GM Joel on the USCL: New Jersey Knocked Out Again
By GM Joel Benjamin   
December 6, 2009
NJKOlogo.jpgIn pro football, you play each divisional rival twice.  Occasionally you can meet that same team again in the playoffs.  People look at it as almost a jinx if you swept them in the regular season; it’s as if the law of averages will catch up to you at some point.

The New Jersey Knockouts had beaten the New York Knights twice during the season, but they were not comfortable victories at all.  The matches were pretty similar.  The Knights used the same lineup both times.  Yaacov Norowitz won on board four for them twice, while we beat Pascal Charbonneau and Matt Herman on two and three in both matches, albeit with different players (Dean Ippolito and Boris Gulko, and Victor Shen and Mac Molnar, respectively). 

The Knights stuck to their tried and true lineup.  Sean Finn was the only available fourth board for us (the kids were all at the World Youth).  We seriously considered going with our star, Boris Gulko, on board two, which would have necessitated using Victor on board three.  Victor, however, felt he had too much schoolwork and wouldn’t be able to prepare much, if he could play at all.  So we went with Dean and Mac.

As in the first two matches, we had no answer for Norowitz, and his win proved the difference as New York nudged us out of the playoffs by a 2 ½-1 ½ score.  Herman was able to neutralize Molnar, who fought back from a big time disadvantage but could do no more than equalize.  Charbonneau and Ippolito contested an intriguing game with an unusual material balance for most of the way.  Mid game, Dean took time out to do a radio interview with New Jersey Twelve.  When he came back, Pascal sacrificed his queen for two pieces and two pawns.  Dean wasn’t under any attack, but his position lacked any activity or natural plans.  I didn’t think we could bank on more than a draw for that one.  So for pretty much the whole game I felt I needed to win for the team.  I had a couple of opportunities to win (and I could have lost as well), but in the end Kacheishvili and New York got the draw necessary for advancement.  The game has been analyzed in a few places online, but I’d like to give the readers my personal take on it.
 


Joel Benjamin- Giorgi Kacheishvili [B12]

USCL New Jersey-New York
Before the game started, I began to suffer a few flu-like symptoms.  I'm not a hypochondriac, but my son had been diagnosed with swine flu (he's fine now, thanks).  So for much of the game I played with a dread that I was on the verge of imminent physical collapse (it turned out to be a false alarm).
 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3


After3.f3.jpg
While analyzing a game for my "game of the week" ICC program, I learned that this move is a pretty respectable weapon for White.  It's a favorite of a lot of the young Russian grandmasters.  Do a ChessBase search on Timofeev vs. Bareev and see how many times the veteran Russian grandmaster has been pounded in this opening.
3...Qb6!?
 I couldn't find any games where Giorgi faced the Fantasy Variation, so I didn't know what to expect.  Only afterwards did I notice that this move is a favorite of Georgian players.
4.Nc3 dxe4 5.fxe4
5.Nxe4 is of course possible 5...Bf5 6.c3 Nd7 7.Bd3 leads to more normal play, but it's not what you play 3.f3 to get.
5...e5 6.Nf3 exd4 7.Qxd4
This was a practical decision, given that I had used a huge chunk of time already in the opening.
7...Qxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Nf5 g6 10.Be3 Bxe3 11.Nxe3 Be6
after1...be6.jpg
12.Nc4
I could have tried 12.Bc4 and indeed Michael Goeller (a big supporter of the Knockouts) gave that move as +=.  I think that's a computer assessment, and probably one the computers don't stick with after a while.  I didn't see anything for White in this line after, for instance, 12...Nd7 13.0–0–0 Ngf6 14.Bxe6 fxe6 15.Nc4 b5
12...Bxc4!

