Ramirez: Playing Kamsky under Pressure

5/17/2013 – Last weekend Gata Kamsky and Alejandro Ramirez tied for first in the 2013 US Championship, making a playoff necessary. Here the 24-year-old "upstart" Ramirez faced one of the most exprienced GMs in the US (Kamsky was twice Soviet under-20 champion before Alej was born). Alejandro, who is now a co-editor of our newspage, tells us in vividly annotated games what the encounter was like.

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US Championships: The Playoff against Gata Kamsky

As reported Gata Kamsky and Alejandro Ramirez tied for first in the 2013 US Championship, each scoring 6.5/9 points. Both players had drawn their face-to-face battle in round eight; Kamksy was undefeated with four wins and five draws, while Ramirez had a loss but also one more win. All this necessitated a playoff for the title.

The playoff took place on Monday, May 13. In all three hours of competition, and for more than 150 moves, Gata Kamsky (above) was the aggressor, but he found himself unable to break through the stalwart and creative endgame defense of Ramirez – until the waning moments. “It feels a bit awkward,” Kamsky said. “I consider us equals. Someone just got luckier than the other.”

The suprise challenger to Kamsky's supreme dominance in the 2013 US Championship was Alejandro Tadeo Ramírez Álvarez. Ramirez was born in San José, Costa Rica, June 21, 1988 and at the age of 15, he became the first Centro-American to achieve the Grandmaster chess title, and at the time also became the second youngest chess grandmaster in the world. Alej started playing chess at the age of four after watching the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer", and with the guidance of his father and mentor Jorge Ramírez, made rapid progress. At the age of 13 he earned a notable draw against Russian super grandmaster Alexander Morozevich during the Chess Olympiad 2002 in Bled.

The first grandmaster norm was obtained at the age of 14 by scoring 7.0/9 at the Capablanca in Memoriam Tournament in La Habana in May 2003. The second norm was obtained at the age of 15, when he tied for first place in the Zonal Tournament in Guayaquil, Ecuador. In this tournament Alejandro also got the right to participate in the World Chess Championship 2004, becoming the only centro-American ever to participate in such a magnum event, which was held in Libya. He obtained his third norm at the age of 15, gaining seven points in the Los Inmortales Tournament at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in November 2003.

Ramírez won first place in the Morelia Open 2008 and first place in the US Chess Open 2010 held in Irvine, California. In January 2011 he stopped representing Costa Rica, and is now listed as a US Chess player. He lives in Dallas, Texas, where he graduated from the University of Texas with a Masters Degree in Arts & Technology / Design and Production of Videogames. He is now a co-editor of the ChessBase news site, where his technical expertise, quick-witted personality and entertaining writing style are greatly appreciated. He has recorded three training DVDs so far – the first was published at the beginning of this year, the other two will follow in the coming weeks.

The playoff – summaries by FM Mike Klein

Games one and two of the playoff for the 2013 US Championship were played at a time control of 25 minutes per player with a five second increment per move. Ramirez seemed determined not to get behind on the clock, but an early misstep allowed Kamsky to embed a knight on d5. Shortly after, Black’s pawns were crippled, but Ramirez found all the necessary countermeasures to prevent any white pawn from reaching paydirt. Of the many players who were spectating, GM Robert Hess said Kamsky did not need to be so quick to exchange his best piece.

