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Adventures of a Samford: Finally a GM! Print E-mail
By Josh Friedel   
July 2, 2008
GM Josh Friedel, Photo Betsy Dynako
Heading towards Tulsa for the US Championship, you could say I was mildly optimistic.  It had been about a month and a half since a horrid qualifier, where I had one of the worst events in recent memory.   The one training game I played with Vinay Bhat I lost horribly almost without a fight.  But ok, those weren’t the only reasons I was optimistic.  I had changed my study habits quite a bit in the month before the tournament.  I spent a lot of time on calculation and tactical exercises, far more than I did normally.  Also, I tried to use a board as much as possible, and the computer as little as possible.    

My first round pairing was not an easy one, Black against GM Gregory Kaidanov.  He was coming off of a solid tournament victory in Gausdal, where he pretty much dominated the field.  Also, he’d been varying his repertoire quite a bit, so prepping for him wasn’t as easy as perhaps it would have been three or four years ago.  I could see any of the four main first moves.  He’d been leaning towards e4 a lot lately, but I had an inkling he’d throw either d4 at me or one of its sister systems c4 or Nf3.  As it turned out, he opted for 1. Nf3, probably the rarest move for him.     Nakamura played the same move against me in the 2006 US Championship in San Diego.  While I actually won that game, he probably thought it was a soft spot in my repertoire, and decided to go for it. 

While Nf3 wasn’t the most expected move, I had thought about how I’d play it afterwards.  I’d played 1… Nf6, d5, and even the slippery Nc6.  In this game I opted for the solid Nf6, however, as I thought it would be the least expected option.  It ended up in sort of a quiet English type position.  I though I was doing fine, but perhaps was overly optimistic when I opened things up on the queenside.  Still, my position was quite alright until I made a horrid oversight.  I should have played 19… Rf7, after which his best is most likely just the simple Bd2, and the game continues.  However, I essayed the less than amazing Qxc3??, overlooking that my queen gets forced back by the rooks before Bxc5 happens.  Actually, did I miss that?  I missed something, that’s for sure, as after 22. Bxc5 I could basically resign.  I tried desperately to find a defense, but there was just nothing there, and I resigned seven moves later. 


Not the first round outing I was hoping for.  But it got even better.

The next round I was paired against Sam Shankland, a student of mine.  Sam’s a dangerous player to face, being young and improving and all, plus facing students is never a joy.  Luckily I’m not a very good teacher, so I had plenty of possible ways to beat him.  Seriously, my game plan was to play the English, an opening I haven’t played for a long time.  I figured not only would he not expect it, but we hadn’t spent much time on it, and I could simply play a normal game without thinking all the time “wait did I show him this?”  It turned out to be a reasonable move, as he played 1… c6 trying for the Slav, and I responded of course with e4.  Now he either has to play a Panov or Old Indian, neither of which he plays for black really.  He opted for the Old Indian, and he ended up with the typical solid yet passive position.  He got a bit impatient trying to create play, and I secured a pleasant advantage, which I managed to convert without too much trouble. It didn't hurt that he missed the nice shot 26. c5.

Position after 25...Rc7


 This win brought me great relief, and not because it was of amazing quality, or cause I happen to despise my student.    I turned around my first round loss, accomplished the unpleasant task of beating someone I’m very familiar with, and could now start my tournament again. 

In round three I found myself up against a very familiar opponent.  I’ve faced GM Alex Ivanov more than any other opponent.  I don’t know the exact amount, but it is over twenty games between us.  In over half those games I’ve been black, so he’s seen pretty much every Lopez I can throw out there.  My roommate Jesse Kraai suggested I try the Marshall, and at first I didn’t take the suggestion seriously, but then I figured why not?  He’s seen everything else from me, I’d never played it before so it’d be unexpected, and I’d spent some time analyzing it from the white point of view.  As it happened, it turned out to be a great choice.  After thinking for twenty minutes, he chose an outdated line with 15. Nd2 instead of the usual Be3.  The game progressed like a typical Marshall, with him having the extra pawn, and me having nice long-term comp.  I did do something semi-unusual by playing for Qb7 and c5 instead of playing on the kingside.
Position after 31.Qa3

 I had to find a couple accurate moves, like 31… Bc2, but for the most part it was a comfortable draw as Black.  On the black side of a Lopez against Ivanov, this hasn’t been an easy task, so I was fairly happy.  Also, the game was of high quality, which isn’t always so common, especially in my own games.


