The End of Fight Club?: Part I
By IM David Pruess   
January 10, 2009
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IM David Pruess, Photo Irina Krush
It was ten minutes into round eight of this year's Berkeley International, and most of the players had yet to warm up. In the unfortunately cold playing room, many relied on their own mental exertions to chase the chill. Who am I kidding? Blankets, winter coats, hot water, and space heaters saved the players from certain death.  The fights for first place, prizes, and norms were heating up. NM Arun Sharma rushed about, hastily jotting down the flurry of opening moves for the relay. We had a couple handfuls of spectators, many of who had come early for FM Danny Rensch's talk. I was deep in thought, in an unfamiliar position ( 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.e3 ), when I noticed it. Was this the end? I walked away from my board for a moment to verify. Indeed, I saw the following position:

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along with two scoresheets with 1/2-1/2 marked on them. So fight club was through. There had been some short draws already-- and some perplexing ones at that. But this one seemed particularly symbolic of the end, since its author was the same Jesse Kraai who had given my tournament the famous nickname of 'fight club, ' winning one edition and becoming a Grandmaster soon thereafter. This position is a theoretical one, and one which both players were familiar with before the 'game' even started. Jesse, because I have seen him have this exact position in several blitz games. Justin, because it has already occurred in his games. I returned from this zero-move game dejected, but resolved to enjoy another day where I get to play chess, this time with IM Kustar of Hungary/South Dakota.

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WIM Iryna Zenyuk and IM Irina Krush dressed for the arctic conditions in the playing hall.

Lest you find this reaction to symbolism overly dramatic, know that my reactions are frequently over-dramatic. Also, plenty of other problems had preceded this, and left me in the proper frame of mind to have such gloomy thoughts. First of all, the tournament had not gotten as many entries as I had hoped. With seven grandmasters signed up, I would have expected at least 20 masters from around the country to take advantage of what was going to be a very strong tournament; instead we got 10. This also meant that I lacked entry fees with which to cover the "based on 30" prize fund, but I was loathe to make any reductions to the top 4 prizes, vital as they are to the Grandmasters' livelihoods. I was grimly expecting to personally cover a much larger loss than I had intended. Luckily, in the end, local chess players came through with a lot of donations to the event, enabling me to pay 80% of the prize fund, including all top prizes, without filing for bankruptcy (this I did one week later, after a friendly notice from the IRS).

Another disaster was caused entirely by myself: through poor [no] planning, I had not enlisted the help of sufficient [any] tournament directors. IM John Donaldson saved me by withdrawing from the event in order to direct, but nothing could save me from feeling horrible about this. One of our foreign Grandmasters, Rogelio Antonio, simply did not show up. About two days before the event, I got an inkling that this was possible, when after two days of phone tag, he picked up a call from my friend's number... then said oh, he'd call me in 15 minutes... then never did, and wouldn't pick up when called from my number. This left us with an odd number of players two days before the start (and I would spend one of those days picking up players from the airport). I scrambled to find some local players willing to fill in for a couple games, but nevertheless, three players had to take byes through the course of the event. Once the tournament started, I was also beset with troublesome issues to deal with, most too sensitive for me to relate, despite my confessional approach to this article. Tired and harried, I was not having a personally successful outing by the time round 8 rolled around. Thus, my mind was fertile ground for thoughts like "fight club is done."

But amidst all the problems, I would sometimes look around and think "Wow! Look at all these great players gathered in this one room!!" And finished or not, there was plenty of good fighting going on around me...

The Fight for First

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Georgi Kachieshvili, Photo Irina Krush

To be honest, this fight was at best warm, not hot. For a time, Irina Krush managed to keep up with the two high-rated Georgian GMs, Zviad Izoria and Giorgi Kacheishvili, but in round 8, Giorgi pulled ahead for good with his win over Esserman. Much of the potential drama of the fight for first was reduced by the fact that the two Georgians were such good friends, that they did not care in the least whether they finished 1-2 or 2-1. For example, in the last round, Zviad was content to take a draw, even though a win would have given him a good chance of overtaking Giorgi.

