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Hilton on the World Open: Nakamura and Mikhalevski Lead Print E-mail
By Jonathan Hilton   
July 5, 2009
mikhlead.jpg
Seven rounds into the World Open, GM Mikhalevski is leading, along with GM Nakamura. Photo Chris Bird.
Until today, I have had a bad habit of neglecting my surroundings whenever I'm in the city of Philadelphia. Having spent my childhood in the tranquility of the suburbs, I'm easily overwhelmed by the commotion of the big city. While going for a stroll outside in downtown Philly, I'm always startled by the malformed intersections, the traffic lights posted on poles at eye level, and the brightness of the sun's reflection off the sidewalk at midday. In order to avoid "sensory overload," I tend to mentally reduce the amount of input my brain is receiving - in other words, I shut out potentially critical information. It should go without saying that this has a tendency to lead to disaster. 

Last year, at my first World Open , I absent-mindedly strolled under a closing parking gate. The reason for this is simple: in order to escape the hustle, bustle, and heat of the city, I focused on the ground and "zoned in" on where my feet were taking me and lost track of the dozens of hazards surrounding me. At this year's tournament, my initial experience was no better; in fact, my troubles started almost as soon as I stepped off the plane. The most notable incident of my first day back in Philly was leaving my cell phone in the back seat of the cab I took to the Sheraton Hotel - I didn't notice it was missing until an hour later, when the cab driver offered to return it in exchange for a significantly upgraded tip. Since then, some of my other misadventures have included showing up late for games, inadvertently swiping pieces from the chess sets of Experts Troy Daly and Kevin Wang, and spending a half hour on the phone with the Expedia travel agency to have certain documents faxed to multiple Sheratons across Pennsylvania. 

I guess it's not uncommon for chess players to suffer from this kind of "tunnel vision," but I think my relationship with Philadelphia has proved a particularly trying case.

Part of my Philadelphia "tunnel vision" has unfortunately carried over into my ability to follow the actual World Open event. There are so many GMs that it is difficult to keep track of the dozens (if not hundreds) of miniature tournament plotlines. Gata Kamsky, with a pre-tournament rating of 2799, is looking to crack 2800 USCF; Sam Shankland was hoping for his third GM norm in a row, but lost to Yury Shulman in Round 5 and withdrew; reigning U.S. Champion Hikaru Nakamura started the tournament with an incredible 4.5/5.0 in the rapid 3-day schedule and continues to lead with 6.0/7.0 after defeating Evengy Najer on Saturday night; and Life Master Jerry Hanken decided to play the evening rounds of the 5-day schedule and wound up defeating Denker Champion and FIDE Master Daniel Yeager in Round 7. Few games have been bloodless, and the sheer number of exciting games has been enough to make anything remotely peaceful stand out. Kamsky's Round 7 loss to Mikhalevski stands out in particular - early queen swaps have been few and far between among the top boards. 



Games involving vast imbalances - the kind that might give any reasonable player a bout of nausea at first glance - have been more common. 





In my light-hearted and cheery way, I've managed to shrug off the many incidents that have plagued me since I first set foot in "The City That Loves You Back," but after a tough loss on Saturday morning to FM Jake Kleiman, I began to wonder whether I was bound to waltz through Philly a blissful fool forever. 



Kleiman, Jake (2398) - Hilton, Jonathan (2301) [C54]

