Archive for the ‘ Openings by Levon ’ Category

Levon Altounian is a stong IM based in Tucson, Arizona. He is the head of the Arizona Chess for Schools which you can find out more by clicking here.

ARIZONA SCORPIONS VS Seattle Sluggers ( Week 7 )


Great match and a very tough victory by the Arizona team that propelled us to a 2nd place tie in the division! I feel relieved.

San Francisco is always a tough match for us having usually employed at least 1 GM (even though some of the line ups may include even 3 GMs). Here is what I approximately thought may happen. It was a pure guess based on only either knowing our players, their preferences, in some cases their opponents.

Board 1. I was not sure what Rogelio will play this time. Last time against Bhat he played an Exhange Rui Lopez. Got a weird game, lost a piece, instead of resigning played on and …. Drew!

Board 2. I had a feeling John will play the solid type of some nf3-c4 system and it was up to Aldama to decide which way to react. I was 99% sure it will be either Kings Indian, symmetrical or some Bogo_Indian version.

Board 3. With Danny I really had no real feeling. It could be his 1d4 2 Bg5, could be Torre attack or could be main line Sicilians.

Board 4. I had no time to check what Dallas player plays as White but I was sure whatever it will be, David will play his usual stuff he knows best.

This match was a bit of a tribute to tactical creativity of all players and the slight edge Arizonans have playing ICC type chess ( SF people might disagree though)

General Styles: Barcenilla- More active chess, Bhat- more “normal” chess
Theoretical Importance:  8
Novelty: 6
Precision: 7
Opening: Scotch
The Scotch Opening choice took me by complete surprise! I had looked at playing it myself and somehow was sure Bhat would play exactly what he played again Rogelio. I watched games of Kasparov in similar lines and I was astounded how I would always guess maybe only 10% of all his moves.I knew I would not like those positions as White so didn’t even try. Now, watching the game unfold exactly how I assumed it would unfold had it been my game, I had the pleasure of watching it all from a safe distance. If Barcenilla finds something (or had prepared something ) against the lesser known 8…Nb6 (favorite of many Russian 2700 players), then he knew something I didn’t know. If he got into trouble, then it would prove my feeling that the line of Scotch in the game is too weird for normal chess players to comprehend in a complete way. I didn’t like the 11 a4 and it seemed black got more than a good game. However, complications started, time pressure slowly crept in and I think Black somewhere missed a win. Having not found a win, Black chose to trade all off into a draw, but instead found himself in a slightly worse endgame. I was still sure it will end in a draw until White pawn got to the 7th rank. Then Bhat panicked. White had a much easier win (58 Bd7!) but chose a safe way out and by force got an Queen vs Rook ending. At that point Mark Ginsburg was touting how easy it is to win it for white but forgot a “tiny”detail: few months back, he himself didn’t win it against an IM at the Copper State 09.We were sure however, Rogelio will win easily as the rook was separated from the King. To my surprise the game kept going. All ended well though, as he found a way to win the rook without reaching the dreaded 50 move rule. Very good Blitz save and win by Barcenilla but his opening choices as White sometimes scare me!
Board 2: IM Donaldson-IM Aldama
General Styles: Donaldson- Super solid openings as White, Aldama- much less theory while compensating it by sharp tactics.
Theoretical Importance:  8
Novelty: 9
Precision: 9
Opening: Kings Indian
As I mentioned, I was expecting Kings Indian in this game. However, John played a very interesting new move ( at least for me )-9 b3!!. It seems Black should have some Nf6 forced removal and Ra1 capture  ( like N:d5 or Ne4 ) but the simple fact White played it and Black did nothing about it, convinced me in about 2 seconds there has to be nothing for Black. Aldama never misses such chances and John never blunders those. If that is the case, then the small advantage White obtained by switching to English structure from that line of KID should make all future attempts by Black to play this line a very unpleasant experience. However, White didn’t seem to be inclined to really push for a win, being happy to keep the slight edge.He probably had a win at the end but chickened out and repeated the position. Good Defense in a very unpleasant position by Aldama.
Board 3: FM Rensch-FM Naroditsky
General Styles: Rensch- very aggressive. Naroditsky- also very aggressive.
Theoretical Importance:  9
Novelty: 8
Opening:  Bg5 Veresov.
From where I stood, the opening choice was hilarious. Danny plays as White a line that a 2100 Geary used against himself to obtain a winning game…. 5 moves or so later, using the most illogical looking move:6 a3!!??. Naroditsky played the in most logical way and I thought obtained a slight edge if had squeezed in some a7-a5 break. But the game became much more normal after both sides developed. What happens when 2 tactical guys get a boring position? Hint: no draw. As a result – White gets a totally losing position and then wins in a magical way! Mark was right again- Statistical Rensch proved milestones do happen. It was statistically impossible for him not to win a game. His first win for the Scorpion team and definitely not last!
Board 4: Young-Adelberg
General Styles: Young-active, Adelberg- more normal but still aggressive.
Theoretical Importance:  8
Novelty: 5
Precision: 9
Opening: Sicilian Kan.
I was amazed as to why would David play Kan! The only reason could be to transpose to the English System lines ( Be3-0-0-0-g4 push ) ideas but keep the Bf8 open to jump to b4. I had seen many games of that sort from the Taimanov system ( Nc6 for Black- helping Master Vaishnav Aradhyula prepare for matches) and Najdorf ( d6 for Black) but I knew in Kan that system doesn’t work for White. But he has plenty of options ( just ask Leo to share his worn out Kan book!) So the only reason to play a whole new line was to get White to play the English attack and prove it wrong against Kan? Far fetched, impossible, White is not crazy. Turned out that is exactly what White did! I am not sure if the choice of the system was prepared at home by David (or his coach) completely or just by some guessing method or not, but it ended up EXACTLY how he planned, which was great to see. White was down a piece few moves later. I love when people can prepare for opponents and get exactly what they want. Controlling the uncontrollable ( the opponent’s mind) is a great feeling. Unfortunately, from a complete winning game the game drifted to more unclear and finally in some magical way White won from being down a whole piece from move 12 to 58!. I can imagine how bad it felt for black but that is the chess life. Things can turn bad sometimes. Part of growing up in chess is getting stuff like this- we all go through it.
Overall, somewhere 1 hour into a game:,Board one was in trouble, Board 2 also definitely in some trouble, Board 3- definitely in trouble and Board 4- definitely winning. The word “ definite” apparently doesn’t apply to these guys because none of it turned the way it was supposed to- much to the pleasure of all of the Arizona players and observers as we won the match. I still need to check how many gray and white hair though this match brought to the members such as Robby and Leo collectively!