Things getting really tense – Kamsky attacking, Ramirez defending precisely

[Event "USA Championship 2013 tiebreak"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2013.05.13"] [Round "2"] [White "Ramirez, Alejandro"] [Black "Kamsky, Gata"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C88"] [WhiteElo "2551"] [BlackElo "2741"] [Annotator "Ramirez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "127"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [EventCountry "USA"] {Trying to beat Kamsky is not an easy task, but I thought I would have a better shot at it in the Spanish than on his a6 Slavs. Also, I didn't think he would be expecting 1. e4} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. a4 Bb7 9. d3 d6 10. h3 {I didn't really know what I was doing, this move seemed natural enough.} Qd7 11. Nc3 Na5 12. Ba2 b4 13. Nd5 (13. Ne2 {was another possibility.}) 13... Nxd5 14. Bxd5 c6 15. Ba2 c5 16. c3 Bc6 17. Bd5 $6 {This is the beginning of all my problems. As soon as I played it I thought about asking for a takeback...} (17. d4 c4 $5 18. dxe5 Bxa4 {I thought was complex, but the engine says I have Qd5 with an advantage.}) 17... bxc3 18. bxc3 Bxd5 19. exd5 Rab8 20. c4 {Unfortunately my position is not great as my a-pawn is rather weak and I don't have anything going on anywhere on the board. Thankfully through some tactics I'm able to solve the first problem.} Nb3 21. Rb1 Nxc1 22. Qxc1 Qxa4 23. Ra1 Qb3 24. Ra3 $1 {An important intermediate move. The a6 pawn won't be going anywhere soon and White can take it at leisure.} Qb7 25. Qa1 f5 26. Rxa6 Ra8 27. Ra2 $1 Rxa2 28. Qxa2 Ra8 29. Rb1 Rxa2 30. Rxb7 Bf6 {Here I started getting worried about e4. I saw the alternative g4 but I thought it was a bit too risky. Without that move the position became very uncomfortable though.} 31. Rb8+ (31. g4 $1 e4 32. dxe4 fxe4 33. g5 Bd4 34. g6 $1 hxg6 35. Rb8+ Kf7 36. Ng5+ $11) 31... Kf7 32. Rb7+ Ke8 33. Rb1 Kd7 34. Rd1 {A little passive but I thought I was holding.} h5 35. g4 $5 hxg4 36. hxg4 e4 $1 {Kamsky shuts down the e4 square from my knight.} ( 36... fxg4 37. Nd2 $1 {And once the knight jumps to e4 White has no problems at all.}) 37. dxe4 fxg4 38. e5 $1 {And I push it open right back!} gxf3 39. exf6 gxf6 40. Rc1 f5 41. Rc3 {Here I thought the game was easily drawn, but Kamsky shows great technique and puts on the pressure.} Ke7 42. Re3+ Kf6 43. Re6+ Kg5 44. Rxd6 Rc2 45. Rc6 Kf4 46. Rh6 (46. Rxc5 {is the computer move, but it looked scary!} Rc1+ 47. Kh2 Rf1 48. d6 Rxf2+ 49. Kg1 Ra2 50. Rc8 $1 {but Black only has a draw here of course.} Rd2 51. c5) 46... Kg5 47. Rh8 Rxc4 48. d6 Rd4 49. Rc8 Rxd6 50. Rxc5 {With the pawns traded off, the draw becomes clearer.} Kg4 51. Rc4+ Kh3 52. Rc1 Rg6+ {By this point I was beyond exhausted. I briefly considered playing 53. Kf1 which gets mated by Kh2. Oops :)} 53. Kh1 Rg2 54. Rc2 {I know Kamsky was tired too - he was surprised at this move!} Rg7 55. Rc3 Kg4 56. Rc4+ f4 57. Rc8 Kf5 58. Rc3 Ke4 59. Rc4+ $1 {Of course Black has no way to break through, but I calculated this line to a draw.} Kd3 60. Rxf4 Ke2 61. Ra4 {Rook on the long side is a draw in Lucena positions.} Kxf2 62. Ra2+ Kg3 63. Kg1 Rb7 64. Rg2+ $1 {The only drawing move, but sufficient. Kamsky also missed this move, he shook his head when I played it, smiled at the audience and offered me a draw.} 1/2-1/2

Draw agreed in game one

Game two

After a short break, the players switched colors and resumed the rapid play. This time Kamsky broke through on the queenside, and probed Ramirez’s position with his rook. The minor pieces traded and another rook-and-pawn ending was reached, with Kamsky having all the chances.

Onec again Ramirez was up to the task, using a stalemate tactic to extend the tiebreak

The rare ending to a grandmaster game caused the supremely focused Kamsky to look at the crowd and laugh. Later, he said he had almost the same ending at the World Cup in 2011 against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, but was able to win that game.

