Monday, March 23, 2009

Foxwoods Open? Not This Year

It was the 4th Annual Foxwoods Open back in 2002 and I had finished that event with a score of 3.5/7 in the U1400 section. It was an electrifying and satisfying event; one that I had promised myself to revisit in the near future.

However, I soon lost the chess bug and went into hiatus for about five years shortly after this event. When I returned to the board mid-last year, the one thing I wanted to plan for was the 2009 Foxwoods Open.

This last year, I have invested myself 100% to chess as far as extracurricular activities/hobbies are concerned. I continue to study opening and endgame theory as well as take weekly lessons from a extremely talented chess instructor. My games have improved dramatically and am quite happy with my recent progress and chess prowess.

I wanted to be ready to play the Foxwoods Open at a competitive level and generally speaking I think I have what it takes to play in the U1700 section of this event. Lodging and travel reservations had been made over a month ago and all I needed to do was pay the advanced entry fee to make this event a reality. I was ready for this and excited to be a part of it...but something was gnawing on my subconscious.

Well, today I decided to cancel my reservations and NOT enter into the 2009 Foxwoods Open. Overall savings: $600.00+ dollars! I went to CCA's website to enter today and just couldn't get past the entry fee ($227.00) to play in 7 rated games of chess. For me, its not about the money or cash payouts, but rather the experience of playing competitive chess in an energized environment. But more importantly, I wasn't ready to spend four days away from my family, especially when I have a 6 month old son and a fantastic wife who are not quite ready for me to be away from them for such an extended period of time. My wife is fully supportive of my chess addiction and my desire to play in these sort of events; this was solely my own decision.

It's just how I feel about it at this time, but I do know that I will be going to this event in the near future. Probably when things settle down a little bit more on the home front and when money is a little more plentiful.

So, in lieu of participating in this event, I have decided to invest in some chess software -- Chessbase 10! Yea baby....psyched!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What's With That Double Vision?

Lately, I feel like a foreigner at the chess board; I am having Double Vision. My last three rated games have gone into the loss column and I must admit, in each of those games even a player rated a few hundred rating points lower than myself could spot the missed opportunities that were available in each of these losses.

My last three losses shared the following common themes:
*Exhaustion or “not well rested”
*Dismissing positional analysis in lieu of exercising supposed common chess strategies or an “easy out”.

In the end, I’m just plain seeing double vision; the result of a dull mind set.

Each of the following positions occurred in my last three losses, and each of these positions, if played correctly would have dramatically changed the game’s outcome.

Example 1:

In this game, I’m playing for the money in the final round of the Eastern Class Championships. In addition to those common themes listed above, I entered into this game with 2 hours downtime of complete boredom and a lack of respect for my opponent’s playing ability.

I’m Black and playing against the Smith-Mora Gambit. I always play the following against this gambit with 4…Nc6 5.Bc4 a6 6.Nf3 d6, but my head is locked into “forcing” a Sicilian Najdorf for some reason and I out right neglect White's early developement, thus suffering the positional consequences of not playing accurately to White’s gambit. Here is the critical position that led to Black’s demise, but if played correctly would have maintained an equal position and require White to seek out other moves or accept a draw.

In this position White is dogging after Black’s Queen and has just played 14.Bd4. Can you see the correct move for Black that would keep the positions equal? Black could just play 14…Qc7 and if White wishes to continue chasing Black’s Queen, Black would just return to …Qb6. Thus, White would need to come up with another move sequence or accept a draw. Now, here is the move that Black played; 14…Bc5? At the time, Black was thinking about inducing a bishop exchange and follow up with developing his queen-side pieces without ever giving White’s Knight on c3 any thought. White plays 15.Na4! Doh!!

Example 2:

This game was played at my local club in Natick MA. It is round 2 of a 5 round Swiss tournament. To emphasize the common themes above, I enter into this game with about 5 hours of sleep the night before and had a large latte earlier in the afternoon around 3:30pm. By the time the game starts, I’m crashing hard! All the ingredients are in place to play the game with double vision.

In this position, I’m Black and playing the Sicilian Najdorf against White’s Sozin Attack with 7.Bg5. White is up a minor piece for a pawn and is desperately trying to exchange pieces off the board whenever possible. Here, White has just played 29.Qg5, wanting to induce a Queen exchange.

This position if played correctly is a draw. Can you see the right move? Black’s Bishop holds a strong diagonal and has both Rooks beautifully lined up along the g-file to exert pressure, when the proper moment arises, along the 2nd rank. Black can at least draw with 29…Qxg5! Follow up line would be 30.Nxg5 Rf2!

