My journey through Auckland Autumn Cup (May-June 2016)
This autumn (yes, down under in New Zealand it's autumn) I've been put to Group A in Auckland Autumn Cup. This is a great chance to play with stronger players and learn from them. This autumn I am also reading and enjoying Dan Heisman's "World's Most Instructive Amateur Game Book", which has a lot of wisdom for amateurs like me. Check it out at Amazon, http://amzn.to/1T0tIxO
The lesson I am currently trying to implement is to use all of the allocated time. Which means that in OTB games with 75 mins + 30-sec increments I should try to use at least 1-3 minutes per move and get to play endgames comfortably with 30-40 minutes left (if nothing decisive happens earlier).
Round 1, May 2, 2016, the stronger half in Group A was paired with the weaker one, so I got to play with Paul MacDonald, rating 2040. I started losing by move 10, and by move 20 Paul had about 20 ways to checkmate me. He spent some time only to choose the most pleasant checkmate for my king. I managed to surrender earlier than that :-)
After the game Paul kindly analysed it with me, especially checking if he had enough compensation for his rook if I would take it on move 9. It turned out that his calculations were correct and the rook sacrifice was sound. And on move 10 I should have taken pawn by pawn, 10. dxe4, to strengthen the center and have some longer play against Paul.
Round 2. May 9, 2016. This time I was paired with Chris Joel, who was still stronger than me. Chris, however, spent too much time on the opening phase, so by the time we got to endgame, he had only 5 minutes left, and I still had about 45. So I won.
Stockfish calculated that the game was very balanced, but move 47. Kg2 was the beginning of the end for White. Chris's king should have moved to queen side to establish at least a draw, but he stayed there on his half. Chris also mentioned to me that he didn't have a plan and only wanted to capture my isolated passed pawn. As for my part, I planned to move the king around the rooks to queen side and help my pawns to break through. The plan did succeed, and I am also glad to have won with several last moves of coordinated efforts of rook and king. They looked nice to me.
Round 3. May 16, 2016. I continued my learning and practicing of English opening, this time against Hilton J. Jacobs, another player who is stronger than me. I've already lost to Hilton before in a rapid chess tournament. Remembering that Hilton is very strong on tactics, I played carefully and positionally, spending most of my time (1-2 minutes per move). However, from move 15. b4 (should have been b3, I think), my queen side started to weaken and Hilton successfully exploited it and was clearly winning. My move 28. Qb3 was a forced exchange, but Hilton was hurrying to get home to buy some groceries, so he didn't notice the "fork" and blundered, losing the bishop. After that the game was easy and I've luckily won one important point for the tournament. I'll now have more chances to play stronger players and learn even more!
Stockfish analysis showed me that 14. e4 was not bad, though I had doubts, but my queen should have been on e2 to have some play against the nasty black knight. The pair of pawn on d4 and knight on e3 proved crucial to the power of the Black.
Round 4. May 23, 2016. I was paired with Gordon Morrell this time, rating 2181, one of the several joint 2015 New Zealand champions. I found some of Gordon's games in the Internet, yet they were so varied in style, so I got back to Dan Heisman's books and videos instead for preparation. :-)
The opening was fine until move 17, except that my knight could not find his place and moved around several times, spending precious tempi. My exchange 17. ... Bxe4 was dubious, and I started to lose since then, though I tried my best to stop a passed pawn with two rooks against one rook and two bishops.
Post-game analysis by Stockfish said I had some equal play by pushing 17. ... a3 and preparing for Ba6. I didn't see that line. My exchange was caused by some unfounded fear of an attack on my king by white queen and two bishops. With that exchange in the centre I also wanted to disconnect white pawns and distract White from attacking king side. This plan did not work as I lost right in the centre of the board.
The move 20. ... Kh8 might deserve an explanation. I thought White had a nice attack if they would be able to sacrifice the knight on f7 with consecutive checks. The knight could not perform the deadly sacrifice because of the king's maneuvre, but went on to chase my queen with the same winning effect.
It could have been a better game today, but so far I'm glad to have received a lesson from Gordon's play.
Round 5. May 30, 2016. I was preparing to play with Caroline Yan, but she missed the round, and I was paired with Don Eade instead. I saw how he played a dramatic game with Kate Song during the rapid chess tournament (where I lost to Hilton Jacobs from round 3), so I was prepared for a tough fight. We had a rather balanced game, where my English-opening bishop was quickly exchanged, and the board experienced a dance of four nights, four rooks and two queens. Tactical dangers were everywhere.
On move 18 I didn't fork Don's knight and bishop with move b4 due a complicated set of mutual exchanges, which I could not calculate on the spot. However, Stockfish thought I should have done that, as the black king would be exposed on both b- and c- files after my bishop and pawn are gone, and there was a nice attack by Rdb1 ... Ne7+ Kb8, then Nc6+, capturing the black rook. I saw only one possible exposure on c- file, and so expected 20. ... Nxc5 and Rc1, but black nicely refuted that with Ne5, and I had some rough time, temporarily losing my initiative (it can be seen on this graph made by SmallFish for iOS).
What did save me was the strategically well-placed white knights on d5 and h4. Later on, after some more exchanges, Don blundered his knight for my pawn, and I won after a long, but very satisfactory game.
To be continued (as the cup still has 2 rounds to go).
Official link for the Cup is http://www.aucklandchess.nz/vega/2016/AutumnA/