2017 UTRGV Spring Break IM-Norm International Chess Tournament, Brownsville, TX, March 13-19

Round 8 - Saturday, March 18, 2017, 2:00 PM

The penultimate round of the 2017 UTRGV Spring Break IM-norm Chess Tournament was shaping up for a great weekend of chess. The two tournament co-leaders were playing each other, and three of the most exciting players of the tournament [Zhang, Hevia, Wang] were squaring off on our two featured boards of the day (available to watch via live-streaming video). Unfortunately, the potential of a decisive championship encounter proved to be elusive yet again, as IMs Ruiz & Vazquez played a quick, albeit flashy, draw in just under twenty minutes. Another game also ended quickly, in under an hour, yet for a very different reason. In IM Ynojosa – Serna, the chess gods once again proved their disdain for upstart chessplayers, as Serna was playing solidly and had at last been able to make a capture of an exchange, but his timing was tragic, as a bypassed exchange allowed White to immediately strike down the open h-file, forcing checkmate on the spot or at least the jettisoning of Black's Queen, so Serna resigned on move 18 in the shortest decisive game of the tournament.

Haessel - Wang was a tale of approaches. Whereas the youngster Wang rarely took more than 4-5 minutes on even a long move, his opponent, who has already built a reputation for taking significant time, would often "go into the tank". Critical position or not, using almost thirty minutes for a move (or even sequence of moves) is going to eventually come back to hurt. By move twenty, Haessel was already under the ten-minute mark until time control. As time pressure increased, Wang pushed forward with his supported, connected passed pawns, and while Haessel did many things well to extract as much counterplay as possible, a phantom variation at last did him in, giving up his Queen to promote another, yet not getting any perceived extra that he thought he had seen. With options expended, and Wang's attack ready to crescendo, Haessel resigned.

If Wang was visibly frustrated while waiting for his opponent to move, McNutt was frustrated because his opponent had - made very good moves, that is. A general listlessness and going through the motions attitude seemed to settle over him as the round progressed. No doubt earlier losses in the event are weighing on the player's mind, but once his opponent Kambrath got a lasting initiative at move 10, he was slowly forced back into a more cramped and passive position, his pieces being pushed back and restricted, and the position just became more and more unpleasant to play. At move 31, when a final Knight breakthrough would net a couple of pawns while simultaneously tearing open Black's defenses, he called an end to the resistance.

The final game to finish was Zhang - GM Hevia. Another balanced and complex game, Zhang took the Grandmaster to task, with neither side gaining an appreciable advantage through the opening nor middlegame. Perhaps it is fatigue finally starting to set it, but right as time control was about to be reached, Zhang made a miscalculation, and Hevia took full advantage to corral the full point. With three of the games today decided by mistakes, will the tomorrow give us a chance to see some last round heroics, or will the titled players run away with the top four places?

Round 7 - Friday, March 17, 2017, 5:30 PM

The last evening round of the event was met with an overarching sense of stillness and quiet. As the players arrived in the tournament hall, few words were exchanged, it was all business as they sat down to begin. All of the games had relatively large rating spreads, and the overall impression was that the higher seeds were out to prove their abilities, no quarter given. The other theme of the evening was that pressing too hard will almost always end up in a lost position. The first game to finish was McNutt - IM Ruiz. The opening and middlegame go rather according to plan, then White tries to simplify down into a drawable endgame; Black has none of it, and he forces an elementary theoretical K+P endgame with an outside passer, and after inertia carries him along for a few more moves, McNutt throws in the towel.

IMs Vazquez & Ynojosa applied pressure early and often to their respective opponents, both of whom suffered and cracked in due time. Serna - Kambrath had an interesting middlegame, with double Bishops and double Rooks for both sides. With so much firepower on the field, it was a matter of time before one player tried to do too much, and Serna got burned while trying to snag a tempting pawn in a couple of crosspins. Unfortunately for him, when the smoke of exchanges cleared, Black's King was able to force the loss of the exchange. White sought to soldier onward with a B+P vs R, but instead of passively defending, he tried to do too much, and the position duly crashed in on him.
br> One game only had remained near balanced for most of the first period, as Justin Wang held his own against GM Hevia in an incredibly complex middlegame. Wang had complete dominance in the center, and Hevia was attempting to assail it from all sides, yet it could nimbly reposition and remain. Hevia was finally able to trade the queens and a set of rooks down the e-file right at time control, yet Wang's position appeared no less impenetrable than before. With Rooks and Knights everywhere, possibilities for brilliance or blunder were everywhere, and after four hours of play, Wang made an error which cost two pawns. All seemed over, yet he showed great resilience in continuing to pose challenges to his much higher-rated opponent. A second slip after four and a half hours and the game was quickly over.

