Hello everyone and welcome. Here we will be concluding the coverage of my games from the Atlanta Class Championship. Before getting to the game, a little word on the tournament situation and the player I faced in the final round. Going into the final round, one player had 3.5 points, and that was the player that I lost to back in the third round, in which the game was covered two articles ago. I was then the only player with 3, and then there was a number of players with 2.5, two of which had to face us on the top two boards. So going into this round, I know that a win will at worst put me in clear second, and with a loss or draw by the tournament leader, I could end up in clear first or tied for first, respectively, and so this game was critical as a loss, or even a draw for that matter, was totally worthless and out of the question.
A word about my opponent. I had observed throughout the tournament that he moved extremely fast in all of his games. With a time control of 40 moves in 90 minutes followed by sudden death in 30 minutes with a 10 second delay, I have observed cases where the number of moves made was in the 30s, and Frank's clock would still have over 80 minutes on it. It resulted in his 2.5 score coming in the form of three draws and a win. What that told me was that he was probably very good at well known tactical patterns. Before the round, I had looked him up on the USCF Website and noticed that he had played well over 1400 tournament games, which just, to me, confirmed the likelihood that a lot of what he did came in the form of repetition. The fact that this dates back to late 1991, which is as far back as the USCF records, and so he could easily have played hundreds more before that. So, to me, the solution was simple. I am looking at your typical "expert" who probably hit a wall because he shows no sign of patience at the board, and if he just took his time, probably a lot of his draws and losses would have results in victories.
So what do you do against such an opponent? You play something extremely unusual. An opening that does not result in your "typical" types of pawn structures, like blocked centers that result from the French or King's Indian, or IQP centers that result from many Queen Pawn openings, or open type centers that result from say, the Petroff or the Berlin. I needed something really odd. As it turns out, there is this system called the Elshad System. There is a version of it for Black, which is intended to be a defense to specifically 1.d4, and then there is the version for White, which starts with the move 1.c3, and then subsequent play can be vastly different depending upon which way White chooses to play it. The game below is one of many options for White, and I have taken other approaches in different games, so don't think that this game is "the line". I have no intention of giving away any secrets in that opening, and those that want to know them will have to invest the money and the time themselves. While I mainly play 1.e4, this 1.c3 line is my sideline that I use against players in certain situations. For example, a player that I might be playing for the umpteenth time, throw a curve ball at them. In this case though, with it literally being the second time we ever faced and the first time since 2007, that was not my reason for playing it. It strictly had to do with the fact that he plays too fast, and so if I can throw him off his stride, it is at minimum a psychological advantage for me. It did force him to slow down a little, but even at game's end, he spent a grand total of 28 minutes to my 64.
Without further ado, let's see how playing too fast can get you destroyed.
Atlanta Class Championship, Round 5
W: Patrick McCartney (2018)
B: Frank Johnson (2021)
1.c3 c5 2.d3 Nc6 3.g4 d5 4.h3 e5 5.Bg2 Be6 6.Nf3 Qc7 7.Ng5 O-O-O 8.Nxe6 fxe6 9.Nd2 Be7 10.Nf1 Bh4 11.e4 dxe4 12.Bxe4 Nf6 13.Qe2 Rhf8 14.Ng3 Bxg3 15.fxg3 Nxe4 16.dxe4 h6
So this is where we are going to start the analysis. I should start by saying that White, who has played this opening before, has 77 minutes left to Black's 87 minutes, and so Black is still rushing moves. So who is better?
It turns out, it is roughly equal with White possibly having an ever so slight advantage. That said, this is soon to change as Black's situation is more critical. White is slightly behind in development, but he has all of long term advantages in the position. He has the better minor piece given that the board is somewhat open, and also given that the c3-pawn covers two key squares that the Knight could get to from c6. He also has the better majority. Both sides have three pawn islands, but Black's majority is doubled e-pawns blocked by a single White e-pawn. White's majority is doubled g-pawns and an h-pawn versus g- and h-pawns. So why is White's version better? It's because Black's last move, which he was fairly quick to make, wasn't very good. It creates a hook for White, and White will play g5 shortly, and when White plays g5, Black can't advance the pawn as it would hang to a capture with the White Queen, and if he trades or allows White to trade, White gets a genuine 2-on-1 majority rather than the useless doubled e-pawns that Black has. Given these facts, we know that endgames would likely favor White. Therefore, three moves make sense for White here. 17.g5, going for the majority, 17.Be3, catching up in development, and the move played in the game.
