Josh on Getting Close at the Continental
By GM-elect Josh Friedel   
November 16, 2008
Josh Friedel,
 Photo Betsy Dynako
Jaan Ehlvest won the Continental Champioships in Boca Raton, Florida with an impressive 7/9.  Along with a $4000 payday, he earned himself a spot in the 2009 World Cup.  Throughout the tournament, he showed steady, solid chess.  This is usually a given when you score 7/9 with no losses in a tournament.  However, he also showed he could win when he had to.  In the last round, he scored the critical win against GM Alex Shabalov.  It seemed like it was unclear for a while, but then Shabalov went for a sacrificial melee which didn’t work out at all. 

After this win, only I could catch Ehlvest.  However, to do this I had to take down the highest rated player in the event with black, GM Julio Becerra.  I managed to get a solid position out of the opening, and then a better one after 25… f5.
Position after 25...f5

 There was a bit of a time scramble, but after 40… d5 I felt my position should be winning.
Position after 40...d5

Of course it is never easy with Julio, as he’s an amazingly tenacious defender, and will rarely let you win easily.  As often happens, unfortunately, then I blew it.  I played 41… Ra8, which looks strong, but Nd1! was better.  Then Rf2 is a killer threat, and if Bf7 then simply Ne3 and he’s falling apart.  I thought after I took on g2 it should be won, but his king got way too active, and after 46. Nc5 I knew it was going to be a tough road to victory.
Position after 46.Nc5

  I tried for many moves, turning down several draws I’d take in a normal situation in the process.  Eventually, I even blundered, forcing me to sac an exchange.  Luckily, the resulting ending is a fortress, but Julio made me play it out till the bitter end.  I managed a draw though, after a grueling 131 moves.


 This gave Ehlvest clear 1st with 7, and me 2nd with 6.5. 

So after that, it was merely a fight to tie for second.  Still, that didn’t make the games any less exciting.  The only player to succeed in winning, however, was GM Alex Ivanov against Columbian IM Alder Escobar.  He did it by winning a 3 vs. 2 on the kingside with a couple minor pieces, followed by queen vs. knight and pawn!

The others with 5.5 points managed only to draw.  Mexican GM Manuel Leon Hoyos looked like he was on his way to taking out GM Alex Stripunsky, but in the end his defenses miraculously held together. 

GM Vinay Bhat had a topsy-turvy game with Brazilian GM Darcy Lima.  At first it looked like Vinay was better, but then after nice pawn sac things got crazy.  Then Lima seemed to have the definite edge, but threw it away just before time control, allowing Vinay to get an unusual perpetual. 


Up and coming IM Ray Robson also had a shot at 6.5, but was unable to beat Brazilian IM Everaldo Matsuura on the black side of a dragon. 


So that left Ehlvest in 1st, Ivanov and I in 2nd and 3rd, plus a large number of people tied for 4th-11th.  Other than the top guys, there were several notable performances.  FM Renato Terry of Peru had an excellent performance, and finished with the large group tied for 4th.  He earned an IM norm which he clinched by defeating IM Alphonso Almeida in the last round. 


IM David Arenas of Columbia had a strong result as well.  His best result was defeating newly-crowned GM Vinay Bhat in round 2. 


Finally, Erik Santarius from Wisconsin played quite well.  Aside from giving me a scare in round 1, he beat the strong FM Daniel Rensch in round 3, and came very close to an IM norm, only narrowly missing out by losing his last round.   

Overall, I’d say the tournament was an exciting one to participate in.  It is unusual for a continental to only have one qualifying spot, and while this is negative in some ways, it certainly creates excitement going into the final rounds.  I don’t think there have been many times where I felt as much pressure as I did in my last round game against Becerra.  The organization was also quite good, and the tournament had some nice features.  One was that before each round, they’d give away a free Excalibur clock.  This worked out particularly well, as I lost my clock at the Miami Open, and hadn’t yet picked up a new one.  Of course, I ended up winning one in round 4.  In fact, a suspicious number of GMs won the clocks, most of which of course don’t have clocks.  Call me crazy, and you’d probably be right, but I have a hard time believing this is a coincidence. 

There were a couple other amusing stories as well, like the one Beatriz Marinello told me about the Colombian delegation, the 2nd largest one that showed up (1st being USA.) Apparently it was the 1st time in the US for most of them.  Well, just after they arrive, they all got stuck in the elevator at the train station!  Talk about a warm welcome into our country.  They got out of it unharmed, however, and arrived in full force in Boca.  Another strange incident was in round 3, when just before we started, all the lights went off.  At first it was thought some moron leaned on the light switch, but it turned out the entire area of town we were in had lost power.  It was declared if it didn’t come on by 7 (the round was scheduled for 5), we’d have to postpone the round until the next day.  Of course, it’s easy to guess what happened.  The power came back on at exactly 6:50.  Again, something I have a hard time believing was for real, but they got the round off by 7:05, and the games weren’t done TOO late. 

In conclusion, I would like to thank Beatriz Marinello for her organizational efforts, as well as her help with info on the event.  I don’t think there was a single moment during the tournament that she wasn’t running around doing something.  I’d also like to thank chief TD Bill Snead, assistant TD Ivan Ochoa, and Jon Haskel who helped with Monroi.  Without them the event wouldn’t have run anywhere nearly as smoothly.  Not only did Jon take care of all the Monrois, but he set I’d guess no fewer than ten clocks per round!  It was rather impressive to behold, honestly. Lastly, I’d like to thank the US Chess Trust, who basically funded the event.  Without all these people, this event certainly wouldn’t have been possible.  I hope they continue to run it in the future!