I had a disappointing result in my first tournament of the new year in Clarksville, TN last weekend. After winning in Round 1, I was somewhat surprised to have the Black pieces against Bill Melvin in Round 2. My surprise was because in the first round he had lost his queen for a couple of pieces after about a dozen moves. Yet, he somehow managed to hold on and even won when his opponent ran himself out of time trying to break through. In our game I had a great position in the middlegame after he unsoundly sacrificed a pawn for a small lead in development. I gave the pawn back and gave up another one to set up threats against his king. A critical position occurred after 27. Kc3-b3
I saw the combination 27...Rxc4 28. Kxc4 Bd8-moves followed by 29...Rc8+ winning the knight on d5. But where to move the bishop? I first looked at 28...Bf6 since I had previously been considering variations involving Bf6+. However, 29. Nxa5 would leave my knight loose. So, I turned to 28...Be7 keeping the knight guarded, but then 29. Nxa5 gives him the resource Nc6 to block the c-file. My time was starting to really run low, so I chose the rather lame 27...Bxd5 and Black has no compensation for his pawn. Later, it dawned on me that there was another possibility after 28...Rxc4 28. Kxc4 and that night in my room I checked the variation 28...Bb6 keeping a5 covered. I thought that I would have been winning after 29. Nd6 Rd8 30. f5 Bxd5+ 31. Rxd5 Nxd5 32. Kxd5 Bc7 and Black emerges a piece up. However, upon deeper investigation, I found White has resources here because of his passed pawn and better placed king. 33. Kc6 Bxd6 34. Rd1 and I don't see a good defense for Black as it looks like he eventually reaches losing pawn endings after either 34... Be7 35. Rxd8+ Bxd8 36. b6 or 34... Rc8+ 35. Kd7 Rb8 36. Rxd6 Rxb5 37. Kc6 Rb8 38. Kc7. So it looks like my entire consideration of the positions with two bishops against his exposed king may have been too optimistic.
I bounced back to win that night and had a chance to get back into the race for first after Todd Andrews beat Melvin in round 3. The next morning, I had Black against Todd, but unfortunately, my recent success against him did not continue. I got the worst of the opening, but perhaps still could have defended better after 21. a3
I thought I was in danger of drifting into a passive position after 21... axb4 22. Rxb4 since he can defend a3 much better than I can defend b7, but that was probably the best hope, trying to dig in for a long defense. Trying to double rooks before capturing on b4 fails after 21... Ra6 22. c5 Rfa8 (22... axb4 23. c6 exploits the position of the rook on a6) 23. b5 +- so I decided to get queens off in the hope that I would get more counterplay against a3. 21...Qf5?! 22. Qxf5 gxf5 23. c5 23. Rxb7 Rxa3 would give Black some drawing chances 23...axb4 24. axb4 Ra3 25. Bf2 Rc8? I'm still not quite sure what to suggest as an alternative, but this meets a direct refutation. My idea was to meet 26. c6 with 26...b5 with the idea of breaking up his pawns with e6. Also, b4 may turn out to be a weakness for him after ...Bc3. Of course, White is still better there, but Black would at least have some chances to fight. Instead 26. cxd6! Rxc1+ 27. Rxc1 exd6 28. Rc8+ Bf8 29. Bd4 threatening a complete bind with Bf6 29...f6 30. Bxf6 and although I fought on for a long time, there just never was quite enough activity to compensate for the material. I did manage to win in the final round and my 3-2 score was good enough to tie for 3rd in the small Kings section.
The new FIDE rating list is out. Once again the list goes down to 1800 so it looks like the plan to rate players all the way down to 1000 is being phased in gradually.
There was considerable movement at the top of the list thanks to the Olympiad. Garry Kasparov's outstanding performance in leading Russia to the gold medal bumped him up to 2847 now well ahead of the idle #2 Vladimir Kramnik at 2780. Vishy Anand did not play in the Olympiad, but did repeat as the World Cup champion. Although he dropped a couple of points, he still remains #3. An idle Veselin Topalov(2743) takes over the #4 spot and Peter Leko(2736) is number 5 as Mikey Adams(2734) dropped down into a tie with Ruslan Ponomariov(2734) for the number 7 spot. Evgeny Bareev(2729) dropped some points but still maintains the number 8 spot. #9 Alexei Shirov(2723) came roaring back into the top 10 with a great performance in the Spanish Championship. The rest of Club 2700 is rounded out by players who had great Olympiad performances Alexander Grischuk(2712), Vladimir Akopian(2703), Alexander Khalifman(2702), Judit Polgar(2700), and Boris Gelfand(2700). Vassily Ivanchuk(2699) drops below 2700 for the first time in a long time.
I remember how people were critical of the FIDE championship match between Akopian and Khalifman a couple of years ago. Well, they are both over 2700 now. I don't think the FIDE KO tournaments were as much of a lottery as people would try to lead you to believe. Judit Polgar seems to be on a roll of late (including a rapid chess win over Kasparov in the Russia vs. World match; the first time the Boss ever lost to a woman at any time control.) This is the first time in quite a few years that Judit has pushed her rating to the 2700 mark. Of course she remains by far and away the top woman player, you have to go all the way down to #198 Xie Jun(2569) to find the next woman in the overall list.
Despite a dismal Olympiad performance, the United States is now #2 on the list of players in the top 100 with 6 (#35 Onischuk(2658), #50 Seirawan(2636), #61 Kaidanov(2629), #73 Goldin(2621), #82 Shabalov(2613), and #99 Novikov(2598). Russia again tops this list with 26 players. I thought it would be intersting to see what the distribution of players over 2500 was. Not surprisingly, Russia again tops the list with 117 of the 589 active players (19.9%). Next are Ukraine at 7.1%, Germany at 6.6%, and then the US at 4.6%. The US would have a greater percentage if all players were counted since most of the inactive players over 2500 are from the US. Despite the large number of highly rated inactive players in the US I found the very strange result that the average FIDE rating of inactive and active US players is the same, 2241!
My draw with Goldin at the Kings Island Open was enough for a gain of 6 points up to 2308. That translated into 23 places, putting me at #144 among active US players.