White's goal is to trade a set of Rooks and get closer to an endgame. The Rook, of course, was doing nothing anyway on h1.
This is not a good square for the Queen. Black has a number of options, including trading Rooks on f1, to avoid having his d8-Rook dragged to the f-file, or a move like 17...Qd7 or 17...Qe7, looking to maintain control of the open d-file. He could also solidify his queenside with 17...b6. But the game move is a waste of time, and very shortly the d-file is actually going to be a problem for Black.
18.Rxf8 Rxf8 19.Bd2
Turns out this move is too passive and allows Black equality. White actually has a large advantage after 19.Be3. My main fear was allowing the Knight to become active with 19...Nd4. However, it fails tactically. White wins after 20.Qc4 Nc2+ 21.Kd2 Nxa1 22.Qxe6+ Kd8 23.Qd6+ Ke8 24.Bxc5 Rf7 25.Qxe5+ Kd7 26.Qd5+ Kc8 (Or 26...Ke8 27.Qe6+ Kd8 28.Qxf7 Qxc5 29.Qd5+ and White wins.) 27.Qxf7 Qxc5 28.Qf5+ Qxf5 29.gxf5 and White wins).
After Black's best play in response to 19.Be3, which is 19...Nb8 20.Qc4 Nd7 21.Rd1 (21.Qxe6? Qb5 =), White has a clear advantage.
19...Qa4 20.b3 Qa3 21.Bc1 Qa5 22.Bd2 Qb6
Black would be advised to put the burden on White and repeat the position with 22...Qa3. White probably has nothing better than to take a draw by repetition.
23.O-O-O Nb8 24.g5
There's that g5 move that was mentioned earlier.
24...hxg5 25.Bxg5 Nd7 26.Qd3
So the d-file has gone from being controlled by Black to being completely owned by White. Black will have problems with the d8-square and his King.
26...Qc6 27.Be7 Rf2?
The lesser evil is 27...Rf7. After 28.Bd6, White still has an attack, but it's not nearly as dire as what happens in the game.
The Bishop is poisoned.
28...Nxc5?? is of course mate on move with 29.Qd8. 28...Qxc5? drops the Queen after 29.Qxd7+ Kb8 30.Qe8+ Kc7 (30...Qc8 31.Rd8) 31.Qd8+ Kc6 32.Qd7+ Kb6 33.Rd6+ and Black can take the Rook, block with the Queen, or walk into a pawn fork, all of which drop the Queen.
29.Kb1 Ra5 30.Be7 Rb5 31.c4 Rb6
So after 31 moves, White has used 41 minutes. Black has used 11 minutes. And what do we have here? A position where Black is completely busted thanks to a number of inferior moves, and two really bad moves on moves 17 and 27. This is precisely what I was banking on when playing an odd opening against a rapid player.
This move will convert White's positional advantage to a winning material advantage.
I was expecting 32...Kb8, avoiding White's next move. Even so, 33.c5 is then a problem for Black.
Black has nothing better.
34.Qxb3 Nxf8 35.Bxf8 Qe4+ 36.Qc2 Qe1+ 37.Ka2 Qxg3 38.Qd2
I was shocked by this move. I had expected 38...Qxh3. It still loses for Black, but it's not the easiest of winning endings to execute. There is not only one way for White to win it, but an example of a line that would lead to a win for White would be 39.Bd6+ Kc8 40.Be7 b6 41.Qd8+ Kb7 42.Qd7+ Ka6 43.Bb4 Qf3 44.Kb2 Qe4 45.Qc8+ Qb7 46.Qxe6 Qe4 47.Bc3 Kb7 48.Qd5+ Qxd5 49.cxd5 e4 50.Bxg7 Kc7 51.Kc3 Kd6 52.Kd4 and White wins easily as the Bishop can drive the King away from d6 with a check.
With the game move, White is able to execute a series of checks that allows him to take the e6-pawn with check.
39.Qa5+ Kc8 40.Qc5+ Kd7 41.Qe7+ Kc6 42.Qxe6+ Kc7 43.Ba3
Bringing the Bishop back to block the Queen from checks temporarily.
43...Qg2+ 44.Bb2 g5
Black actually spent about a minute on this move. I remember him being about ready to play another move, but then realized the g-pawn falls to a Queen check followed by a capture on g7. However, while completely busted, Black made matters really easy because the pawn is now stuck on g5, the same color square as the White Bishop. It would have made more sense to play 44...g6 instead, though White is still completely winning. In the game, this g5-pawn will fall almost immediately after White is successfully able to eliminate the Queens.