Levon Altounian Looks at the Scorpion Openings in the Scorpion-Destiny Match!



Very interesting match where each game was very hard fought and emotionally complicated.

I guessed the approximate direction of boards 1 and 4 but not the boards 2 and 3. At the end, we ended up drawing the match trailing 1:2 and needing a win on board 1. At the end we got it when Black resigned…. In a drawn position! There is some justice after all for Scorpions.

Since I had no clue what the games were going to look like, Here are the thoughts I had.

Board 1. Alejandro gets some space edge, Bart holds it as usually he does and the game goes into a deep endgame. After it- no clue what happens but as Leo had put it “GM with white- definite favorite”

Board 2. I was curious what Barcenilla will play as Black on 1 d4.He rarely shifted from his beloved Kings Indian and I expected some Kings Indian- Main line or Side line.

Board 3. Didn’t have a chance to see what Robby’s opponent plays but I knew both will play main line of … something!

Board 4. Sharp game of a main line Sicilian or a side line by white if she decided not to get into Sicilians after Adelberg won very nicely in round 1 for the Scorpions. It showed he understands those types well.

Board 1: GM Ramirez-IM Bartholomew

General Styles: Ramirez- active in the opening as White, looks for stable edge or good plan.Likes having extra space. Bartolomew- likes solid games, doesn’t mind a bit passive versions if nothing “hangs”

Theoretical Importance:  8

Novelty: 6

Precision: 9

Opening: Slav

I honestly thought it may be 4 e3 Slav by Alejandro. Opening choice of lines and sublines was fun for me to watch. I was smiling the whole time! I didn’t expect him to play the 4 Qc2 line I often play myself and faced as Black in the last match against Baltimore! Bart plays the line…. Alejandro played against me himself when I was White. He responds to Black.. the same way I played it as White and not the way Baltimore Enkhbat played against me. Thank you guys!!Alejandro got a tiny edge, it seemed to evaporate somewhere in the early middlegame, reappear when White squeezed Black on the Queen side and almost disappear when Black correctly traded 2 Minor pieces for a Rook. I have a feeling Black could play for a central break with e5 instead of the b5.However, even then it looks like Black rooks were very strong. This is exactly when I think the small strength difference showed up. About 10 moves later White was undeniably better but it was hard to win. Good accomplishment from “unclear”. The end was very strange… It seems like in time pressure Black just committed suicide, and when White “ proved” it by Bb5- Black immediately resigned. I didn’t think of it much until watching the other games when someone shouted Black resigned in a draw position. I went back thinking maybe Black could sac the rooks and get stalemate? Nope, no Stalemate. I was about to type in the kibitz whoever is shouting that is on some unlawful medicine when I realized it is one of the most unlikely perpetual checks I have ever seen! One rook can check White’s king to the eternity without any other seemingly required help from other pieces. Would have been REALLY sad to end this game in a draw, the match in a loss and see chances of the team almost completely evaporate. Very good game by Alejandro overall.

