Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Most Interesting Satisfaction

A while back, when blogging about the 78th Massachusetts Open, I had mentioned that I submitted my last game of the tournament to MACA for their "Most Interesting Game" competition.

Well, last week the news came to me via the VP of MACA, Ken Ballou, that I had won the U1600 Section's "Most Interesting Game". You can read about the announcements posted June 23rd here.

Now, I have to admit, when Ken told me the news, I was filled with a certain joy immediately followed by a most interesting feeling of satisfaction. And why is that? Well, frankly, because I didn't have the great tournament I had hoped for; like most chess players when they don't accomplish a winning finish, feel cheated by their own means of preparation and play. In other words, I had let myself down.

So, in the final round of that tournament, I went into the game with a vengeance and determination to succeed at a level of play that I could be proud of. When the dust had settled, I came out victorious, and interestingly enough, I believed I had a game with a certain edge so to speak, worthy of submitting to MACA for their "Most Interesting Game" competition.

Thus, as you might understand, winning this particular prize under the scrutinous eyes of GM Bisguier, helped fill that void of personal "let down" with pride and satisfaction. It was an interesting satisfaction, knowing that my game was worthy of note in the eyes of a GM.

And so, I present to you here, the most interesting game in the U1600 section. It was round five of the tournament, but for all intents and purposes, it would be my final round of the tournament, as I had put in for a last round bye. I was due Black and paired against the highest rated player of our section, Eduardo Valadares, whom like myself, was not having a great tournament leading into this particular game.

Valadares,Eduardo (1580)
Smith,Warner (1579)
[B92] Sicilian Najdorf
78th Massachusetts Open
Boxborough MA (5), 25.05.2009

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2
My opponent opts for the non-confrontational line. Of all the lines to challenge the Najdorf, this one is the most conservative. 6.Be2 is a relaxed approach for White and is not doused with the complexities that other variations entail.

I believe that the best way to challenge a Najdorf player is with 6.Be3 or the notorious 6.Bg5. Of course, in order to do so, White has to know his theory pretty well going into these lines and all the complex nuances that arise from these variations.

e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Be3 Be6 9.Qd2 Nc6

9...Nbd7 or 9...0-0 are the more accurate moves to consider in lieu 9...Nc6, a move that is rarely played in this line; the only reason I played this move was to simply put a few ripples into the opening lines that my opponent may be familiar with.

10.0–0 0–0 11.a3
This is purely a prophylactic move by White to take away any intent of Black's Knight landing on g4.

11...Rc8 12.f3 Qc7

In the Najdorf, one of Black's goals is to play for d5! At this juncture in the game, I spent about 10 minutes deciding whether or not to push 12...d5. I saw the following line:

[12...d5 13.exd5 Nxd5 14.Nxd5 Bxd5 15.Rad1 Bxb3 16.cxb3]

The position opens up rather nicely and Black gains a superior pawn structure to White's doubled pawns along the c-file. But in an open game, I didn't like the prospect of granting White the bishop pair.

In the final analysis, I felt the evaluation was neutral and so, I played the less accurate move Qc7 to fend against White's push for f4 and threatening the stability of Black's pawn on e5.

13.Rac1 Na5 14.Nxa5 Qxa5 15.g4 h6 16.h4 Qc7 17.g5 hxg5 18.Bxg5 Qb6+

There is a lot happening here in the last six moves. First, at this stage of the game, I began to focus on a queen-side attack. So, in order to get things rolling, I needed to alleviate White of some of his defenses on that side of the board; provoke him and see where he decides to focus. I did this with 13...Na5, intending to penetrate White's defenses.

Naturally, White did not like the idea of Black's Knight coming to c4 or attacking his Knight on b3, forcing White to double up on his pawns. So, White decides to nip the threat immediately by taking the Knight on a5, bringing Black's Queen into play on this side of the board.

White follows up his play with 15.g4, which I found very interesting. It was a move that began sounding bells in my head. Both alarming, as White clearly makes his intent to attack swiftly on the King side, and opportunistic as I felt I could take advantage of the weakened squares around White's King and his backward pawn on f3.

My first priority was to address the oncoming attack and played h6 to prevent White from kicking my knight away from defending that part of the board and bring in some reinforcements with Qc7.

