Rao, Edwards & Ni Top Cross-Generational Battle at US Amateur

RaoRound6 US Amateur East co-champion Keshav Rao vs. Stephen Hrop  in the sixth round
Could the graybeards win out in the end? Could they really rebuff the unrelenting challenge of the Snapchat and robotics generation, brought up on 3500-rated computer chess engines and hundreds of online games a week? The top section at the US Amateur East this past weekend teemed with highly rated school players whose cherubic faces sometimes seemed barely to rise above the green and beige paper chessboards. The kids concentrated for hours when it seemed they should be playing weekend baseball—or at least soccer—in the schoolyards and parks. Their disappointed grownup opponents would have preferred for the youngsters to be out in the sunshine. Between sharp moves, the precocious tykes sometimes, in a voice too soft for senior ears, offered a draw (rarely), jittered (mostly silently), crinkled their Snickers wrappers (sometimes a bit less silently)—and found tactics, a specialty of the talented young—to scythe through much of the older field. But surprisingly, the sixth and final round revealed that four of the six still in contention for that national title, the one that puts you forever in the yearbook, were wizened warriors in their sixties. Only two of the wunderkinds—as White on Boards 1 and 2—were in the otherwise wrinkled group of hopefuls. The Board 1 and 2 matchups highlighted the generational divide. At the top, the 2003 Amateur East Champion, sexagenarian Stephen Hrop played against high school freshman Keshav Rao. On the next board, Vinko Rutar, currently in the top 100 of rated players 65 and over, faced 11-year-old Winston Ni, who in round five had beaten 2008 Amateur Champ Hanon Russell. Both Hrop and Rutar were a half-point behind their young opponents, whose only imperfection was a draw each other in round four. Rao stymied Hrop’s run at a second title by splitting the point. Likewise, Ni’s draw blocked Rutar from a share of the honors. On board three, your 69-year-old writer also had Black, against a somewhat younger adult in his sixties. But I might have been better off against one of the juvenile hotshots, because I faced Jon Edwards, a correspondence IM who recently made his GM norm while qualifying for the candidates matches toward the world championship. (Wait, this is the US Amateur, right? Well, Jon’s over-the-board rating is below master.) Both of us needed to win. Nothing drives home the point that chess is a zero-sum game like playing for a national title, or at least a share of it, in the final round after a long series of battles, when a draw is not a palatable option for either player. Even though Jon had to move every few minutes rather than every few days, he eventually overcame a tactical slip that had cost him the Exchange to win a very difficult and instructive endgame—the specialty of old chess warriors—to finish with five points and a share of the title.

[Event "USA-East"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.05.30"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Edwards, Jon"]
[Black "Lawrence, Al"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B01"]
[Annotator "Lawrence,Al"]
[PlyCount "75"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]
[SourceDate "2016.05.30"]

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. Be2 Nc6 5. d4 e6 ({A fourth-round game,
Edwards-Russell, followed the topical} 5... O-O-O 6. Be3 e5 7. Nc3 Qa5 8. Nxe5
Bxe2 9. Qxe2 Nxe5 10. dxe5 Qxe5 {and the game was soon drawn.}) (5... e5) 6.
Be3 Nf6 7. Nbd2 Be7 8. c4 {This is the latest idea in the variation. No longer
is 3. Nc3, hitting the queen, the knee-jerk reaction among GMs. Now they favor
gaining a tempo with the c-pawn. For my own part, I've been winging it since
avoiding 5. ... 0-0-0. But I have had lots of experience with the
Scandinavian--enough to know that d7 can be a bad square for the Black queen.}
Qd6 9. a3 a5 10. h3 Bf5 $1 {Of course, taking squares.} 11. c5 Qd8 {I've had
to move my queen again, but White has given up d5. The game is equal but very
complicated--so far a very good outcome for Black in this must-win situation.}
12. Bb5 O-O 13. Bxc6 {A key decision. White gives up his bishop pair, and his
best bishop, to damage Black's pawn structure. But Black is okay if he's
careful.} bxc6 14. Ne5 Qd5 {Jumping on the deserted square to centralize!
Black is feeling perky despite his age.} 15. O-O Nd7 {15. ... Bxc5 is
wonderful if you're a computer. I was uneasy about the consequence after} (
15... Bxc5 16. Rc1 Bd6) 16. Nxd7 Qxd7 17. Nc4 Bf6 18. Qa4 Bd3 19. Nxa5 Bb5 $1 {
"A lovely move!": Correspondence IM Jon Edwards. It's true what they say about
"backward bishop moves." They're the easiest to miss.} 20. Qb4 Bxf1 21. Rxf1
Rfb8 {The start of a fruitless plan for Black. 21. ... Qd5 or 21. ... Rfd8 is
better.} 22. Qc3 Rb5 $2 {Just a waste of time.} 23. b4 Qd5 24. Rc1 Rbb8 25. Rc2
Rd8 {Now I'm back on track, but White has had time to consolidate.} 26. Rd2 {
Stockfish likes my position to the tune of -0.39, but it's one of those
positions in which hand-sitting is better than bold breakthroughs. So,
naturally, I chose the bold breakthrough.} e5 (26... Rd7) 27. dxe5 Qxe5 {27. ..
. Bxe5 was also possible. But a variation that can threaten mate, no matter
how unlikely, normally gets my vote among equal candidates.} 28. Qxe5 Bxe5 29.
Nxc6 (29. Rxd8+ Rxd8 30. Nxc6 Rd1# {is the above-mentioned mate that Jon
wasn't about to fall into.}) 29... Rxd2 30. Bxd2 Bb2 31. Bf4 {Stockfish says
I'm still a tad better, but honestly, I missed the fact that I had to give up
the c-pawn or I wouldn't have played 26. ... e5.} Bxa3 32. Bxc7 Kf8 (32... Rc8
33. Ne7+ {was the little variation I missed going into this tangle.}) (32...
Ra4 33. Ba5 Kf8 {was the clearest way to a draw at this point.}) 33. Bd6+ Ke8
34. b5 Kd7 35. Ne5+ Kc8 $2 ({Here the anti-intuitive} 35... Ke6 {held the draw!
} 36. Nc4 Bxc5 $1 37. Bxc5 Rc8 {and now the double attack works!}) 36. Nc4 $1 {
A brutally effective blow by Jon.} Kd8 37. b6 Ra4 38. b7 {I looked up from the
board to see that Jon looked quite healthy and in no danger of nodding off. So
I had nothing to offer but a tipped king. A tough fighting game and a
well-earned and key win for the world coorespondence candidate!} 1-0

