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US Championship 2007 - Michael Aigner blog

Michael Aigner, better known as fpawn on ICC

Posted by Michael Aigner at Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Today’s blog entry will have to be short because the final round begins two hours earlier.    It has been a wild ride with some ups and a few too many downs, but overall I can say it has been a positive experience and one that I shall remember for the rest of my life.  I certainly learned a lot, both about chess theory and about myself.

My round 8 game as black against WFM Iryna Zenyuk went exactly according to script.  Here are some brief comments, including post-mortem analysis with IM John Watson.

Iryna Zenyuk (2229) – Michael Aigner (2300), 2007 US Championship (8)
1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Follow these comments along with the game on the MonRoi website. White avoids the main lines of the Dutch defense.  This popular move may sometimes give white a small edge but black does tremble in fear.
2… d5 3. Bf4 c6 4. e3 Nf6 5. Bd3 g6 6. h4 Bg7 7. h5 We are following my game against GM Giorgi Kacheishvili from 2006 National Open, where I blundered with 7... Nxh5 allowing white to sacrifice the exchange for a strong attack.  The game continued with 8. Rxh5 gxh5 9. Qxh5+ Kf8 10. Nf3 Qe8 11. Qh2 Nd7 12. Bxf5 Nf6 13. Bd3 Qh5 14. Qg1 Bf5 15. O-O-O Bxd3 16. Rxd3 Rg8 17. Ne2 Ne4 and miraculously black is not dead yet, although I did manage to lose the ensuing endgame.  I had assumed Zenyuk had prepared an improvement with the help of a computer engine.
7… Ne4! Black’s best move.  Now the knight blocks white’s d3 bishop from the kingside.
8. Nf3? White should seek to weaken black’s pawn shield on the kingside with moves such as f2-f3 followed by g2-g4 or e2-e4.  The text merely misplaces the knight.  Better options were 8. Nh3 or even 8. f3 immediately.
8… Nd7 The alternative 8… Be6 (heading towards f7) loses a pawn after 9. Ne5 Nd7 10. hxg6 Nxe5 11. Bxe5 Bxe5 12. dxe5.
9. hxg6 hxg6 10. Rxh8+ Bxh8 The rook exchange on the h-file typically favors black.
11. Nh4?! Having already made one mistake, white must be careful to avoid losing the thread of the entire game.  For example, 11. Bxe4 fxe4 (or 11... dxe4 12. Ng5 Nf6 13. Qd2 Nd5 14. O-O-O looks fine) 12. Ne5 Nxe5 13. Bxe5 Bxe5 14. dxe5 Qb6 15. b3 Bf5 leaves black with a bad bishop while white’s knight has juicy squares on d4, c5 and f4.
11… Nf8 12. Nf3 A terrible concession.  Perhaps white had  intended 12. Nxg6 but black simply defends with 12… Nxg6 13. Qh5 Kf7 14. O-O-O Bg7 with the consolidating move Qh8 to follow.  At this time, I had roughly two hours remaining while white had only 50 minutes for the rest of the game (plus 30 seconds per move increment).
12… Qb6 13. a3 Ne6 14. Be5 Bf6! 15. Bxf6?! exf6 Now I control the e5 square too!
16. Nd2 Bd7 17. f3 The right idea, but a little bit too late.  Perhaps the positional move 17. Bxe4 was worth a try.  Since the position is still closed, white’s knights are adequate against black’s bishop pair.
17… Nxc3 18. bxc3 O-O-O 19. Kf2 There’s nothing better.
19… f4! Now it is black’s turn to destroy the pawn shield.  I played this move on principle rather than precise calculation.
20. e4 Pawn grabbing fails immediately: 20. Bxg6? fxe3+ 21. Kxe3 Qc7 22. Bd3 Rg8 and black’s queen, rook and knight will wreak havoc soon.
20… Qa5 I chickened out a little here, winning a pawn but little else.  Better were 20… Qb2 (hitting both c3 and d4) or the piece sacrifice 20… Nxd4 21. cxd4 Qxd4+ 22. Ke1 (forced) Be6! 23. Nb3 Qb6 24. Rb1 dxe4 25. fxe5 f5! and white’s king is stuck in the middle with nowhere to hide. 
21. Nb3 Qxc3 22. Qe1 Qxe1+ 23. Rxe1 dxe4 24. fxe4 Be8 This is the last critical position of the game.  White has a lot of threats, including d5, e5, my g6 pawn and two knight moves, Nc5 and Nd4.  The text was quite forcing because it attacked the d5 target while simultaneously defending the weakness on g6. 
25. d5 Not much better is 25. c3, but at least my knight doesn’t end up on e5.
25… Ng5! 26. c4 Nf7 27. Nd4 Ne5! The powerful knight controls the entire board and attacks the c4 pawn while controlling the key white squares on the kingside.
28. Be2 Bf7 29. Rd1 c5! Placing all of my pawns on the color opposite of my bishop.  The game is now a technical win which I present without much further comment.
30. Nb3 b6 31. a4 Rh8 32. a5 g5 33. axb6 axb6 34. Ra1 Kb7 35. Rb1 Rc8 Avoiding the last threat of Nxc4.
36. Nc1 Bg6 37. Bd3 g4 38. Ke2 g3 39. Nb3 Bh5+ 40. Kd2 f3 41. Nc1 Ra8 42. gxf3 Bxf3 43. Be2 g2 0-1

