Tuesday, February 21, 2006

U. S. Amateur Team East

We'll get back to evolution tomorrow, but let's do some chess today.

The U.S. Amateur Team East is the largest and most enjoyable tournament of the year. The comraderie of playing with three or four teammates coupled with the lack of cash prizes (and consequent very low entry fee) make everyone just a little more mellow than usual.

The tournament works as follows: You play as part of a team of four. You are allowed one alternate, if one of your players can't make it one particular round. In each round your team gets paired against another team of four. Four individual games of chess ensue, as the top rated players from each meet, then the next highest and so on. This is referred to as Board One, Board Two and so on. For each of the individual games your team wins you get one point. A draw counts for half a point. After all four games are finished, you total the team points for each side. All that matters is which team has more points (things could also end in a 2-2 tie). Winning the team match 4-0 counts the same as winning 2.5-1.5. In other words, all that matters is the team score, not the individual scores.

I was on Board One. On Saturday my friends Andy and David were on boards two and three. Fourth Board was held down by Andy's friend Colin, who I met for the first time that day.

So we sat down for Round One. Andy, smarter than I, did his losing quickly by blundering out of the gate. Oops. Colin got the best of both worlds, winning his game with impressive speed. That left David and me still playing. I spurned a forced draw in an attempt to go for the win, missed a trick, and lost. David soon followed suit, and we went down to defeat.

Round Two got off to a good start when I won a funky new digital chess clock simply by being the first to run to the stage with a Virginia driver's license. Sadly, things took a nasty turn when I blundered in a better position and lost my game. Ugh. Two losses. Colin took care of business on board four, and Dave won as well. Andy then took a draw, since that was enough to clinch the match for our side.

Sunday morning saw me make my best move of the tournament:

JR (1932) - Max Weiss (1630)

Position After 10. ... Ng4-h6

This came out of the Bishop's opening. Black opted for one of the lines with a quick Bc5 and Ng4, planning the big fork on f2 and the win of the rook in the corner. This is actually a known line of the opening, and I played the standard plan of f5, allowing black to win the rook but confronting him with a massive counter-attack and nearly impossible defensive task. Anyway, my opponent got nervous by my brazen willingness to part with the rook, and decided not to take it.

Instead he made some passive defensive moves leading to the position above. Given my development lead and his Swiss cheese kingside, I figured something dramatic was called for.

I played 11. Ng5!. Actually, the silicon monster tells me that while this move is okay, most of the less flahy alternatives were better. I don't care. When you're smarting after two losses the day before, there's nothing like playing a move like this to wash the taste out of your mouth. Everyone on the boards near mine looked over when I banged this move down. They were all quiet and poker-faced, but I could tell they were impressed.

Black should accept the knight sacrifice with 11. ... fxg5 and try to weather the storm after 12. Qxh5 Kf8 13. Bxg5 Qe8 14. Rf1. Instead my opponent tried the counter attack 11. ... Nxf5, but I got the last laugh with 12. Nf7 Ng3 13. Qf3 when white wins material in all lines. Score one for me!

Charlie, who didn't want to play on Saturday for religious reasons, was now on Board Two. He made a quick draw. Andy and David took care of business on the remaining boards and we won the match easily.

Round four saw my second best move of the tournament:

Jonathan Williams (1809)-JR

Position after 15. Qd2-e2

My opponent had just moved his queen off the d-file, thereby avoiding the cheapo with Bxe5, when white runs into problems with the pin on the d-file after Rxe5, Qxe5, dxe5 and Rxd2. Sadly, he avoided one trick only to fall into another.

Since my opponent's last move left both his b2 and d4 pawns unguarded, I played 15. ... Qb6, winning one of the pawns. My opponent opted to give up the d-pawn and play continued 16. Bb3 Qxd4 17. Nc4 Bb8 18. Qf3 Qf4!, when the threat on h2 forces a queen trade. I managed to win the endgame a few hours later. I don't recall the individual results of my teammates, but we did manage to win the match.

This left us with three out of four team points heading into Monday's rounds. We feared we would be facing one of the monster teams on Monday morning, and we were right. My opponent was an International Master of some renown, which didn't make me optimistic about my chances. Andy and Charlie went down quickly on Boards Two and Three, meaning that David and I had to win for us to tie the match. And that low-pressure situation led to my worst move of the tournament:

JR - IM Larry Kaufman (2359)

Position after 28. ... f4

After twenty-eight moves I had inexplicably reached this excellent position. My silicon friend tells me that I would keep a large advantage with either 29. Ne5 or 29. Nd8. Sadly, in mutual time pressure, I went for the greedy 29. Rxc6?? There followed 29. ... f3 30. g4 Be8 31. Rc5 Rc1+. The good news is I had actually reached this position in my mental analysis from about four moves previously. The bad news is that I suddenly realized that my intended 32. Kg1, stopping the black f-pawn and looking forward to ramming my extra pawns down his throat, was sadly illegal. Aaaargh. Sometimes I can't imagine why I keep playing this game. I was forced to play 32. Kh2. A few moves later my knight returned form c4 to stop the f-pawn. He was quickly dispatched to the glue factory for his trouble. Heavy sigh.

Happily, the team got back to business and we won our final round match. This left us with four points out of six. As of when we left the hotel it was still mathematically possible, though unlikely, that that would be sufficient to win our rating class.

I got to see a lot of old friends, made some new ones, and generally had a great time. Come to think of it, I guess that's why I keep playing this game.


At 10:03 AM, Blogger Lord Runolfr said...

And unfortunately I'm not enough of a chess geek to understand your notation at all. Glad you had a good time, though.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Jason said...

Yeah, sorry about that. This post was mostly a personal indulgence, and provided a good opportunity to use some pretty chess diagrams.

At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Kevin from NYC said...

I thought it was a great post and am impressed that you were on first board.

At 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

11. Ng5!? is very Tal-esque. A move hard to meet over the board, but in quite light of day afterwards seemingly not so strong. But...it has to be met over the board! ... which is its strength.

Excellent move!

Dave S.

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Wysage said...

In game 3, what am I missing?
11. Nf3-g5 f6xg5
12. Qe2xh5 Ke8-f8
13. Bc2xg5 Qf8-e8
14. Rh1-f1

14. ... Qe8xh5 looks strong

It has been a long time since I played chess. But evolution and chess take me back to my grad school days. Thanks for making an interesting blog. I check it out daily.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Jason said...


You're right. Sorry about that. The line was supposed to be 11. Ng5 fxg5 12. Qxh5+ Kf8 13. Rf1 when white can claim a small advantage.

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