Back to the Finals!


Back to the Finals!

Another typically tense USCL playoff match ended in our favor yesterday.  Though not quite as clean as our Quarterfinal win over Manhattan, a win is a win!

The top two boards ended almost simultaneously, with GM Sam Shankland outplaying GM Tamaz Gelashvili on board 1, but GM Pascal Charbonneau equalizing with a very smooth victory over FM Steven Winer punctuated by a queen sacrifice to force mate.  Our chances looked good throughout on boards 3 and 4 and after NM Lawyer Times forced a repetition against NM Nico Checa, IM Akshat Chandra put the Knights in the finals with his better handling of a tricky position with rooks, knights and passers against NM Mika Brattain who escaped checkmate last week but could not pull a similar escape.  Akshat has now won three critical games in a row and is an impressive 5.5/6 on the season!

Pascal's Breakthrough

Pascal had been in control of a Closed Spanish-type structure since move 11, with advantages on the queenside, center and kingside.  He finished with a beautiful flourish (reminiscent of the 20th game in the 1990 match between Kasparov-Karpov).

35. Qh5!! (the computer announces mate in 13) gh 36. e5 f5 (or 36. ..Kh8 37. e6 f6 38. Ng6 Kg7 39. Ne7 Qe7 40. gf Kh8 41. Be3#) 37. ef Kh8 38. Ng6 Kh7 39. Ne7 Kh8 40. f7 and Winer didn't wait for 40. ..Nf6 41. Bf6# and resigned.

Shankland's Solution

This was a remarkably high quality and instructive game, with both sides trading blows for almost 20 straight moves. The action got started on move 17, after Gelashvili had just pushed e5-e4, blocking in white's Bg2.

Shankland eyed the weakest point in black's position, the d6 pawn.  17. Ba3! Rfd8 18. Na4! Na4 [18. ..Nd3 19. Rd3! ed 20. Qd3 with full compensation for white] 19. Bd6 Qf7 20. ba [White also has the zwischenzug 20. c5!?] Be6 21. c5 Ba2 22. Nd4 Bd5

Material is still equal but both white and black have serious problems to solve. White's Bg2 is firmly blockaded by black's h7-g6-f5-e4 pawn chain, but black's rooks lack scope as the Bd6 controls b8 and blocks the d-file.  Noticing black's threat to chase his Bd6 with Nf6-e8 and then attempt to trap it on f4 with h7-h6 and g6-g5, Shankland prepared a deep plan in response.

23. Rd2! Ne8 [23. ..Bf8!? was also possible, avoiding the loosening that occurred in the game] 24. Bf4 h6 25. h4 Qf6 26. Rfd1 g5 27. hg hg 28. Bd6 Qf7! [if 28. ..Nd6 29. cd Rd6 30. Qc5! wins back the material with interest]

Gelashvili seems to have gotten everything under control and is simply threatening to take on d6 and win a pawn.  Now the third act.

29. g4! Bd4! [fighting for the light squares] 30. Rd4 Nd6 31. cd Rd6 32. Qc5 Rf6 [given the game continuation, black also could have tried 32. ..Rd7 33. gf Re8 34. Qa5 Qf5 with the position still highly unclear]

33. Rd5!! [White could have also played 33. gf Rf5 34. Qc2 but the text poses black very serious problems and allows white to play for a win without risk given the exposed nature of black's king] cd 34. Rd5 Rb8! 35. gf [The Bg2 lives!] Rb1? [The first mistake after a nearly flawless game by both players.  Black had to try 35. ..Qh5! 36. Qc4! Kf8! 37. Qe4 Rc6! 38. Qd3 Rc1 39. Bf1 Qg4 with perpetual] 36. Bf1 Kh7 37. Qd4! [Shankland's play is superb]

37. ..Kh6?? [The last chance to fight on was to seek salvation in an inferior R+P endgame.  37. ..Rb4! 38. Bc4 Rc4 39. Qc4 Rf5 40. Rc5 Qc4 41. Rc4, where if black can manage to exchange e+g for f and centralize his K he should be able to hold, though the defense is not trivial] 38. Rd7 Qf8 39. Qe4? [One step from the goal, Shankland misses the immediate win with 39. Qe5! and white wins with 39. ..Rf5 40. Rd6 as there is no other way to stop Qe5-h2] Rb4? [Tamaz could have extended the game with 39. ..Qb4! 40. Rd4 Qb7 though he is still substantially worse after 41. Qg4] 40. Bc4! Rc4 41. Qc4 Rf5 42. Qc6! [Mate is unavoidable: 42. ..Kh5 43. Rh7 Kg4 44. Qg2#]

Nico's Missed Chance

For the second straight week, Nico faced one of the league's top-performing board 4s. NM Lawyer Times went 6-0 in the regular season and finished 5th in the MVP race.  The game was a Bf4 Benoni and after a series of positional transformations, Checa had a bishop and a passed e6 pawn against Times' knight and queenside majority.

