Viva Team USA: Hungaski on The Final Norm
By Robert Hungaski   
October 25, 2012
Robert Hungaski, Photo official website
The 2012 Continental Championship was held in Mar del Plata (Argentina) from October 12th through 21st. Looking back on the event there is not much more the U.S. delegation could have asked for. Out of the three representatives that represented the U.S., Alexander Shabalov and Gregory Kaidanov were able to secure two of the four World Cup spots, while I managed to secure my final GM norm.

Everything about the event was sublime, not just our final results. From the chess history surrounding the city of Mar del Plata, to the playing hall. Argentina has a great chess culture so every day we had crowds of non-participants huddling over the corrals that indicated where the top boards were located. There was quite a festive environment overall, even among the players. A perfect example of this being the 40-player soccer match that took place on the eve of the ninth round, which had been preceded by a few matches of squash I played with some of the players and organizers and even a session at the local movie theater.

However, it is worth pointing out that all my positive impressions carry as an undertone a sigh of relief for all the things that could have gone wrong but didn't! In fact, anyone following our games would have been hard-pressed to think we could end the way we did. Alex Shabalov ended up taking second place which would have been hard to forecast considering he drew his first, fourth and fifth rounds with considerably lower rated players, but overall I believe he was the most consistent of the three. Greg Kaidanov has to have been the Cinderella story of the tournament after losing his second round to a 2200 player and overcoming worse, if not clearly worse, if not lost positions in rounds five, seven, ten and eleven! And lastly, for my part I can count my blessings for coming out on top in similar situations in rounds two, six, seven, eight and nine! But the real miracle for me was having played the tournament at all.

During the summer I had decided to play in the European circuit to chase down my final GM norm. Much like Ahab chasing down his great white whale, I too let my obsession lead me to my ruin. I not only missed out on the norms in these tournaments but I had what was by far the worse year of my chess career, losing a solid 50 rating points in a month and a half and playing some really bad chess.

After returning to the U.S. I had decided not to play in any more tournaments for the rest of the year. The only travel left in my schedule was a visit to my family in Buenos Aires. It was during this time that I got an email from the USCF saying that aside from Alex and Greg, there were no other American players willing to make the trip down to Argentina since they would have to cover their travel expenses. If this was not a problem for me then I could go as the third official representative, which meant free room and board. Since I was already in Argentina I figured I couldn't pass up this opportunity, even if this meant losing another twenty rating points in a single tournament. But in the end Ahab got his whale!


Mar del Plata (9), 19.10.2012
This was the ninth round. I only needed a draw to secure my norm, yet I chose the Jaenisch. Why? In my experience the best way to achieve a draw is playing for the win! In fact, it was with this same opening that I achieved my second GM norm last year in the last round of the New York International!
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5 4.d3 fxe4 5.dxe4 Nf6 6.0-0
6.Qd3 Nb4 was played in Felgaer-Krysa, where white quickly got a lost position out of the opening.
6...Bc5 seems to be the main move.
7.Re1 Be7 8.h3 0-0 9.c4 Qe8 10.Nc3 Nh5 and I got a very good game. Zhao, P. - Hungaski, R., New York 2011.
It would have been much better to play 7...Be7 8.Bc4 Bg4 9.h3 Bh5 (9...Bxf3 10.Qxf3) 10.a3 Qd7 11.Qd3 h6 12.Nh4 0-0-0 13.Be3 g5 14.Nf5 Bg6
8.Bc4 Na5 9.Be2
That same night, Argentine IM Jorge Rosito (a specialist in the variation, asked me why I had not played 9...Be7 10.a3 (10.b4!?) 10...0-0 11.b4 Nc6 12.Bc4+ Kh8 13.Ng5 Qe8 and black seems to be doing quite well. - Rosito.
After trading light-squared bishops white's pieces will begin to invade via c4, d5 y e6. Not to mention the f4-break (the key to white's initiative) now becomes possible!
10...Bxe2 11.Qxe2 Nc6 12.Ne6?!
Now black is able to win some tempi on the night and rearrange his pieces. [again, white's real threat is to open up the position with 12.f4!; 12.Qc4!?]
12...Qd7 13.Nd5 Rc8 14.Nxf6+
14.Qc4 b5
14...gxf6 15.Qh5+ Ke7!
15...Qf7 16.Qh3 Ne7 17.f4
16.Nxf8 Rcxf8 and black is better!
16...Qe8 17.Qh3 Qd7 18.Qh5 Qe8
here I realized that with one more repetition I would become a GM, but my opponent was being uncooperative!
19.Qxe8+ Rxe8 20.Nf3 
I came very close to playing the correct 20...f5! 21.exf5 Kf6 22.g4? (22.Be3 Kxf5³) 22...h5 23.h3 (23.Bg5+ Kf7 24.h3 hxg4 25.hxg4 Rg8) 23...hxg4 24.hxg4 Rg8 25.Nh2 Nd4 26.c3 Nxf5

