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Friedel on Missing Out in Brazil Print E-mail
By GM Josh Friedel   
August 17, 2009
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GM Josh Friedel
“With 4.5/6 you are still in decent shape to win a tournament, but if you have 4/6 you might as well withdraw.”  Alex Shabalov told me this at a tournament in Edmonton once, but as he is prone to exaggeration at times, I dismissed it.  I might start believing him more now. But let me start where I left off after my first report from the Continental Championships in São Paulo. After my complex win over Soto Vega, I had 4.5/6 and and my confidence was returning. 

Next up I was Black against a Brazilian 2400, Tsuboi.



 I needed to win to propel myself back to the top of the table.  He surprised me a bit with an Exchange Ruy.  In the past this might have dimmed my hopes, but lately most of my points have been coming from endings, so I wasn’t all that unhappy.  He played a few sloppy moves, including Ng2 and 16.fxe3, making his knight resemble more of donkey.

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Position after 15...Bxe3


I had some pressure, but let it go perhaps too early to win a pawn on e4.  This allowed him to trade off into a rook ending, where I was up merely a doubled c-pawn.  His a-pawn was weak, however, so I wasn’t totally disheartened.  I pressed and pressed, trading down to an ending where I have a far-advanced c-pawn vs. his e-pawn.  I’m not sure whether it was a win from the start, but I managed to win his rook and catch his pawn just in time.  I was very happy to come through with the full point.

Next up was Colombian junior, the talented IM Sergio Barrientos.  He had been playing well lately, and had proven himself to be a very dangerous player, so I knew I’d have to be careful.  It seemed he had his openings mapped out well against e4 and d4, but his repertoire against c4 seemed lacking.  I knew his dilemma well, as I used to have the same problem.
  


We ended up in a closed Catalan, and judging by the time spent in the opening, he didn’t know it too well.  He put his bishop on a6 when b7 would have been more appropriate, and ended up worse quickly.  His defense was stubborn though, and I only managed to get into an ending with a slight edge.  I worked my two bishops for a while, but I let it slip when I allowed too much play in time trouble.  After move 40 I regained my footing, and starting pressing again.  I sacrificed my e5 pawn for a powerful passed a-pawn, which finished him quickly.  I’m not sure Fischer would be proud of my use of the two bishops, but I was hoping he at least wouldn’t wince.  So after a few wins I was back in the thick of things, just half a point back from the leaders. 

My upcoming roadblock was none other than fellow countryman, GM Jaan Ehlvest.  It’s never pleasant to face another American while playing overseas, though it seems to happen quite often for some bizarre reason.  Anyway, my overall record against Jaan has been quite bad, though I won our first encounter as well as our most recent one at the US Championship, so I felt more confident than I had in the past.  Also, we always seem to play in morning rounds, which never helps me out.  At the US Championship we played in one of the two morning rounds, and it was the same in Brazil!  It’s a conspiracy, I tell you.  He always throws something interesting at me in the opening, and this time was no different.



He played a strange Pirc line, and while I’m not sure I reacted optimally, I felt good about my opening.  After that I started to go astray, however.

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Position after 10...e5


  I had a choice between taking on e5 or pushing past with d5, and while I felt both choices were reasonable, I think taking might have been a simpler option.  As it was, we ended up in a strange opposite winged-attack situation, where neither of our attacks looks particularly impressive.  My plan of attack on the kingside proved too slow, and eventually he took over the initiative.  I sacrificed a pawn by purposefully walking into a tactic, thinking it would give me reasonably compensation, but I underestimated his resources.  It was still messy when I walked into a tactic in his time trouble.  After that it was really hopeless, and he finished me off fairly easily.   

This game pretty much dashed my hopes for qualification.  I went back to my room right after the game, took a shower, bashed my head against the wall for a bit, then took a nap.  Afterwards I checked out the pairings.  I was Black against GM Oswaldo Zambrana of Bolivia.



