A Week in Chicago, Part 2

A Week in Chicago, Part 2

| 13 | Middlegame

In last week's article, A Week in Chicago, Part 1, we saw a very strange and interesting game I played against the young FM Eric Rosen in a Chicago international tournament. Now let's look at what happened later in the tournament.

As I said before, this was a rather unusual tournament for me. I normally play in open tournaments, with little or no conditions, fighting for the prize in often rather rough circumstances. Here I was a "hired assassin," along with GM Kekelidze, trying to prevent people from getting their international master norms.

Several time each day, in the cold wind, I walked the five minute stroll between the Holiday Inn in Skokie, Illinois and the Chess IQ Center, located in a "business park" kind of area. At some point, one of the waitresses in the hotel restaurant - who began to recognize Kekelidze and I after a few days - asked when our "job" was done. She probably thought we were contractors in town for an engineering job, or something similar. She could hardly guess that we were chess grandmasters in town to play in an international tournament.

In some ways, I did see the tournament in that way - that I was hired to perform a job - at least at first. After a few rounds - and especially after game with Rosen which we saw last week - I began to get motivated. I was hoping to make a good score, increase my rating, and play some good games. After a draw with Kekelidze in the fifth round and a win against the lowest-rated player, David Peng in the sixth round, it looked like I was in the home stretch. I had five out of six, having won all my games against the young players, who were seemingly the most dangerous. The next day I had White against two players in the 2300s. I was hoping to win both of those games and then probably finish with a draw against Denys Shmelov in the last round when I had Black. However, on the next day, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

First was my game against IM Angelo Young, a tricky and provocative player. I expected he would play a risky opening and that I would have chances to attack. From my point of view, this was a more pleasant opponent than one who would play solid and theoretical chess.

The game went into a sharp variation of the Paulsen, with some unusual play. After twelve moves it reached this position, with Young having just played 12...Nf6:

Of course I can capture on f6, with a particular type of position, typical of the Sicilian. Black has lots of pawns in the center and has the two bishops, but his king has no home and the f-pawns are weak. Here I think Black's extended queenside and the position of the white queen on h5 tip the scales in White's favor - Black will have to be constantly watching out for e4-e5 moves, and it is hard to find a plan for him. But it is a game.

I was looking for more than that, so I was calculating the retreats of the queen, 13.Qh4 and 13.Qh3 so that 14.e5 would be threatened. I thought probably Black would play 13...Be7 14.e5 Nd5 15.Bxe7, and one of the knights would capture on e7. The position then looks very good for White. The d6 square would be weak, and White would have the breakthrough f4-f5. It was more or less random which retreat I chose - the queen on either h4 or h3 in the resulting position had its benefits.

Of course, you can probably guess how Black responds to 13.Qh4: 13...Nh7, and White simply has to resign immediately, having trapped his own bishop in the most comical fashion. However, this move somehow did not enter my field of vision. I actually wish I played 13.Qh4 - then I could resign immediately, the game would just be one of those accidents that happen. Instead I played 13.Qh3??, and after 13...Nh7 the game is also completely hopeless, since 14.Bh4 is met by 14...Bxf4, with an extra center pawn and good position. Instead I chose the desperate 14.e5, and the game was over shortly.

Throwing away the game so early upset me a lot, and I was not in a good mood as I sat down to play FM Gauri Shankar in the next round. Basically not wanting to think at all, I blitzed out the first twenty moves in a few minutes. However, I did get a promising position, before I started thinking and missed the right way. With me relying on some tactics which didn't quite work out, my opponent called my bluff, and I had to defend and fight tooth and nail not to lose a second game in a row to a lower-rated player with the white pieces. Finally, I managed to save the draw.

The tournament was nearly over. There was only one more game, as black against Denys Shmelov, who was rated 2416 (fide). At the start of the tournament, he was the player who it seemed would most likely make his IM norm - indeed, players with such a rating are usually IMs already. However, he'd had a bad tournament and, by this time, he could no longer make his norm; so neither of us really had much to play for. In principle, black against a decent player with no prize on the line, I would be content with a draw; and had  the previous day been a little better, I even would have wanted a draw. However, before the game my opponent declared that he wanted to play, which made me glad, since I wanted to redeem myself from the previous day.

So, while the nameplates of the other eight players were already in the trash can (the other four games ended quickly in draws), Shmelov and I battled on in the nearly empty room. Wanting a real fight, I employed the King's Indian Defense for the first time since last summer.

So the tournament ended on a bright note, I managed to redeem myself somewhat, and I tied for first place with Kekelidze. Immediately after the game, we headed to the airport since our flights were all within fifteen minutes of each other, and the last two nameplates finally went into the trash can along with the others.


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