The simplest solution, sidestepping a beautiful trap I had set: 12...Ke7 13.0–0–0 Nd7 14.Na5 Rb8 15.Ba6!! Nc5 (15...bxa6 16.Nxc6+ followed by Rxd7 winning) 16.Bxb7 Rxb7 17.b4 with a clear advantage for White.  This looks like a computer line but I actually saw it during the game!
13.Bxc4 Nd7 14.0–0

 I thought it was most important to jump on the f-file quickly, so that's why I went kingside.
14...Ne5 15.Bb3 Rd8
The more natural 15...Ke7 16.Rf4 Nf6 17.Raf1 is a step slow, though even 17...Nfd7 18.Bxf7 (I was tempted by 18.Rxf7+ Nxf7 19.Rxf7+ Kd6? 20.e5+ Nxe5 21.Ne4#!, but 19...Kd8 might just favor Black) 18...Rhf8 19.Bb3 Rxf4 20.Rxf4 Nc5 is fairly level.
 16.Rf2 Ne7 17.Raf1 Rf8
AFter17....rf8.jpg
I think this is a real Giorgi move. He wants to defend his weaknesses and have his king in the center for the endgame.  But his rooks aren't connected so there will be some tactics.  17…0-0 is a more cautious alternative.
18.Ne2 Nc8
18...Rd2 is a safer path to equality, as White will have a lot less pressure after a rook swap.
19.Nf4 Ng4
after19...ng4.jpg
Just about forced. 19...Nd6 20.Ne6 and 19...Ke7 20.Nd3 f6 21.Nxe5 fxe5 22.Rf7+ are both quite bad for Black, while 19...Rd7 20.Ne6 Rh8 21.Nc5 Re7 22.Rd2 gives White a firm initiative.
20.Rf3 Ne5 21.R3f2
 I played this purely to gain time on the clock.  At this point I thought Pascal had completely sufficient compensation for the queen, and so we would need a win here to save the match.
21...Ng4 22.Rf3 Ne5 23.Rh3 Rd4
Black is better off with the simple 23...h5 24.Nd3 (24.Rc3!? is a try) 24...Nxd3 25.cxd3 Nd6 which may be a hair better for white.
24.Rxh7 Nd6 25.Nd3
The computer also offers 25.Nh3, which didn't occur to me at the time.
25...Rxe4
25...Nxd3? 26.cxd3 Rxd3 27.e5 Nf5 28.g4 is not an option.
26.Nc5
I spent a bit of time working out 26.Nxe5 Rxe5 27.Rf6 Kd7 28.Rxg6, but Black can instead play 27...Re1+ 28.Kf2 Ne4+ with equality.
26...Re3 27.Rd1 Ke7 28.h3! b6?
Objectively, Black should go for 28...Ne4 29.Nxb7 Re2.  He has no direct threats but it might be tricky for White to untangle.
29.Kf2 Nf5
after29...nf5.jpg
30.Nd3?
The Internet was abuzz with the problem-like move 30.Be6! which seems to more or less win the game. After 30...Nd3+ 31.cxd3 Re5 32.Nd7 Rxe6 33.Nxf8 Kxf8 34.Rh8+ White should eventually break down Black's defenses. That leaves 30...bxc5 31.Bxf5 Nc4 32.Bxg6 Re6 33.Bh5 Nxb2 34.Rb1 with an advantage comparable to the one I eventually got later—after big mutual errors.
30.Be6 is not an easy move to see, but my plan had been to exploit the rook on e3, and I considered moving another piece to e6, so I really should have found it!  Several moves back I had intended 30.Ne6 here, but realized 30...Rxb3 31.Nxf8 Rxb2 just wins for Black.  So I grabbed a "safe" move quickly.
30...Nxd3+ 31.cxd3 Re5 32.d4 Re4 33.d5 c5

This move came as a great shock--somehow the possibility just didn't register in my brain.  I realized immediately that I'm in big trouble, and without any time.
34.Kf3 Re5 35.Rd2 Nd6?!

