Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2007 arrow October arrow Diary of a Samford Scholar: European Fall Part II
Diary of a Samford Scholar: European Fall Part II Print E-mail
By IM Josh Friedel   
December 19, 2007
As I walked through the streets of the German resort town of Bad Wiessee, three things occurred to me.  First, it was snowing.  Second, it was freezing.  Third, my sneakers were on their last legs and completely soaked.  And lastly, that these could be the perfect playing conditions for me.  In the past I’ve played some of my best chess when the conditions weren’t great, or I had to deal with lots of annoyances.  For example, I had a break through New England Open once at a rundown motel 6 where we barely could fit in the tournament hall.  I won the 2001 Pan Am Open, which if memory serves was even written up by John Fernandez as having the worst conditions of any tournament he’d been to.  I achieved my first GM Norm at a tournament in Berkeley where my luggage arrived two days late, forcing me to wear the same set of clothes and brushing my teeth with two fingers and hand soap, quite a disgusting prospect considering I was staying at a YMCA hostile.  I mean hostel.  Anyways, you get the idea I’m sure.  Maybe my opponents simply are more affected by such things than me.  Or perhaps my YMCA soap breath did my opponents in.  There is no way to know for sure.  The only thing I was sure of was that I didn’t know what really made me play well, and I wasn’t even positive I knew that.

After the Rohde Open, we spent a couple days in Sautron.  We didn’t do any sightseeing, or much of anything besides relax, except the one time mall security almost arrested us.  It’s a long story; suffice it to say they get real touchy if you take suitcases into a grocery store.  Luckily, David’s French negotiation skills and my ability to act like a mentally challenged boy got us off.  Then we took a train to Paris, then caught an overnighter to Munich in a “first class” cabin, which turned out to mean you have room to stick out one elbow on the bed.  In Munich we visited an Aunt of David’s, a very nice and interesting lady who used to be an actress, a bowling champion, and many other things.  A couple days later she drove us up to Bad Wiessee, and after walking around in the cold a bit, David and I finally decided on an Italian restaurant.  Germany is known for having great authentic Italian restaurants, and I could tell this was one by the fact the waiter tried to speak Italian to everyone who walked in the door, and grunted with disgust when he had to switch to German.  Over dinner, David and I discussed the plan for this tournament.  Unlike in Sautron, we weren’t getting our hotel provided for, and even our meals.  However, we decided that we’d do whatever we had to do to play well.  David made his point by ordering about five courses.  I readily agreed, as I normally do that to any event I play in, and also the idea of eating as much as I liked intrigued me.   So once again, we were ready to go into the fray.

The first three rounds of this tournament, as with the one in France, were fairly uneventful.  Especially from my end.  I beat a 2000, 2150, and 2100 without too much trouble. Here is my third round win in the Panov variation of the Botvinnik.


 While this is the “expected” result, it’s never as easy as it sounds, and I was happy to get through without any hiccups.  David also went 3-0, though he had quite the scare round two, as he sacked a lot of material with no mate in sight.  However, he made it complicated, and outplayed her in mutual time trouble.  Other than that, his first few rounds were the same as mine mostly.  The next round, however, was a disaster.  David lost to a GM on the white side of a Slav.  They followed the game 2 of Topalov-Kramnik from their championship match for a bit, though he claimed it was unintentional.  He had an OK position, but went for an attack, which turned out very badly, and eventually his own king became severely weakened.  Not one of his better days.  However, not to be too competitive or anything, but his day was nothing compared to mine.

Just writing about this game makes my blood pressure rise a few notches, and it’s almost up to my nose now.  My opponent was 4th seeded Stelios Halkias, a Greek GM rated 2590 FIDE.  It started out normally enough.  I was on the white side of a Steinitz Deferred, and managed to obtain some advantage.  I misplayed it later,   and gave him a dangerous initiative.  He returned the favor, however, as after Ra4 he missed my next move.