Nico played 31. Rae1!? but had 31. Bb1! b4 32. cb Rb4 33. Bg6! hg 34. Rg5 Rb7 35. Rg6 Kh8

White can play the prosaic 36. Qg5 but black can fight with 36. ..d4 and now 37. Ra8! Ra8 38. Rf6 and white will win a queen for his remaining rook and be better with his advanced passers.

Instead, the spectacular 36. Rb1!! (distracting the Rb7 from the defense of the Qe7 and preventing black from interposing Nf6-h7 after Qg3-h4) Rb1 37. Qh4 Qh7 38. e7!! wins on the spot.

The game continued 31. ..b4 32. cb Rb4 33. Bb1 Qg7 34. e7 Re8 35. Qa3 [35. Bc2!] Rb7 36. Bc2 Ne4? [36. ..Qh6!?] 37. Be4 [Or 37. Rd5! Qf7 38. Be4 Qf4 39. Kg1 Rbe7 40. Rd4 Re4 41. Re4 Re4 42. Qa8 and wins] de 38. R1e4 Qf7 39. Qc5 [39. Qd6!?] c3

Here, Nico had 40. f5! with idea 40. 41. Rg4! fg 42. Rg5 and white will pick up black's Q and R with check and win.  If instead 40. ..c2 41. fg hg 42. Qc2 Rbe7 43. Re7 Re7 44. Qc8! [remarkably, 44. Re7 Qe7 45. Qg6 Kh8 is only a draw according to the tablebases] Kg7 45. Qc3 Kg8 46. Rh4 Qg7 47. Qc8 Kf7 [or 47. ..Qf8 48. Rh8] 48. Rf4 and wins

Instead, Nico continued 40. Qc3?! Rbe7 41. Qe3 Re5 42. Re5 Rf8 43. Re4 Qf6 44. Kg3 Rf7 45. Re8 Kg7 46. Re6 Qa1

Here white's Q+R domination allow for the maneuver 47. Kg3-h4! with idea 48. g2-g4 and then 49. f4-f5.  Black's defensive task is close to impossible.  He must try 47. ..Qa7 48. Qe5! Kh6! 49. Rf6 Rf6 50. Qf6 Qa3 51. Qg5 Kg7 52. Qe5 Kf7 53. Qc7 Kg8 54. Kg5 Qg3 55. Kf6 Qh4 56. Ke6 Qe1 57. Qe5 Qb4 58. g4! Qf8 59. Qc7 Qe8 60. Kf6 Qf8 61. Kg5 and black is out of moves.

The K+P endgame after 61. ..Qg7 62. Qg7 Kg7 is lost and after 61. ..Qe8 white has the nice staircase maneuver 62. Qc4! Kf8 63. Qc5! Kg8 64. Qd5! Kg7 65. Qd4 Kg8 66. Qf6 Qe3 67. h4 and black has no way to stop Kg5-h6 and mate.

After 47. Re7?! Qf6! 48. Rf7?! [White could still go back with 48. Re6] Qf7, black's queen was active enough to force white to accept a repetition draw 12 moves later.

Akshat's Fighting Skills

The match was decided between moves 45 and 52 with both players down to 30 second increment.

Brattain twice had the option of taking on d5 as black's K is tied to his Nd7. Instead he played 45. h5!? gh 46. gh Rf1? [46. ..Kc6! consolidated the extra pawn, though much work remained] 47. Nce2?! [Again, Brattain misses Nc3 or Nf4 x d5] Nc6?! [It was time to push with 47. ..a5].

Brattain had a wonderful chance to seize the match with 48. h6! as black's intended 48. ..Rh1 runs into 49. Ng3! and the fork on f5 saves the h-pawn.  Instead, black had 48. ..Nf6.  White needed to brave the risks and go for 49. Rf7! Ne4.  Here, 50. h7 loses to 50. ..Nb4! 51. Ke3 Nc2! 52. Kd3 Ne1! 53. Ke3 Rf3 mate, but white can play 50. Kc2! and retain an extra pawn after 51. h7 Ng5 52. Rf5 Nh7 53. Rd5 with an absurdly complicated game to follow.

48. Rb2? Nf6! followed and after 49. Rb6? Kc7! 50. Rb2 a5 51. Rb5 a4 white's last chance was 52. h6!, hoping to reach either a drawn knight endgame or R+N vs R.  Instead 52. Ke3? a3! and black is winning at least a piece and the game.  Brattain was forced to resign a dozen moves later and New York qualified for its fourth final and first since 2011!

Special thanks to our sponsors ChessNYC and to the Marshall Chess Club for hosting the Knights!