Friday, January 25, 2013

Going Over the Tactical Cliff at the Boston Chess Congress

All chess non-politics is tactical.
- Chess Tip O'Neill
It's been almost 14 years since I last played in a Continental Chess Association event, and it was a pleasure to return for the recent Boston Chess Congress at the Hyatt Harborside. Okay, losing my first three games was not so great, but each of those games had points of interest for me. Not having played a game since May 2012 may have contributed to my frequently incomplete move evaluations which repeatedly sent me over the tactical cliff. Still, I was happy that during some games I noticed some tactical ideas quickly, even if my execution of them left something to be desired.

Rated 1806, I entered the 3-day schedule of the 1600-1899 Booster section. That section turned out to be the largest, with 33 players.

Enjoying the games is always my primary goal, but the large prizes of this tournament caused a 1900-rated inner voice in me (last heard from in 1991) to cry out that he is still here, trying to get out and excel in the section. However, in the end, the 1700 player in me rather effortlessly muffled that 1900 voice....

Friday night I had Black against Syed Al-Mamun in round 1. At the following point I felt my position was going somewhat downhill:

I considered taking perpetual check with 18...Bxh3 19 gxh3 Qg3+ 20 Kh1 Qh3+. If White interposed his queen against either check (which at the time I imagined might be viable, but didn't examine closely), I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to make anything out of my extra pawn after playing ...Qxe3 -- I had failed to update my mental image of where White's queen would be, so I thought it was both on g2 or h2 having blocked my queen check, and was also simultaneously back on d2 protecting the d3 pawn. Only looking at that variation now do I see that I was hallucinating, and that I would have been up two pawns (Calculating apparatus operating normally? CHECK!), from which I'm rather more confident I would have been able to make something. However, Syed would presumably not have gone down such a line, despite his having told me later that, during the game, he strongly wished to avoid a draw.

Then I abruptly noticed 19 Bf2 and, dismayed that I had overlooked an obvious refutation, hastily and mistakenly concluded that 18...Bxh3 doesn't work. If I had bothered to look, oh, one more move, I would have seen that my queen and bishop are both fine after 19...Qg4. tChess Pro revealed that insight after I'd returned home that night; Syed later related that he'd similarly found it with a computer, though he hadn't seen 18...Bxh3 during the game.

We continued to the following position after 24 exf5:

This move should be good enough. What could possibly go wrong?
- Yours Truly, and Unfortunately Frequently
Correct is 24...Bxf5, when after 25 Qh4 Bxd3 26 Rxf8+ Rxf8 27 Bxh6 Rh6 Black has material equality although he is facing two passed pawns. After 25 Qh4, I continued my accelerating slide over the tactical cliff.

Later in the weekend, Syed commented that on the 24th move I had had enough clock time (around 27 minutes, per my scoresheet) to have instead chosen the bishop capture. I had indeed looked at both captures, but was vaguely concerned that after 24...Bxf5 I would have trouble with White's pressure down the f-file, and I didn't even notice the 25 Qh4 file reply to either capture. Not having appreciated the significant differences between the two captures, I was unduly concerned about making a move quickly to avoid getting into a situation where I'd have less than a minute for each move remaining to the time control.

So I barreled out of the gate with a loss. With my strong dislike of fast time controls, I never seriously considered the $50 re-entry option to play a replacement game 1, plus game 2, at G/75, d5, instead of 40/2, SD/1, d5. I was chatting with someone who joked that if you did use the re-entry option and had a really bad tournament, you could lose 6 games in what was ostensibly a 5 round tournament. No thank you....

