Time to Vote! Plus, Highlights from Yesterday
by NM Dana Mackenzie
The polls have opened to determine the final two participants in the 2018 PRO Chess League! According to commissioner Greg Shahade, there will be two concurrent polls, one on Twitter and one at http://chess.com, and the votes will be added to determine the winners. You have 72 hours to cast your vote. To read about yesterday's results and cast your vote, go to this URL:
You can vote once in each poll, on Twitter and on chess.com. Here are the teams that you will be choosing between. (They are listed in the order they finished in the respective tournaments, 4th through 6th place.)
- Oslo Trolls
- Apeldoorn Apes
- Rehovot Masters
- New York Knights
- Minnesota Blizzard
- San Francisco Mechanics
If we want to outvote the New York Knights, with their much larger population base, we need to mobilize! Tell your friends to vote for the Mechanics!
Now I want to relive a couple of the more amazing games from yesterday's blitz-a-thon.
Position after 7. e5. Black to move.
FEN: r1bqk2r/pppp1ppp/1bn2n2/4P3/8/1N6/PPP1QPPP/RNB1KB1R b KQkq - 0 7
In round 8, Daniel Naroditsky (Black) was playing against someone named "real-boy," who has a chess.com rating of 2569 and must surely be a strong grandmaster. At this point they were on top of the leaderboard (perhaps half a point behind Hikaru Nakamura, I'm not sure of the exact standings). The game started 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 ed 4. Nxd4 Bc5 5. Nb3 Bb6 6. Qe2 Nf6 7. e5, reaching the above position.
Danya took a few seconds to think about his move, and I thought, "No! He couldn't be thinking about sacrificing the knight, could he?" But that is indeed what he was thinking about, and he pulled the trigger! 7. ... O-O?!
Objectively this move is dubious, but in blitz chess all sacrifices are sound, so I have to pay tribute to Danya's incredible bravery. (The time control was game in 3 minutes with a 2-second time delay.)
Real-boy (perhaps I should call him Pinocchio?) took the knight, and the game went 8. ef Re8 9. Be3 d5 10. c3 Qxf6 11. N1d2. Up to this point White's moves have been forced, but here I think it might have been better for him to play 11. Na3, with the idea of bringing the knight to c2 and establishing a stronger grip on d4. Danya played 11. ... a5 12. a4 Bf5 13. O-O-O Ne5 14. Qb5 Bd7.
Position after 14. ... Bd7. White to move.
FEN: r3r1k1/1ppb1ppp/1b3q2/pQ1pn3/P7/1NP1B3/1P1N1PPP/2KR1B1R w - - 0 15
Here the d-pawn is taboo, because 15. Qxd5? would cost White his queen after 15. ... Bc6. So White had nothing better than to play 15. Qe2, after which Danya could, if he wanted, go for a draw by repetition with 15. ... Bf5.
But not Danya! Blitz chess is like a poker game, and he says, "I would like to see the turn and the river cards, please." He played 15. ... Bxa4!? Already he's got two pawns for the piece. White has a super unpleasant position and it's clear that Black will have the initiative for a very long time.
What followed was a very exciting battle, where Real-boy, or Pinocchio, or whatever his name is, defended very well but never quite threw off the pressure that Danya put on him. The battle went on and on, until both players were under 10 seconds left and they were just blitzing out instantaneous moves. I would love to show you the whole game, but let's just get to the crucial moment:
Position after 38. ... Qf5. White to move.
FEN: r5k1/1p3p1p/5Pp1/3p1q2/nPpQ4/2P5/B1NR2PP/1K6 w - - 0 39
White has won a pawn and is now up a piece for a pawn, but look at those pieces! The knight can't move. The bishop almost can't move. Meanwhile, Danya threatens 39. ... Qf1+, which would win material by force because of the ensuing check on c3. In fact, the position looks almost resignable for White.
But take a closer look! At some point earlier in the game, Danya created luft for his king with ... g6, but White did something very smart by moving his pawn to f6, reinstating the possibility of a back-rank mate. If you have the opportunity to create a pawn like this, at h6 or f6 (I call them "bone-in-the-throat" pawns), you should always do it because of the tactical opportunities they create. Here Pinocchio could have capitalized on his earlier smart play by playing 39. Bxc4!! This stunning blow turns the game around. Black cannot take because of 39. ... dc 40. Qd8+ and mate next move. Black could try to complicated matters with 39. ... Nxc3+, but I think that White can calmly play 40. Kb2 and the Black attack is out of gas. Most importantly, White has freed his bishop and so now his material advantage is for real.
Thank god, Danya's opponent didn't see this, and he played 39. Rf2?? Nxc3+ 40. Qxc3 Qxf2. Finally Danya has gotten back to approximately equal material (rook and two pawns for two pieces) but again, does the bishop on a2 really count as a piece?
