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By Marc Esserman   
September 19, 2008
Marc Esserman, here pictured at the New England Masters. Photo Betsy Dynako
The hurricane did not hit after all, but a storm of powerful chess players still descended upon Miami last week.  Florida's top player, Grandmaster Julio Becerra, was joined by Grandmasters Shabalov, Sadvakasov, Ehlvest, Mikhalevski, Ivanov, and Garcia, as well as GM elects Friedel, Bhat, Gonzalez, and many more IMs.  Such a high-class tournament would not be possible without the organizing efforts of IM Blas Lugo, who attracted corporate and private sponsorship and secured the participation of so many grandmasters to make the event as strong as possible. 

Yet in the end, to everyone's shock, the tournament was not won by a grandmaster, but by a 13 year old, International Master Ray Robson!  By the 5th round, Ray was 5-0, having defeated 4 IM's in succession.  Going into the 9th round, he had already wrapped up a tie for first, with 7 from 8.  Only GM Sadvakasov's defeat of Robson in the final round returned some sense of normalcy to the final standings as he joined Ray in a tie for first prize.  I also had the best tournament of my life, scoring 6.5/9 and tying for third prize with GM Becerra, GM Mikhalevski, IM Bercys (who also had a tremendous tournament and gained close to 50 points), and IM Kuljasevic.  Ed.Note- Marc's performance rating was 2690 USCF/2620 FIDE. Esserman shot up from 2345 to 2424 USCF in this event, an even larger gain than Ray Robson, who went from 2484 to 2539.

Round 6 was quite a scene as I found myself with 4.5/5, after just defeating GM's Ehlvest and Mikhalevski the day before, on board one facing off against the 13-year-old phenom.  After a very nervously played game from two players who were in unfamiliar territory, the game ended in a draw in severe time pressure.  However, in round 7, Ray showed no signs of weakening as he cemented his position in first place by a full point and delivered in what was in my opinion his most impressive game against GM elect Reiner Gonzalez.

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 c6

 The main line of the Scandinavian. Reiner had beaten Ray in this before so Ray would have something prepared.
6.Bc4 Bf5 7.Bd2 e6 8.Nd5 Qd8 9.Nxf6+ Qxf6
 There is also gxf6, where black's queen will not be as exposed. However Reiner does not wish to weaken his pawn formation.
10.Qe2 Nd7
10...Bxc2 The c2 pawn can be captured, but at great risk to Black. 11.Bc3 Qg6 12.0–0 and White has sufficient compensation.
In the Scandinavian, if White allows Black to castle and consolidate then the black position will become very difficult to break. As Ray is far ahead in development, he is looking to capitalize now
11...Nb6 12.Bg5 Qg6 13.d5!

Position after 13.d5

The thematic pawn break in the Scandinavian. The black king will not reach safety for the time being, and the white rooks are ready for work. 13...Nxc4 14.Qxc4 if cxb5 Qb5# highlights just how dangerous the situation has become.
 14...exd5 15.Rhe1+ Be6 16.Rxd5 Be7 17.Bxe7!

Position after 17.Be7

Ray sacrifices the exchange in an attempt to keep the black king harassed in the center.
17...cxd5 18.Qb4 Rc8 19.Nd4
All of white's pieces are aggressively placed. The rook is eyeing the king, the knight is centrally placed and cannot be dislodged, and the bishop and queen can make mating threats together in as little as one move. Black probably has no defense.
19...Qh6+ 20.Kb1 a5 21.Qxb7 Qd2
The action is at its peak. Black's active defensive plan, threatening mate and the d4 knight, fails to only one move.

Position after 22.Bb4

Defending mate and threatening mate in one on two squares, e7 and c8!, attacking the queen, and, of course, keeping the black king from castling.
22...axb4 23.Qxc8+ Ke7 24.Qc7+ Ke8 25.Nf3
The black rook now goes. 1–0

My tournament took flight in round three when I was paired with IM Justin Sarkar.  The controversial Morra gambit appeared, and not just a pawn was sacrificed!

