Wednesday, October 10, 2018

My Games from the 2018 CCCR Club Championship!

The 2018 CCCR Club Championship is underway with five rounds being held every Wednesday from 9/26 through 10/24. I will be continually updating this post after each round, adding my most recently played game.

Round 1 - I play white vs. Joshua Stevens (1400)
As chance would have it I ended up having white in the first round against Joshua Stevens, a regular to the chess center and one of the players who drew me in the simul I gave earlier this year (congratulations!); however, when I have only one game to focus on instead of about 30, I do tend to play a little better...let's see how the game went.

1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Bd3 This is not the typical move here (3.Nc3 is more standard), but I was looking to play an easy system with a pawn on c3 when I can maneuver the queenside knight with Nb1-a3-c2-e3 in semi-Ruy Lopez style. 3. ... Nbd7 4.Nf3 e5 5.c3 As advertised. 5. ... c6 6.0-0 h6 Going for an ambitious kingside expansion with g7-g5, the point of which is to constantly have ...g4 looming to remove the defender of d4 and also to play maneuvers like Nf8-g6-f4 later. Such a policy is decidedly risky though while the king is staying in the center. 7.Na3 I just go about my business, intending a maneuver like Na3-c2-e3-f5. 7. ... b5 A typical queenside expansion, but such committal moves should not be played with the intention of also advancing on the kingside with g7-g5, since if you push your kingside pawns, then your king will probably have to castle queenside where ideally you want to keep your pawn structure closely-knit together. 8.Nc2 (D) Black is not making any threats so I just continue with my maneuver. I am not sure where I want my dark-squared bishop yet so I keep him back home - maybe I will play b3 and Ba3 at some point.
8. ... Qc7 9.Re1 Continuing to improve my position - the X-ray of rook against king may open up some tactical opportunities later on. 9. ... g5? Although I understand the ideas behind this move, I still consider it a serious positional mistake in this specific position - the entire concept of starting an attack without proper development is inherently flawed and furthermore the newly created hole on f5 is a serious problem. 9. ... g6 and 10. ... Bg7 was better and probably what I would have played instead. 10.Ne3 this and my next move are obvious and easy to play. 10. ... Be7 11.Nf5 Nf8 (D)

12.b3?! Although this doesn't spoil anything, I simply missed that 12.Ng7+ Kd8 13.dxe5 wins on the spot since 13. ... dxe5 allows 14.Bxb5+ with a discovered check and a decisive advantage for white. But why did I miss it? Because I actually wasn't even looking for any knockout blows here! My firmly ingrained positional instincts tell me to develop the rest of my pieces before looking to take decisive action, so I just banged out b3 and Ba3 without much thought. 12. ... Ng6 Now black has f8 for his king so Ng7+ is not as strong. 13.Ba3 (D)
13. ... Bxf5? It's admittedly a very difficult position for black - I'm not sure if white is actually threatening anything here (Nxe7 followed by Bxd6 and then dxe5 would be the kind of knockout blow I would look at in the diagrammed position for white), but likely there isn't a satisfactory defense - the weakness of d6, f5, along with the bad king for black makes this position nearly lost in my opinion. 14.exf5 Now my Re1 comes into play with tempo. 14. ... Nf4 15.dxe5 dxe5 16.Rxe5 Stronger than capturing with the knight, since I have an immediate threat. 16. ... N4d5 16. ... N6d5 loses instantly to 17.Bxe7 Nxe7 18.f6. 17.Bxe7 Nxe7 18.Qe2 (D) White has a winning position after any reasonable move, but this is the strongest, keeping black's king in the center by attacking the pinned Ne7.
18. ... 0-0-0 I was expecting 18. ... Kf8 19.Re1 Ned5 when black is still at least only down one pawn but the position is lost in any case. The text move simply drops a piece for no compensation. 19.Rxe7 Qd6 20.Bc2 Here I was actually looking for a way to end the game on the spot with Bxb5 or Nd4-xb5, but didn't see anything clear so just played a normal move to save my bishop. 20. ... Rhe8 21.Re1 I made sure that there was no counterplay with 21. ... Rxe7 22.Qxe7 Qxe7 23.Rxe7 g4 - I have 24.Ne1! Rd2 when my bishop on c2 is defended and black has nothing. 21. ... c5 22.Rxe8 Rxe8 23.Qxb5 Rxe1+ 24.Nxe1 Ng4 25.Qe8+ Kc7 26.Qxf7+ Kb6 (D)
Exercise 1: White is of course winning after any reasonable move, but I'll give you a chance to play like Stockfish here and find the strongest continuation - if you go by computer evaluations the engine actually announces mate after this move while the alternatives are "only" +10. I'll add the answers at the very end of the post when the tournament is over. In any case I ended up winning this game without any problems. 1-0

Round 2 - I play black vs. Hanan Dery (1690)
In round 2 I got black against Hanan Dery, also a regular player on Monday and Wednesday nights. The opening quickly started off on an unusual note.

