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Hilton on Foxwoods: Shulman, Shogi and Imitating Becerra Print E-mail
By Jonathan Hilton   
April 12, 2009
Shulman in Foxwoods. Photo Michael Atkins
If I had to name what my dream performance at the Foxwoods Open would be, I’d say that I’d like to start out by beating a FIDE Master, an International Master, and three GMs. After ceding a draw to SuperNationals IV Champion IM Robert Hess, I’d go on to beat GM Shabalov, who “miniatured” me from the Black side of the Catalan a few months ago. That would put me at 6.5/7.0, a half point ahead of the field and in a strong position to go for clear first the next day.

Of course, such dream performances are few and hard to come by for those with USCF ratings under 2300. The good news for me, though, is that I can currently live this dream vicariously: my travel "buddy" from our Foxwoods arrival day , GM Yury Shulman has already taken care of the hard part! Shulman has retained his clear lead from Round 5 and is well on his way to defending his Foxwoods Champion title from last year. His quick draw with IM Robert Hess in the morning on Saturday – an abrupt Exchange Variation handshake in the French – allowed him to rest up for a decisive win over Shabalov later that night. Shabalov appeared to be going all out for a win from the opening, but his attack against White’s king in the center never made it past the fifth rank.


The spectators’ eyes haven’t been glued to Shulman’s games, however. With so many strong players in the field, there has been constant action as the fortunes of various Grandmasters have risen and fallen. Both IM Alex Lenderman and IM Robert Hess appear to have serious GM norm potential; in Round 7, Lenderman pillaged GM Akobian’s uncastled king from the Black side of the Slav, while Hess held on tight for the draw against GM Loek Van Wely. That leaves Lenderman with 6.0/7.0 and Hess with 5.5/7.0 – both outstanding performances.



Going a bit further down the scoreboard, you’ll find the vast multitudes of players who’ve had a more “rough and tumble” Swiss tournament. I’m definitely included in this group: every round, I’ve been playing at least 150 points up or down. I bounced back from my Round 1 loss to Akobian by beating 2150-rated Stephen Dygert, but then failed to hold a rook and pawn endgame against 2450-rated Marc Esserman. I ceded a draw to a lower-rated player after that, which allowed me to be “paired down” once again on Friday night. My opponent was seventh-grader Atulya Shetty from Ann Arbor, Michigan – a bright student of the game whose rating has skyrocketed from “Class C” to Expert level in just a few years. The game began with me taking the Black side of an Exchange Lopez, an opening which sometimes gives me fits when I’m trying to play for the win. As I watched the queens being swapped before my very eyes, I wondered why I still haven’t taken up the Sicilian Defense after all these years. The thought of trying to grind out a win from the following position made my heart sink:


Crestfallen, I began pacing the tournament hall. I marched from one end of the table to the other, fidgeting constantly. Suddenly, I looked up. On the far side of the room, my good friend and Denker comrade NM Matt Parry was facing off with GM Julio Becerra, who’d suffered a Round 4 loss to IM Ray Robson. Knowing the opening repertoires of the two players, an idea struck me. I rushed over to their board and peeked over Matt’s shoulder.


Suddenly, I felt a gush of energy. I wasn’t the only one trying to play the Black side of this structure for a win! As much as I was rooting for my friend Matt, I drew a lot of inspiration for my own game knowing that Grandmaster Julio Becerra was fighting the same battle I was. Although it felt akin to cheating, I went back to my own board and started copying Becerra’s dark-square bind strategy. And when my opponent decided to swap his knight for my dark-square bishop, I noted that Becerra had allowed such a swap against Matt as well. My energy renewed, I managed to press on for the win even after the spectators packed around my game had dismissed my chances and (perhaps incorrectly) whispered the word “draw” to one another quite audibly in the background.


The moves after move 60 are all reconstructed, and I know at least partially incorrectly. Kudos to Shetty for putting up such long and hard-fought resistance, even when shifting back and forth for dozens of moves started to grow monotonous.

Meanwhile, Becerra’s position against Parry actually took a sharp turn for the worse, and after Black’s 28th move White gained the initiative. Parry managed to keep the position relatively open, allowing his dark-square bishop to exert pressure despite Becerra’s blockading strategy. 


Oddly enough, the way for Becerra to maintain the balance was probably to allow the queenside to be fully opened with 28...cxb4 29.Bxb6 Rb5, activating his rooks. Becerra’s strategy of trying to keep the queenside closed against the odds with 28...b5!? seemed akin to plugging a leaky faucet. But in a depressing turn of events, Parry began to lose the thread of the position, allowing the game to peter out to a dead draw. Things went downhill from there with 60.Rf3??, blundering in what was otherwise a trivial “Philidor’s Position”-type draw.

Position after 60.Rf3?

