Chess in Philadelphia

The World Open went well. I managed six points out of a possible nine. Sadly, you needed six and a half to win any money. Did manage to pick up a handful of rating points, however. My final tally was four wins, three draws, one loss, and one half-point bye, which I will explain in a moment. The full details are available here.

I was playing in the three-day schedule, meaning I had to play my first five games in one day, at an accelerated time control of game in 45 minutes. If you use more than 45 minutes, you lose (with very few exceptions). Since I tend to be better at slower time controls, I was a bit nervous going in to the first round.

Operation Win the Tournament got off to an inauspicious start when I lost stupidly in round one, and then quickly found myself dead lost in the second round as well. But then things turned around. My opponent overlooked several clear wins and allowed me to swindle him into a classic Bishops of Opposite Colors (BOOC) endgame. That led us to the position below:

Bennet Pellows (1838) – J. R. (1924)
Final Position

White is up two connected passed pawns, but he has no way to make progress. Recall that bishops move diagonally, meaning they can only occupy squares of one color. Since white’s bishop moves only on white squares, it is unable to exert any influence on the dark squares. Black’s bishop, by contrast, moves on black squares. Black draws by leaving his king on a5, and moving his bishop only to squares that control b4. Since I can control the square b4 with two pieces, while white can only attack it with one, he has no way to advance his pawns.

It’s been said that former world champion Boris Spassky, when asked by an interviewer about his then recent divorce, remarked that he and his wife were like bishops of opposite colors. Kept moving past each other.

My escape in this game was made all the more enjoyable by the look of utter disgust on my opponent’s face when he realized that he had let the win slip through his fingers.

Things continued to look up when I won easily in round three. I had the black side of a Scandinavian, which is one of my favorite openings. It served me very well in this tournament, bringing me three of my four wins. Round four was a boring draw in an Accelerated Dragon. Having already played four games in one day, I decided to take a bye for the fifth round. That means the round was scored as if I had played a draw, even though I didn’t play a game.

So I broke even in the fast games with 2.5 out of 5. Happily, in the slow games I played much better. Round Six saw me make my best move of the tournament:

Peter Pritchett (1862) – J. R.
Position after 46. Rd5 x g5 +

Another Scandinavian. We were well into our fourth hour of play when the above position arose. White had sacrificed an exchange (meaning he gave up a rook for a knight) to gain some activity for his remaining pieces. This might have worked out pretty well, but a careless move allowed me to bring my queen and rook to the first rank. Black threatens immeidate checkmate by Qg1 or Qh1, and white is hard-pressed to stop this.

His only hope is to take advantage of black’s exposed king to keep him busy with checks. That looks feasible. White played his last move rather triumphantly, removing one more of my kingside pawns and placing me in check. If black now takes the hanging knight on f7, he will find himself comepletely unable to stop white’s checks and would even have a lost position. But other moves seem little better.

The solution is to use white’s knight against him. I played 46. … Kf8! and incredibly white has no good checks. It was especially satisfying to play this move since I had foreseen this possibility about five moves previously. It was clear from my opponent’s expression that he had not considered it. After thinking for about ten minutes he played 47. Rg8+, but resigned after 47. … Kxg8 48. Nh6+ Kh7. White can now get out of the mate by 49. Qf5+ Kxh6 50. Qxf4+, but he will then be down by two rooks, and will quickly find his checks running out.

Round seven was a frustrating rook endgame. The computer graciously pointed out the clear win that I overlooked, and I ended up settling for a draw.

Round eight saw my flashiest game:

Nicole Maffeo (1783) – J. R.
Position After 20. a2-a4

Yet another Sacandinavian. My opponent had been playing very passively to this point, and allowed me to develop comfortably. She had just moved her pawn to a4, which carries the annoying threat of Bb5. I decided it was time to go for broke.

I played 20. … Rxd3!. Alas, the computer believes that white should be able to hold on after this with proper defense. But considering my opponent’s passive play up to this point, I felt confident she wouldn’t find the best defense.

