|Adventures of a Samford: Another Run at Cappelle|
|By GM Josh Friedel|
|April 14, 2009|
I was sitting on a plane heading to France when a thought occurred to me. My usual approach to these articles is to wait until the tournament is over, sit down with a cool drink, and play through the tournament in my head. Then, I jot down what I think people might find interesting. If that ends up being two sentences worth, I include some of the other stuff too. Eventually, I manage to create an article out of this. However, there is a drawback to this method. After the tournament, I often forget many details. So I came to the brilliancy to write down stuff as the tournament progresses.
Yet here I am. I’m on the couch at my Mom’s house in NH, drinking a ginger ale, and my attention is wavering between this report, CSI, and watching my mom’s boyfriend throw pieces of leftover turkey at the dog. So the question is, where did I go wrong? It's probably my approach to tournaments. I develop routines for each day that don't include writing. At Cappelle my routine was as follows: I’d wake up around nine, run down to catch breakfast, do a bit of prep, take the bus to the tournament hall, eat lunch, play the game, eat dinner, get online for a bit and relax, check my pairing, prep for the next day a bit, shower, then go to sleep around midnight. Sometimes I vary slightly. I might shower at different times, go for a walk if my prep is light, sleep through breakfast if I’m feeling quite tired, and of course one day there was two rounds. But for the most part in Cappelle, I remained in my bubble and within my routine.
Jesse Kraai, Vinay Bhat, and I arrived in Paris at about 10 AM on the morning of February 24th. The plan was to spend a few days in Paris, then catch the bus to Cappelle on the 27th. If the beginning of a trip is any indication of how things will turn out, we weren’t going to have a pleasant go of it. The airline managed to lose ALL of our bags. So after giving them our information, we managed to find our way to the Latin Quarter in Paris without an interpreter (David Pruess, who speaks fluent French, planned to arrive later). There we met up with a good friend of Jesse’s, known to me only as “the Poet,” and we had a long anticipated lunch at a little café near his apartment. It certainly wasn’t the best meal I’ve had in Paris, but after traveling for 12 hours or so, anything could have passed for gourmet.
So for three days, the Poet (whose name I later discovered to be Jason) took us around Paris. I’ve been to Paris many times, but never with a local leading us around. Jason lives in Paris six months of the year, and therefore knows his way around, and of course speaks French. He knew the best restaurants and shortcuts to sites-- Trust me, it is much better than trying to find everything by yourself. We saw the catacombs, which is basically miles of nothing but skulls and remains several feet under the ground. It was a unique experience, though I felt that after seeing 800 skulls you’ve seen them all. We also went to Notre Dame, an interesting contrast of old and new. It has these old-fashioned shrines, yet there are many modern TV screens on which you can watch each sermon. We also had some nice meals, which of course is what I like most about traveling to Paris, or just about anywhere for that matter.
We had a particularly amusing experience one night. Vinay is a vegetarian, and Paris isn’t the ideal place for finding decent vegetarian food. Ethnic restaurants often serve good vegetarian food, but at French places it is difficult. This is especially true if the waiters aren’t helpful, which in France is very likely. In any case, when Jason asked the waiter if they had anything that would be suitable for a vegetarian, the guy replied, “This is not a pharmacy.” I’ve dealt with snotty waiters before, but this dude was at a whole new level. With the sole exception of Vinay, however, everyone had an excellent meal. My foie gras was the best I’ve had. From my experience in France, the quality of the food is inversely proportional with how helpful the wait staff is.
After traipsing around Paris for a few days, we finally headed back to the airport. This was not to pick someone up, or because Vinay was so traumatized he had to head home, but because that’s where we caught the bus to Cappelle La Grande. The bus ride is a grueling three hours, which is especially long if the person next to you takes up ¾ of the seat. Upon arrival, we went right to dinner. Fortunately David had joined us at this point, and was able to use his French skills to get everything cleared up. After the highly welcome meal, we managed to locate the correct bus, and headed back to our hotel. If any of you read my report on Cappelle a couple years ago, you might remember me describing a hotel room the size of a closet that three of us had to fit into. Well, this time it was quite the opposite. The Gens de Mer (People of the Sea) had very spacious rooms by European standards, a reasonable breakfast, free Internet, and beer on tap in the lobby. I was in a pleasant mood going into the start of the tournament on the next day.
