Time and Time Again (Part 2)

Following up on my promise from two weeks ago, I have compiled and analyzed the data from the 2016 Sinquefield Cup.  Before I begin, I tweaked one of the goals so that it would better serve the chess community.  I had previously stated that I was going to use all 45 games from the tournament; however, since the second half of the tournament tends to have more games peter out to early draws after the players get a feel for who has a significant chance to win the tourney and who doesn’t, I decided to only use the first 25 games.  Sure, it’s a smaller sample size, but the data will be more telling.

I have grouped the moves in such a way that they have more impact since players tend to also ask, “Which area of the game should I spend the majority of my time?”  The groupings will be as follows:  Moves 1-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-30, and 31-40.  As stated in my previous article here, I am only analyzing the first 40 moves because the number of games that go the distance is relatively few and time controls after the first 40 moves are not always constant.  Before we move on to the data, some definitions:  Mean is the average value of the elements in the set; standard deviation is the variance (I meant to use the square root of the given values, which is the actual standard deviation; what is shown now is the variance.  When time permits over the weekend, I will try to edit these tables to show the correct values) in the data (the larger the standard deviation, the more spread out the data is); standard error is the standard deviation put into perspective based on the sample size.  Mean(x1-x2) will show the mean time spent for each interval of moves.  AverageTotalTimeSpent(x1-x2) will show the average total time spent during the interval of moves.  All measurements of time will be displayed in seconds for consistency.  For every move, the lowest and highest value were discarded in order to account for outliers.

Let’s start with moves 1-10:

nov10_table1-10

The table shows the calculation used and the resulting values.  The first three rows are move-specific, while the last two (in orange) are in regards to the whole interval.  The mean time spent on the move increases throughout the interval, which is expected.  The moves become less automatic as the game develops out of the opening.  However, no more than two minutes was spent on any move on average for these first 10 moves.  This is, once again, expected, since most games are still in “book” and the players know the moves they are playing by heart.

Moves 11-15:

nov10_table11-15

Unlike in the previous table, the means here are not in perfectly ascending order.  This denotes a couple things:

  1. The opening stage typically comes to an end around here since the times are not as low and not in ascending order
  2. Any difference or value that doesn’t follow a linear path is normal and purely due to the fact that it turned out that way, and there is no other explanation.

Just by comparing the mean times from this interval to the previous, it is easy to see that the players are already beginning to slow down at this stage.  Disclaimer:  If your opening knowledge extends beyond this point, then, by all means, continue to play faster.  This is merely a general guideline for the common opening.  It is also possible to see a steadily increasing value for standard deviation; this signals that at this point, the times spent per move are varying a great deal.  This suggests that the typical middlegame begins around this point.

Moves 16 – 20:

nov10_table16-20

Shockingly enough, the trend seems to be reversing at this point!  The mean time spent during this interval is decreasing move-by-move.  While the middle game might not be over yet, the data suggests that the most crucial part of the game is nearing its end.  Once the players have cemented their plans, the moves begin to play themselves, and not as much thought is required.  After all this, there seems to be one discrepancy:  while the mean time is beginning to decrease, the total time spent is still higher than previously. This is most likely due to the fact that some games were still in their opening phase during the 11-15 interval, while all games were in the middlegame phase at this point.

Moves 21-30:

nov10_table21-30

The trend continues with the mean time decreases steadily as the move count increases. Also, the standard deviation values are also beginning to stabilize after they were quite volatile in the previous intervals.  These are likely due to the fact that some games are beginning to liquidate and, as a result, not as much time is being spent on moves as a whole.  The inflated value for average total time spent is solely due to the fact that there are 10 moves in this interval as opposed to 5 in the last two sets.  In reality, if they were all sets of 5, the average total time spent would be significantly lesser.

