Becerra Takes on all Online Comers
By IM David Pruess   
July 20, 2009
Julioslide.jpg
GM Julio Becerra, Photo Betsy Dynako
From February through April, an online match set recently crowned 2009 U.S. Class Champion GM Julio Becerra against the members of chess.com (where I am content editor.) There are two similar matches from my youth that stick in my memory. The first is the famous Kasparov vs. the World match. The second was a match between GM Yermolinsky and members of the Mechanics Institute, where I was one of a couple players selected to make suggestions to the larger team (I remember being responsible for strongly pushing for a move, adopted by the team, that walked straight into a brilliant Bxh7+ sacrificial attack that lead to our quick resignation). 

Both Julio and the team had 24 hours to select their move. When it was the team's turn, any member could log in during a 24-hour period and make a move on the game board, thus recording their vote. At the end of the 24-hour period, the move with the most votes would automatically be played. The team also has a private forum to discuss together their analysis of the game, and what moves should be played.

One of the most interesting things I observed during the course of this match was a split between a [so-dubbed by me] "serious faction" and a "drive-by faction." The serious faction, to some reasonable extent, wanted to analyze the position, discuss the moves together, and thus eventually zero in on a consensus best move. The drive-bys would pop in, and cast a vote for the move they'd like to play, without reference to the team discussion. At some point, I received a lot of complaints from the serious guys that the drive-bys were ruining the game, by voting without reading the analysis of strong players who were commenting on the game. This also lead to some exaggerated despondency about the team's impending doom, when in fact, we still appeared to have decent drawing chances. My take on this was that the drive-bys had the right to participate in the game by voting for a move however they liked. They weren't maliciously trying to ruin other people's game.

Although the team's position became difficult, the team managed to put up serious resistance. Julio pressed and pressed, and the game was played all the way down to the very last pawn. I think it was very polite of all involved to have played the game out in this way, because the game did include many beginners for whom it is useful to see this. This notion should ring a bell with Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh's idea that professional events could garner more spectators if games were played to checkmate/bare kings, because weaker fans would understand the finish.

Dsarkar and Ouachita Analyze the Game

Team members dsarkar ("D") and ouachita ("O") were both among the "serious" faction; they contributed a lot to the game, analyzing and organizing. Ouachita is a strong correspondence player and dsarkar is a 2200-level player. Here they share some analysis and thoughts about the game:


