Near Upsets from USATE 2009

By Michael Goeller

Each year at the World Amateur Team and US Amateur Team East, they give prizes for the biggest ratings upsets of each round. But there are no prizes for the ones that get away. I want to look at three games where much lower rated players had a chance to take down a Master or Grandmaster and missed it.

Game One

Derrick Higgins (2054) - GM Nick E. De Firmian (2584) [B99]

US Amateur Team-ch East/Parsipanny,NJ (1) 2009
Table 30, Board 1: #103 NY Stock Exchange Sac vs. #30 MCO XVI


1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Be7 8. Qf3 Qc7 9. O-O-O Nbd7

10. g4

You might call this "Main Line Najdorf," and just what I'd expect from Derrick Higgins. Derrick has a doctorate in computational linguistics and works for the Educational Testing Service. I got to know him through an acquaintance with his wife, who brought us together to play chess on weekends when they lived nearby. I was always impressed by his attitude toward the openings, where he disdained offbeat side-lines and insisted on playing main line theory. In this way, he was well prepared to give trouble to even top GMs, as we see in the present game. As GM Alex Yermolinsky remarks in The Road to Chess Improvement: "You give me a good position after the first ten moves...and I'll find a way to outplay anybody 300 rating points below me." But if you play main line theory into the 20th move, even a GM has nothing over you. Quoting Khalifman, Yermo notes that there are three reasons to play main lines: (1) to stand on the shoulders of giants, (2) to get through the thicket of the opening into a known middlegame, and (3) to force your higher rated opponents to vary first -- when they will likely have to choose a second-best move. I remember Derrick saying something to this effect when playing in his first US Team, where he drew IM Igor Shliperman (rated 2500 at the time) using a very current line of the Dragon. As he told me, Shliperman just played the book right out to a dead end, after which they shook hands as though Derrick had just passed an exam. In the present game, he takes on a well-known Najdorf expert in his home territory and just barely misses winning. Makes me wonder why I play the Grand Prix Attack.

 

DeFirmian faced this line a few times against amateurs at the 2007 Arctic Open. One game diverged here: 10. Bd3 h6 11. Bh4 g5! 12. fxg5 Ne5 13. Qe2 Nfg4 14. Nf3 hxg5 15. Bg3 Bd7 16. h3 Nxf3 17. Qxf3?! (17. hxg4 Rxh1 18. Rxh1 Nh4= NCO) 17... Ne5! 18. Bxe5 dxe5 19. Rhf1 Rh7 20. Qg3 Rc8!? (20... O-O-O!) 21. Rf3 Rh4 22. Rdf1 Rf4 23. Qf2 (23. Ne2 Bb5!) 23... Qc5! 24. Qe2 b5 25. g3 Rxf3 26. Qxf3 f6 27. h4 b4 28. Nd1 gxh4 29. gxh4 Bb5! 30. h5 Bxd3 31. Qxd3 Qc4 32. Kb1 Kf7 33. Nf2 Qxd3 34. Nxd3 Bd6 35. Rh1 f5 36. exf5? exf5 37. Nf2 e4 38. Rh3 Rg8 39. b3? Rg1+ 40. Kb2 Be5+ 0-1 Maria Pitz Jacobsen (1849)-Nick DeFirmian (2637)/Arctic Open, Tromsų 2007.

 

10... b5 11. Bxf6 Nxf6 12. g5 Nd7 13. f5 Nc5

13... Bxg5+ is also played but generally considered more risky for Black since it opens up an additional line for attack.

 

14. f6

DeFirmian's GM opponents have preferred the more positional 14. h4.

 

14... gxf6 15. gxf6 Bf8 16. Rg1 h5 17. a3!?

Slowing Black's typical b4 advance, but this does not seem the most incisive.

a) DeFirmian had trouble against a much lower rated player in this line before, and I would be curious to know what improvement he intended after the book move 17. Rg7 b4 (17... Qd8 18. b4! Nd7 19. e5!) 18. Nd5! exd5 19. exd5 Nd7 (19... Bg4 20. Re1+ Kd8 21. Qf2!) 20. Nc6! Bb7 21. Bh3!! Bxc6 (21... Ne5 22. Nxe5 dxe5 23. Qb3! with threats like d6 and Qa4+) 22. dxc6 Ne5 23. Bd7+!! Kd8 24. Qe4 Qb6 25. Kb1 Bxg7? (the same risky Exchange-grab we see in Derrick's game) 26. fxg7 Rg8 27. Qh4+ Kc7 28. Qe7 Qc5 (28... Kb8 29. Qxd6+ Qc7 30. Qxb4+ Ka7 31. Qc5+ Kb8 32. Rd4) 29. Bc8+! Kb6 30. Qb7+ Ka5 31. Qxa8 Qxc6 32. Rd5+! Kb6 33. Qb8+ 1-0 Johannes Luangtep Kvisla (2122)-Nick DeFirmian (2637)/Arctic Open, Tromsų 2007

b) 17. Bh3! b4 18. Nd5! may actually be an improvement, which I plan to use on DeFirmian should I ever meet him over the board.