1.e4 g6 It's not too common for me to play this opening but I employ it on some occasions just to mix things up a bit. 2.d4 Bg7 3.f4 "Wow, how aggressive!", I thought. The sharpest lines white can play against the Modern Defense (which is 1. ... g6) involve a fast f2-f4 and e4-e5 expansion, but it seems my opponent had a different idea in mind. 3. ... d6 4.d5?! (D)
This is 100% a move I would never play if I had white here, as it is inconsistent with f2-f4 and opens up the long diagonal for my bishop. Rather, Nf3, Bd3, 0-0 and a quick e4-e5 would be the most dangerous continuation for black to face. I can immediately start attacking white's center with my next move. 4. ... c6! Principled and strong; already I would say white has no advantage out of the opening. 5.Bc4 Nf6 6.Nc3 0-0 It is possible that I can already win material with ...b7-b5-b4 removing the guard of the e4 pawn but I saw no need to complicate things - my development plan was pretty much on autopilot. 7.Nf3 Nbd7 8.0-0 Qc7 9.Be3 (D)
9. ... a6 A standard move in this kind of position - I may further consider c6-c5 and then b7-b5 expansion. 10.dxc6 bxc6 Opening up the b-file for my rook. I didn't even consider 10. ... Qxc6 as that can open fork tactics like Nd5-e7 later down the road, although there is no immediate issue with it - on 11.Bd5 I don't have to take and can simply retreat with 11. ... Qc7. 11.a4 Rb8 I'm still on autopilot - putting a rook on an open file is as natural as breathing for me. I took maybe about a minute to carefully calculate the ramifications of the 12.e5 pawn sacrifice but didn't see anything for white after 12. ... dxe5 13.fxe5 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 Qxe5 15.Bf4 Qc5+ when the loose bishop drops on c4, while after 14.Bf4 I have 14. ... Qb6+ when 15.Qd4?? loses to 15. ... Nxf3+ and 16. ... Qxd4. 12.Bd4 (D)
12. ... e5 Played with no hesitation - I certainly do not want to allow white the opportunity to advance e4-e5. 13.fxe5 dxe5 14.Be3 Ng4! White cannot both save his dark-squared bishop and cover the exposed g1-a7 diagonal. 15.Qe2 The alternative 15.Bg5 Qb6+ 16.Kh1 Nf2+ would lose the exchange for white. 15. ... Nxe3 16.Qxe3 Qb6 Also played with little hesitation. The endgame will be pleasant for black with my bishop pair and white's isolated pawn on e4. I did not seriously consider 16. ... Rxb2 since 17.Bb3 traps my rook. 17.Qxb6 Rxb6 18.Ng5 (D)
Looks a little scary! White is attacking f7 a lot, but black has a strong defensive move at his disposal, repelling white's attack with tempo. 18. ... Bf6! Much better than 18. ... Nf6?? which actually loses on the spot to 19.Nxf7! Rxf7 20.Rad1!! when black has no answer to the deadly Rd8+. I didn't actually see this during the game but I didn't have to! I played Bf6 rather than Nf6 on principle - I stop my opponent's threat while making a threat of my own. 19.Rxf6?! It is unnecessary to sacrifice the exchange, although otherwise both b2 and g5 are hanging. 19. ... Nxf6 20.Rf1 Kg7 (D)
21.Rxf6 A fancy sequence that wins a pawn but unfortunately it results in further exchanges which makes black's winning task easier - 21.b3 was the best way to try to hold with white. 21. ... Kxf6 22.Nxh7+ Ke7 23.Nxf8 Kxf8 24.b3 Now we reach my favorite part - the technical endgame phase! Although I played through the rest of the game relatively quickly there are a lot of nuances behind the scenes that are instructive to point out. 24. ... Ke7 I debated a little on whether to play ...a6-a5 but was concerned with providing an easy target for a future knight on c4 - my biggest weakness is my split pawn structure on the queenside - the only hope white has is to somehow win either a6 or c6 and create a passed pawn, so I don't want to make that easy to do. Of course, if I don't play a6-a5, then white can, and I think white should! Then at least Nc3-a4-c5 is possible and there may be some annoying pressure on a6, although it shouldn't slow black down too much. 25.Kf2 Be6 (D)
26.Bxe6 Too complicit. The only practical chances of holding for white involve 26.a5, but even so after 26. ... Rb8 27.Bxa6?! (27.Be2! is more resilient, just keeping pieces on the board) 27. ... Ra8 28.Bb7 Rxa5 I win the pawn back and 29.Bxc6? runs into 29. ... Rc5 30.Nd5+ Bxd5 followed by 31. ... Rxc2+ when black has a won endgame. 26. ... Kxe6 27.Ke3 f5 Simple and strong - I advance in the center and encourage white to exchange on f5 which gives me a passed pawn on the e-file. 28.g3 Rb4 Adding even more pressure to e4 to encourage exf5. 29.exf5+ Success! There really was nothing better for white since otherwise the Nc3 has to sit there to guard e4. 29. ... gxf5 30.h3 (D)
Exercise 2: Black has a winning endgame, but it still needs to be converted! See if you can play like I did and find the best plan to crack white's position. The answer will be posted at the end of the tournament. I went on to win this game - after a few more moves we reached the following position:
After 39. ... Rd4 white resigned as he is losing the knight after Rd4-a4. The only line I calculated was 40.h5 Ra4 41.h6 Rxa2 42.h7 Kc3+ and after 43. ... Rh2 black safely stops the h-pawn and wins. 0-1

Round 3 - I play white vs. Donald Stubblebine (1802)
In round three the top six with 2 points were all paired up against one another. On board one I had white against Don Stubblebine; David Phelps had white against Clif Kharroubi on board two; and Toby Rizzo had white against Ken McBride on board three.

1.d4 I played 1.e4 in round one so decided to play something different this time. 1. ... d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Bf5 Usually black plays 3. ... Nf6 instead; the early development of the bishop leaves the b7 pawn vulnerable although I did not exploit that in this game. 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Objectively better is 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.c5 Qc7 (6. ... Qxb3 7.axb3 is a pleasant endgame for white, with b3-b4-b5 coming fast) 7.Bf4! Qc8 8.Nh4 when white is considered to be somewhat better. For whatever reason I just didn't feel like playing this kind of position, so I just opted for a simple game instead. 5. ... h6 6.Bd3 Bxd3 7.Qxd3 Nf6 8.0-0 Be7 (D)
9.e4 A typical way for white to get some central space in this type of structure. 9. ... dxe4 It is almost always correct for black to capture, as otherwise e4-e5 allows white to gain some tangible advantage with his kingside space. 10.Nxe4 Nbd7 If I were black I would immediately exchange on e4 - black is slightly cramped and so should prefer piece exchanges. 11.Nc3 Since black didn't exchange last move, I don't allow him another opportunity to do so. 11. ... 0-0 12.Re1 Qc7 13.b3 Rad8 14.Qc2 Prophylaxis - I was not at all concerned about Nd7-c5 but e6-e5 was more worrisome. 14. ... Nb6 Not really a great square for the knight, but it controls the d5 square so after c6-c5 at least white cannot advance d4-d5. 15.Bb2 a6 (D) Covering b5 so that c6-c5 may be played without allowing Nc3-b5.
16.Ne4!? Apparently I was having a case of restless knight syndrome? I was somehow overly concerned with allowing the c6-c5 break but 16.Rad1 is more in the spirit of the position. After 16. ... c5!? 17.dxc5 Rxd1 18.Rxd1 Bxc5 white has a small but enduring advantage thanks to better placed pieces and the queenside pawn majority. 16. ... Nxe4 17.Qxe4 Bf6 This is now a great square for the bishop. The position is about equal. 18.Rad1 Rfe8 19.Bc3 Threatening a dangerous pin with Ba5. 19. ... Nc8 20.Bd2 Just some casual maneuvering - the bishop evades the pin while keeping an eye on both sides of the board. 20. ... Ne7 21.Ne5 Nf5 22.Bf4?! (D) A little slip. 22.Bb4 was preferable to maintain control of a5.
22. ... Qb6!? Instead 22. ... Qa5! would actually give white some difficult problems to solve, since a2 is hanging and there is a lot of pressure on d4 and e5. 23.Be3? Objectively white actually has to go for complications with 23.d5 to avoid a worse position but I just did not feel like calculating. 23. ... Nxe3!? Again 23. ... Qa5! would put serious pressure on white's position. For example, the natural 24.Qc2 allows 24. ... Nxd4! 25.Bxd4 Rxd4 when I cannot recapture since my Re1 is hanging. Even after the text move though I still prefer black's position. 24.Qxe3 Qc7 25.Nf3 Re7 26.Qe4 Red7 Black's moves are easy and natural to make - d4 is a serious weakness. 27.Re3?! (D) 27.Re2 should be preferred but black is better in any case.
27. ... e5?! I was relieved to see this move. Instead, I thought black would be clearly better after 27. ... c5! 28.d5 (28.Red3? cxd4 29.Nxd4?? Qe5! is a nasty shot I saw during the game - black wins a piece) 28. ... cxd5 29.Rxd5 (29.cxd5 Bd4! 30.Nxd4 Rxd5! wins a clean pawn for black) 29. ... Rxd5 30.cxd5 b5! The bishop is superior to the knight and black's queenside majority is much more dangerous than my likely weak d-pawn. 28.d5 cxd5 29.cxd5 Now black's bishop is blocked and there is no queenside majority. White plays for an advantage from here. 29. ... Re8 30.Red3 Qc2 31.a4 Rc7 32.Ne1 (D)
Repelling the invasion. Now I can start making slow improvements to my position. 32. ... Qc5 33.g3 Rd7 34.h4 Rc8 34. ... Bd8! is a nice maneuver pointed out by the engine. Next up is ...Bb6. 35.Ng2 b5 36.axb5 axb5 37.Ne3 The dream square. Over the last several moves I have greatly improved my position and now white is clearly better. 37. ... Qb6 38.Kg2 Ra8 39.Rc1 Rc7? The position was difficult, especially under time pressure, but 39. ... Qd8 would have held better. After the text move I can start driving my d-pawn forward. 40.Rxc7 Qxc7 41.d6 Qd8 42.Ng4 Black is lost now since my d-pawn is too strong and the e5 and b5 weaknesses will drop in short order. 42. ... Ra7 43.Nxe5 43.d7 is also good. 43. ... Rxd7?? 44.Nxf6+ gxf6 45.Qg4+ and white wins a rook. 43. ... Ra6 44.Nc6 (D)
Winning on the spot. 44. ... Qd7 44. ... Qc8 45.d7! Qxc6 46.d8=Q+ with back rank mate, or 44. ... Qa8 45.d7 Rxc6 46.Qe8+ winning. 45.Nb8 1-0