 
 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5
Sveshstart.jpg
D: We branched into the Sveshnikov Variation with a massive 65% vote. The most common 5...d6 got only 14% of the vote.
6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 9.Nd5 Be7 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.c3 0-0 12.Nc2 Bg5 13.a4 bxa4 14.Rxa4 a5 15.Bc4 Rb8 16.Ra2
D: GM Julio selects 15.Ra2 over the more common 15.b3 O: It's all book so far, played thousands of times. However, White  has had more success here with 16. b3. (All of my comments about the success of a particular move refer to my personal study of Master and GM games played over the past 5 to 10 years. But, I'm an engineer, professional gambler and part-time chess player, not a professional chess player. GM Julio and other GM's might disagree with my assessments.)
16...Be6
D: Interestingly, the GM's previous move disturbed the rhythm of the voters, and the usual move 16...Kh8 was superseded by the less common 16...Be6 in spite of postings of the top players advocating Kh8. O: This has not been as successful for Black  as Kh8.
17.0-0
O This has not been as successful as Nce3.
17...Kh8
D: Another interesting deviation. The move that was suggested one move earlier got voted, and the better move 17... Qd7 was again superseded in spite of the comments of top players. O: Black  would have been better off playing Qd7. I appealed to the troops to play Qd7, but to no avail.
18.Nce3
18.nce3.jpg
18...g6
 D: An interesting development happened. Drive-by voters began to vote the wrong vote 18...f5? (19.Nxf5 Bxf5 20.ef Rxf5 21.Qa4 Ne7 22.Qxa5, and we would be a pawn down with a weakness on the back rank) before the experts could analyze and begin to post the recommendation of 18... Qd7 Now the margin between Qd7 and f5 was so great that the group of experts then started pushing the next best vote 18... g6, which ultimately made it by a very narrow margin (g6 36% f5 31%). Black 's position was thus compromised to some extent. O: During the game, I told the vote chess team that I couldn't find any games where Black  wins with 18. . . . g6. In fact, I felt Black  has a losing position after g6. However, with Black , GMs have won from this position with both 18. . . Qd7, and 18. . . Rb7.
19.Qa4 Qc8
D: again 19...Bxe3 (20.Nxe3 ) and 19...Bd7 (20.Qa3 Be6) took the lead, and it took a lot of coaxing with analysis and explanatory diagrams for the vote to swing to 19...Qc8
20.b3 f5
D: getting this move voted was not a problem, as someone managed to locate 2 games in a database with the f5 line - it got 74% of the vote
21.exf5 gxf5
D: some members here started unnecessarily panicking that we were losing, and created a scene. One of them left the game, but started creating an objectionable scene in the public comments section - that member ultimately either left chess.com or his account was banned for objectionable behavior.
22.f4 exf4
D: Again there was debate regarding whether Bh6 or Bd8 was better than exf4 - ultimately it was decided exf4 was the safest - it got 76% of the vote. Here is one game from the database featuring 22... Bh6: 23. Raf2 Bg7 24. Qa2 Qd7 25. Qc2 Qa7 26. Kh1 e4 27. Rd1 Rfc8 28. Re2 Ne7 29. Qa2 Nxd5 30. Nxd5 a4 31. bxa4 Bxd5 32. Bxd5 Rxc3 33. h3 Qc5 34. Be6 Rc1 35. Qd2 Rxd1+ 36. Qxd1 Re8 37. Rc2 Peptan,C (2411) -Lujan,M (2323)/Benasque 2005/EXT 2006/1-0 (45)
23.Nxf4 Bxc4
D: Again there was debate between 23...Bxc4 and 23...Bxf4 (24. Rxf4 Ne5 25. Qxa5 Bxc4 26. Nxc4 Nxc4 27. Rxc4). Ultimately Bxc4 won with 72% of the vote.
24.Nxc4 Ne5
 D: Here the debate was between 24...Ne5, the weakening 24... Bxf4? which brings the White  rook to the center, and 24...Qd7? (25.Raf2! Bxf4 25.Rxf4). Ne5 quickly won with 72% vote.
25.h3
25.h3.jpg
25...Nxc4
D: ?! again there was debate between 25...Nxc4?!, 25... Qc5+ (26.Kh2 Nxc4 27.Qxc4 Qe5 28.Re2 Rfc8 29. Qxc8+ Rxc8 30.Rxe5 dxe5 31.Nd5 We both have passed pawns, but our bishop vs. knight advantage gives us hope.) and 25...Bf6! (26 Ne2 Nxc4 27 Qxc4 Qxc4 28 bxc4 Be5 29 Nd4 Rfc8! 30.Nxf5 Rxc4 31.Rxa5 Rxc3 32.Rd1 and though material is equal, Black  has chances of winning by queening the passed d-pawn!). Unfortunately, though the experts recommended 1st Bf6 2nd Qc5+, they were so hopelessly behind that they did not make it: Nxc4?! 41% Qc5+ 29% Bf6! 17% O: This was a bad move, and needlessly makes life more difficult for Black  by relinquishing control of the center. I voted for, and would have played, Bf6, but . . . it's vote chess.
26.Qxc4 Qxc4 27.bxc4 Bxf4