Black has just sacrificed an exchange by giving up his rook for a bishop. In return he has eliminated white’s best placed piece, and he will find it easy to find active squares for all his pieces. Black has entry squares like e3 and d2 to play with. Play continued 21. Qxd3 Rd8 22. Qc2 Nc4 23. Rh2 Rd2 24. Qb3 Rxb2 25. Qd1 Ne3 26. Qc1 Rc2 27. Qb1 Qd5 28. Qb5, leading to the position below:

Position after 27. Qb1-b5

White’s last move protects the knight on e2 and attacks the bishop on c5. This ensures that black has no immediate mate starting with Qd2. Black has several ways to win, however, and I chose the simple 28. … a6. White’s queen can no longer maintain the defense of e2, and black will come crashing through. The game ended 29. Qa5 Qd2+ 30. Kf2 Nd1++ 31. Kf1 Qxe2 mate

In the final round my opponent blundered early in the game, giving me a relatively simple win:

J. R. – Gary Rubright (1861)
Position after 12. 0-0-0

I had played the English Attack against my opponent’s Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian. In this position my opponent got a little too clever for his own good and uncorked 12. … Bxg4 13. fxg4 Nxg4. Black has given up a piece for two pawns. His idea was that if I now move my queen to safety, say with 14. Qf3, then he will play 14. … Nxe3 15. Qxe3 Bg5! which pins the queen to the king. As a result, he reasoned, he would get his piece back and simply be up two pawns.

The fly in the ointment is 14. Nd5! This simultaenously attacks black’s queen on c7 and protects my bishop on e3. If he now takes my queen on f2 I will take his on c7 with check, and will remain up a piece. HIs only alternative is to move his queen. Play continued 14. … Qd8 15. Qf3 Nxe3 16. Nxe3 and white keeps his extra material. The game went on for a while, but eventually I brought home the point.

I later learned that there was a cheating scandal at the top of my section. Going into the last round, there was one player in my section with 7.5 out of 8 points. This put him in a great spot to win the tournament, but then it was discovered that he was cheating. I have not been able to get all the details, but it looks like he was receiving messages through a headset he was wearing. The basic scam is to somehow communicate the moves of the game to an outside party, who then uses a strong computer chess playing program to determine the best moves to make. These moves are then transmitted to the person in the playing hall. Sadly, attempts at this sort of cheating are commonplace in big money tournaments. Congratulations to the other players who discovered this, and to the tournament directors for expelling the guilty party from the tournament.

That notwithstanding, it was a very enjoyable tournament. Got to spend a pleasant few days in Philadelphia and played some interesting chess. Also found time to wander over to the Franklin Institute. Saw an IMAX movie called “Deep Sea.” Lot’s of cool fish footage. The tournament attracted more than 35 grandmasters, which made for enjoyable spectating after I finished my own games. As always, my thanks to the tournament directors for putting on such a good show.


  1. #1 Mike Horn
    July 8, 2006

    Thanks for sharing your chess experience! Do you play online at all? If so, where? Just curious… I’m on ICC sometimes and it’s rare that I get to put a face with the user. I’m a lowly 1200 so I wouldn’t be any competition, but I learn a lot from watching!

  2. #2 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 9, 2006

    Glad you liked the tournament report. I play on the ICC under the name Pythagoras.

  3. #3 Dave S.
    July 10, 2006

    Do you find playing against a female any different to playing a male? For instance did you find yourself playing more or less aggresively? As an old time player myself, I know women at these events are about as rare as hens teeth (although today I assume women at big chess events are less of a rarity), and I’ve only ever played one myself. She was all business and I had to hustle out a draw in a position I could have easily lost.

    By the way, nice zwischenzug – Nd5 in an Open Sicilian, especially a Naj, is always a possibility.

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 10, 2006

    It is pretty rare to see women at chess tournaments, but my impression is that that situation has been slowly changing. It doesn’t have any effect on my play though. I’ve played a number of women over the years and my results are pretty much what you’d expect based on our ratings. An opponent’s an opponent.

    Glad you liked Nd5. In lines with an early g4, you always have to be on the lookout for black sacrifices on that square, so I had considered both Bxg4 and Nxg4 before castling.

  5. #5 Salvatore
    August 20, 2006

    I played at the WO in the U1800 Section. I did not do very good, I only managed two wins, both with black and two draws, both with white. During my OTB career I have played 4 female players and my record stands at two wins and two losses. I play at ICC under the nickname of Salvatore.