19 May 2014

Beating Nikolay

Nikolay Bulakh is the Spokane City Champion, a title that he earned beating me 2 1/2 - 1/2 in a match last summer. A few years ago, I was having a good run against him. Although every game was tough, it seemed that I always won. He beat me for the first time in a standard tournament game in our club's 2013 Winter Championship, then beat me in a quick event a week later. He won the first two games of the City Championship to make it three standard wins in a row. In game three of the match, I might have had some winning chances, but missed them and drew.

Friday night, before our blitz game, we were discussing this summer's City Championship, which could be a rematch of last year. I commented that getting past Michael Cambareri and Jeremy Krasin will be tough, and "I'm not getting any younger." To play in the City Championship, I need to win the Contender's Tournament. "Your rating is not getting higher, either," Nikolay noted. It is true that I have dropped to 1900 from my peak of 1982, and was briefly 1899.

I won the blitz game, but lost games to Michael and Jeremy. Michael won the blitz tournament. Jeremy was second. I was third, and Nikolay finished fourth.

In round four of the Inland Empire Open, I had White against Nikolay on board two. Michael was on board one against Cameron Leslie. They were the only players with 3.0. Jeremy was on board three. Nikolay, Jeremy, and I were the only players with 2.5.

Stripes,James (1900) -- Bulakh,Nikolay (1980) [A29]
Inland Empire Open Spokane, 18.05.2014


The Benko Opening earned its name at the 1962 Candidates Tournament in CuraƧao. Pal Benko played it in his first eleven games with the White pieces, beating both Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal. It usually transposes into something else.

1...Nf6 2.c4 e5

We have an English Opening, Sicilian Reversed. In the 1990s, the English was one of my main weapons with White. I have some experience on the Black side as well.


3.Bg2 is more accurate.

3...Nc6 4.Nc3 b6 5.Bg2 Rb8 6.d4 exd4 7.Nxd4 Bb7N

White to move


I did not like 8.Nxc6 Bxc6 9.Bxc6 dxc6 10.Bg5 or 10.Qa4, but it was better than my choice.

8...Bb4= 9.Nde2?!

9.0–0 is better.

9...Ne5 10.0–0

Seemed to be my only move



11.Nxc3 Nxc4

White gets a lot of activity for the pawn.

White to move


I had two somewhat better choices:
12.Qd4! Na5 13.e5 Ng8 14.Qg4 Kf8±

12...Ne5 13.Bf4

According to my engine, 13.f4 is better. 13...Nc6 14.e5 Ng8±. I do not play like an engine.

13...Qe7 14.Qb5

Black to move


Nikolay spent nearly thirty minutes on this move. I took a walk while he was thinking, trying to make certain that I could get in my 10,000 steps for the day.

The computer prefers 14...c5!

15.h3 a6 16.Qa4 Nf6 17.Nd5 Nxd5 18.exd5

Black to move


18...0–0 was probably best.


19.Qc2 was my second choice, but is the first choice of Stockfish.

19...d6 20.Rfe1 f6?

I expected Nikolay's move and he played it quickly. Engine analysis reveals 20...0–0 21.Bxe5 dxe5 22.Rxe5 Qd6 and White has a slight edge.

White to move


From this point on in the game, the computer's evaluation is a decisive advantage for White. What such evaluations mean in human terms is that White knows that he should be doing well and feels the pressure. Nerves become jagged. As other games finish, a crowd gathers to watch the game, increasing pressure on the players.

21...0–0 22.f4± Qd7 23.fxe5 dxe5 24.Qc5

Black to move

I felt that I had a comfortable position. I was also ahead on the clock at this point with 49 minutes remaining to 22 for my opponent. Such "comforts" rattled my nerves and I started to notice the crowd of spectators.

24...Rfd8 25.Ba5 Rbc8 26.Red1 Qf7 27.Rac1 Rd7

White to move


Does this move merit two exclamation marks? I spent about ten minutes on the move.. The tactics seemed rather complicated under the pressure of the tournament hall, but less so on Monday morning. This move forces issues and carries the game to its natural conclusion (although this "naturalness" was far from obvious during play).

28...Bxg2 29.Kxg2 Qxa2

I expected 29...c6 30.Bc7 Qxa2 31.Qxc6 Qxb2+ 32.Rc2 Qb3


Not the best move, according to the engines. Nonetheless, it was important to me to reach an ending where I could maintain control with minimal complications.

30.dxc7! Qxb2+ 31.Rc2 Rcxc7 32.Bxc7

30...Qxd5+ 31.Rxd5

Black to move


Again I expected 31...c6 32.Rd3

32.Bc7 c4 33.Ra1 Ra8 34.Rxb5

An elementary tactic further simplifies the position.

34...axb5 35.Rxa8+ Kf7 36.Rb8 

At this point, I thought that my win should be fairly simple. I also had nearly thirty minutes left on the clock, while Nikolay was down to about eleven minutes. A large crowd hovered near our table.

Black to move

36...Ke6 37.Rxb5 e4 38.Rc5 f5 39.Rxc4 Kd5 40.Rc1 g5 41.b4 e3

White to move

Time for some counting


This move invites counterplay, although the win remains fairly straightforward.

42.b5 is best.

42...Kd4 43.b5 Kd3 44.b6 g4+ 45.Kg2

45.Kf4! I should have calculated 45...gxh3 46.b7 Kd2 47.Rc5 h2 48.b8Q h1Q 49.Qb2+ Kd3 50.Qc2+ Kd4 51.Qc3#.

45...Kd2 46.Ra1 f4 47.gxf4

Black to move


47...e2 48.b7 e1Q 49.Rxe1 Kxe1 50.b8Q

48.Kxh3 Rg7 49.b7 Ke2 50.b8Q Rg6 51.Qb5+ Kf2

51...Kf3 52.Qd5+ Kf2 53.Ra2+ e2 54.Bb6+ Kf1 55.Qh1+ Rg1 56.Qxg1#

52.Rf1# 1–0

I reminded Nikolay that someone had told me on Friday that my rating was not going up.

I was tired after this game. After a rushed lunch, I sat down to play Cameron Leslie on board one. I dropped a pawn through an opening blunder. Unlike this game, I did not get any play for the pawn.

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