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.

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