Having found my form back, I was able to go into my next round with at least a small degree of confidence.  My round four opponent was actually one I’d never played before, GM Boris Gulko.  He surprised me in the opening by throwing an offbeat Lopez line at me, and then he varied from what I knew by playing the ultra-provocative exd and g5.  OK, I guess it’s normal enough to open the center and then your kingside.  Especially when your dark squared bishop is stuck on b6, yeah?  OK well I may know that now, but during the game I was confused.  I couldn’t find any clear way to punish it, however, and we reached a position where I was quite nervous.  I knew I could be worse, or even lost, but after 13… Ndb4 the best I thought I could hope for was that the position was unclear.  I could easily foresee me going downhill there.  Something rather unexpected happened, however, at least for me.  Somehow I produced a brilliancy.  The position turned out to be only unclear, and I managed to outplay him in the complications.  22. Rd7+ was a nice move, and my personal favorite was 26. Ne5.

Position after 26.Ne5

  It is always cool when one move justifies the sacrifice of a whole rook in an ending!  Anyway, I managed to turn around what could have been a disaster.


Next I was paired as white again GM Julio Becerra.  He’s one of those guys who I’ve had many good positions against, but seem to always blow them.  Unfortunately, the last one was in the last round of Foxwoods, where it cost me share of first place.  This time I was determined to reverse the trend.  He got the first surprise by throwing the Caro at me instead of his usually 1… e5.  I then spent one hour contemplating what he could have prepared for.  OK, probably more like a minute or two.  I decided to play the main line instead of going into my usual Panov attack.  Things were fairly calm for a while, and then after a series of exchanges I ended up with a nice edge in a queen ending. 
Position after 31...Qf2

After a major mistake of his, namely 31… Qf2, missing 32. Qa4!, I was in fact winning.  However, once again I managed to blow it.  Admittedly there was some time trouble involved, but I allowed a perpetual right before time control.  I thought I could grab on f7 after he pushed e5, however I missed that he then can perp me.  I think I missed he plays Qf2+ instead of Qd2+.  Or maybe I missed he could check me at all.  Or maybe I forgot how the queen moves.  It’s a mystery to me even now. 


In round six, I had Black against GM Eugene Perelshteyn.  I’ve had many tough games against Eugene in the past, most of them ending in draws.  This time he tried an early ending line of the Scotch.  I faced this line in the 2006 US Championship against Ibragimov, and lost a tough ending.  This time I managed to hold comfortably, and in fact I felt I was pressing a bit at certain points.  While I didn’t have a spectacular victory, I felt this game was just as good as the Gulko game , at least for me.  There are times when playing spectacularly is required, and other times you just have to be solid.  The latter has always been a bit harder for me, and I felt I did it quite well.  I felt quite comfortable after 7… Bd4, and later when he went for the g4 idea I felt optimistic about my position.  I felt I should be pressing.  However, I couldn’t find anything concrete, and eventually everything got traded.  Not the most exciting game I’ve ever played, but a high quality effort, so I was happy.

