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US Championship 2007 - Michael Aigner blog

Michael Aigner, better known as fpawn on ICC

Posted by Michael Aigner at Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wow, what a game!  My round 2 opponent and I grappled for 6.5 hours in a wild endgame featuring two pairs of promotions and ending in a puzzle-like perpetual check.  The game was far from perfect, but I certainly enjoyed it, even before I knew that I would pull out a draw.  Based on the dozen messages that I received on ICC, in my email inbox and even on my voicemail, the audience loved the game too.  Understandably, my teenage opponent, US Junior Champion and IM-elect Robert Hess, was somewhat less than thrilled giving up half a point and thus making his road to a GM norm exponentially more difficult.  Despite the disappointment, Robert remained cool and we even analyzed for a few minutes afterwards.

Michael Aigner (2300) – Robert Hess (2472), 2007 US Championship (2)
1. e4 Click on the MonRoi website to follow along.
1… c5 Although I knew my opponent plays various different responses to 1.e4, I did not expect him to test my #1 opening and instead had prepared for a symmetric king pawn opening (1.e4 e5). 
2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 Rb8 6. f4 b5 7. Nf3 d6 8. O-O Nd4 9. h3 Theory recommends the thematic central pawn push e4-e5 twice, first on move 7 (instead of Nf3) and again here on move 9.
9… b4 10. Nd5!? e6 11. Ne3 Nonetheless, I was happy with my game after the slightly unusual knight maneuver to e3 via d5.  Usually white places his knight on e2 and a bishop on e3. 
11… Ne7 12. g4 f5 13. a3 That pesky knight on e3, seemingly well placed, prevented me from developing my queenside bishop to the same square.  Running out of moves, I tried to develop my rook along the a-file. 
13… b3 14. c3 Nxf3+ 15. Qxf3 O-O 16. Qd1 Ba6 17. Rf2 Qd7 18. a4 fxg4 19. hxg4 d5 20. exd5? My inability to untangle culminated in a tactical error.  Considerably better was 20.g5 d4 21.cxd4 Bxd4 22.Bh3 with about equal chances. 
20… exd5 21. Nf1 d4?! However, black returned the favor with a positional mistake.  He should have calmly improved his pieces (e.g. Rf7) rather than lock the center in white’s favor.  I immediately began salivating at the prospect of planting a knight on e4. 
22. c4 Bc8 Aha!  Black played 21… d4 to gain a tempo attacking g4.  Yet white can defend adequately.
23. Bf3 Bh6 24. g5 Bg7 25. Ng3 Nf5 26. Bd5+! Winning a critical tempo.  I was also looking at checkmating tactics on the h-file, but I never had time to execute this plan.
26… Kh8 27. Nxf5 Rxf5 We traded minor pieces into an endgame of queens and rooks.  Neither dark bishop is terrible happy, but at least black can attack a weakness on f4 while white must defend.  Black has a moderate advantage at this point.
28. Qf3 Bb7 29. Bxb7 Rxb7 30. Bd2 Rb8 31. Re2! I don’t like passive defense in a position with multiple weaknesses (f4 and a4 pawns).  Thus, I remembered the maxim “activate your rooks” and brought my kingside rook from the inferior f2 square to the more aggressive e5 point.  The best defense is a good offense. 
31… Bf8 32. Re5 Bd6 33. Rxf5 Qxf5 34. Qe4 Qh3 35. Rf1 Rf8 36. Qf3 Qf5 37. Qe4 Qd7 38. Re1? Bxf4! Black’s tactic to win the f4 pawn surprised me, but by now I was down to merely a few minutes plus the 30 seconds per move increment.  Miraculously, I was not dead lost after the ensuing queen trade.  As many Grandmasters have remarked over the years: all rook endgames are drawn!
39. Bxf4 Qg4+ 40. Kh1 Qxf4 41. Qxf4 Rxf4 42. Re7?  I overlooked the crucial tempo move 42.Re8+ Kg7 43.Re7+ Rf7 44.Re5 Rf5 45.Re7+ Kg8 (if Rf7 then I can repeat moves with Rf5) 46.Rxa7 Rf3 47.Rc7.  This variation is similar to the game continuation except that I have already captured the a7 pawn.  BIG difference!
42… Rf3 43. Rc7 Rxd3 44. Rxc5 Rc3? Black should have punished my blunder with 44… Rd2 45.Rc8+ Kg7 46.Rc7+ Kg8 47.Rxa7 Rxb2 48.Kg1 Rc2 49.Rf1 b2 50.Rb7 Rc1+ and winning, but instead he was deceived by the sexy-looking 44… Rc3.  Of course, the rook is immune because black gets connected passed pawns on the 6th rank. 
45. Kg2 The rest of the contest was played with both sides playing on the 30 second per move increment.  While having 30 seconds added allows thinking time for each move, the competitors never relax in this slow-motion time scramble.  The increment stretches the game out and increase the stress on the players.  On the other hand, in a traditional sudden death time scramble, at least the game must end within a few minutes! 
45… a6 46. Rc6 Rc2+ 47. Kf3 Rxb2 48. Ke4 a5 49. Kxd4 Rg2 50. Rb6 Rg4+ 51. Kd5?  Stopping the passed pawn with Kc3 was better.  If I must err, I prefer to err on the side of being too aggressive—at least my opponent has to refute my threats.
51… Rxg5+ 52. Kd6 Rg4 53. c5 Rb4 54. Rxb4 axb4 55. c6 b2 56. c7 b1=Q 57. c8=Q+ We exchanged rooks on move 53 and promoted twice to a set of new queens.  Despite being down two pawns, I knew that I held excellent chances to draw by perpetual check.  I won’t comment further on this queen endgame because the quality of play was marred by mutual time pressure.  But at least it was exciting!
57… Kg7 58. Qd7+ Kf6 59. Qe6+ Kg5 60. Qe3+ Kg4 61. Qe2+ Kf4 62. Qf2+ Ke4 63. Qe2+ Kd4 64. Qe5+ Kc4 65. a5 Qd3+ 66. Kc6 Kb3 67. Qd5+ Qxd5+ 68. Kxd5 Kc2 69. a6 b3 70. a7 b2 71. a8=Q b1=Q 72. Ke5 Qb5+ 73. Kf4 Qf5+ 74. Ke3 Qe5+ 75. Kf3 Qc3+ 76. Kf4 Qd4+ 77. Kf3 Kd3 78. Qa6+ Kc3? Black’s final blunder allows white to split the point.  Many of my students will recognize the “ring around the queen” drawing pattern from a puzzle exercise that I have given during class.  Of course, I couldn’t believe my eyes when the US Junior Champion walked into this pattern. 
79. Qa1+ Kc4 80. Qa4+ Kd5 81. Qd7+ Ke5 82. Qg7+ 1/2-1/2 It feels good to have earned my first draw in the US Championship against such a worthy young competitor.