All this time, I knew that if White clearly intends on following up with a brute-force king-side attack, his dark colored bishop would have to come into play and leave the important g1-a7 diagonal. Something I was keeping my eye on as a spring board towards another attack on his queen-side, as is evident with the following: 17.g5 hxg5 18.Bxg5 Qb6+

White would have been better with 18.hxg5 versus taking the pawn with his Bishop. With 18.Bxh5, I took advantage of White's open diagonal to play out the check with the idea of seeking a positional advantage to use as leverage against White's ambitious plans. Initially, I intended to play for a slight material advantage, but as we'll soon see, I played for the positional advantage instead, and one that proved to overcome and defeat White's play!

19.Be3 Qxb2 20.Na4 Qa2 21.Bd3

When I played 19...Qxb2, I knew that my Queen had an out with an eventual follow up move of Bh3 and according to Rybka, that would be the most accurate play. However, I began to entertain the idea of having an extra minor piece on the board with open f/g files for my Rooks to use as I press for a passed pawn on the queen-side.

Hard to see right now I suppose, but I did take 15 minutes to consider the option and the positions on the board that would arise with a Queen sacrifice. I believed White's position on the king-side to be compromised and has a certain vulnerability on the queen-side, White would be stretched to fight on both sides of the board.

My King's defenses were strong enough to withstand an immediate attack and with White having a compromised king-side and a barren queen-side, I had this gut feeling that having more pieces on the board than White would play to Black's advantage, especially if I could gain a passed pawn on the queen-side of the board.

So, I played 21...b5?! with the intent of sacrificing my Queen. If White chooses to play 22.Nc3, well then Black is just winning on the material side of things with 22...Qxa3!

21...b5 22.Ra1 Qxa1 23.Rxa1 bxa4 24.Bxa6 Rb8 25.Bg5 Rb6 26.Bd3 Rb2 27.Qg2 Rfb8

This is the position I saw on the queen-side of the board when I was contemplating the Queen sacrifice. Moreover, as I had suspected in my analysis on the king-side of the board, White's attack does not have enough to penetrate Black's defenses and his King is vulnerable to Rook and Bishop attacks.

Also, White will have to bring his Rook into king-side play to seriously contend for a mating attack and/or guard against antagonistic back rank checks by Black's Rooks. This would leave White with an unattended a-pawn, thus granting Black the strong possibility of a passed pawn.

Black, doubling up his Rooks, intends to gain himself that passed pawn!

Personally, I think White would have done better to keep his Queen on the queen-side of the board. His move, 27.Qg2, was not a good move. White should have played his Queen to either 1)Eliminate Black's a-pawn and/or 2)Pressure Black's Rook on the 2nd rank to leave.

With this move White loses equality and just hands the passed pawn over to Black.

28...Ra2 29.h5 Bd8
With the oncoming attack, I'll need to neutralize it with a Knight move for defending purposes. In order to do so, I need to offer my Bishop some back up, otherwise I lose it!

30.h6 g6 31.Qh2 Nh5

White's stubbornness to continue with a blunt king-side attack will be his demise. His Queen really needs to help out the other side of the board. Better for White would be something like 31.Qd2. A little more finesse by White and the game wouldn't be such an easy task for Black. He's making Black's Queen sacrifice look like a brilliant play for the ages, when in fact the sacrifice was rather dubious and purely played for a slight positional advantage.

I did see 31...Bg6+, but I didn't like the feeling of having White's dark colored Bishop hanging out at the front door of my King, so I wanted the exchange and played Nh5 straight away.

32.Bxd8 Rxd8 33.Qh4 f6 34.Rd1 Rxa3 35.Rd2 Kh7

In this series of moves, I got the bishop exchange I wanted. Frankly, the less pieces White has on the board, the better off my King is. After the exchange, I wanted to grab White's a-pawn which would add pressure to his play. I also needed to get my King over to the key h7 square to help lock up my defenses against White's blunt attack.

At this stage of the game, I think White has lost his opportunity to equalize and is now fighting for survival.

White's concentration has been lost. This move allows Black to bring the fight to White's King while still pressing along the a-file with his passed pawn. Should Black queen his pawn, its lights out for White.

21...Rxf3 37.Bg2? Rg3!
Another bad move by White that enables Black to pin the bishop and keep White's Queen in a "box". It's just a matter of time now before White meets his fate with other fallen Kings.

38.Rf2 Rg4 39.Qh2 Rb8 40.Kf1 a3 41.Bf3?