Now the only question for White is how to make progress. Turns out, the answer is to walk the King up the board. To keep the King protected, the White pieces need to be near the King. To attack Black, the White pieces need to be near the Black King. Therefore, the White King comes with them!
45.Ka3 Qf3+ 46.Kb4
The best square for the King as Black will have to go far away to check the King again, and the following move, there will be no checks.
Black has spent 17 minutes to play his first 45 moves. He now sits there and proceeds to spend a full six minutes on his 46th move. The problem is, it's way too late for that! He should have been spending his time earlier. Let me once again emphasize bad moves by Black such as 17...Qa5 and 27...Rf2. In the meantime, White has spent 57 minutes on his first 46 moves, and so with 63 minutes left for the game, White is in no threat to run out of time, or even feel pressured to the point where it would impact his judgement in the position.
While 47.c5 is also still winning, why give Black any hope at all? He can play 47...a5+, which just complicates the matter. Sure, White still wins, but why deal with a high pressure situation, such as 48.Kb5 Qf1+ 49.Kxa5. The game move is simply easier for White.
47...b6 48.Qxe4 a5
So Black goes for desperation by threatening a cheap shot mate in 1. That said, it took me a matter of a minute to confirm that Black has no way to avoid the trade of Queens here.
Or 49...Kd8 50.Qa8+ also eliminates the Queens.
And now if 50...Ke7, then a skewer occurs with 51.Bd6+. Therefore, Black is forced to the back rank and the Queens are gone.
50...Ke8 51.Qa8+ Kf7 52.Qxf8+ Kxf8 53.Bf6
Remember the comment back at Black's 44th move, and how this pawn is now stuck on a square that is the color the White Bishop resides on? Now that pawn will fall immediately.
53...g4 54.hxg4 Kf7 55.Bd4 1-0
With another pawn about to fall, Black had enough and threw in the towel.
Mission Accomplished! Black spent a grand total of 28 minutes to White's 64 for this game, and while White's opening selection may not be viewed as the best of openings, and despite White's one real mistake on move 19, the opening, and subsequently the flow of the game, served its purpose. Black played a number of inferior moves, like 16...h6, just to name one, and two really bad moves on moves 17 and 27, and all of this masked White's lone error along with choice of opening. When you clearly know that you are playing against someone that always moves way too fast, the way to take them down is to get them out of their comfort zone. They probably have well known patterns mentally stored that arise from common openings like the Sicilian or Nimzo-Indian, but they can really get thrown off if they face something that is really odd, like the Sokolsky (1.b4), Bird's Opening (1.f4), 1.Nc3 lines, which can transpose to various King Pawn openings or also lead to independent positions, such as the Tubingen Gambit (1.Nc3 Nf6 2.g4), or as was the case here, the Elshad System via 1.c3. Now keep in mind, it needs to be something that you know. Just throwing a random move that you've never played yourself won't do you any good, but while you may be a 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, or 1.Nf3 player, it might be good to have something unusual in your repertoire for White. The fact that White goes first allows for such activity without getting killed. None of these should be your main opening for White, and I say this despite the fact that 1.b4 for a while was indeed my main opening back in 2008 and 2014, having played over 200 games with that opening move. I should add that doing this is not a good idea when you have Black. When you are already at a slight disadvantage because your opponent goes first, you should stick to your bread and butter defenses, and trust your own ability to outplay your opponent in a position that you see in almost half of your Black games while your opponent might face it a couple of times a year as White.
As for the tournament, those of you that recall in the article on round 1 that I had won this tournament, you probably already know what happened on the other board. The leader, Doruk Emir, who beat me in the third round, had to play Alexander Rutten, the kid I defeated in the first round, and Alexander Rutten won that game, leaving both Doruk Emir and Alexander Rutten, along with one other player, with 3.5, which lead to my 4-point performance being a clear first place result.
This concludes the coverage of the Altanta Class Championship. This is also very likely the last article of 2019. I hope everyone enjoys the Holidays, and I will be back after the Charlotte Open to continue to cover games from tournaments, such as the Charlotte Open, along with other articles on endgame play, opening and middlegame topics, and will continue the French Connection series with lots of analysis and ideas in the French Defense with many games featuring that opening.
Best wishes to everyone. See you in 2020!