If White wants to at least maintain a draw, his only move would be 31.Rg3 Rxc2 32.Nxe6 Rff2 33.Rxg7+ Kh8 34.Rxb7 Rxg2+ =

Unfortunately, Black wasn’t analyzing any of this because the first rule of thumb in chess; never exchange your big guns when you’re down material. That’s where my mind was, instead of analyzing this position properly, I was thinking, “What is the best move to avoid the Queen exchange?” So, exchanging Queens never entered into my thought process and therefore, the position analysis after such an exchange was never entertained. Black played 29…Qe8 and thus remained behind White in material and at a positional disadvantage until Black finally loses on TIME! My double vision got the best of me.

Example 3:

Here is another game played at the local club. It is round 3 of a 5 round Swiss tournament. All the common themes are in place and I just had a nice refreshing large afternoon latte! Its game time and you know what? My mind is racing but my body’s in lead; I fill my eyes with that double vision.

In this position, I’m White and playing the Yugoslav Attack against Black’s nasty Sicilian Dragon. Black has just played 13…Nxf3? Our positions prior to this move were equal, but now White is just better and with one move can gain a winning position and come out a full piece up in material. Can you see the move? Easy right; not when you have double vision. White is thinking simple exchange and wants to open up his g-file to exert pressure along Black’s king file. Besides, my Queen is under attack, so why not simply remove the attacking piece?

The winning move here is so blatant that I’m ashamed to even post this particular example, but I want to emphasize my mind and body’s state to the reader. Under normal circumstances, I would have hopped on this move and frankly, subliminally, this is what I was playing for. However, I decide to play for an “easy-out” and lazily play 14.gxf3. I’m not even going to tell you what the right move is, because you saw it before you even started reading my follow up for the diagram.

So, what do I do from here? Hmmm…hey, here is an idea! No more afternoon lattes! And, get this, how about getting some sleep the night before and…and…uhm...get back to my afternoon work-outs at the local gym where I’m a member! It’s the only way to void my eyes with this double vision.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

2009 Eastern Class Championships

This event was held at the Host Hotel in Sturbridge, MA and was my first major chess event of the year. If you recall from an earlier post last year, I did not have many good things to say about the Host Hotel's accommodations. Needless to say, I spent my nights at the Hampden Hotel down the street for less money and much cleaner rooms! But, I must admit, there is something to be said about having a room on the premises that hosts the event. The first thing that comes to mind; a place to immediately retire to and rest. Perhaps go over your game in private and if you own Chessbase, enter your game for immediate analysis. Having a room a few minutes down the road does not easily translate to such niceties, something for me to think about when the Continental Open comes to town.

The Eastern Class Championships, put on by the CCA, is a popular event here in the Northeast with a relatively strong turnout. What is attractive about this specific event is how the sections are categorized per class. Most of your opponents sitting across the board are of comparative chess skill and strength. I entered the "Class C" section with a current published rating of 1472, which had about 30 entrants.

Playing the 3 day cycle versus two days is my preferred choice. Playing in a tournament where you begin with shortened move/time controls only to be assimilated into longer time controls in later rounds is hard to adjust too and, quite frankly, puts you at a mental disadvantage.

This tournament drew in a lot of players from my club which always adds a little social flare to the event. Personally, I had a good tournament. I finished 3.0/5, but my play was better than my score. Here is how it went down:

Round 1: I am Black and draw Walter Chesnut(1583) as my opponent. Walter is a strong player and probably more of a chess fiend than me. Why do I say this? Well, I arrived at our board first and had pretty much everything set up when he finally arrives and says, "I have these," as he opens up a box to reveal a beautifully hand carved wooden set produced by the House of Staunton; total cost, $1500.00 plus. Hey, who am I to argue with that? I said sure and got the opportunity to play with a very nice set indeed. As for the game, the line was a classical King's Indian Defense and it was a good solid game played well by both sides that ended in a draw after White's 28th move. Walter offered the draw after realizing the position to be equal, but moreover, knowing that if he was to forfeit a tempo move my way, I could come crashing down his King side with a violent attack. Of course the same could be said of me, if I were to allow White to get in one additional move on the Queen side without proper defensive measures on my part, he could have torn up that side of the board. Walter goes on to finish in a tie for second place with a score of 4.0/5.

Round 2: I'm due White and draw William Phelps(1488) from Maine, an older gentleman with a friendly demeanor. William decides to play the French Defense...I strongly dislike this defense. I find it rather boring and stodgy and rarely play into any of the "French" variations. I decided to play against this lack luster defense with something rather conservative as well; the KIA. I've always had good results against French players with the KIA. I finish this game with a strong victory which is rather reminiscent of a game I played against a fellow club player a few months ago. William finishes with a respectable 3.0/5.

