Checa captures CCFC’s 1st FIDE Invitational!

By Daniel Lowinger

In my soon-to-be released book, Opening Originals, I present one of my losses to Nicolas Checa from 2014. It was a brilliant game, as Checa improved theoretically on a game Gelfand-Radjabov. After I lost, I showed the game to a couple GMs who were specialists on the line we played. They too were impressed; after analyzing independently, one went so far as to claim that Checa’s idea threw the validity of Black’s entire theoretical approach into question. As I say in that game’s introduction, “This may be the first book to feature his games, but it probably won’t be the last!”

Indeed, Checa stormed the field with a stunning 3.5/4, emerging from his contests with the 2 top-seeded grandmasters with a modest 1.5/2. Taking down his next nearest rating rival, SM Arlsan Otchiyev, in the final round, Checa simply dominated the event, and deserved no less than clear 1st. Let’s start with a look at his games.


Niemann - Checa

Checa’s path to the top did not include even a single easy game; in the first round, he squared off against another junior super-talent, Hans Neimann.


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Qc2 g6 5.Bf4 Bf5 6.Qb3 Qb6 7.e3 Na6 8.Nh4?


Hans may have rushed this thematic move, going after the bishop pair.


8...Qxb3 9.axb3 Nb4, with a threat to both d3 and c2, seems best. But what to do if White simply plays 10.Kd2? Probably this is what both players missed: 10...Bxb1 11.Rxb1 g5!o, and capturing on g5 allows a fork on e4.

9.Nc3 dxc4 10.Bxc4 Bxc4 11.Qxc4 Qb4

11...Qxb2?? is suicide: 12.Rb1i, and Black’s king is toast after White’s rook gets to the 7th.

12.Qxb4 Nxb4 13.0–0–0 0–0–0 14.Nf3 Bg7 15.Be5 Bh6!? 16.g4?

An informative stylistic moment: Hans plays the most ambitious, aggressive, and forcing move. This is more or less also the losing move, as it initiates a forcing sequence that transforms a slightly better position, into a worse one.

A simple move like 16.h3, says to the opponent: “my position is better, what are you going to do about it?” Hans’ move may suggest that he felt under the gun – that he needed something dramatic. Could this be a product of youth, or perhaps the intimidation of playing a higher-rated player? Or maybe simply a miscalculation?

We are also left to wonder about Checa’s 15th. It is a pretty strange move. The huge question is, of course, was he trying to provoke Niemann’s reply? Or perhaps trying to provoke 16.Bxf6, which incidentally seems pretty good for White?


16...Nxg4 17.Bxh8 Nxf2 18.Be5 Bxe3+ 19.Kb1 Nxh1 20.Rxh1 f6 21.Bg3 Bxd4 22.Re1?!

The above was more or less forced, and now we see Hans’ next strategic decision. The natural question, of course, is why White would reject 22.Nxd4 Rxd4 23.Bf2, which wins the pawn on a7.

22...Bc5 23.Ne4 Bb6 24.Nc3 Rd7 25.Re6 Nd3 26.Ne4 g5 27.a3 h5 28.h3 h4 29.Bh2 Bc7 30.Bxc7 Kxc7 31.Nc3 Nf4 32.Re3 Ng2 33.Re2 Nf4 34.Re3 e5 35.Nh2 Kd6 36.Ne4+ Ke7 37.Kc2 Rd4 38.Nf3 Rd5 39.Nh2 Ne6 40.Nc3 Rd4 41.Ng4 Nf4 42.Nh6 Ke6 43.Ne4 Nxh3 44.Nc5+ Kd5 45.Nd7 Nf2 46.Nxf6+

The extra piece has been no match for Black’s extra pawns and impressively compact formation. Nabbing this pawn is too little too late, as White’s pieces are totally uncoordinated for dealing with Black’s armada.


