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.bxc4?! 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.

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