Both Georgians seemed to be quite relaxed, as if coasting to the tournament victory with little effort. When I caught up with Grandmaster Kacheishvili in Vegas, I asked him about his confident air: had winning the tournament been as easy as he made it look? The answer: pretty much. The truth is he was never really in danger in any of his games, up till the last round game vs. GM Bhat, by which point, the tournament victory was already locked up. He managed to save that game, but at least Vinay had the distinction of being the only player to make him truly sweat. Izoria was also not in any serious danger in any game after his 'warm-up' round one. Never having bad positions may have helped them focus their energies on trying to convert their better positions. On the other hand, it could also be as simple as: sometimes the best players triumph. Giorgi further characterized the tournament as a "friendly tournament," indicating that having a good time at the event was part of the reason he appeared relaxed, rather than intent on winning. Another reason the Georgians didn't have to work too hard: Zviad forgot to bring them a laptop (Giorgi's accusation)!

I wish I could show you Giorgi's masterpiece from Las Vegas against Akobian, but I'll settle for showing you his two convincing wins against the King's Indian Defense from rounds 6 and 8, which were key to his win in Berkeley.




 

The Fight for Third

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Second place and third place shake hands minutes before shaking hands.(behind them, you can see a Grandmaster technique in action: the cheat sheet Zviad has prepared! However, there would be no middlegame.)


With Giorgi and Zviad cruising to their 1-2 finish with 7.5 and 7 points respectively, the fight for first non-Georgian (third) was perhaps more thrilling. In the end three of our top young players finished tied for third with 6/10-- Krush, Friedel, and Rensch. Two of them, Krush and Friedel faced off in a critical round 9 match-up. Josh was half a point behind, and Irina needed to win her last two games to have a chance at a GM norm. Josh was decently prepared for Irina's opening, but then actually improvised quite an interesting novelty, Qh4, which occurred to him at the board. Irina slipped up with f3? and then Josh had an advantage. However, Irina's defense was great all tournament, and she managed to hold the game:

 

Meanwhile, Danny received a bit of a gift to catch up with them. Unfortunately, this marred a very nicely played game by IM Kustar. But at least, you can all use this as a tactical puzzle:

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Position after 54.Bf4


Should Black push his d-pawn forward?


Show Solution


In the last round, Danny and Josh made up the half point by which they still trailed Irina, leading to a 3-way tie for 3-4-u2400 prize money. All three had excellent tournaments. Here is one awesome game from each:







The Fight for Norms


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Danny is well prepared for this game,
 Photo IM Irina Krush
Four players emerged as contenders for norms after 7 rounds: Rensch, Esserman, Krush, and Zenyuk. A key match-up therefore was definitely Krush - Rensch. This complex game I find difficult to understand, but I guess Black, facing White's space and bishop pair was somewhat on the defensive in the early going, scrambling to find proper space and play. But Danny handled the middlegame resourcefully, and Irina had to bail out.

The game was drawn, and Danny clinched his IM norm with a round to go, while Irina was left needing 2/2 for the GM norm (the next day she played the draw we've already seen with Josh).



Meanwhile, in other round 8 action, Iryna Zenyuk played an extraordinary game against FM Naroditsky, which appeared likely (depending on pairings) to assure her the WGM norm, and leave her about 1/2 point away from an IM norm. We are fortunate to have her comments on the game:



1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 0–0 5.e4 d6 6.Be2 Na6 7.0–0 e5 8.Be3 Ng4 9.Bg5 Qe8 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.h3 Nf6 12.Be3 b6