46...Ke6 47.Nh5 h3 48.Ng3 h2 49.Nhf5 Rf4 50.Ng7+ Kd5 51.N7h5 Rh4 52.Nf6+ Ke6 53.Re2 Rf4 54.Nh7 g4 55.Ng5+ Kd5 56.Rd2+ Kc5 57.Ne6+ Kb6 58.b4 Rf3 59.Nc5 Rxg3 60.Rd7 Kb5 61.Rxb7+ Kc4 62.Nd7 h1Q 63.Nxe5+ Kd5 0–1

Benjamin - Checa

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.e5

Unsurprisingly, Joel has shunted the main byways of theory. It seems Joel’s opening play may be focused on achieving certain familiar structures, rather than repeating precise variations. I believe he had something similar in his game against Graif, which began as a Sicilian.


6...Nfd7 7.N2f3 Nc6 8.Bb5 Qc7 9.0–0 a6 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.Ba4 Bb7 12.c4


Thematically, there are some resemblances to a Kan Sicilian, but Black must have a favorable version of it now.



Checa evaluates the complex situation accurately. Black’s center is under pressure, and this structurally ugly move is right, according to the computer.

13.Qe2 Nb6 14.Bc2 Be7 15.a4?! a5

White’s 15th is a mystery to me: the inclusion of the moves 15.a4 a5 seems to benefit Black, who now has the a6 square for his bishop. To borrow an idea from the Catalan, 15.Bd2, intending 16.Ba5, seemed logical.


16.Qe4 Nd5

Black is beginning to consolidate. The c-pawn is taboo on account of the skewer from a6.


17.Qg4 g6 18.Bh6 Ba6 19.Rfe1 Rb8 20.Rab1 Nb4 21.Be4 Nd3 22.Nd4 Rb6

Of course, Checa does not fall for 22...Nxe1 23.Bxc6+ Kd8 24.Rxe1, when the danger to Black’s king gives White more than compensation for the minor material donation.


23.Bxd3 cxd3 24.Qh3 Rb4 25.Nf3 Kd7!

I have noticed that strong players know when to move their kings. This brings the h8 rook into play.



The losing move, reflecting a classic strategic decision. Benjamin sees the opportunity to regain his pawn deficit and strikes. The problem is it puts his pieces out of play and costs him a lot of time. Instead, 26.Ng5! is a hard move to decide on, sacrificing yet another pawn, but should hold the balance, exploiting Black’s horribly weak dark squares. Say, 26...Bxg5 27.Bxg5 Rxa4. White is down two pawns, but Black has no answer to the dark square problem. The computer says equal – that White has full compensation for the 2 pawn deficit.


26...Rhb8 27.Qxh7 Rxb2 28.Rbd1 Bc5 29.Nd2 Qb6

It turns out this fires a blank, as Black can’t make progress against 30.Rf1. However, 29...Bd4, preparing to advance the c-pawn, is killer.

30.Qh4 Qb4 31.Qg5 Kc7 32.Bh6 Rh8

Benjamin has gotten his pieces awkwardly bunched, and in a bid for some semblance of piece mobility, now commits a losing tactical oversight.

33.Ne4? Re2 0–1

Checa – Kudrin

It is said that every tournament winner requires one lucky game. If that’s so, then this would be Checa’s. Kudrin obtains a more or less won game out of the opening, then throws away his entire advantage with a positional blunder on his 26th.


1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 0–0 7.e4 Bg4 8.Be3 Nfd7 9.Rd1 Nc6 10.Qb3 e5 11.dxe5 Ncxe5 12.Be2 Bxf3

This move is essentially a novelty.

13.gxf3 Qh4

Kudrin’s idea becomes clear. He intends ...Qh3, tickling the f3 pawn and weak light squares around White’s kingside. He has also created the possibility of ...Bh6, depriving White of his bishop pair.

14.Nb5 Qh3 15.Bf4?


15.f4 Nf3+ 16.Bxf3 Qxf3 17.0-0=.

15...Nc5 16.Qe3 Ne6 17.Bg3 Rad8 18.Bf1 Qh5 19.Be2 a6 20.Nc3 Nd4

Kudrin’s opening strategy has worked to perfection. He has sent White back a few times with loss of tempi, and his pieces coordinate perfectly against White’s weaknesses.

21.0–0 Nxe2+ 22.Qxe2 Qxf3 23.Qxf3 Nxf3+ 24.Kg2 Ne5 25.b3 c6 26.Na4 a5?

Allowing White’s knight to become active essentially steers the game to drawn waters. Instead, simultaneously keeping White’s knight rimmed and activating his own with 26...Nd3, and Black maintains a large advantage.


