose the f2 pawn if he tries to reroute the bishop to g3. When I looked at the position without a board last time, I thought it was as simple as playing Rg2 if the bishop leaves the a5-e1 diagonal. Instead it turns out there are some tactical tricks to try to relocate the bishop, but Black can thwart them with very accurate play.

    RybkaShredder's line  Bc3 Rg1+ Kf4 Kh5 Bb4 Kh4 Kf5 Kh3 Bd6 Kg2 Bg3 turned out not to work after ...Rb1! but instead of Bb4, Ng7+ is annoying with the idea Kh4? Bf6+ Kh3 Nf5 followed by Bh4-g3.    

    So After 59. Bc3 Rg1+ 60. Kf4 the best is Rg2! 61. Be1 and now Kh5. 62 Kf5 Rh2! (avoiding an attack by Nf4) and now white can choose:

    A. 63. Kf4 Rh1 64. Bc3 Rc1 65. Ba5 (65. Be5 Rf1 66. Kg3 Rg1+ 67. Kf4 Rg2) ...Kh4 and f2 will fall.

    B. 63. Nf4+ Kh6 64. Nd5 Rh1 65. Bb4 Rh5+ 66. Ke6 Rh2 67. Be1 Rh1 68. Bb4 Rf1

    C. 63. Ng7+ Kh6 64. Kf6 Rh1 and same stuff again

    So I still think black should be winning with Rg1+.

    Wait a minute.. my original idea Kh5 actually looks strong as well after Ng7+ Kh6! etc but I don't want to type everything again..

  • 23 months ago

    GM BryanSmith

    Conrad, I didn't see that, but how does Black win if White puts the bishop on g3? For instance, bishop on g3, king on f4, knight on f5 - should be another fortress, even with the black king on g2.

  • 23 months ago


    Anyone want to guess at what elo level Mr. Sinha actually played in this game?

    chesszen.com (which I use on occassion and often can be accurate) gave the performance rating during the game, looking at moves 6-31 as 2358 for white and 2482 for black.  From looking over the game myself, white seemed to have a good grasp of the opening and middle game positions to follow, which in turn put him on a good footing throughout the game. 

  • 23 months ago


    I think Bc3 Rg1+ Kf4 Kh5 Bb4 Kh4 Kf5 Kh3 Bd6 Kg2 Bg3 should be a draw

  • 23 months ago

    GM dretch

    Looking at the 3rd diagram from the bottom, it's hard to believe white can hold if he is not allowed to move his knight to f4, e.g. 59. Bc3 Rg1+ 60. Kf4 (Kh4 g3!) ... Kh5 and the black king can quickly invade to g2.

  • 23 months ago


    haha Sealed I love that shock when someone's game they posted with the opponent's name, and the opponent comments on it.

  • 23 months ago


    By the way it's a great article that didn't go too deep into the game and without too many lines.

  • 23 months ago


    Perhaps he is like me in a sense and play better when he faces better players. I'm a 1800 player and have won against several rated 2000+ and one 2100+. I have played too few rated games to say how good I play against those rated 2200+, but when I am playing my best I think I have a fair chance against high rated players or even titled players. It's too bad I started beating those rated 2000+ when I was rated 1300 and still haven't beat many (or even played many) rated 2100+.

    Note: I am mixing ELO rating and LASK rating (swedish rating) in this post which has about the same value.

  • 23 months ago


    Your opponent has a chess.com account. Username sahilmd

  • 23 months ago


    gr8 article Bryan, must be around 2200+for sure, is he not a member of ches.com family? 

    Hope u get ur GM norm soon....wish u all the best!!

  • 23 months ago


    The article was really interesting. Everyday, I read the news section and article section and just skim through the games, but I spent around twenty minutes playing out this game. 

  • 23 months ago



  • 23 months ago


    I would say 2100, at least for this game. He found lots of stuff, fought really hard, although at the same time it was clear your play was more "professional," with his pieces having less harmony and having to defend a lot, so I will estimate him short of the master cutoff, 2200. I'm a 1900 player myself and I recently lasted a long time against an IM, but the thing is strong players will just constantly squeeze you, so even if you maintain a solid position for a long time, there is still not much chance you will actually get the draw. With this idea in mind, that I have experienced myself, that is why I am not judging how much he is underrated to be so astronomical. However, the more I look at it, he did play really solid. Perhaps he is somewhere in between 2100 and 2200.

    Honestly, I really love these types of games. The game had a lot of normal moves, but it represents such a practical situation; so typical when the titled player faces a strong amateur. It shows how much equal positions can be squeezed (this type of stuff is Carlsen's bread and butter), but what I liked the most about it is that it shows just how tough it can be to (objectively) win games of chess! Both black and white had so many ideas throughout the game, yet even when all of the tricks seemed to be over, white still had some fantastic resources that would have even saved the game. This is what makes chess so challenging, but I embrace it: I like the test of how many resources I can find, to see where my limit is.

  • 23 months ago


    --> I guess 2250 since he survived for 50+ moves against a 2400+ opponent. But many times it happens that a player will play above or below his Elo rating. Perhaps he played above his rating and you're opposite.Smile

  • 23 months ago


    Great article and analysis!

  • 23 months ago


    master level

  • 23 months ago


    2400 tactically, 2100 positionally?

  • 23 months ago


    @Petrosianic Ummmmmm... Arpad Elo is a person, and he developed the Elo rating system. It is a name, not an acronym.

  • 23 months ago


    Nice article. Bryan you should write a book.  Your tactical style and clear explanations would be instructive and entertaining for a wide audience and your rather unusual chess biography would be fascinating for many people I think.  

    Also, your accomplishments show that it is possible to attain a very high level without being one of the endless string of fritz trained 12 year old prodigies.  Seriously, write a book. 

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