Board 2: IM Bercys- IM Barcenilla

General Styles: Bercys- more positional opening but more tactical chess after it.Barcenilla- very deep knowledge of openings and the mixed style.

Theoretical Importance:  3

Novelty: 2

Precision: 6

Opening: Kings Indian/ Benoni

Very strange opening by Rogelio and a very weird choice of Bishop retreat (Bh6- Bg7? ). It almost was like “I’ll give you a weak pawn or may even win it, so defend it! No? Ok, you called my bluff- lets go back to normal”. White chose the “Russian” system against the Benoni, which turned out to be one of the main reasons why that move order is less played on the top level. It is true that winning the pawn ( B:e3 f3 R:e3 ) is extremely dangerous, but playing a solid style. If my memory serves me right, Kamsky himself held those as Black successfully before. For interested people I would suggest looking at games of GM Art. Minasian- he loves those as Black and plays some very interesting concepts.The rest of the game went under “ I give you 2 moves and then play chess- can I beat you then?” Unfortunately, the answer this time was “no!” Bercie pressured Barcie and won nicely. Rogelio never got to show his great blitz skills. Unfortunate opening disaster.

Board 3: FM Adamson-FM Kiewra

General Styles: Adamson- main line theoretician with active opening choices. Kiewra- more solid choices ( at least from what I saw )

Theoretical Importance:  9

Novelty: 7

Precision: 8

Opening: Sicilian Dragon+

This was a game that I both understood and not really understood. Opening choice was a regular Main line Dragon. Robby opted for the safer system and Black played the safest system on that system! Few rounds before GM Kritz won very nicely against GM Kudrin in a similar type game where Black wanted to make things complicated. In this game it seemed both knew the safest theory possible: White gets a nice looking small edge and Black gets a very nice looking…..possible defense. I would especially draw reader’s attention to how White secured the King’s safety ( Nd5!, Kb1, Rc1!? ) idea together with attacking Black’s King ( h4-g4-Bh3!-Bg4!). I am not sure I understood Robby’s choice of not trading Queens and winning the e7 important pawn however. Once he refused trading queens with me with the accompanying phrase I still remember “It is still a morning, I have not yet had breakfast, I am not trading Queens”. I am yet to discover the underlying meaning of that phrase! Maybe something like that was going on too. It seemed to me he declined it on several occasions, each time with winning a pawn. I might be wrong and I am not using a computer to help me judge those things. After things got traded, the worst was over for Black and White was the one barely keeping equality. As long as White kept queens, he would be OK, as the activity of pieces would compensate for a Bad bishop. However, queens came off and the game quickly went downhill. I had mentioned in my interview that this game was the most important game of the match, and it turned out to be exactly that. Rough game and tough choices.

Board 4: WFM Zorigt-Adelberg

General Styles: Zorigt- tough and aggressive, Adelberg- young, active and booked up.

Theoretical Importance:  7

Novelty: 6

Precision: 9

Opening: Sicilian Najdorf

Great game by Adelberg! What was interesting is that I discovered a trait in most boards 3 and 4 for this round. Each time one side would try to “improve” on theory or maybe confuse the opponent by playing not best moves. Most of the times it miserably failed, and this was a perfect example of it. While Adelberg is playing the normal theory of Sicilian, white decided to mix ideas. Playing English attack mixed with Rauzer and Polugaevsky system. Sounds complicated? It is! And usually trying to play things better than the best brains of last 100 years have collaborated and agreed on, backfires. It is not to say she tried a horrible idea- the concept of Bg5 then coming back to e3, while making Black make certain moves such as nc6 or 0-0 is known and interesting. But it didn’t work out in this game as she planned. David’s very smart and timely exchange sac on c3 gave him the initiative. It might be bad for white already or maybe she missed some chances but the end position proves why Sicilian as Black is so dangerous, fun to play and complicated. The final position deserves a diagram.

Overall, very fun and very tough and educational match I am sure everyone enjoyed and learned from. I am just glad it ended in a draw.

Levon Altounian Continues His Scorpion Opening Report!

Levon Altounian continues his opening report of AZ Scorpion games. This time he analyzes what went wrong in the Scorpion’s 1.5-2.5 loss to Seattle and what we can do better in our future matches.  You can visit his website to learn more about him and his chess activities.



Very, very close match that ended badly.

