Closer to Fine

by admin on February 26, 2019

When the San Francisco Mechanics started out the season with three losses in three matches, there was some understandable consternation in the City by the Bay. Tears were shed. Bad rap lyrics were written. Hope was abandoned. (One of those three statements is actually true.)

But over the last five weeks, the Mechanics have, by force of will and by force of Daniel Naroditsky, written new lyrics to the season, and these lyrics are much more pleasant to hear. They include catchy lines like, “Naroditsky plays another Game of the Century!” and “Zierk takes out their board one!” and “Bhat is up two pawns!” and “Andrew Hong is still playing!” (Andy Lee, our commentator, opined half a dozen times that Hong was busted against Conrad Holt. But Hong didn’t get the memo, refused to concede defeat, and eventually scored half a point.)

This week, we went into our match with the Dallas Destiny in seventh place in the Pacific Division, while Dallas was in first place. On paper, that seems like a mismatch. But a sensational second round propelled us to a 6-2 lead. After a wild final two rounds that saw zero draws in eight games, we managed to hang onto the lead and win 10-6. (In fact, out of the 16 games only two were drawn!)

What has changed between the lineup that staggered through the first three weeks and the lineup that has been tearing through the league for the last five weeks? Absolutely the most important thing was that Daniel Naroditsky, who was a little bit rusty in the beginning, has found his form and has been playing unbelievably creative chess. His performance rating for the last four weeks was 2799, and for this week it would have been even higher if he had not mangled his last-round game against Dallas’s number one board, Jeffery Xiong. (Fortunately the match was already won, so Danya’s loss to Xiong did not sting too much.)

Another player who has caught fire is Steven Zierk, who was also perhaps a bit rusty in the beginning but has been outstanding the last two weeks. As team manager David Pruess said, on a team with Danya it’s hard for anyone else to be the star, but this week Zierk was indeed our MVP, as he scored 4-0 on board three. That’s right, he single-handedly wiped out Dallas’s #1, #2, #3, and #4 players, often battling back from seemingly perilous positions.

With Danya scoring 3-1 and Steven scoring 4-0, we didn’t need much more to win the match, and we got more than enough from Vinay Bhat and Andrew Hong, who scored 1½ apiece. It was Hong, in fact, who scored our ninth and winning point with a checkmate of Dallas’s fourth board, Emily Nguyen, in the last round. Until that we had some anxious moments. We went into the last round with a huge 8-4 lead, but for a little while it appeared we would lose three games (Danya, Steven, and Vinay all stood worse). So we breathed a great sigh of relief when Andrew won his game and clinched the victory. When Steven then fought back and miraculously won his fourth game, it was icing on the cake.

While Steven was overall our best performer, once again Danya had the best game of the night, with his amazing Tal-like combination in round two against Cameron Wheeler.

Position after 0. … Kf8. White to move.

FEN: rn2rk2/1p3qpp/1Pp2p1N/p7/1P2n3/P5Q1/1B4PP/3R1RK1 w – – 0 1

Here Danya is White, and Wheeler has just played 0. … Kf8 to get out of check. Most likely Wheeler was expecting something along the lines of 1. Nxf7 Nxg3 2. Nd6 Nxf8 3. Nxe8 Kxe8 4. Kxf1, when Black is winning in spite of the fact that he has no pieces developed.  But then Danya hit him with the stunning shot, 1. Bxf6!!

There’s an old saying that your opponent can only take one piece at a time, and this position is a great example. White’s queen, knight and bishop are all en prise, but Black can only take one of them. The big question is whether Black might have been able to save the game with 1. … Nxg3 2. Bxg7++ Kxg7 3. Rxf7+ Kxh6. White has a lot of threats and he can vacuum up the b-pawn and/or the h-pawn, but in retrospect this is the best try for Black. However, Wheeler most likely thought that he had a clear win with 1. … gf, and that is what he played.