I was much more afraid of 35...Nd4+.  Black is still better after Giorgi's move, but I can cause a lot more trouble.
 36.Bc2 Kf6 37.g4! Nc4?!
 This is another step in the wrong direction. 37...Rfe8 38.h4 Re1 still looks pretty good for Black.
38.Rf2 Rxd5 39.Kg3+ Ke6 40.Bxg6
after40.bg6.jpg
I don't know if Giorgi saw he couldn't save this pawn.  Now White is much better.
40...Nd6 41.Bc2 c4 42.Rh6+ Ke7 43.Re2+ Kd7 44.h4 c3?!
It seemed like my opponent was disintegrating, but maybe he felt some immediate action was required.
45.bxc3 Rc8 46.Re3 Rdc5 47.Rd3 R8c6
Black has trouble threatening to take on c3 because of Rhxd6, so this didn't look too difficult to win.
48.Bb3 Ke7 49.Kf4 b5 50.h5 a5
Now Black has a threat, and I struggled to find a simple solution.
51.Re3+ Kf8 52.Rd3 Ke7
after52...Ke7.jpg
53.Re3+
This is the position to do something.  White has a very promising, straightforward continuation:  53.g5 a4 54.Bd5 Rxc3 55.Rxc3 Rxc3 56.Rf6! (56.Rh7 is not as clear because Black has a good resource beginning with 56...Rc5! 57.Ke5 b4 58.Kd4 b3 59.Kxc5 b2 60.Rxf7+ Nxf7 61.Be4 Nxg5 62.Bc2 Nf7 63.Kb4 Kf6 64.Kxa4 Kg5 65.Kb3 Kxh5 66.Kxb2, and you guys can work out if that pawn gets through or not) 56...b4 57.h6 Rh3 58.Ke5 Re3+ 59.Kd4 Rh3 60.Kc5 Rc3+ 61.Kxb4 with a winning position.  Just because you’re ahead in material doesn’t mean you should stop pressing your initiative.  I don’t know how many times I’ve told that to students!
53...Kf8 54.Bd1?
 It makes no sense not to at least wait for a4 before moving the bishop.  I don't know what I was thinking. Instead, 54.Rh8+ Kg7 55.Rd8 a4 56.Bc2 was still quite good for White.
54...Rc4+?
This draws immediately, but Black has even better in 54...Kg7 55.g5 Rf5+ 56.Kg4 Rc4+ 57.Kh3 Ne4 and White's position unravels (I didn’t see that at the time either). I saw now that 55.Kf3 Rxc3 gets the pawn back, though even then White can still play on.  With my time about to run out, I blew a fuse.
55.Kg5??
sgyrtKg5.jpg
OMG, what have I done?!?  I slumped in my chair and waited for the crushing blow...but half a minute went by without a move.
55...Ne4+?
Of course, 55...R6c5+ wins a rook (56.Kh4 Nf5+) or mates 57.Kf6 Rf4++).
56.Rxe4 R4c5+ 57.Kh4 Rxh6 58.Rf4 Rd6 59.Bb3 f6 60.Rf3 a4 61.Bc2 b4 62.c4 Ra6

after62...Ra6.jpg

63.Rf1
I hadn't come down from the shock of blowing the win and the draw in two moves, and then somehow coming back to life.  Admittedly, Black hasn't played the best moves since winning the exchange. But 63.h6 should be played here, with some hopes of swindling a point in the time scramble.
63...Kg7 64.Rb1 Rxc4 65.Bd3 Rac6 66.Bxc4 Rxc4 67.Rd1 f5 68.Kg5 Rxg4+ 69.Kxf5 Rg2 70.Rd4 Rxa2 71.Rxb4 Kh6 72.Kg4 Rg2+ 73.Kh4 Rh2+ 74.Kg4 Rg2+ 75.Kh4 Rh2+ ½–½

I hope readers can appreciate how difficult chess is, when two strong players can make so many mistakes in one game.  The USCL is a lot of fun to watch (and kibitz on), so don’t miss the final, played over the Internet Chess Club (ICC) on Monday Dec 7th at 7 pm Eastern time.  The New York Knights and the Miami Sharks did not have great regular seasons, but both teams knocked out the top two seeds in their respective divisions and must be considered worthy finalists.
 
Ask Grandmaster Joel Benjamin a question on anything from the USCL to openings at askgmjoel@uschess.org.