This move loses by force. There is nothing that White can do now to prevent Black's a-pawn from reaching his destination. A few moves later and White resigns.

Bc4+ 42.Ke1 Rb1+ 43.Kd2 a2 44.Bxg4 a1Q 45.Qh3 Qd4+
A few checks to coordinate pieces and draw White's King out for a mating attack seals the win.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Taking On A New Look...

In the world of chess, things are going quite well. I'm winning prize money here and there and I'm moving up the rating ladder. After this month, I'll officially become a "Class B" player.

So, I thought that with an upward change in rating and status, I'd streamline the look and feel of my blog. I like the minima templates, but the color schemes are rather hum-drum and the one that I like, BLACK, is widely used by other chess bloggers.

So, I downloaded the white minima template, changed a few colors and switched certain fonts. I like the new look; the "Rounders" template was rather remedial for my taste.

What do you think of the new look?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

MCC Summer Solstice Swiss: Round 3

It's round three at the club and I'm leading the U1600 section with two straight wins.

In round 3, I'm paired up with Jenshiang Hong, a very strong U1600 player who just recently swept the U1700 section last month with four straight wins.

Jenshiang and I have played twice before and our series was even before this game; Jenshiang winning the last time we played. Here is the rubber match game...enjoy!

Hong,Jenshiang (1454)
Smith,Warner (1562)
[B26] Closed Sicilian
MCC Summer Solstice Swiss Natick MA (3), 16.06.2009

Going into this game as Black against Jenshiang Hong, I knew that I would face his favorite opening; the Closed Sicilian. With that knowledge, I planned to attack swiftly on his Queenside, play 5...e6 versus my usual ...e5, wait to develop my Queenside Knight until White plays f4 and play to eliminate his Knights quickly or at the very least, keep them contained.

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d3 e6
As a Najdorf player, I tend to play e5 in almost all forms of Sicilian openings I play. But this time, I ventured for e6. Why, well, I wanted to give my fianchetto bishop the ability to apply immediate pressure in the early stages of the game. Moreover, this pawn move helps to eliminate any prospective Knight from entertaining an outpost on d5.

6.Be3 d6 7.Qd2 Rb8 8.Nge2 b5

All book up to here. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to play quick and fast on the Queenside, keeping White pre-occupied and away from his main goal: a kingside pawn storm.

I was expecting 9. d4 and was ready to play out the following line:
[9...b4 10.Nd1 Qb6 11.dxc5 dxc5 12.Nc1 Ba6]

White castling on move 9 was not his best move. Ignoring Black's Queenside intent at this juncture only gives Black the tempo he's been looking for. By playing ...b4, I'm sticking to plan and keeping White's Knights off their "horse shoes" so to speak.

10.Nd1 Nd4
I'm going after his Knights. In the Closed Sicilian, Knights tend to have stronger prospects than Bishops due to the locked pawn centers that naturally arise in this sort of opening. If White decides to exchange my Knight for his Bishop, I'm OK with that too. Such an exchange makes the ever wanting move of f4 weaker; exposing White's King to a weak g1–a7 diagonal.

11.Nc1 a5 12.c3 Nc6
White may see the Knight reatreat as a moral victory, but I had planned for its retreat the moment I played Nd4. My plans are still in place and succeeding, I'm pushing Queenside and White has been removed from focusing on a king side attack.


I've been waiting for this move; the plan? Develop my Queen Knight to e7 and if White decides to follow up with g4 in the near future, I'll respond with ...f5!

13...Nge7 14.Ne2 0–0
Now that my fianchetto bishop is safe from the prospect of White playing Bh6, I can finally castle.

I expected this move earlier, but certainly not now. This move gives Black exactly what he's been striving for; active Queenside play and as we'll soon see, White's fortunes on the King side never come to fruition after this move.

15...bxc3 16.bxc3 cxd4 17.cxd4 Ba6

This is beautiful! I've got open files for my Rooks and I've corralled one of White's Knights with a pin while the other sits on the back rank grazing. I'll of course exchange an inferior Bishop for a stronger Knight anytime.

18.Re1 Bxe2 19.Rxe2 Rb4
A natural Rook lift to add pressure on White's weakened d5 pawn.

20.e5 dxe5 21.dxe5 Nd4 22.Bxd4 Rxd4

My Knight on d4 was strong enough to force White into an exchange, thus giving up the g1–a7 diagonal. Black will make immediate use of this diagonal as he begins an antagonistic crusade against White's vulnerable Queen.