Round 3: I am paired up against Greg Gelsomino(1483) from New York. Greg opens with 1.e4 that leads to a Closed Sicilian opening. Of all my games at this event, this game was perhaps the most un-interesting. I felt that my opponent was playing for a draw, exchanging pieces whenever opportunity presented itself. Of course, perhaps he just didn't see any better moves, in any case, I couldn't find any thing interesting myself to complicate the position to prevent these sort of exchanges. In the end, this game ends up in a draw, nothing much else to say about this one. Greg goes on to finish 3.0/5.

Round 4: This game was my most exciting game of the tournament and wraps up a strong win. For your viewing pleasure, I offer annotations of this particular game. Enjoy!

Smith,Warner (1553) - Sifter,Thomas (1528)
[B87] Sicilian Najorf/Fischer Attack
Eastern Class Championships Sturbridge, MA

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3
The Fischer Attack is my choice of weapon when facing the Sicilian Najdorf. White focuses on attacking the center; specifically targeting Black's pawn on e6. If Black does not play accurately, White may sacrifice his light colored Bishop on e6 to open up a strong attack with his Knight on d4 leading the way.

Black's usual reply, however, 7...Nbd7 has become quite popular where Black has been able to obtain some promising positions.


Usually, White castles here, but I like to mix it up once in a while and play the strong Qf3! as soon as I can. The plan is two-fold; first if Black fails to play either 8...Bb7 or 8...Qc7, then White has the strong 9.e5! The follow up for White's Queen is to eventually play Qg3 after Black decides to castle King side.

I like this move for Black as he safeguards against White's play for an immediate 9. e5 push where Black would then just play 9...Be7. By playing Qc7, Black leaves his Bishop to protect the weak pawn on e6.

To prevent Black from "kicking" my Knight off of c3 and to provide an escape route for the light colored Bishop.

9...Be7 10.Be3 0–0 11.0–0 Re8

After this move, I got the warm and internal mechanism that soothes the chess soul with dreams of winning combinations. Not that this move by Black is bad, but it was just one of those moves where I felt the tide was about to change in my favor. The one draw back with this move is that it does take away an important escape route for Black's Knight on f6.

Putting a heavy emphasis on Black's ability to play very accurate. Should Black make a move to remove the Bishop guard to e6, white comes in fast with a Bishop sacrifice. For example, 12...Nbd7? 13.Bxe6! If Black plays 13...fxe6?? 14.Nxe6 Nh5 15.Nxc7 Nxg3 16.fxg3 Bb7 17.Nxa8 Bxa8 +-

Now that White's Queen has moved to g3, Black can now play Nc6.

13.f4 Nxd4
Black plays to remove some tension in the center.

14.Bxd4 Bd7?!
I found this move quite interesting and in White's favor. The problem with this move is Black has taken away the last viable retreat square for his Knight on f6. And as we will soon see, Black is left scrapping to maintain some sort of equalized position with White. Personally, I like the very Najdorf like move 14...Bb7 for Black.


There is no other move to consider here. Black will have to move his Knight off of the important f6 square and give way to White's play for this very important square. White's desire for f6 involves placing his own Knight on f6 for a very strong King attack.

15...dxe5 16.fxe5 Bc5
Black is reaching; hoping that White will play 17.exf6? Unfortunately, White has time and position, so he is not concerned with the up-coming lack-luster check on his King. If White did play 17.exf6? then 17...Bxd4+ 18.Kh1 Qxg3 19.hxg3 Bxf6 =+

17.Bxc5 Qxc5+
I couldn't have planned it any better; this move order by Black plays directly into Whites desire to bring his Knight into play and eventually to f6!

18.Kh1 Nd5 19.Ne4!

Maintaining tempo over Black and forcing his Queen to move, White will play to rid Black's guard to f6 and then follow up with Nf6!

This move just loses for Black and as we shall see, two moves later Black resigns.

20.Bxd5! exd5 21.Nf6+! 1–0

Thomas goes on to finish at 3.0/5.

As for Round 5: I'm due Black and I'm paired up against a young adolescent, Joshua Abady(1393). Now I lost this game and I'm giving Joshua his due, he played a well thought out game and pretty much won his game against me hands down. But one thing I've learned about myself in these tournaments: Always put in for a bye on the final round! Fact of the matter is, after playing in these weekend long tournaments, by the time the final round rolls around in the late part of a Sunday afternoon, my mental state is just less than sharp. And, of course, having more than an few hours of down time before the last round leads to boredom and dull senses.

Needless to say, I wasn't mentally in this game from the start. I rushed my analysis short of critical lines and didn't take my opponent seriously. Thus, I deserved what I got. Joshua, with this win, ties for second place in our section with a 4.0/5 score. This game did leave me with some exciting analysis to review and will be the subject of my next blog.