Friday, May 27, 2005

Chess in Minneapolis

The big chess tournament in Minneapolis was a lot of fun. The final results are available here. With over 1500+ players it was the largest such tournament ever held in America. I don't know if there will ever be another one (according to the tournament website the event lost money despite the record turnout), but I feel privileged to have been a part of it.

Grandmaster Zviad Izoria managed to best a host of more famous players to win clear first and the $50,000 first prize.

As for me, I had my usual ups and downs. I'll get back to evolution shortly, but for today it's chess, chess, chess!

In the diagrams below, the person playing white is listed first. In case you haven't penetrated my subtle code, J.R. is me! The four digit numbers next to the player's names are their ratings. Long story short, the higher the rating the better. In this tournament, everyone in my section was rated between 1800 and 2000.

Every square on the board is labelled by a letter and a number. The vertical files are labelled a-h, with a in the lower left and h in the lower right. The horizontal ranks are numbered 1-8, with 1 being at the bottom of the board and 8 being at the top. Thus, the dark square in the lower left corner is a1. Moving up the diagonal we then get b2, c3, d4 and so on.

The games in Rounds 1-3 were played at a time limit of Game in 45 minutes. That's rather fast-paced, and leads to a lot of blunders. After that we played at a time limit of 30 moves in 90 minutes, followed by the remainder of the game in one hour.

The tournament got off to a frustrating start for me when I managed to not win in round one:

J.R. (1927) vs. J Fried (1823)

Round One

Pos. After 28. ... Nh3-f2

M. Paulson (1826) vs. J.R.

Round Two

Pos. After 17. ... Qf6-e6

Round Two

Pos. After 29. Kg2-h3

Earlier in the game black offered a gambit that misfired tragically (as Woody Allen would put it), leaving him down a pawn and trying to defend the joyless position on the far left above. At this point almost any rook move, say Rf4, Rg3 or Rg1, would have given me a decisive advantage, since it's only a matter of time before black's nimble steed on f2 gets packed off to the glue factory (either via Rd2 or a king march to e2).

But as Grandmaster Andy Soltis once said, sometimes a really bad idea takes several moves to execute. I played 29. Rg2? and after 29. ... Nh3 30. Rgd2 Nxg5! I nearly swallowed my king. I still kept a small advantage, but in the end I had to concede a draw.

Round Two had a happier ending. In the middle diagram above white could maintain a balanced position with 18. Rc1, protecting the c4 pawn and relieving some of the pressure down the a6-f1 diagonal. Instead my opponent got too ambitious and played 18. d5. After 18. ... cxd5 19. exd5 Qd7 20. Rfe1 Rxe3 21. Rxe3 Rc8, his c-pawn proved difficult to defend. White defended poorly, attempted a desperado bishop sacrifice that went nowhere, and found himself in the sorry mess depicted in the third diagram. Black has several ways to win, but 29. ... Bc8+ struck me as a pretty way to win a rook. White resigned.

More frustration in Round Three:

J.R. (1927) vs. T. Banks (1881)

Round Three

Pos. After 21. ... e7xf6

Round Three

Pos. After 32. Qb2-b3

P. Massouros (1929) vs. J.R.

Round Six

Pos. After 27. Be2-f3+

The diagram on the left shows what happens when black is too casual about generating his queen-side play in the Sicilian Dragon. With the pawn sacrifice 22. f4 Nxg4 23. f5 white would be very close to winning, since the forces of Hell are about to descend on the black king-side. But finding a move like 22. f4 apparently requires more cleverness and chess skill than I possess, and I played the insipid 22. Rh4 instead. After a few more careless moves I was staring at the vile position in the middle above, with my clock rapidly ticking down into the void.

Happily, this is where my opponent returned the favor. Instead of 32. ... c2+ 33. Kc1 Qd4, with an easy win, my opponent tried 32. ... Rc5. It took me about a tenth of a second to bang out 33. Rxh7+! and after 33. ... Rxh7 34. Rxh7+ Kxh7 35. Qf7+ it's a draw by perpetual check. This left me breathing a big sigh of relief, and my opponent muttering in vexation.

I took half-point byes in rounds four and five as part of a sadly doomed plan to hook-up with blogger P. Z. Myers, of Pharyngula fame, that evening. Oh well. Three games in one day is enough anyway, and it gave me an opportunity to watch the grandmasters. Those guys really know how to play this game!

My best effort of the tournament came in Round Six, shown on the far right above. White opted for an early queen trade out of a Center Counter, and actually developed a considerable edge against my passive position. But he was a bit too casual in exploiting this advantage, and the result was a level endgame. Not realizing the danger, my opponent has just trotted out 27. Bf3+. Resisting the urge to utter an evil laugh, I played 27. ... Be4, and my opponent suddenly noticed that he must lose a pawn in all variations. Play continued 28. Ke2 Bxf3+ 29. Kxf3 Nf5 30. Kf4 Nxd4, and I was able to convert the extra pawn into a win.

Sadly, my hard work in Round Six was followed by my worst performance of the weekend in Round Seven:

J.R. (1927) vs. G. Smith (1985)

Round Seven

Pos. After 28. ... f5-f4

J.R. vs. E. Jerdon (1815)

Round Eight

Pos. After 38. ... Bd3-f1

K. Thompson (1974) vs. J.R.

Round Nine

Pos. After 14. Qe3-g3

This position arose from the Sicilian Sveshnikov. I had played the opening decently for a change, and had obtained the charming position on the far left above. After something like 29. c5 white would have a clear advantage. Black's kingside play is going nowhere while his queenside is one big weakness.

Alas, I chose this moment to be “brilliant” and came up with 29. Bxg4. After 29. ... Bxg4 30. Rxb5 Qxb5 31. cxb5 I suddenly noticed that my rook on d1 was hanging. Ugh! Black played 31. ... Bxd1 and had more than enough compensation for the queen. He won in 45 moves.

Round Eight didn't go much better. I had built up a pleasant endgame advantage and had been pressuring my oppponent for quite some time. Sadly, his defenses proved up to the task. In the middle position above I could keep a small edge with something like 39. Rb1 Bc4 40. Kd4. Instead I tried 39. bxc6 Rxb4 40. Ra7 Bxg2 41. cxd7 Rb7! Black was up a pawn after 42. Rxb7 Bxb7 43. e6 fxe6 44. Bxc7 Kxd7 but the opposite colored bishop ending was easily drawn.

In the ninth and final round I finally got a chance to try out the Dutch Defense I had specifically prepared for this tournament. So naturally my opponent opted for the obscure Staunton Gambit (1. d4 f5 2. e4). Objectively white shouldn't get enough compensation for his pawn, but as a practical matter it is difficult for black to thread the tactical needle at the board.

After sloppy opening play from both of us, and after close to two and a half hours had elapsed on the clock, we reached the position on the far right above. Play continued: 14. ... Nxf4 15. Qxf4 0-0 16. Bxe4 Bxe4 17. Qxe4 Qxg5+. After this I was simply up a pawn and white hadn't a ghost of counterplay. Had it been earlier in the tournament I would surely have gone for the win. As it was I was frankly a little sick of chess and eager to see what the grandmasters were up to on the top boards. Consequently, I accepted my opponent's draw offer a few moves later.

So that's it folks. Out of seven games played I scored two wins, one loss and four draws. Enough to gain a few rating points, but not enough to win any money.

Back to evolution on Sunday.