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GM Stripunsky Takes Down Fairfield County Masters Print E-mail
By Ian Harris   
July 15, 2014
The 2014 edition of Chess Club of Fairfield County's Masters & Class Championships was a star-studded event. It was held in a 4,000 square foot facility, dedicated to elevating chess, is located in Norwalk, Connecticut and comfortably accommodated the sold out event. As always, club owner Melvin Patrick made sure that the event was run smoothly and that the players felt right at home, whether they were watching the top games broadcast on the large monitor upstairs or catching some of the World Cup in the TV lounge downstairs, or enjoying our complimentary shuttle service to and from the train station. There was also no need to lug around chess supplies since sets and clocks were provided by the club for everyone, not just grandmasters.

Overall, 63 players came to do battle, among them 7 grandmasters, 2 IMs and a top section with an average rating of 2430! The class section, not to be outdone, boasted 16 experts - fully 40% of the section. Grandmaster Michael Rohde was overheard remarking in astonishment that he couldn't remember the last time he had been seeded 8th. A spectator exclaimed unbelievingly that a 2400 had been paired up in the first round. 

Reprising his pattern from last year, IM Jan Van De Mortel, who sports a 2500 US rating, started off on a tear, remaining undefeated until the very last round, when he was ousted by clear tournament winner GM Alexander Stripunsky. Stripunsky only needed a draw to guarantee uncontested first place and the $500 prize, but in true gladiator spirit he eschewed the "quick draw" and took his opponent for the full point.  

Van De Mortel,Jan (2516) - Stripunsky,Alexander (2652) [D02]

Fairfield County Masters Dos Hermanas, 12.07.2014


1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6

Stripunsky is a specialist in offbeat openings. On the international stage, the text is a favorite of Serbian GM I. Miladinovic. The knight appears not only useless on c6, but harmful to Black's position: because White opened with the center pawn that is already protected (i.e. the d-pawn), Black's knight does not apply meaningful pressure there; on the other hand, the knight blocks Black's own c-pawn, which could either support his center with c7-c6, or attack White's with c7-c5. One wonders how Black can make sense of the knight's positioning.
3.g3 Bf5 4.Bg2 e6 5.0-0 Nf6 6.c4

White, by contrast, does not block his c-pawn, and can now use it as a battering ram against Black's center. Please note that although the move is technically a sacrifice, Black would have to abandon his center with dxc4. This empowers all of White's pieces, most notably his bishop on g2, whose diagonal has just been lengthened. White will more than regain the pawn after Qa4 (with ideas of Ne5, Qxc4, and massive coordinated pressure against Black from all directions)
6...Be7 7.Nc3 Ne4

Black is fighting against White's "Catalan bishop". With the text, he hopes to wrest the e4 square for his light-square bishop, so that it can firmly oppose White's bishop on g2. In the above note, I gave a brief sketch of the kind of problems Black can have if that bishop's diagonal isn't stuffed.
A strong, active move. The harmony of White's piece deployment is evident: there is coordinated pressure against Black's d5 pawn and center.
8...Nxc3 9.bxc3 Na5
"Knights on the rim are dim", but Black doesn't have much choice. From a static positional perspective, he is worse, so he compensates for this with activity. The knight, while not placed well from a static perspective, is forcing the action and giving Black play.
10.Qa4+ c6
This is the central strengthening move that Black had rendered unnecessarily difficult for himself to play because of his 2nd move. Now he gets it in, but at the cost of sending his knight to a5. If his knight were on the d7 square right now, we'd have a comparatively unremarkable position. It's important to keep in mind, though, that grandmasters are playing a different game than mere mortals. It's not that they don't know the fundamental rules; of course that's absurd. It's that they know them so well that they know when they can be stretched and even broken. In this case, Black may be getting just enough play to compensate his precarious-looking knight placement.
A superb positional move, and the only one to maintain an advantage. cxd5 is a horrible positional mistake, opening the c-file for Black's rook when his c3 pawn is backward and the c4-square is also weak. White's move, Nd2, also prevents Black's intention as I described before, for Black to place his light-square bishop on e4, thereby neutralizing White's own bishop.
11...0-0 12.f3??

