California, Here Comes the USCF

Reprinted from Chess Life Online, October 20, 2010.

The Denker tournament, named in honor of GM Arnold Denker, has become one of the most prestigious events on the annual scholastic calendar under the dedicated stewardship of Dewain Barber. This year’s winner, Steven Zierk , tells his story:

This was my second try at the Denker. The first try was two years ago, and didn’t go very well; the first round saw me lose playing down 450 points, and the last round was a 130 move loss in a complicated Exchange down endgame. This year was a bit more successful. Although all of my games were tough, long games against strong opponents and several times being outplayed in the opening, I managed to take the edge and pull off wins in the long run. This last round game was no exception. It was a Caro-Kann, yet it quickly became a fierce fighting game with attacks storming on opposite wings. A tactical oversight by Kevin gives me the upper hand, and despite ingenious attempts his position never recovers. Despite missing the simplest and most obvious win, I cleanly converted the advantage in another last round Exchange down endgame. (The protected passed pawn on the seventh helped a bit.)

The tournament was superbly organized—it is the first in my memory where every round started on time. Everything went very smoothly from beginning to end. The only thing I could suggest improving is the time control—in almost all of my games, both of us were under 10 minutes for a large portion of the game. Of course this may not be practical due to limited time, but I just wish I had a bit more for each game.

Caro-Kann Defense, Modern Line (B17)
FM Steven Zierk (2425)
Kevin Zhang (2203)
Denker (6), 08.03.2010

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7 5. Nf3 Ngf6 6. Ng3 e6 7. Bf4

An unusual move, trying to stop … Bd6. I didn’t remember the theory, since I’d never played this line in a game before. The main move is 7. Bd3.

7. … Be7 8. Bc4 0-0 9. Qe2 Nb6 10. Bb3

Black has difficulties developing, so for now White has a solid advantage.

10. … Nbd5 11. Bg5?!

Both White and Black miss the shot 11. … Bb4+! forcing awkward concessions from White. 12. c3? Nxc3 is losing, and 12. Bd2? leads to the nice tactical shot 12. … Nf4! 13. Qf1 Bxd2+ and it is hard to decide whether 14. Kxd2 or 14. Nxd2 is less appealing. White has to play 12. Nd2, but after 12. … h6 Black’s position is at least fine. White had to accept 11. Bd2.

11. … Qc7?! 12. 0-0-0

I didn’t particularly want to play this, but White has to do something about the threats of … Bb4+ and … Nf4 followed by … h7-h6. From here on out the game is extremely complicated.

12. … b5 13. c3 a5 14. Bc2 a4 15. Qd3 Nf4 16. Bxf4 Qxf4+

Both sides want to attack on opposite wings.

17. Kb1 b4?!

He should have prevented White’s next move, perhaps by 17. … g6 or 17. … Qh6 immediately.

18. Nh5! Qh6 19. Nxf6+ gxf6

After 19. … Bxf6 20. cxb4 followed by 21. a3, it is hard for Black to break through White’s pawns, while g2-g4 and h2-h4 to open up Black’s king are easy for White.

20. cxb4

I preferred this to allowing … bxc3, but it doesn’t look right. One should very rarely move pawns on their weaker side. Perhaps 20. c3-c4, allowing 20. … b4-b3, is best.

20. … Bxb4 21. g4 Ba6?! 22. Qe4

Now White has two threats: 23. g5 fxg5 24. Nxg5 and the one in the game, which my opponent missed.

22. … Qg7 23. d5!

The position is still very dangerous, but now White wrecks Black’s pawns.

23. … Rab8 24. dxe6 Ba3 25. b3

25. e7!?!? Rxb2+ 26. Ka1 is worth serious consideration, and my longest think of the game was deciding between these two moves. Ultimately I went against 25. e7, since even if it is good, my opponent is allowed massive threats and I could not actually find a solidly better line. It is much safer to play 25. b3.

25. … f5 26. Qe5

Black’s position is very difficult—his attack has stalled and thanks to the d5 trick, White is smashing through in the center. Kevin finds some ingenuous moves, but it is not enough.

26. … Be2!?

Before you look ahead, a little puzzle for you: see if you can find White’s next move.

27. Rdg1!

Now Black’s king and queen are the ones in danger. There is no defense short of an endgame down several pawns.

27. … Bb2 28. Qxb2?

I considered the more materialistic but dangerous 28. Qxe2, and 28. Qxg7+ and 28. gxf5. However, my mind completely shut out the obvious 28. Kxb2!, winning instantly. Perhaps I had just considered the black queen to be protecting the bishop, but this is a simple mistake. In the end I decided I could comfortably win the upcoming endgame and there was no reason to risk 28. Qxe2. Kxb2 did not even enter consideration.

28. … Qxb2+ 29. Kxb2 Bxf3 30. gxf5+ Kh8 31. e7 Rfe8 32. f6 Bxh1?!

A little note—the rook can’t run, why not wait for White to waste a move on the g1-rook first?

33. Rxh1

Material is technically even, but a protected passer on the seventh and a weak king for your opponent are enough to win almost any game.

33. … c5 34. Kc3 Rg8 35. Rd1

Black’s king is literally caged, and the rooks are confined to the first rank as otherwise White plays Rd8, trading a set of rooks and limiting his counterplay to even less.

35. … Rbc8 36. bxa4 c4 37. Rd4 Rc6

White could now play Rd8 and the trade mentioned earlier, but he has a nicer move in mind.

38. Rh4! Re8 39. Rxh7+ Kg8 40. Rg7+, Black resigned.

41. Rxf7, threatening 42. Rh7+ and 43. f7 mate, is too much.