Lopez – Murray Win 2017 Cork Congress
Key games are now available to play through online at www.dublinchess.com courtesy of the ICU website which also have full details of all the results from each section of the congress. Games can also be downloaded thanks to the arbiter Gerry Graham who had supplied and set up the boards and clocks for the Live Games Feed.
Observations And Experiences – Cork 2017 Congress
What follows is just some account of what I noticed while playing in the event myself, and my own experiences of an intense and hectic weekend of chess. I had only decided to play on the Thursday night after some plans which I had for the weekend fell through, and I had the slightly mad idea that I wanted to play some chess, and why not in the March Cork congress, I thought. It was my first time playing again since 2011.
I had played in the Mulcahy, for the past three years, which is also held in the same venue, but usually, I don’t get to play in this event and I was at least glad to get out of Dublin for a weekend. Cork is a city I have often liked visiting, retaining, as it does, so much of it’s character, and it always seems to have a friendly and vibrant atmosphere too.
One of the things so attractive about this tournament, and those generally held in Cork is the nice venue, central location, and easy transport access. The bus from Dublin arrives literally outside the Hotel venue and after a couple of hours of listening to music, and letting someone else do the driving for a few hours, it is relaxing indeed.
After looking at the provisional list of players due to be playing on Thursday evening and contacting the organizers, I was told that unfortunately both Alex Baburin and Kieran Moynihan had withdrawn due to change in circumstances beyond their control.
This was a pity as I was hoping to, in particular, try get a win against Kieran after my especially painful loss to him earlier this year at the Mulcahy.
We had drawn in 2016 at the same event, when I had been totally lost at one point, and after drawing with him, I was lucky enough to go on and win the tournament. This year I blundered twice in a row, to throw away what was most likely a winning position, and then actually lose in a tragi comical manner.
As for Alex, well it has only been over twenty years since I last beat him at the 1996 Rathmines Open, and since around 2001 we have drawn every game except for one very fine and impressive win he had in the 2008 Irish (Open) Championships, which he had won so well with Israeli GM (and 2012 Olympiad Israeli team captain) Alon Greenfeld on 8/9.
The fact that Alex is set to play in this year’s Irish ch and his first ever closed Irish ch more than compensates for his absence at this year’s Cork congress. The field of top Irish players already confirmed for the 2017 Irish ch looks like a mouth watering feast for Irish chess, and those keen to see our very best players compete against each other in such a prestigious event and high level. Fide ratings, a big prize fund, an Olympiad place, and the title of Irish champion, all on the line.
In any event, the 2017 Cork congress had Alex Lopez Henri Li and David Murray among many others, enter very late to make the event very tough and competitive indeed. So going round by round I will try to give some impressions and highlights as I can recall them. So to the chess!
I did not notice there being any upsets but Alex Lopez had a nice end to his game.
Black is lost but how to force a resignation? Well, by giving up the e pawn with e7 which Black can take with his bishop owing to the rook pin on the d file when White then has Be5 check and after …Kf8 White takes on d8, Black takes back with the bishop and White just retreats his Bishop to c4 and Black is helpless against the threat to just play g7 to g8. You can play through the game by clicking on the diagram.
My own first round game was a tense affair and after a complex tactical engagement we had the position below.
To play through the game just click on the diagram and use the drop-down menu to select the game Nolan Dermot V Daly Colm. The very end of the game was also nice enough too.
Things got a bit more competitive in this round, with Alex having to work hard after what was a rather unusual opening. He gradually outplayed his opponent to the point that in a difficult position a pawn down, but with some compensation White blundered to allow the nice end that Alex played.
If White now played Kh1 he would be very much still in the game, but instead, he played Nf2 which allowed the tactic of…Rc1, after which White tried to sac his queen by playing Rxd4 only to be forced to resign after…Qe1 check!
