After some reflection on my performance, it was now time to get ready for the next tournament.  The one I chose to play in was the Orlando After Memorial Open and Scholastic.

In my previous blog, I pointed out the possibility of adopting Fabio La Rota's 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. a3 line as a way to actually intentionally assume the black pieces, while denying white (black) the possibility of playing a Ruy Lopez.  If my first inclination was to play 3...d5, how many other players would feel that was the antidote?

Against the Scotch, my repertoire calls for the sharp 4...Qh4 line, which almost wins a pawn by force.  Reversed, it no doubt would be even better, so 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. a3 d5 4. ed Nxd5 could be met by 5. Qh5!  With the best reply in the standard line not available (5...Nb4, which can't be played now because of the a3 pawn), Black will be hard-pressed to hold this position, from as early as move 5.  So my thinking was (especially given the degree I was struggling with 1. e4 e5), there was a place in my repertoire for that move.  Further, I took it as an omen that my Scotch book on 4...Qh4 also included an addendum (which I never noticed) on this exact reversal.

About a week before the tournament, I realized on my old PC at home I had a copy of a program called Bookup.  I thought it would be a great idea to start loading my lines into it, so that I could save myself from lugging entire libraries to chess tournaments for study. What I found after loading in a few repertoire trees was that the software had this great "Training" feature. 

With Bookup's training feature, the computer randomizes lines in the current repertoire tree and has you choose the correct move.  After hours of training on the few repertoire elements I managed to get entered, I have never felt that I knew the moves so well.  What was just as amazing was by knowing the moves inside out, the positional motivation became more obvious.  Thus, the $29 investment for Bookup 2000 Express, is something I can whole-heartily recommend to those looking for better results in their pet openings.

In the 45 days between the two tournaments, aside from the 3. a3 "Vienna" revelation, I also made an interesting breakthrough on the "Sicilian problem".  As readers may recall, I have a fondness for the Smith-Morra Gambit, but an abhorrence of the declined lines led by 3...Nf6.  For my money, black is just flat-out equal in them and white has to resort to all sorts of chessboard sorcery to generate a whiff of winning chances.  (Interestingly, in the Space Coast Open I won a 3...Nf6 game from promising junior Troy Daly, rated 2145).

The reader may also recall I spoke of the absolutely bizarre 66% winning-percentage statistic for black in the opening sequence 1. d4 d6 2. c4 e5 3. de de 4. Qxd8+ Kxd8.

The intersection of these two notions is the idea that the black system can be played in reverse against the Sicilian (all these reversals, what hath La Rota wrought?) with the sequence 1. e4 c5 2. c3 d5 3. d3 de 4. de Qxd1 5. Kxd1.  Lo and behold, a quick check of Chessbase Online and it looks like a similar winning percentage (this time in white's favor of course) is evident!  Amazing.

The other natural black response to this idea, the dreaded 2...Nf6 is dealt with thusly 1. e4 c5 2. c3 Nf6 3. d3 d5 4. e5 Nd7 5. d4 Nc6 6. Be3 N7b8 !? (black equalizing chances have to be based on activating the light-squared bishop -- 6...Nb6 is met simply by 7.dc) 7.Nf3 Bg4 (if 7...Bf5, again 8. dc) 8. Be2 cd 9. cd (not 9. Bxd4 because of 9...Nxd4 10. cd Nc6 with advantage to black)  Qb6 10. Qd2 and I believe white has a slight edge here.

So (as the late, great Tim Russert would say)...whaddya know? The early white d3 may form the basis for a decent anti-Sicilian system after all...certainly against equal and higher-rated competition.  Lower-rated competition, of course, will snap at the idea of trading Q's on move 4, so there still is a little work to do.  Perhaps there is still yet a place for the Smith-Morra!

Lastly, in preparation for this tournament, special attention was paid to the Schliemann line 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5 4. d3.  There was a debacle in the previous tournament in round 5 where black pooped his pants by dropping a piece in the opening (I was so disgusted with the effort I threw away the scoresheet and can't reproduce the game).  My first instinct was to retreat back to the tried-and-true remedy for 4. d3 which I've never had much problem with over the years, namely 4...fxe4 5. de Nf6 6. O-O d6 Nc3 and white tries to squeeze out a small positional advantage based on black vulnerabilities on the a2-g8 diagonal.  The pedigree in this approach is impeccable, as over the many 4. d3 games I have played in my career, I can't remember losing more than one.  Until the Space Coast Open, so the count now stands at two.

However, I wanted to embrace the newest ideas in the variation, put forth by Nigel Davies in "Gambiteer II".  Under this new interpretation of the opening, black sacs both his f- and e-pawn in return for development and open lines.  So white, who thought 4. d3 might be a safe refuge from tricky variations, finds himself back in hot water.  A classic position from this line is: (D)

Black, for his part, is set to recapture on f5 with the light-squared bishop.  White's knight on e5 becomes a bit loose, and can never go home because of ...Bg4 ideas.  Nor can it be supported by moving the pawn to f4, courtesy of Black's strong bishop on c5.  Black might typically play (after ...Bxf5) ...Qc7 followed by Rae8, with more than enough compensation for the pawn.

The Orlando After Memorial Open (run by Harvey Lerman in his usual impeccable manner) is again one of the 5-round, 2-day or 3-day scheduled event.  As with the Space Coast Open, I am playing the 2-day schedule, arriving in Altamonte Springs (just northeast of Orlando) at 10:00a, the start of the first round.