A very well played game by Don! He outplayed me through the first half of the middlegame but the critical moment was his decision to play 27. ... e5?! instead of the correct break 27. ... c5! Clif and Ken also both won their games, leaving the three of us in the lead with perfect scores. Next round I will have black against Clif.

Round 4 - I play black vs. Clifton Kharroubi (2105)
As promised, in round four I am playing black against 2015 Club Champion Clif Kharroubi. On board two, Ken (3) had white against Motroni (2.5).

In summary, Clif played strongly in the opening and middlegame to build an initiative, but was unable to ever land a decisive blow. In the endgame the critical blunder was 33.Kh2 simply hanging a pawn for no compensation. Ken won his game too, which means he will get to play me as black in the final round; we are the only two people with perfect 4/4 scores.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Special Chess Club Event: The CCCR Championship!

Joshua Stevens (left) played Senior Master & Club Champion Lev Paciorkowski in Round 1.  Sept 26, 2018.!AoRMVo7Vc-2rqFgc6M3tDykYVnWa
Click here for photos and Game score sheets.

Round #5 (Final Round) of the Community Chess Club Championship October 24th, at 7:30 pm

Tournament News... ROUND #4: The annual Community Chess Club of Rochester championship comes to a conclusion this coming Wednesday, Oct. 24th.  Senior Master Lev Paciorkowski and Expert Ken McBride enter the final round with 4 points each. The final round begins at 7:30pm, following the door prize drawings.  Pizza will be provided for the players at 6:30pm.  This is one of the area's largest chess events with a small entry fee, great prizes and a great opportunity to compete.  For those that could not take part in this year's event, please join our club and participate next year after getting the required 10 games over 10 Wednesday nights! Regular chess games that are not part of the championship will also be available this Wednesday night at the Rochester Chess Center.

Preliminary Pairings

Round 4 Results

Cross Table after 4 Rounds:

Round 3 Results
Two more rounds left: Oct 17th & 24th, 2018.

Round #4 of the Community Chess Club Championship

October 17th, at 7:30 pm

Preliminary Pairings

Tournament News... ROUND #1: The first round of the 22nd Annual Championship started on Sept. 26th, 2018 at the Rochester Chess Center, NY.  The club took time to remember previous CCCR champions that passed away in the last year: Jim Clague and Doug Spencer.  Door prizes were handed out for several lucky winners, and then the first round started.  Chess books from Doug's personal chess library were included in the door prizes, and continues with more door prizes for coming rounds.  The defending champion, Senior Master Lev Paciorkowski, won his first game of the tournament, by winning his game against Joshua Stevens.  Lev will be making a separate blog  post here covering his games, so keep on the lookout for that and updates as the tournament progresses through all five rounds.

Visitors and Spectators are welcome.  
Senior Master Lev Paciorkowski is the defending club champion.
Scroll down for the tournament flyer.
Players not participating in the Club Championship can still play USCF-rated Games!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

My Games from the 2018 New York State Championship!

My final round win against GM Bryan Smith (2529) which featured
a long exchange-up endgame that I converted in 59 moves.

Last weekend I played in the 140th annual New York State Chess Championship and won clear first place with 5.0/6 in what I would consider to be my best tournament performance to date. I am thrilled to represent Rochester as New York's newest State Champion!

I decided to make a post about the six games I played to share my thoughts while I was playing and to give some insight into my strategy throughout the tournament. This post is intended for players of all skill levels; the idea is to show what goes on inside the mind of an almost-2500 player during a game! Without any further ado, let's begin with the opening round...

Round 1 - I play white vs. Adi Murgescu (2108)
In the first round I was paired with an eleven year-old expert. I have a simple strategy when it comes to playing young, super-strong kids: avoid tactical complications and head for a quiet, calm position. What usually happens is that my opponent unnecessarily feels the need to take some drastic action and eventually overextends themselves, which ultimately leads to their demise. This game was slightly different - my opponent was really playing outstanding against me but unfortunately just missed a fine tactical detail in the middlegame.

