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Hilton on Playing Like Finegold in Chicago Print E-mail
By Jonathan Hilton   
May 23, 2009
IM Ben Finegold, Photo Betsy Dynako
Top seeds in the 4-day schedule of the Chicago Open (May 22-25) include GMs Gabriel Sargissian,  Loek Van Wely and Yury Shulman. See tournament information, live games and reports on the official website. In his first CLO dispatch, Jonathan Hilton focuses on playing like Ben Finegold.

Having grown up playing in tournaments within a few hundred miles of Ann Arbor, Michigan - home of the IM Benjamin Finegold - I've always believed that the legendary International Master was capable of winning nearly any position against lower-rated opponents. My first experience with Finegold was early in 2006, when I lost the following position with White in an uncomfortable time scramble:

Position after 58.Bf7

Of course, I had to help him out a little bit: after 58...Rb2+ 59.Ka1 Rf2 60.Kb1??, I lost the bishop on f7 to 60...Rxf7.

Recently, Finegold came down to the "Queen City" to play as top seed in the Cincinnati Open. Going into the fifth and last round, he needed to score the full point with Black against FM Carl Boor, who was leading the tournament by a half point with four straight wins. This time, Finegold - with just minutes on his clock to make the move 40 time control - pulled off his usual "impossible" victory from this unlikely game:


1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4 g6 4.h3 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.Be2 c5 7.c3 Nc6 8.Nbd2 cxd4 9.cxd4
9.exd4 is much more common here. Boor, needing only a draw to clinch the tournament, keeps a symmetrical structure.
9...Bf5 10.0-0 Ne4 11.Nxe4 Bxe4 12.Qb3 Qd7 13.Rac1 Rac8 14.Rc5 Rfd8
Black's pieces are in a defensive "huddle", but at the same time, Finegold fully intends to play for the win. He just wants to neutralize all of White's pressure before trying anything.
15.Nd2 Bf5 16.Bf3 can be met by 16...Ne5! 17.Rxc8 (17.Bxe5 Rxc5) 17...Nxf3+ 18.Nxf3 Rxc8 , when Black has the c-file. Finegold now solidifies his position by trading off White's f3 knight.
15...Bxf3 16.Bxf3 e6 17.Be2 Bf8 18.R5c2 Na5 19.Qd3 Nc4 20.b3 Nd6 21.Bxd6!?
After this, a draw seems inevitable. The opposite-colored bishops will prove too much for Finegold to overcome, right?
21...Rxc2 22.Rxc2 Bxd6 23.g3!?
Black might have been looking to play for ...f7-f5, so White decides to take space on the kingside for himself. White also prevents any back-rank threats, unlikely as they may be. This decision slightly compromises White's king position, however.
23...a6 24.Kg2 Kg7 25.Qc3
Position after 25.Qc3

Here Boor offered a draw, which Finegold, low on time to make move 40 already, declined!
25...Qe7 26.Qa5 Rh8!?
White cannot penetrate along the c-file, so Finegold goes after White's king.
27.Qb6 h5 28.h4 Qd7 29.f4 Bb8 30.Bf3 Rc8
Whoops! Well, no progress there. Finegold switches to the c-file.
31.Rc5 Rxc5 32.Qxc5
32.dxc5 might have actually been slightly stronger, putting pressure on Black's queenside position. Now, Black is able to spring back and throw some punches.
32...Bd6 33.Qc3 Qb5 34.a4 Qb6 35.e4
White feels the need to release some of the pressure on his position. Now, however, the d4 pawn becomes weak.
35...dxe4 36.Bxe4 Bb4 37.Qe3 a5 38.Kf3?!
38.Qd3 Be1 39.Bf3, patiently waiting for a chance to play d4-d5 rather than trying to force things, would have been better.
White now feels obligated to go ahead and play d4-d5, as otherwise Black might play ...Bf6.
39.d5 Bc5 40.Qd3??
Position after 40.Qd3

Finegold was running out of time to make move 40, so both players overlook the win of a piece.
40...f5 would have won on the spot.
41.Qc3+ Kg8 42.Ke2 Qf2+ 43.Kd1 exd5 44.Bxd5 Qf1+ 45.Kc2?
The risky-looking 45.Kd2! was necessary to hold together White's position. For instance, 45...Bf2 can be met with the powerful 46.Qe5!
45...Qe2+ 46.Qd2
White is forced to cede a pawn, as 46.Kb1 Qd1+ would lose the bishop.
46...Qxd2+ 47.Kxd2 Bf2 48.f5 Kg7 49.g4 hxg4 50.fxg6?
Position after 50.fxg6