21.Nh4 Rg8 22.g3 Ne7
22...d5 23.exd5+ Kxd5 24.Be3 Ke6 was also good.
23.f4 d5 24.exd5+ Nxd5 25.c4 Bc5+ 26.Kh1 Nb4 27.fxe5 fxe5 28.Nf3 Nc2!?
With little time on my clock I decided to avoid my opponent's counterplay. 28...e4 29.Ng5+ Kd6 was the line my opponent was having problems with.
29.Rb1 Be3
29...Ref8 30.Ng5+ (30.Bh6 Rf5; 30.Bd2 Rf5 31.b4 Be3) ; 29...e4 30.Ng5+ Kd6
30.Bxe3 Nxe3
The start of an incredible knight sortie that required no less than six straight moves with my knight.
31.Rfe1 Nxc4 32.Rbc1 Nxb2 33.Rxc7 Nd3 34.Re3 Nf2+ 35.Kg2 Ng4
The knight is now able to defend the e-pawn long enough for me to play Re7 and neutralize my opponent's play on the seventh rank.
36.Re2 Re7 37.Rc1 Kf6 38.h3 Nh6 39.Rf1 Kg7
39...Rge8 40.Rxe5 Rxe5 41.Nxe5+ Nf5 (41...Kxe5? 42.Re1+) 42.Nd3
40.Rxe5 Rxe5 41.Nxe5 Re8 42.Nd3 Nf7
42...Re2+ 43.Rf2 Rxf2+ 44.Kxf2 Nf5 45.Nc5 Nd6 46.Ke3
43.Nc5 Re7 44.Rb1 Re2+ 45.Kf3 Rc2!
45...Rxa2 46.Rxb7 and white's rook would be pretty active.
46.Ne6+ Kf6 47.Nd4 Rxa2 48.Rxb7 Ng5+ 49.Kg4 

I thought the best way to secure the draw would be to enter this rook endgame where I'm down a pawn. I kept trying to find winning chances for my opponent but couln't find any. I was beginning to realize that I would soon have my last norm in my hand.

50.Rb6+ Kg7 51.Kxg5 Rxd4 52.Rxa6 Rd5+ 53.Kf4 Rb5 54.Re6 h6 55.g4 Rb1 56.Re3 Rh1 57.Kg3 Ra1 58.Re7+ Kf6 59.Rh7 Kg6 60.Rd7 Ra3+ 61.Kh4 Rb3 62.Rd6+ Kg7 63.Rd2 Kg6 64.Rg2 Ra3 65.Rg3 Rxg3 66.Kxg3 h5
Draw! ½-½

As the dust settled I ended in 13th place and earned my final GM norm, while the final standings revealed Peruvian GM Julio Granda in 1st, Shabalov 2nd, Flores 3rd, Hansen 4th (my roommate!) and Kaidanov 5th. They all now had to face each other in a Round Robin playoff to determine which one of them would miss out on the World Cup since the tournament only grants four spots. I couldn't stay for the entirety of the playoffs since the bus back to Buenos Aires would be leaving midway so I wished the players luck, went on my way and kept track of the scores via phone. In the end Flores was left out which meant the North Americans were the big winners.

Look for more details, games and photos in Zonal President Franc Guadalupe's upcoming CLO remarks on Mar Del Plata.