[Event "ch-USA Playoff 2013"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2013.05.13"] [Round "1"] [White "Kamsky, Gata"] [Black "Ramirez, Alejandro"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A46"] [WhiteElo "2741"] [BlackElo "2551"] [Annotator "Ramirez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "126"] [EventDate "2013.05.13"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 c5 3. g3 cxd4 4. Nxd4 {e5/d5 is supposed to be the refutation of this early system, but I decided to play more cautiously.} g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O O-O 7. c4 Qc7 {I just kind of made this up during the game. I'm attacking c4 and forcing b3.} 8. Na3 d6 9. b3 a6 10. Bb2 Nc6 11. Qd2 Bd7 12. Rac1 Nxd4 13. Bxd4 {White's awkward knight on a3 means that Black has good chances at equality.} Bc6 14. Nb5 {But with this he fixes it. Now he is slightly better.} Qd7 15. Nc3 Bxg2 16. Kxg2 b5 17. Bxf6 Bxf6 18. Nd5 Rac8 19. cxb5 Qxb5 20. Nxf6+ exf6 21. e3 Rc6 22. Rxc6 Qxc6+ 23. Kg1 Rc8 24. Rd1 {White's structure is far superior to Black's, so I get to be tortured for forever now.} Qc2 25. Qxc2 Rxc2 26. a4 (26. Rxd6 Rxa2 27. Rxf6 Kg7 28. Rb6 h5 $1 {is an endgame that I was pretty sure I could hold.}) 26... Rc6 27. Rd4 Kf8 28. Rb4 Ke7 29. Rb7+ Ke6 30. a5 Rc2 (30... h5 $1 {was so much better than what I did. I still get to suffer, but much less.}) 31. g4 h5 32. gxh5 gxh5 33. Kg2 f5 34. Rb6 Rb2 35. Kf3 Ke5 {White is a lot better, but it's unclear exactly how he is going to make progress.} 36. Rxa6 Rxb3 37. Ra8 Ra3 38. a6 f4 39. a7 Kf5 40. Ke2 fxe3 41. fxe3 h4 42. h3 Ra4 {White's rook is stuck, so now Kamsky will try to zugzwang my king back.} 43. Kd3 Kf6 44. Kc3 Ke7 45. Kb3 Ra1 46. Kc4 Ra5 47. Kb4 Ra1 48. Kb5 Rb1+ 49. Kc6 Rc1+ 50. Kd5 Rc5+ 51. Ke4 Ra5 52. Kf4 Kf6 53. Kg4 Ra4+ 54. Kh5 Kf5 55. e4+ Kf6 56. Kxh4 d5 57. Kg3 dxe4 {now the draw is obvious, as the endgame is drawn even without Black's e and f pawns.} 58. Kf4 Kg7 59. h4 Kh7 60. h5 Kg7 61. h6+ Kh7 62. Ke3 f5 63. Kf4 Ra6 {I survived!} 1/2-1/2

The Armageddon

The rules dictated that in case of a 1-1 tie, the playoff would end in an Armageddon match, where players bid for time and color. In sealed envelopes, Ramirez wrote the time 19:45, while Kamsky’s envelope read 20 minutes even. Ramirez thus got 19:45 to Kamsky’s 45 minutes, while Ramirez had black and draw odds.

The two reprised the opening from their first rapid game. Kamsky, needing to win, decided to keep all the minor pieces on the board this time. He slowly increased his square domination while Ramirez listlessly shuffled pieces round the last two ranks. Eventually Kamsky pushed forward, and Ramirez, getting low on time, decided to take his chances in an opposite-colored bishop endgame.

With Ramirez playing only on increment, he could not defend once Kamsky got his third passed pawn. Ramirez resigned after Kamsky denuded black’s best defenders. After the game, Kamsky told Ramirez that 37…e5 was the critical mistake, without which Black should hold. Ramirez agreed, explaining that he did not see 39…g4 in his calculations. “I was starting to get really nervous,” Kamsky said. “It wasn’t clear until the last move.”

