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Boston University Open -- November 2011 -- Round 1-4

Nov 6, 2011, 4:49 PM 1

I'm back...

This is my first weekend tournament since March 2011. My only other OTB game of any kind was the Tuesday night before at MetroWest CC. I'm coming back after a 6 month hiatus, due to work schedule and travel. Fortunately I have also been studying, mostly SIlman and tactics. Also, I recently purchased two opening books to finally start serious study of opening. They are a great format for me, practical and easy to read with plenty of diagrams:

A note about opening analysis... You won't find any in this blog. I am busy trying to switch over my repertoire to the above books, and all the lines I played in this tournament will be shelved once done. My future posts will discuss my experiences with my new openings.

BU Open

Picture of me playing/thinking courtesy of Robert Oresick. Complete BU Open album here:

I played in the U1600 section (under 1600 ELO rating section) in the Boston University Open, which is four rounds of "G/60" meaning that each player has 60 minutes for the entire game. The clocks were also supposed to be set with a 5 second delay each move, however I know of at least one case where the players didn't check to make sure the delay was on, and one of them got into time trouble and lost (presumably the opponent of the player who set up the clock...). My "usual" format is either 40/90, SD/30 for the MetroWest Chess Club, or 40/2, SD/60 for weekend tournaments. For a good explanation of chess time, see this article: http://monroi.com/chess-blog/chess-experts/chris-bird-blog/119-chris-bird-blog/899-chess-clocks-understanding-time.html

All my opponents were young "up and coming" chess players, one of whom I think traveled up from New Jersey, and very friendly and courteous. The only inconvenience is that the tables were a bit small, so the clocks were right up against the board, and there was very little space to put captured pieces, water bottles, score sheet, etc. The overall venue and TD staff were awesome. Many thanks to Robert Oresick, the BU Associate Dean of the College of General Studies, Bernardo Iglesias TD, and the Boylston Chess Club!

My score? Win, lose, win, draw, for a total of 2.5 points out out 4.0 possible points.

Chess is 99% Tactics!

My practice of tactics gave me confidence to press my opponents, although as the Fritz analysis shows I still missed a lot. More room to improve. All games are shown with Fritz analysis so you can see all my mistakes. I put all of my extra commentary in the text above the game viewer in each round.

Round 1 - I lose a piece by move 7, nice going... but fight back and win

Opening: Albin Counter Gambit. Do I know this opening? Heck no! I knew I better take 3. dxe5 or I will get rolled. However a few moves later, I crack and missed that Black can trap my Bishop with 7...d3. When I realized I lost a piece, I was really bummed... Here I was only 7 moves into my first game since March... and I was lost. But... was I ready to sit on the sidelines and stew over an embarrassing loss? This is the quintessential chess question. Either you have the fight in you, or you don't. Chess in practice is far from perfect, mistakes - sometimes huge ones, will happen and you need to decide -- do you want to fight it out and show you have what it takes or not. This happens at every level, so I'm sure that even I fight mightily, that Nakamura could take me out every time. However, within our own chess level, those with fight will succeed, and those without fight will get rolled.

I had to decide - do I fight back, and if so how? I had serious problems, but on the other hand:

  • Black's Bishops are both unprotected
  • Black's Knight on c6 could be pinned
  • White is castled, but Black's King is still in the center...

All I need is to figure out a way to get Black's pieces uncoordinated, pinned, and gang up on the pinned pieces. After some ensuing kerfuffle, on moves 8-10, Black made a serious error, 11...Nb4 which allowed me to equalize with 12.Qa4+ (double attack of Black's King and Knight). There is no choice for Black (if Black does not want to lose the Knight) other than to retreat the Knight to c6, setting up a pin. This pin of the Black Knight on c6 with the Black King on e8 sets up the next phase of the game (moves 12-26) culminating in heavy material losses for Black. In the Fritz analysis you can see many missed opportunities on both sides. The point here is that I was pressing, making every move as complicated and difficult as possible, and eventually she cracks, leaving me with material. The rest of the game is not as interesting, because she dropped her Queen on move 29. I'm convinced that was in part due to mental stress from being up in material (move 7) to losing large amounts of material through move 26. 

Round 2 - take a "quiet" opening and wade through four blunders in a row, only to emerge with an advantage - then prematurely resign the game to an imaginary tactic - doh!

Opening: French Exchange. On the one hand it's supposed to be "boring" which is ok, I can handle boring chess, and try to gradually build an advantage. On the other hand, even though I do not know this opening (I do not know any openings, see list of opening books above that I recently purchased) I do know that Kasparov was virtually undefeated using this opening as White. My opponent had White pieces too. Is there a connection? Will he play as well as Kasparov? We'll see...