The first round of a tournament is always worrisome for me. No matter how much I play, or how much I warm up for a tournament, I can never seem to come out of the starting gate firing on all cylinders. Did I mix metaphors there? Lately, I've been fairly solid overall but my early round play has been abysmal. In fact, the only game I lost in the past few events was in round one, and I’ve been in more danger in the early rounds than at any other point in any of the tournaments. Prior to Cappelle, the last tournament I played was in December, so naturally I was very concerned. I even did extra tactics training before the tournament. Alas, it didn’t help much. The first round was an awful mess:
In a French I failed to obtain anything, then floundered about for a while until my opponent offered a move 20 draw. Amusingly something similar happened a couple years previous at Cappelle, and I declined and was probably even worse before I ended up drawing. This time I decided to accept it.
I felt like I had been fighting for equality for most of the game, and my opponent, a 2350 player from Germany, had played very solidly thus far. I felt the final position was quite unclear, but I had been missing so much during the game I feared I was going to blunder a rook or something similarly disconcerting. During the postmortem, my opponent and I came to that conclusion, and in fact defending for black was more difficult than I envisioned during the game.
The next round, sadly, was no improvement.
At first I felt I was playing reasonably, and my position seemed fine, then suddenly I was in huge trouble. After a blunder in time pressure, I was dead lost. Luckily my opponent, a young WGM from Georgia, was in time pressure as well. At first she played it perfectly, then missed a clear win in the time scramble. As a result, I found myself in a pawn down rook ending, but probably holdable. She didn’t apply pressure as well as she could have, and I was pretty much in the draw zone, when disaster struck. I thought she blundered her pawn back needlessly, and I got careless. I played a couple moves in the wrong order, and all of a sudden I found myself in the woods once again. However, the fates seemed to conspire in my favor. She blundered badly at the last moment, allowing me to take her pawn and hold the game.
I never bought into the adage “better lucky than good,” but at that moment I was feeling it. My opponent , however, was visibly upset. While she seemed like a pleasant girl, I felt like locking my window that night just in case.
So far, it had been a pretty sad tournament. I had two draws against lower rated players, and was never even close to beating one of them. I should have lost one of them. To add to my woes, rounds three and four were to be played on the same day. Not only would this mess up my precious schedule, but I’d have to turn around a bad start during a two-round day. I got a dominant position out of the opening against my 2300 opponent, and was slowly pressing him. Of course, nothing was destined to be that easy for me in this tournament. I missed something obvious, and found myself with an open king in a shaky position. My opponent didn’t seem to sense that he had to be precise, and after a few confident but inaccurate moves, he found his own king in danger. He resigned instead of pitching his queen to avoid mate.
It was really a crappy game, even for a morning round, but I was so desperate for a win by that point it might as well have been a win against a super GM.
Once you have the first win, the others seem easier. That night, against another 2300 player from Krgyzstan, I played the Archangel Lopez, a risky line I know pretty well.
I wanted to win, and I figured he may not have time to prepare with two rounds a day. Soon into the game, however, it was obvious to me that he did prepare. He blitzed out a line GM Alex Shabalov played against me a few times, which involves an interesting Qd3 move. I played an early h6-g5 to break an annoying pin on my f6 knight, but I played it neglecting exd4, which isn’t typical. He tried to punish me by sacrificing on g5, which I felt was unsound in this instance.
Shabalov sacked like this in a similar position, but one, which was a bit more favorable for him, and even then it didn’t turn out to be enough. Also, I spent a lot of time refuting such sacrifices when I worked with GM Larry Christiansen, so I was well prepared to deal with it. I found a few precise moves and I soon refuted his sac. He tried a fancy-looking idea, but I refuted it pretty easily by giving a piece back, then sacrificing a rook to win his queen.
My opponent, who was very friendly and wore a really interesting hat, clearly felt like he had better chances, and kept trying to throw pieces at me in the postmortem. Still, we arrived at the conclusion he just didn’t have enough, though he certainly could have made life harder for me. It was easily the best game I played that tournament so far, and it put me right back in the running. It is amazing how a tournament can change so drastically in one day!
So, I had gotten back on track, and figured I would get a strong opponent on the next day. Or as Jesse said, “you are going to play a man tomorrow!” So far, none of us were playing spectacularly, and I was the only one in position to play a “man.” As it turned out, I was playing a mild-mannered Swedish gent rated just under 2200.
While I would have rather played a GM, I tried to look at it from a positive angle. First, I’d get a day to catch my breath after the two-round day. Not that I wouldn’t have to work, but playing a GM is almost always more strenuous. Also, my guy had no games in the database, so I’d get to sleep more and prep less. He played an offbeat opening, with 3… a6!? in the Modern defense. I got a better position with more space in the center, then changed my advantage into a material one, while also obtaining the two bishops with a little tactic.
