Central California Open

by admin on August 24, 2009

I got back late last night from Fresno, where I spent the weekend playing in the first Central California Open! This was a Continental Chess (i.e., Bill Goichberg) tournament, which means that it had a substantial prize fund. There were four sections (Open!, U2000, U1600, and U1200) with, I think, first prizes of $1000-plus in each section. Bill Goichberg was not there, but the tournament was run by his very capable stand-in, Steve Immitt. There was a very strong turnout of local Fresno players; their chess club is one of the most active in the country, and I saw several people with black Fresno t-shirts. The total attendance was 139 people, and a crosstable has already been posted at the USCF website.

By the way, the two exclamation points in the last paragraph were not accidental. The official name of the tournament, as well as the Open section, actually includes the exclamation point. Perhaps this reflects the excitement of the Fresno players at having the first big-time tournament in their city?

The co-winners of the tournament were IM Ricardo de Guzman and Garush Manukyan, who both had 4½ out of 5. IM Andranik Matikozyan and Yian Liou tied for third with 4 out of 5. A very very impressive showing by the young Liou, who was a class A player when I first saw him last year, and is now a master and rising like a rocket. His only loss was to co-winner Manukyan.

Not all the young prodigies did so well. Samuel Sevian, the highest-rated 8-year-old in the country (who tied for first in the Silicon Valley Challenge last month) scored 2½ out of 5 and actually lost rating points. Hey, wait a minute! I thought prodigies were never supposed to lose rating points? Even so, I am sure he will have many better days to come.

I had a so-so tournament, with two wins, two losses, and a half-point bye in round 1. For me this tournament was a tune-up for the U.S. Senior Open in two weeks, but I would like to have played better. I made quite a few mistakes in my losses, and even in my wins I did not play with a lot of confidence. I’ll have to do better in Tulsa.

Yves Tan, with whom I shared a ride and a hotel room, nearly pulled off a great “Swiss Gambit.” Playing in the under-2000 section, he lost in round 1, then won three in a row and almost had a winning advantage in the last round. However, his opponent managed to hold a draw in a pawn-down rook endgame. So Yves ended with 3½ points, which left him out of the prize money. Ironically, he felt that the draw in the last round was his best game of the tournament.

One of Yves’ wins came when his opponent forfeited on time even though he thought he had made 40 moves. Here is a very important tip for anyone playing with a digital chess clock that displays the number of moves made: DO NOT TRUST ANYTHING BUT YOUR OWN SCORESHEET to count the moves correctly. Clocks can sometimes show too many or too few moves completed. It isn’t necessarily the fault of the clock. One of the players might have missed the button at some point and the other player didn’t notice it; in that case the clock will show too few moves completed. Or maybe at the beginning of the game you started the wrong player’s clock first, and then started the other player’s clock. If you didn’t go back and re-set the clock, then the clock will show too many moves made. That was probably what happened in Yves’ game. Yves felt a little bit guilty about winning this way, because the position on the board was probably a draw, but he was completely right to claim the win.

By the way, notice that I advise you not to trust your opponent’s scoresheet either. Only your own. If you can’t keep score well enough to determine how many moves have been played, then it’s your own fault if you lose.

Here is an interesting position from yesterday’s final round. Liou is White and Francisco Alonso, an expert, is Black. It is another example of why quality of pawns, not quantity, is crucial in queen and pawn endgames. (Amount of time on the clock is important, too!)

White to move.

Even though White is a pawn down, his h-pawn is a greater threat to promote than Black’s pawns, and so the real question is whether Black can hold a draw. Here the computer says that White’s best move is 1. Qb6, in order to prevent … Qb3+ while also keeping an eye on Black’s pawns. If Black replies 1. … Qh1?, then according to the computer White is winning after 2. Qf6+. White is able to advance his pawn to h7, or else White is able to give away his h-pawn to win a whole flotilla of Black pawns. The problem with 1. … Qh1 was that it moved the queen out of checking range.

That’s all computer analysis — I would need to spend some time on this position to make sure that I agree. After 1. Qb6 the computer says Black should play 1. … Kg5, with about a 0.8-pawn advantage for White. I don’t trust this evaluation. Let’s just say that White retains very good winning chances. Also, there is a very important point – Alonso had about three minutes left, while Liou had an hour or so. So I feel certain that if Liou had been able to keep the game going and avoid obvious perpetual checks, he would have won eventually.

Instead, Liou played 1. h7. Very natural, but the computer says that Black can draw by playing 1. … Qb3+ 2. Ka1 Qd1+ 3. Qb1 Qh5! Here, White cannot make progress with the h-pawn, and because his queen is now passive (in front of Black’s king, rather than behind) he can’t win the entire Black pawn armada with checks the way he can in the line I just mentioned. There’s an important lesson here about activity in a queen endgame. I’m sure that Alonso thought 1. … Qb3+ and 2. … Qd1+ were “just spite checks,” and that’s why he didn’t play them, but in fact they served the important purpose of reducing the activity of White’s queen.

So Alonso played the natural-looking move 1. … e4?, which turns out to be the losing move. It was intended to shut White’s queen out, but it doesn’t work. Liou played 2. Qh6+ Kg3 3. h8Q Qb3+ 4. Kb1 Qd1+ 5. Qc1 Qd3+ 6. Ka1 and the checks run out. After 6. … e3 7. Qe5+ Kf3 8. Qh1+, Black resigned.

“Where do kids learn to play endgames so well?” Yves wondered. Once upon a time you could count on a 10-year-old making mistakes in the endgame. Not any more!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Michael Aigner September 11, 2009 at 10:20 pm

There’s definitely a reason why Yian was learning endgames way back as an 8 year old. 🙂


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