Monday, 10 December 2012

2012 MCC Cup Weekender

by Andrew

This year's MCC Cup Weekender was held from the 2nd-6th of November, and had a pretty strong field, with 4 IMs, one IM-elect (with a GM norm), and 2 FMs playing. There was also a number of strong non-titled players; most notably New Zealand Olympic Representative Luke Li (2256), and strong Victorian junior Justin Tan (2250).

Rounds 1-3

Before going to this tournament I'd had an enormous amount of uni assessment to wade through, and during it I had much still to go. Between each of the first 3 rounds I tried in vain to do a bit of study, and my chess suffered. I had made it to 2/2, yet my first three games were riddled with mistakes - the third round game against top seed IM Stephen Solomon, being an absolute disaster. Having confused two different opening ideas, I created huge weaknesses on my queenside early on - though it was not even that which lost me the game. Solo capitalised on my awkward development by playing a quick f4, f5, g4, and I sadly had to allow my bishop to be trapped on h8, as g5 and f6 were more or less unstoppable.

After 16...Bh8. The rest of the game wasn't much fun.

From then on I was basically playing a piece down, and had to give it up later. I had tried for a couple of tricks in the ending, as you do, but Solo was never in danger of letting me snatch half a point.

From this point on my tournament went remarkably well, as I put my uni work aside (wasn't getting anywhere anyway) and focused on the chess. Life lesson learned: never put uni before chess never bring uni work to, or attempt to study at, a chess tournament. Both will suffer horrible fates.

Rounds 4 and 5

In Round four I played Thai Ly (2008) as White. My opponent arrived 20 minutes late to the game, and unfortunately did not know the sharp line of the Botvinnik that I played, so had to spend mcuh more time figuring out what to do. I held a comfortable advantage into the middle game and my opponent missed an interesting exchange sacrifice that might have lead to equality. Instead I won two pawns, and seeing that his only way to develop was to sacrifice more material he resigned.

In Round 5, I played Ari Dale (2161), a strong and up-and-coming Victorian junior; so I knew I would be in for a pretty tough game from the start. Ari played an interesting variation of the Queen's Indian that I had not come across before (novelty?) and I was unable to find any decent plan to push for an advantage. He equalised quite comfortable and was probably slightly better for a portion of the game. Pieces were swapped off, and we reached a Q+R vs. Q+R endgame which was most likely just drawn. However, after a couple of moves were repeated, Ari played on for a win, allowing a queen swap. However after the queen swap it was really only me who could win, and I able to get two, and later three, passed pawns on the queenside. However Ari fought on and I had to work hard to fend off threats of checkmate and perpetual check which I was being faced with left, right and centre. In the end I was able to consolidate and my passed pawns prevailed.

Rounds 6 and 7

So after some degree of turbulence, I had made it to 4/5 and was paired as Black against the leader (on 5/5!) IM-elect Max Illingworth (2394), who had just made his debut as a member of the Australian Olympic Team. The opening was a Maroczy Bind variation of the Accelerated Dragon. This is a rather solid opening and I thought I would stand a better chance with this than I did last year with my Sveshnikov. We got into a queenless middlegame after 15 moves, and the game (I would later find out) had followed theory until then. At one stage I made an interesting decision to swap off my dark-squared bishop for his knight in order to give my knight good prospects. This worked out pretty well, and the position gradually went from equal to slightly better for me. Finally we got into a R+B vs R+B endgame where my pawns were on better sqaures and I had a slight advantage. However I was short of time and misplayed it initially, allowing him to take the initiative. Before long we swapped off bishops and I ended up with an extra pawn, and a position that should have been winning. One or two moves away from promoting, I made a horrible blunder which lead to a draw. (See below.)

Here I suddenly forgot what the difference between pushing my f-pawn and pushing my e-pawn was, and so proceeded with 83...f4?? only to allow White to play the last real trick left: 84.Ra3+, followed by Rb3. The game continued 84...Ke2? (...e3 85.Rb3 Rxb3 86.Kxb3 e2 87.b8=Q e1=Q and Black has good winning chances because of the far advanced pawn and the position of White's king) 85.Rb3 Rxb7 86.Rxb7 f3 (D)

And both sides had to play quite precisely for the rest: 87.Kc3 e3 88.Rb2+ Kf1 89.Rb1+ Ke2 90.Kd4 f2 91.Ke4 (91.Rb2+ Kf3 -+) f1=Q 92.Rxf1 Kxf1 93.Kxe3 1/2-1/2

Full game can be seen here:

I felt that this game was the best of my tournament, despite missing out on the full point. I was disappointed with the finish, but I later found out that it was his birthday that day, so I could at least content myself with the fact that I had not made his birthday a dismal one by winning the game.

In Round 7 I played IM George Xie (2399), who had not had a great start to the tournament, losing two games (and nearly more than that) against lower-rated players. The game was a Queen's Indian, where I had a decent position for a sacrificed pawn in the opening but never really had an advantage. We swapped off into an endgame where he was a bit better but it never looked like it was clearly winning. A dubious winning try by him allowed me to pick up some of his weak pawns and have good chances in the rook ending, which I managed to convert.

After 38.Rh4. White has been moving his rook back and
forth along the 4th rank, holding the Black king at bay.
Here, the ambitious 38...Ra3?! proved to be costly after 39. Rxh5 Rxa4 40. Rh6+ Ke5 41.Rxb6 Ke4 42.Rf6 (D)

This move does quite a bit at once. Firstly it stops the Black king invading with Ra2+ and Kf3, due to Rxf5. Secondly it prevents a thematic f4 push, and thirdly it simply plans to win a pawn with Rxf7. Soon after this some inaccuracies by Black allowed me to win the other f-pawn via a tactic involving a mating net, after which the three connected passed pawns allowed for an easy finish.