27.Nc5 b6 28.Bxe5 Rxd1 29.Rxd1 Bxe5 30.Nd7 Rd8 31.f4 Bb2 32.e5 Kg7 33.Kf3 b5 34.Rd3 Ba3 35.Ke4 ½–½

Neither side can make progress.

Checa - Otchiyev

To win the tournament, Checa had to win a tough final round against CCFC Instructor, Senior Master Arslan Otchiyev.

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0–0 6.Be2 Bg4 7.Be3 Nfd7 8.Rc1

Fans of CCFC chess may recall that we are following Lenderman-Rohde from the recently concluded Fairfield Masters & Class Championships. See past events for commentary on the opening moves.


Arslan deviates; Rohde preferred 8...c5.

9.d5 f5 10.Ng5

Checa plays the most incisive and forcing line, eyeing the weak e6 square.


10...f4 11.Bxg4 Qxg5 12.Bd2 Nc5 13.Qf3!?

In the handful of games that reached this position, the natural 13.0-0 is by far the majority choice. Checa’s move has been played only once before, in the 2006 Croatian championships, in the game Lenic-Mohr, which concluded in a draw. His choice has the virtue of being more forcing; White may not castle, and is threatening an attack beginning with the tempi-gaining 14.h4. Therefore, Black’s hand is more or less forced.


13...Nd3+ 14.Qxd3 Qxg4 15.Qf3

White continues the plan begun by his 13th – trying to force simplification. Checa is nothing if not at home on the White side of a King’s Indian. He understands that the structure favors White, while Black’s compensation lies in dynamic piece play. Therefore, the more pieces are traded, the easier it is for White to convert an endgame.



Mohr preferred 15...Qh4, and I understand why. The trade of queens may objectively be OK, but it is contrary to the spirit of the King’s Indian. Black is left with less space and a horrible dark-square bishop. It seems like some suffering in store.


16.gxf3 Bf6 17.Nb5 Na6 18.b4 Be7 19.a3 c6 20.dxc6 bxc6 21.Nc3 Nc7 22.b5

Checa’s moves have all been very natural. This is also typical, fighting for control of d5.


Grasping the situation, Arslan tries to mix things up. He cannot allow White to make d5 a dominant knight outpost.

23.exd5 cxd5 24.a4 dxc4 25.Ne4 Rac8 26.Rxc4 Ne6 27.Rxc8 Rxc8 28.0–0 Nd4 29.Kg2 Rc4 30.Ra1 Nc2

Up to this point, both players are playing more or less top engine moves. With the natural 30...Kf7, centralizing the king in the endgame, Mr. Silicon even gives Black a slight nod. Indeed, his pieces are active, and his king will be more active than its counterpart. Instead, Arslan embarks on the most ambitious plan, immediately going after White’s queenside pawns.


31.Ra2 Na3 32.Bc3

Checa doesn’t miss a beat. He finds the counterattacking resources.


32...Rxa4 33.Bxe5 Rc4 34.Rd2 Kf7?

The losing move, leading to a killer pin. Anticipating White’s rook’s penetration to the 7th, Black can play 34...Nxb5=, planning to put his king on f8 and hold his position together.

35.Rd7 Nxb5 36.Rb7

Black is overloaded and will imminently lose material.

36...Rb4 37.Nd6+ Ke6 38.Nxb5 Kxe5 39.Rxe7+ Kf6 40.Rb7

40.Nxa7 is even more decisive, as White’s rook is immune due to the threat of a fork on c6.



Maybe Arslan saw the writing on the wall; instead, with 40...a5!!, Black probably draws. After the rooks trade, White’s knight can contain Black’s a-pawn, but it’s unclear how he can make the necessary progress on the kingside to win the game. White can dance back and forth with his knight, but Black can match this by shuffling between g5 and h5 with his king, preventing White’s own from advancing. White can’t afford to run his king to the queenside to go after the a-pawn, as Black’s king would mop up the White kingside pawns. Arslan’s alternative strategy, to use his king to try to prevent White’s king from coming queenside, is the wrong approach. With his own kingside pawns free from harassment, White overpowers Black.

