Three Share Honors at Midwest Class
By FM Alex Betaneli   
October 18, 2009
FM Alex Betaneli, co-winner of the 2009 MidWest Class Championships
The 18th Midwest Class Championship was hosted by the Westin hotel in Wheeling, IL from October 9-11. With 243 participants, the tournament saw a slight increase in attendance compared to last year. There is virtually no doubt that the event will continue to grow in the years to come. With plenty of restaurants within striking distance, outstanding breakfast buffet, and incredibly helpful hotel staff, the Westin is a popular destination. Perhaps too popular, from the point of view of the chess players: ideally we do not want any weddings, Sunday choir, or any other activity that produces any more noise than a ticking clock anywhere near the tournament room. But then again, hotel business would have a hard time existing solely by serving chess players, so we don’t want to complain too much!

This tournament and this venue are both rather special to me personally. During my senior year of High school, back in 1993, I scored an impressive 3.5/5 at this event while winning the U2200 prize in the Open section and becoming a master. As for hotel, it was a euphoric feeling to win the U2300 section of the Chicago Open in 2008 here. Thus some of my friends claim that although winning Midwest Class should feel nice (and it does indeed, I assure them), they were not surprised to see me among the winners. What nice friends I have!

The top section saw a formidable field of four Grandmasters, several International masters and FIDE masters, plenty of masters and experts for a total of 28 participants. Three out of four GM’s chose to play in the 2-day schedule, making this schedule a tougher one. To be fair though, it’s not as if Grandmasters faced each other early on.
The upsets began as early as round one. NM Szpisjak refused to fold against his higher rated opponent. 


It's always a great honor to play in the same event with the former top 5 player, GM Jaan Ehvlest. I hope to play him one day, and I would just wish to avoid being destroyed. Here he makes beating the US Junior Open champion look easy! Eric Rosen recovered just fine and tied for the U2300 prizes in the end.


GM Gurevich took a bye in round one and was unable to score a full point in round two.


The notation stopped on move 42. White tried to win but in the end the game ended in a draw.

After two rounds, the schedules were combined and Ehlvest faced the local powerhouse IM Angelo Young on board one. Angelo spent too much time solving opening problems and could not overcome the time deficit later in the game. Board three saw Seth Homa collect a GM scalp. The young and rapidly improving GM Amanov was clearly off-form in this event: he drew FM Al Chow in round two (and was clearly in danger of losing) and then ran into a determined opponent.


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6 8.Ne5 a5 9.g3 e6 10.Bg2 Bb4 11.0–0 0–0 12.Na2 Be7 13.Re1 h6 14.e4 Bh7 15.b3 Nfd7 16.Nxd7 Nxd7 17.Be3 f5!?

Position after 17...f5

This commital decision leads to a fascinating position.
Could it be that white thought the the optical advantage in space consitutes a real advantage? The remainder of the game demonstrates that Black is just fine here.
18...Nb6 19.f4 Nd5 20.Qd3 Qd7 21.Red1
To be completely honest, I am not sure where white makes the decisive mistake. It's possible that he needed to keep his "bad" bishop by playing Bf2.
21...Bg6 22.Nc3 Nxe3 23.Qxe3 Bh5 24.Rd3 Rfd8 25.Bf1 Kh8 26.Ra2 Bb4 27.Rc2 Qc7 28.Bg2 Qb6

Position after 28...Qb6

Quite often Grandmasters beat their opponents in the "shuffling game": they play with purpose whereas opponents don't! Here, however, we see the opposite: NM Homa centralizes his pieces and get the better of his titled opponent.
29.Na2 Be7 30.h3 Rd7 31.Kh2 Rad8 32.Rcd2 Qa7 33.Qg1
Black takes charge of the game with this colorful move.
34.Qc1 Rxd4 35.Rxd4 Rxd4 36.Rxd4 Bxd4 37.Qc4 Qc5 38.Qxe6 Qc2 39.g4 Qd1 40.Qc4 Qg1+ 41.Kg3 Qf2+ 42.Kh2 fxg4 43.hxg4 Qxf4+ 44.Kh1 Qf2 45.Qf1 Qh4+ 0–1
Another upset occurred on the adjacent board. NM Spiridonksi had a great tournament and finished out of money only due to the loss in the last round. Here he takes on the powerful Chicago IM.