My own game was a pretty smooth affair as I played a King’s Indian in reverse with an extra tempo that need not have mattered much, but it then ended up a strange sort of Benko/Benoni type position which very quickly seemed to be bad for Black.
Black had just recaptured a pawn in c5 and is barely hanging on, but White now has a very forcing and strong sequence of moves which win a pawn very quickly. The obvious move now is Ne4 which attacks the Black rook, forcing it to go back and then this allows White bring his rook to the fifth rank and attack the Black Knight and e pawn which in turn weakens the pawn on b7. Basically, Black has too many weaknesses and is overloaded.
After White played Ne4 – Rc7, Rc 5 – Nc6, Nc5 White had won his pawn and a few moves later we had the position below:
After Black played …Re7 White had Rd6 and after …e4-e3 White took on d4 when Black then resigned.
Another result of note was De Jonge, Henk holding Henry Li to a draw when in fact he could and perhaps should have won, later going on to draw with Alex Byrne in the last round and winning a grading prize. I have a painful and rather comical history with Henk myself, as I fell for a stalemate trick the last time we played in in 2011. It was bitter at the time as it had been a nicely played game.
Black had five legal moves, four of which win! But there is always….
Well, this was a very frustrating and painful round for me indeed. Losing needlessly after one blunder, in a game in which I had never had any problems in and had been more often pushing for an edge throughout up to that point.
Though it has to be said that White after this point played excellently and never let go of his grip on the position and deservedly won rather easily in the end.
This was the critical moment in the game. There are full notes to the game which can be seen by clicking on the diagram and explain much in detail. White had just played Ng5 after Black had played Rfe8. Then I went into deep thought and seen a ghost so to speak. By which I mean, that my intended and automatic impulse was to play h7-h6, but I got spooked by a tactical problem which was not really a problem at all.
Basically after h6 I at first assumed White had to retreat in which case I could carry on playing for a win on the better side of an equal position. It then occurred to me that White had the tactical shot of Nxf7 which frankly scared me and I failed to see that instead of taking back on f7 with the Knight or indeed Queen, I could simply play the Zwischen Zug g5!
This diffuses the White attack on the spot and forces White to be a piece down with three pawns and objectively a worse slightly worse position. The problem for White in that situation is that both of Black’s minor pieces are excellent and White has no real or good attacking chances. The only question would be how can Black play for the win.
Instead, having missed g5 as a resource I essentially panicked and blamed my now apparent problems on my previous move when instead of it I had the option to force an exchange of both minor pieces and have a safe but sterile position perhaps too dry to play for a win.
The “Afraid to Draw” syndrome which has plagued me all my chess life. It is a rather idiotic affliction that has cost e countless games, rating points, prizes and titles over decades, and now as an oldie gets much worse!
Here I somehow spent so much time looking at different options that I went far behind on time and took my eye off the ball so to speak, or rather, in this case, the crucial Knight/e5 square which I left exposed after moving the rook back to f8, allowing White the strong and probably already winning c5! Chess is a cruel game and sometimes it really does only take one big lapse and you are in big trouble.
Meanwhile back on board 1 Alex had another strange opening, but one in which he was surely much better all the way into the middlegame when he seemed to go wrong at one point and allow his opponent back into it. The position below, with Black to play, being a great opportunity to keep the balance, in an interesting and messy position with chances for both sides.
In the end Black failed to play the strong move …Rd1 which keeps the balance. Soon after White was able to steer the game into a slightly better ending which may have been holdable with accurate defense, but some clever and instructive play executed accurately by Alex combined with some inaccuracies by Black resulted in a nice clinical win by Alex well worth checking out. Probably his best game from the tournament. The endgame below is a good starting point to see Alex skillfully convert his advanatge.
After a few more moves Black incorrectly exchanged rooks and we had the very thematic endgame below which Alex converted very nicely in an instructive manner, which all young players should have a look at to see how it is done!
