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Aliyev Wins Battle of the Carolinas Print E-mail
By FM Mike Klein   
April 15, 2008
Mabematch.jpg
Chris Mabe and Timur Aliyev hard at work. Check a friendlier photo below.

Rivalries abound between North Carolina and South Carolina.  Both states’ residents claim better golf and beaches, both argue about the correct pronunciation of the towns named Beaufort, and they even dispute the birthplace of Andrew Jackson. With the advent of the inaugural Border Battle, now the title of best chess player can be added to the list of contested superlatives.

Played over the first two weekends in April, North Carolina Champion NM Chris Mabe squared off with South Carolina Champion NM Timur Aliyev in a four-game match to decide the absolute champion of the Carolinas. As the Carolina blue sky turned to dusk, Aliyev snatched victory for the Palmetto State with deft defense and a grinder’s mentality, 2.5-1.5.

All four games were hard-fought, with game three, the only draw, ending in king versus king. The two players, who are good friends, mostly played for pride. The duo congenially agreed in advance to split the $500 prize fund, and they discussed each game upon its conclusion.

The first two games were held in Charlotte, North Carolina and the final two in Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina. They were broadcast live and the match was sponsored by a wide variety of local organizations, including the North Carolina Chess Association, South Carolina Chess Association, Aiken (SC) Chess Club, Queen City (Charlotte) Chess Club, Columbia Chess Club, Charleston Chess Club and Greenville Chess Club. SCCA President David Grimaud served as the arbiter and organizers Gary Newsome, David Causey and Mickey Lauria assisted in creating the event.

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Aliyev was forced to play catch-up after dropping the first game. Mabe played in his quintessential style, which he described as “positional aggression.” He said he used the same straightforward approach in nearly all of his games to win the expert section of last year’s World Open. It was the peak performance of North Carolina’s newest master, who touched 2300 earlier this year. He said he started noticing big returns when he switched to 1.c4 a few years ago. “My openings aren’t necessarily fun,” Mabe said. “I play what wins tournaments for me.”

In round one Mabe built a spatial plus and capitalized with an exchange sacrifice, eventually earning in the full point.



annotations by Mike Klein and Chris Mabe
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 d6
 This was a surprise - I had only prepared for a King's Indian, which I thought he might try to get back into - CM.
 3.d4 Bg4 4.Nc3 Nbd7 5.g3 e5
5...Bxf3 6.exf3 e5 7.Bg2 c6 8.0–0 Be7 9.f4 exd4 10.Qxd4 Looks good for White to me - CM.
 6.Bg2 c6 7.0–0
White has an easy plan here. At some point h3 and then if the bishop retreats to the h-file you can play Nh4-f5. You can play it like a fianchetto King's Indian.
 7...Be7 8.h3 Bh5 9.Nh4

Once again with the same idea of playing Nf5.
 9...Bg6
The tension has to favor White.
10.e4 Nb6?!
 This is the rule and not the exception - knights don't belong on b6. 10...Qb6 is normal to put pressure on the d4-pawn.
 11.Nxg6
11.c5 dxc5 12.dxe5 Nxe5 13.f4 Bh5 14.g4 c4+ 15.Kh1 Nexg4 16.hxg4 Nxg4 leaves White in a treacherous predicament. "I would never play this," said Mabe.
 11...hxg6 12.Ne2 would have been the super-solid reply by Mabe. "I would just sit and ask Black 'What are you going to do?'"] 11.b3 and the Black knight is just misplaced. I have d5 under control 1,000 times - CM.
11...Nfd7 12.Nf5
Mabe wanted to clear e4 for his knight. If the pawn structure stabilized, maybe I could get some sort of kingside attack - CM.
12...Bxf5 13.exf5 0–0 14.d5
 I think this makes the pawn structure clearly better for White - CM.
 14...Rc8 15.Ba3 Nf6
This was an interesting point in my thought process. I want to move my queen and bring my rooks to the center, but if he starts trading everything on d5 that means I have to take back with the queen eventually. I don't want to move the queen twice - I want to save a move. I came up with Re1.
16.Re1 cxd5 17.Nxd5
17.Bxd5! it seems weird to give up your bishop but the point is 17...Nbxd5 18.Nxd5 Nxd5 19.Qxd5 with a great endgame for White. I didn't work hard enough here in my analysis and I didn't play the best move. It's hard to give up your bishop.
 17...Nbxd5 18.Bxd5 Qa5?
 