Position after 31... R8a4

Show Solution

  Halkias then decided to sac the exchange, leading to an ending that was three vs. three on the kingside with me up the exchange.  However, just as time pressure was concluded, I noticed that at the end he can attack my h4 pawn, which I can’t defend.  I was quite angry with myself, and tried to calculate various king and pawn endings at my disposal.  Thinking they were all drawn, I accepted the fact I had blow the win, and went on to play rook and two vs. knight and three, which is technically drawn.  As it turns out, one of the four possible king and pawn endings I had somehow neglected to look at, and it was actually easily won! 

Position after 40...Nf5. White to Move and Win

Show Solution

There wasn’t even much calculation involved in it, I just somehow forgot to look at it.  Though I thoroughly dislike psychological explanations, perhaps it was because I was angry with myself for miscalculating earlier, and thus felt I didn’t “deserve” to win.  If anyone is still reading at this point, and hasn’t gone off to do more important things such as studying or watching TV, do remember not to repeat this mistake.  The position is what it is, deserved has nothing to do with it.  Unfortunately, this was not even my biggest mistake this game. 

    I had blown the win.  I now had an ending where the chances to win were miniscule.  Nevertheless, I decided to putter around a bit, see if I could come up with anything.  After a bit of this, I began to get some hope.  He played a few inaccurate moves, missed an easy draw, and was spending lots of time.  With a pawn on g5, against his on f7 and g6, the only way to win is to go after his f7 pawn.  I finally managed to win it by force, though unfortunately his knight can maneuver to take my g5 pawn.  All he needed was to regroup the knight, and it was a draw.  Yet somehow, he kept failing to do it.  To add to his woes, he had fallen under 30 seconds.  And there was no time delay or increment!  Nd6!  He just played Nd6 with his king on h7.  I might win this thing.  Ra8 looks like a good move here.  WAIT.  THINK.  OK, Ra8 looks the right move.  Does it win though?  Doesn’t matter, Josh, just play it.  I reach for my rook and I hear “flag” from the arbiter.  Wow, did the guy flag and I didn’t realize it?  No wait, he wasn’t flagged, I was sure of it.  Holy crap, did I flag?  Oh well, still a draw.  Then I heard probably the worst two words in recent memory.  “Black Wins!”

    “Huh?”  That was all I could muster.  Even my opponent turned to the arbiter and said “no, it’s a draw.”  An Israeli GM watching, Postny, also agreed.  The arbiters were insistent, however, even setting up the possible way king and rook can get mated by king and knight proudly.  Halkias was still arguing with the arbiter, yet I was in shock.  I couldn’t move or say anything.  My opponent eventually gave up, though told me I didn’t have to sign the score sheets.  It barely registered.  Finally, after having a few moments to collect myself, I managed “May I please see the rule book?”  Well, they showed me the rule, and sure enough it’s a loss.  I still couldn’t believe it.  All I could manage was a thin “thank you,” and then I walked out back to hotel. Because I like to dwell on my worst moments, here is the full game with some light annotations:


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.Bxc6+ bxc6 6.d4 exd4 7.Qxd4 Nf6 8.0–0 Be7 9.b3 Nd7 10.Nc3 Bf6 11.Qd2 0–0 12.Bb2 Re8 13.Nd4 Bb7 14.Nf5 c5 15.f3 Nb6 16.Rab1 a5 17.Rfd1 Bc6

