After a few detours, I’m finally closing the gap between myself and the National Master title. However, the pressure from the chess world does not get any easier at this point, so as a rare and temporary escape from all the complexity, I’m taking some time to reflect on the more subjective and personal side of this journey.
Even though I’m merely 20 points from master, I’m not oblivious to what it takes to make the final push. I wrote about some of the pitfalls for my second Chess^Summit post and received several humbling over-the-board lessons to that effect upon breaking 2150 for the first time. And Vishal, who is actually a bit closer than I am, has already sampled the NM roadblock after reaching 2197 a few weeks ago. Both of us have a chance at the US Amateur Team East in two weeks, but could take much longer than that!
Still, although I don’t make a lot of assumptions in the chess world, I believe very strongly that anyone who invests the time and energy and is good enough to reach a certain rating, will get there, whether that’s 1200 or 2200. A while ago, I decided that I would not force changes to my tournament habits for the sake of securing master safely, e.g. purposely withdraw from events early or seek weaker competition. Note that I am not branding these methods as unethical in any way; I just don’t think they are necessary, and they take away from an invaluable experience. I anticipate the moments leading up to master will be some of the most memorable.
I actually had a chance to finish the deed at last weekend’s Pennsylvania G/75 Championship, before taking my pre-planned half-bye. A few people were curious as to how I was feeling about being close to master; in general, the players around here look forward to seeing others (especially young players) succeed, which is nice. However, that sense of community has its limits. My third-round opponent (a 2373-rated FM) allowed me to relentlessly chase his queen out of the opening, and eventually, I had an opportunity to force a repetition. I knew I was still better (albeit dangerously) and a win would seal my 2200 rating, so I took the risk and eventually lost my way in a tactical minefield.
While disappointing, it’s nonetheless characteristic of my competition style, as I’ve always tried to fight for the best result possible while being realistic. A few people at the tournament thought I would have taken the guaranteed draw to bring myself to 2190, but the NM goal notwithstanding, I think I still would have pressed given a similar opportunity. In some sense, I see myself as creating a reputation, at least to myself.
Overall, I’ve done relatively well to carry on like usual; after all, psyching myself out is the quickest way to rule me out producing master-level play, and I have been competing well recently. However, I’m not the most patient person ever, and there’s a chance I may not play from March to September, so I’m definitely sensing a bit of urgency. Still, that won’t stop me from making the most of a big chance at the US Amateur Team East, where I’ll play Board 2 for one of CMU’s teams alongside fellow Chess^Summit author Grant.
Be sure to tune in next week, where I will likely unveil a mini-project designed to eventually get me up to speed on various theoretical chess topics!