Starting at the age of eight, I eagerly attended the [Central Florida] chess club from noon until closing playing countless blitz games with the usuals like Ted and Octavio. The CFCC was an essential part of every weekend for me, and tournaments such as tornadoes and the club championship were special opportunities to be in the company of the greats, namely Wilmer Chavira, Larry Storch, Nick Schoonmaker, and of course, Chuck Hall. This event always inspired me to play my hardest, and it represents many of the both good and bad memorable moments in my chess career
Daniel in 2003
Rated just 1041, I entered my first championship in 1999 as the second lowest rated player in the event, and ended in dead last with all losses—it was my worst performance up to that point. The year 2000 brought much better success, when as a 1236 I knocked off a 1900 and finished with 3/5 with losses to just Schoonmaker and Chavira. This was nothing compared to the next year when in the first round I played one of my greatest games ever, upsetting Chavira in just over twenty moves. It was my first victory over a master, and I finished the event undefeated and at a new all-time high of 1780. The next couple years were rather uneventful, except for the fact that another teenager, Francisco Guadalupe, was a surprise 2003 club champion at the age of 14. This put the pressure on me to win it the very next year, and break the record by several months. Rated 2190 and pre-seeded fourth, I felt like I had a great chance to win. After four rounds, I was in a place to do so with a victory over Alfonso Gabbedon and 3.5/4 going into the final round. I was paired against Francisco, a fitting opponent based on the situation we were both in. My game was almost completely mistake free, and my advantage was about 4 points according to the computers, but that’s when things completely fell apart. It was the biggest meltdown ever—in the course of several moves I dropped not only two pieces but the ability to become the youngest CFCC champion ever as well as one of Florida’s youngest masters.
It wasn’t until this year’s event (2008) did I make another attempt at the title, only this time nothing less than a perfect score was going to satisfy. The first four rounds when very easily, two of them lasting just sixteen and seventeen moves. At 4-0 I was calm and determined to win my final round, knowing that a draw would feel much more like a defeat even though it would clinch the title. Yilmer Guzman, the defending champion, sitting just below me in the standings with 3.5 points and the white pieces, was certainly not going let me win nearly so easily as all my other opponents, and after I won an exchange early on I found that things definitely were so simple. All the same, I still found a way to grind out the win in what should have been an easy draw for my opponent. Below is my decisive victory.
In closing, I would just like to thank all those people, Larry, Chuck, Harvey, George, Paul, and others who have made my time with the club so special, and I realize that without their help I would not be anywhere near where I am today. Winning this event really is a special accomplishment, no matter how easy it looked on paper. While I don’t see myself playing nearly as much as I once did in the central Florida area, I do see many other bright young stars rising up to take my place
Below is Daniel’s last round game against 2007 Champion Yilmer Guzman (LS)
Guzman,Yilmer (1963) – Ludwig,Daniel (2415) [D10]CFCC (5), 27.01.2008
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 a6 A less popular alternative to the usual e6. I enjoy playing a6 against 4.e3 instead of against 4.Nf3, because the drawback in most cases to the move a6 is the response c5, leaving weaknesses in black’s position on the dark squares. However, c5 is only good when white can prevent e5. Without a knight on f3 and the bishop unable to move to f4, black has an easy time playing e5, thus making c5 bad for white and good for black. 5.Qc2 g6 6.Nf3 Bg7 7.b3 0–0? [7…Bf5 The obvious and much stronger move, especially now that after 7.b3, white cannot even play 8.Qb3. I really felt stupid after I played 7…0–0, and I started questioning my focus. After I made this error I really settled down and worked hard on bringing in the full point.] 8.Bd3 b5 [8…dxc4 9.bxc4 c5 10.0–0 (10.d5 b5!) 10…Nc6³ Looks very good for black.]9.0–0 Nbd7 10.e4 dxc4 [10…b4 11.Na4 dxe4 12.Bxe4 Was not quite what I was looking for. White has too much activity, and even though black has the bishop pair, his weak pawns make this position unpleasant.] 11.bxc4 e5This is a strange looking move that at first glance just loses a pawn. However, the more you look at the lines, the more things work out for the active minor pieces of black, and the white center pawns just fall. I was pleased with myself for finding this plan. Often times when your opponent has a strong center, but your pieces are better, leaving as many pawns hanging in the center as possible is a good solution. 12.cxb5 [12.dxe5 Ng4 13.Ba3 Re8 14.e6 Rxe6 15.Rad1 Nde5 16.Nxe5 Nxe5 17.Be2 Qa5³]12…axb5 13.a4?! This allows me to get a strong center pawn mass. [13.Ne2 Qb6 14.dxe5 Ng4 15.Bb2 Ndxe5 16.Nxe5 Bxe5³] 13…exd4 14.Ne2 [14.Nxd4?? Ne5 15.Nce2 Nxd3 16.Qxd3 c5 17.e5 Ng4 18.Qe4 Bd7–+] 14…c5 15.Bxb5 Bb7³ 16.Bd3? [16.Nd2 Re8 17.Ng3 h5 With good play for black.] 16…Nxe4! 17.Bxe4 [17.Rb1 Nd6 18.Bf4 Bxf3 19.Bxd6 Bxe2 20.Bxe2 Re8 21.Bb5 Re6µ This isn’t much better for white. Black retains the pawn plus a great moving center.] 17…d3 18.Bxd3 Bxa1–+ 19.Bb5 Bxf3 20.gxf3 Nb6?! [20…Qe7 is slightly more accurate. While the difference between the two moves is not great, it is important to take each move extremely seriously, as a serious of second or third best moves can be very costly. Such is the case in this game when I let a -2.00 advantage go completely to waste.] 21.Be3 Bg7 22.Rd1 Qh4 23.Bc6 Rac8 24.Be4 f5? This is where things really started going wrong. [24…Rfd8 25.Rxd8+ Qxd8 26.a5 Nd5 27.a6 c4 28.a7 f5 29.Bxd5+ Qxd5–+] 25.Bb7 Qxa4 26.Qxa4 Nxa4 27.Bxc8 Rxc8 28.Rd7!
