Grandmaster Rohde on the National Senior Tournament of Champions

Dewain Barber, the new Dean of Scholastic Chess, and Grandmaster Alex Fishbein, Photo Henk Prinsloo
The inaugural National Senior Tournament of Champions kicked off on July 28 in Madison, Wisconsin at the U.S. Open, along with the Denker High School TOC, the Barber K-8 TOC and the National Girls TOC. Although the National Senior TOC had less and pomp and circumstance than the other Tournaments of Champions (which had group photos outdoors, processionals into the assembly hall, and announcements of all the players), the National Senior TOC nevertheless made great strides in integrating itself, making what had been a trio of headline TOCs into a quartet. At the National Senior welcome luncheon, Dewain Barber was recounting some of the history of the Tournaments of Champions. When he hinted that someone who had played in the inaugural Denker High School TOC in 1985 was now in the Senior, I expressed doubt that anyone who had played the HS that "recently" could now be in the Senior (which is 50-and-over), and was halfway towards laying down money on it to that effect, when GM Alexander Fishbein walked into the room, in a suit, and I was like, "Oh". And it truly was full-circle, as Alex had won the Denker in 1985, and now just barely qualified age-wise for the Senior, while his son Mitch was representing New Jersey in the Denker! David Grimaud served as head of US Chess's National Senior Committee. At the opening luncheon, Dave called on many of the invitees who shared stories from their colorful chess careers. This set a great tone of friendliness which persisted throughout the event, which I think  everyone enjoyed. The players were particularly encouraged to watch out for their state teammates in the other TOCs, and an unofficial tally was kept, adding the Seniors' scores to the combined state-by-state scores in the Denker, the Barber and the National Girls. This integration will only grow in the future; one great idea which I heard from Steve Shutt is to have, later during the U.S. Open, a team event pitting each representative of a state against another state (i.e., a four-person team a la the Amateur Team).
GM Michael Rohde vs. GM Alexander Fishbein. Photo: David Grimaud
Four GMs participated in the National Senior - Alex Fishbein (New Jersey), Alonso Zapata (Georgia), Enrico Sevillano (Southern California), and myself (New York), and we all found our way into the winners' circle eventually, but it was a very tough event overall. In the first round, Sevillano suffered a loss to Bryan Lilly, who was the host state Wisconsin's alternate. Meanwhile, I ran into some trouble against Tim Sage of Massachusetts, after making a shaky sacrifice of the queen for a rook and a knight.
[pgn][Event "National Seniors"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2018.07.28"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Sage, Timothy"]
[Black "Rohde, Michael"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E39"]
[PlyCount "76"]
[EventDate "2018.??.??"]1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 c5 5. dxc5 O-O 6. a3 Bxc5 7. Nf3 b6 {7...
d5 8. Bf4 Nc6 9. e3 is a transposition to the Bf4 variation of the Queen's
Gambit Declined.} 8. Bf4 Bb7 9. Rd1 a5 {A very provocative move in the face of
White's straightforward development; the idea is to route the b8 knight to c5,
and the weakening of b5 is not critical as the White c3 knight needs to watch
e4. I didn't like 9... Nh5 10. Bg5 Be7 11. h4. Most normal would have been 9...
Nc6.} 10. e4 Na6 11. Bd3 Nh5 12. Bc1 Be7 13. e5 f5 {This was a blunder.
Unclear was 13... Bxf3 14. Bxh7+ Kh8 15. gxf3 Bg5, where Black is seeking a
path for his queen to patrol the kingside.} 14. exf6 Nxf6 15. Ng5 h6 16. Bh7+ {
This is the move order which wins material.} Kh8 17. Nxe6 dxe6 18. Rxd8 Raxd8
19. Bg6 Bxg2 20. Rg1 Bc6 {A tough decision, rejecting the more obvious 20...
Bf3, which would probably be met by 21 Rg3. I decided to avoid direct conflict
which might lead to exchanges.} 21. Be3 Nc5 22. b4 {Pushing off the c5 knight,
but creating serious weaknesses on the queenside. Interesting alternatives
were 22. Ne2, 22. Nb5, and 22. Rh3.} axb4 {Also the immediate 22... Ncd7 was
to be considered, because White could end up with a weak pawn on a3. But I
decided to play more directly, and wanted ... Be7-b4 to be available no matter
what.} 23. axb4 Ncd7 24. b5 Bf3 25. Rg3 Ng4 {Suddenly Black has threats of ...
Bh4, ... Bb4, and possibly one of the knights utilizing e5.} 26. Rxf3 Rxf3 27.
Qe4 Rxe3+ {I gave back the Exchange because on 27... Nde5, nobody is covering
the b6 pawn, and on 27... Nge5, the strong bishop on e3 can no longer be
eliminated.} 28. fxe3 Ndf6 29. Qb1 {Messy is 29. Qxe6 Bb4 30. Qxb6 Bxc3+,
although it should be promising for Black.} Nxe3 30. Bf7 Bb4 {I sensed that 30.
.. Ng2+ 31. Kf1 Nf4 was better, but couldn't resist playing more directly.} 31.