Moves 31 – 40:

nov10_table31-40

This last set comes as no surprise that the mean times spent for moves in this interval are even lesser.  For many of the games, the position at this point was at the endgame and not as much was being spent; specifically for the draws, the moves were basically being blitzed out.  It is best to ignore the last column – the time retrieving software from this website couldn’t get those times for any game’s 40th move.  However, the rest of the moves are still perfectly reliable.  The standard deviation value is still steadily decreasing.  Any odd calculations (like move 32) are, once again, purely due to the fact that it just happened that way, and there were no other significant factors in those specific results.

Now that we have an idea for how these grandmasters divided up their time based on the situation of the game and the move interval that they were at (important since they had to make the first time control in 40 moves), it is possible to look at all of the moves as a whole.  For sake of consistency and lack of a need to waste space, I will not be presenting the whole set of data; that would just take up way too much space.  However, in order to represent that data, I have created a couple graphs to depict the visible trends.

nov10_histogram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bar graph here plots the move number against the average time spent on that move. The basic shape of a distribution can be visualized from this.  The varying values that are encountered while nearing move 40 are due to the fact that fewer games reach that point, thereby leaving the mean values the chance to move drastically at the slightest change.

nov10_scatterplot

This graph uses the same set of data but utilizes a scatter plot of all of the means instead. The ability to fit a regression to this data aids in the visualization of this data.  While the regression is not a perfect distribution, Excel does not allow distributions to be fitted to data, so a polynomial regression was the next best option.  It is easier to visualize the relationship between the time in the game and the time spent per move with these graphs and it offers insight into the minds of grandmasters and how they manage their time while playing their games.

To wrap up, we can conclude that the majority of clock time should be spent in the middle game, and typically, long thinks should only be made while attempting to formulate a plan.  Once a plan has been decided upon, it should not take as much time to make the moves on the board.  For the most part, these results are reliable since they come from the world’s best players.  There were a couple limitations in this study.  The most important one was that there was a difference in the players in the tournament; sure, some of these players are known to play faster or slower than others.  However, in the end, they are all around the same skill level and know equally well how to manage their time.

If time permits, I hope to be able to analyze the data even further so that I am able to provide more situational results instead of a generalized picture.  If I am not able to, I will discuss another topic next time.  I hope that the information presented today will help you in the future in managing your time wisely at the board.  As always, thanks for reading, good luck in your games, and see you next time!

A Dogged Start and a Trick to Secure Candidate Master

After an excellent October stretch that saw me return to the 2100s, the Pennsylvania State Championships proved quite the test to finish the month. For the most part, I got what I wanted, taking down a strong expert and a master for a solid 3/5 performance in a strong and crowded field.

With those two wins, I secured my fifth USCF Candidate Master norm and the title. Although it’s a largely symbolic accomplishment, it signifies a certain degree of high-level experience (roughly speaking, CM norms represent performances that would be impressive for a 2000 player) and has separated me from my regular Chess^Summit colleagues until now (despite me being the oldest by 7 months). Somehow, it makes me feel a bit more worthy of my place in the 2100s.

(Speaking of age, I have the honor of marking Isaac’s birthday. Welcome to the 20s, Isaac, and may this bode well for you in this weekend’s Pittsburgh events!)

 

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Isaac at the state championship

My first task was to start strong, and in particular avoid my first round disaster from last year, in which I crashed out to a 1527. This year’s first round went more smoothly; I coaxed a small advantage from the Black side of a Torre, and converted a won ending after my 1704-rated opponent was forced to wreck her kingside pawn structure.

However, being seeded in the middle of the pack meant facing top opposition early, and I was promptly paired against young NM Christopher Shen of Ohio. His choice of the 4…Qxd5 line of the French Tarrasch led to an odd pawn structure that turned in his favor:

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Li (2116) – Shen (2229)

I had just played 12. Qe2 to protect my c4-bishop when Black unleashed 12…Ng4!?. Unsure of whether my lead in development would compensate for the loss of the bishop pair after 13. Qxg4 Qxc4, I inserted 13. Bb5+!?; however, after a later …b4, Black’s b-pawn was not looking quite so weak.

