[imagefield_assist|fid=6808|preset=frontpage_200x200|title=|desc=|link=none|origsize=|align=left|width=200|height=200]By Spencer Finegold
Week four was a topsy-turvy one for the Arch Bishops. If you looked at every board about an hour into the match, you would think our last two boards would win and our two GM ringers would lose! It didn't quite end up that way, but it was close. We ended up tying the match with our bottom boards getting 1.5/2 and our GMs lucky to scrape together .5/2. All things considered we shouldn't be too unhappy with our result, as we were missing 2700-GM Yury Shulman. Also, this was the first time board four (manned by yours truly) didn't lose for our team.
Unfortunately for us, GM Hikaru Nakamura showed up a good 20 minutes late to this week's match. To be honest, considering Nakamura's usual pace, this probably was not a huge issue, but it certainly did not help. When our superstar did finally show up, he banged out 1. b3 and failed to get an advantage out of the opening. This, again, shouldn't be an issue, but considering the opponent I was uneasy. GM Julio Becerra has some special antidote against Nakamura as he has beaten him multiple times. Strange considering our man is almost 200 points higher rated, but maybe it has to do with their styles of play, maybe confidence, or maybe just a coincidence. The bad start only got worse as on move 14 Becerra played an interesting exchange sacrifice. White had to play extremely carefully even though the position was objectively balanced. Nakamura ended up exposing his king and saw his position get worse and worse. At around move 20 White was already clearly worse or even lost. Becerra ended up winning his exchange back with two extra pawns to boot. He got a little too greedy on move 28 cashing in for the third pawn instead of placing his knight on a dominant e3 square. White got a lot of counterplay and Black started to see all his initiative fade. Eventually Nakamura created problems on the queenside and ended up trading to a drawn rook endgame. Since it was rook-and-two against rook-and-one Becerra moved around a bit trying to win, but 50 moves passed with no pawn push or captured, and white claimed a draw.
Board two featured a quite depressing game for our side. GM Ben Finegold was black in a Grand Prix Attack against GM Renier Gonzalez and followed a deep line he had prepared 11 months early for GM Eugene Perelshteyn. It was a very double-edged queenless middlegame where black gets two bishops and an extra pawn (not to mention a better pawn structure), but gives away king safety and rook activity. In this type of position if White plays lackadaisically he could find himself simply worse. White kept up the pressure however, and Black missed a step with his 19th move. What was really surprising is that this 19th move is the most popular continuation! White played a brilliant 21st move and Black's king was hopeless. After defending as well as he could, the elder Finegold found his king stuck in a mating net, and his rooks hopelessly stagnant.
IM Michael Brooks was paired down this week, with White, against NM Eric Rodriguez, but was not necessarily the favorite. Brooks is probably past the prime of his career and Rodriguez is on the upswing with a tremendous record on board three in his three years in the league. But this game showed us glimpses of Brooks' 2600 days, which was especially important considering Shulman's absence. Black found himself on unfamiliar territory in a Winawar French. Sensing some home preparation, Brooks alertly played a line he had no games of in Chessbase, so his opponent had to think on his own in what was a book position. With no experience in these lines, Rodriguez was in a precarious situation and clearly did not have a good feel for the position. With a strange 12th move, ...fxg6 instead of the cleaner ...hxg6, Black was already worse. He had to defend his now weakened e-pawn with ...Ke7 (although simply 0-0 was better) and found his king stuck in the middle of the board. Brooks played brilliantly exploiting his advantage on the kingside and cashed in on move 17 winning a pawn, but the game is not over after you win a pawn. The Kansas City resident masterfully kept up the pressure and intensity around Rodriguez's stranded king and got into an advantageous endgame with a protected passed pawn. With a bishop-and-pawn for a Knight, White displayed good technique in restraining Black's pieces. The final position was picturesque as Black's only piece, his Knight, was attacked by a pawn and without a safe move.
In the first few weeks it seemed our fourth board, whether it be Tony Rich or myself, was the automatic zero. Considering we normally have three GMs on the top three boards, and there is a team rating limit, you could see how much pressure this puts on our other boards. Our GMs have to get 2.5/3 to win the match, or 2/3 to draw it normally, but such was not the case this week. For one, we were minus a GM, and for another, our fourth board held a draw with Black. The game started as a Sicilian. Looking in the database I expected Andres Santalla's usual 2. Nc3, but he surprised me with a c3 Sicilian. I only know a few moves of theory in these lines, so I was already a bit uncomfortable, but I found solace in knowing he probably didn't know these lines so well either. I played the 2...d5 line, albiet very slowly, and got a comfortable position. Probably at about move 12 or so, White saw his opening advantage dissipate as Black got to solve all his problems with development. After an early queen trade (move 16) White decided to kick my knight to a great square while simultaneously weakening his position. His 18th and 19th moves were especially bad, and I found myself in danger of having a great position. After my 20th move it was clear I had a huge advantage, so my opponent accepted my draw offer. In a regular tournament I would never have offered a draw, but considering it was a team match, a draw on the fourth board was a tremendous result for us. At that time I thought Brooks was winning (this was right after ...fxg6), GM Finegold was better, and Nakamura had some weird 1. b3 position, so thought it the right team move. Nakamura was visably displeased with my choice, thinking I was completly winning (perhaps an exaggeration).
The team looks forward to next week's match on Monday, September 20, against the Dallas Destiny. The Destiny will be out for revenge as the we scored our first-ever U.S. Chess League victory over them in week three.