Daniel Gurevich on Breaking 2200
By Daniel Gurevich   
November 8, 2010
Daniel Gurevich, Photo by Mark Taylor
October 11, 2010 marked two important milestones in my chess career. It had been exactly seven years since I had played in my first rated tournament, and more importantly, I finally earned the title of National Master. Looking back, for me, the most memorable part of this journey was the people I met along the way.

In June 2004, I traveled to my first out-of-state tournament, the 2004 National Open, in Las Vegas. I had never played in a tournament like it. I played in the Scholastic section, and its format was rather unusual. Each round consisted of a mini-match of two games against the same opponent, one game with each color. There were two such matches each day, and I was exhausted by the end of each day.

One of the matches was against a young man named Jose Ortiz. His skin was a pattern of blue tattoos, his eyes hid behind sunglasses, and I must have assumed someone who looked so much like a gangster ought to be scary. This turned out not to be the case. After I won the match, Jose and I played some blitz and chatted, and I discovered that he was very nice. Jose explained that he and several of his friends from New Mexico got a chance to participate in the tournament, courtesy of the special state-sponsored program aimed at keeping teenagers from poor communities playing chess and away from drugs. Jose rooted for me until the tournament ended. After a few rounds, we were good friends, and when I finally had to part with him, I was almost in tears.

While this encounter was memorable, the tournament was significant because it brought Grandmaster Roman Dzindzichashvili into my life. During the tournament, he was lecturing and analyzing games, and, between the rounds, I asked him to look over one of my games.

Roman's teaching style is definitely not for everyone! One by one, players stepped forward to show their games, and many returned to their seats embarrassed. I took some flak as well, especially for my attempt at doubling my rooks, which took four moves instead of two; back then, I was unfamiliar with the idea of moving one rook forward, then putting the other behind! Something must have caught his eye though, because, after the session, Roman invited us to join him for dinner, and, after dinner, we went to his room, where he tested me with a barrage of puzzles.

With GM Roman Dzindzichashvili in Atlanta, June 2005
Three months later, he invited me and my mother to come to Texas for a week to study with him. Roman taught me how to calculate systematically, and spent most of the day with us. At the end of the day, we would go to a nearby pond to feed the ducks. Curiously, whenever I told someone about feeding the ducks with Roman, hardly anyone would believe that Roman would do such a thing. After I returned home, Roman called me all the time. I watched him play endless games on the Internet Chess Club. To a large extent, as a result, my style of play formed under Roman's influence.

Over the years, I have learned that national tournaments are the place to meet interesting people. My encounter with Kirill Kuderinov is a prime example. Kirill is a young International Master from Kazakhstan, whom I first met at the 2008 World Open. He seemed to be a nice guy who led the life of a chess player on the move, so we invited him to stay at our house if he would ever be going through Atlanta.

In a few weeks, he stopped by for three days, then left, without any trace. I thought I would never see him again, but I was wrong. A month later, he called to let us know that he was coming to Atlanta again. This time, he stayed with us much longer than the first time. Seven months longer.

Every day, we would study chess for a few hours. Kirill and I traveled together to almost every tournament, and he would often prepare me for my games, as he did at the 2009 SuperNationals. He taught me how to analyze my own games, a skill I think is indispensible for those striving to reach the 2200 mark. We studied endgames from the Dvoretsky books. We spent the whole winter going over the Kasparov-Karpov matches. This was very instructive because their styles were so different, and gave me a much deeper understanding of the balance between tactical and positional play. Curiously enough, I met Anatoly Karpov in person when I won SuperNationals III, and Garry Kasparov, four years later, when I won SuperNationals IV.

With GM Garry Kasparov at SuperNationals IV, April 2009


Kirill was like the brother I never had. We played board games, walked the dog, went swimming and running together. We squabbled often, but that did little to obscure the fact that we really liked each other. The whole experience bordered on the hilariously absurd, and the circumstances that surrounded his departure were just as unusual as his arrival. He unintentionally overstayed his visa, and had to leave immediately. The last thing we heard from him was that he had landed in Kazakhstan.

Unlike Kirill, Roman has been a constant influence in my life, despite so many other demands on his time. He helps me prepare for my games whenever he can. For instance, he got up in the middle of the night, every night, to prepare me during the 2009 World Youth. He also helped me to prepare at the 2010 Continental Class Championship, the tournament where I finally achieved National Master. Here is the game I won over IM Raymond Kaufman.