The fpawn sits in front of the fountain inside the hotel atrium.
The fpawn sits in front of the fountain inside the hotel atrium.

Now let me put on my objective reporter hat and step back to review the tournament as a whole.  Two rounds have been played so far and only three players have won both games: Grandmasters Alexander Shabalov, Alexander Stripunsky and Ildar Ibragimov.  Another eleven Grandmasters have given up half a point, including top seed Hikaru Nakamura and defending champion Alexander Onischuk.  Your reporter is on the scoreboard tied for 25th place at 0.5 out of 2. 

The action has been exciting so far with many decisive games and even some thrilling draws.  Voters on the MonRoi website have a lot of good choices for the $100 daily best game prize.  These prizes will be awarded at the Closing Ceremony on the last day.  Here are some of my favorites:

Friedel 0-1 Nakamura (round 1) – It looks like there is no way black can win until he sacrifices the exchange on move 33 to open up lines to white’s king.
Krush 1/2 Kaidanov (round 1) – This game is a theoretically important draw in the ultra-sharp Botvinnik variation of the semi-Slav.
Ibragimov 1-0 Becerra (round 2) – Black sacrifices two pieces and a rook for a strong kingside attack but white escapes with careful defense.
Shulman 1-0 Krush (round 2) – White gambits two pawns to weaken black’s king in the queen’s gambit accepted.  This game ends abruptly on move 29 with checkmate!

Cafe serves free breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes and drinks.

Cafe serves free breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes and drinks.

Speaking of prizes, the overall prize fund for the Championship now stands at about $75,000.  In addition to the daily $100 best game prizes sponsored by the Stillwater National Bank, the organizers are putting together awards for the best fighting chess, best sacrifice, best endgame and so forth.  The National Open (June 8-10 in Las Vegas) has offered free entry and a small stipend to the top ten players plus room and airfare prizes to the top three.  And most importantly to lower rated players like myself, the lowest prizes have been increased by 40% to $700.  This is still substantially less than what AF4C offered last year, but now players who found a cheap flight and chose to share a hotel room can expect to nearly break even.

Front entrance of the Quality Inn hotel.

Front entrance of the Quality Inn hotel.

Many people have inquired about the Quality Inn hotel here in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  I can safely report that the rumors of a run-down venue are false.  A new ownership took over a few months ago and the accommodations are quite respectable for the $60 nightly rate.  My wheelchair accessible room is comfortable and even has a flat panel TV with over 70 channels.  Free wireless!  The lobby and atrium areas are well-cleaned with plenty of places to sit and play or analyze chess games.  The facilities include a pool, sauna (popular among chess players), weight room, foosball and a small arcade.  The playing area is well air-conditioned, well-lit and quiet—in other words, perfect for chess.  My main complaint is the lack of variety in food within walking distance: Braun’s hamburger place, Subway sandwiches and a Chinese/Thai restaurant.  Overall, I am quite satisfied with my home for the next week and I have heard no significant complaints from the other players.

Round 3 is today at 3pm ICC time.  Check out the top boards Shabalov-Ibragimov and Stripunsky-Nakamura. 

Plenty of snacks are available for the players each round.

Plenty of snacks are available for the players each round.

Further down, look to see if 15 year old IM-elect Robert Hess can beat the only person in the tournament younger than him, 12 year old FM Ray Robson.  I will command the black army versus FM Michael Langer (2334 USCF, 2315 FIDE) from Texas, who has lost both of his first two games to Grandmasters. 

You can watch five games each day live on ICC (click on the links in the Events list under the Window menu in BlitzIn or in the Activities window in Dasher).  ChessFM will offer audio commentary by IM John Watson live from Stillwater.  Finally, don’t forget to check out the many photos on the MonRoi website.

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