Blast to the Past: The Transition from Scholastic to Adult Play

For today’s post, I wanted to discuss my transition from being a scholastic player to a regular tournament player. Back in 2007, I broke 1300, and I wasn’t getting a high enough level competition in the tournaments near me. At ten years old, the idea of playing with adults in a weekend tournament was daunting, so I gave it a try at a local club in a few game-a-week ladders. While I only had a handful of games at the Kaissa Chess Club, it definitely gave me some perspective on how chess was different at the next level. For today’s post, I wanted to show how playing adult chess my gameplay over the board.

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I won my first scholastic tournament in the first grade to break 1000 in 2004.

Before I share my games, let’s discuss what scholastic players gain from becoming regular tournament players:

1) Patience – With adult tournament play, the time controls can be twice as long as standard scholastic tournaments. For me, changing from G/40 to G/90 was especially challenging as I hadn’t really been forced to calculate extensive lines in games. Patience is one of the most important virtues in chess, and in my personal opinion cannot be learned through scholastic play.

2) Chess Etiquette – At scholastic tournaments, almost anything goes. Usually, rules aren’t as strictly enforced, and while poor sportsmanship is frowned upon, it’s not effectively punished.  In adult play, there is an expectation that you respect your opponent. This wasn’t really an issue for me, but I have seen younger players not understand the tournament rules (touch-move, etc) or understand proper chess etiquette (this includes stalling in a losing position, making distracting noises, etc).

3) Practical Experience – Once I got to 1100, most of my tournaments would feature four significantly lower rated opponents, and only one real contest. While the euphoria of winning was definitely enjoyable, I didn’t have opponents forcing me to look at new openings or tactical ideas. At such a young age, I think all the winning went to my head and I stopped studying for tournaments. In adult play, any result is possible in any game – and your opponents generally challenge you to find new ways to win. In other words, no more hanging pieces, simple checkmates, and no more basic tactics – the chess starts here.

4) Better Fundamentals – As you’ll see in the games I chose for this article, my understanding of the openings went to the next level. In this article, I will compare how I played the Closed Sicilian in 2007 to how I played the same opening in 2009. While I wasn’t playing grandmaster-level chess at 1300, the progression in my understanding of chess made it possible to reach the next level. Let’s have a look.

Steincamp – Arnold (Kaissa Chess Club Sept-Oct Ladder, 2007)

When I “graduated” from the Kaissa Chess Club, I distinctly remember beating everyone at least once with the exception of my opponent here, Lloyd Arnold, Sr. In this game I was just shy of 1200, while my opponent was just over 1600.
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. d3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7
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One of many plans of the Closed Sicilian. Usually, White will play Ng1-e2, Qd1-d2, castle kingside, and then push f2-f4, hoping for some sort of strategic advantage. The one oversight my opponent and I both had was the move …Nf6-g4. This is a great resource for Black to make White either give up the bishop or waste some tempi. Black found this opportunity a few moves later, making this resource the first real idea for Black against the Closed Sicilian that I had seen at the time. White should have played 6. h3 instead of playing an immediate 6.Be3.
7. Qd2 h5?!
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Definitely a novelty for me back in 2007, but I haven’t seen this idea for Black since. Because White’s plan is to play f2-f4, this move encourages me to play f4-f5 in the future, taking advantage of the fact that the g6 pawn is only protected once.
8. Nge2 Ng4!
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A standard idea for Black in these fianchetto structures. With no other alternatives, I must give up the pair of bishops to continue play.
9. O-O-O??
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This is the first move that shows my true lack of understanding of the Closed Sicilian. While in scholastic play I could get away with a kingside pawn storm, that doesn’t really work at this level. The Closed Sicilian often lends itself to race positions, where Black attacks on the queenside as White seeks to play on the kingside. Here I’ve put my king on the wrong side of the board, and already, the g7 bishop is eyeing the b2 square.
9…Nxe3 10. Qxe3 Nd4
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Black’s opening play has been far from perfect, but my opponent has shown that he at least understands the thematic ideas of the Closed Sicilian. After using the attacking idea of …Ng4, he follows up by placing a piece on d4, Black’s most traditional idea. Both of these ideas for Black were ideas that I had never seen effectively for Black in the past 4 years of scholastic play. Here I get them in my first real adult game!
11. f4 Qb6 12. Nd5? Nxe2+!
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Taking advantage of my last move and proving why queenside castling was a bad idea with this zwischenzug. Normally Black waits for  White to play c2-c3 before executing the trade, but here the g7 bishop and queen on b6 are both bearing down on b2, and Black is clearly better.
13. Qxe2 Qxb2+ 14. Kd2 O-O
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A safe move, but I wonder if Black could have the nerves to try 14… Qxa2! because 15. Nc7+ Kf8 16. Nxa8? is punished by 16… Qa5+ and checkmate is forced. 17. c3 Qxc3+ 18. Ke3 Bd4+ 19. Bg4#. This being said, White no longer has a great way to defend the king to the …Qa2-a5+ threat as without the e3 bishop, I no longer have any way of controlling the dark squares.
15. Nxe7+ Kh8 16. Nd5 Bg4 17. Bf3 Bxf3 18. Qxf3 Qxa2 19. g4
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At this point, I don’t think there’s much else to recommend for White. In a strategically lost position, I make an effort to try and turn things around.
19…c4 20. gxh5 c3+ 21. Ke1 Qxc2 22. hxg6 fxg6 23. Qh3+ Kg8 24. Qe6+ Kh7
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With no increment or second time control, I’m left to think that maybe my opponent was trying to mess with me psychologically. I don’t think that really works here since repeating is my best option.
25. Qh3+ Kg8 26. Qe6+ Kh7 27. Qh3+ Bh6 28. Rg1 Rae8
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Organizing Black’s forces. White is clearly lost as my kingside attack couldn’t add up to anything.
29. Qg3 Re6 30. Nc7 Rxe4+!
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Clearly my opponent was doing tactics to prepare for his games! What a blow! Onc the f8 rook lands on f4, checkmate is inevitable.
31. dxe4 Qxe4+ 0-1
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Resigning instead of allowing checkmate was something new for me when I progressed to the adult level, but here the resignation is definitely appropriate.