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Li (2116) – Shen (2229)

I was at a loss for ideas on how to counter the cramping effect of Black’s b4-pawn and the open a-file, and went with the weird looking 18. Nb5!? to make more of a push for the queenside. Unfortunately, after 18…Qe5! 19. c4 Bxb5 20. cxb5 Bc5 I went for counterattacking the b7-pawn with 21. Qf3?! and ended up a pawn down after the resulting struggle. However, it wasn’t so clear, as I was able to trade off Black’s b-pawn, leaving us with…

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Li (2116) – Shen (2229)

It then seemed to me that it would be nearly impossible for Black to win the a-pawn and I could hold. Unfortunately, I was forced to play h3 to relieve the back rank, and in time trouble, was pushed into:

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Li (2116) – Shen (2229)

I had rabidly avoided trading queens up to this point, because some of the rook endings involved Black’s king rushing to the a-pawn faster than mine. Unfortunately, in time trouble I had overlooked 43…Rd8! 44. Qe2 (to prevent 44…Rd1+44…Qc1+ 45. Kh2 Qc7+ 46. Qg3 which at least, is playing with fire after 46…Qc1 targeting both h1 and a3.

Oddly though, Black (with 20 minutes on the clock to my 4) rushed into 43…Qc1+? 44. Qxc1 Rxc1+ 45. Kh2 Rc7??

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Li (2116) – Shen (2229)

In fact, 45…Rc8 draws… barely, as Black’s king is just in time to catch the a-pawn. 45…Rc7 cost Black a tempo over that, and made all the difference as I got to b6 first. Clearly, no one could be happy with such a result, but to Chris’s credit, he bounced back and scored 2.5 in his last 3 rounds to tie for second.

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Digging deep against Chris Shen in Round 2

While I was surprised at the comeback, I had a lot of motivation to keep the possibility alive. As I’ve mentioned before, breaking master requires beating masters more than occasionally. Also, from a tournament perspective, momentum is rather important at all stages of a tournament. While Isaac ultimately scored the same as me, he wasn’t able to produce enough momentum after a rough start. As for myself, I at least wanted to avoid simply oscillating between high-rated and low-rated opposition.

Unfortunately, I was a little too rushed in my next round game against NM Franklin Chen, simply blundering a pawn after equalizing. Nevertheless, I was glad to be able to play a nonintuitive Nimzo-Indian line correctly for the first time.

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Chen (2173) – Li (2116)

Here, I somehow mustered enough to play 11…c5!? (the more normal looking 11…Qd7 was also fine), which looked rather ugly after 12. dxc5 bxc5 13. Rc1 Qb6 14. Bxf6 gxf6.

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Nonchalantly admiring my ugly-looking pawn structure (photo credit: Franklin Chen)

However, unlike many of the other positions I aim for, Black’s immediate goals are clearly of the more dynamic nature, and after White’s attempt to untangle with 15. Rc2 Nc6 16. e3 Bxf1 17. Bxf1, it looked like the game was floating toward equality.

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Chen (2173) – Li (2116)

Unfortunately, I promptly followed with 17…Rab8 (the more active 17…Rad8 was more in spirit with the reasons behind this line) 18. Ke2 Qb5+? 19. Qxb5 Rxb5 20. b4!, and amazingly, Black has no way to regain the c5-pawn after 21. bxc5 (trust me, I tried!).

Although I was not at all happy with how I tanked the previous game, I didn’t have much to complain about the following morning, when I unexpectedly dispatched a strong expert in just 16 moves.

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Li (2116) – Moore (2145)

It’s hard to believe Black will be checkmated in just 8 more moves, but that’s what happened after Black played the seemingly harmless 8…Nd4?! leading to 9. Bxd4! cxd4 10. Nb5 Qb6 11. Qb4.

