Today's article features positions from the recently completed 22nd North American Open that took place in Las Vegas from December 26th-30th. It seems that the holiday atmosphere and the popularity of gambling in Vegas had its impact on the players' creative play, and as an outcome it is no surprise that the tournament had clear 1st and 2nd prize winners. The positions from this event fit ideally into the topic of tactics in modern play.
GM Timur Gareev, the most recent addition to US chess (he recently changed his federation from Uzbekistan to USA) won the event with an impressive 8 points out of 9, winning in the last 4 rounds in a row against such respected GMs as Li Chao, Alex Shabalov, Alejandro Ramirez and Giorgi Kacheishvili. In several games Gareev ended up in a worse position out of the opening but after defending for about 20 moves he would direct the course of the game into a more favorable path. But once he did get advantage he would convincingly convert it into the full point. The winning streak no accident as Timur showed superior fighting qualities and defensive capabilities - setting up traps and problems that his opponents failed to properly solve.
The game with Li Chao was extremely even, which is no surprise considering the high caliber of the two opponents. At one point Gareev let Li capture the c-file for an initiative on the kingside. This operation had a risk element and Li Chao had a chance to get a significant advantage by calculating and evaluating a non-trivial line.
This game is a perfect illustration of what Timur does when his opponent gives him a chance - he conducts the attack impeccably. The next GM victim was Alex Shabalov, who outplayed Gareev out of the opening and had a clear advantage, which according to Houdini was -1.3 -- and considering the quietness of the position one would expect the game to end either in Black's favor or at the very least a comfortable draw. However, Shabalov erred with a horrible blunder in the following position:
Incidentally, Shabalov committed a blunder of similar magnitude in the next round, which lead FM John Bryant one step closer to a much desired GM-norm. Shabalov had a strong initiative but with a few inaccuracies he lost almost all of it, however there was no reason to lose this better position.
In round 8 Gareev slaughtered Ramirez in the opening in 20 moves!
And in round 9 he faced one of the most dangerous opponents in GM Kacheishvili. Kachi had a very good tournament thus far - winning effortlessly and using his unique positional class against lower-rated opponents and playing fighting chess against opponents of equal strength. A round ago he played an unbelievably complex game against Li Chao, which we will analyze in the next article. A good example of his confident play is against GM Friedel:
Gareev had the white pieces and needed a draw to clinch clear first place. Kachi was playing for a win with black, which is never an easy task because one has to take risks and give their opponent chances for a win. Instead of going for a quiet continuation with equal or slightly better play for black Kachi made a risky decision and ended up in a worse position. Gareev convincingly realized his advantage:
What Gareev excelled at in this tournament was tactics and winning continuations. His technique in converting an advantage was brutal. The backbone of this technique is his tactical vision. Even if things do not work out well out of the opening or middlegame there is a good chance that the opponent will slip somewhere and this allowed Gareev to take advantage of his opponent's mistakes. Next week we will wrap up the topic of tactics by analyzing the middlegame of Li Chao - Kacheishvili. I hope you all had fun holidays and a Happy New Year!