Saturday, August 31, 2019

Summer Chess Camp and Upcoming Events in Rochester

Eligibility: Community Chess Club members must have played a minimum of 10 games since Oct. 31st, 2018 on separate Wednesday nights.  Join the club today!  Complete your 10-game minimum!  Entry fees ($25) accepted starting 8/14/19.
We will have rated games available for players unable to participate in the Club Championship.

Come on over to the Rochester Chess Center
 and make CHESS a part of your Life!
Joe Sarratori (above), our chess club's STRONGEST chess player!
Joe has won multiple weightlifting titles and continues to lift to stay strong!

Monday, August 19, 2019

My Games from the 2019 Continental Open

I recently played in the Continental Open, held in Massachusetts, where I got a chance to face some very strong players. I turned out to be in excellent form, and was even tied for first at one point with 4.5/6, but only scored half a point out of the last three rounds so finished with a less sparkling but still decent 5/9.

It was quite a strong field, with 12 GMs and 7 IMs out of 50 players. By FIDE rating I was squarely in the bottom half, so you know what that means for the first round pairings... (all the ratings listed in the games below are USCF, but pairings were done by FIDE rating)

Round 1
In round one I was up against GM Yaroslav Zherebukh - I lost, but was not unsatisfied with the way I played and definitely gave him a good fight!

To recap the crucial moments of that game:
  • Zherebukh drifted into a worse position with black out of the opening but still made the strong positional decision of 18. ... Bxc3! to at least give himself some counterplay.
  • My plan of 21.g4?! and 22.g5, although attractive, objectively threw away white's advantage. Correct was 21.Ng5!, removing black's strong centralized knight, when white maintains a better position. In the game, it was only until about move 26 that I realized I was no longer better.
  • Although complicated, the game was still roughly balanced until my time trouble errors of 35.Qxe4?! and 36.Ne5?

Round 2
After a tough first round, the next game was considerably easier - I played a young expert and although it was a long game, I was in control the whole time:

A smooth game; after white's positional error of 22.Bc2? instead of 22.dxe5, I got a nearly strategically winning position with 22. ... e4, having the bishop pair and more space.

Round 3
In round three I got white against quite a talented young expert who had previously just beaten a master. I checked out a couple of his games beforehand and saw he played the black side of the closed Spanish, so I switched to 1.e4 against him. We got a long maneuvering game where 32 moves were made before a single capture.

It's often hard to pinpoint exact mistakes for black in these kinds of games, but certainly 39. ... Rxf5! would have given more practical chances, although the position was difficult in any case.

Round 4
The next day was exhausting - both of my games went for six hours, but with a little luck I managed 1.5/2 against two IMs. Both encounters were absolutely nuts with many twists and turns. Round 4 was against the Zimbabwean Farai Mandizha:

In short, his 12.Qa1?! let me get a slight advantage which grew larger once he gave two pieces for a rook and pawn. But in the ensuing complications, I did not find all the best moves and ended up in a slightly worse ending which I held to a draw.

Round 5

Round 5 was against the young American IM Praveen Balakrishnan:

A fairly slow opening that went into a hanging pawns endgame, things were roughly balanced until I got away with 23.e4?! d4?! and started blockading the pawns. In time trouble things got complicated and he unfortunately blundered into a lost R vs. two minors ending, which itself was still complicated and we both missed another chance for black to draw there. In the end I just barely squeaked out a win with rook vs. a bunch of pawns.

Round 6
After being successful against IMs that day, I got to play two GMs the next day. If you thought my last two games were crazy, then just wait until you see my round 6 game against Alexander Stripunsky:

That was hands down one of the craziest tournament games of my life. The opening was rather peaceful, but my ambitious crazy approach of blasting open the position by creating so much pawn tension made things overwhelmingly complicated. Later in a difficult position with little time on the clock Stripunsky ultimately blundered a piece which lost the game.

Round 7
After that win I was actually briefly tied for first (!), and my USCF performance rating hit 2690, which I think is an all-time high for me. However, things slightly changed when the next round I got black against the #1 seed, Illya Nyzhnyk.

It's kind of unfortunate how I just walked into a sideline that he happened to know - he was actually still blitzing up until move 15 and for the whole game used just barely over 10 minutes on his clock.

Still, my 15. ... c5? was a horrendous blunder - without that black's position should still be holdable but in either case the entire variation starting from 7.Qf5! just looks unpleasant for black. Nyzhnyk is easily the strongest player I've ever played, but at least the loss was relatively quick and painless.

Round 8
After that, I was still at 4.5/7, but everything hinged on how well I did on the final day. I was getting a little fatigued by this point so my play got sloppy, but at least in round 8 I managed not to lose to GM Sergei Azarov:

Round 9
However, my last round was pretty bad - basically my careless play in the opening walked me into an unpleasant ending where I suffered a painful defeat.

I think I'm spotting a trend here - I absolutely hate defending worse endgames where I have no counterplay. I'm sure black can hold a draw after move 15 if he defends accurately, but I just self-destructed on move 28. I lost to Nyzhnyk in similar fashion after 15. ... c5?

In the end, I think I was just half a point shy of getting an IM norm, but even with that last round loss it was still a great result for me - my USCF performance was over 2550 and I gained about 20 points.