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Li (2116) – Moore (2145)

In contrast to my first test run of this at the Pennsylvania G/60, Black attempted to hold onto the pawn with 11…Kd7?! but I was prepared with 12. e5! dxe5 13. Nd2 and Black resigned after 13…Ne7?? 14. Nc4 Qa6 15. Qc5 Nc6 16. Qd6+.

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Crunch!

This gave me a match I had been anticipating for some time, against Eastern Pennsylvania’s NM Peter Minear. Last year, Peter had denied me a dream comeback, swindling me after I’d fought back to 3/4 and went up an Exchange and pawn against him, so I was naturally eager to straighten out the score, although I knew it would be tougher with Black.

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A high-stakes rematch of last year

Unfortunately, despite my three hours of rest, it was not to be as Peter simply outplayed me from the beginning. Still, I managed to keep things interesting by escaping from a crushing kingside attack into a knight ending that, while clearly losing for me, demanded a bit of patience by White.

As I’d expected, Peter played the 3. f3 Fantasy Caro-Kann and I made the mistake of going into a safer but more strategically demanding French-like line with 3…e6. Although I clearly had no idea what I was doing, I was able to achieve a safe-looking position that had a bit more venom that it seemed.

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Minear (2341) – Li (2116)

Peter had failed to punish some awkward decisions by me (including an earlier …Bb4-a5-c7/…b6/…Ba6/…Nxa6 maneuver) and I was half expecting him to close up with 15. e5, after which I was ready to train sights on f5. Instead, he played the trickier 15. f4, and without the pawn on e5, I failed to see the danger of f4-f5 with 15…dxe4?! 16. Ncxe4 Rad8? 17. f5!.

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Minear (2341) – Li (2116)

I realized only then that my knight on g6 was horribly placed. 17…exf5 18. Nxf5 f6 was more or less forced (White was threatening 19. Nf6+!). However, a few moves later, I spotted a practical chance, however small.

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Minear (2341) – Li (2116)

White had broken through with h4-h5-h6, but I still had to try 26…Qe3+!? 27. Qxe3 Rxe3. Although the ending after 28. Ng4 Rxf5 29. Nxe3 Rxf1+ 30. Kxf1 must be clearly winning (White is up a pawn, with a much more active knight and king), it wasn’t as easy as it looked (knight endings rarely are!). At one point, I was able to keep my hopes up with this:

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Minear (2341) – Li (2116)

The plight of White’s knight was confusing; it had been trapped, yet untouchable and also keeping my own knight on f7. However, it wasn’t clear how White would resolve the issue of his knight without possibly letting me have a chance at taking g4.

By move 50, Peter had erased almost all his time advantage but in time trouble myself, I chose a shorter end.

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Minear (2341) – Li (2116)

While White should win pretty easily after 52…Nb7 53. Ne3+ Ke6 54. Ke4, it’s not a foregone conclusion when both players are down to minutes. However, I insisted on ending the game via 52…Ne6?? 53. Ne3#


On the next board over, Grant scored a convincing victory over co-leader NM Gabe Petesch (both had fought back from an early half-point deficit due to early byes), taking the state title for the second year in a row. Congratulations, Grant!

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Grant and Isaac in the unofficial Chess^Summit state championship picture (photo credits: me)

As for myself, I didn’t like ending the tournament in such a drastic fashion, but overall, I was very satisfied with my game, and of course happy to achieve that final USCF CM norm and trek back into the mid-2100s. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but if I have too much time on my hands (read: play rated games all day, every day for the rest of the year), I may even flirt with the idea of breaking master by the end of the year!

See you all in two weeks!

Kostya’s Spontaneous Venture to the Isle of Man

This story starts in early September, just a few weeks before the 2016 Chess.Com Isle of Man International was to take place and much closer to the event start date than a typical ‘chess Eurotrip’ should begin to be planned. Previously I knew the IOM international was a strong tournament, now going into its 3rd edition, but assumed it would be too expensive to fly to some random island in the UK and play a tournament for 10 days and so I didn’t look into it much.