World Open (Round 5), 04.07.2009
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 d6 6.c3 a6 7.Bb3 0-0 8.Re1 Ba7 9.h3 h6 10.Nbd2 Re8
10...Nh5 is the main line, but I've been playing the text move with some success lately.
11.Nf1 Be6 12.N3h2!
A rare move, and one I had never seen before. White plans a gradual but effective assault on the kingside. On the submissive 12.Bc2, I simply play 12...d5 with an equal game, as 13.exd5 Nxd5 14.Nxe5 Nxe5 15.Rxe5 Bxf2+ 16.Kxf2? Qf6+ wins material.
12...d5
The beginning of my blithe waltz of doom. A more alert player might have sensed danger and played 12...Ne7 with the idea of ...Ne7-g6, transferring some material over to the kingside. (Nevednichy-Tseshkovsky, 1998.)
13.Qf3 dxe4 14.dxe4 Bxb3
Continuing the death march in stride. Surely freeing the e6 square for Black's queen isn't as bad as this game makes it look, though.
15.axb3 Qe7 16.Ng3
Not 16.Ne3 Bxe3 17.Bxe3 Qe6, when Black has no problems.
16...Qe6 17.Nf5 Ne7 18.Ng4 Nxg4 19.Qxg4 Nxf5 20.exf5 Qf6
I had consciously decided to enter this exact position as early as move 13. It looked fine for Black to me - and, amazingly, the computer initially agrees with me. After all, Black plans to simply double on the d-file, controlling the center. Within just a few more moves, though, I find my pleasant walk down Main Street rudely interrupted.
21.Ra4
A nice rook lift, shuffling the chariot from the sidewalk right into the center of the road.
21...Red8 22.Qf3!
22.Rae4 Rd5 23.c4 Rd4 would relieve all pressure on Black's position immediately.
22...c6
What else? White's kingside attack will now crush the ice of my position like a zamboni.
23.Rae4 Bb8 24.h4 Bc7 25.g4 g5
Losing a pawn, but alternatives allowing g4-g5 from White were worse.
26.hxg5 hxg5 27.Qe3 Kg7 28.Qxg5+ Qxg5 29.Bxg5 f6?!
This exacerbates the weaknesses in Black's kingside fortress. 29...Rd3 was a more stubborn defense.
30.Bc1 Rd3 31.R4e3 Rad8 32.Rxd3 Rxd3 33.Be3 Kf7 34.Kg2 Bd6 35.Rh1
The rest is now routine.
35...Be7 36.Rh8 Rd1 37.Rb8 b5 38.b4 Rb1 39.Rb6 Rxb2 40.Rxa6 Rc2 41.Ra3 Ke8 42.Kf3 Bd8 43.Ke4 Re2 44.Ra1 Be7 45.Ra8+ Kd7 46.Ra7+ Kd8 47.g5 fxg5 48.Kxe5 g4 49.f6 Bf8 50.Kf5 1-0 

"I don't know where you went wrong," was Kleiman's remark after the game. At that time, I didn't know either - it all just sort of flew past me. As an escape from this loss, I decided to take to the streets and find a Subway sandwich for a late lunch. The weather outside was unseasonably overcast, so upon exiting the door I wasn't overtaken by heat or light. It was surprisingly quiet, and the street by the hotel seemed deserted. I hadn't strayed far, however, when my ears were greeted by music. People were gathering in large groups, and the number of passing vehicles increased. I made an effort to take note as each new mental stimulus accrued: I listened intently to the music, observed the people, and kept an eye on the traffic. Then, the sun came out from behind the clouds. I made note of that, too. Before long, I was headed to Subway through a crowded throng of passers-by, taking in everything at once. Four bands were playing, hundreds of people were J-walking in the street, and a man with a microphone was dancing on platform and giving free salsa lessons. "I wonder if every Saturday is like this in Philadelphia," I thought. I vaguely remembered my mom having told me I should wear a patriotic t-shirt for the Fourth of July. "Oh wait!" I thought, glancing at the bold "U.S.A." lettering emanating from my clothing. "This must be that holiday!" I checked my cell phone. Sure enough, it was. 

To make a long story short, I spent the better part of an hour taking in the city known as the "Cradle of Liberty." I was captivated. I loved the fountains, the winding streets, the modern skyscrapers juxtaposed with the colonial-era architecture. I did make it to Subway for a toasted chicken-bacon-ranch on honey oat bread, but more importantly, I found I was able to handle all the commotion of the downtown area and successfully avoid getting hit by parking gates and other heavy moving objects (Read Hilton's, A Bang at the World Open for more background on this.)

Finally, on a closing note, it is customary for reporters to praise the efforts of young up-and-comers in the chess world. Tonight, I'd like to turn that tradition on its head by saluting Jerry Hanken's fine effort against FM Daniel Yeager. Hanken, now 74, takes pleasure in passing on the lessons of his many years of tournament experience to the younger generations. When this means beating them in tournament play, he enjoys it all the more. 



Shakespeare's words "Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?" clearly did not apply to the former Pasadena Shakespeare Company actor in this game. 


Watch Sunday morning's showdown between GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Victor Mikhalevski at 10:00 A.M. EST live on the World Open website, powered by Monroi.
 
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