Two rounds remain, and even though there will be no norms, the battle for first place is still hotly contested. Come back tomorrow to watch it unfold!

Round 6 - Friday, March 17, 2017, 10:00 AM

This round was the last stand for the IM-norm seekers. Only two: Justin Wang - Jeffrey Serna, could mathematically make it - by winning the four remaining rounds. With no margin for error, it was expected that these players especially would come out this morning swinging (unlike Hevia - Vazquez, a 16 move draw in a Sicilian which never left theory). Both championed the Black side of a Ruy Lopez, and both employed the Schliemann Gambit (3...f5), which only has a winning percentage of 27% according to Chessgames.com. Wang was playing against the early tournament leader Zhang, who had only scored half of a point from the last three games. Some unique trades led to wholesale removal of the major pieces, entering an odd endgame with each side maintaining a set of minor pieces and three pawn islands. Despite Wang 's best efforts, one of Zhang 's pawns was able to be escorted to its queening square, costing a piece, and only then did it appear on the board that not only would Black be down material, he would also be checkmated. Serna was playing IM Ruiz, one of the remaining undefeated players in the field. As opposed to Wang 's game, all the minor pieces were traded, leading to a Q+R discussion, before the ladies also left the game, transforming into a R+P endgame with pawns on both sides of the board. The position appeared drawish, but IM Ruiz skillfully outplayed his opponent to bring home the full point.

Despite their scores in the tournament, FM Haessel - McNutt both continued their exciting play - this time against one another. Each created a solid base from which to begin operations, yet White was the first to seize the open c-file. This led to the Rooks being liquidated and Haessel's Queen infiltrating to knock Black on his heels, from which he could never establish counterplay and always had to react to White 's ever-escalating threats. Some very nice Knight tactics forced McNutt 's resignation in the face of massive material loss.

FM Kambarath has often provided a more patient approach to the game. Several times it has led to him being in time pressure, and almost always it has led to closed games with plenty of pieces on the board. This round 's game aganst IM Ynojosa included a major material imbalance, where Black exchanged his Queen/Pawn for a Rook/Bishop/Knight, with White harassing the exposed Black King. The final position was dynamically balanced, and the repetition draw was not uncalled for.

So, alas, there will be no IM norms earned in this tournament. However, with three rounds remaining, the youthful challengers still have a lot to prove, and the titled players will continue to demonstrate just what it takes to become a Chessmaster.

Round 5 - Thursday, March 16, 2017, 2:00 PM

One round today - one quick IM draw to start off. IMs Ynojosa - Ruiz clearly went into a known line, practically blitzing out forty moves in just under twelve minutes to have a complete game drawing in a threefold repetition. The other games, however, have all settled in to a solid struggle. It's interesting how many similar positions arise from such unique openings. At this level, playing rote theory will often get you little, so it 's the side lines, the transpositions, that dictate the majority of play. Yet, after the first ten to fifteen moves, once a middlegame position has arisen, similarities appear once and again, and unsurprisingly almost all of them are fundamentally sound: healthy pawn structures, active pieces, control (or at least parity) in the center, control of open lines.

Grandmaster Hevia again used his game today to demonstrate simple, logical chess. Make a good position, convert to slight material advantage, trade pieces which could provide opponent with counterplay, force advantage in area of board where I have the edge, watch opponent suffer until the game is won.

The last best hope for an IM norm suffered a critical setback today, as young Justin Wang, coming into the day with an undefeated 3 of 4, ran into the endgame technique of IM Vazquez. A relatively quiet looking middlegame erupted into a major-piece Kingside attack. Wang defended well, but IM Vazquez was able to smoothly convert the positional concessions into a favorable liquidation, and in the 2R endgame, Wang tried what he could, the result was never in doubt.

