Three Tie for Marshall Closed Championship; Niemann Makes Norm

By John Hartmann |  November 22, 2019  |   News

The Marshall Chess Club set a new course for its annual Championship this year. Instead of the traditional 9-round Swiss, the 103rd Marshall Chess Club Closed Championship / Edward Lasker Memorial, held November 14-18, was a very strong 10-player round robin. The customary 9-round Swiss, i.e., the MCC Open Championship / Jerry Simon Memorial, will be held over two weekends in early December. Concurrent with the MCC Closed, the Marshall also hosted its “Marshall FIDE Round Robin IM Norm” event, which was also a very strong tournament, though not on the stratospheric levels of the MCC Closed.

2019 Marshall Closed and Fall IM tournaments (courtesy MCC)

Looking forward to the MCC Closed, IM Hans Niemann expressed some guarded confidence about his ability to make a GM  norm, although I thought that 6-3 would be an extremely tall order against this field. But even a loss to GM Djurabek Khamrakulov in round 1 did not dampen Niemann’s spirits, as he then reeled off 3 victories in a row, to join Khamrakulov in the lead at 3 points after four rounds. In his game against Canadian IM Raja Panjwani, Niemann showed his ability to cut through annoying complications and convert his Exchange-for-a-pawn material advantage into a win.