During the game I thought that this is a mistake but it turned out to be the main move for Black. The idea is to develop Bb7-c6-Nc7 with a tough structure to break through.
13.Qc2
allows the knight transfer to c6. 13.a3 is more popular 13...Bb7 14.Qc2 Nc5.
13...c6
13...Nb4 14.Qb1 Bb7 15.a3 Nc6 16.b4 Nd4
14.a3 Qe7 15.b4 Bb7 16.c5 b5
Now Bb7 and Na6 are out of play and White has the 'd' file and can penetrate d6. Here I also wanted to play Qa2 and Bd1–Bb3 at some point to put   pressure on f7. There was only one game played before in this line and it continued: 16...Nd7!? 17.Na4 b5 18.Nc3 Nc7 19.Rfd1 a5 20.bxa5 Ne6 Driamin-Khismatullin, 2002; 16...bxc5? didn't work because of: 17.Bxa6 (but not 17.bxc5 Nxc5 18.Nd5 cxd5 19.Bxc5 Qc7–+) 17...Bxa6 18.Bxc5 Qc7 19.Bxf8 Bxf8 I saw this during the game and thought that Black does not have enough compensation for the exchange because of the c5 square for the knight, open d and c files for rooks and weaknesses on c6 and e5.
17.Rfd1 Nc7 18.Rd6 Rfd8 19.Rad1 Nfe8 20.Bg5
A tactical trick to weaken the black king
20...f6 21.Qa2+
I did not like 21.Qb3+ Kf8 22.Be3 Nxd6 23.cxd6 because of 23...Qe6 but here it turns out there is nice queen sacrifice 24.dxc7! Qxb3 25.cxd8Q+ Rxd8 26.Rxd8+ Ke7 27.Rb8 White gets two pieces and a rook for a queen.  21...Kf8 Against 21...Kh8? I prepared: 22.Rxd8 Rxd8 23.Rxd8 Qxd8 24.Nxe5!+-
22.Be3 Na6
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Position after 22...Na6

This is the critical position of the game. I have an advantage but Black's position does not have many weaknesses. Grandmasters after the game recommended the transfer the knight to a5 after retreat of Rd6. I saw it but I did not know if it was enough for a win. A win almost clinched the WGM norm, so I took a risk to go for an unbalanced position.
22...Nxd6? 23.cxd6 Rxd6 24.Rxd6 Qxd6 25.Bc5+-; 22...a5 was an alternative
23.Nxb5!? cxb5 24.Rxd8
My original idea was: 24.Bxb5!? Nxd6 25.cxd6 Qf7 (25...Rxd6 26.Rxd6 Qxd6 27.Bxa6 Qxa6 28.Bc5+ Ke8 29.Qg8+ this is one of the main lines supporting 24.Bxb5.) 26.Bc4 Qd7 27.b5 I had no idea how to evaluate this position during the game, I am down the rook but the compensation is obvious:active pieces, a bad black king and a passed d pawn.
24...Rxd8 25.Rxd8 Qxd8 26.Bxb5
So, White 's advantages are: bad black king, discoordinated black pieces, passed 'c' pawn. I think in the game it is very hard for Black to defend.
26...Nac7 27.c6

 27.Bxe8! a computer move. A human would not typically give away a great bishop on b5 for a 'bad' knight. 27...Kxe8 (27...Qxe8 28.c6 Qxc6 29.Bc5+) 28.Qg8+ Bf8 29.c6 Bxc6 30.Bc5 Kd7 31.Bxf8±]
27...Ba8
27...Nxb5 28.cxb7 and the arrival of the pawn on b7 is not pleasant for Black.
28.a4?
A miscalculation 28.Ba4 keeps all the advantages.
28...a6
A forced line:
29.Bc5+ Nd6 30.Bc4

30.Bxa6 Nxa6 31.Qd5 Nxc5 32.bxc5 was my idea behind 28.a4 but it wasn't a good one: 32...Qc7 33.cxd6 Qxc6–+
30...Bxc6 31.Bg8 Be8 32.Nh4??
The wrong move order and bad for White  32.Bxh7 Bf7 33.Qd2!± followed by Nh4
 32...f5??

Returning the favor. We were both low on time at this point. 32...Bh6 now Qd2 is not possible. 33.Bxh7 Bf7 34.Qe2 Kg7 35.Bxg6 Bxg6 36.Qg4 Bg5 37.Nxg6 Kxg6 38.h4 I planned to play this line, thinking that I have some compensation but it is Black who is better here. 33.Bxh7 Bf7 34.Qd2
I don't think Black has a defence.
34...Ke7 35.Bxg6 Be6 36.Bxf5 Bf7 37.Bh7 Nce8 38.Nf5+ Ke6 39.Bxd6 Bf8 40.Qd5+


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Final position after Qd5+

I would like to thank David Pruess for organizing this fantastic event! 1–0
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 Iryna Zenyuk, Photo Irina Krush 


This was the round that Marc lost to Kacheishvili, but he maintained excellent norm chances, needing only half a point in round 9 to make the norm. This due to his gritty round 7 win against me. This was a very hard game for Black to win.