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3

The Smith Morra accepted, the most principled way to challenge white's actions.
4...e6 5.Nf3 a6 6.Bc4 b5 7.Bb3 Bb7
 Black is threatening to win the e4 pawn with b4. The safest move to deal with the threat is Qe2, a usual developing move in the Morra gambit. 8.0–0 But this move ignores the threat. White is prepared to sacrifice more material.
8...b4 9.Nd5!?!?!?!?!?!?
Position after 9.Nd5

It is not the e4 pawn, but the knight, which is thrown into the fire. IM Calvin Blocker and I analyzed this position many years ago. We felt white may have sufficient compensation for the piece but were not sure. No definite conclusions were reached. When I showed this move to Grandmaster Lein, he laughed and replied "so what, why do I have to take it!."
 But I think it must be taken!
Black can choose between two defensive formations, d6 or Bd6.
10...d6 11.Qd4
But this move prevents Be7, as g7 hangs. The queen still threatens b4 and the attack begins. [11.Qe1+ Be7 12.Qxb4 Justin had seen this position before the game and had expected Qe1, the move given in the book that had it. But then black plays Be7 and gets closer towards his goal of castling.]
11...Nf6 12.Qxb4
Black must figure out how to defend his bishop.
developing the queen but onto a very dangerous file [12...Bc8 13.Re1+ Be7 14.Bf4 0–0 Black looks like he has gotten away, but! 15.Rxe7 Qxe7 16.Bxd6 Qd8 17.Be7 Qe8 18.Re1 and black is in trouble. If nd7, bh4! winning the queen!]
Now White threatens Rc1!, and if qd7 Ba4 wins the queen.
black's knight hopes to block the c-file by jumping to c5, thus stopping the white attack.
The king must go walking, as be7 fails to Bxd6 [14.Rac1 Nc5 (14...Qb6) 15.Rxc5 dxc5 16.Ba4+ Nd7 17.Qe4+]
With the king leaving e8, the f7 square now becomes sensitive. However, if white goes for f7 immediately with Ng5, then nc5! and black is clearly better.
As Nc5 fails to Rc5, Qb6 looks like the best try, driving back the white queen and gaining time to organize a final defensive repulsion. [15.Ng5 Nc5]
15...Nc5 16.Rxc5 Qxc5 (16...dxc5 17.Bxc7+) 17.Qxb7 and white is winning.
 17...Qa7 18.Qc6 Rc8 19.Qa4 Qd7 20.Qa5+]
Position after 16.Ng5

The rooks corner the black king from afar, and the knight gives the final blow. Justin resigned here as there is no defense but here is some analysis:
 The only move to block the mate. Nxf7 is now a simple win followed by nxd6, qxb6 and nxb7, but White can even sack the queen again with Qxd6! which is stronger!
17.Bxd6  is the strongest of all.
17.Qxd6 Qxd6 18.Bxd6 Ne4 19.Nxf7+ Ke8 20.Rxe4 Kxf7 21.Rxe7+ Kg6 22.Rxd7
17...Qxb4 18.Nxf7+ Ke8 19.Rxe7+ Kf8 20.Bxb4 1–0

On day three I was paired with GM Ehlvest as black, and had a somewhat worse position throughout the game, but luckily escaped in mutual time pressure to win.  From then on I got to play on the top boards, which had a direct view of the Miami sunshine and water outside of Bayside.  As I am from Miami but currently living in Boston, I felt quite at home in this environment and made sure to play every game with a direct view of the water, even at the expense of the clock being on my left.  Round 5 gave me white against Mikhalevski, a rematch of last year's Miami Open when I fought unsuccessfully against his Grunfeld defense.  A friend warned me before the game to be careful as Mikhalevski is a specialist in the symmetrical king pawn, but I replied "What can I do? He is also a specialist in the Grunfeld.  If I avoid both maybe I will have to play 1. f4."  So I played 1. e4. 