The finish of the game was very stylish. After 41. Qe3 Qxf6 42. Qd4 Qe6 43. Kb2 Qa6 44. Bb1 Qa5 45. Kc3 Re8 46. Ne3 Qa4 47. Nxd5 I was starting to get worried.. Had Danya miscalculated? Pinocchio might not be a real boy, but that knight is a real knight, and it's about to go to f6 with a nasty fork.
Position after 47. Nxd5. Black to move.
FEN: 4r1k1/1p3p1p/6p1/3N4/qPpQ4/2K5/6PP/1B6 b - - 0 47
Remember, both players have 2 seconds a move. So I didn't even have time to start figuring out what happens after 47. ... Qb3+? 48. Kd2 Qxb1 49. Nf6+ before Danya interrupted my train of thought by playing the infinitely better move 47. ... Qa1+! Obviously he knew what he was doing all along, unlike us spectators. After 48. Kxc4 Rc8+ 49. Kd3 Qxb1+, the point is that Black takes with check, and now it's an easy win. After 50. Ke3 Qg1+ 51. Ke4 Re8+ 52. Kd3 Qxd4+, White resigned.
Whew! What a game!
Another remarkable save, and one that was huge in the final standings, was by Yian Liou in the second-to-last round. He was playing "elefante33," who according to David Pruess is a Brazilian player, but I didn't catch his real name.
After 25 moves Yian, playing Black, had a miserable position. Can you believe that he is actually going to win this game?
Position after 25. ... Qe8. White to move.
FEN: 4qrk1/p2n1pp1/1r1P2p1/1p1Qp3/8/2P3P1/PP1R2BP/5R1K w - - 0 26
As Pruess was saying on his podcast, this is the sort of position where you just hope that Yian will somehow scrounge half a point. But in truth, Black has a little bit more potential than it seems at first. White's passed d-pawn is securely blockaded for the moment, and Black's last move was probably intended to prepare the pawn advance with ... Kh7, ... f5, and ... e4. But White's next move makes it possible for Black to achieve this in one turn.
26. Bh3? ...
I think that White's plan should just be to play 26. b3, building towards c4 and c5, after which White's d-pawn will not be "securely blockaded" any more. The move that Black would probably like to play, 26. ... Nf6?, fails to 27. d7! Qd8 28. Qxe5 Nxd7 29. Qd4, winning the pinned knight.
26. ... e4!
Now Yian's position has life, and White's bishop turns out to be misplaced. Eventually the players traded passed pawns, e-pawn for d-pawn, and they got down to a R+B versus R+N endgame that should still have been a little bit better for White. But Liou comes up with a wonderful swindle.
Position after 37. Ke3. Black to move.
FEN: 8/4kpp1/3r1n2/pp4p1/8/2P1KBP1/PP5P/3R4 b - - 0 37
Remember, it's speed chess, so errors are to be expected. Yian plays what looks like a mistake: 37. ... Re6+. It looks as if Black is allowing the White king to penetrate the queenside, and without a moment's hesitation White played the natural-looking 38. Kd4??Do you see what is wrong with this move?
The answer: Black plays 38. ... g4! The point, which gradually dawned on the slower-thinking ones of us in the audience, is that after the bishop moves, Black doesn't just get his rook to the seventh rank with ... Re2. He has something much better: he wins a whole rook with 39. ... Rd6+! So in fact White can't move the bishop, and he loses a piece. White resigned immediately.
These full-point "steals" turned out to be crucial, because every point (in fact, every half-point) made the difference between elimination and survival. Interestingly, Yian also scored the final, and decisive, half-point in the final round. He got to a rook-and-pawn endgame with an extra pawn, where he had 22 seconds left to his opponent's 21 seconds. To my surprise (and captain Pruess's surprise) Yian accepted a draw instead of playing on. Objectively it probably was a draw, but there didn't seem to be any reason for Yian to agree so quickly.
Until the final standings came out, and it turned out that a draw was exactly what we needed! Even so, there was no way for Yian to know that. The updating of scores was running a few minutes behind throughout the tournament. All that Yian could have known is that we were in a very close battle with the Atlanta Kings. But that would have made it seem even more important to fight for every half-point, which makes it even more puzzling why Yian agreed to a draw. Maybe he was remembering the previous round, and the way that draws can suddenly turn into losses in the confusion of a time scramble. So in the end, he made the right decision, even though it didn't necessarily appear that way at the time.
If you want to follow more Mechanics excitement in the PRO Chess League, right here, don't miss your chance! Vote for the Mechanics at the site I mentioned above! If you've forgotten the URL, here it is again: