GM Alejandro Ramirez blogs about Arizona's Victory over the Seattle Sluggers!
Week 9 recap – Arizona vs. Seattle
For the first time since playing for the Scorpions did I feel that our team was a big underdog in a match. Seattle had an unbelievable 7-1 score coming into the round and was played three of their more consistent scorers, as Nakamura, Mikhailuk and Sinanan are all ‘up there’ in the consideration for All-Star team in their respective boards. But what a surprise! Arizona wins their 4th match in a row and moves into 2nd position in the western division. Here is a recap game by game:
This game actually went very differently from what I expected. I came expecting Hikaru to play any knight or rook pawn on the first move and then try to create some complications by move 10 and checkmate me. My opponent actually played 1. e4 and played a relatively main line against the Alekhine’s Defense. I hadn’t prepared this specifically for this match, but (for some obscure and dumb reason) I had done a fair amount of work on these types of positions.
Hikaru put the pressure throughout the game. After the nice Qf4-g3 maneuver followed by Bf4 it was clear that my dark squares would never have any remedy. Despite this, the position was never simple, and I always had some resource up my sleeve. I was surprised that Rybka actually thinks I’m ‘just fine’ after trading rooks on the e-file and sitting like a duck, but I much prefer the approach I took in the game. After the exchange sacrifice 32… Re4! Black changes dramatically the character of the position. White can either end up and exchange for a pawn, bad with discoordinated pieces and weak pawns around the board or sacrifice a pawn to try to create some play for the dark squares. Hikaru went for the second, but after some solid moves it was impossible for him to create threats against my king. The final position is only a slight pull for black, and I’m sure that a player of Hikaru’s caliber wouldn’t come close to losing.
For me personally it’s a great pleasure to play a Super-GM like Hikaru, and I am very happy to have scored with the black pieces, a huge thing in a team match.
Levon is one of those players for which the Catalan type setups are serious business. Somehow, some way, in some perverse part of Armenia he was taught how to grind opponents with white using the most ridiculous types of moves. Today, this was not the case. Lev pulled out an anti-gruenfeld Qa4-Qh4 maneuver that Mikhailuk clearly did not know. After getting an immense amount of pressure on the kingside, black sacrificed a pawn to get rid of the queens, but that landed him in a positionally inferior endgame, where he was also down a pawn and about 40 minutes on the clock. A near-GM player like Lev will not forgive such a situation, and he won in an amazing way.
Mikhailuk 0 – 2 Arizona
Boards 3 and 4 were definitely the most nerve wrecking boards in the match. After playing an interesting (retarded) line in the Benko, Robby ended up in a clearly inferior position. His kingside was weakened, his queenside attack was going nowhere and the weak pawn on d5 could simply not be taken. Despite all of this, the Benko always provides its followers with some resource or another. After Milat missed some chances, including the simple 25. Bf1! with the idea of Kg2 and Rh1, as well as of Nb5 instead of the positionally ugly 25. f4?!, Robby was able to create some threats and some surprising king side counterplay. In a psychologically brilliant move, he offered a draw when the position became rather murky. Milat made what I think was a big team mistake, and instead of pushing for a win he settled for a draw, when it was clear at that point that only a miracle would save Seattle from losing the match, as board 4 was definitely in Arizona’s favor.
In the final position Rybka comes up with the surprising Nb5! a very difficult move to see indeed, but it poses many difficulties for black, most of which you cannot realistically overcome with 3 minutes left on your clock.
This game was definitely something that no one, except maybe for me sometimes, expected. Being outrated by 300 points and being a decidophobic (real word!), it was clear that Amanda was a big big underdog.
First, props for her preparation. She somehow managed to catch her opponent in a line that he clearly did not know, and this gained her a huge time advantage in the opening. To anyone that has seen Ms. Mateer play, this is quite essential. Black played well and after White made the inaccuracy of Bxe4 (Qb2 seemed like a solid edge) black was able to equalize. A couple of moves later the position turned wild and unbalanced. White sacrificed a pawn to create what was apparently an unavoidable and lethal pin, only to have black countersacrifice a piece to open a single diagonal against the white king!
I was intently watching the game at this point (since mine was just boring, who needs concentration against a 2800?) and saw that Sinanan played the excellent 18…Bf3! I didn’t see anyway to play without accepting the sacrifice, and thought the game would end peacefully after Kh1. To my horror, Amanda played 20. Kg2?? which loses to the obvious move e3! and after fxe3 simply Nxe5+ recovers the piece and leaves black with two extra pawns and a better position.
Never have I heard a bigger sigh of relief win Sinanan played Nh4+?? After that the game should technically end in a draw, but with Sinanan being pressured to win since it was very unclear that whether Milat would take a draw or not, he pushed too hard and Amanda was able to cleanly and efficiently dispose of her opponent with an extra piece, showing very nice technique for a ‘class A chick’.
Props to Amanda and Lev for playing great games and leading our team to victory! Go Scorpions!