 I was annoyed at my morning round, as well as having to play another game on the same day, but I put it out of my mind and trudged across the street.  I’d done a bit of prep, but somehow my brain wasn’t functioning quite right, and I neglected to play Nd4 kicking his queen before Kh8.  This was quite a costly mistake, and when he responded quickly with Qh5 I knew I was worse.  OK, this is ridiculous.  I’m a professional now, not a child, and collapsing during a tournament isn’t an option.  So I reset my head a bit, refocused, and played the pitiful but necessary Kh7.  To my surprise, everything got much easier after that.  I got in f5 the next move, and was shocked to discover he was allowing f4 on the next move.  If anyone was better now, it was me.  I got a quick attack, he sacked a couple pawns to confuse the issue, and I found a neat idea with Rf5 and f3 to sac one back to finish my development.  He then helped me out some with the blunder Rxc7, probably missing that after Bxf2 Kxf2 fe+ he can’t take my rook due to Qd4+.

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Position after 17.Rxc7

When I was up a piece it didn’t seem that easy at first, but after a few accurate moves I’d killed his threats and mopped up.  By no means a perfect effort, but I’d take the point.

Looking at the standings and pairings for the final round, I was pleasantly surprised.  It turns out, a win would at least clinch a playoff spot, if not qualify me directly!  It wouldn’t be easy though.  First I had to take down GM Rafael Leitao of Brazil.  I had the white pieces, but this was a guy who seldom lost, even against very strong opposition.  He was in a must-win situation as well as myself, but it would still be a challenge.



 I got another Pirc, this time a slightly more topical line, and I played a prepared exd6 move instead of what I’d previously played, e6.

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Position after 8..Nfd7

  It didn’t work out well and soon he had very comfortable equality.  Not only that, I felt his position was easier to play.  It is easy to play quite badly in these situations, especially at the end of a long event.  I was determined not to let this happen, and while my position was nothing to brag about, I focused on not allowing it to get worse.

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Position after 16...Bd5

I accomplished this for a few moves, and he tried the perhaps immature e5 thrust in the center.  This got rid of his d6 weakness, but in return he got a weak pawn on e5, and it opened the center making it awkward for his pieces.  After some liquidation, I found myself in a better ending. His pieces got tangled, and I forced the game into a won king and pawn ending.  I was worried for a bit, as I had to make a decision to go into it before time control ended, but my calculations proved to be accurate and he resigned a few moves into it.  Most of the other games were still going, so I went back to my room to sit back, relax, and await my fate.

Things didn’t go as well as I would have liked.  Had a couple games ended differently, I could have qualified for the World Cup without need of a playoff.  As it was, the two leaders with 8.5 drew quickly, allowing them to easily tie for first and take the first two world cup spots.  One was GM Corrales of Cuba, and the other was our very own GM Alex Shabalov.  Shabba had an outstanding tournament, scoring 9/11 and not losing a game.  He seemed to play very stable chess, and showed some great opening prep.  I felt his win over top Brazilian GM Giovanni Vescovi was particularly impressive. 



So with those two in front, there was a massive tie for 3rd-8th.  This meant there were four world cup spots, and six of us.  Tiebreak time!  The others with 8.5 include GMs Alex Ivanov, Julio Granda, Gilberto Milos, Diego Flores, and IM Mauricio Flores.  Sadly for Alex and I, we had the worst tiebreaks, so if we tied with anyone else (if we tied with each other, I’d edge him out by a hair), they’d get a spot ahead of us.  Still, over half the people in the tiebreak qualified. It was doable.  Before the tiebreak could begin, of course, we had to wait for nearly two hours and then wait for the awards to be given out.  By the time we began, it was nearly 11 PM.  I’d have much rather be having a celebratory meal and a few drinks, but hey, sometimes chess demands more.  Anyway, finally with the logistical stuff and the #s drawn, it was time to start.

First up I got Black against the big surprise of the tournament, Mauricio Rios.  He was the lowest rated in our group, but he had a very strong tournament, earning a GM norm with ease.  Still, I felt he was the least experienced of the field, and I wanted to get off on the right foot. 