Finally, one of my own games, along with marathon annotations.


annotations by FM Alex Betaneli, GM Alex Goldin & Rybka
I played this game in round three, with GM Mitkov trailing me by half a point. We have already had one interesting encounter in the Berlin (included in the notes) and although this time around I lost again, this game was full of fight. At the risk of making annotations too long, I include two more games within annotations: they serve as "ideals" for white. All in all, the resulting positions are fascinating, combative and very (very!) tough to analyze.With this preamble, I invite the readers to join me (and my coach GM Alex Goldin) on a fun journey of the Berlin system of the Spanish. Kasparov himself could not break down Kramnik's defences here and a number of elite GMs enjoy playing these complex structures with both colors. Get a cup of coffee if you wish, you won't regret the time spent.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Nc3 Bd7 10.b3 h6 11.h3 Kc8 12.Bb2
Where the Betaneli-Mitkov games diverged, after 12.Bb2

My preparation for this game (played against GM Mitkov two months earlier) consisted in studying a couple impressive victories by the elite GM Alekseev.
 12...b6 13.Rad1 Ne7 14.Rd2
Take a look at a "model game": 14.Ne2 Ng6 15.Ng3 c5 16.c4 a5 17.a4 Bc6 18.Nh5! Kb7 19.Ne1 Nh4 20.Nf4 h5 21.Nd5 Rd8 22.Nc2 Kc8 23.Rd3 Re8 24.Nce3 Bd7 25.Rfd1 Be6 26.Nf4 Ng6 27.Nxe6 fxe6 28.Nf1 Ne7 29.Ng3 Nc6 30.Ne4 Be7 31.Nd6+! cxd6 32.exd6 Rd8 33.dxe7 Rxd3 34.Rxd3 Nxe7 35.Rd6 Kc7 36.Rxe6 Nf5 37.Bxg7 Rd8 38.Be5+ Kb7 39.g4 1–0 Alekseev,E-Shchekachev,A/Moscow 2006
14...c5 15.Ne2 Ng6 16.c4 Be6!This is much better than Eljanov's 16... Bc6 that my opponent dismissed as "pretty bad." (Indeed, Alekseev-Eljanov, 2009 was a bad beating: 16...Bc6?! 17.Ne1! Kb7 18.f4 white holds the edge in Berlin if he is allowed to push the K-side pawns effortlessly 18...Re8 19.Nf3 Ne7 20.Ng3 b5 (20...h5?! 21.Ng5 f6 22.exf6 gxf6 23.Re1 Rg8 24.Nxh5) 21.cxb5 Bxb5 22.Rc1 Ng6 23.Nh5 Bc6 24.Kf2 Kb6 25.Ba3 Be4 26.Rc4 Bb7 27.Rdc2 f6 28.Nxg7+- Bxg7 29.Bxc5+ Ka6 30.Ra4+ Kb5 31.Nd4#
17.Ne1 And now I was on my own, without Alekseev guiding me. It's not simple to find a good plan here: 17.g4 h5!? (17...Be7 18.Nh2 Kb7 (18...Nh4!? 19.f4 g6 20.Ng3 Rg8) 19.f4 Rhd8 20.Rdd1 Nh4 21.f5) 18.Ng5 hxg4 19.Nxe6 fxe6 20.hxg4 Rh4 21.f3 Be7) 17.Nh2!? Be7 18.f4 Nh4;
17...h5!? 18.Nd3 18.f4 is met by the standard 18...Nh4; 18.Nc2!? h4 19.Ne3 Ne7 20.Nf4 g6 and white might have a slight edge here, but black h3 pawn prevents white from utilizing his K-side majority.
18...Be7 Interestingly, my opponent spent 50 minutes on this natural move! I wondered why, but could not quite understand: surely Nf4 would be met by Bg5.... so why did he think for so long?!
During the lengthy post-mortem, GM Mitkov confided that he was worried about the exchange sacrifice: 19.Ndf4!? Nxf4 20.Nxf4 Bg5 21.Nxe6 Bxd2 22.Nxg7 resulting position is wild and although computer prefers black, I can understand why a GM won't want to allow such a mess! As I didn't seriously consider this line, my opponent's time was spent in vain.
19...a5 20.a4?!
This move amounts to a tempo loss in position where there is plenty to do! Additionally, it weakens the b-pawn ever so slightly. 20.Ndf4! Nxf4 (20...Bf5 21.Nxg6 (21.Ng3!? Bc2 22.Nxg6 Bxg6 23.f4 Bh4 24.Rf3) 21...Bxg6 (21...fxg6 22.Ng3 Be6 23.f4) 22.Nf4 Bc2 23.Rd2 Bf5 24.Nd5 Re8 25.Ne3 white gets to play without much risk of losing. 21.Nxf4 a4 22.Nxe6 fxe6 this is probably equal, but white is definitely not in any danger of losing.