We managed to stay "in book" (following accepted opening practice) through move 6. By move 9 Black is doing ok, maybe equal position more or less. However, with 10.Ne5 White gets his Knight on e5 which is following the theme of the position, Black now has a very cramped position. With 12.f4 I am starting to feel the pressure, and spot two "loose" pawns, one on b2, and one on d4. I immediately start thinking about a double attack with my Queen on b6. Better is to simply push the c6 pawn to c5 which is a classic move on Black's part in many openings to remove cramping. However in my quest to out-tactic my opponent, I move 12...Qb6 which Fritz gives a double question mark "??", meaning a real stinker. The interesting thing is not my blunder, but that Fritz gave me and my opponent four "??" blunders in a row! 12...Qb6?? 13.Bxf6?? 13...Bxf6?? 14.Nxd7?? culminating with 14...Bxd4+ (check) with advantage to Black. So I got the d4 pawn like I was planning, but played with a lot of fire along the way. I need to review the tactics of this exchange to make sure I can calculate these kinds of positions better in the future.

By 16...Qxc3 I have a rather large advantage, both material and psychologically. Which is actually dangerous for me, since that is exactly when I could let my guard down, and when my opponent will be as sneaky as possible... At this point I am simply trying to exchange material so my 2 pawn advantage will go from irritating to overwhelming. The salient point in this position is that White is trying threaten back rank mate on me, and I am trying to keep up as much pressure on White as I can, while keeping an eye on my back rank.

Through 22...Qc3, so far so good. Fritz gives me a "6 pawn advantage" meaning 3 pawns actually ahead, plus my position is worth 3 more. Quite overwhelming, so I should look around and see what I can do besides just trade material.

At this point I should have thought about breaking the connection between White's Queen and his Knight. Make White's pieces even less coordinated than they already are. One move along these lines that Fritz suggests is 23...h5. White has to move his Queen back else: 23...h5 24.Qxh5 Re1 25.Rxe1 Qxe1 26. Kh2 Bg1+ 27. Kh1 Bf2 28.Kh2 Bg3 # mates. I was looking at a variety of sequences like this which is why I was so focused on getting White's Rook out of the way. But instead of 23...h5 I play 23...Re1, seeking to exchange Rooks, and heading for the kinds of lines leading to mate. However, White plays 24.Nf6+ which I always saw as a possibility, thinking, no worries I'll capture with my Bishop. However, now, my Rook is not protecting my back rank, so if I take the Knight with my Bishop, White mates with the Queen. So I resigned. What I missed is that I can move my King to f8, lose my Rook, etc. but no mate. However my 6 pawn advantage is maybe down to one pawn advantage but in a real game it'll feel like I am way down, which gives my opponent a huge psychological advantage. I'm thinking after the game "at least I am getting over my jitters coming back to chess after a while, the next game will be great!". I am striving to maintain a positive attitude...