Then a beloved non-chess friend offhandedly mentioned that a round-trip flight to Dublin, Ireland was surprisingly cheap (starting at $400, plus some annoying baggage fees). Upon hearing this news I immediately looked up where the Isle of Man actually was (turns out, close to Dublin!) and started calculating as to whether the trip was feasible. I was aware that the tournament would be packed with GMs, including the U.S. Big 3 (Naka, Fabi, & Wesley) and would be an excellent opportunity to go for a norm. The final norm…

For those that don’t know me, hi, I’m FM Kostya, I have two IM norms and have been painfully close to that third one on more than one occasion. Here, read this and then this.

So while flying to Dublin and then to IOM and back seemed plausible, I didn’t want to do it alone. So I asked IM Keaton Kiewra if he would be interested in joining. Keaton is currently on his own quest for the GM title and having roomed with him in previous tournaments, I figured he may be down to join and a great travel companion. Well, he was down, a little skeptical at first about making such a trip on short notice, but eventually said “YOLO” and we started booking our trip.

We decided to spend a few days in Dublin to get used to the time difference and also because we wanted to take the opportunity to do some sightseeing. This turned out to be a great decision, as Keaton and I share a mutual love for trying new cuisine, and Irish food did. not. disappoint. It started with a huge Irish breakfast, followed by several feasts throughout our brief stint in Dublin. We also tried Guinness beer, which rumor has it actually tastes better in Dublin, due to the water (?), and again we were not disappointed. It was much better than any Guinness I’ve ever had, smooth and dark and overall delicious. A local friend also suggested this speakeasy in the heart of Dublin which served some gorgeous cocktails:

cocktailThe so-called “Dirty Wizard”

OK so now it was time to go to the Isle of Man and actually play some chess. Based on my rating, I was slated to play against someone in the top 8-15 or so, and as it turned out, I got paired with GM Alexei Shirov. Yep, former number two in the world/world championship candidate/overall tactical genius Shirov. A player I followed when I was growing up and always amazed by. I went into the first round ready to fight and fully expecting him to play 1.e4 and checkmate me. Well to my surprise he trotted out 1.d4, traded queens in the opening and quickly played a technical gem.

kostya-vs-shirovKostya sticking to his beloved King’s Indian vs. Alexei Shirov (Photo: Mike Klein)

In Round 2 I defeated an FM whose FIDE rating had dropped below 2100, so a tough fight regardless of the rating difference. Then in Round 3 I was paired up again, this time against GM Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan, who outplayed me in a sharp Nimzo and won with Black. In Round 4 I played another sub-2100 player, tricked him in the King’s Indian and won a smooth game. Round 5 gave me another crack at a strong player, IM Martin Zumsande from Germany. I focused on playing solid with White and we drew close to move 40.

So, I broke the cycle! It felt good to gain a positive result against a higher rated opponent, even if it was just a simple draw, and it meant that I would play up again the next round, raising my rating average for norm purposes. In Round 6 I was paired with GM Tiger Hillarp Persson, a well-known figure in the chess world whose sharp and dynamic style has scored him many beautiful wins. I played the King’s Indian once again and after a tough battle ended up losing, though not without my chances. In the post-mortem Tiger was exceptionally friendly and generous with his advice, and even said that I had “great King’s Indian instincts”, which I immediately blushed at and could only respond with “Wow, that’s high praise :)”.

kostya-keatonWith IM Keaton Kiewra in Dublin, trying our 1st (or was it 2nd…maybe 3rd?) pint of Guinness

Despite the loss my mood was quite decent–there was still everything to play for with three rounds to go, not to mention my good mood after speaking with Tiger about our game. In Round 7 I was paired against WIM Dharia Parnali, who held me to a draw in the first round of the Cannes Chess Festival earlier this year. This time the game had an opposite progression. She outplayed me in the opening, equalized easily with Black and even started playing for the win at some point–but in a tricky R+B vs. R+N ending I managed to seize the initiative and win the game. Despite my bad play in the opening, I was happy to stay tough and find my chances in the endgame.