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.0-0 0-0 6.d4 (D) This is the mainline of the Catalan, a popular opening for white. By positioning his bishop on the long diagonal white puts a lot of pressure on black's queenside.
6. ... dxc4 Doesn't it seem strange for black to willingly open up that diagonal? Yet, it is by far the most common move! The point is to quickly play for c7-c5 to free black's position... 7.Qc2 a6 8.Qxc4 b5 9.Qc2 Bb7 10.Bg5 Nbd7 11.Nbd2 c5 (D) ...And black achieves this freeing break, so all his problems are solved, right?
12.Bxf6 Not quite! This was the point of my Bg5 two moves ago. Black must play gxf6 to avoid losing a pawn on c5, and this weakens the kingside somewhat. Of course, I give away the bishop pair, so there is a tradeoff. 12. ... gxf6 13.Rac1 Qb6 If 13. ... cxd4 then 14.Qc7! creates problems for black. 14.Nb3 Rac8 15.dxc5 Nxc5 16.Nxc5 Bxc5 So far my opponent has played flawlessly and white has no advantage - the bishop pair fully compensates for the inferior pawn structure. 17.Qd2 Avoiding Bxf2+ and eyeing the h6 square. 17. ... Kg7 18.Nh4?! This seemingly strange move has a deeper purpose. If black captures on g2, then I plan Nxg2-f4-h5, starting an attack on black's king. 18. ... Rfd8 19.Qf4 Rd4! 20.e4 So far I'm actually being outplayed! Black is slightly better now, but erred with his next move. 20. ... Rcd8?! (D)
Chess is a tough game of minute details. This removes one of the defenders of the bishop on c5, which allows white a nice tactic. I spotted the following sequence almost immediately. 21.Qg4+ Kf8 22.Qh5! Forking c5 and h7. 22. ... Rc8? In the face of difficulty my opponent did not find the strong 22. ... Rc4! creating the counter-threat Bxf2+! After 23.Rxc4 bxc4 suddenly b2 is hanging so black is OK. 23.Qxh7 Now white is simply winning due to the extra pawn and black's horribly placed king. 23. ... Ke8 24.Qh8+ Ke7 25.Qg7! A strong move. 25. ... Rd2 26.Ng6+ Kd6 27.Qxf7 Simply ignoring black's threats on f2 which are inconsequential. 27. ... Rc7 I was anticipating this and it took me about 15 seconds to find the mate in 3: 28.e5+! fxe5 29.Qf8+ 1-0 29. ... Kd7 30.Nxe5#

Round 2 - I play black vs. the IM-slayer Kevin Zhong (2052)
In round two I was paired with another impressive young star: he's just ten years old and in the first round scored an unbelievable upset against IM Jay Bonin. I always take these kids seriously and give them their full due credit but this was quite a special case...

1.e4 I thought for a little while on what to play, and eventually came up with 1. ... d5!? The Scandinavian!? I think this might be my first ever rated game playing this opening! It turns out that in recent weeks I actually had been briefly looking at the 3. ... Qd6 Scandinavian from the black side, so I had some knowledge of the opening. Also, this immediately throws any preparation my opponent might have done for me out of the window since I've never played this before in my life. 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 I had no intention of playing 3. ... Qa5 - I think white's just better in those lines. 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 c6 6.Bd3 Bg4 This is exactly the type of position I was aiming for - relatively quiet, no crazy early complications, and I'm just going to develop my pieces without any problems. 7.Ne4 This clears the c3 square for a pawn to solidify white's center. More common is 7.Be3 7. ... Nxe4 8.Bxe4 Nd7 9.c3 Nf6 10.Bd3 e6 (D) I have no desire to do anything crazy with 10. ... e5!?
11.h3 Bh5 12.g4!? During the game I thought this was an unnecessary risk for white - the kingside pawns may become overextended later. The position remains equal though. 12. ... Bg6 13.Ne5 Qd5 Immediately exploiting the drawbacks of white's kingside expansion. 14.f3 Bxd3 I did not want to allow white an opportunity to play Bxg6 and fix my kingside structure. 15.Qxd3 Rd8 Threatening Qxe5! 16.Qc4 Bd6 17.Qxd5 cxd5 It is a common fallacy to think that trading pieces is an easy way to a draw! My opponent was probably better off keeping the queens on the board, as in an endgame the advanced kingside pawns can become a headache for white. 18.Bg5 Rc8 (D)
19.Bxf6!? Continuing his dubious strategy of trading pieces to get a draw. The Nf6 was not a great piece, and it makes no sense to give up a whole entire bishop for it. The "weakening" of black's pawn structure is actually good since now the e5 square is taken away from white's knight. Still, the position remains equal! It is just much easier to play with black - I can begin accumulating small advantages bit by bit. 19. ... gxf6 20.Nd3 h5! Immediately targeting the kingside. I also love developing my rooks without moving them. 21.Kd2 Ke7 22.Rae1 Rh7 Preparing to double on the h-file and then play hxg4. 23.Reg1! Good defense. 23. ... Rg8 If 23. ... Rch8 then 24.g5! was white's plan. 24.Ke2 Rhg7 25.Kf2 Rc8 26.Rc1 Rh7 27.Rcg1 Rg7 28.Rc1 After a little cat-and-mouse play I finally come up with a new plan. 28. ... b5 (D) Intending a typical minority attack on the queenside with a5 and b4.
29.b4?! A bit of an overreaction, weakening c3. Maybe 29.a3 was better. 29. ... Rh7! Suddenly now white can't play Rcg1 to threaten g5 anymore because c3 would be undefended. There is strangely no good way for white to prevent Rch8, hxg4, and then black will control the h-file. 30.Nc5 Bf4 31.Rcg1?! I believe my opponent may have overlooked my next move. 31. ... Bd2! Uh-oh. The c3 pawn can't be defended. However my opponent finds the best defense, planning to trap my bishop if I take on c3. 32.Rb1! hxg4 33.Ke2! (D)
A slippery little move! If I take on c3, then Kd3 traps my bishop, and if I retreat back to f4, then after hxg4 white should be doing fine. Has my ambitious pawn-grabbing scheme backfired? 33. ... Bxc3! Not at all! I love bishops in the endgame but I love pawns too! I decide to sacrifice my bishop for an army of foot soldiers. 34.Kd3 Bxd4! 35.Kxd4 gxh3 I'll take four pawns vs. a knight any day of the week. 36.Rh2 Rh4+ 37.Ke3 a5 38.a3 Rc4 39.Rb3 Rh8 40.Nd3 a4 41.Rbb2 Kd6 Black should be winning now, although it is still not trivial. 42.Rbd2 e5 43.Nf2 Rc3+ Aiming for an exchange of rooks to simplify the position 44.Rd3 d4+ 45.Kd2 Rxd3+ 46.Kxd3 f5 (D)
Exercise 1: Is black winning after 47.Rxh3 Rxh3 48.Nxh3 Kd5, or can white hold a draw? I won't finish the game here since I think this position is instructive to study for the reader but ultimately I did end up winning. The answer along with the rest of the game will be at the end of the post. 0-1

Round 3 - I play white vs. Alan Zhang (2212)
The trend of playing strong young kids continues and in round three I was paired with a 14 year-old master.