[Event "ch-USA Playoff 2013"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2013.05.13"] [Round "3"] [White "Kamsky, Gata"] [Black "Ramirez, Alejandro"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A46"] [WhiteElo "2741"] [BlackElo "2551"] [Annotator "Ramirez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "103"] [EventDate "2013.05.13"] {Going into the Armageddon I can't really describe how I felt. It was a combination of exhausted and nervous and happy and excited. Here we go!} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 c5 3. g3 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O O-O 7. c4 Qc7 {This random move worked last time so I played it again.} 8. Na3 d6 {Kamsky spent a good ten minutes in this position, which made me very nervous. If he could play 9.Nab5 I would probably be slightly worse.} 9. Ndb5 (9. Nab5 Qxc4 10. Be3 Na6 11. b3 Qc5 $1 {seems like Black holds though.}) 9... Qd8 10. Bg5 Nc6 11. Qd2 a6 12. Nc3 Bf5 13. e4 Be6 14. Nd5 Nd7 15. Rac1 Rc8 16. b3 Re8 17. h3 {The computer thinks I'm fine, but this position is quite unpleasant under time pressure, as Black has no constructive plan.} Nde5 18. Kh1 Rb8 19. Nc2 Qd7 20. Nb6 (20. f4 h6 21. Bh4 g5 22. Bxg5 hxg5 23. fxe5 Nxe5 24. Qxg5 Bxh3 {is very unclear, Kamsky wants to keep the pressure without allowing counterplay.}) 20... Qd8 21. Be3 Nd7 22. Nd5 Nc5 23. f4 b5 24. cxb5 axb5 25. f5 Bxd5 $6 (25... Bd7 {was preferable, but I was worried about} 26. Bg5 {since f6 is a dangerous threat.}) 26. exd5 Ne5 27. Nb4 Qa5 28. Bxc5 dxc5 29. Rxc5 Rbc8 $2 {Kamsky spent a lot of time again on this move, but he found a really nice sequence.} ( 29... Nd3 $1 30. Qxd3 Qxb4 {would have made White's task incredibly hard. He is up a pawn but the opposite colored bishops and Black's activity gives him chances to hold.}) 30. Rxc8 $1 Rxc8 31. fxg6 hxg6 32. Qf4 $1 {I underestimated this powerful move. Now Black has no way of stopping the knight coming to c6 and giving White a strong passed pawn.} Qc7 (32... g5 $2 33. Qf5 $1 {is lights out.}) 33. a4 bxa4 34. bxa4 f5 35. Nc6 Nxc6 36. Qxc7 Rxc7 37. dxc6 {This endgame is very difficult for Black, but it might be a draw. I haven't fully analyzed it yet, but I didn't think I'd survive during the game. That being said here came my blunder.} e5 $4 {In time pressure, I completely forgot that White can play g4.} 38. Bd5+ Kf8 39. g4 {and now the game is over. Black can't allow his pawns to be blockaded and his bishop to become passive. Here I jettisoned my pawns, but it's not enough.} Ke7 40. gxf5 gxf5 41. Rxf5 Kd6 42. Bf3 Ra7 43. Rg5 e4 {desperation, but the e-pawn was rather useless anyways.} 44. Bxe4 Be5 45. Rg6+ Kc5 46. Bf3 $1 {Most precise, now the a-pawn is untouchable.} Kb6 (46... Rxa4 47. c7 Bxc7 48. Rc6+) 47. Rg5 Ra5 48. h4 Kc7 49. h5 Kd6 50. h6 Rxa4 51. Rxe5 Kxe5 52. c7 {and I had to resign. A masterful performance by Kamsky, who gave me no chances in the entire playoff.} 1-0

Ramirez said the experience of playing worse positions was “torture”, then he was reminded that he still pockets $20,000. “I’ve never won that much in chess, ever,” he said.

Photos by Tony Rich, Saint Louis Chess Club

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