It seemed fitting that 2016 ended with one of the more dramatic tournaments of my career. Just six months after the closing ceremony of the US Junior Open, I found myself back in Kenner, Louisiana for my second Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championships. Once again on fourth board for the University of Pittsburgh team, I got a wide distribution of opponents, ranging from 1100 to 2700 in rating!
As a team, Pitt put together a strong showing, scoring 4/6 and tying for 8th place in the final standings. While we underperformed as a unit in some of our wins, we had some pretty spectacular individual results in our two losses. Our second board, Hibiki Sakai beat his first Grandmaster in 30 moves on his way to a 4.5/6 score, and our third board, John Ahlborg could be well on his way to an FM title after drawing American Olympiad champion Ray Robson and managing to save a completely lost game with a half point against an international master in the fifth round.
Individually, have to admit I did underperform at 3/6, though I am encouraged by the positions I got over the board. Performance aside, I was fortunate enough to play two 2500+ rated opponents in GM Alexander Shimanov from Webster (whose team went on to win first place) and IM Zurab Javakhadze from the University of Texas at Dallas. While these two games turned out to feature my only opponents over 2000, they did make my tournament uniquely challenging as I rarely get games at such a high level, let alone two in one event.
Prior to leaving for New Orleans, I deliberately decided to leave my laptop and chess engine at home, a decision that had worked out well for me in Cleveland just last year. Being on fourth board has its distinct disadvantages when it comes to preparation. First, you run the risk of facing an alternate player in place of the name on roster, but the more likely issue is that your opponents don’t have enough games online to help you prepare in any significant way. Because of this, I thought my time between rounds would be better spent going for walks and trying to relax.
That being said, I think I will bring my laptop with me to the 2017 edition of the tournament, though not entirely for the sake of preparation. Unlike last year, I played much stronger opposition, and I think it would have been a confidence booster to check my calculation after each game and see how I was playing. As I have found upon my return home, I played a lot better than what I was giving myself credit for in New Orleans.
The reason I bring this up is I was in for quite the shock on my flight home when I entered my fifth round game against IM Javakhadze on my phone:
I was winning! When I analyzed the game with my opponent, he had told me that White would likely be worse if I had tried 39. Qd7 as my king on f2 could get exposed after …g7-g6. I had seen this idea during the game, but I thought the intention was to trade queens on e7, not continue to attack by taking on b7. When I left this game, I thought I was maybe slightly better and might have been able to draw, but knew I had played really well. From the window seat on my plane ride home, not only did I see that I had this tactic, but that I also had outplayed my siginificantly higher rated opponent for nearly fifteen moves!
While having access to an engine in my hotel room after the game wouldn’t have changed the result, it would have given me a better idea of how I was playing going into my last round. Without the engine, the only information I had to work with was that I played 39. Qd3 and offered a draw, only to err and lose a little down the road.
As I continue to get more experience against tough players before my trip to Europe, I imagine my ability to convert these positions against stronger players will become more natural and I’ll be able to trust my own analysis over the board rather than my opponent’s move and rating.
I left this tournament feeling as if all six of my games were particularly instrcutive to share on Chess^Summit, but I really liked my fourth round game against Rutgers.
This was an important match for the team, as winning it meant getting to play another top notch team, while losing to the Scarlet Knights would likely mean playing inferior competition for the remainder of the event. In what turned out to be our most dominant match of the tournament, we scored on all four boards, tallying an impressive 4-0 result.
Unfortunately for me, my fourth round game proved to be my last win of the tournament, as I lost to IM Javakhadze in the following round, and dropped an equal position against a lower rated foe in the final round. As 2017 begins, I think this tournament gives me a good idea as to where I stand going into the new year.
Unlike previous years where my goal was based simply on rating or beating a player of a particular class, this year my goal is simply to work on calculation.
While this is fairly vague, I know this will be the most important aspect of my game when I fly to Europe this February. When looking over my three losses from this tournament, it quickly became evident that my opponents didn’t beat me because they knew more about chess than me, but rather I had comprimised my own position in each by my own hand. I truly think that improving my tactical acumen will give me what I need to make a serious push for National Master this year – or at the very least, much better games!
This weekend I’ll be playing in New York City in the Marshall Weekend FIDE tournament. I’m expecting four extremely difficult tests, and I’m planning on passing them with flying colors. See you all next week!