Saturday, March 21, 2009

Near Upsets at USATE 2009

Higgins (2054) - DeFirmian (2584)
White to play.

I have posted three annotated games that were "Near Upsets at USATE 2009." The games feature confrontations between masters and amateurs where the amateurs could have won if only they had not missed the winning move or plan. I found these games while going through the file of 599 Games recently posted at the NJoyChess website (which I will probably return to in the near future to annotate other games of interest.)

Each year at the World Amateur Teams / US Amateur Team East they give out awards for the biggest ratings upset of each round. It's a shame that they can't give some consolation prize to the players of "Near Upsets" -- the ones that got away. The most interesting in that regard was Derrick Higgins vs. GM Nick DeFirmian, where the Expert player missed two chances to bring down a GM in a fascinating line of the Najdorf Sicilian (see diagram above for the first critical position). Based on the way he played, I predict that Dr. Higgins will have other chances in the future. But I'm sure he is still kicking himself over this one.

My intention is not to embarrass the amateurs who, like Rahul Swaminathan (see below) missed a chance to force mate against a strong master -- nor to embarrass the masters who almost got mated. My view is that upsets and near upsets serve to remind us of just how complex chess can be, so that even amateur players can have moments of near-brilliance where they almost see through the thicket to victory. Unfortunately, no one ever tells you during over-the-board play that it's "your turn to play and win" as they do in chess puzzle books -- or in the diagram below. Instead, in the midst of the thicket and with time ticking away on the clock we have to hope that we can sometimes see our way to the clearing ahead. And that may be why we continue to play, despite so many set-backs and failed attempts: we know that it is possible for even us amateurs to compose a masterpiece. The near-upset reminds us of what could have been, and convinces us that it is possible next time.

Braylovsky (2441) - Swaminathan (2053)
Black to play and mate in 4.
(Bonus: guess what Black did instead)


Darika said...

Hi, Michael-

Thanks for devoting so much attention to my game. It was a fun one, even if I succumbed to a blunder at the end. As I have been telling people ever since, "it's hard to play a rook down vs. a GM without trying to get some material back!"

I have to correct the score, though. Instead of 32. ...Kc6, de Firmian played 32. ...Kb8, after which I thought I could snag the pawn on d6 after 33. Qf8+ (not 33. Qe7). It's annoying that I fell for that knight fork, since I had looked at it in other variations where it did not work, because Black would have a rook hanging on a1 at the end. (Here, though, I'm losing another piece on e6.)

Anyhow, after 32. ...Kb8, de Firmian and I analyzed 33. Rd4! (covering c4, with multiple threats) as much better for white. I'll get him next time, though. :)

Michael Goeller said...

Derrick --
Thanks for the correction to your game score. I should have confirmed it with you directly rather than relying on the USATE games file at NJoyChess. You might want to send them a note before it gets added to the TWIC file (I'm sure yours will be among their selected games). It's surprising how little the correction changes, though -- you still were winning and had a second winning chance with Rxd6 after 33...Kb7. A near masterpiece, but for the fact you lost! :-)

I don't know why DeFirmian continues to play this line when it puts him in so much danger!

Darika said...

Yeah; he might want to give this line up!

I'm a little confused by the suggestion of 34. Rxd6, as this hangs my queen on f8.

Here's the complete game score, just for clarity's sake, and for the entertainment of any readers wishing to know just how long I struggled on before resigning.

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 b5 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.g5 Nd7 13.f5 Nc5 14.f6 gxf6 15.gxf6 Bf8 16.Rg1 h5 17.a3 Nd7 18.Bh3 Ne5 19.Qe2 Bd7 20.Rg7 Bxg7 21.fxg7 Rg8 22.Qxh5 O-O-O 23.Qh6 Qc5 24.Qf6 a5 25.Kb1 b4 26.axb4 axb4 27.Nce2 Kc7 28.Nf4 Ra8 29.Bxe6 Qa5 30.Nb3 Qa2+ 31.Kc1 fxe6 32.Nxe6+ Kb8 33.Qf8+ Kb7 34.Qxd6 Qa1+ 35.Nxa1 Rxa1+ 36.Kd2 Nc4+ 37.Ke2 Nxd6 38.Rxd6 Bxe6 39.Rxe6 Rxg7 40.Kd3 Rc7 41.h4 Rd1+ 42.Ke2 Rh1 43.Kd3 Rh3+ 44.Kd2 Rh2+ 45.Kd3 Rcxc2 0-1 {White resigns}

Michael Goeller said...

Ah -- that clarifies things considerably. So I will have to redo my game file. I'll try to do that by the weekend.

Just out of curiosity: how much of this were you familiar with before the game or had you analyzed on your own? And did you have a chance to prepare specifically for DeFirmian? :-)

Darika said...

I did look at the line before the USATE (in the Starting Out guide by Richard Palliser), but I didn't prepare specifically for de Firmian. I found out who I was paired against only when I sat down at the board and innocently asked the parents of boards 3&4 why their team was named after MCO!

I knew that 17. Rg7 was the book line, but Palliser evaluates that line as unclear, with White struggling to prove any advantage. I think 17. a3 is presented as a reasonable alternative in the Palliser book, and actually de Firmian seemed to think it was preferable for White. That's as far as my opening knowledge went.

It's not critical that you re-do your post, though. I think already attributes a game to me which was actually played by Sean Higgins. This stuff just makes me harder to prepare for. :)

Congrats on your USATE wins, by the way!