Analysis diagram after 20...h4

This terrific move has a logical basis: now white's K-side is frozen.
21.Nc3!? Bf5 22.f3 Kb7 23.Ne4 and white can claim to have a fortress that is hardly assailable. After 21.Ndf4 Bf5 22.Nxg6 Bxg6 23.Rd2 Rd8 24.Rxd8+ Kxd8 black has the more pleasant prospects.
21...Bf5 22.Nd5 Bg5 23.f4?!
23.Ne3! Bxe3 (23...Be6 24.Bc1=) 24.fxe3= and white is just fine: no real winning or losing chances.
23...Bh6 24.Kf2? After this error, white's position is beyond repair.
24...Rd8 25.g4 hxg3+ 26.Kxg3 Kb7 27.Nc1 Rd7 28.Ne3 Rxd1 29.Nxd1 Rh8 30.Rf2 Bxf4+ 0–1
Betaneli, A-Mitkov, 2009.
Back to the main game!
13.Rad1 c5 14.Rd2
14.Ne4 b6

Black avoids the "repeat" of our previous encounter, possibly fearing an improvement (and correctly so!). 15.Ne2 g5 16.Ng3 Ng6 17.Nh5 a5 18.Rfd1 Be7 19.c4
GM Goldin: "Most concrete is 19.Ng7!? A good piece is the one that can be traded as the right moment." but Rybka is unimpressed: 19...a4 (our main line: 19...Nf4 20.Nxe6 Nxe6 21.a4; or: 19...g4 20.Nxe6 gxf3 21.Ng7 in both cases, black is not out of the woods just yet) 20.Nxe6 fxe6 21.g3 axb3 22.axb3 the "little fish" gives this a cold "=" and I tend to agree with it on this occasion.

White should just admit that there is no advantage and clarify the situation by one of these lines: 20.Ng7 g4 21.Nxe6 gxf3=; 20.Nf6 Bxf6 21.exf6=; 20.g4= with idea of getting the King to g3.
I missed this move/idea altogether, but my opponent, one of the world's experts of the Berlin, sensed the critical moment and played this wonderful move after a 10 minute thought. Now black threatens to take over.
Alas, the solid-looking 21.hxg4 Bxg4 22.Nf6 (22.Ng3!?) 22...Bxf3 23.gxf3 runs into 23...Nxe5! netting black a whole pawn(23...Bxf6 24.exf6= as the N has no outpost).
21...gxh3 22.g3 Rg8 23.Kh1
Worth considering was 23.Nf6!? Bxf6 24.exf6 with idea of f3/Kf2 and some consolidation. Rybka gives substantial edge to black here, but this is too optimistic.; but not 23.f4? Nxf4 24.Nxf4 Rxg3+ 25.Kf1 Rxc3–+.

24.Nf6! Bxf6 25.exf6 white has excellent drawing chances here; 24.Nf4!?
24...a4 25.Nf4 axb3 26.axb3 Ra3 27.Nxe6 Nxe6 28.Ra1?
Position after 28.Ra1

This kind of mistake should not be made by a player of my caliber. Giving up such an important file is equivalent to giving up the game. Of course, life is difficult after 28.Rb2 but situation is far from hopeless and objectively white's drawing chances a bit higher than black's winning chances here.
28...Rxa1+ 29.Bxa1 Rd8 30.Nf3 Bg5 31.Kh2 Rd3 32.Ne1 Rxb3 33.f4 Nxf4!

Another GM move, played after a 22-minute contemplation. 33...Be7 34.Nc2 and black still has to overcome some technical problems of conversion.
34.gxf4 Bxf4+ 35.Kh1 Rb1 36.Bc3 h5 37.e6!

But I was not quite ready to call it a night and after...
37...fxe6 38.Be5 Bxe5 39.Rxe5 Kd7
Black gains five (!) pawns for the N, but at least white gets out of the bind.
40.Kh2 Kd6?
Surprisingly, black lets up a bit here. 40...Rc1! leaves white gasping for air.
I strongly considered Rybka's recommendation 41.Re2!? but felt it was rather passive. However, progress is not at all simple for black at this point: 41...Rc1 42.Nc2 c6 43.Kxh3 b5 44.Kh4 Rh1+ 45.Kg5 b4 46.Ne3 and black is far from "obviously winning."
41...Rb3! leaves white paralyzed.
42.Nf3 Rf1?!
To be fair to black, it's unclear how to proceed in this position. For instance, 42...c6 43.Ng5 b5 44.Rxe6+ Kd7 45.Rh6 bxc4 (45...b4 46.Rh7+ Ke8 47.Nf3=) 46.Ne4. 
43...Rc1 44.Rd3+
Rybka helps to provide this fantastic line: 44.Ne5 b5 (44...c6 is a better try, for instance: 45.Nf7+ Kc7 46.Ne5 b5 47.Kxh3 b4 48.Kh4 Kd6 49.Nf7+ Ke7 50.Ne5 Kf6 51.Kxh5 Kf5 52.Ng6 Rh1+ 53.Nh4+ Kf6 but is this winning? I have to admit that a more detailed analysis is needed.) 45.cxb5 c4 46.Kxh3 c3 47.Nc6 c2 48.Rd3+ Kc5 49.Rc3+ Kxb5 50.Kg2= well, that's fantastic indeed.
44...Ke7 45.Ne5 Re1 46.Nd7 b6 47.Nb8 e5
Position after 47....e5

