The best of Alabama chess descended on the University of Montevallo this past Saturday to compete in the so-dubbed "Alabama super-tournament," the Falcon Chess Invitational. With participants ranging in rating from 1800 to 2270, the tournament boasted a strong average participant rating of 2014 and had in attendance six of Alabama's top ten active players. Emerging unscathed with 3.5/4.0 each, LM Bill Melvin ̣(2206) and CM Stephen Graveling (2126) shared first place.
History of the Falcon Chess Invitational
What was to become known as the Falcon Chess Invitational started off four years ago as a four-person, unofficial, unrated, doubles event. Scott Varagona invited three close friends (and top Alabama players) Stephen Adams, Stephen Graveling, and Jonathan Rasberry. Each player teamed up with another against the other two each round in a doubles faceoff. After a total of three rounds, the event was won by Stephen Adams. As it was well loved, it was decided to make it an official event (singles...) the following year with 8 competitors all experts/masters and hand selected by tournament host Scott Varagona. At this point, the event was one of the strongest tournaments in Alabama history with an average rating near 2100. In 2016 Jonathan Rasberry took clear first with 3.0/4. The format stayed the same and only became stronger (average rating of 2100+) in 2017 with Matthew Puckett and Sijing Wu finishing in the lead with 3.0/4. This year the event shook up once again. Fourteen players were given the invite and the minimum rating was dropped to 1800.
Just because the event had an overall lower average rating didn't mean at all that the competition was any less fierce. Take for instance Zachary (Isaac) Snow (1811) who was the lowest rated-competitor and finished with 2.0/4.0 with a nice win over Roger Johnson and a solid draw against Alabama top ten player, Tejas Thorat.
Coming back for his first tournament in five years, tournament director Caesar Lawrence (1812) added to the competitive toughness of this event by posting 1.5/4.0 and a nice win over Christopher Trees.
Jonathan Rasberry (2030 and yours truly!) finished with 3.0/4.0 which included pairings against three masters. He posted 2.0/3.0 against them which included victories over NMs Scott Varagona and Arden Markin and a defeat to LM Bill Melvin. The performance also secured his 5th CM "norm" and he is now Alabama's newest candidate master.
Games and Analysis
Below are three games that were crucial for the outcome of the tournament. The first game, the game of the day, was a tense round two matchup between the #1 and #4 seeds, NM Scott Varagona and CM Stephen Graveling respectively. Also in round 2, Jonathan Rasberry won a very nice and instructive game against NM Arden Markin. Finally, the two players left at the top after 3 rounds, LM Bill Melvin and CM Stephen Graveling, played to an imbalanced draw to clinch a tie for 1st.
Game of the Day:
NM Varagona, Scott (2272) vs. CM Graveling, Stephen (2126)
1. d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.e3 b6 5.Qc2 Bb7 6.f3 c5 (Diagram) 7.dxc5!? This is a wildly complex position already. White is building a very solid structure while black opts for a more dynamic build. When white essayed 7.dxc5, he is losing one of the strengths of his set-up; his center. More in line with his development might have been Nge2 or Nh3. 7...Bxc5 8.a3 0-0 9.Nge2 Nc6 10.Nf4 Rc8 11.Bd2 Qe7 12.Be2 Ne5! Qb3. Probably played with a heavy heart. The c4-pawn is under-defended and it all too easily might fall. Thus far black's play has been impeccable. 13...Rfd8 14.Na4 Bd6. 14...Ba6!? 15.Nxc5 Qxc5 16.Bb4 Bxc4! bags a pawn. There are other lines white can try for tricks, but its hard to hold the pawn and a decent position. Graveling could have gone for this.
15.h4 Nf7 (Nc6!? to prevent Bb4 is also strong) 16.Bb4 Bxb4 17.axb4 e5 18.Nd5 Nxd5 19.cxd5 e4 20.f4 Nd6 21.Nc3 Ra8 22.Nb5 Kh8 23.Nc3 Rdc8 24.h5 h6 (Diagram) The games has proceeded without much happening other than small maneuvering. Neither side has an advantage, and the question is can one side push his opponent back enough without causing too many weaknesses in his own camp. 25.Kf2 Rc7 26.Rag1 a5? 27.bxa5!? If Graveling made any errors in his great game, his 26th move would have to be the closest to one. Even so, to take advantage of this would take a forensic examiner to find the "how to." In short, after a semi-forced series of moves, black is going to end up with a few too many weak pawns, slightly mis-coordinated pieces, and a slightly open king. The only way for white to try to find any advantage would be 27.g4! fxg4 28.Rxg4 Nf5 (what else?) 29.Rg6! axb4 30.d6 Nxd6 and white has pressure against all of black's pawns, he will be winning back the b6 pawn and he has well-placed pieces. The computer gives about half-a-pawn advantage.