23.Qc2 Qb6 24.Nf2
This move sends White's Knight into permanent sleep for the remainder of the game.

Black has domination along all open files and the important g1–a7 diagonal. It's only a matter of time now.

25.Qb3 Rb4 26.Qd3 Rd8 27.Qc2
White's Queen is under continuous bombardment and is forced into constant retreat and protective modes. With this move, Black is able to keep tempo while improving his position and exerting more pressure in the center of the board with 27...Nf5!

28.Qc6? Qa7?!

Naturally, White wants to exchange Queens at this point in the game, but the move 28.Qc6 is just plain bad for White. I immediately saw the following line:

[28...Nd4 29.Qxb6 Nxe2+ 30.Kf1 Rxb6 31.Kxe2 Rb2+ 32.Ke3 Rdd2]

In retrospect, I should have probably played this line out, after all, it is the most accurate play and Black gains a material advantage as well as having a stronger position.

So why did I play 28...Qa7? Basically I liked my Queen; she's quite active and applying a lot of pressure, whereas White's Queen is purely in defensive mode. Secondly, I liked keeping the Knight pinned and I don't believe that White can spare the tempo moving his King from the pin at this juncture. Finally, I truly believed that if I gave my opponent enough rope, he would eventually find a way to trip over it, granting me an opportunity to gain a larger material advantage than what was readily available to me at the time.

That's what makes this game so endearing, it's not always about the most accurate or computer generated lines the creates the "art of chess"; sometimes it's about gut feelings and playing out those emotions.

29.Qc3 Rbd4
Rooks are locked and loaded to continue antagonizing White's Queen, but more importantly, it makes White's attempt to unpin his Knight a little more tricky.

30.Qb3 Bf8
Perfect time to get Black's Bishop active and into the game. The plan is to play for Bc5 and free up the Queen from "Pin" duty.


Ooops, my opponent just tripped over that rope. By playing 31...Rb4! White pretty much loses his Queen. His best play is to take the Rook on b4. Should White try and save his Queen with something like 32.Qc2, then Black would follow with:

32...Nd4 33.Rxb4 Bxb4 34.Rd2 Nxc2 35.Rxd8+ Kg7 36.Rc8 Bc5!

After move 31, my opponent gracefully resigned. 0 -1

Friday, June 12, 2009

To Honor And Reflect

The Metrowest Chess Club has been around for 25+ years now, and during its early years the club had its obligatory club champions. But the process was quite informal and in some cases the legitimacy of a club champion was questioned by the membership. There were no formal processes in place to govern an undisputed club championship event and eventually the club dropped the idea of having a club champion.

Move the clock ahead to 2003. The club had reinvented itself, designating various program positions within the organization. It was at this time, when the club’s Tournament Director, Jim Krycka, took it upon himself to put into motion a solid format to govern a Club Championship and thus bring legitimacy to the “crowning” of a Club Champion.

Since that time, the club has crowned three distinct Club Champions: GM Alexander Ivanov, IM Igor Foygel and NM Denys Shmelov.

I believe the club does a fantastic job of organizing and putting to affect a great championship event. They work hard to make the invitational event special and prestigious with little things like special name tags with the player's photo, money and a dedicated write up to the club's newsletter.

One idea that I would like to put forward on the table would be to provide some sort of means to help solidify the recognition that is due to a newly minted Club Champion. Something that is permanent and seals the recognition in a historical sense.

By providing something permanent, we enable our future club champions the ability to reflect upon and recall the glory of such an achievement. There could be the possibility of plaques or wall hangings at the club to honor our club champions. With a permenant designation on display, we bring about a little more vitality, a credible history and an ability to reflect. Both for the club and for the club champion.

For my part, I am still in the process of retrieving records of those games played from our most recent club championship event. I believe that the preservation and recording of these games into the club's archive directory is one of many key elements necessary in maintaining a historical perspective of club championships and adding an enduring legacy vital to the club's perseverance.

Going forward, I would like to persuade the membership in providing a “Certificate of Excellence” or achievement for our current and future club champions to be.

All just ideas right now; but in any case, for my part, in recognition of MCC Club Champions, past and present, I plan to present a 3 part series in honor of our champions in future blogs to come, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Blog's Worth

Why do we blog? Of course, there are several answers to this question, but one common theme; our passion to speak publicly about the things we love or concern us.