1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 c6 Signalling a possible attempt to take on c4 and then follow up with b5, holding onto the pawn. I don't even want to think about such complications, so I immediately defend my c-pawn. 5.Qc2 The most common move is actually 5.b3, with a similar idea of supporting the c-pawn. 5. ... Bd6 6.d4 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Nbd2 b5 (D)
This move struck me as suspect since it weakens the long h1-a8 diagonal. Hence, I immediately try to take advantage of that fact. 9.e4! A central philosophy of strong players is that if you can meet a threat with a stronger threat, then do so! Black has no time to take on c4 since e4-e5 wins a piece. 9. ... dxe4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Qxe4 Bb7!? (D) Black should play 11. ... dxc4! 12.Qxc6 Nb6! when everything is held together.
This is another instructive moment. It seems like white should probably be better, but if you give black a couple moves to get organized and play Nf6, dxc4 and c5, then he will be fine. I actually only considered one move here: 12.c5! I had already planned this back when I played 9.e4. But why is this move so obvious to me? It seems like such a blatant disregard for common chess theory - why release the pawn tension in the center and give away the important d5-square? The key is Space and Restriction. By playing c5, I permanently lock down black's ...c5 break and the bishop on b7 is basically dead. I also seize control over d6, which would be a superb outpost for my own knight after a maneuver like Nf3-d2-e4-d6 coupled with Bc1-f4 later on. It's true, I surrender the d5 square but that is the only drawback and I'm willing to make that trade-off. White now has a small but lasting advantage and black has a long, difficult defense ahead of him. By the way, I should also mention that 12.cxb5?! Nf6! 13.Qe2 cxb5 14.Qxb5 Rb8! gives black full compensation for the pawn. 12. ... Be7 13.Bf4 Nf6 14.Qe5 Nd5 15.Bg5 I want to exchange dark-squared bishops to weaken the d6 square. 15. ... Re8 Of course the fork 15. ... f6? fails to 16.Qxe6+ 16.Bxe7 Qxe7 17.Rfe1 Rad8 18.a3 f6 A dangerous move to make, weakening the kingside and the e6 pawn. As difficult as it is, the best way to defend these types of positions with black is to just sit tight and hunker down, avoiding any committal pawn moves - every one you push will loosen your position later on. 19.Qh5 Nc7 20.Re4 Rd5 21.Qh4 a5 22.Rae1 Qf7 23.Qf4 e5? (D)
A serious mistake. If black just keeps shuffling around it's still difficult for white to crack through. Now the position opens up but black isn't ready for it. 24.Qe3?! I suppose I was just being a little careless but I didn't play the strongest continuation; 24.dxe5 Ne6 25.exf6!! (the move I overlooked) and white is completely winning. 24. ... Ne6 25.Bh3! This was my plan behind 24.Qe3 - by removing the knight and winning the e5 pawn I simplify the position favorably. 25. ... Bc8 25. ... exd4?? 26.Nxd4 and white has five attackers on the pinned Ne6! 26.Bxe6 Bxe6 27.dxe5 Bf5 28.Rd4 Rxc5 (D) To be honest I completely overlooked that black could just take on c5, but fortunately I have a tactic here which I immediately saw once we reached this position.
29.Rf4! Winning the exchange, since 29. ... fxe5? 30.Qxc5 exf4 31.Rxe8+ Qxe8 32.Qxf5 picks up the loose bishop. 29. ... Rcxe5 30.Nxe5 Rxe5 31.Qd2?! Qd5! 32.Rd1 Be6 33.Qc2 Bh3!? An appealing move that I actually didn't see, but luckily I can stop the threats. 34.f3! Qe6 35.Re4 Bf5 36.Rxe5 Qxe5 37.Qc3 The materialist computer likes 37.Qxc6 but I didn't want to allow counterplay with 37. ... Qe2! 37. ... Qxc3 38.bxc3 (D)
This is a winning endgame for white - one pawn for the exchange is not enough with pawns on both sides of the board, and also I immediately can get my rook to an active position. The threat is 39.Rd6 c5 40.Rd5 winning a pawn. 38. ... Be6 39.Rd6! Bd5 40.Kf2 Kf7 41.Rd7+! White's winning task is more difficult without this move - the point is to restrict black's kingside. 41. ... Kf8 If 41. ... Kg6 42.Ke3 and black's king is frozen: 42. ... Kh6 (to try to play g5) 43.Rxd5! transposes into a winning K+P endgame. 42.Ke3 Be6 43.Ra7 a4 44.Kd4 h5 45.f4 g5 46.fxg5 fxg5 47.Ke5 1-0 After 48.Kf6 black loses his kingside pawns.