27...bxa5 28.Qb6 Ne8 29.g4 fxg4 30.Rxg4 Qb4 31.Qg6?? (Diagram) While this could easily be called the losing move, it is hard to understand why (especially during the game) until you realize that black has too good of a defense. White will never be able to get his queen, knight, and rooks in because the g7, f8, and h6 squares will be too easily defended. While black does have to stay vigilant and alert to some ideas, for the most part, it is just up to him to grab the b2 pawn and queen his a-pawn. 31...Qxb2 32.Nxe4 Bxd5 33.Rhg1(?) Rc2(!) 34.Ng3 Bc4 35.Re1 Bxe2!? Here there is no reason to relieve all this pressure until white steps out of the pin. Playing 35...a4 just wins another tempo further easing the victory march. 36.Rxe2 Rxe2+ 37.Nxe2 a4 38.Kf3 a3 39.Nd4 a2 40.Qf7 Qa3 41.Nf5 a1=Q 42 Kh2 Qa2+ 45.Rg2 Qh4+ 46.Kg1 Qb1#
NM Markin, Arden (2174) vs. Rasberry, Jonathan (2030)
The Falcon Invitational has always been a special tournament for me. I have been rather successful at the event scoring 3.5/5 against masters at the event and I am the only outright winner of the event over its three year history. I went 2.0/3.0 against masters Saturday including this win over one of Alabama's newest (and youngest) chess master. The effort helped me achieve the Candidate Master (CM) title.
While the game isn't that exciting, it brings in an interesting, teachable moment. After the opening, there arises a position of knight vs. light-square bishop. While bishops control one color-complex beautifully, they have to neglect the other. This game features black attacking a pawn, on a dark square, that the bishop could never defend.
1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.h3 Bxf3 (main-line) 5.Qxf3 Nf6 6.Be2 e6 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.d4 exd4 9.Nxe4 Nxe4 10.Qxe4 Nf6 11.Qd3 Be7 12.c4 0-0 13.b3 Qc7 14.Bb2 Rad8 15.Rad1 Rd7 16.Qf3!? (Diagram) Up until this point, nothing has been going on. The game's battle lines have been drawn; white will try to prove his space advantage and black will attempt to prove the d4 pawn is too weak. With the move Qf3, white starts a series of moves to lose equality. Not any of them are per-say bad, but none address black's question: how will you defend your d4 pawn. The reason this is important is that black has five pieces that can attack d4 while white only has four max defenders. The question, if ignored, is not easily answered. 16...Rfd8 17.Bd3!? Ne8(!) 18.Rfe1!? Bf6 19.Qg4 g6 20.Re4 Bg7!? (h5! wins the pawn faster) 21.Qh4 c5 22.Bf1 Bf6 23.Qh6 Bxd4 (The pawn finally falls) 24.Bxd4 Rxd4 25.Rexd4 25.Rexd4 Rxd4 26.Rxd4 cxd4 27.g3 Qe5 28.Bd3 Nf6 29.Kg2 Ne4 30.Qh4? Both of missed 30.f4!? which temporarily wins a knight but ultimately at too big of a price. 30...Qa4 31.fxe4 Qd2+ 32.Kf1 Qe3 and all the king-side pawns fall along with the bishop as the pawn storms home. However, there is still fight. 30...Nxf2! 31.Bc2 Qe3 32.b4 d3 33.Bb3 d2 0-1
Graveling, Stephen (2126) vs. Melvin, Bill (2206)
1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.0-0 Be7 7.d4 exd4 8.Nxd4 Nxd4 9.Qxd4 Nf6 10.Qa4+ c6 11.Rd1 Qb6 12.Be3 Qxb2? Up until here, all moves have been standard theory from the English opening. As per usual, Bill Melvin is not above playing risky chess to spice up the position. The reason I branded 12...Qxb2 with a question mark (?), is because black wins no material at the cost of leaving his king in the center against two blazing bishops and some blood-hungry heavy pieces. Better would be 12...Bc5. However, as the position descends into chaos, Melvin is more comfortable and the mire might confuse Graveling enough (as it did) to make this a justifiable move. 13.Bxc6+ Kf8 14.Bd4 Qb4 (Diagram) 15.Bxf6!? While this move is extremely tempting in the temporal moment, the true fact of the matter is with the greatly reduced material, the pawn structure's blemish is overridden by the more drawish nature of the reduced material position (Also black's queenside majority help...). However, Graveling is still in the driver's seat. Better would be to keep the pressure of the two bishops and just trade queens. Black's problems are highlighted when it is realized that his pieces are badly underdeveloped. Black's majority on the kingside 15...gxf6 16.Qxb4 Bxb4 17.Bf3 Rb8 18.Nd2 b6 19.Ne4 Kg7 20.Rac1 Be6 21.Rc7!? The rook is more of a target than an attacker, after this point, though still a tough, imbalanced position, the game remains even until a forced perpetual claims the game in a few more moves. 21...a5 22.a4 Rhc8 23.Ra7 Rd8 4.Rc1 Rbc8 25.Rxc8 Rxc8 26.g4 Rb8 27.Ng3 Bb3 28.Bc6 Rc8 29.Bb4 Rc1+ 30.Kg2 Ra1 31.Nf5+ Kg8 32.Ra8+ Bf8 A hard, calculating, cold-blooded computer would give white some edge (~.8), but the prospect of having to defend some passed queenside pawns and a share of first place was enough for Graveling to call it quits on a very successful day. 1/2-1/2