Ke2 Bxc3 32. Kxe3 Ng4+ 33. Kf3 {A losing blunder in time pressure. 33. Kf4 did
not seem completely clear.} Ne5+ 34. Ke2 Nxf7 35. Qg6 Nd6 36. Kd3 Nxb5+ 37. Kc2
Rd2+ 38. Kb3 Rb2+ 0-1[/pgn]
In round 3, Zapata kept winning, but Fishbein was held to a draw by the very tough Eric Cooke of Florida, and I was held to a half-point by Lilly, who was having a great tournament. Round 4 is when the event seemed to really break open. Zapata defeated Wisconsin's original representative Vijay Raghaven (the only other player who had 3-0) while I was paired against Fishbein, even though there were 3 other players in our 2.5-point score group. This is because FIDE has no rating adjustment switch and just pairs by colors straight off. Also in Round 4, Cooke stopped Lilly, so after four rounds, Zapata had a perfect score, Cooke stood on 3.5, and many players, including Sevillano, who was quietly making a comeback, had 3 points.
[pgn][Event "National Seniors"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2018.07.30"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Rohde, Michael"]
[Black "Fishbein, Alexander"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C84"]
[Annotator "Rohde,Michael"]
[PlyCount "43"]1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. d4 {5. O-O Be7 6. d4 is a
transposition, but Black could have also played 5 ... b5 or 5 ... Nxe4, among
others.} exd4 6. O-O Be7 {Not 6 ... Bc5, as 7 e5, and then 7 ... Ne4 is no
good because there is no retreat to c5.} 7. Re1 b5 8. e5 Nxe5 9. Rxe5 bxa4 {
Fishbein played this at the same quick tempo that he played all his other
moves. But given my previous experiences in this line, this caused me to have
to rethink the whole opening. I had always been under the impression that 9..
. d6 was necessary. Then 10. Re1 - not 10. Bxb5+ axb5 11. Rxb5 c5 - 10...
bxa4 11. Nxd4 Bd7 12. Qf3 may give White a small edge.} 10. Nxd4 O-O {Now I
had to figure out whether Fishbein had moved too quickly and transposed moves,
or whether this was now the real line because someone has discovered that
Nd4-f5 is now not as strong as it looks.} 11. Nc3 {On 11. Nf5 Re8 12. Bg5 d6
13. Nxe7+ Rxe7 14. Bxf6 gxf6, and it seems that Black is ok.Then 15. Rh5 Re5
16. Nc3 Bb7 is one possibility. Also we should note that 11. Bg5 h6 12. Bh4
Nd5 can lead to the very strange 13 Rxd5 Bxh4 14 Nc6 Qe8 15 Re5 dxc6 and maybe
Black is still ok.} Re8 {11... Bb7 12. Nf5 Re8 13. Bg5 is now very strong for
White, as for one thing there is no way to get rid of the knight on f5. 11...
Bd6 may be best but it can also provoke an immediate crisis if White retorts
with Re5-g5.} 12. Bg5 h6 13. Bh4 Rb8 14. Qd3 {This is designed to connect with
g3 and stay out of the way of the other pieces. Putting the queen on d2 would
subject it to ... Nf6-e4, and if 14 Qf3 Bb7 gives Black a tempo to cover c6
after which .. . d7-d6 becomes possible. 14. Nf5 is still not that clear
after d6 15. Nxe7+ Rxe7 16. Bxf6 gxf6 17. Rh5 - or 17. Rxe7 Qxe7 18. Nd5 Qe5
- 17... Re5 18. Rxh6 Bb7.} d6 {A very creative solution offering the queen
for a rook and a knight but emerging with safe activity. If 14... Rb6, 15. Nf5
does not work well due to 15... Re6 16. Qg3 Nh5 17. Nxe7+ and Black may as
well play 17 ... Qxe7! Instead, I was intending 15. Nxa4 Rd6 16. Rae1.} 15. Nc6
dxe5 16. Nxd8 Rxd8 17. Qc4 {On the normal-looking 17. Qe2 Rxb2 18. Qxe5 Be6,
Black seems to be fine. Then 19. Nd5 would run into Nxd5 20. Bxe7 Rdb8 21. Ba3
Rb1+ with continuing complications.} Rd4 18. Qxc7 Bd6 19. Qd8+ Bf8 20. Qc7 Bd6
21. Qd8+ Bf8 22. Qc7 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
In round 5, Zapata put a very professional squeeze on Cooke, finally putting his Cinderella story to rest, and Fishbein emerged from the pack as the only player able to ascend to 4/5. This set up a last-round showdown with Zapata at a perfect 5/5, and Fishbein a full point back at 4/5, and a pack of hungry wolves at 3.5. Zapata played riskily in the opening in the critical game (he would tell me later he doesn't know why he sometimes plays crazy in the last round), and Fishbein was able to pull even with him, so they tied for first with 5/6. Meanwhile, Sevillano, myself, and the very strong FM Karl Dehmelt of Pennsylvania, were able to emerge from the muck by winning our respective games, and the three of us tied for third at 4.5.