Rounds 8 and 9

In Round 8 I was Black against 15-year old Luke Li from NZ (2256), who has recently played a number of tournaments in Victoria, and is now participating in the 2012 Australasian Masters. The game was a King's Indian where White sacs a pawn for a lot of initiative on the queenside. I was never any better in this game, and for a large part of the middlegame I was considerably worse. We got into an interesting endgame where I had two outside passed-pawns for his knight, and it was tricky for him to untangle his pieces without losing material.

After 34.b5

 Here Luke offered a draw, and after about 20 mins of calculation I was not able to find anything that would give me good winning chances, so I accepted the draw. After the game we looked at a lot of interesting lines. After 34...axb5, there are two moves. The move I was most afraid of was 35.a5, with the idea of giving up the knight on d3 to aid in a swift promotion of the a-pawn. The other move was 35.axb5, and after Rb3, 36. Bc7 with some interesting complications arising. Most lines ended in a draw, some were winning for White. Overall I was glad I took the draw when I did, and was still on track to reach my goal score of 7/9.

In Round 9, I played IM Mirko Rujevic (2253) as White. The game followed a familiar story I'd been getting in the tournament: game starts off as a Queen's Indian, I am not able to get any advantage out of the opening and I am even slightly worse, pieces come off and we end up in an equal or += rook ending that I manage to win.

After 29.Bc6
Here I am certainly no better, and probably slightly worse. We repeated moves a few times, with Ne6, Bd7, Nc5, Bc6, and my opponent offered a draw. I thought for a little while about this. I really wanted to finish with 7/9 but to play for a win in a position like this seemed almost absurd. However eventually I decided to play on for a little while and see what would happen. I am glad I did. After some time I was able to infiltrate with my rook and swap off bad-bishop for good-knight, and suddenly the prospect of winning had become quite real. I was very pleased with the rest of the endgame, as I managed to find a number of only moves, leading to a satisfying finish.

After 46...Kg4?
Here I was starting to worry my winning chances had evaporated, but then was very happy to find 47.Rc8!. Now that Black's king is so far advanced, there is nothing to stop the plan of Rb8, b7, R+ along the 8th rank and b8=Q. However Mirko played very accurately here and it turned out to be very close to drawing in the end. The game continued 47...Rb1 48.Rb8 f3+ 49.Kh2 Kf4 50.b7 Ke4 51.Re8+ Kd3 52.b8=Q Rxb8 53.Rxb8 c4 54.Kg3 c3 55.Kxf3 c2 (D)

White to play and win
Read on for the solution.

Here I was in a bit of time trouble and could easily have gone wrong with the natural-looking 56.Rc8. In fact, what I played, 56.Rd8+!, was the only way to win. After 56.Rc8 a3! (...Kd2 57.Ke4 +-) Black is one tempo up on the game, which turns out to make all the difference. The point is that after 56.Rd8+ Kc3 57.Rc8+ Kd2 White now has the crucial square for his king on e4 to win the Q vs. a-pawn endgame, whereas after 57...Kd3 White plays the only move 57.a3! himself, forcing the Black king to move aside. After this was a long forcing sequence which can be seen below:

56...Kc3 57.Rc8+ Kd2 58.Ke4 c1=Q 59.Rxc1 Kxc1 60.f4 Kb2 61.f5 Kxa2 62.f6 Kb2 63.f7 a3 64.f8=Q a2 (D)

65.Qb4+ Kc2 66.Qa3 Kb1 67.Qb3+ Ka1 68.Qc3+ Kb1 69.Kd3 and here, seeing that a1=Q allows Qc2# Black half jokingly promoted to a knight ...a1=N (D) and promptly resigned afterwards.

As far as I can tell, the entire sequence from 47.Rc8! to 69...a1=N was forced, or at least, (from what I can see) both sides played the best moves till the end. For me this was certainly a very satisfying way to finish the game, and the tournament. (And I'd never had quite so many rook endings in one tournament before...) The full game can be seen below.

After my draw with Max in Round 6, he had convincingly pressed on, beating 3 more strong players to finish with an amazing 8.5/9, collecting the $1500 first prize. Solomon came in 2nd with 7.5 winning $750, and I took 3rd place on 7/9, winning $500 (which just payed for the trip!). From this tournament I managed to gain 26 points, with a 2457 performance rating (Max's being 2700+).

Tonight I am flying to Adelaide to play in my last Australian Young Masters, which has been co-organised for the second year in a row by fellow Figjammer Fedja Zulfic. There will be a live blog during the tournament done by GM Ian Rogers - who will also be coaching - on this site, as well as all the other usual details. It should be a really exciting tournament, and I will probably do a wrap up of the tournament sometime in the next couple of weeks, as well as some previous neglected posts.

Leading Final Scores for MCC Cup Weekender 2012:

1st with 8.5/9: IM Max Illingworth (2394)
2nd with 7.5/9: IM Stephen Solomon (2402)
3rd with 7/9: IM Andrew Brown (2263)
4th with 6.5/9: Luke Li (2256)

A full list of scores and other details (including top games) from the tournament and Melbourne Chess Club can be found on their site here, and some other reports on the tournament by arbiter Kerry Stead on his blog here.

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