 

17... Nd7? 18. Bh3!?

Fritz likes 18. Nxe6! fxe6 19. f7+ Ke7 (19... Kd8? 20. Rg8!) 20. Rg6! Bb7 21. Qf4! intending Qg5+ or Bh3.

 

18... Ne5 19. Qe2 Bd7 20. Rg7!?

In the only game I found to reach this position before, things were unclear for a while after 20. Kb1 Qb7 21. Rg5 Bh6 22. Rxh5 O-O-O 23. Nb3 Qb6 24. Qg2 Be3 25. Rxh8 Rxh8 26. Bg4 a5 27. Be2 Kc7 28. Na2 b4 29. axb4 axb4 30. Qg3 Bf2 31. Qg7 Ra8 32. Nac1 Qa7 33. h4 Bxh4 34. Qh6 Bf2 35. Qd2 Qb6 36. Nd3 Nxd3 37. Qxd3 Be3 38. Qc4+ Bc6 39. Nd4 Qc5 40. Qxc5 dxc5 41. Nxc6 Kxc6 42. Bh5 Rf8 43. c3 bxc3 44. bxc3 Bf4 45. Kc2 Be5 46. Rf1 Kc7 47. Kd3 Rh8?! 48. Bxf7 Rf8 49. Bxe6 Rxf6 50. Bf5 Ra6 51. Kc4 Ra3 52. Rf3 Kd6 53. Rh3 Bf6 54. Rd3+ Kc6 55. Bd7+ Kc7 56. Bb5 Be5 57. Rh3 Kd6 58. Rh6+ Ke7 59. Kd5 Bxc3 60. e5 Bd4 61. Rh7+ Kf8 62. e6 Re3 63. Kd6 Bg7? 64. Rh3! Re1 65. Rf3+ Bf6 (65... Kg8 66. e7) 66. Rxf6+ Kg7 67. Rf5 c4 68. Bxc4 Kg6 69. Re5 Rd1+ 70. Bd5 1-0 Zhao Nan-Arnold,M/Belfort 2005.

 

20... Bxg7?!

The same risky capture that DeFirmian made in the game cited above. For the Exchange, White gets open lines and a scary passed pawn on the 7th. Fritz prefers 20... Qd8 xf6

 

21. fxg7 Rg8 22. Qxh5 O-O-O 23. Qh6! Qc5 24. Qf6!? a5

24... Nc4! 25. Nf3 (25. Qxf7?! Qg5+ 26. Kb1 Rxg7 27. Nxe6 Rxf7 28. Nxg5 Rf2) 25... Qe3+ 26. Kb1 Rxg7 27. Qxg7 Qxf3 28. Bf1

 

25. Kb1! b4 26. axb4 axb4

26... Qxb4 27. Bf1

 

27. Nce2 Kc7 28. Nf4!?

28. Nc1 Ra8 29. Ncb3 Qa7 30. Bf1.

 

28... Ra8 29. Bxe6!

29. Nfxe6+!? fxe6 30. Nxe6+ Bxe6 31. Bxe6 Rge8! 32. Bd5 Ra6 33. g8=Q Rxg8 34. Bxg8 Qa5.

 

29... Qa5! 30. Nb3 Qa2+ 31. Kc1 fxe6 32. Nxe6+ Kc6?










The GM's last chance was 32... Bxe6 33. Qe7+! Nd7 34. Qxd6+ Kd8 35. Qxe6 Rxg7 when White should have at least a draw by perpetual check.

 

33. Qe7

a) 33. Rxd6+!! seems to win by force: 33... Kxd6 (33... Kb7 34. Qxe5) 34. Nf8+! Kc7 35. Qxe5+ Kc8 (35... Kd8 36. Qd6 Ra7 37. Ne6+ Kc8 38. Qf8+) 36. Qc5+ Kd8 37. Qd6 Qa7 38. Nc5 Kc8 39. Nfxd7 Rxg7 40. Nb6+ Qxb6 41. Qxb6

b) 33. Nd8+!? Raxd8 34. Rxd6+ Kb7 35. Qxe5

 

33... Kb7

33... Qa1+ 34. Nxa1 Rxa1+ 35. Kd2 Rxd1+ 36. Kxd1 Bxe6 37. Qxe6 Rxg7 is insufficient for Black.

 

34. Qxd6?










Derrick misses his last chance for 34. Rxd6!! Rac8 (34... Kc8 35. Qf8+! Kb7 36. Nec5+) 35. Nec5+ Now DeFirmian gets to force a win.

