CalChess State Championship, round 4

by admin on May 30, 2011

This weekend I’m playing in the CalChess State Championship, in Fremont. I’m a little bit puzzled because the state championship (for northern California) is usually held on Labor Day weekend. However, this year’s edition has been organized for the first time by Salman Azhar, and perhaps he felt that the Memorial Day weekend would be a better time for it. He is also organizing the U.S. game/60 and game/30 championships in October, and maybe he couldn’t have two big tournaments so close to each other.

Perhaps because of the unfamiliar time, this state championship seems a little bit weaker than usual. However, there are still some well-known names at the top, notably Sam Shankland. Obviously he has not retired as he said he would, and I asked him about that. He said, “Well, I’m sort of retired.” He is not playing during the school year, but during the summer he is playing a normal schedule — the National Open in Las Vegas, a couple of tournaments in Europe, and then probably one more in the U.S. That’s a pretty busy retirement! At school, though, he’s just a student. There isn’t even a chess club at Brandeis. He was asked to organize one, but he wasn’t interested. He isn’t sure yet what he is going to major in, but he thinks it might be economics.

Besides Sam, who is a GM, IMs Emory Tate and Vladimir Mezentsev are also playing, and also Sevan Buscara, the “mystery player” I wrote about in this entry, who is one of the top-10 players in California and rated over 2500 (USCF) even though his FIDE rating is only 2259. Buscara got off to a great start, winning his first three games, but in round four Emory Tate beat him to create a logjam at the top, with all of the above four players at 3-1. In round five Tate is playing against Shankland, while Buscara is playing against Mezentsev. I might be able to do some eyewitness reporting on those games, because I took a half-point bye for round five.

As for myself, I’m having another lackluster tournament. I have a score of 2-2 (soon to be 2½-2½ after the bye). Unfortunately, three of the games (two losses and one win) were marred by really bad blunders, of the sort that makes them unsuitable for showing in public. My only half-decent game was a win against Theodore Biyiasis, but that’s just my opinion — he might tell you that he played poorly. Actually, I’m deeply indebted to the Biyiasis family, who have given me my only points in this tournament. (My other win came against his mother, Ruth Haring. His father, GM Peter Biyiasis, is retired as far as I know.)

My game against Biyiasis was kind of a win for opening preparation. Over the last week I worked very hard to find a line that I considered worth playing against the King’s Indian Defense. I’ve been considering all sorts of things: Saemisch Variation, Four Pawns Variation, Makagonov Variation, and even the uber-popular Bayonet Variation, in spite of the fact that I usually avoid popular lines. In my last tournament, in Reno, I chose the Makagonov Variation and was not at all happy with the position I got, although I wrote in this post about the fact that my position was actually a good deal better than I realized.

Finally I hit upon an idea that is definitely known to theory, but I don’t even know the name of the variation! It’s 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nge2! O-O 6. Ng3. I really like this line, and the computer likes it, and in my game with Theodore Biyiasis I got a clear advantage. You might wonder why it’s worth an extra tempo for White to put his knight on g3 rather than f3. Well, let me count the reasons:

  1. It supports the pawn advance h4-h5, with a quick and dangerous attack on the kingside.
  2. If Black stops the advance with … h5, it gives White an excellent outpost for the bishop on g5. In fact, if Black gets too careless about the pin on f6, there are lines where White can sac a piece on h5 and either win the knight on f6 or give checkmate!
  3. It becomes much harder for Black to play his thematic break … f5. This is very helpful because 90 percent of King’s Indian players, or maybe even 100 percent, want to play the “Trained Monkey Variation,” aka the Death Star attack, with … Ne8, … f5, … Nf6, … f4, … g5, … g4 etc. Jesse Kraai calls it the Death Star attack; I call it the Trained Monkey variation because Black doesn’t have to actually think until move 20 or so. In this Ne2 variation, Black already has to start thinking around move 8.
  4. You may object that Ne2-g3 wastes a tempo, but I will recoup that tempo by not castling. White’s king is actually quite safe in the center, because of the blocked pawn formation.
  5. Finally, with the knight on g3 the f-pawn is free to advance to f3, creating positions similar to the Saemisch Variation. But the good thing is that by moving the knight first instead of playing 5. f3 right away, White retains more flexibility in his setup.

In spite of all this, I wouldn’t say that I won the game against Biyiasis solely because of the opening. I got a good position but let most of my advantage slip away. But then Theodore went pawn-hunting and opened up his kingside. He also got in very bad time pressure, which made a bad situation worse. We finally got to one of those you-made-the-time-control-but-you’re mated-in-three positions.

Let me end the entry by tipping my hat to the tournament director, Salman Azhar. I first met Salman a very long time ago — he was a grad student at Duke in the early 1980s, when I was teaching there. He started his organization, Bay Area Chess, a few years ago, mostly for scholastic tournaments. He tried to organize tournaments for all ages too, but typically his “all-ages” tournaments would consist of 96 kids and 4 adults. Well, I’m exaggerating, but it seemed that way. It must have been discouraging for him, because even as he was raking in money from the kids and becoming the USCF’s number one affiliate in northern California, he couldn’t get the serious players to come to his tournaments. But he has persevered, and I think that very gradually the “serious players” are starting to come around.

I’ll just mention one reason why adults don’t always want to come to a tournament with lots of kids. While I was playing against Theodore Biyiasis, the game next to me had two 10-year-olds who have played each other many, many times. They were talking with each other and joking the whole game. It seemed as if every move was accompanied by a snicker. For some reason it was just the funniest thing in the world to them that they were playing each other. I was VERY tolerant of them for the longest time, but I finally couldn’t take it any more and started shushing them. However, even after four or five “shhhhs” they still wouldn’t shut up, and I finally had to resort to putting my fingers over my ears!

I won’t say the players’ names, but I am glad to report that the father of one of them was very sympathetic to me, and talked with his son and then had him come and apologize to me. Of course I accepted the apology. How could I not? We were all 10 years old once, and as the father said, because these kids play so much like adults we sometimes forget that they are kids in every other way.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Schmidt May 30, 2011 at 9:05 am

The 5 Nge2 variation of the King’s Indian is a lot of fun for all the reasons you mentioned. I particularly like that the positions with a knight on g3 have a surprisingly different character from ones where it’s on f3, and it’s very easy for Black to underestimate this.

I know you like to do your opening research on your own, but Forintos & Haag’s Easy Guide to the Nge2 King’s Indian is a nice little book on the subject.


admin May 30, 2011 at 9:21 am

Hi Dan,
Thanks for the tip! I saw on ChessBase that Forintos was one of the first players to use Nge2 a lot (along with a few other Hungarians). So I would definitely be interested in his viewpoint on the variation.


Marc June 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm

David Vigorito covered the 5.Nge2 variation in his video “King’s Indian for Black: Part V”, where he called it the Hungarian Variation.


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