Before the match I thought we are about evenly matched and the games would be very interesting and we would win. I thought board 1 will be the key battle. Sadly, I was right in that the games were entertaining with some interesting opening choices and some complicated tactics but they didn’t end well. I personally hate losing very close team matches- much rather see a real big loss. Then the pressure is off each player in a sense- we all were bad, let’s move on. So far we won then drew then lost a match. If this is an indication of a “business cycle” then we should be winning the next match. I did like however, how players on boards 2-4 handled the time management and the opening choices and subsequent positions for our team ended up above average for this round. Unfortunately, as Alekhine once said “unfortunately God has put a middlegame between openings and endgames”

As always, I’ll first present my prediction/expectations.

This time first 3 boards were nearly impossible for me to guess.

Board 1. Knowing Nakamura and his range of openings, I didn’t want to even guess. If I had to- I would guess some fianchetto system since Barcenilla usually plays English types.

Board 2. I was not what this will be either. I was not in contact with Mark regarding the opening choices but  I thought he will shy away from weird lines he doesn’t know ( like last year’s choice of a Gruenfeld gambit against the same opponent ) and play solid.

Board 4. That one was easier for me to guess. If White plays 1 d4- Leo can play his Benko or something like that and if White plays 1 Nf3, we were thinking of choice for Black. At the end I thought Leo has to chose between 2 systems: Double fianchetto or Queen side fianchetto.

Board 1: GM Barcenilla- GM Nakamura

General Styles: Barcenilla- very organized but limited openings choices and then pretty mixed style between positional and tactical chess.

Theoretical Importance:  6

Novelty: 8

Precision: 6

Opening: Symmetrical English

I really did not understand Rogelio’s choice of the opening. It was too meek for him. I am not sure if he was trying for a draw behind the safety of White’s pieces in symmetrical structure, was hoping for a tiny edge or thought Nakamura will go all out and screw up. From the experience of playing those positions as White for many years, I learned a valuable lesson: You can’t draw them at will and the best way to go for a draw…. is to get an edge. I also got a feeling Rogelio got the “Nakamura bug” where players assume they will somehow get outplayed in a normal game and either go wild or go too passive. I am not sure what “bug” I had last year playing Nakamura but I could feel I am not playing the “normal” way I usually do either. I was just hoping Rogelio is better than me in that sense. The line White chose almost has no game in the database and most White somehow managed to lose. Black’s 11…e5 was some sort of novelty. I didn’t have a chance to ask Nakamura if he knew the line, calculated over the board, got “lucky” it didn’t happen or screwed up, got into it and then calculated it out but white had a super strong looking 12 N:e5. At first glance it looks really good, then turns out Black holds in a miraculous way. Black can capture it with a knight or a Bishop.12…N:e5 seems very natural. Then 13 B:b7 N:b5 14 B:a8 Q:a8 15 f4! (pin) Nd4! 16 B:d4 (isn’t white winning?) Nd3!! (nope!) 17 B:g7 N:c1 18 B:h8 Kd7 19 Be5 Nd4 20 B:d4 c:d4 we arrive by force to an ending here White 2 rooks seem a bit more powerful than Black’s Queen. However, Black had another and very strange but good way to play: 12…B:e5. Would Black find or trust it though? It looks really bad until we continue on. 13 B:c6+ B:c6 14 B:e5 N:b5 15 B:h8 where after 15…f6 it looks increasingly unclear. What is amazing is that a super computer cannot make up its mind about this line either! It starts with “White is winning” and then switches slowly to “unclear” This is what I meant about not being sure if Nakamura calculated this, missed 12 N:e5 complications or that his intuition told him he will be ok. Either way, I have deep faith in Barcenilla’s tactical ability and had he chosen this line, we could have easily seen a very important upset or a draw. I actually somehow believe at some point it would have ended up in a draw regardless of the line Black would have chosen. As it happened, White didn’t play it and it seemed to me he was upset about not doing it, lost his line of thought, got a bad game and then got also low on time. The rest was no fun. Not a typically sharp Barcenilla. Too bad.

Board 2: IM Mikhailuk- IM Ginsburg.

General Styles: Mikhailuk- mixed style with more positional connotations. Ginsburg- mixed style with more “logical chess” mix-up.

