|Hilton on Ohio States, SuperNationals and Beyond
|By Jonathan Hilton
|March 30, 2009
Last weekend, I learned that SuperNationals IV (April 3-5, Nashville) will almost undoubtedly be my final scholastic chess tournament before I head to college in the fall. On March 22, at the Ohio High School Chess Championships in Wooster, Ohio, freshman and Expert player Michael Boris Vilenchuk took first place with 5.5/6.0, earning the right to represent Ohio in the Denker Tournament of Champions later this year. I was fortunate enough to have this honor two out of the past three years, but now the time has come for me to pass the baton.
The state championship tournament itself contained enough fireworks for me to say that my scholastic chess career has gone out with a bang. As the top seed, I managed to win my first three games in decent style – something that, as one of the top ten seeds at Nationals, rarely happens. But in Round 4, fate dealt me shocking comeuppance that put an end to my winning streak. For months before the tournament, it was rumored that fourth-seeded Ryan Daniel Clayton had something brutal prepared in the opening for me. Clayton, after just a year and a half of tournament chess, is already rated nearly 2000. Regardless, I had not been particularly worried about any opponent’s “preparation.” Now, as I prepare for my final Nationals, I’ve been exploring what went wrong for me in this critical game:
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5
Deciding what openings to play as Black is one of the most difficult decisions I face while preparing for a scholastic tournament. Draws are usually an "unacceptable" outcome during must-win scholastic events, and successful champions such as Daniel Yeager play aggressively in order to win. Considering this game was the fourth round in a single day, however, something a little less risky might have been a better choice.
4.h4 g4 5.Ng5!?
Clayton, with the White pieces, had prepared this aggressive and unorthodox line. When facing higher-rated opponents at Nationals and other intense events, moves with surprise value can "shake things up" for top seeds hoping to keep their winning streaks going smoothly.
I could not remember any theory against this line, but at the time control of G/90, there isn't time to figure everything out. I felt confident I could defend my position and be up a piece, so I went for it. Afterwards, I learned that the immediate 5...d5, defending g4, is considered stronger.
6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Bc4+ d5 8.Bxd5+ Ke8?!
My inexperience in this opening begins to show, as 8...Kg7 is a much stronger move. Later in the game, it becomes apparent that my king is not safe in the center and that I need to bring my king's rook to e8.
9.d4 Bd6 10.Nc3 Nf6
My defense, based on tactical motifs in the center, looks effective. However, White finds a strong idea.
Preserving White's initiative by preparing e4-e5 and Qd3-g6. Seeing that White had sufficient compensation for his sacrificed material, I decided to "cash in the chips."
11...Nxd5 12.Nxd5 c6 13.Nxf4 Bxf4?!
A bad trade, made for psychological reasons: I was scared and thought trading would help me reach a tenable position. 13...Rf8 14.e5 Bb4+ 15.c3 Bf5 16.Qg3 Be7 would likely have been a better try, keeping the position complex. My opponent now cleanly executes his attack.
14.Bxf4 Qe7 15.0-0-0 Be6!?
Trying anything to coordinate my pieces, even at the loss of material.
16.d5 Bf7 17.Qd4
My opponent correctly shuns 17.Bxb8 Rxb8 18.dxc6 bxc6 19.Qc3 Rh7 20.Qxc6+ Kf8 , after which Black has reasonable chances.
17...Rh7 18.Qd2 Nd7 19.Bxh6 Rc8 20.Bg5 Qc5 21.Qe2 Kf8?!
21...Bh5 , a less hot-headed defense, would have slowed White's attack significantly.
22.Rhf1 cxd5 23.Rxd5 Qc6 24.Qd3 Ke8?
24...Nc5 25.Rd8+ Rxd8 26.Qxd8+ Kg7 didn't look promising, but it had to be tried.
25.Rd6 Qc7 26.e5!
The decisive move.
26...Nf8 27.e6 Bxe6 28.Rxf8+
28.Rxe6+ Nxe6 29.Qg6+ Rf7 30.Qxe6+ Kf8 31.Bh6+ Kg8 32.Qg6+ Rg7 33.Bxg7 Qxg7 34.Qe6+ was even faster.
28...Kxf8 29.Rxe6 Rf7 30.Bh6+ Kg8 31.Rg6+ Kh8 32.Be3 Rd8 33.Bd4+ Rxd4 34.Qxd4+ and about to flag, I soon resigned. 1-0
Anyone rated expert or higher dreams of winning the Nationals. But, I’ve decided I only have one goal for my last major scholastic event: to not have a “bad” tournament. (See my report last year, Hilton on Not Winning Nationals.) This may sound like an unambitious goal, and in chess terms, perhaps it is. In purely psychological terms, however, to enter a field of over 350 players, do one’s best, and feel no remorse upon failing to capture the national title is possibly one of the most difficult things a young player can do. As the (currently) #9-rated seed, I certainly do have as much potential to take first as the “next guy.” But, this year, my hopes are to simply reconnect with old friends and enjoy the thrill of scholastic competition. If I suffer a 300-point upset loss or draw, the only thing to do will be to keep smiling, maintain a positive outlook, and play my best in the remaining rounds.