Round 3 - struggle to find a "voice" for my pieces, then find an opportunity to weaken my opponent's King-side, getting a pawn up, then use "technique" to wrap up a win - no blunders - whew!
Opening: QGD - Queen's Gambit Declined. I've been playing this for maybe 2 years so I should "know" it (I don't). I have a general feel having reviewed many complete games, but I never committed lines to memory (see opening books above). Despite lack of knowledge of specific lines, we both manage to stay in "book" through move 8. I diverge first with 9.b3.
After 8...Nc6, I am pleased that I was able to give Black an "isolani" (isolated d-pawn), which is thematic. However, I am at a loss for what to do. I know I need to restrain his isolani (Nimzowich told me so!) so I concoct a plan to use my dark Bishop to help restrain the isolani from the b2 square. But this plan doesn't work because Black can still push d4 which he did. However at our chess level, we are all groping for good moves and a few moves later Black dissipated his advantage. 
I found a way to come back with a tactic that set the tone for the rest of the game. From 9...d4 pawn push, I fight through the inevitable exchanges, and lack of coordination in my pieces, finally getting my Bishop on b2 anyway (great diagonal), and feeling just a bit more coordinated. After Black moves his Rook to threaten my Queen, with 12...Re8, I realize that at that point I am more coordinated than he his, and that, despite the fact he is directly threatening my Queen, I can ignore that and take his f6 Knight with my b2 Bishop, 13.Bxf6. Rather short life for my Bishop, but serves a very useful purpose. If he tries to go ahead and take my Queen, Black remains a piece down. His only choice is to take my Bishop with 13...gxf6, tearing apart his King-side pawn structure, and forever changing the game. From now on I have huge targets like his exposed h7 pawn. More on that to come.
I finish coordinating my pieces with 15.Nc3. My pieces are coordinated, and they have a big juicy target. Black has glaring weaknesses, his dark Bishop is severely restricted in mobility, and he is behind in development. All of which adds up to a distressing situation, but is largely temporal. Meaning if I fart around, my advantage disappears because then he will catch up in development and fix him mobility issue, and perhaps patch up his King-side with a piece defense. Currently all of his defenders are on the Queen-side or middle. Time is short!
My next move 16.Qh4 immediately announces my intentions. I have a Queen and Knight ready to start operations. Black has only the King for defense, and his pawns are virtually useless. Next 17.Qg3+ begins operations. Black's King is indecisive, first moving to f8, but later it needs to move back to g8 to protect h7. Black has precious little time to waste. White builds up the attack until 22.Rd7, when now White has three pieces in the attack which FM John Curdo always told me was necessary for a successful attack. Black is frustrated because the Rook is undefended, yet cannot be taken, else... mate. Exchanges ensue through 26...Kxg7 where White is now up a pawn.
When making a big game transition, it's important to take stock of the situation and see what new features there are in the position. White sees that Black has a backward pawn and immediately decides to pick on it with 27.Re1, but fails to see the pin 27...Bb4 which forces me to reposition my Rook, losing precious time. After tempting Black to exchange, we are now in a Knight vs. (dark square) Bishop endgame where I have the Knight, and an extra pawn. Further Black's Queen-side pawns are on dark squares, reducing his mobility, and my Queen-side pawns are on light squares, eliminating any targets for Black.
After some cat & mouse antics, Black slips after my 34.Nf4, and plays 34...Kg5 losing a pawn and the game. The rest of the game is instructive in terms of Black letting his King get boxed in chasing and capturing pawns at the base of a chain, allowing me to capture the last Black pawn on the King-side, then advancing my leading pawn with impunity. Black resigns.
Round 4 - make it through the opening, slight advantage, but perhaps gave away the advantage in the course of trying to improve a piece, ending in a draw
Opening: Advance French, Milner-Barry variation. I do not know this opening per-se, but am familiar with typical tactics surrounding the attack and defense of the d4 pawn. After White plays 6.Bd3, I can visualize mass exchanges on the d4 pawn, and then the Bishop on d3 delivering check, winning my Queen. Thus, I play 6...Bd7 to prevent checks. However, it is also true that I am grasping for the right move. Miraculously, we both stay in book through the fight over the d-pawn. I'm up a pawn now (part of standard opening lines apparently), but also realize I stepped right into White getting a lot of initiative (which is the trade-off of this opening), and I need to be careful. Not retreating coward careful, but assertive careful.
I keep my Queen in the center for a few more moves, and then White presents an opportunity to exchange by retreating his Bishop with 12.Bf1, and I take it with 12...Qxd1. So now Black has an extra pawn, and White is losing the ability to whip up an attack, so Black has an advantage. A few moves later, White plays 15.Be3 giving me the opportunity to play 15...d4 forking his Bishop and Knight, with a decisive advantage. Oops, I only saw this after my game move 15...O-O when I hit the clock. Oh well. Keep moving.
Since my strategic skills are still on the rudimentary level, I focus on simply taking the c-file, from move 15 thru 21...R2c7. Black now owns the c-file. How to improve the rest of my pieces? I exchange my light square Bishop, since it has very little scope. The price is to double my Queen-side pawns. Ultimately this contributes to the result of a draw, since White is able to create an outside passed pawn. I'm still not sure if the exchange was bad in general, or if there was a better way to exchange, or maybe the exchange was ok, but I didn't execute fast enough giving time to create an outside passed pawn.
After mass exchanges along the c-file, we have a King/Knight/pawn endgame. In the position after 30...d4, I have a protected passed pawn on the 5th rank. Surely I should be able to win, yes? White hasn't started to advance his Queen-side pawns yet, so what could go wrong? Next, the Kings struggle to dominate the center through 37...Kg6. But then the Queen-side gets active. With 38.Nd6, attacking the Black b5 pawn, White forces the pawn to be pushed b4 with 38...b4 to be protected by the Black Knight. However, now White can initiate an outside passed pawn with 39.a4 bxa3 40.bxa3. Now a win is looking more distant.
The next phase is a struggle with the Kings and Knights for the center pawns including Black's protected passed pawn. The White outside passed pawn never has to move, the threat is enough. The Knight cannot attack it, else it keeps moving. The best the Knight can do is block it, but then the Knight is out of action. The best the Knight can hope to do is to pressure the White King to give ground, and allow the pawn to promote. However the Knight cannot do this alone. On the other hand, White cannot make progress on the Queen-side and defend against Black's pawns at the same time either. The struggle ends with three-fold repetition of the position. A draw.

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