Now Danya doubled down on his attack with 2. Rxf6!!, sacrificing a piece on the same square for the second turn in a row. Black has to take, 2. … Qxf6 and now after 3. Qg8+ Ke7 4. Qxh7+ Kf8 it looks as if White might have to settle for a perpetual check.

But no! Danya played for a win with 5. Rf1! Now Wheeler hit him with the shocking 5. … Nf2 – which may be the reason that Wheeler went into this line, because Naroditsky cannot play 6. Rxf2?? Re1+ with mate next move for Black. However, Danya got the last laugh with 6. Qg8+ Ke7 7. Re1+!

It’s mind-boggling that Danya was able to calculate this precise little dance sequence with his queen and rook, along with all the other variations he had to calculate after 1. Bxf6!! – and he worked it all out in just two minutes. And there’s no question that he had it all worked out, because he blitzed out his moves, proving that he had anticipated Wheeler’s 5. … Nf2.

From here it’s obvious that White is winning, but just for completeness here is how it went: 7. … Kd6 8. Qxe8. Now the threat is 9. Nf7+ followed by 10. Qe4 mate, so Black desperately gave away his rook with 10. … Na6 11. Qxa8. The knight on h6 is still taboo because of 11. … Qxh6? 12. Qd8 mate, so Wheeler rescued his knight with 12. … Nd3. And then Naroditsky finished with a flourish: 13. Nf5+! Qxf5 (13. … Kd5 would fail to 14. Qg8+ — as elegant a mating idea as you’ll ever see) 14. Qd8+ Qd7 15. Qxd7+ Kxd7 16. Rd1, pinning and winning the knight on d3.

When you look at all the miracles in these variations, you really have the sense that Naroditsky could just close his eyes and throw his pieces on the board, and they would somehow land in the perfect positions. (I know this is a paraphrase of something that was said about somebody else; can anyone remember who?) Somehow this never works for the rest of us, only for the great ones!

After this round we have finally climbed out of the bottom two in our division. That was goal number one; if we can stay in sixth place or better then we avoid relegation. Even more exciting, we are definitely within reach of fourth place and a playoff position. With two weeks left in the regular season, here are the standings in the Pacific Division:

  1. Chengdu – 165
  2. Dallas – 165
  3. Minnesota – 156.5
  4. Australia – 135
  5. San Jose – 133.5
  6. San Francisco – 128
  7. Seattle – 122.5
  8. San Diego – 84

I don’t know whether Chengdu or Dallas is ahead on tiebreaks, but I’ve put Chengdu first because that is how they are listed in the standings on the PRO Chess League website. Next week’s pairings are Chengdu against Seattle, Dallas against San Jose, Minnesota against San Francisco, and Australia against San Diego.

Looking at those pairings, you’d have to say that Australia is favored to strengthen its hold on fourth place – but the great thing about the PRO Chess League is that you never know what will happen! If we can just keep close to Australia next week, then the Battle Royale in the last week of the season will give us a chance to move past them.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Splane February 27, 2019 at 8:12 pm

“The big question is whether Black might have been able to save the game with 1. … Nxg3 2. Bxg7++ Kxg7 3. Rxf7+ Kxh6. White has a lot of threats and he can vacuum up the b-pawn and/or the h-pawn, but in retrospect this is the best try for Black. ”

I think you are overlooking 1 … Nxg3 2. Be7+ ! !
2 … Re7 3. Rd8+ Re8 4. Rf7#
or
2 … Ke7 3. Rf7+ Ke6 4. Re1+ Kd6 5. Re8 and White is up at least an exchange., since he knight on b8 will fall.

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TM March 2, 2019 at 9:01 am

According to azquotes, Najdorf said, “Bobby just drops the pieces and they fall on the right squares.”

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TM March 2, 2019 at 9:18 am

Naroditsky (writing on chess.com) quotes Bisguier: ” …A grand master is much more skillful. He hardly thinks at all; he throws the piece into the air and it just falls on the right square.”

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admin March 2, 2019 at 9:33 am

That’s pretty funny! I guess Daniel has learned Bisguier’s lesson well, because he has now acquired that skill himself.

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