Photo from buffalochess.blogspot.com
by Eddie Mark
Recently, I became the unexpected winner of the 1st Annual Buffalo City Championship with an undefeated 4-0-1 score in one of the strongest fields of national masters, experts, and category A players that Buffalo has witnessed in years. Afterwards, I was surprised to be met outside the tournament hall by a deluge of flashing cameras and eager reporters from the local media asking all sorts of questions relating to how it felt to win the title and what strategies I employed throughout the two day event. I was even more surprised to find my picture on the front page of The Buffalo News the following day. And later I was even invited by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown to receive a citation and the Mayor’s Cup. However, I missed the ceremony because I was at the World Open in King of Prussia!
Now although all of this attention was nice I remembered a quote by Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” And personally I have always maintained that no one ever accomplishes anything on their own. The same goes for my recent tournament victory where two of my most memorable games involved superior opponents who have contributed much to my chess development over the years. They are NM Lionel Davis and NM Barry Davis. And although they are not related they are both legendary giants of chess in Buffalo where, over the years, there has been the emergence of no fewer than six strong national masters and scores of expert level and category A players. (Remarkable for a small city with no formal chess club or large tournaments)
My 3rd round game was against NM Barry Davis who in his best years was well-known and much feared particularly for his skillful handling of knights and endgame proficiency. Before the tournament I planned to play dynamically against him and sacrifice material for the initiative when the moment was right.
1. c4 e6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 dxc4 4. Qa4+ Bd7 5. Qxc4 Bc6
6. Nf3 Nd7 7. d4 Nb6 8. Qd3 Nf6 9. O-O Be4 10. Qb3 Qd5 11. Qd1 Bxb1 12. Rxb1 Qxa2
Black's bold decision to capture the a-pawn will require precise play, especially since his king is yet uncastled and his queen is somewhat out of play on a2.
13. Bf4 Nfd5 14. Qc2 Bd6 15. Ne5 Bxe5 16. Bxe5 O-O 17. e4 Ne7 18. Rfc1!
A strong move which threatens to win at once with Ra1. Black's position is becoming critical having allowed white a powerful center, two glorious bishops and an uncontested initiative against his queenside.
18...Qa4 would simply lose to 19.Qxa4 Nxa4 20. Rxc7 storming into black‘s position
19. b4 Qa3 20. Bxc7 Rfc8 21. Qd2 Nc6 22. Bxb6 axb6 23. d5 exd5 24. exd5 Ne5 25. d6 Nf3+ 26. Bxf3 Qxf3 27. Rxc8+ Rxc8 28. d7 Rd8 29. Re1 Qc6
Here white can play 30.b5! Qxb5 31.Qd5!! winning in the style of Paul Morphy due to the weakness of the bank rank, but during the game I decided to play conservatively in case I had missed something in my calculations.
30.Re8+ Rxe8 31.d8=Queen
Perhaps not exactly an “original combination” as Alekhine might call it although I have personally never encountered this particular theme in my studies. Yet, it was a memorable moment when spectators began to crowd around the board as they saw me reach into Barry’s chess bag for a second queen, which can’t be captured because of the back rank mate.
After my victory in round 3, I was already a full point ahead of the rest of the field with a perfect 3-0 score. But in the next round I would be paired against my former trainer, top-seeded NM Lionel Davis, a talented chess thinker and instructor whose students seem to demonstrate astoundingly rapid chess growth. He has also created his own school of thought which he terms Ultramodern Chess Theory. We met at top board for a fourth round showdown.
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. e3 d5 3. b3 c5 4. Bb2 Nc6 5. d4 e6 6.Nbd2 Be7 7. a3 O-O 8. Bd3 a6
8...b6 followed by Bb7 is probably the better alternative.
9. Qe2 b5 10. dxc5 Bxc5 11. e4 e5!
Stopping the white e-pawn in its tracks and offering white the opportunity to gobble the e-pawn while his king is still in the center.
12. exd5 Nxd5 13. O-O Bb7
My opponent scoffed at this move calling it a blunder as we sat at the board because the e-pawn is en prise. Naturally, I realized during the game that either 13...f6 or 13...Re8 or even 13...Bg4 were objectively more sound, but I had practical reasons for my decision.
I was falling behind on the clock and needed to recover some time. I, thus, reasoned that a more complicated line of play would force my opponent to expend some of his clock during which I could also continue to evaluate the position. And as always, I adore sacrificing material to gain the initiative.
14. Nxe5 Nd4 15. Qg4 f5 16. Qg3 Qc7
I think 11...Nf6 is better with the idea of Ne4. After the text white seems to gain some momentum.
17. Rfe1 Rae8 18. c4 Nf6 19. cxb5 axb5 20. Rac1 Qd6 21. b4 Bb6 22. Rcd1?
This seemingly natural rook move is actually a mistake allowing a clever tactical refutation. Better, perhaps, was the surprising 22.Ng4! offering an exchange of queens and a set of pieces.
If now 23.Nxe4 fxe4 24.Bxe4 Ne2+ wins.
23. Bxe4 fxe4 24. Ng4
My opponent offered a draw here and I agreed without evaluating the position further especially since a draw with the top seed put me in position to win the title since I would need only a half point in the final round against a lower seed to win the tournament. In addition, I was still behind on the clock which would have only favored my more experienced opponent.
Afterwards, however, when I studied the game I discovered, perhaps, why he had offered the draw. That is, because after the obvious moves 24...Qxg3 25.hxg3 Nc2! which is the correct square for the white rook? White cannot play 26.Re2 because 26...Bc8! would win after 27.Ne3 (or 27.Ne5 e3!) Nxe3 28.fxe3 Bg4. And after 26.Rf1 h5 27.Ne3 Nxe3 28.fxe3 Bxe3+ 29.Kh2 Rf2! (or 29...Bf2) white will have the grim task of deciding which piece he will ultimately sacrifice for the deadly passed e-pawn.
Nevertheless, it was a draw. And after taking another draw in the final round against expert Doug Dubose I secured the title.
Eddie Mark celebrates his victory with his son.
For a long time the Buffalo chess scene had been in need of a renaissance. Since the early 1990's it continued to dwindle until there was not even a real chess club to be found in the city. The real tragedy was that there were so many talented players in the area. Over the years, in fact, this small town had produced at least six players with master ratings. Quite a few others had attained expert or category A status. Moreover, of the six masters, five were African-American, prompting one observer to say that Buffalo probably had one of the highest concentrations of black talent in the country. But with a worsening regional economy and a lack of chess activity many players have had to relocate to other areas of the country leaving behind only a legacy of great chess in western New York.
The tournament was the brain child of Michael McDuffie, a new TD in the area, who is trying his best to get things going again. He was able to get Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and a couple of other local leaders to sponsor the tournament. I personally had been calling for such an event for years just to try and get a sense of where I stood among Buffalo's best, but nothing ever semed to materialize. I had even left town a couple of times and had spent some time working in Miami and competing with Becerra, Martinez, and Lugo, etc. when I got the call that there would be the tournament.There was another notable breakout: 12 year old Asian American Bob Siyuan Shao (USCF 1654 pre tournament, 1713 post-tourney!) who competed in the master's section, drew a master and went 1.5/2 against experts. I absolutely believe that this was the start of a chess rennaissance in Buffalo.
CLO (Contact editor Jennifer Shahade at [email protected]) and Chess Life Magazine (contact editor Daniel Lucas at [email protected]) welcome pitches about lesser known chess cities and championships around America.