Within the next two years, my understanding of the Closed Sicilian had changed and a lot of that improvement can be traced back to this loss. Here’s a game I had two years later against a slightly higher rated opponent. I don’t remember many games that I played before 2010, but this win was one of them.

Steincamp – Berenstein (Taylor Fox Memorial III, 2009)

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Bc4
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Already the first “improvement” from the first game. I still wanted to be aggressive against the Sicilian, so having the bishop on c4 fit me more stylistically at the time than the fianchetto set-ups. If I could go back in time and coach my 1300 self here, I would have preferred 3. Bb5, a much more direct move leading to Rossolimo like positions.
3…e5?
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A strategic error from Black, which goes to show that not all adult play is “perfect”. When White places the bishop on c4, Black generally prefers to put his e-pawn on e6 to blunt the ability of the light squared bishop.
4. d3 h6?
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This move, hoping to stop Bc1-g5 in the future is a definite inaccuracy as Black has neglected to develop his pieces.
5. f4!
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Already this move shows a much stronger understanding of the Closed Sicilian on my part. Seeing that Black’s structure is highly suspect, this move undermines White’s center while hoping to accelerate my own development.
5…d6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. O-O Be7 8. f5
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And why not?! A very thematic idea for White, planning a phalanx on the kingside. Black is cramped and doesn’t have a move like …g7-g6 to undermine f5 since, after a trade on g6, Black is unable to castle kingside.
8…Bd7 9. Qe1
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Yet another thematic move, hoping to bring in the queen to h4. This is another idea I learned while playing stronger opponents in adult tournaments.
9…g5
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Already a desperate measure, but in trying to defend, Black has made a structural weakness.
10. fxg6 fxg6 11. Qg3 g5
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Black’s hand has been kind of forced, but my next move is not the most accurate. I would have liked to see either 12. Nd5, removing the f6-knight so my rook can help target f7, and 12. Nh4! using the same idea as the game with my move 12. h4, but if Black doesn’t take, I have Nh4-f5 with great play.
12. h4 g4 13. Be3
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Not really knowing what to do, I simply developed a piece. If Black tries to solidify with …h6-h5, the g5 square becomes a great square for my knight. My opponent should have played 13… Nd4, but made my job easy.
13…gxf3?? 14. Qg6+ 1-0
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Checkmate on f7 is inevitable. A great game for me! I would say, with my current knowledge of chess, that this performance was way above the 1300 level, thanks to the adaptations I made from playing adults.

What a difference! After being outplayed every move in the first game, I got to teach my opponent a lesson with my new found understanding of the Closed Sicilian. Through learning Black’s thematic ideas, I was able to adjust my play accordingly and become even stronger – something that would have never happened if I didn’t switch to adult play. If you are a scholastic player thinking about making the transition, or a parent unsure if your child is ready to make the switch, I hope this article helps you make the best chess decision and face tougher competition.

This has held true for me since, as I have often “played up” a section to gain practical experience. While it may not seem as fun as winning every game, pushing yourself to play against the toughest competition is the most effective way to get better.

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