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5

The four knights. I did not want to play into Mikhelevski's open Ruy Lopez, where he is one of the world's leading experts.
4...Bb4 5.0–0 0–0 6.d3 d6 7.Bg5
 White is a little better in the symmetry.
7...Bxc3 8.bxc3
 Black "spoils white's haircut," but white obtains the two bishops.
8...Qe7 9.Re1 Nd8 10.d4 Ne6 11.Bc1 Rd8 12.Bf1 c5 13.g3

 So far this is all theoretical. Both sides have been playing quickly. Mikhelevski's next move surprised me but he continued with the fast pace, so I am assume it was prepared.
13...cxd4 14.cxd4
Black's idea is to gain active pressure on the c-file for his queen and a8 rook. However, the drawback of this move is that my pawn structure is now fixed, and my dark squared bishop obtains a powerful post on b2, where it may participate in a future kingside attack. 14...b6 15.Bb2 Nf8
 heading to g6 to stronghold his e5 pawn.
16.Nh4 Qc7
16...Ng6 17.Nf5 Bxf5 18.exf5± and the knight is kicked.
Black follows his plan of piling on the c file. White aims at the black king.
 I considered d5, which is playable, but did not want to give the c5 square.
The most aggressive move, the pressure on the e5 pawn is increasing. If now exf4 then d5! and the white bishop reaches its full potential 18...Rac8
18...exf4 19.d5
 19.Bd3 Bc4
 Taking the e5 pawn would be too dangerous, as the black pieces swarm.
I felt that instead of Rac1, Mikhelevski had to play d5 and sacrifice a pawn for compensation on the light squares as follows: 20.dxe5 dxe5 21.Bxe5 Qc5+ 22.Kg2 Ng4 23.Bb2 Bxd3 24.cxd3 Qc2 (24...Rxd3 25.Qxd3 Qf2+ 26.Kh3+-) 25.Re2 Qxd2 26.Rxd2 Ne3+ 27.Kf2 Nc4=]
20...d5 21.fxe5 Nxe4 22.Bxe4 dxe4 23.Nf5 But I do not have to take the pawn yet and can play Nf5 first, going to d6. I did not see this idea during the game and FM Javier Torres pointed it out post mortem.
Mikhelevski's next two moves surprised me. The dark bishop wrecks the black kingside.
21...Ne6 22.Bxf6 gxf6 23.Nf5 d5
Black's position now cannot be held.
The white queen and bishop now enter the attack to assist the knight.
24...Qc5+ 25.Kg2 fxe5 26.fxe5 Rc7 27.Qh6
Threatening Ne7 and mate in two.
27...Bxd3 28.cxd3 Qf8 29.Rxc7 Qxh6 30.Nxh6+ Kg7 31.Rxf7+ Kxh6 32.Rf6+
 28.Qf6+ Kg8 29.Rf1!

 Mate cannot be stopped without Black giving his queen.
29...Bxd3 30.Nh6+ Kf8 31.Qh8+ And Black resigned. 31...Ke7 32.Rxf7# 1–0

In round 8 after holding GM elect Gonzalez to a draw, I had chances for a GM norm if I could win the last round.  But unfortunately with 5.5/8 I was behind the only two GM's near my score bracket (you need to play 3 GM's in a tournament to make a GM norm, and GM elect Gonzalez does not seem to count) so I was paired with Cuban IM Dionisio Aldama.  I was exhausted and offered an early draw, but Dionisio was playing for the win, so within a few moves the position went from calm to chaotic.  