Ah, what a difference 18 points makes on the tournament wallchart.  Before the Space Coast Open, I was rated 2041 and was paired against the top dog.  Now, sporting a 2059 rating, I'm in the top half and am pleasantly surprised to be paired down against Yassue Levya (1741) in the first round.  The time control for this game is Game/60.  For subsequent rounds it will be Game/120.

Clearly not at my sharpest yet, I play a Smith-Morra against Yassue's Sicilian.  I take the opportunity to explore the new reinterpretation of the opening when facing an early ....e6 by Black.  This reinterpretation involves developing both knights early, waiting for the pawn structure to become clear before placing the bishops.  

So, for instance, in this opening 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cd 3. c3 dc 4. Nc3 Nc6 5. Nf3 e6 (D)

The "traditional" plan calls for white to place his light-squared bishop on c4 and place the dark-squared on e3 if the black played ...Nge7.  The idea being to follow up with O-O, Be3, Nd4, f4 and f5.

If black played Nf6, plans centered around Bc4, Qe2, O-O and Rfd1. 

The modern treatment deals with this position as though it had roots in the French Defense, by playing Bf4 (to threaten Nb5), Bd3, e5, Qe2 and O-O, essentially overprotecting the e5 strongpoint and clearing the e4 square for use by the knight on c3.  White will also meet black's thematic Ng8-e7-g6 maneuver with Bg3 and h4, threatening to drive black back into oblivion.

The game itself turned out to be more exciting than I needed to make it, but don't blame the opening...blame the operator!  After all, in a Smith-Morra, when you get a position like this (D), it has no business being exciting:

So I take full responsibility for screwing up the resulting position -- although I still managed to pull the game out.

This first round, amazingly, turned out to be my toughest of the tournament.  I had one loss, to second-place finisher Blas Lugo (2387) which featured my rollout of the 3.a3 Vienna.  I could almost hear Blas laughing as he proceeded to wipe me off the board with it.  The game was SO one-sided, that it wasn't difficult to play at all.  People were coming up to me for the rest of the tournament, commenting that my loss to Lugo was one of the ugliest they had ever been witness to.  LOL, thanks guys.

The good news is I won the rest of the games, leaving me at 4-1 and a two-way tie for second and third (with Blas).  The jewel of the tournament for me was my win against Corey Acor (2245), yet another one of those promising Florida junior players.  I "represented" for the 50+ community (as hip-hoppers would say), demonstrating a little snow on the roof doesn't mean there's no fire in the furnace.

Without much commentary, we arrive at a standard starting position for the Two Knights Defense: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. ed Na5 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dc bc 8. Be2 h6 9. Nf3 e4 10. Ne5 Bc5

I play the continuation recommended by Davies in "Play e4 e5!" (10...Bc5) and it clearly catches Corey off-guard.  Interestingly, the 4. Ng5 Two Knights lines are popular with a number of Florida juniors, including Daniel Ludwig (2454).  Even before 10...Bc5 I never understood why.

The object of this move is to encourage white to put his pawn on c3, taking away the knight's best developing square.  White then ends up having to go through some contortions to get his forces developed while, as you'll see, black's development is smooth and effortless.

An example of the problems that can beset white is the seemingly innocent 11. O-O.  On that move, black continues 11...Qd6 12. Ng4 Bxg4 13. Bxg4 h5 14. Be2 Ng4 15. g3 Nxh2 16. Kxh2 h4 and black is rolling.  Anyway, on with the current game: 11. c3 Qc7 12. d4 (better is 12. f4; this move leaves white floundering) ed 13. Nd3 Bd6 14. h3 Bf5 15. O-O O-O 16. Nd2 Rad8 17. Nf3 c5


Black is threatening, among other things, ...c4, costing white a piece (moving the knight allows ...Bh2+).

18. Qa4 Rfe8

With the exception of the wayward knight on a5, it's hard for black's pieces to get any better placed.  Soon even the knight gets in on the fun.

19. Be3 Re4!

Hello, Kitty....  Laughing

20. b4 Nc4 21. bc Ne3

There goes the exchange for a pawn, assuming black wants it.

22. cd Rxd6 23. Qb5 Bd7 24. Qb2 Ng2!? (D)

Without calculating everything out, I realize this is going to get very close to checkmate for black if white accepts the Trojan horse.  25. Kg2 Bh3+ 26. Kh3 Qd7+ 27. Kg2 Qg4+ etc.  Further, I reasoned my knight was worth more than white's  rook on f1, and simply trading for it would let white off the hook. 

In this position, if white doesn't accept the knight, I get the same material advantage I would have obtained from taking the rook (after taking ...Bxh3).  Given the choice, I'd much rather see the g- and h-pawns gone than have the exchange!

25. Rfb1 Rb6 26. Qd2 Nh4 27. Rxb6 ab 28. Nd4 Bxh3

Now the white king is fully exposed.  How silly it would have been to take that rook on f1 back at move 24.  The finish does the game justice.

29. f4 Bg4 30. Rf1 Bxe2 31. Nxe2 Qd7! 32. Nd4 Qg4+ 33. Kh2 Re3 0-1

Tying for 2nd and 3rd in this tournament gave me a payday of $450, the most I have won in a tournament in over a decade.  It was also worth enough rating points to push me over the 2100 mark, the highest it's been in 8 years.

Rating in: 2059     Rating out: 2101

Only 99 points away from my intermediate goal of master.  I have a feeling those are going to be 99 tough points.