In round 2 on Saturday, I had White against Tom Medrek. Despite having an edge right out of the opening, I eventually played too casually, overlooking a tactic (which I had seen earlier but subsequently forgotten) and was forced to give back the extra pawn I'd won way back on move 7. In the following position after 30...Rd4, I was feeling pressed for time on the clock:

I hallucinated that 31 Rxd4+ cxd4 would give Black two connected passed pawns, which I was not about to allow, and I instead chose:

31 Rc2?? Rd1+ 32 Kh2 Bd3 after which I was forced to give up my b-pawn, and was clearly losing. I persisted a bit longer, eventually capping things off with the stupendous:

35 Ra6+?? Bxa6 What the? Who put that bishop there?

We had inadvertently started that game with the board set up with the letters and numbers upside down. Tom discovered the mistake after a few moves, and we agreed to fix it before proceeding (although when we pushed all the pieces off, our neighbors may have thought there had been a very fast resignation). I (and perhaps Tom as well) sometimes look to those letters and numbers for confirmation when recording moves. However, during the post-mortem I noticed that I had recorded 23 Rad1, but I was pretty sure I had actually played that rook to e1 with 23 Rbe1. Tom agreed that that's what happened, but apparently he too (!) had recorded my move as 23 Rad1. An odd double hallucination-recording of both starting and ending files; the Mon Roi may be the only cure for habitual offenders like me.

In round 3, I had Black against Ed Chornoboy. This was the crown jewel of the three losses, since it answered an opening question that has been gnawing at me for some time.

In earlier games at our club against Kyle Clayton and Dan Schmidt, I'd come to the following position as Black after 6...Ng4:

Kyle played 7 Rf1? and after 7...Nxh2 I eventually won.

Dan played 7 Qe2 and after 7...Bf2+ 8 Kd1? I was the first to achieve a clearly better or won position, but missed a tactic and in the end we agreed a draw (although that is only half of that game's story).

When Ed played into this line as well, I quite enthusiastically gave 6...Ng4 another go.

Ed replied:

7 Ng5

which seems like it may be the best response.

7...Bf2+? Odd, I don't even know why I played this move without provocation. I could have just castled. 7...O-O 8 Rf1 exf4 9 Bxf4 Nce5 10 Bd5 Ne3 is a slight advantage for Black (-0.57) according to tChess Pro. 8 f5 seems better, although after that, tChess Pro gives 8...Bf2+ 9 Kf1 Ne3+ 10 Bxe3 Bxe3 11 h4 h6 12 Qh5 Bxg5 13 hxg5 Qxg5 14 Qxg5 hxg5 (+0.06), when it seems White has a good position and can easily win the c-pawn to restore material equality, so I don't think Black can be very happy with his position.

8 Kf1 O-O 9 f5 Shutting down Black's light-square bishop, and opening up the diagonal for White's dark-square bishop.

9...Ne3+ 10 Bxe3 Bxe3 11 h4

 I knowingly played into:

11...Bxg5 (11...g6 would seem to have been more circumspect; tChess Pro gives 12 Nd5 Bc5 13 Ke1 Na5 14 b4 Nxc4 15 bxc5 (-0.39)) 12 hxg5 Qxg5 13 Rh5 Qf4+ 14 Kg1

I had figured that I "merely" had to keep control of f6 with my queen, after which I could play ...g6 to chase White's rook away and liquidate his f5 pawn. Only after reaching this position did I notice that I would first have to break White's bishop's pin on the f-pawn, so I played the unbelievably bad:


Only after making that move did I notice that 15 Nd5 would attack my queen on f4 and also my unprotected c-pawn. Now I spent a brief time telling myself that I should have played 14...Qe3+ (15 Kh1) first, but I would still have had problems with my queen (and with other things).

15 Nd5 Qg3 16 Ne7+

I thought, hey, he didn't take my c-pawn, I'm getting off easy!

16...Kh8 17 Rxh7+ Oops, not that easy.

Dave Harris, who was selling chess books and equipment at the tournament, suggested we may have duplicated some Steinitz game. Well, now I think I know why 6...Ng4 isn't in the theory books!