Teenage Rao won four games, including the following Benko Gambit victory, and took the first place trophy on tiebreak.

[Event "2016 US Amateur East"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.05.30"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Kalyanraman, Nikhil"]
[Black "Rao, Keshav"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A58"]
[Annotator "Lawrence,Al"]
[PlyCount "64"]
[EventDate "2016.??.??"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. cxb5 a6 5. bxa6 g6 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. e4 O-O 8. Nf3
Qa5 9. Nd2 Bxa6 10. Nb3 Qc7 11. Bxa6 Nxa6 12. O-O d6 13. Rb1 Rab8 14. Be3 Nd7
15. f4 Nb6 16. Nd2 Qb7 17. a3 {White should have played f5. It's the first of
several occasions when either side should prefer to push a pawn to f5.} Nc7 (
17... f5) 18. g4 (18. f5) 18... Qa6 19. Qc2 Nc4 20. Nxc4 Qxc4 21. Bd2 Nb5 22.
Kg2 Nd4 23. Qd1 Rb3 24. Rf2 Rfb8 25. Qc1 Nb5 {Diagram [#]} ({Here Stockfish 7
finds a longwinded combo:} 25... Ne2 26. Nxe2 Qxe4+ 27. Kg1 Bxb2 28. Qd1 Qxd5
29. Nc1 R3b6 30. Qe2 Bd4) 26. Ra1 $2 {White's game is cramped, his pieces
uncoordinated, and his kingside pawns too far advanced to provide king
protection. He errs tactically in a very tough situation.} Nxc3 27. Bxc3 Bxc3
28. bxc3 Qxe4+ 29. Kg1 $2 (29. Kg3 Qxd5 {when Black is also winning, but there
are moves left for White.}) 29... Rb1 30. Rxb1 Rxb1 31. Qxb1 Qxb1+ 32. Kg2 Qb3
US Chess nationals award the trophy on tie-breaks but recognize the top score group as co-champions. Edwards took the second place trophy, a salve for the stiff joints and aching muscles of the “Not Quite Over the Hill” gang. Ni got the third-place trophy and went from A-player to Expert. As rapidly as some of these youngsters progress, we may or may not see him next year at the Amateur, since it’s a brain-party for only those below 2200. Hrop finished fourth. Rutar won the fifth-place trophy, after losing the first round of his first try and re-entering. The top section attracted 64 players. Vincent Tsay won the Under-2000 trophy. Yuvanshu Agarwal won the Under-1900 prize. David Han (who had the best tie-breaks), William Yang, Marko Van Selous and Allen Fu tied at 5-0 to top the 58-player Reserve section for those Under-1800. Thirty-eight players competed in the Booster section. Justin Wu topped them all with 5 ½ points, going from a rating of 1273 to 1420. New Jersey State Chess Federation tournaments in Morristown are a chess player’s bliss, regardless of your age. Deftly run by Aaron Kiedes and Dov Gorman, with a hand from Noreen Davisson—and a great spread of Fred Wilson’s books new and old, tended by the nation’s most famous bookseller himself—, the events offer top-flight playing conditions in the tournament hall. The site is in the middle of the historical town. Dozens of restaurants and shops are across the street or around the corner. There’s a picturesque town-square park, the site of George Washington’s headquarters during his first encampment. And no views of an airport parking lot. Consider playing in the upcoming New Jersey Open there over Labor Day. I’ll be playing, so say hello—you’ll find me among the old guys. And speak up a little, please. Find full results and rating changes on MSA.   

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