41.Nd6 Rxb7 42.Nxb7 Kd4 43.Kf1 Kd3 44.Ke1 Kc2 45.Ke2 g5 46.Na5 a6 47.Nc6 Kc3 48.Kd1 h5 49.h3 h4 50.Ke2 Kc4 51.Kd2 Kc5 52.Nd8 Kc4 53.Ne6 a5 54.Kc2 a4 55.Nxg5 Kb4 56.Kb2 Kc4 57.Ka3 Kd3 58.Kxa4 Kd4 59.Kb4 Ke5 60.Kc4 Kf5 61.Ne4 Ke5 62.Kc5 1–0

While Checa was busy wrapping up first place, a battle of the titans was raging on board 2, as Kudrin needed to defeat his GM colleague to take a share of first. With Benjamin half a point behind, the battle promised to be uncompromising.

Kudrin - Benjamin

1.e4 g6

Trademark Benjamin: offbeat and provocative. Just the ingredients required to provoke his opponent into complications that lead to a decisive battle. Benjamin’s opening choices seem conceptually and structurally repetitive, but his move order varies, making it hard to prepare for him.

2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.h3 a6 5.a4 Nd7 6.Be3 b6 7.g4

White has been goaded. Ultimately, the unwieldy advance of his pawns proves his undoing.

7...Bb7 8.Bg2 c5 9.Nge2 cxd4 10.Bxd4 Ngf6 11.0–0 Rb8!?

Fans of Nimzovich will be heartened to know that the ‘mysterious rook move’ is alive and well in modern chess! Kudrin furrowed his brow.


The forcing moves 12.g5 Nh5 13.Bf3 seem to confer an advantage.

12...0–0 13.Re1 Ne5 14.Nd5 Nfd7

It’s too early for simplification; Benjamin studiously keeps it complicated.

15.f4 Nc6 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Qd2 b5 18.axb5 axb5 19.b3 Kg8 20.Kh2 Ra8 21.Rxa8 Bxa8 22.g5 e5!

Perfect timing: Benjamin cuts the legs out from under White’s pawn structure.

23.Ne2 f6 24.h4 Ne7 25.Nec3 Nxd5 26.Nxd5 exf4

The time for simplification is at hand. White will be left with square and pawn weaknesses, and an exposed king.



The losing move. This choice is really hard to explain, acceding to a clearly unfavorable minor piece imbalance (bad bishop against good knight). 27.Nxf4= is the natural choice. It isn’t hard to see that 27...fxg5? is off the table on account of 28.Ne6.

27...Bxd5 28.exd5 Ne5 29.gxf6 Rxf6 30.Qg3 Qf8 31.Kg1 Qh6 32.Rf1 Rxf1+ 33.Bxf1 b4 34.c3 bxc3 35.Qxc3 Qxh4 36.Bh3 Qf4 37.Be6+ Kg7 38.b4 Qg5+ 39.Kf2 Qf4+ 40.Kg1 Qc4 41.Qxc4 Nxc4 42.Kf2 Kf6 43.Kg3 Ke5 44.Bg8 h6 45.Bf7 g5 46.Kg4 Ne3+ 47.Kh5 Nxd5 48.b5 Nb6 49.Bb3 Kf4 50.Bd1 d5 51.Be2 d4 52.Bg4 d3 53.Bd1 Nd5 54.Bb3 d2 55.Bd1 Nb6 56.Be2 Nd7 57.Bd1 g4 58.Kh4 h5 0–1

A brutal endgame.

Finishing tied for 3rd place with GM Kudrin were the junior phenoms Aaron Jacobson, Brandon Jacobson, and Hans Niemann. Having played all three myself with abysmal results, I will venture a prediction that all three are on their way to chess greatness. Have a gander at their games below:

Lowinger - Jacobson,Brandon

Brandon finished the tournament undefeated. A look at his play below will be sufficient to understand why. Despite taking the Black pieces, he seizes the initiative early in an unconventional manner. With my back against the wall the entire game, I am given no quarter. According to the engine, there was not a single opportunity for me to take the advantage in the entire game. A complete effort from Brandon.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.0–0 d6 6.c3 0–0 7.Re1 a6 8.Ba4 Ba7!?

