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.
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
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...
13... Bxg5+ is also played but generally considered more risky for Black since it opens up an additional line for attack.
DeFirmian's GM opponents have preferred the more positional 14. h4.
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
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
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
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
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
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
A brave decision and the best chance at regaining the initiative.
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.
47. Rb7+ 1-0
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
c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Qxd4 Nc6 5. Bb5 Bd7 6. Bxc6 Bxc6 7. Nc3 Nf6 8. Bg5 e6 9.
Games in PGNCopyright © 2009 by Michael Goeller