Sunday I had the dubious pleasure of finding that I was prominently listed three times as the higher rated victim on the Upset List for my section, including being the "most-disgraced", since Ed was rated 240 points below me. Syed, my first round opponent, made some comment to me in passing, expressing some concern about my rating point loss. I replied with a smile that I had nothing to worry about -- I've got a 1700 floor! I don't think he quite understood my humor. Perhaps after he spends a decade or so stuck in a limited rating range he will understand where I'm coming from....

I finally redeemed myself a tad in rounds 4 and 5 with wins, but not without some suffering. Having misremembered some opening analysis, I had been worse as White for much of my game 5 against Cornel Osadsa, and in the following position jettisoned my d-pawn to free my long-suffering dark-square bishop:

21 d5 Bxd5 22 Rhd1 Rad8 23 Qc2

23...Qc7? During the game, I mistakenly thought this lost major material, and I quickly played:

24 Bxf6

24...Rxf6?? The real blunder, but I never even considered the absolutely necessary 24...gxf6 which tChess Pro pointed out, further giving 25 Rxd5 Rxd5 26 Bxd5 Qb6+ 27 Kg2 cxd5 28 Kh3 d4 29 Rd1 Re8 30 Qxf5 Qd6 (-0.15).

25 Rxd5

And White is winning. Fortunately for me, 25...Qb6+ fails to 26 Rc5 (26...Rd2+ 27 Qxd2 Qxc5+ 28 Qe3 and Black is still down a piece for a pawn), since...uh, I hadn't thought to examine it.

25...Rxd5 26 Bxd5 Qb6+ 27 Kg2 Rd6

28 Bb3 Controlling d1 and shielding the b-pawn against Black's queen.

28...Rf6 29 Re1

29...Rf8?? Succumbing to the optical illusion that this move adequately protects the back rank.

30 Qxf5 Cornel is not the only opponent from whom I've "stolen" material twice within the span of several moves, both "thefts" occurring in broad daylight because back rank mate prevents recapture. The first shocking capture can apparently throw one's senses for quite a loop.

Eventually we reached this position after 38...Kf6

It is important to find the shortest or simplest route to victory.
- Judit Polgar
39 Re8 Snuffing out the last whimper of any counterplay, forcing the rook exchange.

The hotel generously provided free coffee and tea, and also made convenient, affordable food options available both days, from which I had a wonderfully tasty vegetarian lunch on Sunday (maybe that helped me win my last game?). They also regulated the temperature in the playing hall perfectly, in my opinion. Usually I have to wear my coat's inner layer (or more!) at hotel tournaments, but I could actually dress normally during my games this time. The Boston Chess Congress is now in recess, but I hope it returns for another session at the Hyatt Harborside!


Anonymous said...

Nice tournament report, although it would be nice to see one of the non-losses too, heh.

In the first game, the Qh4 move is exactly the kind of thing that I could easily miss and would need to patiently look for during calculation. Thanks for pointing out the various tactical issues, which were useful to see.

Ken said...

Actually, I won game 5 (the one with back rank mate tactics) which I included. I haven't forgotten Mike Griffin having castigated me for showing only my "Worst ofs".

Anonymous said...

Should have said "more of" the non-losses, so they don't get lost in the shuffle!

I go through all of my (tournament) games equally, so can't be accused of bias one way or the other, although it's still a bit painful to go all the way through an ugly tournament.

Ken said...

My 4th round win was a rather one-sided affair, which is why I didn't include it.

As I noted, a draw was mine for the taking in round 1, had I calculated correctly. In the post-mortem for round 2, Tom and I agreed that White seemed better after the 31 Rxd4+ line I mistakenly rejected. In round 3, the 7...O-O I cited would probably have been tolerable, though not comfortable. In round 5 I had been distinctly worse right out of the opening until 24 Bxf6. So for all these other games, I felt things could relatively easily have gone differently. However, from fairly early on in game 4, my chess nose detected the strong scent of a win.