by Joel Benjamin
The Knockouts win again! It sure didn’t look that way for a long time. Dean, after getting a very good opening, found himself in a potentially desperate situation before holding the balance with some nimble bishop maneuvers. Aviv had a terrific opening as well, but hallucinated once to lose a pawn, and a second time in what looked to be a drawn rook ending. Anna actually had the best winning chances for a good while, but her position looked only even until she took control of the d-file and the game. And finally, there was a bit of thievery off Route 23.
Joel Benjamin -Sergey Kudrin [B52]
USCL (2), 08.09.2009
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Bd7 4.Bxd7+ Nxd7 5.0–0 e6
Until this game I wondered why Sergey always did this in
stead of the more obvious 5…Ngf6.
6.c4 Be7 7.Nc3 a6 8.d3 Rc8
He’s trying to deter the typical kingside attacking plan after 8…Ngf6 9. Ng5 h6 10.Nh3 0-0 11.f4. To that end, the best way to wait might be 9.Be3.
9.b3 Bf6 10.Bb2
Originally I planned 10.d4 cxd4 11.Nxd4, intending to meet 11…b5 with 12.Ndxb5!? axb5 13.Nxb5. Alas, after 13…Rc6 DIAGRAM, I just didn’t see enough compensation for the piece.
It can be a bit embarrassing to sack all your pieces and resign in a team event. Unfortunately, the bishop doesn’t really belong on b2, where it can create pin opportunities for Black.
10...Ne7 11.d4 cxd4 12.Nxd4 0–0 13.Qd2 Nc5 14.Rad1
I didn’t agonize over whether I should prevent d6-d5, because I didn’t notice the possibility until after I made this quick move.
Grrr. Now I have to start calculating already.
15.exd5 exd5 16.Qe2
I thought 16.b4 Ne6 (16...Ne4 is playable, but perhaps weaker) 17.Nxe6 fxe6 18.cxd5 exd5 would be about equal, and I wanted more.
I didn’t see this move at all. I calculated 16...dxc4 17.Ne6 Nxe6 18.Rxd8 Rfxd8 19.bxc4 Nd4 and then I move my queen somewhere and play 20.Ne4—I can only be better in that position. Also 16...Re8 17.Qf3 dxc4 18.Nf5 Qc7 (18...Nd3 19.bxc4) 19.Nd6 is better for me.
17.Nf3 was a safer choice, as after Qe6 18.Qxe6 Nxe6 I can simply play 19.cxd5. I had visions of this knight coming to e3 and doing damage, but… 17...Qe6!
Ouch. For some reason, I can never predict what Sergey is going to do. If 18.Qxe6 Nxe6 I’m a pin cushion. And 18.Ne3 d4 19.Ncd5 dxe3 20.Nxf6+ gxf6 21.fxe3 Ne4 just loses a piece for nothing. 18.Qf3 dxc4 19.Rfe1 Qf5 is also bad. I think I found the best move.
18.Rfe1 Qxe2 19.Rxe2 dxc4 20.bxc4 Rfd8 21.Rxd8+ Rxd8 22.g3
Black has an optical advantage because my pawns are split, but b7 can be attacked, too. Still, it’s hard to see at this point how Black can lose.
22…Nc6 23.Ba3 Bxc3 24.Bxc5 f6 25.Ne3
It doesn’t appear that Black has done anything wrong until this move, but there are a lot of better moves. 25…Nd4 26.Bxd4 Rxd4 27.Nd5 is dead equal. Black can probably still press a bit with 25…Ne5. Kudrin may have been simplifying in view of the match situation, which probably looked good for them at that moment. But it only makes White’s position easier.
26.Rxd2 Bxd2 27.Nf5
Now 1-0 at least becomes a realistic possibility. Still something like 27…Bb4 looked like a sure draw to me.
Within a minute or so I realized that this move is so bad White may already be winning. I don’t think the endgame is Sergey’s specialty, but I feel his pain. A few days earlier I took a superior bishop v. knight endgame against Jay Bonin and butchered in so badly on the way to making the time control that I was immediately lost. I resolved to learn from my mistakes and channel my inner Bonin.
28.cxb5 axb5 29.Nd6 b4
29...Bb4 30.Bxb4 Nxb4 31.a3 simply costs Black a pawn, so now I have a juicy target to go for.
30.Kf1 Bc3 31.Nb5 Ba1 32.Ke2
I considered 32.f4 Kf7 33.Ke2 ( 33.f5!?) Ke6 34.Kd3 Kd5? 35.Bf8 g5 36.Nc7 and checkmate, grandmaster! But 34…Kf5 didn’t seem so easy, so I decided to Keep It Simple, Stupid.
32...Kf7 33.Kd3 Ke6 34.Kc4 Ne5+ 35.Kxb4 Kd5 36.Be3 Ng4 37.h3
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I guess 37.a4 is even simpler, because the a-pawn should queen if he grabs my a-pawn.
37...Nxe3 38.fxe3 Be5
There’s no time to penetrate: 38...Ke4 39.a4 Be5 40.a5 Bxg3 41.a6 Bb8 42.Kc5 and a new girl is on her way.
39…Kc6 40.g4 g6 41.e4
No pawn trades, please.
41…Bd4 42.Kc4 Be5 43.Nb5 Bg3 44.a3!?
I wanted to see where he would put his bishop. Black has a good plan to draw this game: Run the king over to grab/trade pawns and sac the bishop for my a-pawn. The problem is, I’ll never let him give up the bishop for the pawn!
44…Bf2 45.Nd4+ Kd6 46.Nf3 Kc6 47.a4 Bb6 48.Ne1
I’m starting to see why Bonin likes those knights so much.
48…Bc7 49.Nd3 Bd8 50.Nc5 Bb6 51.Ne6 h5 52.gxh5 gxh5 53.Ng7 Kd6 53...h4 54.Nf5 Bf2 55.a5 Black has to let my king come to b5 due to Zugswang.
54.Kb5! Bf2 55.Nxh5 Ke5 56.a5 Bd4 57.a6 f5
Or 57...Kxe4 58.Nxf6+!
58.exf5 Kxf5 59.Ng3+ Ke6 60.Kc6 1–0
I have just one request for all the prognosticators. Please pick Carolina to win 3-1! So far that has been our good luck charm. Don’t anybody say we’re going to win next week. We like being the underdogs.