Back to an even score, in Round 8 I played up again, facing IM Antony Bellaiche from France. I did some quick norm math and realized that a win in this round would give me theoretical chances based on who I played in the final round. So I prepared my favorite King’s Indian for a few hours and pumped myself up before the game (by listening to Eminem, of course). What followed was a far-from-perfect but fascinating struggle where I managed to come out on top. I was especially happy upon seeing that from move 30 until the end of the game I found the absolute “only-moves” to decide matters in my favor.

kostya-at-iomThe final round–Kostya gets pretty nervous during chess games. (Photo: Mike Klein)

Now with 4.5/8 my well-versed norm calculating skills dictated that in the last round, to achieve a 2450 performance I would need just a draw if I played someone rated 2583 or higher, whereas only a win would suffice if their rating was 2582 or lower. And then it was as if the pairing was handed down from destiny itself: White against GM Babu Lalith, 2586 FIDE. Now Lalith is a strong player no doubt, but he could have just as easily been rated 2582 for this event, and if so I would need to beat him if I wanted to earn my last norm. So I felt it was kind of divine providence that all I needed was a draw, with White! How hard could it be?

Well a disappointing finish, but what are you gonna do, not play chess? We all know that’s not an option 🙂 . Ending with 4.5/9 really ain’t bad, I gained about 16 points and had a wonderful time in Europe, trying so much amazing food and really enjoying the “one-round-a-day” culture, where you get ample time to prepare and rest after each round! A week after this event ended I played in the 2016 Spice Cup, my recap of which will soon be posted on US Chess. Until next time!

Kostya Kavutskiy is a professional chess player, coach, and author currently residing in Mountain View, CA. His first book, Modernized: The Open Sicilian was published in February 2015. For more of Kostya, check out his official Twitter and blog.

Crossing that Bridge: When Chess Becomes More than ‘Just a Game’

In high school, there was always one phrase that would annoy me no matter when it was said – “You compete in chess? But that’s like… just a game!” Yeah, ok. Technically chess is a sport, albeit a sport of minds.

For almost all people, chess does start out as ‘just a game.’ It’s something we go to when we’re feeling tired or down – a source of entertainment or a distraction from what is going on in our daily lives. Something I never realized until I got to high school was just how much this so-called ‘game’ meant to me. It had become part of me and my identity. Soon, I was known as ‘that girl who plays chess’ and even today, in college I get that all the time.

So when does one start to realize what chess means in their lives? For me, it was when I started playing for myself, for the enjoyment of the game rather than the success of the wins. I started to go to tournaments because I missed chess not because I wanted to win my section. It was also around that time that I became proud to be a chess player. Soon, the confused but amazed faces my peers when they found out I was a player amused me rather than scared me.

chess

Now, I know there are some of you out there who have also felt this change in what chess means in your life – what was it that led you across this bridge?

 

Creating Your Own Luck

Well, if I was looking for a Cinderella story to make it over 2100 this past weekend, I certainly didn’t find it. This year’s edition of the Pennsylvania State Championships pushed me to the limit – testing my stamina, resilience, and my composure in ways that I have never been tested before. Upon the tournament’s conclusion, I had convinced myself that the 3/5 result I produced simply derived from bad luck.

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Deep into my first round… where did my advantage go? Photo Credit: Franklin Chen

With a little over a day to rethink my results, I have to admit, there were a lot of elements working against me, but I also created my own luck in the latter half of the tournament, which saved me from having an even worse result.

What do I mean by bad luck? Until the last round (when it was already too late), I was never able to put together any serious momentum. In the first round, I got paired down against an ambitious youngster. Even though I got an edge out of the opening, I hyperextended and quickly lost my advantage. While I missed a chance late in the game to win, my opponent didn’t make any mistakes and was able to hold the endgame to a draw. Not an ideal start, but a comeback is manageable, right?