Funny things happen in the money round. White had been playing so well, and should continue logically with e4, striking again at the center. Instead, he makes this gross tactical oversight, losing material and handing Black a technically won position instantaneously and irreversibly. In such cases, some players with the Black pieces would offer a draw, knowing White is "obliged" to accept or face a near certain loss. Stripunsky, though, puts his game face on and reels in the full point.
12...Nxc4 13.Nxc4 b5
This intermezzo is the point. White doesn't recoup his pawn deficit.
14.Qa6 bxc4 15.e4 Bg6 16.Rb1 Qc8 17.Qa5 Bd8 18.Qa4 Bb6 19.Kh1 Rd8 20.Be3 e5 21.Rbd1 Qe6 22.Rfe1 dxe4 23.fxe4 exd4 24.Bxd4 Rac8 25.Bf3 h6 26.Kg2 Rd7 27.Bxb6 Rxd1 28.Rxd1 axb6 29.e5 b5 30.Qa6 Bd3 31.Qb7 Rf8 32.Qxc6 Qxe5 33.Qxb5


It's hard to believe this move was actually played, but we all know the sheer despondency that sinks in when we've ruined a good opening and are forced to play a hopelessly lost position move after move. Probably White was also in time pressure and simply overlooked that Black's queen defended this pawn. Such things do happen, as long as humans are human! 0-1


Interestingly, Van De Mortel was on the opposite side of a strategically very similar game, colors reversed, against Paragua. Have a side by side comparison here.


CCFC Instructor GM Michael Rohde, in spite of being seeded 8th, finished laudably with 3.5, good for a 4-way split of 2nd place which also included GMs Paragua, Barbosa, and Kudrin. Rohde was rightly proud of his win against fellow GM Mark Paragua.
Rohde,Michael (2503) - Paragua,Mark (2625) [A16]

Fairfield County Masters (3.2), 12.07.2014

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Qa4+

"Don't bring out your queen early, especially if it's just for check", is a piece of instruction that we routinely teach amateurs. As I noted in the analysis to the Van D Mortel-Stripunsky, though, grandmasters not only know the rules, they know when to break them. Here Rohde has a very specific and concrete purpose in mind: he is looking to exploit the extremely temporary weakness of Black's diagonal to his rook, before Black comfortably fianchettoes his bishop there, achieving a harmonious set-up. These are the nuances and details that characterize contemporary gm play.
5...c6 6.Qd4
Precisely. Now Black has the unenviable choice of retreating his knight, allowing a queen swop which forfeits the right to castle, and the game continuation, which is unambiguously an unfavorable alteration of Black's pawn structure. His f-pawn will block his own bishop, and the light-squares around the king are weakened.
6...f6 7.e4 e5
Now Black has a way to either avoid the queen trade, or extract his own concession. If White wants to insist on a queen trade, then he can play 8.Qd3 (see variation below)
It appears that things are getting out of control, but in fact we are still within the bosom of theory. Of course, Black cannot hastily capture White's knight, as the queen recapture with check targets Black's rook in the corner. Nevertheless, he has a path to reestablishing material equality. [8.Qd3 Nb4 9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 but now there is no comfortable way to protect the c2 square, so he may need to forfeit castling himself with Kd1.]
8...Nxc3 9.Qxc3 Qe7
Here it is. Black will regain his pawn.
10.Nc4 Qxe4+ 11.Ne3 Be7?