18...Qa5.jpg
Position after 18...Qa5


Confidently played Aliyev, perhaps thinking he will win a pawn by trading on d5 and putting his rook on d5.
19.Rxe5! dxe5
19...Nxd5 doesn't help, as after 20.Qxd5 Qxd5 21.Rxd5 Rfd8 22.Rad1 Rc6 23.c5+-; 19...Rfe8 20.Bxf7+ is also a no-go.
 20.Bxe7 Rfe8
20...Nxd5 21.cxd5 Rfe8
21...Rfd8 may still be the best try. 22.d6 or even 22. Qg4! Rxe7 23. f6 with three devastating threats.
22...Ra8 23.f6 and Black's dark squares are mortally weak.; 20...Rfd8 21.Bxf6 gxf6 22.Qg4+ Kh8 23.Bxb7 should be winning for White, but there is still some play left as White must limit the Black queen's activity.
 21.Bxf6 gxf6 22.Qg4+ Kh8 23.Qh4
 "I made a conscious decision here to put pieces around his king, as he was in time pressure," said Mabe. He noted that provoking his opponent's text move prevents the annoying Qc3. 23.Bxb7 may be the better pawn to take, as the White c-pawn will now become a latent force.
 23...Qb6 24.Bxf7 Rf8
24...Re7 25.Bd5 (25.Be6!? allows 25...Rxe6 26.fxe6 Qxe6 where Black should still lose, but has much more drawing chances than if the bishop stays on the board.)
25.Bd5 a5 26.Qe4 Rcd8 27.g4
 with the thought of Re1–e3-g3 and g5. There is no need to play 27.Bxb7 and allow Rd2.
27...Rd7 28.Kg2
28.g5 Rg7 29.h4 might be playable, but Mabe didn't see any play for Black and decided to further squeeze his lifeless opponent.
 28...Qc5
28...Qb4 gives the queen more chances for an invasion.
 29.a3 b5 30.b4 axb4 31.axb4 Qd4
31...Qxb4 32.Rb1 Qd2 33.Rxb5±
 32.Qxd4 exd4 33.Be6 Rc7 34.c5 Kg7 35.Kf3 Rd8 36.Rd1 Ra7 37.Ke4 Kf8 38.Rxd4 Rxd4+ 39.Kxd4 Ke7 40.Kd5 Ra2 41.Kc6 Rxf2 42.Kxb5 Rh2 43.Kb6 h5 44.c6 hxg4 45.c7 1–0
     
But Aliyev rebounded in the next game, walking a tightrope but making it to the other side and ensuring an even match after the northern leg. He jettisoned the entire queenside and built a menacing attack, highlighted by an obvious exchange sacrifice of his own, which Mabe simply missed. The Tarheel representative said afterward he was guilty of what GM Jonathan Rowson calls in The Seven Deadly Chess Sins   “egoism” – the belief that you still have an advantage even after you let it slip away. “I was nervous but after I won the first game I got a bit cocky,” he said. “I lost a little bit of objectivity in the second game.”

Despite facing the imaginative idea of …b5,…Rc4,…Ra4, Aliyev’s h-pawn steamrolled. He said once he captured the base of Black’s pawn chain (f7), his opponent’s king was doomed. To his credit, he spent a long time after 34. Rxf7 to find the most accurate finish to the game.



The four-day layoff before the third game did not really give the two players a lot of time to adjust their openings or overall strategy. Mabe had a final exam in a math course and Aliyev is also in college, getting a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. On top of that, Mabe qualified for the U.S. State Champion of Champions tournament, which required game three to take place a day sooner than planned (he went on to finish a respectable sixth in the Eastern Division). Still, Aliyev said the two know each other so well that preparation was not only possible but mandatory.

Mabe had more missed chances in game three. He said afterward 34. Nf5, forcing a rook and pawn endgame, would have been the right way. “The more I look at it the more it is really difficult to defend.” His opponent demurred, claiming the mating nets formed by knight and rook gave enough complications to earn the draw. “I’m very proud of the third game,” Aliyev said. “It was the most important game of the match. I was trying to equalize from the very beginning.”



So the first Border Battle Champion would come down to the final game. Aliyev, playing in his first match ever, jokingly warned Mabe not to repeat the French Defense of round two; his advice proved prophetic. Aliyev gave Mabe a dose of his own medicine, eschewing his pet gambit of round two to play a solid version of the King’s Indian Attack, causing his opponent to push too far.

The plan of …Qh5 and …g5 is playable, but perhaps not in Mabe’s usual style. Aware that many of his friends were watching online, Mabe said he played aggressively “because I knew there was an audience.” His choice of plans stunned Aliyev. “He’s very talented positionally,” Aliyev said. “It was the last game and he should have been more responsible.” The inclusion of 15…Bd4 was too exotic. “I was already going through tactical hoops to justify what I had done before,” Made said. “I missed c3 and he outplayed me.” White won the g-pawn and kept his wedge pawn on e5, then duly converted the endgame with the fantastic combo of 50. c6 and 51. h4! with the idea of 51…Bxh4 52. Be5, when Black cannot check and get his bishop back to b6.



Mabe is a lifelong North Carolinian with the long-term goal to become a titled player; he would settle for international master. “Of course everyone would like to be a GM but I’m trying to be realistic,” he said. Committing to a daily study regimen and playing competitively several times per month, he has already broken out of a few conventions for becoming a master. Mabe took up the game in earnest as an adult and comes from a one stoplight town called Boonville, NC, where the closest player above class C was a few towns away. He sheepishly admitted to playing 1. e5 c5 2. Nf3 e5?! as Black during his first game since childhood, but he got the “fever” after that.

Aliyev’s chess career began much more traditionally, learning the game at age six. Being born in Kasparov’s hometown of Baku, Azerbaijan, didn’t hurt either. He claims his style is “technical” as was evinced by the finish to game two. He hopes to make FM “as soon as possible” and eventually IM as well. “It’s more than a hobby, it’s my first love. I will play chess all my life.”

Aliyev praised Mabe for both his methodical gains in chess strength and his friendship – the two often travel together for tournaments. “[Mabe] would drive all the way to Ohio,” Aliyev recalled, “or talk to you the whole time so you don’t fall asleep. He loves chess which is very rare.”

The states’ scholastic champions faced off as well, with North Carolina’s Jonathan McNeill besting South Carolina’s Michael Lauria, 1.5-0.5.

Mabe thinks the format for the Border Battle could easily be replicated across the country by pitting the champions between states that are natural rivals. He suggested New York and New Jersey would be the ultimate within the chess world, but lesser-known chess states could join in the mix: “Like West Virginia and Virginia – which one’s the real Virginia? Let’s play a match and decide.”
 
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