Bad enough to have lost in round three already but I had not thought I would then get another tough game and opponent so soon. I now had to face rising star Henty Li, who, along with Tom O Gorman, have to be the two biggest prospects for Irish chess, and doubtless future rivals with each other for years to come? At least I was going to have an interesting game, not without some challenging moments.
The game with notes is, as usual, again available to play through by clicking on the diagram above. The opening was crucial as it happens, with Henry losing his way in a complex Kingsindian variation that he seemed unfamiliar with. After getting into trouble he sort of tied himself up in knotts and the end was rather picturesque.
Meanwhile, Alex seemed to be giving a real master class as he established a winning position in an endgame that was so good for Black that David at one point almost considered resigning. Hard to comprehend how White hung on to draw the game, and at one stage, when I was following the game online, and seen the result given as a draw, I assumed it was a mistake from the electronic board, like the one which had seen my own game appear as a loss. Alex later explained that he was pretty astounded not to have converted his advantage himself and indeed when I left looking at the last position I had seen below, I could see no hope for White.
Alex later explained that he was pretty astounded not to have converted his advantage and that the critical moment was the position below in which he had seen that after chasing the bishop to c5, and thus block the c file for the White rook to be able to attack the Black pawn n c6, Black is then free to threaten mate by retreating his king to e6, forcing White to lose a second pawn and make it a matter of simple technique. Instead, somehow he changed plans and then went a bit crazy, while David again took his chances well and was rewarded with a draw.
Another crazy game on board 1 from Alex in which rather poor opening play resulted in easy equality for Black, and after just 12 moves Black had a comfortable endgame. In the position below, Black could just play …c4 followed by possibly …Nb6 with a pleasant game.
Instead, what Black played was also fine but allowed an isolated queen pawn position which though equal, could allow Alex to gradually improve his position and try outplay Black over the long haul. This he achieved with skill and great patience but Black still played well and was able to stay level for a very long time. Until he went badly wrong in mutual time pressure and allowed a golden opportunity for Alex to force a straightforward win from this position:
Amazingly, faced with a binary choice of taking on e6 and playing Ke5 or retreating with Kc3 Alex uncharacteristically choose the later, which leaves White even slightly worse. A forced win was not too hard to calculate, even in time trouble and under some pressure. After White takes on e6, if Black takes back in e6 White goes forward to e5 and after Black takes the b pawn White has the devastating f4-f5 which wins easily enough.
I think the reason why Alex missed this was because he had been playing and thinking in positional terms for a very long time in this game and as a reflex perhaps just thought about not giving anything away in a forced sequence. He then went too far trying to keep winning chances which were not there anymore and actually pushed way too far and ended up in the lost position below:
Fortunately for Alex, Black was just relieved to not lose and with so little time left, agreed a draw here. It would have been harsh and cruel for Alex to have lost this game as he was never worse and always the only one pushing for the win but there is little to be done if after Ne5 Black just plays d5-d4 and invades with his king, eating all the White pawns. Or if Nd4 then …Kd3 and again the Black king invades and eats up all the White pawns. So Alex was lucky, and unlucky, all within the same game.
Meanwhile, another rising star of Irish chess who has impressed me is Alex Byrne who, though still a long way to go in his development, can play some very good chess. Here he was ultra solid against David Murray who got a level endgame pretty quickly in the opening which diffused any attacking chances for White.
After Black took on c3 and e5 with the Knight and then bishop we had the position below, which looks pretty level, with maybe one chance for White to at least play for the advantage instead of a mass of exchanges that occurred in the game.
The move to play here in order to play for a win and complications was now Ba3 which at least forces Black to be careful. Instead, Alex took on h7 and then e5, and after that Black played the calm …Qd5 with the endgame and final position seen below the result. Dead drawn and not a lot happening in the game really.
This was bound to be a tense round, with three players leading on 4/5.