A sign that Paragua is on his own. Passive moves are rarely strongest, especially in quick chess. One of my favorite players and a mighty theoretician, Croatian GM Zdenko Kozul here played far more actively with 11...Bb4!, sacrificing his f-pawn for activity. After 12.Qxf6 Rf8, Black gains tempi against White's queen to activate his forces. With so many pieces bearing down on White's position, the pressure is palpable, and Kozul went on to win in Wirthensohn-Kozul 1991. After Paragua's lackluster move, White takes control of the position. [11...Bb4]
Remember that earlier move, 6...f6? I said it weakened the light squares. Now we see the impact of it - Black cannot castle, and White's light-square bishop has a monster diagonal into Black's heartland. All of this was a result of the gm queen maneuver beginning with the strange-looking 5th move, 5.Qa4+. These are precisely the kinds of games that produce pride: it's what's meant when players speak of following a logical thread throughout the game, and can be one of a top player's greatest aesthetic joys from chess.
12...Nd7 13.d4?!
Rohde was likely concerned about Black's knight coming to e5, an optically fantastic spot and a disturbance to White's bishop. Nevertheless, the principled 13.0-0, taking a huge lead in development, was the way to go. The proof lies in a very subtle point, one which is nearly impossible to spot in quick chess: [13.0-0 Ne5 14.Re1! Nxc4 15.Nc2!! White sacrifices a piece, but now his lead in development leads to a winning advantage. White has so many threats: to Black's queen, to the f6 pawn, to Black's knight. He cannot cover them all.]
13...Nb6 14.Bd3

Black has succeeded in driving White's bishop from the commanding diagonal. Just like that, the game is even again.

A strange move at first glance, objectively a dubious one, and in this game, ultimately the cause of Black's demise. Black's idea is to retain pressure on White's d-pawn, as he anticipates castling queenside. True, White's d-pawn is isolated, but the queen can't be retained on that rank, and White will extract an advantage from this decentralization. The main issue is that Black's queen is short on squares over there. 14...Qe6 was the sound alternative.
15.0-0 Be6 16.Re1
16.g3 Now is a perfect moment for this, taking Black's queen away from its target. White has an advantage after 16...Qh3 17.Re1 0-0-0?? 18.Qa5 Kb8 19.Bf1 when the weakness of Black's queen shows. Black is short on squares, a result of his decentralization, and his bishop pile-up on the e-file, opposite White's rook, is ominous. White wins.
16...0-0-0 17.Nc2
Now, by contrast, White feels obliged to go passive.
17...Nd5 18.Qa5


The move looks very natural, since the e7 bishop is now defended, but White finds a tactical refutation, based on the weakness of Black's king.
19.g3! Qg4 20.Rxe7! Qd1+??
Paragua loses his cool. For now, the c7 square is defended by Black's knight, so he should just recoup his material with 20...Bxd3. The frightening-looking 21.Bf4 can be met with 21...Rd7, and Black has not lost control of the c7 square. [20...Nxe7 This loses, though 21.Bf4 Nd5 22.Bxf5+ gxf5 23.Ne3 Qg7 24.Nxd5 Rxd5 25.Qxa7 Black managed to retain eyes on c7, but the attack crashes through all the same. White will decimate Black's pawn defense and send his king into the wilderness. A resignable position for Black.

It was important for White to preserve his light-square bishop, as it can imminently become a crucial attacker: 21.Bf1 Qxc2 22.Bf4 Rd7 23.Rc1 Not the best move, but the most direct illustration 23...Qxb2 24.Rxc6+ bxc6 25.Ba6+ and the cost of this attack to Black becomes clear.

Amazingly, Black can survive after 21...Bxd3! 22.Bf4 Qxa1 23.Rc7+ Kb8 and White has nothing better than perpetual check 24.Rd7+ Kc8 25.Rc7+ etc. Now, by contrast, White wins prosaically. Black never recouped his piece deficit, so Rohde cashes in simply.
22.Bxf5 gxf5 23.Rxd7 Kxd7 24.Qd2 Qh5 25.Qd3 Re8 26.Bd2 f4 27.Nf3 Rg8 28.Re1 Kc8 29.Qe4 Kb8 30.Bxf4+ Kc8 31.Qe6+

A magnificent display of fireworks! 1-0

In the class section it was Rainer Labay and Evan Rabin who tied for first place with 4.5. Tournament veteran Sam Barsky and youngster Yoon-Young Kim shared 3rd-4th with 4 points. Top honors under 2000 was also split between Jeronimo Salazar and Julio Maldonado. Kevin Zimmerman took U1800 clear with 2.5, while U1600 was divided 4-ways between John Twombley, Sean McGuinness, Jose Dela Cruz, and Mario Russo. Congratulations to all prize winners, and thank you to all our participants for a fantastic event. See you all soon!