FM Kambrath - Zhang was the only game of the day to reach the second period. Considerable defensive maneuvering and posturing seemed to give an air of "come and get me" from both players. As the clocks wound down, solid King moves edged patiently until they received the additional time. Although it was expected to clash sharply once players felt they had to, trades were infrequent, and each side still had seven pawns as late as move 47, almost four and a half hour into play. Gritty efforts from both sides led to the natural outcome of all-out war - bare Kings and a draw after 96 moves and five and a half hours.

Round 4 - Wednesday, March 15, 2017, 5:30 PM

Any concern about a lack of fighting spirit evaporated quickly as the players resumed their positions nigh the stroke of 5:30pm and began with offbeat openings - trappy play. GM Hevia - Jeffery Serna played at double-time, keeping pace with each other and initiating trades that each seemed willing to allow. Better pawn structure - an infiltrating King gave the GM the advantage, and he brought home the full point in a 35 move game which lasted a mere 95 minutes.

FM Haessel continues to struggle in this event. Having already been eliminated from norm contention, his fourth game followed a similar script to his previous three - getting a very sharp and interesting positon with chances, but a small misstep or two allows the opponent to win in convincing fashion. William McNutt has also had his struggles thus far, being the other player yet to score. Being by far the lowest rated, he knew this event was going to be a challenge - a learning experience. He has often been right in the thick of battle, like this round, when his even younger (in age) opponent used a sweeping feint to draw away critical defenders, after which his monarch could not survive.

Most of tonight's games demonstrated the powers of the Bishops, especially when working together as the Bishop Pair. As the players attempted to maneuver around their opponents to claim territory, the victor was generally the one who succeeded in making his clerics the superior ones. Some quite instructive practical gameplay.

Chao Zhang continues his streak of undrawn games, unfortunately ending up on the losing side of the equation today. In a complex, imbalanced game, he winds up with a Q/2B vs. R/N/2B, and it appears the draw is in hand - and it is, but a heartbreaking blunder (31. Kg1), which visually looks like it defends White 's light-squared Bishop, actually puts the King on a square from which the Knight can redirect with check, and the combined force is able to tie down White 's army to prevent mating threats until Black can walk to victory at his leisure. Instead, 31. Kh1 would give Black nothing better than a perpetual, or allow White to simplify down into an easy Bishops of Opposite Color drawn ending.

Tomorrow promises interesting play, as the last few players still in the hunt for the elusive IM norm are reaching must-win territory, and every opportunity from here on out must be taken advantage of just to have an outside chance.

Round 3 - Wednesday, March 15, 2017, 10:00 AM

This round is the start of a long day of chess here at UTRGV - the first of two games being played today. Professional players often have to decide how to approach the additional strain of a second game: do they try to conserve energy in the first, in order to exploit a tired opponent in the second? Or do they go all out in the first, opting instead for a quick draw and calling it a night in the second? Then there are those players who put it all on the line each and every move - those players are the ones in the hunt for their IM norms here at this tournament.

Ninety minutes into the round (and roughly twenty moves in, except for Kambrath-Haessel, which is still back on move 11), and the storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. No player has yet to launch a major offensive, but the mobilization has been consistent - significant, indicating upcoming fireworks.

Ruiz-Zhang was the most explosive of the games, with Zhang getting terrific pressure on White, including a supported phalanx of pawns on d4 - e4. A miscalculation (pushing the incorrect pawn) led to a huge swing (from -5.35 to 1.38, according to Stockfish on Chessbomb.com), after which White could recover, consolidate his material advantage, and counterattack to victory.

Kambrath-Haessel took a turn for the worse when FM Haessel questionably castled Queenside into too many open lines, and couldn't survive in a twenty-four-move miniature.

Ynojosa-Hevia is a classic example of why it's so difficult to play, let alone become, a Grandmaster. IM Ynojosa played a very solid game, and he never really made any moves which could obviously be described as a mistake, yet he slowly and surely was outplayed until he had to concede an exchange to rid himself of a promoting pawn, and then GM Hevia dispatched him in short order.