Theoretical Importance:  6

Novelty: 4

Precision: 8

Opening: English Opening

The game was a logical clash of both sides looking for long and short-term advantages. Neither side made any mistakes and there were few things I was not sure if they were the best but they looked at least OK ( 9 Rc1?! , 9…B:f5 !?, 10 e4 !? 10…Bg4 !? ). The game basically was not even based on moves but rather concepts. Here is how I perceived it: English Opening- White plays Queen side for an Endgame. Black Plays King side. White changes it all by move 10- gets space but creates a hole, which is good now for Black’s endgame. However, he gets 2 bishops for it. Then White pushes on the King side to go around the weakness on d4 he created while Black occupies it. Black reacts to it by opening the center and creating weaknesses but weakening the outpost and giving white more center and activating white bishops. So who got more? Who knows…..White starts methodically trading pieces to ease the grip so later he can use the bishops. Trades happen… all looks logical but opps! The weaknesses White had didn’t go away and he needed 1-2 more moves to fix them that never arrived. Mark was fast, very logical with no extra moves thrown in to help white solve his problems. Black’s strategy prevails. There was no way to guess who is right about their concepts but I think the experience of Mark prevailed, coupled by Mikhailuk’s feeling that somehow he will find a way out like he did in their last year’s 2 match encounter ( overly optimistic 21 b5 for example ). Mark won a very nice game and took a sweet revenge. Lesson to remember: Don’t mess with experience and tall people with personal blogs.

Board 3: FM Rensch-FM Lee.

General Styles: Rensch- tactical with specialty openings. Lee- also tactical with specialty openings.

Theoretical Importance:  6

Novelty: 6

Precision: 7

Opening: Trompowsky

Even though me and Danny had not spoken about this match-up, I have a feeling Danny felt the same (or similar ) way as I did about this game in terms of opening choice (which I was no idea what was going to be). Here are my thoughts in general way.

  1. Danny plays very unstable chess lately. Some great games mixed with some bad games. For example- horrific result at the AZ State Championship.
  2. Lee was board 4 last year and our board 4 Warren Harper won 2 very convincing games by playing simple structures with initiative ( more exactly- Grand Prix system both as White and Black ). Now he is board 3 so we should have a good chance.
  3. Danny had recent problems with very sharp openings and it makes sense to occasionally play a slower pace chess, which, if last year’s games were of any indication, were Lee’s problem spots.
  4. Danny played 1 d4 against Leo Martinez at the State Ch-ship but then “deviated” by playing a main line Benko. I thought then he will play 2 Bg5.He did it this time.
  5. Neither of them likes boring, long term chess styles.

With this in mind, I very much liked Danny’s choice of the opening. It seemed like the opening went at least well and Black was getting into time trouble. I think White should have not allowed the Bh3 move and the subsequent bishop trade, which weakened White’s structure.Small structural edge was nice for White nevertheless. But then I have a feeling Danny put caution aside ( 26 Rd3-Rb3 ?! ) and the complications lead to more complications. He should have played some stable ways of defending f2 and slowly advancing the queen side pawns with a small but nice edge. Another plan was moving the King to defend e3, put the rook on h1 and then attack f5 or trade rooks. I would love being white there. Black was a bit lucky to find his Queen side pawn pushes and Danny didn’t find the best way to deal with it. I run it through a computer and it seems to be just even with best play from both sides. The final extremely sad and brutal blunder by Danny sealed the game. I wish Danny simply better luck at the USCL tournaments and to show all of us how dangerous he really is when he plays the way he knows how to play. Come on Danny!

Board 4: Sinanan-Martinez

General Styles: Sinanan- simple, normal chess with set openings. Martinez- more tactical (but smarter chess lately)

Theoretical Importance:  8

Novelty: 5

Precision: 7

Opening: English/ Hedgehog

As I mentioned before, Leo was preparing for the game and had few choices to employ as Black against the system his opening used very frequently. It did work out pretty well and he got exactly what he wanted. The other choices we discussed we will keep for the next matches! White did not know the precise line against Black’s set up, mixed 4 systems together ( b3 Bb2 then Qe3-Nd4, then f3-e4, then waiting chess ) and it looked like the Hedgehog will spring up and crash white. It almost happened until white took on a6 (25 Q:a6). It was lucky for white that 25…Ra8 doesn’t win on the spot. Leo however, should have done it I think anyways, as he always had a draw “in pocket” That line was a topic of a heated discussion duel between Alejandro Ramirez and Hikaru on ICC while the game was going on. He spent a huge amount of time and chose the draw line. Result was not bad and certainly logical, but considering how Black outplayed White, it could have been possibly better.

Good luck to all for the next match! We are still in a good shape.

IM Levon Altounian talks about the Scorpion Openings including his game

This is Levon’s weekly column concerning the openings in the Arizona Scorpion games. Visit Levon’s website to learn more about what he is doing regarding chess in Tucson, AZ.



Well, my mood is not where it was writing about the match 1. We did OK and mainly it was “thanks” to me not winning a 95% winning position. Before the match most were predicting a win for our team and we did come indeed very close. From the more positive point- we have more points now than we had last year after Match 2, so we are still in a good shape. Once again, I want to thank all the players, organizers, helpers and volunteers for making this yet another perfect match.

