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++.