Round 4 - I play black vs. Jimmy Heiserman (2333)
My first adult opponent of the tournament! After the third round only GM Smith, IM Brodsky and myself had 3/3. Smith and Brodsky played a quick draw against each other this round and I had the black pieces against a strong master who had 2.5/3. My strategy this game was to get a low-risk position with black that I could press in.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 dxc4 7.Qc2 (D)
This should look familiar! I had the exact same position with the white pieces in the first round against Murgescu. In that game my opponent played the main line, 7. ... a6. I had looked up my opponent before the game and saw he played the Catalan so I prepared a rare move: 7. ... b6!? At first glance this move looks like it's asking for trouble - can't white just play Ne5? But actually the idea is to sacrifice the exchange! After some considerable thought my opponent played: 8.Qxc4! A good practical decision! He correctly suspected that this was some kind of preparation and decided not to follow me into my rabbit hole of computer analysis. The main move is 8.Ne5, after which black plays 8. ... Qxd4! 9.Bxa8 Qxe5 and for example after 10.Bf3 Nd5! 11.Qxc4 Ba6 12.Qa4 c5 (analysis diagram) black has full compensation for the material deficit since it is hard for white to develop the queenside.
Analysis Diagram
8. ... Bb7 White has avoided the complications, but black achieves approximate equality after a few more moves: 9.Nc3 a6! 10.Bf4 c5 11.dxc5 b5! The point of 9. ...a6 12.Qb3 12.Qd4 was probably better; the endgame is maybe a tiny bit better for white. 12. ... Nbd7 It will be stronger to capture on c5 with the knight to gain time against white's queen. 13.Rfd1 Qa5 14.a3! Some care is required by white; for instance 14.Bd6?! Nxc5 15.Qc2?! Bxd6 16.Rxd6 Rac8 is clearly better for black, with b5-b4 and/or Nc5-a4 coming. 14. ... Nxc5 15.Qa2 Nce4 Black has equalized, and now I can start trying to play for an advantage. 16.Nxe4 Bxe4 17.Ne5 Bxg2 18.Kxg2 Qb6 19.Rac1 Rac8 20.Be3 Qb7+ 21.f3 Nd5 22.Bf2 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 Bg5 (D)
The position is still equal but I have managed to create some annoying pressure. Notice that 24.f4?? loses on the spot to Ne3++ and mate next move. White needs to choose a square for his rook and unfortunately chose the wrong one. 24.Rd1?! 24.Rc2 would have maintained approximate equality. 24. ... Qc7! The only move that gives black an advantage. The knight is hanging and Qc2 is an annoying threat. 25.e4 (D) Under pressure white sacrifices a pawn. The alternative was 25.Nd3 Qc2 26.Re1 Ne3+ which is also good for black.
Exercise 2: Black actually has two different ways to win a pawn here. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader (answer at the end of the post). In any case, eventually we reached the following rook and pawn ending after white's 40th move:
40. ... Ra5! Accurately preventing g4-g5 which would give white better drawing chances. 41.Rc6 Kg7? But unfortunately I failed to notice the point of white's last move. Instead after 41. ... g5! 42.hxg5 hxg5 black retains excellent winning chances. 42.g5! Oops! I realized my mistake immediately - now if I take twice on g5 I lose my a-pawn, and the resulting 3 vs 2 ending on the kingside should be drawn. I tried 42. ... hxg5 43.hxg5 Ra2+? The final mistake, which completely throws away all winning chances. The best try was 43. ... Rxg5 44.Rxa6 and then I could still keep pressing for a win, although white should be able to hold a draw. 44.Kg3 I realized that white is planning Kg3-f4-e5 and then f3-f4, but it is too late. The game is now a draw. 44. ... a5 45.Kf4 Ra3 46.Rc8 a4 47.Ra8 Kh7 48.Ra7 Kg8 49.Ra8+ Kg7 50.Ra7 Ra1 51.Ke5 a3 52.f4 a2 53.Ra8 Kh7 54.Ra7 Kg8 55.Ra8+ Kg7 56.Ra7 Kg8 1/2-1/2 There is no way for black to make progress. So, after the fourth round I was still tied for first with 3.5/4, but I was not at all thrilled with drawing that endgame. Oh well, these things happen.

Round 5 - I play white vs. IM David Brodsky (2542)
In the penultimate round I got white on board one against the #1 seed David Brodsky. He's impressively ranked #3 among American 15 year-olds. I had done some opening preparation against him was looking forward to an interesting game. On board two, Bryan Smith had white against Jay Bonin, who was bouncing back in the tournament after a first round loss.

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 b5!? I was expecting this; it appears to be Brodsky's main weapon with black against 1.Nf3-2.g3. I had prepared the following move: 3.Na3!? to which Brodsky one-upped me with 3. ... Ba6!? This is definitely one of the more bizarre opening positions I've gotten in my career! In my preparation I had only looked at 3. ... b4 or 3. ... a6. The move Brodsky chose is so rare that on move four I am already playing a novelty. After about 10 minutes of thought I played: 4.c4 After the game I checked the database and could only find two games after 3. ... Ba6. In one game white played 4.c3 and in the other 4.Bg2 was played. 4.c4 is not bad though. The idea is to clear the c2 square for my knight while attacking black's b5 pawn again. 4. ... b4 4. ... bxc4 5.Qa4 regains the pawn. 5.Nc2 e6 6.b3 d5 7.Bg2 Nbd7 (D)
This is a critical moment. When faced with an unorthodox opening it is important not to just play mechanically. You have to sit down and thoroughly understand the position, coming up with a plan for how to best coordinate your pieces rather than just develop them to the obvious squares. For that reason I stopped for about 10 minutes here, thinking on what to do. I'll explain my thought process as follows: the very first thing I noticed about this position is that if I ever play c4-xd5, I will end up with a superior pawn structure no matter how black recaptures - if he recaptures with a piece on d5 then c4 becomes a permanent outpost for me, and if he plays e6-xd5 then after d2-d4 he will be left with a backwards pawn on c7...however I then realized that after d2-d4 the c3 square becomes a nice hole for black's knight, which can conveniently hop right into it with Nf6-e4-c3. Thus I came up with the strongest move here, giving white good chances for an advantage: 8.a3! After eliminating the b4 pawn, black will not have the c3 outpost anymore after d2-d4. 8. ... bxa3 In case of 8. ... dxc4 my plan was 9.Nxb4 Bb7 10.bxc4 winning a pawn. 9.Bxa3 As an added bonus my rook is immediately activated from a1 - I'm threatening to win a piece with Bxf8. 9. ... Bxa3 10.Rxa3 Bb7 11.Qa1 Attacking a7. 11. ... a6 12.cxd5 exd5 (D)
This was my target position when I played 8.a3. After I finish my plan with d2-d4, white will have a clear structural advantage what with black's bad bishop on b7 and split queenside pawns. However at the last second I realized I had another option at my disposal: b3-b4! I had another think (5-10 minutes) and eventually played it: 13.b4! This is much better than 13.d4?! which lets black's knight settle on e4 later. Now I am planning a setup with d2-d3 and either knight to d4 with a dominating position and a clear advantage. The computer likes white by almost a full pawn here (+0.94). 13. ... 0-0 14.0-0 Ne4 15.d3 Nd6 16.Nfd4 I chose this knight because I wanted my other knight to go to e3 and attack d5. 16. ... Re8 17.Ne3 Nb5 18.Nxb5 axb5 19.Rxa8 Bxa8 20.Nf5 Nf6 21.e3 Re6 22.Rc1 Bb7 Black is passive and has no counterplay, but his position is somewhat solid. 23.Qa5 Rb6 24.Nd4 Ne8 Strong defense from my opponent! I realized here that my queen is poorly placed on a5 and vulnerable to getting trapped with Ra6 later. Hence: 25.Qa1 25.Nxb5?? Ra6 would be a horrible way to lose the game. 25. ... Ra6 26.Qc3 c6 (D)
27.Nb3 Here I'm just fishing around; I ought to just open things up with 27.e4! when black's position should be near the breaking point. I did consider this option but I'm honestly not fully sure why I rejected it - I guess I just got too happy with my current position and didn't want to change anything! It ended up coming back to bite me later on. 27. ... Bc8 28.Na5 Bd7 Full credit to my opponent who is defending tenaciously. Strong players almost never go down without a good, long fight. 29.Qe5!? More fishing. I should just get my knight back towards the center with 29.Nb7 and 30.Nc5. 29. ... Kf8 30.Nb7 Qe7 An exchange of queens will greatly help black's cause, since his king will be able to come up to defend the c6 pawn while his rook is nice and active on the a-file. 31.Qd4 Nc7! Another strong move, intending Ne6 to boot my queen away. 32.Qc5!? By this point we were both getting low on time (probably 7 minutes or less). This move allows black a nice reply which I overlooked. 32. ... Ra4! Any advantage white had is gone now as b4 is difficult to defend. 33.Qb6 Na8 34.Qc5 Nc7 And with both our clocks running low I didn't see anything better than taking a repetition: 35.Qb6 Na8 36.Qc5 1/2-1/2