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Marc Esserman in his game against Justin Sarka, Photo Irina Krush 
From the moment of the knight sacrifice, Black was defending a slightly worse position for a long, long time, without any clear scenarios for how he could eventually win. But, never minding that, he defended as he could, and thus posed sufficient problems for White to send me into time pressure, which eventually lead to the advantage swinging from White  to Black. He then played determinedly (and confidently, I thought) to convert a drawn endgame into a win. I was quite impressed with his effort here (but wish I'd had a bit more energy to play better). Here is that important win, with Marc's own annotations:



1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 
 
A surprise.  David had been expecting the Dutch.  But soon both of us will be in for a surprise. 
4. e3
 
The Rubenstein. I had been expecting 4. Nf3. 
5.Bd3 O-O 6.Nf3 Bxc3+?! 
 I could not decide between the Huebner variation or the main lines with d5.  But after opting for Bxc3, I realized that Nc6 had to come first.
 7.bc d6 8. e4! 

White does not castle and allow Black to throw in Nc6.  If Nc6 now, then e5 and David is ready to sacrifice on h7 as he did earlier in his game with Kraii in round 2.
 8... e5
  Offering a pawn, which White  should ignore by playing d5!, with a lasting advantage.
 9.  dxe5?!  
But David plans to refute Black's entire setup by tactical means
9...de 10.Ne5 Re8 11.f4 Nbd7!  
Now David went into a long think, over 40 minutes.  If Nxd7 Nxe4 Ne5 Qh4 g3 Nxg3 hg3 Qh1 Kd2, Qh2+, the move I had planned, would offer Black an edge as white's king will be in danger, but Qxd1! Kxd1 f6 Nf3 Bg4 Be2 Rad8 Bd2 R8e7 wins immediately.  David saw this entire line during his long think, and therefore had to search for suitable alternatives, if there were any....
12.  Nxf7!(!)

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Position after 12.Nxf7

One exclam for creativity, the second for the fact that this will be David's second Nxf7 this tournament. For the first Nxf7 against Haessel please see an earlier article on the tournament at CLO.
12...Kxf7 13. 0-0 
 There is no direct refutation to the sacrifice.  Nxe4?  Fails to Bxe4 Rxe4 Qd5!  Re6 f5, with the same Cochrane like tactical motifs.  Black must now embark on a long defense to restrain White 's bishops and powerful pawn center.
13...Nf8 14.e5 Ng4 15.Qf3 Kg8 16. Be4 Qe7 17.Bd5+ Kh8 18.h3 Nh6 19. g4 
White adds force to an already impressive pawn display....
19... Nf7
...while the Black pieces fall back to assume defensive positions.
20.Be3 Rb8 21. Bf2 b5?!
 
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Position after 21...b5






21...Be6!  Rad1 g5! is far stronger, when the white center begins to crumble and Black is close to a decisive advantage.  After the slower b5, which at first glance appears faster, the pawn center remains.
22. cb Rb5 23.c4 Rb6 24.Qa3 Ne6 25.f5 Ra6!
  Forcing the queen off the c5 pawn and allowing Black to release some pressure with Nd4.
26.Qg3 Nd4 27.Bxd4 cxd 28.e6 Ng5 29.Rab1 h6
   If Rxa2, then h4 Ra3  Rb3 Rb3 Qb3  Nxe6 fe Qh4 Qf3! (h5! qe4 qg3=) and White  is at least equal.  As a result of the following variation and the game continuation, we can see that after 21... b5?! Black no longer has a chance to directly refute the sacrifice.
30.h4 Ra3 
Nh7! was better, keeping the a6 rook on the board.
 31.Rb3 Rb3 32.ab Nh7 33.Rd1
 Black must come to terms with the realization that there is no win, let alone a draw, in sight.
Qf6 34. Qf2!
 White now has a large advantage. Both sides are low on time, with White  having under a minute. 
34... h5 35.g5 Nxg5
  The white pawns have grown too powerful and Black must part with the extra piece.
36.hg Qg5+ 37.Kh2 Rf8 38.Rg1 Qf6 39.Rg3? 
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Position after 39.Rg3

