Almost My First Win Over a GM

by admin on October 19, 2014

What a finish to the Western States Open! In the last round, I almost

  • Beat my first grandmaster (a bucket list item)
  • Tied for first in an open tournament, for the first time in 20 years
  • Scored another historic victory with the Bryntse Gambit
  • Got my rating back over 2200.

But I didn’t. Instead, I agreed to a draw with grandmaster Sergey Kudrin. Hint: If a grandmaster offers a draw to a player rated below 2200, it’s pretty certain that the grandmaster has a lost game. Especially when a draw will give him no prize money.

But you can judge for yourself. Here is the final position, where we agreed to a draw. I’m White, Kudrin is Black.

kudrin finalFEN: 8/2r3p1/5q1p/1kp4P/5P2/1P1P1BP1/2P1R1K1/4B3 w – - 0 48

Position after 47. … Qf6. White to move.

I’ve listed above all the reasons why I shouldn’t have agreed to a draw. Now let me tell you why I did.

  • Although I knew I stood better here, I was under the impression that it would be a long, tedious endgame. In a sudden-death time control (where we both had about 34 minutes left), there might be some possibility of a screw-up, and I didn’t under any circumstances want that.
  • The prize money would most likely be about the same for me, win or draw.
  • Although it would have been cool to get my first win ever against a GM, let’s not forget that getting my third draw ever against a GM is pretty cool too. (My previous draws were against Walter Browne and Gregory Serper. My losses have been too numerous to count.)
  • And the main thing is, as my wife told me afterwards, “I went with my gut.” When he offered me the draw, I had such a strong sense of relief that I would not have to go through another long, drawn-out endgame that I honestly did not do any serious analysis.

However, if I had done some serious analysis, I would have realized that 48. c4+! (a move I had actually been setting up) is a killer. 48. … Kb6 is forced, and now the followup is 49. b4! If 49. … cb White doesn’t take the pawn back, instead I play 50. Bf2+! Rc5 (forced, because of 50. … Ka6 or 50. … Ka5 51. Ra2 mate) 51. Re5! Although the passed b-pawn might cause some momentary concern, it’s easy to see the White can stop it. The rook and two bishops should easily overwhelm the queen.

Alternatively, after 49. b4+ if 49. … Re7, then White simply plays 50. Rxe7 Qxe7 51. Bf2, winning the c-pawn. There’s no question that with two bishops plus four pawns (!) against the queen, plus the fact that my king is totally secure, plus the fact that three of the pawns are connected and passed, this would not be a long, drawn-out endgame. It would be easy.

So that’s what might have been. But what’s done is done. Next time, if there is a next time, I will try to control my emotions better. I have had an unfortunate tendency lately to accept draws when I could have had wins (see my game with Ladia Jirasek a couple months ago, and even my round one game with Samir Alazawi in this tournament). I need to work on that.

But regrets? No. Not this time. Every game against a grandmaster is like a free lesson, and this time I’m glad that I did some of the teaching!

In other games, there was a six-way tie for first place between IM Andrey Gorovets, GM Alexander Ivanov, GM Enrico Sevillano, GM Alex Yermolinsky, GM Melikset Khachiyan, and GM Walter Browne. The first four all went into the last round with 4 points and drew their games on the top two boards. The last two went into the round with 3½ points and won to join the crowd at 4½.

I am in a crowd with 4 points, and we’ll have to see how the prize money gets sorted out, but I think I am tied for top under 2200. I have to give a shout out to Mike Zaloznyy, because he’s a reader of this blog and he had a great tournament too. In fact, our round-by-round scores were exactly the same: draw in round 1, loss in round 2, wins in rounds 3-5, and draw in round 6. He probably won’t get as big a prize, though, because he’s not under 2200.

P.S. Yes, of course I will do a ChessLecture on my game with Kudrin. If you want to see the whole game, you’ll have to watch it at!

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How Could I Be So Blind?

by admin on October 18, 2014

This is a lament that every chess player utters at some point… some of us more often than others. My turn to utter it was yesterday.

alazawi 1FEN: 7k/7p/P2R2p1/5p2/2p5/1K6/6rP/8 w – - 0 48

Position after 47. … c4+. White to move.

Round one of the Western States Open in Reno. I’m playing White against Samir Alazawi, a class A player. Here is where I had my moment of chess blindness.

I probably spent 10 minutes thinking about this position. The first move I wanted to play was 48. Ka3, to keep Black’s rook off the a-file. Obviously if 48. … c3 49. a7, and White’s pawn wins the race. But then I started looking at 48. … Rxh2, and I couldn’t see a win! After 49. a7 I suddenly thought, “Wait a minute! He can play 49. … Rh1! If I queen my pawn, he’ll play 50. … Ra1+ and skewer my king and queen!”

