Since the beginning of the summer, I have struggled to decide whether to play in the this year’s U.S. Masters Championship (to be held August 23-27 in Greensboro, NC) or the Atlantic Open (August 25-27 in Arlington, VA) as a break between my internship and school. Although various factors, such as cost, location, timing, and family had to be considered, it ultimately came down to how prepared I thought I would be for chess that week. After the considerations, I decided to give the U.S. Masters a try.
The Masters is clearly the more serious of the two and more expensive to match, while the Atlantic Open is typical Continental Chess fare, though FIDE rated as well. Opportunities to play in 9-round norm tournaments like the U.S. Masters are rare and possibly a great experience, but I must feel prepared; if I’m doomed to get crushed by higher-rated, more experienced masters the whole tournament, that’s not good after all.
If I had to make the choice in April after becoming a master, I would chosen the U.S. Masters without too much hesitation, time and money permitting. But since then, the time I’ve spent on chess, as well as my performances, have not been convincing. Having dropped a significant number of points since barely making master, it’s been difficult to feel like I belong in that relatively elite crowd. At least, I felt like I needed some more data points to justify playing in such a fancy tournament (compared to what I’ve played in so far).
I thought I’d have my chance at a Seattle masters-only event at the beginning of July. Alas, the event got rescheduled on very short notice, and I wouldn’t be able to make it after all. I was also planning to play in a popular and strong local tournament in late July, but wanted to make the decision earlier for logistical reasons.
I ended up turning to an unlikely measurement: the Chess.com Titled Tuesday, a monthly event for those holding verified NM, FIDE CM, FM, IM, GM titles or the women’s equivalents. If I got consistently crushed without a fight, it would be time to seriously reconsider.
Although it wasn’t a smooth performance or a good measurement by any stretch of the imagination, I came out feeling like I had passed my personal test:
- I won my first game over an FM, although this was tainted by White’s resignation in a winning position (22. c3! cuts off the Black bishop on b2 and leaves Black helpless). The opening had been great for me, but 12…g5? was too greedy, and 13. Nxd5! was a nice find. Instead, 12…Qh4 was a safe way to leave me at least equal, with my active pieces, control over f5, and strong center.
- The second game was even worse, as I had no idea what I was doing in the opening and promptly got my pieces tangled; with my queen trapped by move 18, I soon had to resign. Since this opening is not terribly uncommon for Black, I have since read up on it a bit.
- The third game went about as well as I could have expected. I never let White get anything in particular, and was fortunate to not be affected by the weak light squares in the queen endgame.
- The fourth game was a pure swindle, and although I am not proud by having to resort to my unlucky FM opponent’s blunders (allowing 35. Bxe3!), it is worth noting that I never play this opening as White (and probably shouldn’t without a decent amount of study).
- The fifth game was embarrassing, and quite enough to remind me how better players can simply outplay their opponents in dead-equal-looking positions, as well as the value of activity in the endgame, even at the short-term cost of material (e.g. 44…Rd2! rather than the passive 44…Kb7? which allowed White an advantage for the first time).
- The sixth game was fun, although I know it’s unlikely to occur in a long game. I’m guessing my opponent simply hadn’t seen this and underestimated it, and was arguably toast by move 9.
- By the seventh game, I was feeling a bit lazy, and I got the feeling that my opponent might be too, and the game petered out to a draw quickly. The eighth game was a good display of Black’s trumps in the Classical Caro-Kann, particularly the weak h5 pawn.
- My last round opponent did not show, which was disappointing; a game with a GM seemed to be a nice reward for the late comeback.
It might seem odd to make such a significant decision on a G/3;+2 tournament, but in my mind, this chaotic condition would more likely bring out my weaknesses: time management and lack of opening knowledge. If I could hold my own under such pressure, I could conceivably do the same in Greensboro over a few days.