Draw Offered, Declined.
 18.Ne2 Bxb2 19.Rxb2 Bd7 20.Ne3 a4 21.c4 axb3 22.axb3 Qf6 23.Nc3 Bc6 24.b4 cxb4 25.Rxb4 Ra3 26.Ncd5 Bxd5 27.cxd5 Rea8 28.Rdb1 h5 29.Nf5 Ra2 30.Qd4 Qg5 31.R4b2 R8a4 32.h4 Qxf5 33.exf5 Rxd4 34.Rxa2 Rxd5 35.Rc2 Rxf5 36.Rxc7 Nd5 37.Rd7 Rf6 38.Rd1 Ne3 39.R1xd6 Rxd6 40.Rxd6 Nf5 41.Rd5? 
41.Rd8+! Kh7 42.Rd5 g6 (42...Kg6 43.g3+-) 43.Rxf5 gxf5 44.Kf2 f4 (44...Kg6 45.Ke3 Kf6 46.Kf4 Ke6 (46...Kg6 47.Ke5 f6+ 48.Kf4) 47.Kg5 Ke5 48.f4+ Ke4 49.g3+-) ] 41...g6 42.Kh2 [42.Rxf5 gxf5 43.Kf2 f4 44.Ke2 f5 45.Kd3 Kf7 46.Kd4 Ke6=]
42...Nxh4 43.Kg3 Nf5+ 44.Kf4
44.Rxf5 gxf5 45.Kf4 (45.Kh4 f6 46.Kxh5 Kg7=)45...f6 (45...Kg7? 46.Kg5!+-) 46.Kxf5 Kg7 47.g3 Kf7 48.f4 Kg7=]
44...Nh6 45.Rb5 Kg7 46.Ra5 Ng8 47.Ke5 Nh6 48.Ra6 Nf5 49.g4 hxg4 50.fxg4 Nh6 51.Ra4 Ng8
52.Kd6 Nh6 53.g5 Nf5+ 54.Ke5 Ne7 55.Ra6 Nf5 56.Ra7 Nh4 57.Kd6 Nf5+ 58.Kd7 Kf8 59.Ra6 Nh4 60.Ra8+ Kg7 61.Ke8 Nf5 62.Rd8 Ng3 63.Rd4 Nf5 64.Rd3 Kg8 65.Rd7 Ng3 66.Re7 Nf5 67.Rd7 Ng3 68.Rxf7 Ne4 69.Rf3 Kg7 70.Rf7+ Kg8 71.Rf4 Nxg5 72.Rg4
 Though he's made it hard on himself, it is still drawn.  Now it is amazingly tricky, and with little time it is a comedy of errors.
72...Nf3 73.Rxg6+ Kh7 74.Rg3 Nd2!! Imagine trying to find this in a real game with no time.
74...Ne5 75.Ke7 Kh6 76.Kf6 Nd7+ 77.Ke6 Nf8+ 78.Kf7 Nd7 79.Rg8! Nc5 80.Re8 Nd3 81.Kf6 Kh5 82.Kf5 Kh682...Kh4 83.Re4+ Kh5 84.Re3 Nf2 85.Rf3+- 83.Re3 Nb4 84.Re6+ Kg7 85.Ke4 and Rb6 will catch the knight. 75.Kf7 Kh6 and there is no way to keep the knight contained, as Kf6 is answered by Ne4+.; 72...Nh3 also draws.
 73.Rxg6+ Ng7+ 74.Ke7 Kh7 75.Kf7?
75.Kf6! Nh5+ (75...Ne8+ 76.Kf7 Nc7 77.Rd6+-; 75...Ne6 76.Rg4 Nc5 77.Kf7 Kh6 78.Rd4+-) 76.Kg5 Ng7 77.Rh6+ Kg8 78.Kf6 Ne8+ 79.Ke7 Ng7 80.Rh3 Nf5+ 81.Kf6 Nd6 82.Rd3 Ne8+ 83.Ke7 Ng7 84.Rd5 Kh7 85.Kf8! Kg6 (or Kh6) (85...Ne6+ 86.Kf7 Ng7 87.Rg5+-) 86.Rd6+ Kh7 87.Rd7 Kh8 88.Kf7 Kh7 (88...Nf5 89.Rd5 Nh6+ 90.Kg6+-; 88...Nh5 89.Rd5 Ng7 90.Rd1+-) ]
75...Nh5= and I would have offered a draw.
76.Kf6! is the only winning move. 76...Nh6 77.Rg7+ Kh8 78.Rg5 Ng8+ 79.Kg6 Ne7+ 80.Kf7+- 77.Rg7+ Kh6 78.Re7
76...Nh6+ 77.Kf8 Kh8 also draws.
 77.Ke6 Kh6?
77...Ne8 78.Ke7 Kh6=
Finally a few correct moves.
78...Ne4 79.Kf5 Nd6+ 80.Ke5 Kh7 0–1
White lost on time... and I'm winning!  It's nearly impossible to find in a practical game with no time but 81.Ra8 Nf7+ 82.Kf6 Nd6 83.Ra7+ Kg8 84.Ra5 Kh7 85.Re5 etc. wins eventually.