As a draw against a 2500+ it was definitely not a bad result, but again I wasn't too thrilled about not converting a much better position. I would say that having a competitive attitude is important when trying to win tournaments - even one single draw can make the difference when trying to get first place so it is important not to get too complacent about drawing higher rated players. Luckily for me Bryan Smith only managed a draw against Jay Bonin this round, so it was still Smith, Brodsky and I all tied for first at 4/5 going into the final round. Sitting at 3.5/5 were Bonin (2414), Heiserman (my round 4 opponent) and a fair mix of other players that included NM Jacob Chen (2204).

Round 6 - I play white vs. GM Bryan Smith (2534)
The final round. I'm on board one playing the grandmaster and right next to me on board two David Brodsky has black against Jay Bonin. It was an interesting situation - I figured Brodsky would try to win with black and hope for me to draw my game with Smith, while at the same time Smith is trying to win with black against me and hoping for Bonin not to lose. Going into this round I knew any outcome was possible - either Smith, Brodsky or myself could end up walking away with the title or there could be a massive split for first place if we all drew. In these tense situations I find it's important to forget about the tournament standings and just play your best chess.

1.Nf3 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nc3 c5 4.g3 Nc6 I had looked Smith up in the database prior to the game and was expecting a Symmetrical English. Black's last move signals an intention to go into what is called the Botvinnik Formation where black plays an early e7-e5. 5.Bg2 d6 6.0-0 (D) 
6. ... Bf5 Surprise! The bishop does not normally go here in a Botvinnik setup so my GM opponent is clearly up to something. I correctly judged that he wanted to play for Qd7, Bh3, and then h5-h4 for some kind of kingside attack (this is a typical way for black to play aggressively in this opening in blitz, but is somewhat crude in a slow game). 7.d3 Qd7 8.Re1 Perhaps unnecessary, but I decide to take some precautions against black's plan. Against ...Bh3 I can reply with Bh1, keeping my valuable light-squared bishop as a defender of my king. 8. ... Nf6 9.a3 I couldn't think of a productive developing move to make so decided to start my own plans on the queenside with a3, Rb1 and b2-b4. 9. ... Bh3 10.Bh1 h5 Threatening 11. ... h4 and if 12.Nxh4? then 12. ... Rxh4! is a common tactical theme. 11.Bg5 Covering h4. 11. ... Ng4! I settled into a long think (15 minutes), realizing I had underestimated how strong this move was. Black's plan now is a quick f6-g5-h4 followed by checkmate, winning the state championship, and an early drive back home. I can't stop black's moves, so I need to come up with some kind of fast counterplay of my own. I noticed black's self-trapped bishop on h3 and so continued: 12.Nd5 f6 13.Nf4!? (D) Reaching a very complex position.
My Bg5 is trapped and hanging, but so is black's Bh3! Black has a lot of options at his disposal: fxg5, Nge5, h4, Nxf2 and Nxh2 are all plausible moves that deserve consideration. After a fair amount of thought Smith chose the best one: 13. ... Nxf2! The point is to open up the queen's defense of the bishop on h3 while exposing white's king. Black will regain the piece on the very next move by capturing on g5. 14.Kxf2 fxg5 15.Nxg5 (D)
The most critical moment of the game and possibly the tournament. Material is even but the position is wildly imbalanced - black has the bishop pair with white's king dancing around a bit but white's knights are strongly coordinated and the pawns on g6 and h5 are potentially weak. Black can enjoy a pleasant advantage by just retreating the bishop somewhere (15. ... Bg4 for instance). Instead Smith played: 15. ... Rf8?! A serious inaccuracy which allows white to take control of the game. 16.Ngxh3 Removing this dangerous attacker. 16. ... Qxh3?! 16. ... e5! would have complicated matters sufficiently. After the text move black is just clearly worse. 17.Kg1! Rxf4 Essentially forced, for if 17. ... Qg4 18.Bf3 is strong, as white will capture on g6 after 18. ... Qf5 19.Be4! 18.Bg2! An important intermezzo, and possibly overlooked by Smith (if I don't do this then the exchange sac is actually winning for black - 18.gxf4?? Bd4+ 19.e3 Bxe3+ 20.Rxe3 Qxe3+ 21.Kg2 Qxf4 is resignable for white). 18. ... Qg4 19.gxf4 Qxf4 20.e3 Qh4 (D)
Time to take stock. Black has one pawn for the exchange, which is not enough, but if he is allowed time to castle and coordinate his pieces then he may be doing OK. In choosing my next move, I considered that one of my goals is to trade queens, so I played: 21.Qf3 Preparing to meet 21. ... 0-0-0 with 22.Qh3+. 21. ... Bxb2 Grabbing a pawn while he still can. To be honest I didn't seriously consider this move for black, but it just barely works. 22.Rab1 Be5 the point is I can't take on b7 since my rook on e1 is hanging. 23.h3 0-0-0 (D)
Exercise 3: This is another important moment. Rxb7 would be absolutely crushing except my Re1 hangs with check. There's only one move that leads to any significant advantage with white; can you find it? (Answer at the end of the post.)

In any case, eventually we reached the following endgame after black's 30th move:
So I managed to win one pawn back and damage black's pawn structure on the queenside. This ending without a doubt should be winning for white (multiple open files on both sides of the board + up an exchange = very good), but that doesn't mean that it's easy. How exactly do we go about winning a won position like this? Here's the two magic words: counterplay and patience. First of all, you don't want your opponent to have any counterplay at all, not even a sliver. Black's only hope to draw this endgame is to somehow get his rook and bishop active enough to make serious threats against potential weaknesses in white's position. But if white just methodically restricts black's piece activity as much as possible, sooner or later something in black's position will crack and everything will fall apart. The patience part is important because you need to remember that white is not in a rush. When playing with a permanent advantage (extra material) you can go nice and slow - figure out the best squares for your pieces, maneuver around for a while before making any committal decisions.

