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?