With seconds left and two moves before time control, White blunders and misses Qg3!, after which Black is lost as the Queen cannot capture f5 due to mate.
39...Bxe6 40. Rh3?
White must now play Bxe6 Qxe6 Qxd4 with a balanced position.
40... Qe5?! 
Torn between Bxd5 and Qe5 check, Black chooses wrongly.  Bxd5 Rh5 Kg8 ed5 Qe5 kg1 (qg3 Qe2)  Rc8 would win easily. 
41.Qg3 Qxf5 
Qxg3?!  Kxg3 Bxd5 Rxh5 kg8 Rd8 f6! and White  should hold.  Qe2! Qg2 Qxg2 Bxg2 Rxf5 seems to offer the best winning chances for Black. 42.Bxe6 Qxe6 43.Rxh5+ Kg8 44. Qe5! 
I overlooked this move upon playing 40.. Qe5.  Now White  will have excellent drawing chances in the rook ending.
44...Qxe5+ 45.Rxe5 Rd8 46.Kg3 d3 47.Re1 Rb8 48.Kf3 d2 
I am not sure 48... Rxb3  Ke3 Rc3 Ra1 Rc4 Rxa7 Rc3 is any better as the black rook is paralyzed on the third rank even though Black is two pawns up and the g pawn cannot advance.
49.Ra1 Rxb3+ 50.Ke2 Rc3 51. Kxd2
If Ra4 Rd3!
 52.Rxa7 Re4

The following endgame, analyzed in depth by the endgame composer Cheron in 1923 and covered in Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, is theoretically drawn, but White  must play precisely.  Black should not be able to advance the g pawn due to White 's long distance frontal checking defense.   For the drawing method I cite Dvoretsky's analysis.
53.Kd3 Re1 54.Ra2 Re7 55. Rg2 
If Re2?  Then Rxe2  Kxe2 and not Kf7=, but Kh7! Kf3 Kh6 Kg4 Kg6, winning.
55...Kf7 56.Rf2+ Kg6 57.Rf1 Kg5 58.Rg1+ Kf4 59.Rf1+ Kg3 60.Rg1+

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Position after 60.Rg1+

60....Kf2 61.Rg6 Kf3 62.Kd2 Kf4 63.Rg1?
This is the decisive mistake.  White had to play Kd3! Kf5 Rg1 g5 Rf1 Kg6 Rg1 Re5! Kd4! Kf6 Ra1! =  and Black cannot progress.  If Re2 then Kd3!, and if g4, then Rg1! Ra5 Ke3 Kg5 Kf2
g5 64.Rf1+ Kg4 65.Rg1+ Kf5 66.Rf1+ Kg6 67.Rg1 Re5!
Now the g-pawn will advance.
68.Kd3 Kf5 69.Kd4 Re4+ 70.Kd3 g4 71. Rf1+ Rf4 72.  Rg1

If Ke2 then g3! Rf4 Kf4 Ke1 Ke3! winning
72...Kg5 73.Ke2 Kh4 74.Rh1+ Kg3 75.Rh8 Kg2 76.Re8 g3 77.Re7 Kg1 78.Rg7 g2 79.Rg8 Rf7 80.Rh8 Re7+ 81.Kd2 Re5

Black builds a bridge for the king's escape.
82.Rf8 Kh2 83.Rh8+ Kg3 84.Rg8+ Kf3 85.Rg7 Re4 0-1


In round 9, Marc made the 1/2 point he needed for the norm as follows: Esserman - Haessel: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nxe5 O-O 5. Nd3 Bxc3 6. dxc3 Nxe4 7. Be2 Re8 8. O-O 1/2-1/2 and in round 10, Iryna reached the IM norm like so: Izoria - Zenyuk: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 g6 5. d4 cxd4 6. Nxd4 e5 7. Nb5 d6 8.N1c3 a6 9. Na3 b5 10. Nd5 Bg7 11. c4 Nf6 12. Nxf6+ Qxf6 13. cxb5 Nd4 14. b6 O-O 15. O-O 1/2-1/2. And thus the event was a success for several of our norm-seekers. Congratulations to Danny, Marc, and Iryna on their fine play.

Stay tuned for Part II for lessons on defense, material imbalances, and sportsmanship. The next installment will also feature some of the most beautiful and brilliant games from Berkeley and an answer to the title question.