Monday, February 21, 2011

USAT North: Expert vs. Masters

After watching Prospect play in the IHSA Team Championship s week ago, I played in the United States Amateur Team Championship North over this weekend. This is an annual USCF rated event in which players put together their own four-man teams. The "Amateur" in the tournament means that the average rating of each team must be under 2200 and the teams ranged from 1265 to 2188. I played with four players that I know from the Chicago Industrial Chess League with an average rating 1862. I could have played as an alternate on the official CICL team which had an average rating of 2145, but I decided that playing first board on a lower rated team would be more fun and it was. I got to play three masters and I beat one of them.

The win came in the third round when Len Weber played rather planlessly against 1.c4 and we reached the following position.  I've played the English long enough to look for a tactic involving Qd5+ that exploits the unprotected knight on c6.

Although I won the game on tactics, I didn't feel like I calculated all that well.  I just figured on instinct that it was right to try to exploit the loose knight on c6.  I hadn't even noticed 17...Nh3+ until Black played it.    In the next round, we played a team that included IHSA champ Whitney Young's 1st and 2nd Board, Mike Auger and Sam Schmakel and Barrington's 1st Board from last year Zach Kasiurak.  I got to play Whitney Young's coach, 2296 rated William Aramil.  In that game I learned why instinct plus calculation beats instinct alone.

After a long calculation, I played 18...Nc5. William hadn't figured that this was playable, but he quickly calculated the strongest response. When we looked at the game afterwards, I generally was happy with the moves I played, but I found that I had overlooked many possibilities and I had spent a lot of time worrying about moves that William had dismissed quickly.

So that is the difference between myself and a master.  Against both Weber and Aramil, I was able to spot a tactical possibility based on disharmony among my opponent's pieces, but in neither case did I calculate accurately or efficiently.  Against Weber it didn't matter because the tactic produced a winning position.  Against Aramil, the tactic merely freed my cramped position and I was unable to calculate well enough to find the best way forward after that.

After playing two games against masters with which I was reasonably pleased, I played an awful game against an 1800.  After several missteps, I managed to win an exchange for a pawn, but the resulting position was very complex and my calculations failed me again.  We wound up in an ending where I had a rook, bishop, and two pawns against his knight, bishop, and four pawns. 

With the number of mistakes I had made in this game, I should have been happy with a draw, but my opponent seemed to want to keep playing. I did not think that I was in any danger of losing since I could always trade my rook for his knight to reach an ending with opposite colored bishops. As my opponent tried to find a way to make progress, I got his king and knight thoroughly tied up.  By the time he did offer the draw, I said "Let's play a few more moves" and he promptly blundered.

Not a very pretty win, but it assured that I gained a few rating points for the first time in a couple of years.

My teammates for the event were Joseph Cygan, Mark Engelen, and our captain Gee Leong who put the team together. Mark had a terrific tournament beating 2114-rated Yuri Fridman while only losing to 2093 Zach Kasiurak. Joe also played well drawing with Whitney Young's 1st Board Michael Auger and losing a heartbreaker to master Steven Tennant.

Perhaps next year, I'll see if I can put together a team of players from Prospect.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

In Chess, There Is No Penalty for Piling On.

You would think that I would be content with a 5th Board who goes 5.5-1.5 at state and who, as a freshman, will be with the team for three more years, but I'm not.  Don't get me wrong, I was thrilled with Mike Monsen's performance, but in three of his games he opted for favorable endings in which he still had some work to do when he might have put his opponents away in the middle game if he had piled on a little more weight in the form of a rook. 

Let's start with a puzzle:

White to play and mate in six moves. The solution is at the the end of the post.

That position arose in Mike's first round game against Plano's Paul Rieke.  In a 60 minute time control, it is not wise to spend a lot of time looking for pretty checkmates when simple moves preserve a substantial advantage, so there is no cause to criticize White's 20. Ba6.  However, a little bit later, Mike did overlook a rather obvious opportunity to shorten his opponent's resistance.

Here White chose 28. Qxd6+ Qxd6 29. Bxd6+ Kxd6+ and with an extra bishop and pawn, he won the game comfortably in another 28 moves. However, 28. Rc1+ Kb8 29. Rc8+ was even deadlier.  Playing in his first game at state, it's hard to fault Mike's eagerness to trade queens when he was ahead by a bishop.  On the other hand, the chance to add a rook to the attack with check should never be discarded without some consideration.

Mike's next chance to pile on came in the third round against Dontrell Green from Thornton Fractional North.  Having earlier won an exchange with a very pretty tactic, White grabbed a pawn here with 24.Qxa5.  However, 24. Rac1 Qxe4 25. Rc7 would have made Black's life even more difficult. 

A few moves later, White went for an exchange of queens with 27.Qb3? rather than piling on a rook with 27. Rac1. Had Black played 27...Qxb3 28. axb3 Nd4, it would have taken White a long time to bring home the full point. Black tried to keep the queens on with 27...Qc5?? and found himself mated in three moves.

In the 5th Round against Naperville North's Stephen Gaggiano, Mike didn't have the chance to pile on with a rook, but he did have a tactical opportunity that turned on the possibility of piling on.  If White plays 18. dxc5, Black cannot play 18...Bxc5? because 19. Rac1! forces Black to part with either the rook or the bishop.  After 18...Qa6 19.Qf4 Nf6 20.Qg3, the loose rook on c7 will lead to the loss of a couple more pawns and an exposed Black king.  Instead White exchanged on d7 first. After 18. Nxd7 Rxd7 19. dxc5 Qc6 20.Qxa7 0-0, White was ahead by two pawns but the Black king was safe.  The game eventually wound up in a rook and pawn ending where Black had a number of drawing chances.