My predictions about the match openings were approximately this way:

Board 1. I expected some English pawn structure or a Slav type.

Board 2. I knew I was going to play 1 e4, which should be a slight surprise for my opponent. I expected a Modern, Pirc, Sicilian, Caro or even Alekhine. I looked at all… except Sicilian, which was played! Had indeed read GM Hess’s comments about my style and opening choice and wanted the extra pleasure of proving I am not always a “Nf3 Fiancetto Lev”. Who knows.. maybe he was right.

Board 3. I very quickly looked up at Robby’s opponent’s games and was not sure what even the 1st move will be. It could be 1 e4 (going for blood, since last year Robby beat the same guy in the Slav/Stonewall ) or could be 1 d4, since amazingly both players had similar opening repertoires as Black ( Sicilians, French, Benko, you name it )

Board 4. Considering David likes fianchettoed Bishop on most Gruenfeld/Benoni/Kings Indians, I saw likelyhood of one of it happening or thought maybe some slav might be happening.

Board 1: GM Ehlvest- GM Ramirez

General Styles: Ehlvest – More into structural/special advantage openings. Ramirez- more active and creative openings.

Theoretical Importance:  7

Novelty: 5

Precision: 8

Opening: English/Maroczi Bind

Ehlvest is very strong in pawn structures ( Alejandro called him a “legend” ) that are mainly fixed yet have lot of wiggling room. I lost to him few years ago in that exact manner. However, he barely drew at the last season again a Dallas IM as white in one of those structures so even though I didn’t like what Alejandro got, I thought the story can repeat. Ehlvest interpreted the structure this time with 8.f3 (instead of Be2 normal set-ups) and quickly got a small edge I thought. Despite Alejandro’s usual creativeness (moves such as 16…Bb2, 37…Q:c2), it didn’t have the desired result against the ironed logic of Ian, where his 2 Bishop’s advantage slowly led to a direct King side attack. The game also proved one more time why 2 Bishops is an advantage. As Tartakower put it in 1920’s half seriously, half jokingly- the advantage of 2 bishops is.. you can always trade one.

Board 2: IM Altounian- IM Burnett.

General Styles: Me- more structural as White. Burnett- less theory, more creativity.

Theoretical Importance:  6

Novelty: 9

Precision: 9

Opening: Sicilian Alapin

A very sad game for me, especially since last year  ( 2008 )  the 2nd game for the Scorpions I had amazingly similar story: Winning position into the middlegame, and then sac of an exchange for an attack and 3 pawns and missed a checkmate in 1! This time I didn’t miss a checkmate, but after being up 2 pawns, missed a tactic and ended up down an exchange for again 3 pawns! Few more small but important mistakes in the time pressure and I had to agree for yet another draw. As I mentioned above, I looked up every opening… except what was played. So after playing my main line against the Sicilian- the Alapin, I was feeling uncomfortable about his 1st move choice. Fortunately Ron chose a line I know well (GM Khachian frequently played it against me when I was residing in California) and he immediately made an inaccuracy that many people apparently also made in the database ( 4…Nd7 does not look good in conjunction with 5…Qc7 ). I found the most precise way to prove it wrong and get a winning position (starting with 6 Qb3 and up to 18 Rb1- according to Rybka I played best moves) but then completely missed my opponent’s amazing resource ( 21…Rb6!!). Had I seen it, instead of the rush 19 R:b7, 19 f:e5 would effectively finish the game. After being forced to sac an exchange, few mistakes later (most notably missing 27 Qc5! which still wins very nicely) the game ended up in a draw, much to my and teammates disappointment. I’ll just live by Robby’s words after the game “You are not going to be the last one to screw up at this tournament”. Lets see- hopefully not me and not our team! Last thought and Greg Shahade can decide if it is legal- can I play first 25 moves, get positions I get and pass it to let’s say Alejandro to finish it?

Board 3: FM Andrews- FM Adamson.

General Styles: Andrews- active chess, less openings as 1 d4. Adamson- active yet more structured openings as Black.

Theoretical Importance:  8

Novelty: 7

Precision: 5

Opening: Bogo-Indian/2 Knights Tango

I think Robby was a bit surprised by the 1d4 choice and chose his 2 Knights Tango that frequently leads to closed up structures of Bogo-Indians. At some point I think both me and Robby had the feeling that 11 Ne1 was an inaccuracy (normally White waits for Black to castle then goes Ne1). However, I personally didn’t like how the game went between moves 12-15 for Black (such as 13…d:c5) where it looks like Black regrets his choice for King side attack.  However, I just think Robby is stronger than similarly rated other players ( I don’t even want to count how many points I lost in my rating from drawing Robby countless times) and quickly fixes the problems (or his opponent was not strong enough to prove him wrong) he is facing while retaining the extra pawn. The rest was very nicely done.Once again, very well done! Perfect 3rd board.

