21 May 2014

Commentary: 2014 U.S. Championship - Round 11

The final round of the U.S. Championship was outstanding to see, especially the must-win effort from Gata Kamsky to gain a spot in the playoffs (which he then won).  In this game, he chose one of his regular weapons as White, the London System, against GM Josh Friedel.  This strategy of opening selection, relying on a deeply known opening that is considered solid rather than unbalancing, is similar for example to Kasparov's choice of the English in his must-win final game against Karpov in the 1987 World Championship.

Kamsky's strategic depth was shown via moves like 13. a5, which in fact is aimed at undermining the center.  Friedel had multiple chances to equalize or gain counterplay, but instead ended up choosing to play his opponent's game rather than his own.  I identify move 21 as the key strategic decision point for Black, as he deliberately passes up unbalanced play on the queenside, where he has an advantage, in favor of attempting to shore up his kingside defenses.  Black's subsequent awkward defensive contortions are eventually exploited by White, who ends up dominating the entire board.

The game is worth examining for its individual positional and tactical decisions, but what stands out are the strategic factors and the role psychology played, with Black evidently feeling the pressure of playing against his world-class opponent.

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