Now, obviously I love chess and am very passionate about the game. I believe I have the necessary skills to communicate this passion publicly and through a medium such as this. So here I am blogging about the game I love.

But, what good is a blog if you can’t trigger new readership and build up a following of faithful readers? There is no good at all, you need to have the ability to at least maintain some sort of faithful readership, otherwise your blog is just lost out there in a multitude of e-clouds.

So, how do we trigger readership to initiate a following? Blog…blog and blog! You have to blog consistently and to some sort of time mechanism. Moreover, your blog should carry on common themes of discussions and/or interests. A mixed bag of interests and personal observations do well as long as the reader can identify in you, the blogger, a common trait, principle or interest. Otherwise, your readers will eventually jump ship.

You say consistency eh? Yea…it has to be that way; or the effort (or lack of) you put into blogging fails. A good consistency rate for blogging successfully varies, but you should at least maintain a monthly post minimally to assure readers of your blog that fresh material is on the way witihn a dependable time frame.

Personally, I shoot for two posts a month; anything more is just pure bonus material for my readers. If there comes a time where I begin to fail by providing fresh material on a monthly basis, then it will be time to retire the blog or at the very least notify my readers that I will be entering a state of inactivity and to watch for a return at such and such a time.

Yes, I know, we get busy; we have work, travel, friends, family etc. But truth be told, engaging in your passions is necessary in keeping a healthy, successful and happy life. It is those passions that peak interest in us from others that makes their world colorful and inviting. If you decide to blog about your passion, finding a few minutes over the course of a month to write about it shouldn’t be an inconvenience, it should be satisfying.

Supporting Local Chess: WCC

Waltham Chess Club Wants You!

The Waltham Chess Club is looking for chess players to come join them on Friday Nights. The club is located at 404 Wyman St. in Waltham Massachusetts and their doors are open to the public at 7:00pm. Rounds usually begin around 7:30pm.

So, if you're a chess enthusiast, pro or beginner, come on down and support your local chess club. You can visit them here at Tell them Smitty sent you.

And per the request of organizers at the Waltham Chess Club, this blog will now support a link to their site.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


No one rejoices more in revenge than a chess player vexed by the over confident King sitting opposite him.
~ Warner Smith

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What looks like an hourglass? Alex.

With a new month comes a new tourney at the local club (Metrowest Chess Club), and for the month of June it is appropriately named the “MCC Summer Solstice Swiss”. Because the club generally attracts 80+ players in a given month, we cater to a standard of 4 section breaks: Open, U2000, U1600 and U1400.

Our third tier section (U1600) fluctuates from month to month between a U1600 break to a U1700 break. Those months where the section break is set to U1700, player participation in this section goes up versus when the section is set to U1600, but at the cost of player participation in the U2000 section, albeit not too much.

Lately our sections look like an hourglass, our top and bottom sections have been “heavy”, whereas our middle two sections fluctuate between medium to light player participation dependent on the 3rd tier’s break.

As for our bottom tier, the reason for such heavy participation is due to a continuous growth of new players to the club on a monthly basis and the lack of player turnaround, i.e. loss of players. Our new players are sticking around and that is good, but not enough of our U1400 players are improving in a timely fashion or getting up the courage to move up a section to offset this particular section’s growth rate.

And, to illustrate recent section breakdowns, here are some numbers:

MCC Swiss w/ U1600 Section

Open Section: 22 players
U200 Section: 17 players
U1600 Section: 8 players
U1400 Section: 26 players

MCC Swiss w/ U1700 Section

Open Section: 22 players
U2000 Section: 15 players
U1700 Section: 15 players
U1400 Section: 25 players

This trend has been somewhat consistent of late and would appear that when our section break for our third tier is set to U1700, player participation among the sections are more evenly dispersed versus when the tier break is set to U1600.

My current thoughts to remedy this trend would be to either keep the section breaks static right now with the third tier break staying at U1700 or if we are to stay with a flux tier model then that flux should apply to both bottom tiers. When we have a U1700 break, our lowest tier will break at U1400, but when we have a U1600 tier; our bottom tier should break at U1300.

I like the flux model and I think that if we impose a flux break for our lowest tier, it will actually help some of our lower rated players improve at a faster rate, exposing them to the better play of higher rated players.