It's hard to argue with success and Mike did win all three games by playing conservatively.  Nevertheless, he will be moving up to 3rd Board next year and may well find himself on 1st Board one day.  As his opponents become stronger, it will become more and more dangerous to let them hang around any longer than necessary.  As Emanuel Lasker said "When you see a good move, look for a better one."

Solution:  20. Rd7+!! Kxd7 21. Qxb7+ Kd8 22. Bb5 Qe7 23. Bg5! Qxg5 24. Qd7++.

Prospect Goes 5-2 at State

Prospect achieved its best result ever at the IHSA State Championship this weekend with 5 wins and 2 losses to finish in 18th place out of 128 teams.  Mid-Suburban league rivals Buffalo Grove and Hoffman Estates also finished 5-2 in 22nd and 26th place.  The biggest surprise for the MSL was Rolling Meadows which managed to go 4-3 to finish 32nd place despite being seeded 96th after a disappointing regular season.  Joining Meadows at 4-3 Fremd in 30th, Palatine in 52nd, and Barrington in 59th.  Elk Grove and Conant finished 3-4 and Schaumburg finished 2.5-4.5.

Prospect's top scorers were 5th Board Mike Monsen and 6th Board Ekrem Genc who went 5.5-1.5.  Happily, Both players are freshman.  Junior Caleb Royse went 5-2 with 3 wins and 4 draws on 3rd Board and Sophomore Robert Moskwa finished at 4.5-2.5 on 1st Board with his only losses coming to 2304 rated FIDE master Gauri Manoj of Glenbrook South and 1905 rated Chengliang Luo of Northside Prep in Chicago.  I can't wait for next year.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Don't Trade Your Rooks

I become frustrated with players frequently, but I only get angry in rare circumstances. One of those circumstances is when a player voluntarily trades his last piece to reach a lost king and pawn ending. Consider the following position that arose in the MSL Tournament:

Fig. 1

White is dead lost here. There are pawns on both sides of the board and Black has a healthy extra pawn. Since he can obtain a passed pawn any time he wants by ...a6 and ...b5, White has to keep his king on that side of the board to defend. That leaves the Black king free to run over to the other side of the Board and pick off White's g-pawn and h-pawn. If Black's extra pawn was doubled or backward, White might have a chance, but Black's extra pawn is healthy so the position is hopeless for White. If all the pawns were on one side of the board, White might be able to trade down to a drawn king and pawn verses king ending, but with pawns on both sides, that's not going to happen.

With a couple of rooks on the board, White chances are much improved.

Fig. 2

Black should be able to win this ending with his extra pawn and better pawn structure, but it is not a lock. At some point, Black will want to attack the White pawns with his rook, but if he is not careful, he will find his own pawns falling as well. Such endings are often drawn as a result of all the pawns getting traded off. Unfortunately, White played 1.d4 cxd4 2.Rxd4 Rxd4 3.Kxd4 and reached the dead lost position in Figure 1.

Here is another dead drawn position from the MSL Tournament:

Fig. 3

Black has more space and a more mobile king, but the White rook can prevent his king from ever getting close enough to the White pawns. All White has to do is put his rook on the 8th rank and keep the Black king cutoff.

About the best that Black can hope for is to reach a position like the following:

Fig. 4

Unfortunately, Black still can't take the f-pawn because he will lose his rook. 1...Rxf3 2.Ra2+ Ke3 3.Ra3+ Ke2 4.Rxf3.

So the position in Figure 3 should be drawn and the players in fact agreed to a draw after a couple more moves. Those moves were 1. Re1 Kd5 2. Rf1 Kd4 3. Rf2 Rd1+ 4.Rf1 Rxf1+ 5. Kxf1 Ke3 6. Kg2 1/2-1/2. Although the players agreed to a draw and the material is even, White is now dead lost.

Fig. 5

All Black needs to do is play 6...Ke2 and the White king must give way 7.Kh2 Kxf3. 8.Kg1 Kg3 9.Kh1 Kxh3 and all the White pawns fall.

It is never a good idea to trade off your last piece if the resulting king and pawn ending is a loser. You almost always have better chances of making a comeback with pieces on the board, even if those chances are only marginally better. With rooks, however, the chances are often dramatically better with Rooks. If you add a pair of knights to the position in Fig. 5, White's hopes would improve, but Black still would have excellent winning chances. However, if you add a pair of rooks, Black's hopes evaporate and the position is dead drawn.

Here's the lesson to remember: If your only reasonable hope is a draw, unless you can clearly see how you will get it in the king and pawn ending, keep the rooks on the board.

Moskwa v. Wilber

A week or two before Conference, Robert asked me whether I thought he should play Bird's Opening (1. f4) against Matt Wilber in the tournament. My natural reaction was that he should stick to the openings that he is comfortable with rather than choosing his opening based on the strength of his opponent. However, he beat me with it in practice so I certainly wasn't inclined to press the point.

In their regular season game, Matt had played very quietly and patiently until Robert grew frustrated and made a mistake, however, in this game Matt played an impulsive knight sacrifice on his 15th move. He may have felt he had to play more aggressively for a win because Buffalo Grove was missing several of its regular players on the lower boards, however Robert invested the time necessary to find the strongest response leaving Matt down a knight with little to show for it.

After gaining a material advantage, Robert played a bit too conservatively allowing Matt to generate some attacking chances, but Robert defended carefully and brought home the point.