February 2010


It’s a third time I played Anglo-Grunfeld OTB, second in the last 3 games. I lost the first 2 games, but not in the opening, so I tried again. This time I won, here is the game. My opponent was rated 340 lower than me, but the game wasn’t easy. He was OK in the opening, then on 15th move he made a mistake allowing me to weaken his kingside. I tried to use that weakness, spending a lot of time, but he put up a pretty good resistance. On move 21 I sacrificed a pawn, keeping the attack tempo, but he didn’t accept it,  Fritz is OK with this sac.  On move 28 he could use the unstable position of my knight, but he didn’t see it. In the end we had 22-23 minutes each,  it was going tough and I wasn’t sure at all that I will win. But he made a mistake, then another – decisive one, and a little combination finished the game.

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Yesterday GM Alexei Shirov visited our club and gave a simultaneous exhibition.
Just to remind you that he was number four in the world in 1998  and twice reached the final of the world chess championship (his match with Kasparov didn’t happen and he lost to Anand in FIDE championship).  I also remember him getting into World Cup final in 2007 and he played very well recently in Corus,  getting the second place.

I prepared to play Black and knowing that he likes Ruy Lopez, wanted to play the Marshall attack, though I found that he plays the line I almost never played. But in the club I saw that he allowed half of the players to play White and decided to take White.

I got my Ruy (here is the game) and played the quiet d3, c3 line which has pretty good stats by the way.  After the black-colored bishops were exchanged he offered to exchange the white-colored too, but I decided to avoid it,  not wanting to get too simple, completely symmetrical position. We exchanged them eventually and I suspected that he wants to overplay me in the endgame, having a better pawn structure.  I managed to get some initiative and Fritz thinks that by playing 27. Nd6 I could get 0.73 advantage.

Generally speaking I felt like on some quiet island, separated by ledges from the storming ocean.  On my left, Shirov initiated a series of heavy blows.  After  a few moves he had an exchange for 2 pawns,  my neighbor tried to counter and finally the game ended in a draw, as I learned later. On my right I saw Shirov’s rock hanging on h6 (with the black king on g7) and it looked like taking it was leading to a mate. The guy didn’t take it, but got mated anyway.

But my quiet existence finished too, as there only a few people left standing and Shirov started to come to my board pretty fast,  it became almost a blitz. Right at that time he played 33… g4, and I could get an advantage just by taking the pawn. But I hesitated and we went into N vs. N endgame where he could get some advantage by playing 39… Nd6 instead of 39…. c5.  I managed to counteract his threats and suddenly I heard him saying: “I offer you a draw”.  Of course I agreed. That was a really happy moment.  I asked him to write something on my scoring sheet, a few words and he wrote in Russian (he knew that I am from Russia) – “Congratulations on a good play!” and signed it. Then after all the games finished I was able to talk to him in Russian together with my friend and some other guy. He was really nice answering our questions and keeping the conversation. Then the organizer announced the result: +17, =6, -2. Taking into account a very strong playing field this result was very good. But it wasn’t all, as the organizer said that Shirov offered players to go over their games in his hotel (the club was closing), which was 5 minutes drive away. Of course I couldn’t miss it.

So,  let’s say you are a singer. Can you imagine a rock star sitting at the table in the bar with you and a few other fellow singers (there were 3 other guys besides me), drinking beer and talking about your songs and rock in general?  That’s how I felt,  sitting across super-GM,  chatting and drinking my “Molson Canadian” – truly amazing.  Shirov was very friendly and relaxed.  First one guy went over his opening,  closed Ruy and Shirov showed his erudition, throwing lines and mentioning the games where these lines were played.  Then we went through my game and the level of his analysis was very high.  He saw the better moves right away and was critical of some of his own moves, especially 33… g4. He basically found everything what Fritz found later.

After spending almost an hour I had to leave, they were still looking at the next game.  I am still under huge impression of his personality, both as a chess player and a human.

I just got a nice photo, here it is. It’s right after simul ended, I am on the right, in a blue shirt, on the left my friend from work, also playing chess and in the middle – GM Alexei Shirov.

After simul with Shirov
Copyright 2010 by the photographer David Cohen.

I played in the last round yesterday and it was as bad as all the tournament.  First I didn’t even want to post this game, but then thought – what the hell,  maybe somebody will tell me what is wrong with me.
I slept less than 5 hours before that day and I think it affected the second half of the game, when I wasn’t thinking clearly under position/time pressure, but I can’t write off everything on that.
I was Black and played with that guy half a year ago:
https://rollingpawns.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/french-tarrasch-spoiling-for-a-fight convincingly beating him. It was one of my best games and this one is one of the worst. Here is the game.
He starts 1. c4, I answer Nf6, then after 2. e3 I realize that  I can’t play my Benko,  so I play kind of Grunfeld. I feel good after the opening, he makes a strange move 15. Kf2,  so I decide to exploit the position of his king.
It seems me that I can win a pawn after 22… Qxg4 23. hxg4 Bxd4 24. exd4 e3, but I delay it, not wanting to exchange queens. Fritz says, that the combination is wrong.
I miss a good move 24… Qd7, which would give me a pawn and a clear advantage.  His 34. d5 is unexpected and intercepts the initiative, though actually only leads to equal position.  But I am on the wrong foot and allow his queen to penetrate into my territory.  I hate these positions, with my king on the open, and here under time pressure – I have less that 15 minutes vs. his 50, I finally make a mistake, lose a pawn and on the next move make another, horrific mistake, which I noticed only at home, allowing him to make a skewer in 2 moves and win my queen. He doesn’t see it, but my position gets worse anyway.  I make a desperate attempt to counterattack, getting close to his king, it’s already blitz for me.  It ends up with me losing material and getting into lost queen endgame with him having 2 extra pawns. I play until he forces exchange of the queens, leaving him with 2 pawns, one of which queens. I resign with my flag almost falling.
I finish the tournament on -2 and will lose more than 50 rating points, that will bring my rating below 1800.

The words in the title belong to Vladimir Kramnik,  who said that about one of his games during Dortmund 2009.
Yesterday I played with the same old guy that I played the first game in this club 4 months ago:
This game was a reversal of the first one: he played known lines, had pressure and missed the combination winning a pawn. So, Kramnik’s words here don’t mean the final position, but just all of the above, also time.  I was White, French, Tarrasch, 3…c5, here is the game.  He didn’t go for the line Karpov and Korchnoi played – 4. exd5 exd5 with isolated pawn, instead – 4…Qxd5.
I remembered only first 7 moves, then had to play on my own.
He played that line with White a year ago, so was more familiar.
The queens got exchanged pretty soon.  I missed the point where I could get the initiative due to a few passive moves that he made.  Soon I got under pressure and we both missed 25. … Bxf2+, where he was winning a pawn.  He had more time than me right from the opening, then difference increased, so we had at some moment something like 30 vs. 55 minutes. I managed finally to get a position with  R+N vs. R+N, where I had 2 pawns vs. 1 on queenside and 3 vs. 4 on kingside. I didn’t hurry to create a passed pawn because I thought it can be weak due to a presence of his king and can be lost. Some kind of dynamic equilibrium arised, he offered draw when I had 15 minutes vs. his 30, I agreed. Fritz offered 42. c5, then moving passed pawn, but in a few shootouts I ran between Fritz and Crafty this pawn was eventually lost and all the games ended in a draw.
I was pretty happy with the result, especially taking into account how bad I am playing in this tournament.