After that I won with little trouble. So after a slow start, I now had 4/5, and was feeling a whole lot better about my chess.
Well, just when I thought I’d get a GM, I was paired with a 1900! Kidding. My next opponent was GM Semen Dvoirys of Russia.
For those who don’t know, he was Kasparov’s right hand man for a number of years. Anyway, now he’s a solid 2550 GM, though it is a bit nerve-wracking knowing you could be facing a Kasparov novelty. He plays several Lopez sidelines, which I booked up for during the night. He essayed one with an early a4, and I played my prepared idea of giving up my light-squared bishop while shutting his out of the game. I ended up taking his other bishop with a knight, leading to a fairly equal position in which he offered a draw. It would take a lot of work to win such a position, and I felt conserving energy for the last stretch of the tournament was a smart move. Besides, holding a tough GM with black is nothing to be ashamed of. In retrospect, it was a particularly smart move, as my rounds seven and nine were the last to finish in the whole tournament.
In round seven, I faced the young Indian GM, Gopal. I’ve never been accused of being a bigot, but I do see common stereotypes in chess. Russians tend to be well trained and strong in technical positions, South and Central Americans are killer tacticians, and Americans… well we tend to be all over the map. Indians, I’ve found, have narrow but well prepared opening repertoires, and are very strong calculators. This may seem wrong to say, and I’ve been told that many times by friends, but I’ve discovered these patterns are true more often than not. Gopal, in my view, fits the mold. He was very well versed in Najdorf Sicilian and Grunfeld, which was very consistent with his style, and he definitely seemed to rely far more on calculation than feel. This was the basis for my opening choice of 1. Nf3. Also, statistically he did far worse against Nf3 and c4 than e4 and d4.
My opening decision paid off. He was clearly not comfortable out of the opening, and I got a very pleasant position. I slowly built it up until my pieces were on their ideal squares, and broke with e5.
I felt my position was close to winning at that point, but we were both in a bit of mild time pressure, so I had to play precisely. I did just that for awhile, reaching a three pieces against rook and bishop ending that should have been easily winning. Unfortunately, just before time control I slipped, allowing him to trade a pair of bishops.
I finally made time control, then had some time to figure out the situation.
It’s a particularly nasty feeling when you make a mistake right before move 40. Right then I could be slowly contemplating how to finish him, and I'd soon be off to dinner. Instead, I had figure out a very tricky ending. At first it seemed nearly impossible to win, but as I analyzed it more, I felt my chances were good. If I could just lock down the kingside, and bring my king to the queenside, the win would be in sight. I nearly succeeded, but I couldn’t think of a way to do it without pushing my pawn to h4, which was a major concession. I had to liquidate the kingside, after which I felt a win was no longer possible. My opponent pleasantly surprised me, by allowing me to cut his king of with my minors. Then the win was all of a sudden back in my grasp.
I actually missed a couple chances to break with a5, which would have won right away, and after he played a5 himself the win became distant again. Still, I continued pressing, and even got my knight and bishop to their ideal locations. Then I got my king in. Sadly, though I felt his fortress could be broken, I was playing with only ten seconds left, and at that point I was only gaining ten seconds a move. I tried for a bit, but I simply couldn’t find anything with limited time. The really unfortunate part is that after the game, I thought of a way to break through with Ng7-e8, followed by moving in with my king. With almost no time on the clock, however, I wasn’t able to find it. After the game I was tired, but my opponent was very upbeat, and and excited to discuss the game. While it was an interesting game, I really wasn’t up to it, and just wanted eat and relax. Luckily, Jesse headed him off by asking a lot of questions about his religion and culture, which he talked about with no less enthusiasm. This allowed me to tune out safely and get everything sorted in my head.
After the disappointing 7th round, I felt out of contention. However, with 5/7 I was still within reasonable striking distance of the top. To get there though, I had to win a game! My 8th round opponent was the young Russian GM Dmitry Frolyanov.