From the diagram above, I started by playing: 31.Rg6-g4 The h4 pawn is a problem child for black that requires constant babysitting. Now the Bf6 cannot move anywhere without undefending the pawn. 31. ... Kc7 I thought Smith might try for some play with 31. ... d5!? (usually it is a bad idea for the defense to make committal pawn pushes like this) in which case I had prepared 32.Rb3 keeping everything under control - notice how the Rg4 also defends c4. 32.Kf3 a5 33.a4! There's no need to allow black to play a4 himself as that fixes my a-pawn (a potential weakness since it's isolated) on a dark square where it may be vulnerable to Bb2 sometime in the future. 33. ... Rf8 34.Ke2 Rd8 Notice how passive black is. His rook has no way to get activity. 35.Rb3 Rf8 36.Rg1 This begins the second phase of conversion: once I have consolidated my forces and centralized my king, I need to invade black's camp and start attacking stuff. The a5 pawn in particular is a scrumptious target and I can access it by doubling along the b-file and invading. 36. ... Be5! The move I expected. Black immediately seizes the opportunity to post his bishop on g3 when he can support a rook invasion to f2. 37.Rgb1 Kd7 The immediate 37. ... Bg3? loses to 38.Rb7+ and 39.Rb8+ winning a rook. 38.Rb8! Continuing to play actively. Black cannot afford to trade rooks and so must lose some time. 38. ... Rf7 39.Rg8! This is where it's important to remember the patience part. White has all the time in the world to press in this position, so just take it slow and easy. Every single move I was spending maybe a good couple minutes just looking for black's potential counterplay and how I could prevent it. The hasty 39.Ra8? would allow 39. ... Rg7! when I will find it difficult to defend the h3 pawn. 39. ... Ke6 Against 39. ... Bg3 I was ready to play 40.Rf1! preventing Rf2+ 40.Rg6+ Bf6 41.Rb8! (D) Further restriction. Black's pieces are paralyzed.
41. ... Kd7 42.Ra8 Now we can begin targeting a5. 42. ... Ke6 43.Rgg8 43.Rxa5 is fine too, but I didn't want to allow a possible Rf7-f8-b8 just yet. By the way, another practical reason why it's good not to rush is that you force your opponent to make more moves that are difficult - every move black makes he needs to make sure he doesn't destroy his own position or blunder some tactic. That burns time off the clock and also wears people out. 43. ... Be5 44.Rgf8 Rg7 45.Rg8 Rf7 Repeating just to burn some time off black's clock. I should mention I still had a decent time advantage here too (maybe about 35 minutes vs my opponent's 15 or 20). 46.Rg2 Ending any possible Bg3-Rf2 ideas. 46. ... Bc3 47.Rg4 Bf6 47. ... Rh7 is not appealing. 48.Re4+ Kf5 49.Rf4+ Ke6 50.Rxa5 At last I finally take the pawn. However before doing so I calculated ahead to make sure I can meet black's coming rook activation effectively. 50. ... Rf8! Intending to seize the b-file next move which I cannot prevent. 51.Ra6 With a specific idea in mind that will become apparent later. 51. ... Rb8 52.Kf3 Rb3 If 52. ... Rb2 53.Ke4 Rh2 I had prepared 54.Rf3 when everything is defended and d5+ is not playable because after cxd5 the recapture ...cxd5 is illegal thanks to the Ra6. From here white can continue to make more progress, perhaps with d3-d4 at some point. 53.Ke4 Ra3 54.a5 Ra4 (D) 54. ... Bc3 55.Rxh4 doesn't help black.
The game's almost over! My GM opponent has defended tenaciously (as strong players do) but in the end white still has a decisive material advantage. The final phase of conversion requires some calculation and tactics to finish the job. 55.Ra8 Allowing d5+ but I had calculated ahead and saw that this was winning. 55. ... d5+ 56.Kf3 Ra3 57.a6! Ignoring black's threats. The a-pawn is unstoppable. 57. ... d4 Or 57. ... Rxd3 and white has multiple winning continuations, the most convincing being 58.a7 Ra3 59.Rxf6+! winning. 58.a7 Threatening Rxf6+, to which there is no satisfactory defense. 58. ... Be5 59.Rxh4 And black resigned. 1-0

My game vs Smith was one of the last ones to finish. On board two Jay Bonin had already managed to win against David Brodsky in an intense time scramble leading up to move 40, leaving me as the only player with 5/6! Jay Bonin and Jimmy Heiserman tied for 2nd-3rd with 4.5/6. David Brodsky and Bryan Smith were part of a four-way tie for 4th place at 4/6. NM Jacob Chen (2204), also at 4/6, was part of a three-way split for the U2300 prize.

You may have noticed that I happened to get four whites this tournament - that was not a mistake! I got lucky with the way the pairings worked out - having white in the last two rounds against the top two seeds was definitely a nice advantage to have.

Some statistics from the tournament:
Total # players: 198
# players in Open Section: 43
Total # moves I played: 278
My performance rating: 2644
My rating gain: +12 (putting me at 2490)

And finally, the answers to the exercises:

Exercise 1

Believe it or not (I didn't believe it during the game) after 47.Rxh3 Rxh3 48.Nxh3 Kd5 white can indeed hold a draw! For example: 49.Nf2 f6 50.Kc2 e4 51.Kb2 Ke5 52.Nh3! (only move; I missed this when I was evaluating this position in my calculations during the game) 52. ... f4 53.Kc2 f5 54.Kd2 and white holds. Objectively speaking, it was a mistake for me to trade rooks on d3 earlier but instead of 47.Rxh3 my opponent played 47.f4? and after 47. ... f6 48.Nxh3 Rh4 Avoiding 48. ... Kd5?? 49.fxe5! when 49. ... fxe5? loses to 50.Nf4+! 49.Rh1 Kd5 50.Ke2 e4 51.Kf2 Rh8 white resigned (0-1).

Exercise 2

25. ... Qxe5 26.exd5 Rd8 and wins the pinned d-pawn (27.f4 Qe4+)
The other way to win a pawn is the way I played: 25. ... Ne3+ 26.Bxe3 Bxe3 27.Qb3 Forced, otherwise Qc2+ 27. ... Qxe5 28.Qxe3 Qxb2+ and black won a pawn.

Exercise 3

The strongest move, which I played, is 24.Rf1! and due to the unstoppable threat of Rxb7 black is forced to trade queens with 24. ... Qg3 25.Qxg3 Bxg3 26.Bxc6 bxc6 27.Rf7 and after 27. ... Bh4 28.Rg7 I win the g6-pawn.