 

34... Qa1+ 35. Nxa1 Rxa1+ 36. Kd2 Nc4+ 37. Ke2 Nxd6 38. Rxa1

38. Rxd6 Bxe6

 

38... Bxe6

and Black eventually won. I'm sure this was a very tough loss for Derrick who had played almost brilliantly enough to mate a grandmaster!

0-1

Game Two

Dylan Loeb McClain (2331) - Mark Vander Veen (1529) [B23]

US Amateur Team-ch East/Parsipanny,NJ (1) 2009
Table 86, Board 1: #160 Piece Promoters vs. #230 Sparta Mice and Men


1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. Nge2 Nc6 4. g3 Bg4 5. Bg2 Nf6

5... Nd4?! 6. O-O!

 

6. h3 Bh5 7. g4 Bg6 8. f4 h6 9. d3 e6 10. Be3 Qb6 11. Qd2 Be7 12. O-O Nd7 13. f5 Bh7 14. fxe6

14. Nf4!

 

14... fxe6 15. Nf4 Nf8 16. Nh5 O-O-O! 17. Nxg7 Rg8 18. Nh5 Bg6 19. Nf4 Bg5 20. a3 Nd4 21. b4! h5 22. Rab1 Qc7 23. bxc5 dxc5 24. e5 b6 25. Nxg6?!

25. Bxd4!

 

25... Bxe3+ 26. Qxe3 Nxg6 27. Rbe1 hxg4 28. hxg4 Nh4 29. Bh3 Nhf5 30. Qf2 Rdf8

30... Qh7! 31. Qg2 Kb8! 32. Ne4 Nh4

 

31. Kh2 Nh6 32. Qxf8+!

A brave decision and the best chance at regaining the initiative.

 

32... Rxf8 33. Rxf8+ Kb7 34. Rf4 Nf7 35. Bg2+ Ka6 36. Rfe4 Ng5 37. Rf4 Qh7+

37... b5!

 

38. Kg3 b5 39. Ne4! Qe7

39... Nxe4+ 40. Bxe4 Qc7 41. c4 bxc4 42. dxc4 Qa5 43. Rff1 Qd2

 

40. Nd6! Nxc2 41. Rc1

41. Rb1!

 

41... Nd4 42. Rxd4! cxd4 43. Rc5 Nf7?

 










Class C players don't often get a chance to beat a master in a one-on-one contest -- let alone one who is also the Chess columnist for The New York Times. But 43... Qh7!! 44. Rc6+ (44. Kf4 Nf7) 44... Ka5 45. Ne4 Nxe4+ 46. Bxe4 Qe7 should be winning for Black.

 

44. Bb7+ Ka5 45. Rxb5+ Ka4










46. Bc6!! Nxd6??

On the scoresheet it says: "Oops!" After 46... Nd8 47. Rb7+ Nxc6 48. Rxe7 Nxe7 49. Nc4 McClain would still have to win a pawn-up ending.

 

47. Rb7+ 1-0


Game Three

Gregory Braylovsky (2441) - Rahul Swaminathan (2053) [B53]

US Amateur Team-ch East/Parsipanny,NJ (2) 2009
Table 11, Board 1: #13 Quantum of Soltis vs. #51 Four Good Mates


1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Qxd4 Nc6 5. Bb5 Bd7 6. Bxc6 Bxc6 7. Nc3 Nf6 8. Bg5 e6 9. O-O-O Be7 10. Rhe1 O-O 11. Qd2 Rc8 12. Nd4 d5 13. e5 Nd7 14. h4 Nb6 15. Bxe7 Qxe7 16. b3 a5 17. Kb1 Bd7 18. Re3 Rc5 19. h5 Qg5 20. Qe2 Rfc8 21. Rdd3 a4 22. g3 axb3 23. cxb3 Qe7 24. h6 g6 25. Qf3 R5c7 26. Nce2 Be8 27. Kb2 Qb4 28. Qf6

 

diagram

 

28... Qf8?!

I'm sure when he went home that night, Swaminathan checked his game with the computer and let out a yelp when it announced mate in four here: 28... Na4+! 29. Kb1 Qe1+ 30. Rd1 Qxd1+ 31. Nc1 Qxc1#.

 

29. Qf4 Qc5 30. Rc3 Qb4? 31. Qf6 Qf8 32. Qf4 Qb4 33. Qf6 Qf8 34. g4

Likely in time trouble, Braylovsky misses this the first time: 34. Nxe6! fxe6 35. Qxe6+ Qf7 36. Qxb6.

 

34... Nd7 35. Qf4 Nb6 36. Qf3 Qb4 37. Qf6! Qf8 38. Nxe6!

1-0

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Copyright © 2009 by Michael Goeller