Two weeks ago, I set foot in Europe for the very first time. Seven countries, five tournaments, three months, and a once in a lifetime trip.
I had a vague idea of what I was getting into, and it didn’t really occur to me that I would be roughly four thousand miles away from home until I woke up in my small hotel room in Munich and thought “well, what am I going to do today?”
Fast forward to the present, and after becoming familiar with the European metro and guarding myself with some very basic German phrases, I’ve started to get into the groove of being a full-time tourist. Thus far, I’ve visited Munich, Lienz, and Vienna, with most of my time thus far spent in Lienz for the Dolomiten Bank Open.
Just a city of roughly 12,000 people, Lienz is surrounded by the Alps and is not too far off from the Italian border. Known for its nearby ski resorts, the quaint Austrian city finds itself open to tourists year-round from Europe and across the world.
Of course, I wasn’t here to ski, but rather to compete in the Dolomiten Bank Open, one of the premier chess tournaments in Austria. While relatively unknown in the US, the tournament brought players from across the globe: Singapore, Australia, India, Norway, and (with my participation) the United States, to name a few. Even Russian Grandmaster Evgeny Romanov and Magnus Carlsen’s former coach Simen Agdestein tried their hand in what proved to be a tough open section!
Aside from all the packing and planning my accommodations, much of my preparation for this trip was on the chessboard. As you may recall, my last tournament in Philadelphia didn’t exactly inspire confidence, and I was a little worried about how I would fare against European competition. Before I left, I made some decisions about how I would approach tournament play.
1) Don’t get too carried away with prep. Unlike tournaments in the US, most major European events are one game a day, meaning that every game is just one database search away from a comfortable opening position.
While getting a good feel for your opponent’s repertoire is a good idea, trying to put together targeted preparation for an opponent you don’t know isn’t impractical (for players rated 2000-2200). In my tournament, three of my nine opponents played a completely new opening or move order, rendering some of my preparation useless. In short, spend an hour reviewing some lines, but then spend the rest of the day exploring the city!
2) Don’t worry about ratings – at all! After the Liberty Bell Open, I decided to not apply to get my European tournaments USCF rated. I was a little worried with how shaky my play was in Philadelphia, and I thought if I had a bad tournament in Europe, the stress to perform could ruin my trip. My FIDE rating started at 1882, so international titles are really out of question. As I’ve said a few times here on Chess^Summit, when in doubt, just play chess!
… of course, in deciding to not make this “tour” USCF rated, I passed on a roughly 35-40 point gain (after the FIDE to USCF rating conversion), which would have been my greatest gain in a single tournament since August of 2015. We’ll see how this pans out by the end of my trip, but at the end of the day, there’s no deadline to make master!
3) Don’t be afraid to try new things! With ratings out of the way, tournaments here also give me a chance to play new openings, as well as practice some old ones. I had five whites this tournament, but I chose not to play my favorite opening, the English, at all! Barring a single game against fellow Chess^Summit co-author Beilin Li, I had played the English with every game as White dating back to 2014. In what proved to me to be my biggest surprise of the tournament, I scored an unbeaten 4/5 against stronger opponents from the White side of the board.
So how did I do?
In my first European tournament, I put together a solid 4.5/9 in a strong open section. My FIDE rating looks to gain upwards of 50 points, and I’m a lot more confident in my play with less than a week to go before the Liberec Open. I still think there are areas of my game that need to improve, but when comparing this tournament to past outings like the Liberty Bell Open or the World Open, I’m very pleased with my progress. Here are some of my over the board highlights!
It wasn’t clear I would get an even score until the end of the tournament. Thanks to some jet lag and poor calculation early in the tournament, I started 2/6 and was in need of some points. Luckily, I was able to finish the last three rounds 2.5/3, thanks in part to a quick win in round 7. Black just played 10…Ba6, what’s the easiest way for me to attack Black?
I would say I thought the most on this move, and then the rest of the game finished relatively quickly. This was a great win, especially since I tend to win more positional games than tactical ones. I think winning this game the way I did gave me a lot of confidence in the last two games.
After putting together a weird draw in the eighth round, I sat at 3.5/8 with one chance with White to get an even score. While it’s a known cliché to draw the last round, I really wanted to win, and I pushed myself.
Luckily for me, I was rewarded and after dominating the whole game with White, I managed to put away my opponent with a nice move here. Can you find it?
King safety once again proves to be the key theme! With this nice zugzwang idea, I clinched my third win of the tournament and finished 4.5/9!
With a few days to rest before my next tournament, I’m visiting Vienna and Prague on my way to Liberec, Czech Republic.
Though I have yet to see Prague, I have to say Vienna is a must-see city. While the city has grown to meet 21st century demands, its maintained its historical foundation and culture. Though I’ll only have two full days here, there’s so many things to do – visit the Schönbrunn Palace, go to the Museums Quartier, or simply just walk the streets near Stephensplatz. Hopefully when I spend a day here in March on my way to Budapest, the gardens across the city will be greener!
My next post will be on March 7th, where I will be writing from Dresden after having finished the Liberec Open alongside Pitt teammate John Ahlborg! Until next time!