Sunday, August 16, 2009

My game against an International Master

Two weeks ago, I went to Indianapolis to play in the US Open Weekend Swiss tournament. For those of you who don't know what a Swiss style tournament is, the best way to think of it is as a no elimination tournament. In theory, if you're 0-4 at the end of the 4th round, you should play another player who is 0-4. Draws complicate this picture somewhat, but you should end up with a clear winner in a 5 round tournament of 32 players.

With my chess rating in the 1500's, I often end up playing either one of the strongest or one of the weakest players in the tournament in the first round. When I saw the pairings two Saturdays ago, I saw that I would be playing the strongest player in the tournament. His name was Emory Tate, and his rating was high in the 2300's. For those of you not familiar with chess ratings, I would be expected to win about 1 game in 10 against someone rated in the 1900's, the hypothetical 1900 ranked player would be expected to win about 1 game in 10 against Mr. Tate. If you want a different measure of my challenge, type Emory Tate into a google search and wait to see what additional terms Google suggests. I was kind if disappointed since I had white in this game, and the difference in our skill was so great I didn't think having the 1st move would really matter. I would have rather had black so I could play white the next round.

Here is the game:
1. e4 c5 2. c3 e6 3. d4 cd 4. cd d5 5. e5 Bd7

At this point, instead of playing the closed version of the Sicilian defense, we are in a French defense. From my experience, only one time in using the closed Sicilian have we not transposed to the French. My reason for doing this is that I believe that most people playing the Sicilian do not want to end up in a position from the French. However, after the game, Mr. Tate said that he finds the closed Sicilian annoying and wanted to switch over to the French. Also, I didn't realize it at the time, but his last move is preparing to trade off his light squared bishop.

6. Nf3 Qb6 7. Be2

According to Mr. Tate, this was my first mistake. He wants to play Bb5 to trade it off for my bishop now sitting on e2. I should have challenged his plan by playing Nc3 now.

7... Bb5 8. Nc3 Bxe2 9. Qxe2

I debated between this and Nxe2. Taking with the knight provides me with extra protection for my central pawns. However, I took back with the queen trying to keep my knights in more of an offensive than a defensive role. Mr. Tate said taking with the Queen looks natural, but isn't as strong as taking with the knight. One reason for that is that he makes use of the knight sitting on c3 to trade it off creating a weak pawn for me to defend in a few moves, and he immediately threatens the my pawn on d4.

9... Nc6 10. Be3

Mr. Tate pointed out that this pawn didn't need immediate defense. If 10. o-o Nxd4 11. Nxd4 Qxd4 12. Qb5+!! black is lost. With his queen out of position from recapturing and no pieces on the kingside developed yet, the white queen inflicts heavy positional and material damage to black. This gives white more time to develop before eventually playing Be3.

10... Bb4 11. o-o Bxc3 12. bxc3 Na5

I was actually pretty happy to get out of the opening against such a strong player. I can see that his knight is trying to head to c4, where it would be a major thorn in my side, but other than that I didn't really see where I had any problems. However, when I didn't castle at move 10, Mr. Tate felt like he had overcome the advantage white has by making the 1st move.

13. Rab1 Qc6 14. Rfc1 Ne7

Given the piece trades which have occurred so far, I missed 15 Qb5 which would have forced a queen trade. It's not the strongest move on the board, but having queens come off the board early increases the odds of getting a draw. I also missed the fact that even though black has two pieces lined up against my pawn on c3, the queen is in the lead, so my pawn can't be taken immediately.

15. Nd2 Rf8 16. Qd3 o-o 17. Nb3 Nc4!

I was wondering if Mr. Tate was just going to trade off lots of pieces and try to squeeze and endgame win out of me, which is why I played Nb3, when he put his knight on it's ideal square, I should have immediately put my knight back on d2. However, at the time I foolishly decided to press on under the assumption that b3 was the better square for my knight.

18. Bd2 b6 19. Be1 f6!

In hindsight, I have to play ef. I didn't like the f file opening up for black, but it's better than what comes next.

20. Nd2 fe 21. Nxc4 dxc4 22. Qe3 Nd5

I didn't understand this move at the time. Black, going back to move 11, has been trying to win one of my central pawns by creating the weak pawn on c3, suddenly, he's giving the pawn back. I should have known there was a method to this madness, but I couldn't find it so I took the pawn back.

23. Qxe5 Nf4!!!

I read on the web that Mr. Tate likes to give moves triple exclamation points when explaining games, so I'll give this move of his three. At first, I only saw that he threatened to fork both my rook and queen with ...Nd3 and my king and rook with Ne2. I was just about to put my queen back on e3 where it is out of the line of fire and continues to guard e2. At the last instant I noticed that black also has a mate threat with Qxg2. The best defense was f3, but I tried Qg5 and got my queen pushed around before black finally take his extra exchange.

24. Qg5 Rf5 25. Qg4 h4 26. Qf3 Qxf3 27. gxf3 Ne2 28. Kg2 Nxc1 29. Rxc1 Rfc8

I'm in seriously bad shape now, I'm down the exchange and I can't guard the pawn on f3. To make matters worse, I can't even try to make something of my bad bishop sitting on e1 because it's tied down defending f2. I try to get my rook to worm it's way into black's queenside, but my opponent will have none of that.

30. Rb1 Rg5+ 31. Kf1 Ra5!

I didn't expect this, but it's very strong. It effectively eliminates any possibilities I had for counterattacking.

32. Rb4 b5 33. a4 ba 34. Rxc4 a3

I can't stop the pawn, so I resigned. I made sure I tracked down my opponent so I could get his thoughts on the game. Mr. Tate might not have been feeling well that weekend, because he seemed like he was trying to get back to his hotel room between rounds, and he didn't have a good weekend tournament. However, he played in the 6 day schedule of the full open and finished 1 point out of 1st. That put him in 25th place in a 450 player tournament.

It was neat being in the big tournament atmosphere, and I didn't have to pay for a hotel room since I stayed with my sister Suzanne in Noblesville, which was only like a 20 minute drive from the tournament site. By playing in the weekend tournament, I didn't have to take a week off of work for it either. For example, when Abby Marshal won the Denker high school tournament of state champions, I had seen her walking around in the halls of the hotel.