The conclusion of the Ohio High School Championship already has afforded me some practice at this. At last year’s High School Nationals, after losing to A-player Matthew Michaelides with the Black pieces, I was shaken enough to cede a draw (with the White pieces!) the following round to my 1600-rated opponent. At States this year, I managed to keep my calm after the loss against Ryan Clayton, defeat (now nearly 1700-rated) Saptarshi Chaudhuri, and make a comeback in Round 6 for a positional win against my close friend and master-strength player Kris Meekins. This was good enough for second with 5.0/6.0, but at the end of the day, it was Expert Michael Vilenchuk who slid into first with 5.5/6.0 after himself defeating Clayton. Here is the game, with annotations from Vilenchuk:
This was the final game of the final round that decided who gets to go to Denker. It was between me, Kris Meekins, and my opponent, Ryan Clayton.
1...e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4
I decided to play something I know pretty well and not go into closed games.
4...Nf6 5.e5 d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4 Bd7 8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.0-0 Be7?!
This move has never been played against me before. The main line is 9...Bc5. After ...Be7 my opponent isn't threatening anything, and I was looking at pushing my f-pawn all the way to f6.
10...Nc5 is probably his best choice, as I don't get an extra tempo.
11...Ne6 12.f5 Nxd4 13.Qxd4 would be bad for Black because it just helps me with my plan. Also now e5-e6!? might be possible.
My plan is 13.e6 fxe6 Qh5+.
On 13.Ne2 Black could play 13...Bb5 14.f6 gxf6 and castle queenside later on.
13...Bb5 14.Rf3 Bg5?!
14...0-0 15.f6 gxf6 16.Bh6 fxe5 17.Nc3±; 14...Qd7 15.Nc3 0-0-0 was probably his best choice.
15.Bxg5? Qxg5! 16.Qxd5 Rd8 17.Qxe4 Rd1+ 18.Kf2 Rf1#
15...Nxc3 16.bxc3 Be7
Black decides to save his pawns.
I missed 17.f6! gxf6 18.exf6 Bxf6 (18...Bd6 19.a4 Ba6 20.Ba3+-) 19.Qe1+! Kd7 (19...Qe7 20.Re3; 19...Be7 20.Bg5 f6 21.Rxf6+-) 20.Qf2 Re8 21.Be3 Bxc3 22.Rb1+- gaining a huge advantage.
18.Bxc5 is also good.
18...Qd7? 19.e6 fxe6 20.Rxg7
On 20.Qh5+ g6! 21.fxg6 0-0-0 22.g7 Rhg8 23.Qxh7 I am still winning but Black has compensation.
20...0-0-0 21.f6 d4 22.fxe7
22.Rxe7 Qd5 23.Qg4 dxe3
22...Rdg8 23.Qg4 Rxg7 24.Qxg7 Qe8 25.Rf1
25.cxd4 Rg8 26.Qxh7 Rxg2+ 27.Kf1 is still alright for me.
25...Kb7 26.Nxc5+ Kb6 27.Rb1+
I calculated mate from here.
28.Qe5 Qb8 29.Nb7+ Ka6 30.Qa5# would have been faster.
28...Bb5 29.Nb7+ Ka6 30.Qxa7# 1-0
Thus Michael Vilenchuk will be headed to his first-ever Denker event in August. As an energetic freshman with a developing humor repertoire, my friend Michael is bound to make a splash in this camaraderie-filled event. Some of his quotations, sayings and quips – “Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils,” for instance – can brighten any chess player’s day. Michael was the only player able to convince me to play in the Ohio State High School Bughouse Championship on Saturday night; I’d been on the brink of considering playing, but when Michael asked me to be his partner, I simply couldn’t turn him down. A few hours of trash talking and “goofing off” later, we emerged the Bughouse Champions.
I’m excited to see Michael compete, too — as a growing 2100-rated player with his best scholastic years still ahead of him, he’ll likely have a shot at being Champion. More importantly, however, he’ll gain valuable experience from being exposed to other Champions from the country over. Am I sad that I won’t be back at the Denker for a final run? Somewhat – perhaps, in honesty, quite a bit – but in a way, I’m happy to see someone younger go. Over the past several months I’ve undergone the ordeal of searching for and selecting the college I’ll attend this fall; by now, I feel I’m ready to transition out of “scholastics” and move on into the collegiate chess realm. There will be plenty of work for me to do, too: one of my main tasks will undoubtedly be to organize and prepare a Pan-American Championship team for the University of Cincinnati, where I’ll be attending on a full academic scholarship starting in September. At least for another week, however, my mind will still be focused, one last time, on gearing up for a weekend of scholastic chess. ♦