Show Solution

A close game, though, and one from which Matt Parry certainly recovered from: he defeated the formidable IM Emory Tate in Round 7 and now stands in a good position to take U2300 money with 4.5/7.0.

I may have managed to squeeze out the win over my fifth-round opponent, but, in true Swiss System fashion, I played up the next round and was dealt a smashing blow. My opponent was one of the most famous Shogi (Japanese Chess) players of all time, Toshiyuki Moriuchi. Knowing of my opponent’s Shogi skill – he won the Meijin title  an astounding five times – I decided early on that I would avoid playing positions requiring exhaustive tactical calculation and instead try to focus on positions based solely on chess understanding. Moriuchi, although relatively inexperienced in chess, has a provisional USCF rating of slightly over 2400 and has the focused demeanor of a strong Grandmaster. He didn’t know any opening theory in the line I chose, but managed to find decent moves and got only a slightly worse position. I had several opportunities to admit my opponent had managed to equalize and steer the game towards a drawish ending, but instead I stubbornly played for the win, thinking that I was exerting strong pressure on my opponent. Perhaps I was, but I forgot that in a game of Shogi, which is almost never drawn, the main objective is to play for a mating attack. Captured pieces reenter play in Shogi, making it akin to bughouse chess in its ruthless mate-at-any-cost style. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Moriuchi reacted to my positional pressure by charging his g- and h-pawns down the board!


1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 b6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.0–0 Be7 6.d4 0–0 7.Nc3 Ne4 8.Qc2 Nxc3 9.Qxc3 c5 10.b3 Bf6 11.Bb2 Nc6 12.Qd2 Nxd4 13.Nxd4 Bxg2 14.Kxg2 cxd4 15.Bxd4 Be7 

A good retreat, saving Black's dark-square bishop. Otherwise, White's pressure along the c- and d-files would be even more unpleasant. 

In hindsight, this move seems overly ambitious. I provoke ...f7-f6, but is this really a weakness? It would have been better to play for a more modest advantage, for instance with 16.Rfd1 Qc7 17.Rac1 Rfd8 and here 18.Qf4, hoping for a miniscule endgame edge after 18...Qxf4 (18...d6 19.Qg4 Bf8 20.e4) 19.gxf4 Rac8 20.Kf3.
16...f6 17.Rfd1 Qc7 18.Rac1 Rac8 19.Kg1 Rfd8 20.Be3 Qb7 21.Rd3 Kf7 22.Rcd1 

I have pressure on d7, but rather than defend passively, my opponent plays for mate. 
A multi-purpose move, preventing Be3-f4-d6 and beginning a mating attack! 
Again, overly ambitious: White could steer the game toward simple equality with 23.Bd4, pressuring f6 (Rd3-f3 is coming) and allowing 23...d5 24.cxd5 Rxd5=.
23...d6 24.Kf2 h5 

And here, I calculated what I believed to be a strong idea: 
25.Qb1 Rh8 
Forced, in view of the threat of Rxd6 and Qh7+. 
26.Bc1 h4 27.g4 
I am now ready to play Bc1-a3, after which Black will be hard-pressed to defend his d6 pawn. But Moriuchi finds a counterattacking idea I had overlooked. 
Position after 27...b5

After this counterpunch, Black is clearly better! 
28.cxb5 Qxb5 29.Ba3 Rc6 
Of course the Shogi champion avoids 29...Qe5 30.Bxd6 Bxd6 31.Rxd6 Qxh2+ 32.Kf1, with a draw in sight.
30.Re3 Ra6 31.Bb2 d5 32.Rc1 Qb8! 
Playing directly for mate. Black shouldn't toy around with 32...Bc5?!, after which White has the resource 33.Kf1! Bxe3?? 34.Rc7+ followed by Qg6, winning.
33.Kg2 h3+ 34.Kh1 Qf4! 

I had set the trap 34...Bd6?? 35.Rxe6!, winning. Now, the rest is easy--I'm completely hopeless to stop Black's attack.
35.Rcc3 Bd6 36.Qg1 Rxa2 37.Bc1 Ra1 38.Rc6 Qb4 39.Rec3 Be5 40.Rc2 Qxb3 41.Qc5 Bf4 42.Rc8 Qxc2! 
The final blow. 
43.Qxc2 Rxc8 44.Qh7+ Ke8 45.Qg8+ Kd7 46.Qh7+ Kd6 47.Qxh3 Rcxc1+ 48.Kg2 Rg1+ 49.Kf2 Raf1+ 

The final position makes for a pretty picture. Skillful play by a true Champion—and in true Shogi style! 0–1

Check out Jonathan Hilton's first report and the official website of the Foxwoods Open , where you can find games, photos and reports. Also check out live games on

April - Chess Life Online 2009

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