So then I started looking at the alternative, 50. Rd8+ Kg7 51. a8Q Ra1+ 52. Kb4 Rxa8 53. Ra8 (diagram).

alazawi 3FEN: R7/6kp/6p1/5p2/1Kp5/8/8/8 b – - 0 53

Position after 53. Ra8 (analysis). Black to move.

At this point, I have to say, my mind just boggled. I wasn’t sure whether I was winning, drawing, or losing — and a difference of a single tempo can easily change the result. I couldn’t really force myself to analyze this position, because there are a hundred million different variations and the crucial moments won’t come for another six or seven moves. So finally, I just gave up and played the safer move back in diagram 1, namely 48. Kxc4. Of course he then brought his rook to the a-file with 48. … Ra2. Maybe White can still win somehow, but I wasn’t able (with limited time) to figure out how, and the game was soon drawn after 49. Kb5 f4 50. Rf6 g5 51. Rf5 h6 52. Kb6 Kg7 53. a7 Rxa7 54. Kxa7 Kg6 55. Rf8 Kg7 56. Rf5 ½-½.

Those are the facts. Now, detective, what did I miss?

Answer: In the variation highlighted in red, after 48. Ka3! Rxh2 49. a7 Rh1 50. a8Q+ is check. He doesn’t get a chance to play 50. … Ra1+ and skewer my rook. Instead, to add insult to injury, I fork his king and rook!

It’s so head-smackingly simple. And the irony is that in the other variation, 48. … c3 49. a7 c2 50. a8Q+, I did realize that I was queening with check. But somehow I forgot it when I got to the other variation.

The only thing that makes me feel a little bit better is that I was completely lost earlier in the game, so my opponent could say exactly the same thing as me: “How could I be so blind?”

P.S. If you’re wondering about the rook-versus-three pawns endgame in diagram two, it is in fact won for White. I checked in the Nalimov tablebases. In order to draw, Black needs to get his pawns to h5-g4-f3 or to f5-g4-h3, and he’s a tempo short. For example, 53. … h5 54. Kxc4 h4. If it were Black to move, then … g5 would draw. But with White to move, 55. Kd5 wins (and if 55. … h3 56. Ke5!)

The moral here is that if you know a key position, you don’t have to analyze a hundred million variations. You can just count tempi. Unfortunately, I have never studied rook versus 3 pawn endgames, so I didn’t know the key positions.

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Millionaire Tournament Results

October 14, 2014

So So wasn’t so-so! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) I tried to look up the winner of the Millionaire Open in Las Vegas this morning, and it wasn’t as easy as I expected to find out who won. When I went to, usually my first source, there was nothing about the playoffs. Next I went […]

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The Agony of De-draw

October 12, 2014

On ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the late broadcaster Jim McKay used to talk about “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” But in chess we have a third possibility, the agony of de-draw. The first seven rounds of the Millionaire Open in Las Vegas are over, and tomorrow is “Millionaire Monday.” The […]

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Oh, the Shame

October 9, 2014

I just discovered that Shredder lets you see your “rating progress,” just as the USCF does. I don’t know which to be more ashamed of… the fact that I have played more than 200 games against Shredder (that’s a lot of time-wasting, and it’s just in the last three months!) or the fact that my […]

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Millionaire Chess Preview

October 3, 2014

Well, Maurice Ashley’s Ode to the Almighty Dollar is almost here. The Millionaire Chess Tournament will be held at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas from October 9 to 13, dedicated to the proposition that big entry fees and big prizes will make for exciting chess. I sure hope so! So far, the tournament has gotten […]

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Mind-Blowing Endgame

September 30, 2014

I know that games played against my computer aren’t the most interesting topic in the world, but recently I had an endgame against Shredder that blew my mind. I learned something new and I think you will, too. Let’s start on move 88, when the computer played a move that totally shocked me. (Parenthetical remark […]

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(Off-topic) Fun time-waster

September 27, 2014

Today I discovered a fun new computer game — new to me, that is — called Fantastic Contraption 2. I had a great time with it, because it allows more creativity and originality than any other computer game I’ve played (besides chess, of course!). Most puzzle-type games have only one solution, or they may have […]

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If Only Magnus Read My Blog…

September 24, 2014

It’s extremely thrilling when the World Champion plays your favorite opening. However, it’s somewhat less than thrilling when he loses with it. So it was both exciting and discouraging to read that Magnus Carlsen had played the Bird Variation of the Ruy Lopez last month at the Olympiad and had been upset by a player […]

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Comments are Back Online!

September 18, 2014

Today I finally had a chance to dig around in the hidden areas of my blog… hidden even to me… and I figured out how to restore the comments. Not only the feature for posting new comments, but also the archive of all the old comments. Hooray! Feel free to take this opportunity to comment […]

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