The top two boards in round 8 were drawn, which sets the stage for a wild west shootout with five players having a chance to finish as 2007 US Champion.  Defending champion GM Alexander Onischuk and challenger GM Alexander Shabalov are tied for first place with 6.0 and have the inside track to victory.  Both leaders will command the white army in today’s contests and I predict that one or possibly both will win their game.  If neither Onischuk nor Shabalov win, that would open the door for three other players to share first place: GM Gregory Kaidanov, GM Sergey Kudrin and last year’s runner-up GM Yury Shulman.  The top three pairings are Shabalov (6.0) vs Kudrin (5.5), Onischuk (6.0) vs Gulko (5.0) and Shulman (5.5) vs Kaidanov (5.5).  With so much at stake, stay tuned for some tense fighting chess.  In the event of a tie for first place, the players will square off in a two-game rapid match: first G/20, if still tied G/10 and if still tied then one Armageddon blitz game in which white receives extra time but black has draw odds.

Playing hall for the 2007 US Championship
Playing hall for the 2007 US Championship.

More is at stake in this tournament than merely the title of US Champion.  It is a FIDE Zonal, meaning that the top five finishers become eligible to represent the USA at the FIDE World Cup this fall.  Presumably Onischuk, Shabalov, Kaidanov and Kudrin need a draw to finish in the top five thanks to their strong tiebreaks.  Shulman’s tiebreaks are less imposing, which could open the door for leading 5.0s GM Jaan Ehlvest and GM Hikaru Nakamura to sneak in through the back door.  Moreover, the next five finishers (places 6-10) qualify as official representatives at the Continental Championship of the Americas on July 11-21 in Cali, Colombia and earn free entry, room and board.

Friends and roommates IM Josh Friedel and IM-elect Robert Hess squared off for a fighting draw
Friends and roommates IM Josh Friedel and IM-elect Robert Hess squared off for a fighting draw.

Two players also have a shot at obtaining IM norms, but both face difficult last round pairings.  FM Michael Langer needs a draw as white against GM Dmitry Gurevich while US Senior Champion FM Joe Bradford needs a win as black versus IM Irina Krush.  One interesting side note is that both Langer and Bradford hail from Austin, Texas.  I am sure that the entire Lone Star State will be cheering for these fine gentlemen.

IM Jay Bonin is finishing his opening preparation minutes before the round
IM Jay Bonin is finishing his opening preparation minutes before the round.

The 36 players will also be competing for a $75,000 prize fund, much of it donated by the generosity of Stillwater businessman Frank K. Berry.  The bulk of this money goes to place prizes ranging from $12,000 for first place to $700 for last place.  Additional money will be awarded for brilliant games and fighting chess.  Here is a breakdown:

  • 1st $12,000, 2nd $8000, 3rd $5000, 4th $4000, 5th $3500, 6th $3000, 7th $2500, 8th $2000, 9th $1900, 10th $1800, 11th $1700, 12th $1600, 13th $1500, 14th $1400, 15th $1300, 16th $1200, 17th $1100, 18th $1000, 19th-20th $900, 21st-22nd $800, 23rd-29th $800 and 30th-36th $700.
  • Prizes to ten players from the National Open, including hotel plus airfare for the top three and free entry plus a small stipend for all ten.
  • $100 daily best game prizes sponsored by Stillwater National Bank.  I announced the winners for rounds 1-6 in my round 6 blog.  The winner for round 7 was GM Eugene Perelshteyn as black versus GM Varuzhan Akobian in the Gruenfeld. 
  • $1800 in overall brilliancy prizes from Mig Greengard’s ChessNinja website.  These will be split into three prizes of $1100, $500 and $200, selected by a panel of judges including IM John Watson and IM John Donaldson.
  • Two $500 Sponsor’s Prizes for Fighting Chess to be awarded by Frank K. Berry with money donated by the Crenshaw Fund.  One prize will go to a GM and the other will go to a non-GM. 

Up close and personal: the MonRoi electronic scoresheet
Up close and personal: the MonRoi electronic scoresheet

I personally appreciated the opportunity to play in the 2007 US Championship.  Most importantly, it is time to recognize the efforts of Frank and Jim Berry and their many friends in Oklahoma chess.  Not only did they donate the bulk of the prize fund, they secured the playing venue and donated 11 days of their time to the Championship.  Without their untiring support driving players from/to the airport and even around town, it would not have been the same.  Their goal was to create an atmosphere where the players could enjoy themselves and play good chess—and they succeeded!  Through the grapevine, I have heard that this might not be the last time the US Championship visits the state of Oklahoma!

Stay tuned for a final round blog coming in a few days.

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