|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...
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.
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).
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.
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:
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).
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.
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.