With only thirty minutes between the rounds to catch my breath, I learned that I would play defending State Champion and fellow Chess^Summit author Grant Xu for the first ever Chess^Summit v Chess^Summit tournament match up. Grant had taken a half point bye in the first round and was ready to play, surprising me out of the opening and catching me off guard.

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While I didn’t have the best weekend, Grant was able to successfully defend his state title, winning each of his four games and reaching a rating of 2396!

Though I somehow managed to equalize, I was too tired to complete the result and managed to blunder my way through the rest of the endgame, dropping my score to 0.5/2. This put me in a really tough tournament position, as I would need to win out to objectively have a “good” tournament.

At that moment, I felt like I had had some bad luck with the pairings, and went back to my dorm room to rest up for the last round of the night.

Sure, it wasn’t ideal to play Grant with so little time between rounds, and sure, my first round opponent wasn’t quite the game I was hoping to open with, but in reflection, given the positions I had, I think I had some opportunities to score better. Going into the last game, I took the right mentality, forgetting the first two games and telling myself that I was now playing in a three-round tournament. Now this was my chance to create my own luck.

I got paired against a 1500 that night, but still treated the game as if I were playing someone my level. The affair was rather one-sided, but there was an instructive moment during the game that I thought I ought to share.

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Steincamp–Boles, after 10…Kf8

In this position, it’s my turn, and I’m clearly better. Black has lost his right to castle and has a significant lack of space. Yet how should I press on as White? Black doesn’t have any structural weaknesses and actually has the idea …Be7-g4, attacking the d4 pawn and trying to pry open the dark squared diagonal for his a7 bishop. After some thought, I figured the right question to ask was where should I put my dark squared bishop? I think objectively the options are about equal, but my choice offered me long term attacking possibilities. Can you figure what I decided?

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My last round win, and the highlight of my tournament. Photo Credit: Pennsylvania State Chess Federation

Though this win wasn’t exactly the most challenging, it felt nice to get back into the habit of asking the right questions and making the most of good positions. To my discontent, I got paired down in the fourth round on Sunday morning, and once again got surprised by an opening sideline in which I promptly put myself in a worse position.

I could have been outplayed, but I found ways to keep the game going, eventually pushing the game to equality and even a slight edge for myself before forcing the three move repetition. While objectively a draw was a good result considering the way the game started, I couldn’t help but feel that had I known the theory better I could have outplayed my opponent and gotten a full point. This result meant my last round would be a consolation game, and breaking 2100 would have to wait again.

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Photo Credit: Beilin Li

While this was not what I wanted going into the tournament, I think this was the best situation for me at this time. Going into the last round, I felt no stress whatsoever, and having White with nothing to lose, I was more comfortable being creative over the board. This alleviation made me feel refreshed, and I produced one of the better games I’ve played since coming back to Pittsburgh.

This was a critical lesson for me, when I just focus on chess, when I just focus on making the best move every move, I can play a great game. Most of the tournament I felt distracted – either being bewildered by my early results, or feeling a need to make up for them later on. But when I was just worried about chess, removing all of the emotional stress of a long weekend of dissapointment, I can well. This is what I mean by creating my own luck.

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Grabbing some post-tournament dinner with Beilin and going over some games on the restaurant’s bulky chess board!

Not every tournament is going to be ideal, maybe it’s just bad pairings, or the TD makes the wrong decision, or you blow a won game in time trouble – this happens to everyone at some point. To be strong player, you have to put these moments behind you. It felt like most of this weekend I got hit with something new every game – an opening line I wasn’t prepared for (twice!), an underrated opponent, crazy pairings – all of these things were out of my control, but if I could have played as well as I did in the last round in each game, it would not have mattered and I could easily be 2100 again right now.

While it was dissapointing to have trained so hard for this event to only get one opponent rated over 2000, I plan to continue pushing myself for my next tournament in early November. By then I’ll have reached my 20th birthday, and perhaps a little bit of “luck” can rub off on me then 🙂 I guess we’ll just have to see in my next post!