As some of you may have noticed, my results following the US Junior Open have been uncharacteristically poor. After taking a beating in the top section of the World Open, I followed up with an uninspired showing at the Southern Open, eventually dipping below 2100 despite much-improved play at the Washington International. Was there an end in sight?
Though I had been looking forward to my second year of college, moving back to Pittsburgh also posed a potential distraction from my ability to study chess. As Alice mentioned last week, with all of the academic and social obligations, the time remaining is not ideal for a chess player aspiring to become a master. In an effort to continue where the summer left off, I continued to wake up at 6:30 each morning to exercise and work through tactical exercises and opening preparation. Admittedly, getting out of bed has been quite difficult, as there haven’t been many opportunities for me to prove to myself that the preparation was making a difference.
To make up for this, I’ve been meeting with Beilin each week to play practice games and identify holes in my theoretical knowledge. While this doesn’t quite compensate for a lack of rated games, we really push each other to the brink when we play each other. So far, each of the six games we’ve played this year have been decisive.
For my first month back in Pittsburgh, I had two events I wanted to be ready for: the Pittsburgh Chess League season opener and the G/60 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships. The Pittsburgh Chess League, as Beilin discussed last week, is one of the most exciting chess events in the city, and is the oldest league of its kind in the United States. That being said, amidst the opening match confusion, our opponent’s forfeited three of the four boards, leaving me with no game to review going into the G/60 Championships. Forfeits seem to be really common, but this was actually the first time in 13 years (and over 800 rated games!) that this has ever happened to me. Certainly not ideal timing for a first.
One weakness I always felt I had is an inability to play in quick time controls, which is why, somewhat understandably, I was extremely nervous about competing in a G/60 time control against a very talented field. My fears tripled when I was paired against my US Junior Open trainer, National Master Franklin Chen, with Black in the first round. Franklin opted to reach an endgame where he could play for two results, but luckily for me, I only had one weakness and managed to hold a draw. While that game was interesting, and certainly instructive, I wanted this article to focus on my second round win against a National Master.
I’ve noticed that a lot of the posts here on Chess^Summit over the past week have been focused on attacking chess, but how do you punish your opponent for attacking prematurely? I played my second round opponent last year in the same event and thought I should quickly share that game first before comparing it to my win.
Even though I lost, you can see how White’s unorthodox way of play created too many weaknesses and surrendered the center making it far too easy for Black to equalize and more. In our second game, we reached a similar position but a tempo down. One of the things I love about the English against 1…e5 is that it’s a hyper-accelerated Sicilian a tempo up and colors reversed, so it forces Black to come up with creative solutions to make up for the lost tempo. Having played on the Black side of a closed Sicilian many times, much of that experience has helped me develop optimal play with the White pieces. In this game, Black carried through with his …g6-g5 play, and being a tempo up, I didn’t have to slow play the position with Nf3-e1. What a difference a tempo can make!
I wound up getting Black in each of my last two games, drawing each with far less impressive play than I started the day with. That being said, my ability to hold positions was strong enough to finish the day undefeated despite three blacks over the four rounds.
This is easily the best performance I’ve had since leaving Charlotte last May, and it’s an even bigger success considering I got paired with three blacks and my predisposition of not playing my best in shorter time controls. I have to attribute some of my success to my practice games with Beilin, as each of my first two games each stemmed from practice games of our own (shout-out to Beilin for beating his first 2300+ rated opponent and finishing 3/4, by the way – I hope he’s getting as much out of our matches as I am!). Of course, this one weekend alone will not make up for the past few months of poor performances, but it’s a great first step and shows I was able to build off of my Washington International performance. Hopefully, this success will make it a lot easier to continue waking up at 6:30, and realize that yes, it makes a difference!