D: Now a draw was the only hope - experts were divided in their opinion as to which to line to choose: 27...Ra8 (28.Nd5 Ra7 29.Rfa1 Bd8 30.Kf2 Re8 31.Kf3 Rb7 32.Ne3 Rb3 33. Ra3 Rxa3 34.Rxa3 Re5), 27...Rbc8, or 27...Bxf4. Bxf4 won with 50%, Rbc8 24%, Ra8 10%
28.Rxf4 Ra8
D: There appears to be a trend that a move suggested in the previous move but failed to make it gets blindly voted next move. Experts now recommended 28. ..Rb3 (28...Rb3 29.Rxa5 Rxc3 30.Raxf5 Rxf5 31.Rxf5 Rxc4), but 28...Ra8 got voted by a narrow margin: Ra8 45%, Rb3 43% O: At the time, I felt that both 28. .. Rb3 29. Rxa5 Rxc3 30. Rh4 Rc1+, and 28... Rb1+ 29. Kf2 Rc1 30. Rxa5 Rxc3 31. Raxf5 Rxf5 was better for Black . But, it's vote chess.
29.Ra4
O: ? White  gave us a break here. I felt that 29. c5 dxc5 30. Rfa4 Rac8 31. Rxa5 Rfd8 32. Rf2 Rd3 33. c4 Rd4 34. Rxf5 was much better for White .
29...Kg7?!
D: Again the wrong move got voted. Experts were recommending 29...Ra6 (29... Ra6 30.Rd4 Re8 31.c5 dxc5 32.Rd5 Re1+ 33.Kf2 Re4 34.c4 Kg7 35.Rxc5 Kf6) but 29. ..Kg7?! got 59% vote! O: ?? Ouch! This is a near-blunder by the vote chess "drive-by" club, and reflects fuzzy thinking. Ra6 would have been much better.
30.Rd4 Ra6
O: ? The drive-bys were killing Black  here. Rfd8 31. Kf2 Kf6 would have been better.
31.Rd5 Kf6
O: ? Ouch, again. 31... Kg6 32. Raxa5 Rxa5 33. Rxa5 Rc8 was better.
32.c5 dxc5 33.Rxc5 Re8
D: Here again 33...Rfa8 was initially leading, but experts finally managed to push 33...Re8 by posting diagrams and long analysis.
34.Rcxa5 Rxa5 35.Rxa5 Rc8 36.Ra3 Ke5 37.Kf2 h5 38.Ke3 f4+ 39.Kf3
39.kf3.jpg
39... Rc5
D: Here again experts tried to push 39...h4 (39...h4 40.Ra5+ Kf6 41.Kg4 Rxc3 42.Rf5+ Ke6 43. Kxf4 Rc4+ 44.Kg5 Rc2 45.Ra5 Rxg2+ 46.Kxh4! with a book draw) but it lost to 39...Rc5: Rc5 41% h4 37%. However, experts began to realize it is a draw either way. O: ?? I said to the team that if Rc5 won the vote, Julio would play c4 and have a walk-off win!! Let's see if I was right.
40.c4 Rxc4
D: There was some difference in opinion whether 40...Kf5 was better than 40... Rxc4 - one said 40...Rxc4 outright lost (40...Rxc4 41.Ra5 Kd6 42. Rxh5 Ke6 43. Rg5 Rd4 44.h4 Kf6 45.Ra5 Rb4) but more analysis showed both lines were drawn.
41.Ra5+ Kf6 42.Rxh5 Ra4 43.Rb5 Rd4 44.h4 Ra4 45.h5
O: ? Rd5 looked better to me.
45...Rc4 46.Kg4 Rc2 47.Rb6+
47.rb6+.jpg
D: ?! Experts were expecting 47.Kf3 here but it was still a draw (47. Kf3 Ra2 48. h6 Kg6 49. Rb6+ Kh7 50. Rf6 Rb2 51. Rxf4 Kxh6)
47...Ke5 48.Kh3 Kf5 49.Rb5+ Kf6 50.h6?! Kg6 51.Rb6+ Kh7 52.Rf6 Rc3+ 53.Kh4 Rg3 54.Kh5 Rxg2 55.Rxf4 Rh2+ 56.Rh4 ½-½

David Pruess is the content editor at chess.com where there is currently a match between columnists (Grandmasters Becerra, Serper, Magesh, Arun, and FMs Zenyuk and Andrews) against video authors, (Grandmasters Dzindzichashvili, Perelshteyn, Khachiyan, IM Shankland, and FMs Rensch and Galofre.) CLO editor Jennifer Shahade will also be playing against "the Twitter World" in the coming weeks, so follow Jennifer and ChessTweets on twitter to participate in that game.