Last Sunday, I drew my final rated game of 2016 in a league match against a young expert, Maxim Yaskolko. I found myself executing a crushing mating attack right out of the opening, but missed a few immediate wins around moves 15-20 and settled for an R vs. N+P ending. I chose a rather naive attempt to convert the ending, and Maxim found a resourceful draw right as it looked like the board was opening to my advantage.
It’s a strange but fitting end to a year in which I’ve seen a number of unexpected and unfamiliar chess experiences – some good, some bad. Overall, it’s been a very successful year; I gained almost exactly 100 USCF rating points to reach my unknown (as of now) but projected rating in the 2125-2130 range.
As you might expect though, one number doesn’t tell the whole 2016 story.
One probably wouldn’t guess from “2026 to 2130” that I plateaued at low expert, broke 2100 by a pretty big margin, undid more than half of that in three weeks, and regained most of that by the end of the year.
As recent as last year, I thought of myself as a consistent and solid player. Obviously, that perspective has changed as the strength of my competition has changed. Still, in 2014 or 2015, I wouldn’t have seen myself with a mating attack out of the opening, beating a strong expert in 16 moves, or failing to convert some of the endings I’ve botched. And while I’d experienced inconsistency in my results before, I’d never experienced alternating stretches of bad results (most specifically in the late summer, where I compiled a 0.5/6 record against Class A players before a hot September-October streak sent me back to 2100).
Such unexpected results were probably on their way, since as I’ve mentioned, I have barely two years of experience at the 1800+ level. My more inconsistent play has reflected my willingness to try a lot of new things: new openings, faster time controls, taking more risks, etc. Nevertheless, usually one can’t be truly inconsistent and make 2200, so this does indicate that I still have a lot of work to do. However, I’m optimistic because inconsistency means that theoretically, the good aspects of my play have improved while I will be able to improve the bad aspects.
To close out the USCF season, I’d like to share a few of the more memorable moments from my 2016 games, in no particular order:
Nxf7 (Liberty Bell Open)
In true last round spirit, my opponent seized the moment with 18. Nxf7!! forcing 18…Nxg3 19. Nxh6+ Kh8! (the only move to stay in the game; 19…gxh6 20. Rxe6 is not pretty, for Black will struggle to last against 20…Rf7 21. Rg6+ Kf8 22. fxg3 Rxf1+ 23. Kxf1).
I remembered this game for White’s missed opportunity of 20. Ng4!! here, and due to the (basically) open a2-g8 diagonal, and e-f-h files, Black has no defense against Rxg3-h3, e.g. 20…Nxf1 21. Rh3+ Kg8 22. Bxe6+. Instead, White settled for 20. Rxg3? but after 20…gxh6 and some accurate play by both of us in time trouble, I managed to hold a draw with a rook, bishop, and knight against White’s queen and a few pawns.
Avoiding a “Benoni” (US Amateur Team East)
Black has several reasonable choices including 5…d6 and 5…Qa5+. However, for some reason I was really afraid that after 5…d6 I’d later have to play …e6 transposing into a Benoni, and “avoided” it with 5…b5??, incidentally the second-worst move that doesn’t immediately lose material.
Indeed, I regretted it the next move; after 6. e4, 6…Qa5+ was forced to prevent the immediate e4-e5, but White got his wish anyway after 7. Qd2 Qxd2+ 8. Nxd2 a4 9. c4 b4 10. e5 Ng8.
For the sake of chess White had better win this position, and he did; I was mated in 19 more miserable moves as punishment for my most costly opening mistake ever.
First Win Against a 2300 (Pennsylvania G/60)
I covered this game at the end of a previous post. It’s hard to understate the significance at that point, since I’d never been in such a terrible streak before. Beating my toughest opponent in Pittsburgh with Black was an unexpected but nice way to turn that around.
16-Move Win (Pennsylvania State Championship)
I covered this in my post on the state championship.
Suffice it to say that these don’t come by easily at the expert level, especially when playing the slower openings I play (then again, I was almost proven wrong this weekend). However, unlike my weekend game, this was an example of a very normal-looking Closed Sicilian idea getting demolished by a harmless-looking nuance, which is hard to find in the Closed Sicilian.
On the Other Hand… (Cherry Blossom Classic)
The Bishop’s Opening is also not normally something where White expects to win quickly. But given the right player and the right circumstances (me!), it’s possible. That’s not good.
For anyone interested, the position arose after 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Nf3 d5 5. Bb3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Bd6 7. Nc3 dxe4 8. Ng5 O-O 9. Ncxe4 Bf5?! 10. Qf3 Bg6 11. h4 Nxe4?? 12. dxe4 (also, this is the only time I’ve seriously attempted 1…e5). White still had 90 minutes (the time control was 30/90+SD/60 with a 30-second increment) to my 60. It was move 12, and I was dead lost (White threatens h4-h5 and/or catastrophe on f7).
A Real Escape (Liberty Bell Open)
It wasn’t easy looking at this position on move 12 as Black (yes, 12…Rd7 is forced). However, my opponent missed a few chances to put the game away, and traded queens, unexpectedly allowing me to generate a surprising attack.
Eventually, White was forced to give back the Exchange and I escaped with a draw on move 31.
A disaster isn’t a disaster if you redeem yourself during the game.
Although I’ve finished with rated play for the year, be on the lookout for some more analysis on some of my wrap-up games. See you in two weeks!