I decided to play the Nd7 Chigorin against him on the black side of a Lopez. He was fairly new to the main lines, yet he was blitzing out theory in the d5 variation. Therefore, I opted for a novel idea of playing Nb7 then playing on the queenside after b4, while the usual method was to take on b4 and play Nc4. This looks logical, but it isn’t possible to maintain the knight there, and white maintains a slight space advantage. Nb7 is a bit riskier, but it threatens to create counterplay immediately with a5. He didn’t react in the best way, I was able to activate my pieces on the queenside, and take over the initiative. I was pressing, playing accurate moves, playing my best chess of Capelle. However, it seemed that winning a game this tournament wasn’t within my abilities. In a much better position, I played Re4 with the idea that on the “forced” Qf3, I’d play Qc1+ and Rf4. After Re4 I took a walk, and as I was washing my hands in the bathroom I realized, “Oh crap, Qg5!” Sure enough, when I got back to the board, this was the move played. Luckily I could force a draw after this, but no more. So despite playing some very high quality chess, I was unable to win. I was cheered up slightly by the opportunity I got afterwards to analyze in Russian, which is a rarity for me, as there are probably five Russians on the planet whose English is worse than my Russian. He was a fairly quiet guy so he may not have been an exception, but I was thankful for the chance in any case. We communicated all right, and we had similar conclusions about the game.
So now I really was out of the running. Still, it would be nice to know I can win a game of chess against a strong player. And for that, I had one more chance. In the last round, I had white against my first 2600+ opponent of the tournament, Ukrainian GM Anton Korobov. I saw him play when I was in China for the World Mind Sports Games, and I came to the conclusion he was a very solid, practical player who would be very difficult to beat. Reviewing his games only reinforced my initial impression. He surprised me in the opening a bit by going for a Steinitz deferred. I concluded he prepared something for my usual Bxc6+, so instead I played 0-0. As in the previous game, my instincts in the opening were right on, and he voluntarily headed for a slightly worse position instead of playing one of the more challenging lines.
While I had more space and nice pieces, his position was extremely solid and tough to crack. Still, I slowly made progress, and managed to provoke a couple weaknesses in his position. However, just when I thought I was getting somewhere, he hit me with a central break which I thought didn’t work. This turned the tables completely, and put me on the defensive. I made time control without blundering anything too badly and reached a highly drawable position.
I had queen, rook, and knight against queen, rook, and bishop. My pieces were not as active as his, as they were tied down defending my king. I thought I could hold because his king was permanently open. This would make it nearly impossible to deliver the final blow, as it would allow me to mate him first. Unfortunately, I succumbed to an old enemy of mine, ambition. I thought I could improve my king position, temporarily “hanging” a pawn, and if I could achieve that my position would certainly be no worse. To my chagrin, he took the pawn fairly quickly. I thought he had blundered, but it turns out he can get away with it. The amusing thing is he blundered back, missing the powerful Re1. Instead he allowed me to get to a queen ending where both kings are open, and his extra pawn is backward and not going anywhere soon. Of course, it is still a lot of work to draw such a position, especially when the times are dwindling down. At first I felt fairly confident, but it is difficult to keep track of all the variations in a queen ending, and I allowed him to play a g5 push complicating matters.
There wasn’t much time at this point, with only 20 seconds or so to be spent on a move. My king danced around the center of the board, and I was sure I was going to lose at some point. He couldn’t find the finishing blow with the limited time, and my king danced back to the kingside to take his h-pawn, leaving him with only an a-pawn left. In queen endings this is rarely enough to win, and even with limited time I was able to draw.
It was only at that moment I realized that our game was the last going. A huge crowd surrounded us, and after the draw was agreed I could hear shouts of “draw” at the back of the hall. My opponent, despite swearing under his breath in Russian several times during the game and being visibly upset afterwards, was quite civil after the game and we discussed it a little. I was hungry and exhausted after the game, but my game lasted through dinner, so I had to settle for just rest.
On the long bus ride to the airport the next day, I alternated between sleeping, listening to The Doors, and reviewing my tournament. While I started out very slowly, I had a very solid performance, and in fact didn’t lose once the whole tournament. This is something I’ve improved on as late, and in fact have only lost one game in my last three tournaments. However, I really need to work on finishing off the won games, and pressing the advantages I obtain. I performed a bit above my rating, sadly this was the best of our little group. Vinay and David performed about their rating, while Jesse had a subpar result. They all seemed very disappointed, and in fact refused to send me any games to include in the report. Seriously though, while they may have all been disappointed, it’s a great group to travel with. Not only are they fun companions, but it enables us as a group to communicate in German, French, Spanish, Chinese, and occasionally Russian on a good day. Overall, the trip felt like a good one, and I hope you enjoyed the journey as I did.
Josh Friedel is a frequent contributor to CLO and a contender in the 2009 U.S. Championship. In last year's Championship, Josh earned his final GM norm, and wrote a Best of CLO article on it, "Adventures of a Samford: Finally a GM."