[pgn] [Event "103rd Marshall Chess Club Championship"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.11.15"] [Round "4"] [White "Niemann, Hans Moke"] [Black "Panjwani, Raja"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D20"] [WhiteElo "2439"] [BlackElo "2450"] [Annotator "Rohde,Michael"] [PlyCount "101"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e4 {A variation well-suited to getting the kind of attacking positions that Niemann likes.} Nf6 4. e5 Nd5 5. Bxc4 Bf5 6. Ne2 e6 7. a3 Be7 8. Nbc3 Nb6 9. Ba2 O-O 10. O-O c5 11. Be3 c4 (11... cxd4 12. Nxd4 Bg6 13. a4 {seems pretty nice for White.}) 12. Ng3 Bg6 13. Qg4 {White has a little bit of a free hand to explore kingside activities because there is no pressure against the center.} Nc6 14. Rad1 Kh8 15. Nh5 {A maneuver which importantly increases control over d5.} (15. f4 f5 16. exf6 Bxf6 {would only improve Black's position.}) 15... Na5 16. Nf4 Bf5 17. Qf3 Bg5 18. d5 Bxf4 19. Bxf4 Bd3 20. d6 {with the pawn now ensconced on d6, White can now get full value for an Exchange sacrifice to eliminate the bishop on d3, which is currently blocking both the d-file and the b1-h7 diagonal. So Niemann appears prepared to exchange either rook for that bishop!} f6 21. Rxd3 fxe5 (21... cxd3 22. Qxd3 Nc6 23. Bb1 {is treacherous for both sides.}) 22. Rdd1 Rxf4 23. Qh3 Qf6 24. g3 Rd4 25. Bb1 h6 26. Ne4 Qf5 {Otherwise, White's activity is too dangerous.} 27. Qxf5 exf5 28. Nc5 Rd8 (28... g6 29. f4 {creates trouble for Black; if then} Rxd1 30. Rxd1 {and the d-pawn is ready to march.}) 29. Ne6 {Winning the Exchange, but Black will still have dangerous pawns.} R8xd6 30. Nxd4 exd4 31. Bxf5 Na4 32. Rb1 d3 33. Rfe1 g6 34. Bg4 Rb6 (34... Nc6 {is more balanced, fixing the position of that knight while patrolling the e7 square.}) 35. Re8+ Kg7 36. Rbe1 Rf6 37. Be6 d2 38. Rd1 Nc5 39. Bd5 Ncb3 40. Rg8+ Kh7 41. Rb8 Rd6 42. Bxc4 Nc1 43. Bf1 {Now White is winning.} Rd7 44. Bb5 Rd5 45. b4 Nab3 46. Rxb7+ Kh8 47. Bc4 Re5 48. Kf1 a6 49. Rd7 Re4 50. Bxb3 Nxb3 51. Rd3 1-0 [/pgn]
In round 5, GM Mark Paragua defeated GM  Irina Krush and thereby joined Khamrakulov and Niemann atop the leaderboard. In round 6, each of the three leaders won, creating an even more pronounced 3-way race for the Championship. They each now had 4.5/6, with Niemann needing 1.5 out of the last 3 rounds to earn a GM norm.
[pgn] [Event "103rd Marshall Chess Club Championship"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.11.16"] [Round "6"] [White "Khramrakulov, Djurabek"] [Black "Sturt, Raven M"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B01"] [WhiteElo "2515"] [BlackElo "2470"] [Annotator "Rohde,Michael"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. d4 Nxd5 4. Nf3 Bg4 5. Be2 (5. c4 Nb6 6. c5 {used to be popular here. The idea is} Nd5 7. Qb3) 5... Nc6 {A confrontational move, as opposed to formations with ... c7-c6 where Black is stodgy but secure.} 6. O-O e6 7. Nc3 Nxc3 (7... Be7 {comes to mind here, as the best White could really do with his c3 knight would be to float it out to e4.}) 8. bxc3 Be7 9. Be3 Bf6 10. h3 Bf5 (10... Bh5 11. Rb1 Rb8 12. Rb5 {would be frustrating for Black.}) 11. c4 {A good plan to push forward, as Black's minors are having trouble getting settled. ... Nc6-e7 by Black might run into g2-g4-g5 by White.} O-O 12. c3 Qd7 13. Nd2 Rad8 14. Nb3 h6 15. f4 {Revealing his plan to gain space on the kingside.} b6 16. Bf3 Bh7 17. Qe2 Ne7 18. g4 Nc8 19. c5 Qa4 20. Rad1 Be7 21. d5 {No reason to stop now, as Khamrakulov keeps finding positional reasons to advance his pawns.} exd5 22. Bxd5 bxc5 23. Nxc5 Qc2 24. Qf3 Qxc3 {It will be an ominous development when White finally gets in f4-f5 to shut down Black's light-squared bishop. It is reasonable for Black to munch a pawn meanwhile.} 25. Rc1 Qa3 26. Bb3 Nb6 27. f5 a5 (27... Bf6 {and perhaps Black can venture ... Rfe8 soon.}) 28. Nb7 Rd3 29. Qe4 Rxe3 30. Qxe3 a4 ({Not} 30... Bg5 31. Bxf7+) 31. Rfe1 {Throwing cold water on Black's creative play.} axb3 32. Qxe7 Qxa2 33. Rcd1 {The thunder on the central files is too much.} g5 34. Rd8 Nd7 35. Qxd7 Qa7+ 36. Qd4 Qxb7 37. Rxf8+ Kxf8 38. Qh8+ Bg8 39. Qxh6# 1-0 [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "103rd Marshall Chess Club Championship"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.11.16"] [Round "6"] [White "Paragua, Mark"] [Black "Steingrimsson, Hedinn"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A22"] [WhiteElo "2496"] [BlackElo "2548"] [Annotator "Rohde,Michael"] [PlyCount "49"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. Nc3 Nb6 6. e3 {Less popular than formations involving d2-d3 and Ng1-f3.} Nc6 7. Nge2 g6 (7... Be7 {was fine, although if the bishop later goes to f6 to fight for the d4 square, Nc3-e4 can bother it.}) 8. d4 exd4 9. exd4 Bg7 10. d5 Ne5 11. O-O Bg4 {Proceeding with a tactical operation which may or not be ok, but in such situations, it is definitely more practical to simply castle.} 12. b3 Nf3+ 13. Kh1 Nxh2 {A stunning sequence picking off a pawn because now ... Bxc3 can follow, but what about the Black king?} 14. Kxh2 Bxc3 15. Ba3 {This is always a very ominous move when it cuts off the king from castling.} Bxa1 (15... Qg5 {is the key move here, both to prepare queenside castling, and because ... Qg5-h5+ is threatened.} 16. f3 Bxa1 17. Qxa1 O-O-O 18. fxg4 Nxd5 19. Rxf7 {is a mess.}) 16. Qxa1 Kd7 17. Nd4 {Now one of Black's issues is the lack of good squares for the light-squared bishop.} Qg5 18. Rc1 Rac8 19. Ne6 {The monkey wrench presented by this move is the now-unstoppable invasion by the White queen.} Qh5+ (19... Qh6+ {watches the g7 square, although the Black king would still face crossfire in the center.}) 20. Kg1 Nxd5 21. Nc5+ Kc6 22. Qf6+ Kb5 23. Qd4 Rhd8 24. Qa4+ Kb6 25. Nd7+ 1-0 [/pgn]
Ultimately, each of the 3 leaders finished with 6-3. Thus, Niemann made his coveted 2nd GM norm, and a blitz playoff ensued to determine a clear winner and the Marshall CC Champion. Khamrakulov took control of the first round of the playoff  by defeating both of his opponents, and he then proceeded  to clinch victory. Thus, Djurabek Khamrakulov was crowned the 2019 Champion of the Marshall. 

In the concurrent IM norm event, GM  Nikola Nestorovic won by a significant margin, leaving the rest of the field hovering near the 50% mark for most of the event. Thus, no player approached  norm contention. But Jason Liang started fantastically and after 4 rounds was tied for first with Nestorovic, both with 3.5 out of 4. My erratic play against Jason in round 4 helped him along in this effort. By round 8, Nestorovic had built a solid lead, and he continued to play enterprisingly. A case in point was his round 8 game against GM Sandro Pozo Vera.