McNutt-Vazquez is another case of building advantages. IM Vazquez was able to take advantage of minor missteps by White, and by the time material was reduced, he was able to have a true "Mad Queen" who devastated White's position, racked up material, and along with a rock-solid Knight on d5 dominating White's Bishop counterpart, White could only watch and await the inevitable.

Serna-Wang was a lot of buildup, only to fizzle, but not for lack of trying. Both players were looking to push for an advantage, but an overabundance of caution ended up with trades, and more trades, finally leaving a double Rook endgame with no hope for victory, yet the game continued for several moves anyway.

After three rounds, a new pair of leaders in IMs Ruiz - Vazquez with 2.5/3. All players will be back for the evening session shortly.

Round 2 - Tuesday, March 14, 2017, 2:00 PM

Today's games can be summarized in two words: creative determination. If yesterday's games didn't satisfy, then this round provided as many ideas as one could handle. Everyone was out to prove a point, and pieces rallied to contest open lines, pawns were sacrificed to make headways into the enemy position, and subtle maneuvers were essayed both bringing a much-needed defender back or in getting that last bit of force required to tip the scales in your favor. Ninety minutes in, all ten combatants are deep in thought, as none of the games are anywhere close to a decision. This is chess at its purist - a battle of ideas and plans being created and executed.

Haessel - Ruiz was the first to finish, the mutual King hunt being decided when White made an overly-ambitious error, allowing Black to gain material, then sacrifice his Queen to build an irresistible attack, which even returning the material was unable to quell as Ruiz simplified down into a clean victory. Zhao - IM Vazquez overpowered their respective opponents in time. Wang - Ynojosa and Hevia - Kambrath ended in standoff draws, with neither side able to claim advantage nor able to prod for further weakness.

Chao Zhang, rated 2223, takes the early lead with the only perfect 2/2 score. Will he be able to keep it up with the first two-round day tomorrow? Come back to find out.

Round 1 - Monday, March 13, 2017, 6:00 PM

Action kicked off on Monday afternoon at the 2017 Spring Break IM-Norm International Chess Tournament at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. This is only one day after the Chief Organizer, GM Bartek Macieja, had just concluded the 2017 South State Scholastic Championship (1426 kids), along with DOS staff and UTRGV students who were helping with that event. Needless to say, energy was a little on the low side for the top seeds at the tournament. As the lots would have it, all the non-seeking titled players were playing each other in Round 1, and two quick draws were in the air. One was agreed after relatively little excitement, yet the second was a quick whirlwind of activity, where the agreement prior to a forced Repetition was actually a logical outcome of the position. Certainly, these players will not be so generous in giving half-points once they start playing opponents out for their scalps! This left three games amongst the six seekers, and all of them wanted to get the tournament started successfully. For whatever advantage White is supposed to bring, all three players with the White pieces found themselves at a significant time disadvantage (two hours into the games: at twenty, forty, and fifty minutes down on the clock, while the games reached move twenty - only half way to the end of the first time control). Perhaps it's the onus of White to prove having an advantage; perhaps it's youth and their calculating power attempting to show up their elders (two of the three players with Black the youngest participants in the field).

Chao Zhang was the first to achieve victory, applying pressure to FM Haessel's position until a decisive Knight strike on his castle was too much to bear, compelling immediate resignation. Two games went into the second period, each with the player in time pressure struggling to navigate a slightly lesser position. When the smoke from the clock scramble cleared, FM Kambrath was looking to hold an opposite side pawns Rook endgame, down two pawns. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Serna wrestles in a closed positon with William McNutt, both players exchanging blows but neither seeming to command play. Both games go the distance of the second time control, with Justin Wang also scoring a victory in his +2P ending, showing some nice technique to nurse the advantage home. Serna-McNutt became a gritty Q vs R endgame with advantage Serna, with McNutt holding out for 35 moves before falling. Certainly there is no lack of fighting spirit amongst those seeking the IM norm, and with needing either 6.5 or 7.0 to make it, there looks to be plenty more fight before this tournament concludes!