I was really impressed by this move. At first I thought nothing of it, and my sense of the position was that the rook would stay in front of the pawn. However, the bishop and knight are already doing enough, and in order for white to have a shot at drawing, he must go with the active rook. 28…c4 29.Ra7! Nc5 My main idea in exchanging down into this endgame was to trade off some minor pieces after I got this far. My idea was to play Nc3, where either I exchange the knight and have a simple winning edge, or the knight goes from e2 to c1, where it is made passive by the c3 knight and c4 pawn. Unfortunately this does not work thanks to the active white rook. [29…Nc3?? 30.Rxg7+ Kxg7 31.Nxc3; 29…Nb2?? 30.Rxg7+ Kxg7 31.Bd4+ Kf7 32.Bxb2] 30.Nf4 Nd3? [30…Nb3! The only move. After this I retain the advantage, and tricks like Nd5, Rxg7, Ne6, or anything else don’t work. If Nd5 Rd8, and if Ne6, Bf6. For some reason, during the game I saw ghosts and thought that I was forced to exchange the knights.] 31.Nxd3 cxd3³ 32.Rd7 Bf6 [32…Rc3?? 33.Rxg7+ Kxg7 34.Bd4++-]33.Rxd3 So I have successfully gone from completely winning position to a reasonably dead drawn position. One thing I have definitely learned from my chess career is that no position is completely safe from losing, no matter how drawn it seems. Also, considering that we were both down to about 16 minutes left for the rest of the game, I felt optimistic that my opponent could still make plenty of mistakes. All this is to say that I was not about to make a draw offer any time soon. 33…Rc7 34.Kg2 Kf7 35.h3 Ke6 36.Rb3 Be7 37.Bf4 Rc4 If you are trying to figure out some brilliant underlying plan behind all my or my opponents moves, then you are overthinking things. At this point I am simply probing around, poking here, poking there, hoping for some mistakes as well as taking some time off of his clock. 38.Re3+ Kf7 39.Bb8 Rc2 40.Ba7 White does need to be careful about the threat of 40…Bc5. 40…Bd6 41.Rd3 Ke6 42.Rb3 Rc8 43.Rb7 Rc7White was going to take the seventh rank with his rook, and if allowed to stay there could become annoying. On the other hand, my rook was accomplishing very little on the second rank so long as his bishop stayed on the g1–a7 diagonal. I also figured it would be helpful to avoid all the different checks. 44.Rxc7 Bxc7 This is the most important position. At this point white needs to envision a structure that will be impossible to penetrate, no matter how black sets up his pieces. With proper play this position is easily drawn, but before you laugh at how white lets this slip away, note that I set up this position with all of my students and not one of them drew it the first or second time around. Endgames do possess a lot more complications than people give them credit for, and even something this simple isn’t quite so simple. 45.Bd4 Kd5 46.Bf6 Kc4 47.Bg5 Kd3 48.Be3?
This is the first move that makes it possible for me to win. So far white not doing anything is fine, but at the point it would be very wise to prevent the black king from getting to e2. There is only one pawn in this position on dark squares, and that is the f2 pawn. If white plays 48.Kf1!, then black is hopeless to find a way to win the pawn. After he spends all his time going back around to either f4 or h4, white can easily play Kg2 once again. Just because this is a bishop endgame, does not mean that kings are any less important. The same thing can be said for any other endgame. 48…Ke2 49.f4? The second major and necessary error. This one is probably the fatal one. Another important principle to keep in mind with endgames is to avoid moving pawns basically whenever possible. Often times pawn moves only take away from valuable tempi further down the road, simply because you weren’t creative enough earlier on. In this case, f4 is really bad because all it does is place another pawn on the dark squares for me to win with my bishop. Now white has a second weakness (keeping in mind the theory of two weaknesses). 49…Bd6! Patience is a virtue with endgames! Let the position come to you and don’t rush anything. Also, whenever you are struggling to find a forceful win, look for zugzwang. At some point, white needs to play Kg3, after which g5 is nearly decisive.50.h4? Technically this move is not a mistake, but principally it is, because it puts the final pawn on dark squares adding yet another burden to the white defenders. [50.Kg3 g5 51.h4 h6 52.h5 Bc7 53.Bc1 Bb8 54.Be3 g4=] 50…h6 51.Bc1? [51.Kh3! Kf3 (51…Be7 52.Kg3) 52.h5 gxh5 53.Kh4= This pawn sacrifice is the answer to white’s troubles.; 51.Kg3 g5 52.h5 Transposes.]51…Bc5+- 52.f3 Bf2 The rest is just technique. Now that all the pawns are on dark sqaures, winning isn’t difficult. 53.Ba3 Bxh4 54.Bf8 h5 55.Bd6 Ke3 56.Be5 Be7 57.Bc7 h4 58.Be5 Bb4 59.Bf6 Be1 60.Bg5 h3+ 61.Kxh3 Kxf3 62.Bd8 Bg3 63.Bb6 Bxf4 64.Bc5 g5 65.Bb6 Bg3 66.Bc7 g4# A nice finish to a tough game. One thing to take note of from an instructional perspective is that my opponent is a strong player, equivalent to low expert strength, yet even he could not hold onto the draw as simple as it was. Let this be a lesson for those out there who would hastily take a draw in such positions, that between pressure, nerves, time, and simply human nature to not play perfectly, there is always some hope. 0–1