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The Evanston Township High School Chess Team had its best national performance in years at last weekend’s National High School Championships in Memphis. The 18-player team won two second place team trophies – in the Under 1900 and Under 1600 sections, the second and third strongest of the tournament’s six divisions.

ETHS players also won individual awards in four of the tournament sections. Elie Platnick defeated a National Master on his way to a 22nd place finish in the Championship section. Jonah Chen placed 11th in the Under 1900 section, Luca Zerega placed 28th in the Under 1600 section, and Peter Kezdy tied for first place (third on tiebreak) in the 232-player Unrated section.

Zerega was an alternate on the ETHS team at last year’s Illinois High School Association State Finals but improved play moved him up to board seven on this year’s IHSA State team. Last weekend’s tournament results were his best yet, and the following game, from Round 5 (of 7), helped secure his team’s second place finish and his individual award.

White: Luca Zerega, ETHS

Black: Raghavan Madabushi, Alabama

1e4 e5 2Nf3 Nc6 3d4 cxd4 4Nxd4 Nxd4?! It’s better for black to play 4…Bc5 to attack white’s knight, or 4…Nf6 to attack white’s e-pawn.

5Qxd4 d6 6Nc3 Qf6 7Be3 Zerega could have played 7Qa4+ to avoid trading queens, but this move also gives white an advantage.

7…Qxd4 8Bxd4 Be6

White to Move

9Nb5!? This move threatens Nxc7+, forking black’s king and rook. White could have played for a safer advantage with 9Nd5, 0-0-0 100-0-0, when white would occupy more space and have more active pieces than black.

9…c5? Black should have defended the c-pawn by playing Kd7 or Kd8.

10Nc7+?! Kd8 White misses a complicated sequence of moves that would have given him a winning advantage. After 10Nxd6+ Bxd6 11Bxg7, white temporarily wins a rook and two pawns in exchange for his knight. Now black can play 11…f6 to trap white’s bishop, but white stays on top with 12Bxh8 Kf7 13Be2 Ne7 14Bh5+ Ng6 15f4! Rxh8 16f5. White loses his bishop but wins black’s bishop or knight.

White to Move

11Nxa8?! White wins black’s rook but loses a bishop, and his knight is trapped on a8.It was safer to play 12Nxe6+ fxe6 13Bc3, when white’s two bishops are more active than black’s bishop and knight.

11…cxd4 120-0-0 Kc8 13Rxd4 Kb8 14 Bc4 Kxa8?! Black should have played Be7 or Ne7 before placing his king in the corner or the board. Now white can take advantage of the black king’s position by playing 15e5! If black captures the e5 pawn, white plays Rd8+, which leads to checkmate.

15Bd5?! Nf6? 16Bxe6 fxe6

White to Move

17e5! White now gains a passed pawn, since black gets checkmated if he captures the pawn on e5.

17…Nd7 18exd6 g6 19Re1 e5 20Rd3 Kb8 21c4 White plans to support his passed d-pawn. White has an even stronger, but hard to find, plan involving his d3 rook – 21Rf3 Kc8 22Rc3+! Kb8 23Kb1! Rg8 24f4, threatening black’s e-pawn.

21…Bg7 22b4 Rc8 23Rc3

Black to Move

23…Bf8? A better defense for black is 23…b6 to restrain white’s c-pawn.

24Rd1?! White should immediately play c5.

24…Rc6?! 25c5 Bh6+?! 26Kc2 Bg5 27Kb3 b6 Black’s delay in playing b6 has allowed white to activate his king, giving him a decisive advantage. Zerega now seals his win with strong endgame play.

White to Move

28cxb6 Rxc3+ 29Kxc3 axb6?! 29…Nxb6 would prevent white’s next king move, but white can still penetrate black’s defenses by playing Kd3 and Ke4.

30Kc4 Kc8 31a4 Bd8 32Kb5 Kb7 33a5 bxa5 34bxa5 Nb8 35Rd5 h6 36Rxe5 Bxa5 37Re7+ Kc8 38d7+ Kd8 39Re8+ Kxd7 40Rxb8 Winning black’s knight moves white closer to victory.

40…Bc7 41Rh8 h5 42h3 Ke6 43Rf8 Be5 44Kc6 Bf6

White to Move

45Ra8 White could also have played 45Rxf6+ Kxf6 46Kd6 to simplify into a winning king and pawn endgame.

45…h4 46Ra4 g5 47g3 hxg3 48fxg3 Be5 49g4 Bg3 50Kc5 Ke5 51Kc6 Bf2 52Ra5+ Kf4 53Rf5+! Kg3 54Rxg5 Kxh3 55Rg8 Kh4 and white went on to win. Black eventually has to give up his bishop to prevent white’s pawn from queening.

White to Move

Keith Holzmueller

Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained...

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