It was probably less than 20 degrees out, and all I had was a light jacket.  I couldn’t care less.  I wouldn’t have noticed anything short of my ears falling off.  Even then probably not, cause I couldn’t hear them land.  Finally I got to my room, took my jacket off, and threw it against my chair.  Then I dialed David’s room…

    Upon my return to the room at about midnight, I was feeling a bit better from a chocolate fix, and still totally wired.  Luckily it was 6-9 hours earlier in the US, and I talked to a bunch of my friends.  They were supportive as usual, but it still didn’t help.  Conversations went sort of like this:  “Hey.”  “Hey.”  “How are you?” “Not bad, yourself?” “Great, I just flagged R vs. N.”  “Oh… umm… well that sucks.”  Still, I wasn’t getting anywhere near going to sleep.  I tried preparing for my next round opponent, but there weren’t many games, and it was a pointless exercise anyway in my current state.  Finally, at 4 am, I got in touch with Iryna Zenyuk.  Ira is one of my closest friends, and I knew if anyone could put me to sleep, it’s her.  We talked until about 5:30, and I finally drifted off at 6.

    The next morning, I woke up at 1:30.  I was highly confused, wondering where and how I’d spent the night.  Then finally it came to me, and my head started hurting.  Ackk.  So I crawled into the shower, beat my head against the wall a few times, had a huge meal of grilled meats and tons of coffee, then went to the round.  I started out a bit dazed, but soon got focused, and won without too much trouble against a 2250 on the black side of the archangel.  This win rejuvenated me a bit, though I was still not in tip-top shape.  Next round I played a 2300 who was later dubbed “mad dog” by David.


I was on the black side of a Nimzo, and he developed a lot of pressure.  I sacked the exchange to relieve some of it, though I was still a bit worse.  He allowed me to trade queens in a favorable way, however, after which I think I was fine.  Then I returned the favor, unfortunately, but letting him open the kingside for his rooks.  I was under the gun for a while after that, but managed to ward off his threats, and a drawn exchange down ending was reached.  I had three pawns and a knight for a rook, and I jettisoned thef6 pawn to get my knight to the amazing c4 square.  That, plus my connected passers on a5 and b4 should easily secure the draw, and I offered one.  Which was turned down!  He pushed the position to the absolute limits.  When I brought his king to c7, I finally thought he went too far, and played for the win myself.  I knew it was risky, but I really felt he went too far, and pushed my pawn towards oblivion.

    As it turns out, my judgment was not on.  I calculated this long, pretty variation where I win his rook, then my knight gets back to fork his king and queen after he queens.  He could knight, but that’d lose as well.  Unfortunately, I overlooked that on move two of the variation he plays Kd7, not Kd7, after which I can’t play this b2 tactic.  Then I queen first, but I’m down the exchange and his king moves with check!  Josh not again, you dimwit.  OK so I tried the best practical chance, eliminating his last pawn forcing him to mate me.  He had a chance to win my queen for a rook, resulting in queen vs. a knight and two pawns which should win.  The guy wanted my king though.  He chased it up the board, but my centralized queen covered too many squares for mate.  Oh, and in case I forgot to mention, we were both under a minute.  He was down to ten seconds, but to my dismay he still had a perpetual, which I thought he was about to take.  But no!  Mad Dog wanted a win or nothing.  He chased my king to safety, allowed me to trade queens, and resigned just before he flagged in the lost position.  Whew, what a break.  Or as I like to think, I stole my point back.  Now, you’d think a guy who did that would be pretty pissed, to put it mildly.  But no, the guy even wanted to analyze!  I was amazed.  I looked at lines with him as long as my stomach could wait.  So one awful turn of events, one amazingly fortunate, what could be next?

