Back to New York! Making the Most of Awkward Pairings

As I stepped into Penn Station last Friday afternoon, I entered the Big Apple with a renewed sense of optimism. Of course, the Marshall Chess Club has special meaning to me, being the site of the only adult tournament I’ve ever won, but I felt like I had more pushing me forward.

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Unlike last summer, I got to stay in Times Square for the weekend

While my result in New Orleans left me feeling incomplete, much of my team’s performance in the Pan American Championships showed me that anything is possible. John’s draw against Ray Robson and Hibiki’s crushing win over a grandmaster were both particularly encouraging, and my mouth was watering at a second opportunity to play a titled player after losing a very close game against a 2500+ International Master last week.

Admittedly, I entered the Marshall’s Weekend FIDE somewhat blind to the competition. Since the event was to be FIDE rated, I assumed that not only would I play tougher competition than I did last week, but that I would be one of the lowest rated players in the event. In reality, this turned out to be somewhat false, as I played both an unrated opponent and a 1300 in two of the four rounds of the event. That being said, I did get the second chance I wanted, both against the famous New York IM Jay Bonin and a young National Master. But to put things bluntly, my opening experiments in both games failed and I finished 2.5/5 (last round half-point bye).

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In meeting Vanessa this past weekend, I’ve “finally” met all of the senior Chess^Summit authors! Who thought it would have taken that long?

I think the position I’ve been in these last two tournaments can be very relatable for just about any tournament player. I remember when I was around 1500, my tournaments would bounce between opponents rated 1200 and 1800, leading up the last round where I finally got to play someone my own rating. This was even more exaggerated when I was still in elementary school trying to improve through scholastic tournaments. What can I say – these tournaments can be incredibly frustrating. You win when favored, you lose against the much higher rated folk, you still lose a couple rating points. What did you do wrong?

In such cases its really easy to be discouraged by the short term loss, and its even easier to forget the long term benefits of having played stronger opponents. But experience is so much more important. As of today, my rating is the lowest its been since August of 2015, yet I strongly believe that I would beat the player I was at my peak if I played him in a match.

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Me trying to save my second round game against IM Jay Bonin. Credit: Vanessa Sun

Just like my tournament this past weekend, many of my tournament appearances last semester whittled my 2142 rating all the way down to where it is now. I really wasn’t in control of who I was paired against in many of those events, and coupling that with the fact I’ve been learning a new opening repertoire as Black, gaining points has not exactly been easy. That being said, I know I am a stronger player for having endured this, and I hope to show this in a much more level field next week at the Liberty Bell Open.

For those of you who may recall, on my very first post upon the relaunch of the site, I proclaimed my intention to not look at my own rating until I make master. Quite truthfully, I’ve been a little lazy about this since I know I’m moving in the opposite direction, but I’m going to force myself to not look at my rating again since it’s a distraction from actual improvement.

Life lessons aside, in looking over my games from New York, I do see signs of improvement in my games – even in the wins against the much lower rated opposition. I really liked how I handled my first game against an unrated opponent. While I would guess that my opponent was no stronger than 1800 (I didn’t know this going in), I was posed with some not so trivial decisions as Black. Here’s an example:

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Position after 11. c3, Atakay–Steincamp

Black is clearly not worse, in fact, thanks to the pair of bishops, Black is fighting for the edge. Yet the best route isn’t so easy to choose, if White can complete his development quickly, he is probably only marginally worse and can play on with reasonable chances to equalize. I think many players would simply make a decision here (11…Bf5 for example) and play on, confident in their ability to outplay weaker opponents from equal positions. However, I happened to know that my opponent was an exchange student from Turkey, and perhaps he might be “x good”, just with no USCF experience.

So I decided to use my time advantage here to try to find the continuation that offered Black the best winning chances, and after thirty minutes, I managed to find a line that we reached on the board eight moves later with a clear plus for Black. I don’t really see many examples of such problems in books, so I thought I would pose one here – what is the best way for Black to maximize the advantage of the pair of bishops? There’s several reasonable ways to continue, but I thought my choice offered the most practical chances to get an advantage. When you think you have something, check my game out here!

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At some point I will have too many photos of this room!

As it turns out, this was my opponent’s first game, and after four rated games, he finished just shy of 1700. Regardless, I’m still proud of myself for coming up with this continuation in an over-the-board setting.

So where does the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championships and this tournament at the Marshall Chess Club put me? Hard to say – I’ve scored a combined 5/10, and in each of my wins my opponents failed to put up some measurable resistance. That being said, I’ve also had five tough losses running the gamut from blowout to heartbreaker, each of them proving to be critical tests of my weaknesses as a player. While I haven’t exactly had many chances to prove it against simillar opposition, I would like to think that the sudden inundation of chess I’ve had since the conclusion of the fall semester is pushing me in the right direction. How much it really has, I’ll know next week at the Liberty Bell Open. No matter how I do, I’ll be well on my way towards being fully prepared for the Dolomiten Bank Open in Austria, an I’m looking forward to getting some competitive games in Philadelphia!

 

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