Hilton on Foxwoods: Norms for Hess and Enkhbat, Title for Sadvakasov
By Jonathan Hilton   
April 13, 2009
GM Darmen Sadvakasov, Photo Chris Bird, March 09
I’m only just now beginning to appreciate how things always seem to eventually come “full circle.” Last year’s tournament was my first time attending the Foxwoods Open ; it was also my first-ever opportunity to write tournament blogs for Chess Life Online. Now, as I sit down to write once again about a Foxwoods “Armageddon” playoff featuring GM Yury Shulman, I’m feeling a bit like a chessplayer-philosopher commenting on the poetic fortunes of heroes. Last year saw Shulman choose the White pieces against GM Alexander Ivanov, play against the Queen’s Indian Defense, and win to clinch the Foxwoods Champion title; this year saw Shulman choose White against GM Darmen Sadvakasov, play against the Queen’s Indian Defense, and pass on that title by conceding the draw.


GM-elect Robert Hess, Photo Betsy Dynako courtesy World Chess Live
Last year also saw Robert Hess make his first GM norm; this year saw Hess secure his third and final norm. Despite a penultimate loss to Sadvakasov, Robert clinched the norm with a final round draw against Toshuyuk Moruichi. Ed.Note- Look for an interview on CLO with Robert later this week. My congratulations also to FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat, my first-round opponent at Foxwoods last year, for scoring his second IM norm. (His first IM norm was, coincidentally, also scored at the 2008 Foxwoods Open!)

And as I finish out the tournament on a positive note myself – after a bit of a rough start, I managed to come back and repeat my “plus two” score from last year – I’m left pondering the little coincidences that have made this trip to the largest casino in the world memorable for me. In the second round of last year’s tournament, I scored my first win against an International Master by defeating IM Mikhail Zlotnikov. This year, in the second-to-last round, I needed to pull off an upset to retain any chances of an U2300 prize – and was paired with Zlotnikov once again. I did manage a win, giving me my first plus score of the tournament after eight grueling rounds.

I started the tournament this year by having my Grünfeld smashed by GM Varuzhan Akobian in Round 1, but I ended it by correctly defending against Akobian’s pawn sacrifice line in a game with FM Alex Betaneli. Akobian had given me a few tips for improving my preparation in this line, something I had done with vigor over the many days between the first and last round of this extended event:


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Nf3 c5 8.Rb1 0–0 9.Be2 b6 10.0–0 Bb7 11.d5 Bxc3  

Somewhat weaker than Akobian's 12.Bc4. Oddly enough, after the swap of dark-square bishops, Black's kingside position becomes more readily defensible.
Already I have improved upon my game with Akobian--my dark-square bishop will not wind up being traded for anything other than White's own dark-square bishop.
13.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.Bc4 Ba6
Now the light-square bishops come off as well, something that is often prepared by Black with maneuvers such as ...Qd8-c8. It was possible to play the freeing 14...e6!? 15.dxe6 fxe6, though I had a few qualms about opening up my kingside so abruptly.
On 15.Qe2 I planned 15...Bxc4 16.Qxc4 Qc8 17.e5 Qf5 and ...Nd7, when Black seems to be holding his own despite White's advanced center.
15...Nxa6 16.Qd3 Nc7 17.Rfd1 Qc8 18.Ne5 Qa6 19.Qc3 f6 20.Nc6 Rae8 21.Qg3

My opponent has played strong moves to put pressure on my position, but I am able to wriggle free.
21...Qb7 22.h4
It is hard to find good moves that increase White's hold on the position, so this was certainly a reasonable try.
22...Na6 23.Na5

23...Qd7 also came under serious consideration, but I decided that I wanted to play the most direct and forcing lines. White must now find a reasonable way to decline the queen trade.

24.Qf3 would have been met by 24...Nb4, aiming to reroute to d4 via c2. But now the endgame is difficult for White to play, as he is down a pawn for only a reasonable amount of pressure.
24...Rxb8 25.Nc6 Rb7 26.a4 Nb8 27.a5?

27.Na5 Rd7 28.Nc4 would have maintained the balance; White may have just enough compensation for his pawn to hold the equilibrium, but certainly no more.
Now White is forced to swap yet another pair of pieces, giving Black a decisive advantage.
28.a6 Rbc7 29.Nxb8 Rxb8 30.Rb5 Rd8 31.Ra1 Kf7 32.f3 e6 33.dxe6+ Kxe6 34.Ra2 Rcd7 35.Rbb2 Kd6 36.Kf2 c4 37.Ke3 Kc5 38.g4 b5 39.Ra5 Rb8 40.g5 fxg5 41.hxg5 c3 42.Rb1 Kc4 0-1

There’s a short housekeeping list of things I should mention before writing the “wrapping up” part of my Foxwoods wrap-up.   I would also like to congratulate Bill Goichberg and the other Tournament Directors and organizers on a smoothly-run championship. Complaints by players this year were few and far between, although a handful of top players did ask me to mention they would like to see sets provided for the top boards in future years. “Sometimes, you’ll see a Grandmaster running around looking for a set to use,” Yury Shulman remarked. “It would be nice to have even just a few extra sets handy, just in case.” Finally, two people asked me to mention them in my final Foxwoods blog: Max Steinberg and Ian Edgerle. They didn’t have anything particular in mind, but the former of the two offered me two dollars to put his name in my blog. I was tempted to take the money and buy an apple juice – I was quite thirsty – but wound up turning it down when I heard I was only splitting the U2300 prize with one other person, FM Ilye Figler.

As I celebrate my one-year anniversary writing tournament blogs for Chess Life Online, I’d like to note how many wonderful experiences I’ve had traveling and writing while playing the game I love. Chess can be a tough game to play, and emotions run high whether one is playing at the SuperNationals in Nashville or in a major open in Mashantucket. The shell-shocked faces of those IMs and GMs who wound up on the losing ends of the big-money rounds betrayed the heartbreak, frustration, and agony that often runs parallel to the sheer joy of having a strong tournament performance. Last year, I waltzed through the Foxwoods Open oblivious to the ups and downs of the usual Swiss System, playing (and often drawing or beating!) strong titled players every round. This year was a bit of a bumpier road to the same 5.5/9.0 score and a tie for a share of U2300 first place, and the constant playing “up” or “down” every round took a far harder toll on me emotionally. But, as I pack my bags and prepare to depart for the airport, I’m thankful for the wide variety of experiences a chess tournament can bring. With any luck, I’ll be back at Foxwoods in 2010 for a whole new set of learning experiences and challenges.

Check out Jonathan Hilton's first report,his second report and the official website of the Foxwoods Open, where you can find games, photos and reports. Also see games on
Monroi.com. Also look for a report by Michael Aigner later this week from the Far West Open in Reno. In Reno, there was a 3-way tie for first between GM Sergey Kudrin, IM Enrico Sevillano and IM Gergely Antal.