Board 4: Adelberg-Justice

General Styles: Adelberg- active but set opening repertoire. Justice- more active openings.

Theoretical Importance:  8

Novelty: 7

Precision: 8

Opening: Gruenfeld, Fianchetto line.

I was recently reviewing the game Bacrot-Maze (Montreal 2009) where black successfully solved opening problems (draw in 22 moves) when I saw our 4th board got the exact same position. I am not an expert on this line but it looked like this game also ended up relatively even up to the end. Justice did not trade Queens like GM Maze did but got a normal game nevertheless. After some more trades Black got a passed pawn where it looked like he has chances to win. It is not easy playing equalish middlegames against Queen side majorities. Precise defense by David up to the point when they went from 1 minute to 6 minutes left, thanks to the 30 second increment rule.Yet continued blitzing out and making many small inaccuracies made it hard to judge for observers. At the end all ended peacefully and the overall match was tied.

Levon Altounian Reviews the Scorpions Openings

Levon Altounian writes about the openings in the Arizona-Chicago Match. This will be a weekly column by Levon about only the openings for the Arizona Matches. He also runs the Arizona Chess for Schools based out of Tucson, AZ.


Opening Review:

Before I start about the openings I want to say a few words about the match in general.

What a match and what a sweet result! As many blogs, predictions and even personal bets indicated, most thought we had a better chance of coming ahead in the match. Some of the predictions (such as of Elliott Liu) and the recap by Alejandro Ramirez were very close to what I personally thought to before and after the match. This time we didn’t have a chance to prepare as a team, as we did last year and it might have been for the better. We never won a match with a score of 3.5-0.5 and I can assure you- it will be very hard to repeat.  Chicago probably doesn’t like us much anymore. We won last year round 1 against them also and then won the 2nd match too. This year we started with a very good victory and as some indicated- we should campaign to stop the match right now and we win on tie-breaks!

Kudos to organizers and helpers who made an effort (and succeeded) in creating a perfect environment for the players and the spectators.

Now about the Openings:  In each case I’ll be using a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) to convey my thoughts on different subjects for each game. I also have to approximate things to the best of my knowledge.

My feelings about the Openings before the round by boards were:

Board 1: Alejandro gets a small edge. If nothing goes badly either a win, draw or time scramble.

Board 2: Depending on Felecan’s first move- on 1 d4 a very complex game and on 1 e4- more solid Ruy Lopez main lines.

Board 3: Robby with white is super solid. Some small edge position for white with likely draw result or a more complex opening with chances for both sides.

Board 4: Let the young fighter boys fight in some theoretical line that players on first 3 boards feel too behind in theory or too old for.

Board 1: GM Ramirez- GM Mitkov.

General Styles: Ramirez – More active. Mitkov- More positional.

Theoretical Importance:  5

Novelty: 2

Precision: 8

Opening: Catalan

I was not sure what opening we will have in this game and furthermore, I was not sure what Alejandro will open with but I had a feeling that because he was playing for the Scorpions for the first time, he would spare us some grey hair and not play anything weird. Getting a Catalan (with a slight adjustment of having a Bishop on d2 instead of on c1 because of  4…Bb4+ 5 Bd2) limits White’s choices but does not offer equality for Black yet. Mitkov had some similar games before where things ended up wild. This game however, went under White’s lead. I really don’t like Black’s 9… a5 much. It weakened some squares and made Black have a very passive game. Black’s 12…Ra7 was a bit dubious too. I would myself have preferred 12…Nfd7 (Nb8 keeps control of the c6 square). Somewhere between moves 13-21 White let the big part of the advantage slip but still kept a very nice edge. The rest was just a game with White having at least a practical advantage of enjoying easier task of just controlling files, dark squares and some pawn pushing. Black probably being tired of the defense didn’t notice a very good counterattack 30… Nd4! The rest was a matter of technique which Alejandro did flawlessly.

