SANDS: At Cadets, one short chess game leads to one big payout for New Yorker

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It was one of the bigger payoffs you’re going to see riding on a single game of rapid chess: $145,624 for less than a half hour of work.

That’s how the math worked out at the U.S. Cadet Championship in Rockville last week, as New York NM Justus Williams defeated fellow master Michael Brown of California in their rapid Game/25 playoff after the two tied for first at 4½-2½ in the eight-player invitational for the strongest American players under 16. The stakes: a full four-year scholarship to collegiate chess powerhouse University of Maryland-Baltimore County, which, according to the school’s website, is worth $36,406 a year for an out-of-stater like Williams.

Texas NM Ruifeng Li finished third and Varun Krishnan, another California master, was fourth in the tightly bunched field, in which no player emerged without a defeat.

It’s not quite Labourdonnais-McDonnell or Kasparov-Karpov (yet), but Brown and Williams already have a spirited rivalry in the making. The two tied for first at the Barber K-8 Championship two years ago, and Williams’ victory in the rapid playoff in Rockville came after the young Californian had defeated Williams in the very first round of the Cadets — the New Yorker’s only loss of the tournament.

In the first game, Williams seeks a central break as Black in a Classical Nimzo-Indian, but White is ready with a timely counterpunch: 16. Nb3 e3!? (Black has clearly been aching to play this push to bust up the White kingside, but it proves premature; he is in good shape after 17. Qxe3?! Qd6! 18. Qc5 Rxe2) 17. b5! Nb8 (exf2+? 18. Rxf2 and Black’s knight and bishop on f5 are both attacked) 18. Qxe3 Qxe3 19. fxe3 Bg6 20. Bxf6 gxf6 21. Kf2, and White wins a pawn, though it’s unclear given the funky pawn structures if he can cash in.

Krishnan-Hua after 16. Re1xe4.

Enlarge Photo

Krishnan-Hua after 16. Re1xe4. more >

But Brown methodically improves the position of his pieces and his king, while the Black knight remains far inferior to its White rival. Perhaps fearing a slow crush, Black lashes out again, and again White is prepared.

Thus: 36. Rdc3 f5?! (Nb8 37. Kf4 Kg6 38. R3c2 Rb7 39. Nf3 Ree7 still leaves White searching for the breakthrough) 37. Nxf5 Nf6 38. Nd6 Nd5+ (Black’s defensive idea, but it will end up only aiding White’s attack) 39. Kd4 Nxc3 40. Kxe5 Nxe2 41. Rf1!, and suddenly the Black king is in mortal danger, harassed by the White knight, rook and king. The game ended: 41…Rc2 42. Rxf7+ Kg8 (Kg6 43. Rf6+ Kg5 [Kh7 44. Nf5 Rxc5+ 45. Ke6 Rb5 46. Rxh6+ Kg8 47. Kf6 Rb7 48. Ne7 and wins] 44. Nf7+ Kh4 45. Rxh6+) 43. Rxa7 Rxc5+ 44. Kf6 Rg5 45. Nf7, and Black resigned facing inevitable mate after 45…Rb5 (Nf4 46. Ra8+ Kh7 47. Rh8 mate) 46. Ra8+ Rb8 47. Rxb8+ Kh7 48. Rh8 mate.

In the playoff (Brown won the pre-game bidding and had White again and draw odds, though just 19 minutes and two seconds to Williams’ full 25 minutes), Black deviates first in another Classical Nimzo-Indian with 4…Nc6 5. Nf3 d6. But White’s 15. f4?! (15. Rac1 or 15. c5 straightaway looks sounder) creates a nasty hole in the White position. Trying to keep the initiative, Brown tries another ill-fated pawn push that puts him in a deep hole.

Black steps up to the challenge on 22. Ne3 Nb6 23. g4?! (again, the more modest 23. Rac1 was indicated) fxg4! 24. hxg4 Bxg4 25. Nxg4 Nxg4 26. Bxe4 (Qxe4 Qh4! 27. Rf3 Rae8 28. Qd4 Qh2+ 29. Kh1 Ne3+ 30. Rxe3 Rxf4+) Rac8, with the nasty threat of 27…Rxc3! 28. Qxc3 Qh4 with mate to follow.

White tries 27. Bf3, only to be hit by 27…Ne3 (the hole opened up on Move 15 comes back to haunt White) 28. Bd2 (Rfc1 [Rf2 Rc4 29. Qd3 Rfxf4] Rc4 29. Qd3 Rcxf4 30. Bd4 Qg5+ 31. Kf2 Rxf3+! 32. exf3 Rxf3+! 33. Kxf3 Qg2+ 34. Kf4 Nbxd5 mate) Nc2 29. Qd3 Nxa1 30. Rxa1 Nc4, and Black has the exchange and much the better position. With his time edge to boot, Williams has no trouble with the rest of the game.

In the final position, after 33. Re1 Rxf4 34. Qd1, White resigns before Black can administer 34…Qh4 35. Kg2 Rxf3! Kxf3 (Qxf3 Qxe1 is an easy win) Rf8+ 37. Ke2 Rf2+ 38. Kd3 Qc4 mate.

Krishnan played one of the best attacking games at the Cadets in his win over David Hua, the young New Jersey master written up here when he was the surprise winner of the 2012 Atlantic Open. As we pick up the action from today’s diagram (the White rook has just recaptured on e4), Hua as Black has gotten the worst of a Sicilian Kan Variation and is trying to solve his position difficulties with some tactical assistance.

But things don’t go as planned after 16…Nxe5?! 17. Rxe5! f6 (Bxe5 18. Qe4 d5 19. Qxe5 Qxe5 20. Nxe5, and the two white minor pieces outrank the Black rook and pawn) 18. Rxe6+!! dxe6 19. Qxe6 Qe7 (not much better was 19…Kf8 20. Bxf6 Re8 21. Qxa6 Qf4 22. Bg5 Qf5 23. Qd6+ Kg8 24. Qxb4, with a heavy material edge) 20. Qc6+ Kf7 21. Qd5+ Qe6 22. Ne5+! (the crusher — if now 22…Ke7, then 23. Qb7+ Kd6 24. Rd1+ Kxe5 25 Qc7+ Ke4 26. Qf4 mate) fxe5 23. Qb7+ Kg8 24. Qxa8+ Bf8 25. Rd1 Qg4 26. Qd5+, and Black resigned facing lines such as 26…Kg7 27. Qxe5+ Kg8 (Kf7 28. Qf6+ Kg8 29. Rd8) 28. Rd8 Qf5 29. Qd6 Kg7 30. Qc7+ Qf7 (Kg8 31. Bh6 wins) 31. Rd7 and wins.

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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