48.Rxh3! I knew it was crucial to eliminate this "thorn" in my position, but could not find the right moment to do it. The subsequent lines are computer-generated, but all moves are quite logical: white eliminates the outside passed pawns and then tries to stop the remaining pawns with his pieces. 48...Re4 49.Rxh5 Rxc4 50.Kg3 Rc3+ 51.Kg4 Kd6 52.Rh6+ Kd5 53.Na6 c4 54.Nxc7+ Ke4 55.Nb5 Rc1 56.Rc6 Rg1+ 57.Kh4 Kd3 58.Rd6+ Ke2 59.Re6 Kf3 60.Rf6+ Ke3 61.Rc6; Another possibility: 48.Na6!? Re4 49.Nxc7 Rxc4 50.Nd5+ Ke6 51.Nxb6 Rb4 52.Nd7 c4 53.Nc5+ Kf5 54.Rxh3 and white's defeat is far less likely than the draw.
48...Ke6 49.Rxc7 e4
Position after 49....e4

It takes Rybka's genius at this point, but apparently white can still hold on to dear life: 50.Kxh3 Rc1 (50...e3 51.Kg2 Rc1 52.Rc6+ Kf5 53.Kf3 Rxc4 54.Nd7 b5 55.Rb6=) 51.Kg3 h4+ 52.Kf4 Rxc4 53.Rc6+ Kd5 54.Rh6 b5 55.Rh5+ Kd6 56.Rh6+ Kc7 57.Nc6 b4 58.Na5 Rc3 59.Kxe4 h3 60.Kd5 b3 61.Nxb3 Rxb3 62.Kxc5 It's quite pleasing to see the knight handle so many pawns!
50...Kf5 51.Nd7 Rd1 52.Nxb6 e3 53.Rxc5+ Kg4 54.Re5 Rd2+ 55.Kh1 e2 56.Nd5 Rd1+ 57.Kh2 e1Q 58.Nf6+ Kf4 59.Rxe1 Rxe1 60.Kxh3 Kg5 0–1

This left Ehlvest at the top, but he could only draw with the black pieces against his fellow Grandmasters on the final day (Mitkov and Gurevich). This allowed Nikola Mitkov to catch up as he beat the talented NM Erik Santarius in the final round. Likewise, I caught up by beating a strong Chicago junior Gopal Menon and Michal Spiridonski on the final day. Angelo Young could not defeat Seth Homa in the marathon 5th round game (the R defended versus R+B for fifty moves), so the two of them split the 4th prize with Dmitry Gurevich. Jan received an extra $100 as he had superior tiebreaks. I gently suggested that the number of wins should be the first tie-break, while Nikola Mitkov felt that the second best finisher on tie-breaks should receive the bonus (figuring, it’s already a great satisfaction for the top scorer to be at the top of the crosstable!). However, chief tournament director Steve Immitt is known to follow the rules, so Nikola and I had to be content with eating Russian pastries as our bonus. It was a good payday anyway, with each of us picking up $1167.

Three more people won a nice chunk of change in the top section: Erik Santarius, Eric Rosen, and John Bick received $400 for the best U2300 result (3 out of 5). John did it in a funny way: he forfeited round four (I didn’t quite understand if he overslept the 9:00am round start  or simply skipped it out of moral objection to playing chess so early in the morning,) and then won round five. Hey, we all have different styles.

GM Mitkov is taking off for the European Championships this week, while GM Ehlvest returns to Tennessee for his U.S. Chess league matches. As for me, a trip to Hungary in December is on the agenda. It’s time to hunt that International master title, as it is tiring to explain what on earth FM stands for and how it is different from NM or IM. I hope my friends have confidence in me while I celebrate Christmas and New Year’s in the land of GM Leko (a fearsome Super Grandmaster who does well against the Berlin).

All other proud winners can be found on the CCA site, and you can find rating changes on the MSA. Many thanks to Continental Chess Association for the tournament and the tournament directors that ran this smooth event: Steve Immitt, Wayne Clark and Jeff Wiewel.