After this, White has a difficult time stopping Black's connected passed pawns. 50.Ke2 Bxh4 51.Be4, trying to set up a blockade on the light squares, was White's best chance. 51...g5 (51...gxf5 52.Bxf5 g3 53.Kf3 Kf6 54.Be4 b6 55.Bd5; 51...b6 52.fxg6 fxg6 53.Ke3 Bg5+ 54.Kf2 Bf4 55.Bd5) 52.Bxb7 Kf6 53.Be4 Ke5 54.Bd3 f6 55.Bc2 would most likely have led to a draw.
50...Kxg6 51.h5+ Kf6
51...Kxh5 52.Bxf7+ Kh4 53.Ke2 Bd4 54.Kf1 Kh3 55.Bd5 b6 is drawn.
52.Kd3 Bc5 53.Ke4 Bd6 54.h6?
54.Bxb7 Kg5 55.h6 Kxh6 (55...Bf8 56.h7 Bg7 57.Bc8) 56.Kf5 Kh5 (56...g3 57.Bf3) 57.Bg2 Kh4 58.Bf1 g3 (58...Kg3 59.Be2) 59.Bg2 would have given White fine drawing chances.
54...Kg6 55.h7
Position after 55.h7

After this, Black's pawns cannot be stopped.
56.Ke3 Kxh7
White has no way of setting up a bind on the light squares, so the game is up. White cannot consider sacrificing his bishop for both pawns, either, as Black's bishop is on the same colored square as is the queening square for his rook pawn. 0-1

The hotel at the Chicago Open, Photo Betsy Dynako
These days, as I'm approaching the 2300 mark, I'm finding it harder and harder to win games against players rated below me when I have the Black pieces, particularly against openings other than 1.e4. This year I decided to play in the U2300 Section of the Chicago Open, mainly just to satisfy my curiosity about how well I would actually score. At 2270 on the May supplement, I'm certainly one of the highest-rated players in the division. But will I be able to win enough games to actually finish "in the money?" "If I can manage to play like Finegold," I thought during my first round on Friday night, "I will certainly manage to chalk up any number of unlikely wins." If this statement seems somewhat delusional, well, it is. Here is my first-round attempt at playing chess "Finegold" style - which, for me, meant "I can get away with going into any position I want."


Chicago Open, U23 (1), 22.05.2009

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c5 3.Bxf6 exf6 4.Nc3 d5 5.e3 Nc6 6.Nge2 Be6 7.g3 Qd7
A novelty, but this position is relatively unexplored in any case. [7...cxd4 8.exd4 Bd6 9.Bg2 Ne7 had been played previously.]
8.Bg2 Rd8!?

[8...cxd4 first is likely more accurate, as 9.Nxd4 can be met by 9...Bb4 .]
 9.0-0 cxd4 10.exd4
Perhaps stronger was 10.Nxd4 Bc5 11.Nce2 0-0 12.c3 Rfe8 13.Nf4 with a slight edge for White. Now Black is at least equal.
 10...Bb4 11.Qd3
11.a3 Ba5 12.Na4 0-0 13.Nc5 Qc8 gives White little to write home about.
 11...0-0 12.Nd1?!
12.a3 Ba5 13.Nf4 Bf5!? 14.Qd2 would keep the game balanced.
 12...Bf5 13.Qb3 Rfe8 14.Ne3
14.Nf4 Bd2! gives Black the advantage.(14...Nxd4 15.Qxb4 Nxc2 16.Qd2 Nxa1 17.Ne3 is less clear.)
Black threatens to saddle White with a backward pawn on e3 and now has a sizable initiative. White manages to find the most accurate defense.
 15.Nxf5 Qxf5 16.Bf3!
Black will now have to settle for only a miniscule endgame advantage. But here I eschewed that in favor of what I felt was a structure from which I could play for the win.
An antipositional thrust. Eventually, Black will pay for the weaknesses he has created along the b1-h7 diagonal. During the game, however, I felt I was developing an initiative. [16...Na5 17.Qd3 Qxd3 18.cxd3 Nc6 is slightly better for Black, and he can play entirely without risk.
Precise defense.
Unfortunately, 17...g4?! 18.Rxd2 gxf3 19.Nf4 Re4 20.Qxf3 Nxd4 21.Qd1 is close to winning for White.; It was still not too late to bail out with 17...Na5 18.Qd3 Qxd3 19.cxd3 Bb4 20.Nc3 Nc6 21.Nxd5 Kg7 , however.
I'm heading for a specific structure here, and keeping the queens on the board is part of my "winning" strategy.
18...Qxd3 19.Rxd3 f5 would have shown a better understanding of the position; with the queens off, Black isn't so weak on the kingside anymore, even though White still has a better structure.
 19.c3! Bc7
19...g4 20.Nf4 , of course, is terrible for Black.
20.Rfe1 f5 21.Kf1
Position after 21.Kf1

As you can see, some similarities between the game Boor-Finegold and this one are emerging. My line of thinking was: "White has some initiative on the queenside, but perhaps I will be able to take advantage of the opposite-colored bishops to start a kingside attack. All I need to do is keep my position intact..."
21...Qf6 22.Qb5 Qd6 23.Nc1 Rxe1+ 24.Rxe1 b6!?