    Don't fall asleep yet, only three more to go.  Next I was paired with German GM George Meier.


 In the database he looked like a very solid player who’d been improving rapidly of late.  I noticed he played the de4 French almost exclusively, and was notoriously tough to beat in it.  Instead of choosing one of a few slightly better endings, I decided on the ambitious Bg5 line I’d played in the past, with reasonable success.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be the wrong move, as he’d prepared for it.  I expected him to go for a different variation, and though I’d prepared something against the line he played, it was over a year ago and I’d forgotten it. 

Position after 17...Qh4

After about 45 minutes of thought, I decided to go for this Kh1 f4 idea. I started with 18. Qe2 Rd8 and then 19. Kh1 but I probably should have just played 18. Kh1 as Qe2 is not particularly useful.

Though I got some compensation for my sacrificed pawn, it seemed to dwindle away move by move, and I got in one of those positions that is a nightmare for any strong chessplayer.  And I don’t like them much either.  Basically, all my pieces are on their best squares (like my Ne5 and my Qh5), but I just can’t do anything.  There is no good plan, barely any reasonable moves.

Position after 25.Qh5

  All I can do is try to prevent him from progressing, but there really isn’t any way to even slow him down.  I tried for some tactics, but he controlled them easily, and bound my pieces up on the kingside.  All I could do was put out my hand. So with some lousy opening prep, bad judgment, and an unforgiving opponent, I was out of the running for a GM norm once again.

    The last two rounds were tough for both David and I.  While I was going through all this garbage, he was having an even worse tournament.  After a solid draw as black against Ukrainian GM Eingorn, he completely ran out of steam and basically stopped caring.  Afterwards he told me he ran out of energy completely, and played his last two games in about ten minutes, a record even a certain student of mine with the initials SS would have trouble besting.  For me, it wasn’t quite so bad.  I won my 8th round on the black side of a Ruy Lopez Closed Berlin, Berlin Declined, whatever you call d3 against the Berlin.  It was a reasonable game, and though my opponent developed a few threats against my king, his pieces weren’t coordinated and I cleaned up with my extra pawns and two bishops.  

    The final game was really tough.  It was at 10 AM, unlike the other games that were at 4 PM.  This was in particular a problem, cause I wasn’t falling asleep until at 3 AM.  I managed to fall asleep at 2 that night, but I was still dead tired when I crawled out of bed at 9.  I threw down about six cups of coffee, and managed to make it in time for the round.  Now, the events of this game could transpire to write another report.  Let’s just say I was able to fight off tiredness long enough to get a won position, but not long enough to get it again and win it.  On the upside, I got to know the arbiters better than I’ve known any arbiters ever.

    Hmmm, I guess I should have a concluding paragraph, in an effort to look like a proper writer.  Ok, in conclusion… both tournaments were similar on paper, but completely different in my head.  France felt like a normal tournament.  I won some games, lost a couple when I missed my chances, but in general I felt OK.  Germany was a horror show.  My chess in general was a bit better than Sautron, but I had huge lapses in judgment and a very bizarre series of events I felt like I was trying to recover from the whole time.  So how am I going to change?  Well, cracking down on my calculation errors is a top priority, as it’s been for a while.  Also, I’m going to be changing up some openings just a little, which I’m hoping will help me in the long run, while at the same time not killing me in the short-term.  Next will be the North American Open in Vegas, followed by another European adventure, after which hopefully you will read about my last norm being achieved.  And if not, you’ll at least get to read about more strange happenings and endure more corny jokes.