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 g6 4.cxd4 d5 5.exd5 Nf6 6.Nc3
We now arrive at the Panov-Botvinnik g6 variation via some strange waters.
6...Bg7 7.Qb3 0–0 8.Nge2
White wishes to defend the pawn further with Nf4, Aldama has other ideas.
 I thought for a long time about whether I should grab the material and try and hold off Aldama's attack. Since it was the last round and I was exhausted, I decided to play it safe.
Here I offered a draw. 9.dxe6 Nc6 (9...Bxe6) 10.exf7+ Rxf7 With massive complications. This is not a position for a tired individual!
9...Nxd5 10.Bg2
10.Bg2 Nc6 11.0–0 Na5 12.Qd1 h6 13.h3 g5!?

If not this move, Nf4 would be powerful. Aldama is clearly going for a win, now I must follow.
14.g4 Re8 15.f4!
A king's gambit!
15...Ne4 16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.fxg5 hxg5 18.b3 Nc6 19.Be3 Nb4 20.Qd2 Nd5 21.Rad1

21.Bxg5 Bxg5 is possible but after e3! I wasn't sure I had a clear advantage.
21...e3 22.Bxd8 exd2 23.Bxd5 Rxe2 24.Bxf7+ Kh7 25.Bf6 Be6 26.Bxe6 Rxe6 27.Bxg7 Kxg7 28.Rad1 Re2 29.Rf2 Re1+ 30.Rf1 Re2= For example.
21...Nxe3 22.Qxe3 Bd7 23.Ng3 Rc8 24.Rf2 Rc6 25.Nxe4

White's advantage is clear.
25...Rg6 26.Qf3 Rf8 27.Ng3 Bc6 28.d5 Bd7 29.Kh1 Qb6 30.Nf5 Bxf5 31.gxf5 Rh6 32.Qg3 Bf6

32...g4 33.f6 !
33.d6 Rd8 34.d7 Qc5 35.Rd6 Kg7

Black has a strong fortress on the dark squares, held together by his bishop on f6. The only way to break the position will be to sacrifice rook for bishop...
36.Rfd2 Qxf5 37.Rf2 Qb1+ 38.Rf1 Qb2

White is ready to now sacrifice. If Rdxf6, then Rxf6 Qg5 Rg6! Qd8 Qg2#
39.Rfxf6 Rxf6 40.Qxg5+ Rg6 41.Rxg6+ fxg6
But can white now avoid perpetual check?
 42.Qe7+ Kh6 43.Qh4+ Kg7 44.Qxd8?!
 In time pressure I forget to leave the king on h6, where it will be misplaced when I attempt to run my king across the board.
44...Qa1+ 45.Kh2 Qe5+ 46.Kg1 Qe3+
46...Qe1+ 47.Bf1 Qg3+ 48.Kh1 Qf3+ 49.Bg2 Qd1+ 50.Kh2 Qd6+ 51.Kg1 and the king again goes running away
 47.Kf1 Qd3+ 48.Kf2 Qd2+ 49.Kf3 Qd3+ 50.Kf4 Qd2+ 51.Ke5 Qc3+ 52.Kd6 Qg3+

The win would be much easier with the king on h6, when I could then hide on the 8th rank, play qe7, then qf8+! and win. Now, I must go to the other side. Not Ke7?? Qe5#
53.Kc5 Qe3+ 54.Kb5 Qe5+ 55.Ka4

 The king has found shelter in it's only remaining home. Black is on his last checks.
55...Qd4+ 56.b4 Qd1+ 57.Ka5!


Only on a5 can the king hide!
57...Qh5+ 58.b5 Qc5
One last try, how can Qa3# be stopped?
 59.Qh8+! Kxh8 60.d8Q+ Kg7 61.Qd7+
Now White is checking black!
61...Kh8 62.Qd3
62.Qd2+ Kg7 63.Ka4
I remained a piece up and went on to win. 1–0

Congratulations again to IM Robson and GM Sadvakasov and thanks to Blas and all who made this great tournament possible.

Check out final crosstables, standings and rating changes on the Miami Open MSA Link.