Of course, you can’t have an amazing tournament without winning games.  I had the nice win against Gulko, but I needed another to really have a breakthrough.  My next win wasn't a brilliant effort by any means.  You could say I got a gift.  GM Dmitry Gurevich played the somewhat offbeat 5. Qa4 line against the Queen’s Indian.  I faced this line against GM Vorobiov in Aeroflot, and I lost a tough game.  However, afterwards I found that the move I wanted to play that game, 12… Qc8, was in fact best.  I played 12… a6 instead, preventing Nb5, but surrendering the initiative in the center to white.  You can imagine it took me by surprise with Gurevich played Nb5 himself, the move I feared in the Vorobiov game!  Of course I’d looked at it since, and after Nce4 white can take a draw with Nc7-Nb5 and so on.  Gurevich did this at first, but then just when I thought he’d take the draw, he played Nfd4.
Position after 16.Nfd4

  While this looks quite natural, unfortunately for him it runs into the nasty shot Nxf2!  After that his position is quite tough, and after 24… Nxh2! he’s completely lost. 
Position after 24...Nxh2

And unlike before, when I had him on the ropes I didn’t falter.  Granted, my position was quite a bit better in this game, but I'm happy anytime I don’t blow a winning game.


After this game, I realized not only was I great shape for the norm, but I was nearly in striking distance of first place!  My next hurdle was GM Sergey Kudrin.  With the white pieces, I knew a Dragon was quite likely, which was nice as I was in a fighting mood.  Also I knew that a win would likely clinch my norm, whereas after a draw it was unclear.  I usually don’t care in those situations, however.  I find if you play for a draw, you are often far more likely to lose.  So I went into his dragon, and in fact I played the somewhat risky 13. Bh6 instead of the more common Bg5.  He sensed I had something prepped, so he hit me with the novel 14… a5.

Position after 14...a5

Usually they sac on c3 right away, but after I replied a4 he sacked, and it was evident it was even stronger now than before.  I played reasonable defense, but the position was probably about equal, and he offered a draw.  Ambitious soul that I was, I actually turned it down to press for the win.  While it seemed risky, I felt my position shouldn’t be worse, so why not.  Although I almost got into trouble later, it turned out his compensation for the exchange could get nothing more than a draw, which I secured by perpetual on move 36.
Position after 28...Rb8

 It was only after the game I was told I even missed a win, 29. Na3 instead of exd5.  I missed that after Rxb1 Nxb1 Qb5, I can simply sac on c4 and play Na3, resulting in a solid two-pawn up position.  It is tough to switch into offense mode when you feel like you are defending.  Ah well, something else to work on, but at least I didn’t panic and lose like I might have before.  Might be hard to believe, but I find it’s often easier to lose won positions than draw them.  Of course here I was winning for one move, but still, I was happy to stay “solid” and hold.


Josh signing boards in Tulsa. Photo Betsy Dynako

The last round I got my final gift of the tournament, you could say.  I was paired against the tournament leader, GM Yury Shulman.  All he needed was a draw to clinch the championship, and as it turned out, I needed only a peaceful result for my norm.  For those of you who don’t know, those situations are not as easy as you’d think.  It is against one’s nature, mine anyway, to agree to a draw without a fight.  Also, it wasn’t exactly 100% clear it would happen.  I think I slept worse that night more than any other night of the tournament.  Before I slept peacefully, knowing all I had to do was play chess the next day, whereas now random thoughts were rattling around in my head.  What Yury was really in a fighting mood, or wanted to put up a bigger score, or considered me a total fish?  Well one of those might have been true, or all three, but in the end we ended up agreeing after eleven moves of the exchange French.


  After congratulating Yury, I went right up to my room.  I called my mom, dad, sisters, brothers even though I don’t have any, and many others.  Most sounded as thrilled as I felt.  The only notable exception was the guy taking my Chinese takeout order.  In any case, it was nice to break out of my cold streak, and finally nail that 3rd norm.  Now a sane person would go home, take a couple weeks off, and celebrate.  But no, I was dragged to Chicago by someone who shall remain nameless, and then I made the more idiotic decision to play National Open after that.  How did this moronic plan turn out?  Find out this and more in my next installment of "Adventures of a Samford."

Tonight, Josh Friedel continues his hectic, "post-norm tour" with the World Open. Check the
official website , watch the games live on Monroi.com and look for daily updates on CLO.