Board 2 FM Felecan- IM Altounian

General Styles: Felecan- aggressive style and opening choices: Me- solid opening choices

Theoretical Importance:  4

Novelty: 2

Precision: 8

Opening: Italian

Quite honestly his 3 Bc4 caught me by surprise. I had not seen a single game of his playing that move. So I played what I knew best 3…Nf6. His choice of 4 d3 cleared the matters- he just wants to play a positional slow and very non-theoretical chess. He didn’t know the latest theory on it (or the way Kramnik interpreted those positions as White) so I had a simple game with a few ways to equalize. Unfortunately there was not much more for Black. Not wanting to completely dry up the game by 8… Ne4!? 9 N:e4 d5 10 Bb5 d:e4 11 B:c6 e:f3 12 B:f3, I chose a more complex looking move that keeps pieces on the board. After his next move 9. Nd5 I regretted my desire to get more out of the position than it gives. The proceeding exchanges led to a slight edge for White where I almost blundered (when  I played 8…Qd7 I had foreseen the position after the trades and meant to play 12… N:d5?? 13 Q:d5 c6 thinking I am winning the piece back as after 14 Qa5 b6 the Queen cannot defend the Bishop. Luckily I double checked it and to my horror saw 15 Qd2 and I am down a piece. The next few moves led to Whites small advantage (especially strong and a move I totally missed was his 16 Bb5! That stops Re8 trades and threatens Bd7 ideas). I decided not to tempt faith and offered a draw, seeing that we are doing well on boards 1 and 3 and board 4 while looking messy start looking favorable for us.

Board 3: FM Adamson- IM Pasalic

General Styles: Adamson solid but theoretical and aggressive, especially with White: Pasalic-mainly solid opening lines but some theoretical Sicilians and Kings Indians too.

Theoretical Importance:  8

Novelty: 6

Precision: 8

Opening: Sicilian Rauzer

Ever since Robby switched from Alapin Sicilian (1 e4 c5 2 c3) to main line Sicilians, I would not suggest players tackle that opening (or at least main lines) with Robby. It works to his advantage of being an FM (just like for Danny Rensch who seems like took more Sicilian GM scalps than in any other opening) when all the IMs and GMs decide to play those Sicilians trying to beat FMs. I don’t know those lines very well but having grown up reading Russian chess magazines in 1990’s, the Rauzer (where Black puts both knights out right away) was one of the lines I would always encounter reading about. I would go even as far as declaring that if the Sicilian isn’t the very best choice against Robby, the Rauzer is probably the worst of them all against him. I would direct your attention to how skillfully White disallowed Black’s general concept of pushing the h7 pawn as far as it can go. In either case, using super GM Leko’s Sicilian ideas and precise moves ( 13. Bh5 followed by transferring the rook to h3 and then to h5 ) and his own creativity, white got a very pleasant game with about 4 pawn targets, 6 pieces to use for the attack and 3 pawn breaks. Because of the Rook on h5- the “as far as it can go” was not too far: only to h6. The rest of the game went under White’s definite edge and while the time pressure for both sides added to the anxiety, I never doubted the Blitzmaster’s Blitz mastery. Game ended very miserably for Black.

Board 4 Magness-Adelberg

General Styles: Both players being young (especially Adelberg ), means that they have their preferred systems and openings that usually lead to complex games with chances for both sides.

Theoretical Importance:  9

Novelty: 7

Precision: 5

Opening: Najdorf Sicilian (English Attack)

As one of the spectators correctly noticed this game was an “absolute Magness!”  I remember when in 1993 I told my coach I would like to play the English Attack as white and that I studied it for a while- he told me “you cannot play a side line like that and be ready in less than 2 years” The first part proved to be false as the line quickly replaced all others as the main line against Najdorf and is very popular now on every level. The other part of the prediction proved to be right- there are some unimaginably crazy and complicated lines in this variation that takes years to figure out. However, who else but young people with their ability to remember and memorize, combined with fearlessness that comes with age- is better suited to play this? Adelberg actually chose a relatively less popular line- very quick redeployment of the Nf6 to b6 square. I had seen that played in some other games (notably in GM Becerra- GM Novikov at the US Championship few years ago- right next to me) where both sides tried to out-remember the lines. In both games White courageously sacrifices a knight for 2 or 3 pawns. In this game however, White quickly found himself in an unfamiliar situation (it is hard to expect your young opponent to know all those lines!) and makes a very bad move (17. Rd2?) after exhausting his opening knowledge. According to RYBKA computer and some database games- after White’s best 17 Q:g7, we get a forced draw. At least that is what I see unless some RYBKA-killer shows up. Black ends up missing a very hard to find but a short and beautiful win (20…Ra6 21 Qd5 0-0!! 22 R:e2 Qa8! 23 Q:a8 Rf:a8 and White is losing  a rook). After more complications (21 Bg5?? Instead of 21 Bb6!) Black was up 2 pieces. It should have ended right there if it weren’t for David’s blunder that nearly spoiled it. It all ended well however, and AppleBees got 6 happy customers half an hour later to celebrate a 3.5/ 0.5 win.