The first sign that I’m not in Kansas anymore. I must have mixed up move orders, because I was expecting 8...b5.

9.Nbd2 Ng4!?

This is a scary move to face across the board when you’re not playing an amateur. It’s provocative and offbeat (sound familiar? Did I mention the Jacobson brothers are students of none other than Joel Benjamin?), violating as it does the principle that, if White hasn’t done anything wrong, Black should not be entitled to seize the initiative. Even now, it’s hard to believe that White has committed any inaccuracy thus far.


This seemed safer than 10.Re2, which cuts the connection between my queen and knight on f3.

10...f5 11.h3 Nf6 12.Re1 Kh8 13.Nf1 fxe4 14.dxe4 Qe8 15.Be3 Bxe3 16.Rxe3 Nh5

Black’s moves flow easily, while I was wolfing large helpings of clock on nearly every move.

17.Rc1 Qg6 18.Rc2?

It doesn’t take long to commit a fatal oversight. I was thinking prophylactically about the f2 square and underestimated the importance of severing the connection between my queen and bishop. Black could exploit this immediately with 18...Bxh3! 19.Nh4 Qg4.


Missing the above-mentioned tactic. Proof positive that the kids are, indeed, human.


19.Ng3 Qh6

Relentless, creating long-term tactical possibilities along the lines of 20...Bxh3 21.gxh3 Nxh3+ 22.Kg2 Nxf2 23.Kxf2 Qh2+. Needless to say, these kind of things are quite unpleasant to calculate at the board.

20.Qe1 Rf6 21.Nh2 Rg6 22.Rd2 Be6?!

Not even close to the most accurate, as 22...Na5 is incredibly uncomfortable for White. Even so, more than enough to retain the advantage.


The successful swing of my bishop to the kingside for defense is a major accomplishment, and yet still not enough to change the evaluation.

23...Rf8 24.Bg4 Bxa2

Played quickly, this move loses the exchange by force. Yet White is still worse, so severe is the attack.

25.Bf5 Rg5 26.Nf3 Ne7 27.Nxg5 Qxg5

Black is free of weaknesses, and White’s pieces are awkwardly jumbled. White is walking a tightrope and will inevitably fall off.

28.Qf1 g6 29.Bg4 h5 30.Bd1 h4 31.Ne2 Nxh3+

There it is; White’s position crumbles like a house of cards.

32.Kh2 Be6 33.f4 Nxf4 34.Nxf4 Rxf4 35.Rf2 Kg7 36.Ref3 Rxe4 37.Bc2 Rg4 38.Rf6 Bf5 39.Bxf5 Nxf5 40.R6xf5 gxf5 41.Rxf5 Qg6 42.Rf8 Rxg2+ 0–1

Let’s have a look at how the other brother conducts himself at the chessboard:

Jacobson Aaron - Graif


The brothers are ambidextrous, as Aaron served from the left in his game against yours truly.

1...c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0–0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0–0–0

Only here do we see some memory economizing, as White sidesteps excessively heavy main line Dragon theory.

9...Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Kb1

I chose 11.Nd5 at the 2014 edition of the Eastern Class Open, in Maryland, and won a nice attacking game, good for a brilliancy prize. Jacobson makes my game look like a dud!

11...Qc7 12.h4 Rfc8 13.h5 Qa5

Black is wasting tempi in a position that is already a bit fragile. Jacobson makes this seem like a cardinal sin!

14.hxg6! hxg6

White is not afraid of 14...Rxc3? 15.gxh7+ Kh8 16.Qxc3 Qxa2+ 17.Kc1, as White is winning comfortably there.

15.a3 Rab8 16.Bd3 b5 17.Qg5!

The only move to maintain advantage, seizing on the one drawback to Black’s last: the cutting off of Black’s queen, giving White’s own queen quick passage to the h-file.


You’re not granted this kind of tactical oversight against a Jacobson brother.


Winning by force.

18...Bxd4 19.Rdh1 Kf8 20.Rh8+ Bxh8 21.Rxh8+ Kg7 22.Qh6+ Kf6 23.e5+ Kxe5 24.Qe3+ Kf6 25.Qd4+ Kg5 26.Qh4# 1–0

A combination executed without the slightest hesitation.