Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Pretty Decent Chess Showing

I haven't been to a casino in a few days. I spent the last three days playing chess at the Lina Grumette Memorial Day Classic held over at the LAX hilton. My play was quite good in my opinion. In the open section, my 2024 put me squarely in the bottom half of the bracket to start the tournament so (thankfully for me) I was paired up for the majority of my games. Unlike poker, chess is a game where I want to challenge myself against better players. I pray to have every poker game I sit in be a table of me combined with the worst players in the world. In chess, however, I feel nothing but contempt and feel like I am wasting my time when I get paired with a bad player. There is little to gain and lots to lose and for the most part, unless they allow some sort of bizarre brillancy, its not fun. My first game I was paired with Jeremy Stein (2144). As I was perusing the advanced entries list, I concluded that Stein was a very likely candidate for me to play in the first round and I was hoping that I would play him. I have played him once about 2-3 years ago when he was a budding 16-1700. I beat him but I have seen him progress for a while and I just feel comfortable against him. He doesn't have an imposing style of play. If I could make a poker analogy, he would the type of player who doesn't bluff too much and plays fairly good starting hands. Technically, he can play his cards well but his deceptive factor isn't high. The analogy is a bit loose but it works because I am never really afraid of him sacrificing a piece or going into unclear melees. In fact, he played the opening imprecisely and I was able to make an improvement on a game I played against an FM 3 years ago to get an equal position as black. The upside, however, was that I was comfortable and knew exactly what I was going for. He on the other hand, fumbled around a bit looking for a plan. I eventually "sacked" a pawn that netted me two pawns back 5 mov.es later with a much better position. He had some slight drawing chances but I played carefully and managed to trade down to a winning R + 2 pawns vs R + 1 pawn winning endgame and won it. The next game I was paired as white on Board 2 vs Michael Casella (2344). Casella is a very adept player. I am 0-1 against him but the last game we played was also 3 years ago. He allowed me to get into a favorable side line of the Samisch King's Indian and then managed to misplay an early ...b5. My position was great and I achieved a decent Kingside attack as his Q was bottled up on a5 for a few moves. When my kingside pressure started to mount, however, I mistakenly decided to reroute my g3 N to d4 via e2 instead of just pushing an immediate f5. The game got real complicated and coupled with time pressure I started to lose the thread and thus the advantage. My iniative dried up and I sacked a pawn and then eventually a piece trying to mate but his defense was more than enough to defend everything. :(
The next day I came back to see I was paired as white again against Gregg Small (2245). Overall, this is great pairing. I have gotten black against the player(s) I have been most comfortable playing against and white against the players that are most likely to give me trouble and beat me. Once again, I am 0-1 against Small but I played him about 1.5 years ago. I played a simple opening and Small decided top play 1. d4 Nf6 c4 Nc6. Well, he preceded to play rather poorly in the opening and give me a nice positional advantage through the game. I became a bit overly concerned about the minor piece endgame that was possible if we iniated trades and managed to allow him to develop an attack. This attack turned out to be pretty good but he misplayed it. So we traded mistakes. He finally gave me a chance to liquidate some of the attacking pieces. I won a pawn at the cost of breaking my kingside pawn cover. With both Queens, all four Rooks and one minor piece each still on the board, my extra (doubled) pawn was not all it was cracked up to be. I did have one nice passed d pawn, though. We both had less than 5 minutes to make about 6 moves and I managed to reach the time control in what can be considered a better position. My king was loose and I had an extra passed pawn on the 5th rank. But he had a slightly safer king (I did have a few threats) and a bit more activity. I blundered on move 41 by playing my pawn on d5 to d6 which then opened up the a8-h1 light squared diagonal. Four moves later he was able to put his Q on a8+ which mated me very soon. It was a complete oversight as I did not even consider that option thinking that with my d pawn running I would be able to Queen quickly or liquidate the remaining annoying pieces. Two games against masters that I kind of threw away when I had the better of it.
My fourth game was the only game I was paired down in the tournament. I played a B player Yu-Kai Chou (1749) as black. He played very quickly in the opening and made some inaccuracies allowing me again to easily equalize and get a very solid position. The position was quite locked up with all 16 pawns still on the board. I had a very nice N posted on a the d4 square blockading his backward d3 pawn and a strong light squared bishop with almost all of my pawns on dark squares. Conversely, he had his g2 Bishop (light squared) with pawns on e4, d3, c4, b3, and a2. So as far as the minor piece struggle was going I was killilng him. But as I said, no pawns had been exchanged and all heavy pieces were still on the board so it wasn't going to be easy to enforce my minor piece advantage. It became a little dicey for a while as I made a misguided attempt to open up the kingside at the wrong point in time giving him a small amount of play. I managed to reroute my Rooks to the g and h file in time for the opening of those files. Once there, they managed to deftly win a piece and therefore the game. He made the simple oversight of losing a pawn but also opened all the files around his king and allowing total penetration. I won the N and then quickly liquidated everything to a won N and pawn up endgame.
My 5th game I was again paired up as black against Joachim Van Leeuwen (2078). He allowed me to take a free c4 pawn but which gave him a bit center with e4 and d4. I think I was able to neutralize his center play though by trading off my N for his dark squared bishop and gaining the bishop pair. I was traded off a N he had posted on e5 so the pawn structure was interesting. I had pawns on c4, c6, b7,a7 on the queenside for a 4-2 majority vs his b2, a2. But he had a strong advanced kingside majority with pawns on e4, e5, f4, g3,h2 and a 5-4 majority against my h7, g6, f7,e7. We eventually traded some pieces off and I let him take my c4 pawn back in order to activate my rooks on this 2nd rank. It again got a little dicey when he was able to get two connected passers on the 6th rank but I was able to get my rooks behind them and force him to make a committal f7 pawn push passed pawn on e6 and f6) and then blockade everything with Ke7! After that it was a matter of technique as my pieces encircled the immobilized pawns and ate them. That put me at 3 wins and 2 losses on the tournament.
My last round game I was paired as white against Tatev Abrahamyan (2289). I just want to mention again how lucky I was in the pairings. Every "easy" opponent I had I was paired with as black and every master opponent I had I was paired with white. Anyway, back to Tatev. She played the Benko against me, I hate the Benko Gambit! I usually play an e3 sideline that Jack showed me but I am still working that out as its unusual. So I decided not to experiment with her and I played the solid b6 Benko declination. I obtained what I thought was a pretty good game that included a lot of space and decent piece placement. Afterwards, we concluded that even though she had problems developing and it took her 15 moves to get everything out, I really couldn't exploit that too much. I sure tried though. I pushed the thematic e5 break around move 20 or so and put some pressure on her that took her about 30 minutes to figure out how to get out of. She eventually did and I was busted as once the tension in the center was relieved so was any and all of my advantage. Miraculously, without all of those pawns in the way HER pieces were better placed and soon jumped into action. I ended up in a middle game where I got her Rook and a pawn for my crucial centralized Bishop and Knight. Her raking two bishops cut up my king and gave her a huge space advantage that I could do nothing to stop.
So three wins and three losses netted me a tie for 17th place in the open section and I actually gained 14 points to move up to 2037. Overall, I was happy with all of my openings as in all 6 of my games I was either clearly ahead or just comfortable. There were no spots were I was fighting an uphill battle before move 20. Now if I can only enforce my advantages when I have them then I could be a force. My next tournament I plan to play in two weekends at the National Open in Las Vegas while I am there for the World Series of Poker.

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