After this, my position falls apart quicker than a building-block tower in the hands of toddlers. On any regular day, I would have seen that I now have too many positional weaknesses to defend myself; on this day, however, I thought I could hold long enough to generate counterplay on the kingside. [24...g4!? 25.Bg2 (25.Be2 Rb8 26.Nd3 a6 27.Qc5 Qd7; 25.Bd1 a6 26.Qd3 Qh6) 25...f4 26.gxf4 Qxf4 27.Qxb7 Na5 28.Qxa7 Nc4 29.Nd3 Qxh2 30.Re2 looks good for White overall.
 25.Nd3 f6
"Never play ...f6" is sometimes a good rule to live by; here, I'm not sure what else I could have played.
26.a3 Kg7 27.Nb4 Nxb4 28.axb4 Kf8
At this point, I realized I was getting killed, so I offered a draw.
 29.Bh5 Qd7?! 30.Re8+ Kg7 31.Qxd7+ Rxd7 32.Ra8 a5
Desperation. [32...Bd8 33.Be8 Rd6 34.Rxa7+ loses for Black; 32...Bd6 33.Be8 Re7 34.Bc6 h5 35.Bxd5 f4 36.b5 looks bleak.
33.Be8 Rd8 34.Ra7
34.Rxd8 Bxd8 35.bxa5 bxa5 36.Bc6 was the cleanest path to victory.
 34...Rxe8 35.Rxc7+ Kg6 36.b5??
Suddenly, the tables turn, and Black equalizes instantly. [36.bxa5 bxa5 37.Rc5 Rb8 38.Rxd5 Rxb2 39.Rxa5 Rc2 40.Rc5 would have won for White.
Black is simply threatening to play ...f4-f3 and ...Re8-e2 and penetrate to the second rank.
 37.gxf4 gxf4 38.Kg2 Re2 39.Rb7 Rxb2 40.Rxb6 Rb3 41.Rb8
Here, my opponent relented and offered me a draw. I thought for half an hour and then decided to play on! Using my Finegold-like endgame skills, I thought, I could undoubtedly take this guy for the win.
41...Rxc3 42.Rd8 Rb3 43.Rxd5 a4 44.b6 Rxb6 45.Ra5 Rb4 46.d5 Kf5 47.d6+ Ke6 48.Ra6 Rd4

Position after Rd4

Suddenly, I'm up a pawn! At this juncture, I honestly thought I would be able to play for the win. Again, I'm fairly sure this is just delusional: Black is a little better, but White will have to play terribly to not draw this.
49.Kf3 Rxd6?!
I calculated some long-winded variation like 49...h5 50.d7+ Kxd7 51.Rxf6 Rd6 52.Rf7+ Kc6 53.Rh7 Kc5 54.Rxh5+ Kb4 55.Rh7 Ra6 56.Rb7+ Kc3 57.Rc7+ Kb3 58.Rb7+ Kc2 59.Rc7+ Kb1 60.Rb7+ and decided I wouldn't be able to snag a win. Of course, if I want to win, I should try this anyway. Suddenly, I became so convinced I had a way to play for a win that I cut my calculations short.
50.Rxa4 Rd3+ 51.Kg4 h5+ 52.Kxf4 Rh3 53.Ra6+ Kf7
I was convinced that I was simply winning a pawn here. Of course, White has a simple solution to his endgame woes.
54.f3! Kg6
54...Rxh2 55.Kf5 leaves Black with nothing.

Interestingly enough, as I was analyzing the game with my opponent afterwards, one of his friends came by. "Dude, did you see Finegold's game?" he exclaimed. We both looked up from the board. "He was playing this kid, and he was down like two pawns in a rook endgame, and he was still playing for a win!"

I paused for a moment. "Did he manage to do it?" I asked.

"No! His opponent was like 2300. They drew." At that moment Finegold himself passed us, so I called him over. He asked me whether I'd lost my game, so I asked him at what point he'd seen it.

"I didn't see any of it," was his reply. "Kind of like my own game - it all flew right over my head."

 Finegold, as I later found out, had played against none other than World Youth medallist FM Darwin Yang. The first night in the Open Section was fairly routine for the top seeds, with GMs Sargissian, Van Wely, Shulman, Shabalov, and Sadvakasov all winning their games; Yang's lone draw stood out.

In any case, going into Round 2 of the U2300 Section, I hope I can say that I've learned my lesson about how dangerous it is to feel invincible at the chess board. I may be playing "down" most of my rounds, but when it all boils down to it, ratings are mere statistics, and particularly in a "class" section, anybody can win. Meanwhile, good luck to all those who started out with draws in the first round as they attempt to get back into the groove in Round 2!

Look for more from Hilton  on CLO as the memorial day weekend concludes, plus photos by Betsy Dynako. Be sure to follow the official website for results and news.


November - Chess Life Online 2009

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