Starting with Alex Lopez set to play me, and David Murray to play Nigel Fleming (on 3.5/5). There was also a lot of players also on 3.5/5 but it was only Henry Li who was to emerge with 4.5/6 after an impressive win on the Black side of an English opening against Hugh Doyle.
So with the stage set for a fierce battle between Alex and myself it would be curious to see what opening would be played. Turned out we transposed from a mainline D4 opening into a Sicilian Kan variation which I play a lot myself as Black. Specifically, we had a typical hedgehog position which is really hard to break down.
Specifically, we had a typical hedgehog position which is really hard to break down and early on I tried to steer the game in a slightly different direction from the usual type of positions resulting from this opening, but it was to no avail as I missed one chance to keep an edge and Black was able to get an equal game without much difficulty. Though during the game I, as usual, still thought I was slightly better and played with a view to nursing a small edge.
If White was able to get some advantage then I did not find it and I don’t think it was there after Black’s last move …d5 anyway. We then entered a sort of phony war, shadow boxing phase in which we both knew that each of us wanted and needed a win and so we repeated the position and pretended briefly that we might just accept a draw by repetition but at the last moment pull back and find a way to carry on. It was like a little dance with the pieces and then when we got on with the game a clear choice had to be made.
A critical position below saw me make my first mistake of many to manage to lose. Though in this case, I had used up lots of time the move before yet still had time to think before blundering, whereas later on the endgame phase was misplayed quite severely by both of us, because of mutual time trouble.
Here I could have played Qd4 which was “ok” but should have played Qe3 and it is very hard to see how either side can make any winning attempts and the game would surely have drifted towards a draw very quickly. Full notes of the game are as usual available by clicking on the diagram. The next even more critical moment came soon after the Queens were exchanged and after Black missed a chance to keep White under pressure and allowed White be equal again.
With very little time I now fell for a clever tactic that you often see the moment one takes your hand off the piece. Though amazingly it was far from just lost even after this blunder and there were chances soon after to fight for a draw which was to be had when Black made an inaccuracy. The whole topic of blunders has been something which has been a real preoccupation of mine for the last couple of years and recent months in particular. So as bad and upsetting it is making these blunders, and a simple fact of decline too, I sort of took some comfort when I then seen that
The whole topic of blunders has been something which has been a real preoccupation of mine for the last couple of years and recent months in particular. So as bad and upsetting it is making these blunders, and a simple fact of decline too, I sort of took some comfort when I then seen that Gata Kamsky had been having the same problems at the US Championships, which is still going on. An amazing video clip coverage of this makes for fascinating and revealing viewing.
If you had not noticed the blunder from my game with Alex above, it came after White played Kd4 and Black had Bxf3! winning a pawn and threatening the rook on d1 and pawn on g2. All with the point that if White takes the bishop od f3 then Black has Rd8 check picking up the White Rook on d1. The funny thing now is that when following the US Championships I was astounded to see
The funny thing now is that when following the US Championships I was astounded to see Gata Kamsky make such a basic blunder as the one I made. Again there is a short video clip from the excellent coverage of the championships which is so telling.
In any event, getting back to the last moments of my game with Alex. I had one last chance to draw in a fairly easy way but although I had seen the idea I got the sequence wrong and in severe time trouble played Rd1 check instead of Rf1 first and after I then failed to play Rd6 I was totally lost.
So while I missed my last chance to draw, meanwhile or rather, I should say, earlier on David Murray had faced a new move in a main line Grunfeld which was not very good (b4 last move played) but he played very well for the rest of the game to establish a clear advantage which he build upon very nicely.
Good technique and strong play then resulted in a very one-sided affair in which Black was doing all the pushing, and increased his advantage to the point of having a winning position, culminating in the nice end below:
So when the dust had settled David Murray and Alex Lopez won jointly with 5/6 and third outright was Henry Li, on 4.5/6 who had an impressive win in a tense and complex game against Hugh Doyle. All in all, it was a very disappointing result and performance for me, but sure that is just chess!
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