Continental Class Championships Arlington (6), 10.10.2010
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Nf6
The Scotch Gambit. Black's main alternative was 4...Bc5!? 5.c3 Nf6, transposing to the Giuoco Piano.
5.e5 d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4 Bd7

The main line. A sharper choice for Black is 7...Bc5!? 8.Be3 (8.Nxc6!? leads to a forced draw: 8...Bxf2+ 9.Kf1 Qh4! 10.Nxa7+! c6 (10...Bd7!? also draws: 11.Bxd7+ Kxd7 12.Qxd5+ Ke7 13.Nc3 Nxc3 14.bxc3 Bxa7=) 11.Nxc8 Rxc8 12.Be2 Bb6 13.Qe1 Bf2=) 8...0-0, leading to an unclear position.
8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.0-0 Bc5 10.f3!
This move is stronger than 10.Be3?! Qe7! 11.f3 Nd6! 12.Bf2 Nf5, with an advantage for Black.
10...Ng5 11.f4 Ne4 12.Be3 0-0

12...Bb6!? 13.Nc3! Nxc3 14.bxc3 is also slightly better for White.

Here, Black has three main moves: 13...Nxd2, 13...f6, and the text move, 13...f5.

With this move, Black supports the knight on e4. However, this move also has a downside; Black loses the chance to create counterplay with...f6, one of the main ideas. Black must try to defend passively, and suffer. The most popular line, 13...Nxd2 14.Qxd2 Bb6 15.Nb3 f6 (15...Bf5 16.a4! Bxc2 17.Bxb6 Bxb3 18.Bc5 Re8 19.Rf3+= also leads to an advantage for White.) 16.Qc3 fxe5 17.fxe5 Qe7 18.Nc5+=, gives White a slight advantage; 13...f6 14.Nxe4 dxe4 15.Qe2! Bg4! (15...fxe5 16.Qc4+ Kh8 17.Qxc5 exd4 18.Bxd4+/- is bad for Black) 16.Qf2 Qe8 (16...Qd5, as Paul Keres played in Sveshnikov-Keres, 1973, is not as good: 17.Nxc6! Bxe3 (17...Ba3 18.exf6 Rxf6 19.Ne5+-) 18.Ne7+ Kf7 19.Nxd5 Bxf2+ 20.Kxf2+/-) 17.Nb3+= is good for White.
14.Nxe4 fxe4
14...dxe4? 15.Nxf5! wins for White immediately.
15.Qd2 Qe7 16.Nb3

White begins his plan of taking control over the dark squares.
16...Bb6 17.Qc3 g5
This may seem like a desperate attempt to create counterplay. However, even 17...a5 18.Nc5 Bf5 19.Bd4+= is clearly better for White.
18.fxg5 Bxe3+
18...Qxg5 19.Nc5 Qg7 20.Bd4+= is clearly good for White as well.
19.Qxe3 Qxe5 20.c3

Black commits an inaccuracy. His pawn on a6 now becomes a target. 20...Rae8!? 21.Rae1 Bc8 22.Na5+= leads to a solid but passive position for Black.
21.Nc5 Bf5 22.Rf2
Soon, Black will be unable to withstand the pressure on the f-file.
22...Rf7 23.Raf1 a5

Unfortunately for Black, 23...Raf8 simply loses a pawn after 24.Nxa6+-

This nice tactical shot has a positional nature; White gets the f-file all to himself.
24...Rxd7 25.Rxf5 Qg7 26.h4!
After h4-h5, Black's king will be under attack, and his lack of space will tell.
26...Re8 27.Rf6 Rd6 28.h5 Ree6
Black is already running out of space, and exchanges are bad for him because of the weak queenside pawns. 28...Rxf6 29.gxf6 Qf7 30.Qg5+ Kh8 31.h6 Rg8 32.Qf4+- should also be winning because Black's queenside pawns are so weak.

This move loses immediately, but even 29...Re8 30.Rf6 Ree6 31.R1f5 Rxf6 32.gxf6 Qf7 33.Qh6+- is winning for White.
30.Qf4 h6 31.Rf7 Qxg5 32.Rf8+ 1-0

This was my first game that earned praise from Roman, which was fitting for the victory that edged me past the 2200 mark. For those of you looking to break master or any other barrier, good luck and I hope you are lucky enough to also find mentors who don't mind 3 AM opening calls.

See Daniel Gurevich's MSA tournament history here and for another tale of breaking 2200,
see Evan Rosenberg's piece from 2008.