My next event will be the state championship in Albany over Labor Day weekend, where I will be trying to win for a second year in a row!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Unorthodox Openings from Grandmaster Games

When you ask most chess players about their opening repertoire, they typically respond with something relatively mainstream and well-respected, like "I play the Caro-Kann defense" or "I'm a lifelong Queen's Gambit player". But every now and then, we might like to mix things up and try an "experimental" opening over the board. I've certainly been known to do this on occasion - one of my personal favorites is the so-called "Hillbilly Attack" against the Caro: 1.e4 c6 2.Bc4!? d5 3.Bb3 dxe4 4.Qh5!? which I have actually played in rated games.

In some cases, you can even see grandmasters trying out an unorthodox opening, but mostly those games are played against much weaker players and at faster time controls. However, in some rare instances, you can catch a GM playing something truly outlandish ... against another GM ... in a classical tournament game. These can turn out to be some of the most exciting games of chess out there.

So, behold this collection of some of the most bizarre openings I've seen in GM-GM encounters.

(Warning: Try these openings at your own risk! Past results are not indicative of future results.)

#5 - Knight on the rim is dim brilliant!

The Sicilian Defense, 1.e4 c5 is one of the most deeply studied openings in all of chess, but there are numerous sidelines that may be employed to dodge theory. In the high profile encounter between Russian heavyweights Savchenko, B. - Khismatullin, D. from the 2014 European Championship, white, out-rated by over 150 points, chose a startlingly rare one: 2.Na3!? and after 2. ... g6 went even further off the beaten path with 3.h4!? After 3. ... Nf6!? 4.e5 Nh5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.c3 some fireworks broke out: 6. ... d5 7.exd6 Bg4!? 8.d4 cxd4 9.Nb5! exd6 10.Nbxd4 Bg7 11.Qa4 0-0 12.Nxc6 Qe8+ 13.Be3 Bxf3 14.gxf3 bxc6 15.0-0-0 When the smoke cleared, the position was highly imbalanced with mutual chances, but the strong 2700+ GM Khismatullin went astray in time pressure, allowing Savchenko to pick up the full point.

#4 - This is how we play the English Opening in Armenia

After the opening moves 1.g3 e5 2.c4 black has many different main lines to choose from, however in the game Markowski, T. - Andriasian, Z. from the 2007 Rubinstein Memorial, the 18 year old Armenian grandmaster initiated a caveman-style assault on move two with 2. ... h5!? His opponent, Tomasz Markowski, a veteran Polish GM and former top-100 player, replied with an equally strange-looking knight tour, and the game continued 3.Nf3!? e4 4.Nh4 Be7 5.Nf5 d6 6.Nxe7 Qxe7 and after the further 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.Bg2 h4!? black was able to pose some difficult problems to white's king. Although Markowski did have a clear path to an advantage in the middlegame, he blundered and allowed the young Armenian to pull off a nice win.

#3 - Good old Garry the g-pawn gets a raise

The Reti opening after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.b4 is known to have some sharp variations, but white got a little more than he bargained for after black on move three threw out the rare and provocative 3. ... g5!? in Medvegy, Z. - Sedlak, N. in the 2017 Croatian Team Championship. Zoltan Medvegy, a Hungarian grandmaster, replied in the most direct way, grabbing the pawn with 4.Bb2 Bg7 5.Nxg5 and then took a stroll with his knight after 5. ... e5 6.Ne4 f5 7.Ng3 The Serbian GM Nikola Sedlak continued to play aggressively and after 7. ... Nf6 8.e3 0-0 9.c5 f4!? 10.Bc4+ Kh8 11.Ne2 d3 12.Nc1 e4! black had more than enough compensation for his pawn and carried out a beautiful kingside attack to win the game.

#2 - The ... improved Grob?

For whatever reason, during round 3 of the 2018 Llucmajor Open held in the Mediterranean Balearic Islands, Spanish GM David Larino Nieto was not in the mood for any theoretical debates and started the game with 1.e3 Nf6 2.g4!? in Larino Nieto, D. - Sumets, A. His opponent, a strong Ukranian grandmaster, kept his cool with the modest 2. ... h6 and from there, white adopted a typical hedgehog-style setup with 3.Bg2 d5 4.h3 e5 5.Ne2 c6 6.b3 Nbd7 7.Bb2 Later on, the Spaniard got a little too adventurous with the brave 12.Kd2?! and Sumets ended up winning a long 53 move struggle.

#1 - If you haven't moved both your b and g-pawns past the fourth rank in the opening, you're doing something wrong

For our final game, the encounter Vaulin, A. - Sulskis, S. from the last round of a 1999 open tournament in Northern Poland quickly started off on a wacky note with the experienced Lithuanian grandmaster meeting 1.Nf3 with 1. ... b5!? Alexander Vaulin, himself an experienced Russian GM, reacted with his own queenside demonstration 2.a4!? and after 2. ... b4 tried to return to normal development with 3.g3. Sulskis was determined to create a mess though, and after 3. ... Bb7 4.Bg2 lashed out on the other wing with the novel 4. ... g5!? and reached a strange but playable position following 5.d3 g4 6.Nh4 Bxg2 7.Nxg2 d5 8.h3!? gxh3 9.Rxh3 Qd7 10.Rh1 Nc6. Despite some hair-raising complications near the end, Vaulin emerged with the full point after Sulskis became a bit too cavalier with his own king safety.