He played a slow system of the Lopez, and soon enough I had comfortable equality, and then a dominating position.  I allowed a bit too much counterplay, and the result was in doubt soon after.  He was much lower on time though, and eventually he gave into the pressure, missing a tactic that allowed me to queen a pawn.  So, one down, four to go!  Next I would get the most experienced of the group, Julio Granda.  Granda is a legend, and after winning the first a draw would have been perfectly acceptable, but at the same time another win would almost surely clinch a spot.  I played my usual Panov, and we ended up in a somewhat offbeat system.  I gave up two bishops for two knights to get a favorable pawn structure.  Positionally it looked nice, but I got my pieces tangled, and I had to trade to an ending to get them out.  I missed a nuance, and I ended up in an ugly position where his bishops dominated my knights, and I went down quickly.  It’s always sad losing with white after you win with black, but at 50% I was still doing fine.

Next up was a familiar rival, GM Alex Ivanov.  I’ve played Alex over 20 times, as we are both from New England, though in recent years we haven’t faced each other quite as much.  I decided to take a risk and play the archangel against him, even though he’s prepped it for me many times.  It was a smart move, as he hadn’t faced me in awhile and his analysis was a bit hazy.  He played it safe, and walked into a forced draw, leaving us both with 1.5/3.  Next up I got treated to another outing with the black pieces, this time against Diego Flores.  Flores was clearly tired, and was struggling with 1/3, so I felt it was a good time to pounce. 



He played a four knights English with e3, which I had a good score.  I played an interesting b5 idea in the opening, though I probably should have followed it up with Bb7 instead of taking on c4 immediately.  Then I purposefully walked into a Nxc7 tactic, thinking I got a strong attack after Nfg4.

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Position after 13...Nfg4

I calculated it out for five of my fifteen minutes, then went for it.  I sacrificed two pieces, hoping to get a mating net.  When he took them quickly, I was afraid I’d missed something.  Sure enough, he had a simple defense, and I found myself down a piece for nothing.  I played on, but he was accurate, and I resigned after he traded my remaining pieces. 

So after one oversight, I found myself tied for last with Alex Ivanov and Mauricio Flores.  They were playing each other, which meant the winner of that game would get in, and I got White against Gilberto Milos.  Milos was in already, and would be fine with a draw, but I needed a win to have any shot.



I ended up in another Panov, and Milos played a system, which apparently isn’t all that uncommon, but one that I’d never faced.  I ended up with less than nothing, then blundered away a bad piece trade and an exchange. I sacrificed a couple pieces trying for a desperate attack, but he fended it off coolly and I had to resign. 

Ivanov ended up winning, so he got in, and Mauricio and I missed out.



How does it feel missing out on the World Cup three times by a hair?*  Well, it sucks.  I tried to look on the bright side, that I had a reasonable tournament, won some money, and hopefully learned a thing or two.  It doesn’t really help though, and you are bound to end up miserable for at least a couple days.  I went back to my room, enjoyed a cold helping of beef my roommate picked up for me, and watched some old House reruns on my computer until I was closed to passed out.  The next day Vinay and I checked out, then went walking around the city with Shabalov, Ehlvest, and Ivanov.  Vinay had a tournament he’d soon like to forget, and Ehlvest was doing well until he lost the last two games, so he wasn’t a happy camper either.  Still, we tried to make the most of the last day, and finally got our flight back at 11 PM.  On the way back we discovered the pleasant surprise that outside the terminal at Mexico Airport was much nicer than inside, and the 12 hours passed by at a tortoise’s pace rather than a snail’s. On the bright side,  I gained several rating points, pushing my FIDE rating close to 2560.  I also might get into the World Cup anyway, so that’d be a nice consolation.  Congrats again to Shabba on his great tournament, and look for more tournament adventures coming this fall.

*Editor’s Note: It looks like Friedel may end up in Khanty-Mansisyk after all, as Hikaru Nakamura said in an interview with John Watson that he won’t play in the World Cup, slated for November 20-December 15, due to the potential conflict with the London Chess Classic, December 5-15.


 
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