[pgn] [Event "Marshall Chess Club - IM Norm RR"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.11.18"] [Round "8"] [White "Nestorovic, Nikola"] [Black "Pozo Vera, Sandro"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C18"] [WhiteElo "2458"] [BlackElo "2433"] [Annotator "Rohde,Michael"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 Ne7 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7. h4 {When introduced by English players such as Nigel Short, this was an early iteration of the modern rush to play h2-h4 in almost any position.} Qc7 8. h5 h6 9. Bd2 Nbc6 10. Qg4 Nf5 {Sometimes a knight so situated can defend the kingside all by itself.} 11. Nf3 O-O (11... Bd7 12. Qf4 O-O-O {is a messy approach well worth exploring and fully in tune with the spirit of this variation.}) 12. Qf4 cxd4 13. g4 Nfe7 (13... dxc3 14. Bc1 Nfe7 15. Bd3 {is an example of White ignoring his queenside pawns because his bishops find nice posts.}) 14. g5 hxg5 15. Qxg5 Nf5 16. h6 Nxe5 (16... dxc3 17. Bf4 {is too dangerous for Black as his pieces get shut out of the kingside defense.}) 17. Nxd4 Ng6 18. hxg7 Qe5+ { Against White's creeping threats on the dark squares and the h-file, the queen, as the best defender, must come to the rescue.} 19. Be2 Qxg7 20. Nxf5 exf5 21. O-O-O d4 (21... Be6 {with ... Rfc8 to follow, is a sturdier defense, posing questions as to how White's dark-squared bishop can get into the attack.}) 22. Bc4 {Paralyzing the Black queen to the defense of g6.} Re8 (22... dxc3 23. Bxc3 Qxc3 24. Qxg6+ Qg7 25. Rdg1) 23. cxd4 Be6 24. Bxe6 Rxe6 25. Bc3 {The position has normalized. Although Black does have some half-open files to work with, White still has the safer king, better pawns, and stronger minor piece.} Rd6 26. Rd3 Rd5 27. Rf3 Rc8 28. Bb2 Nf8 29. Qh5 Ng6 30. Qg5 Nf8 31. Qe7 Rd7 32. Qb4 Rdc7 33. d5 Qg5+ 34. Kb1 Ng6 35. Rg3 1-0 [/pgn]
In round 9, what became essentially the battle for second place occurred between Liran Zhou and Jason Liang.
[pgn] [Event "Marshall Chess Club - IM Norm RR"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.11.18"] [Round "9"] [White "Zhou, Liran"] [Black "Liang, Jason"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C42"] [WhiteElo "2317"] [BlackElo "2345"] [Annotator "Rohde,Michael"] [PlyCount "120"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. Nc3 Nf6 {This retreat posits that White's knight on c3 will not be that well placed as against Black eventually planting a pawn on d5. But the loss of time is significant. More popular is 5 ... Nxc3.} 6. d4 Be7 7. Bd3 O-O 8. O-O d5 9. Ne2 Re8 10. Ng3 Nbd7 11. c3 g6 (11... Nf8 12. Nf5 {comfortably secures the advantage of the two bishops.}) 12. Bf4 Nf8 13. Ne5 Bd6 14. Re1 Ne6 15. Bh6 Bf8 16. Qd2 Qd6 17. Bxf8 Nxf8 18. Re2 (18. f4 {and planting the pawn on f5 leaves Black in a very uncomfortable situation.}) 18... Bd7 19. Rae1 Ne6 20. Qh6 (20. f4 Ng7 {may be ok for Black now.}) 20... Qf8 {A very artful defense, as it turns out.} 21. Nf5 {This looks like a good tactic, but it falls into Black's trap.} (21. Qh4 Qg7 22. f4 {should be strong for White.}) 21... Qxh6 22. Nxh6+ Kg7 23. Nhxf7 Nf4 24. Re3 Nxd3 25. Rxd3 h6 {With a very clever sequence, Black has endangered the knight on f7.} 26. Rg3 Bf5 27. Ree3 Ne4 28. Rgf3 Be6 29. g4 Rf8 30. g5 h5 31. Nh6 Nxg5 {Decisively winning material.} 32. Rg3 Kxh6 33. Nxg6 Rf6 34. Ne5 Raf8 35. h4 Nh3+ 36. Rxh3 Bxh3 37. Rxh3 Rxf2 38. Nd3 R2f3 39. Rxf3 Rxf3 40. Nc5 b6 41. Ne6 Rf7 42. Kg2 Kg6 43. Kg3 Kf5 44. Nf4 Ke4 45. Nxh5 c5 46. Kg4 cxd4 47. Ng3+ Ke5 48. cxd4+ Kxd4 49. h5 Ke5 50. h6 d4 51. Ne2 d3 52. Nc3 Rf1 53. h7 Rh1 54. Kf3 Rh3+ 55. Kf2 Rxh7 56. Ke3 Rh3+ 57. Kd2 a6 58. Na4 Kd4 59. Nxb6 Rh2+ 60. Kd1 Rxb2 0-1 [/pgn]
Nestorovic won the event with 7.5; Liang finished in 2nd with 5.5.