Washington International

It has been a while since I walked you through one of my tournaments. This was my first tournament as an official IM (FIDE approved my IM title on August 9th), and it felt good having the letters “IM” next to my name…

The Washington International is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. After all, I gave up my spot in US Cadets to play there. The organization is great. Wooden chess sets and clocks are provided. Oh and cookies! The pairings are done early (at least an hour before the round, with the exception of the first round), and the rounds start on time. What is even more important, also, is the strength of the field.

The field is strong; I was barely in the top half, but there also isn’t much of a tail. This makes the Washington International one of the strongest open Swiss tournaments in USA. By “strong” I mean strong for someone who is in the middle of the pack; I am by no means saying that the Washington International is harder to win than the World Open. The World Open has a huge prize fund and attracts many GMs, but there is also a tail of low-rated players playing in the open section.

While at the World Open I may get to play a significantly lower rated opponent, no such a thing happens at the Washington International. That is put in place by a simple solution: 1) put a high minimum rating with no exceptions and 2) make the entry fee system based on rating.

A minimum published rating 2100 FIDE or 2200 USCF was required and there are no exceptions even for juniors! Players who didn’t fulfill that requirement could play in the lower sections. And here’s how the entry fee system worked:

GMs, non-US IMs – Free
US IMs and WGMs – $199
FMs – $299
FIDE greater than 2200 – $349
FIDE between 2100 and 2199 – $399
FIDE between 2000 and 2099 – $600
FIDE less than 2000 – $800

The message: if you have a low FIDE, you can join! You just have to pay extra… Why, you ask? Well, many players come to 9-round tournaments to have a chance to get a norm, and there your opponents’ ratings matter a lot. An opponent with rating below 2050 won’t give you anything as far as IM norm goes. While an adjustment can be done for one, play two of those and win both games and you are in minus as far as an IM norm goes! It’s even worse for a GM norm; anybody below 2200 FIDE only ruins your average.

As a result, nobody below 2200 USCF played in the top section.

As much as I like this tournament (see cookies above) I usually get the rough end of the field at the Washington International. As I said there are no “free lunches” this tournament to get “free points” against, and one just cannot get a break However, this is a tournament where I can get reasonable opponents without scoring massive; it’s not every day that with a score of 3.5/6 someone with my rating gets to play a 2600+ FIDE GM.

Anyway, off to my tournament!

Rounds 1-3: so far, so good.

In round 1, I was white against Arthur Macaspac (2034 FIDE, 2200 USCF). I won a fairly unusual but smooth game. A little excerpt.

Macaspac

White to move

I like playing moves like 19.Ra4!, especially when they’re good!

In round 2, I was black against IM Andrey Gorovets (2527 FIDE, 2602 USCF). It was a reasonable draw where I had chances to get an edge had I played better. You can check the game out here, since I made it to the top boards.

In round 3, I was white against IM John Burke (2489 FIDE, 2554 USCF). I’ve played him many times (the official track record going into this game was 1 win for him and 4 draws). OK, what to do against him? I decided to go into heavy theory. I had some good preparation and found some good stuff… it looked like I could play for an advantage with near-zero risk.

Except that my prep wasn’t good enough. John had a novelty up his sleeve that practically equalized the game immediately.

So OK, I was 2/3. A reasonable situation. As long as I didn’t lose, I’d continue playing up…

Rounds 4-5: “Bishops are good, knights are bad.” – MVL

The winner of the Sinquefield Cup just told the world his theory about everything chess-related. It worked for MVL, and I decided to see if it would work for me.

I’m half-joking.

OK, look at this position from my round 4 game against GM Carlos Hevia (2497 FIDE, 2567 USCF) and then try to argue with MVL!

Hevia

White to play

After a suicidal decision from me in the early middlegame, we reached this position.

Black’s position sucks. Big time. His rook is babysitting he a-pawn. His knight on f7 doesn’t have a bright future; it can’t move due to problems on g7. This is a knightmare (yes, the k belongs there).

And I was black :(((.

I managed to wriggle my way out into an endgame that wasn’t as depressing, but it was still probably technically lost. GM Hevia finished me off with some good technique.

So… is that the price you pay for giving draws with white? Eh… no! That’s the price you pay for playing badly with black!

In round 5, I found myself facing Balaji Daggupati (2205 FIDE, 2272 USCF), a talented twelve-year-old. I got a good position out of my offbeat opening. I eventually decided to go for the bishop vs. knight imbalance, where I had the bishop. The knight was admittedly a better piece than the bishop BUT I got control of an open file in return. Balaji put together some counterplay, but I still had a much better position. However, a misstep blew the majority of my advantage, and by the time we reached the time control, I had no objective advantage. We soon drew.

And that’s how I scored 0.5/2 testing MVL’s theory…

That stung. That was the kind of game I’m supposed to win, especially considering how good my position was.

Round 6: Risky opening + decent play = success!

I was black against Yuanchen Zhang (2272 FIDE, 2387 USCF). After what had happened in the previous game, I felt I had to win this game for my morale.

OK, my opening wasn’t that risky. It was just another one of those semi-offbeat things I wanted to try (I “stole” the idea from someone with initials BJ). My opponent’s play wasn’t the most theoretically accurate, and I won what was probably my best game of the tournament.

Rounds 7 and 8: The fade.

In round 7, I got white against GM Dmitry Gordievsky (2613 FIDE, 2704 USCF). After a suspect opening from GM Gordievsky, I got a good position. Actually, it looked very good. Like perfect.

Gordievsky

White to move

The question, however, is how to get through?? Black’s pieces aren’t doing much, but they’re solidly placed.

Then he broke out. I was probably still totally fine, maybe slightly better. But, with little time on the clock, I decided to continue along the script that I was much better and proceeded to make an idiotic decision on that assumption. After that I was just worse and was ground down until I lost.

Great. Moral of the story: these 2600+ GMs don’t go down without a fight!

In round 8, I got black against Trung Nguyen (2181 FIDE, 2259 USCF). I got pretty much nothing with black out of the opening, but I tried to get something. That something, however, was more idealistic than objective. In simple English, I had no real advantage the entire game, and it was a draw.

Combined with what I had done in the morning, this made for a pretty bad day…

Round 9: Pressure

It was the last round, I was at 4/8, and I was playing FM Jason Cao, who had a FIDE rating of 2328. Goes to show just how strong this tournament was.

I spent a lot of time early on in the game, especially at a critical juncture where I had two options: go for an endgame where it looked like I had some pressure OR keep the queens on and keep some initiative. I chose the former. It turns out I missed a simple idea in the “keep the queens on” variation that made most of my thought a waste…

Anyway, we eventually reached this position.

Cao1

White to move

A somewhat unusual position (at least the pawn structure is). White’s knight and rook on d4 are more active than their black counterparts, but is there anything else.

The first idea that came to my mind was to play 22.Rhd1, seizing control of the d-file. If black goes 22… Rhd8?!, then after 23.Ng5! black has some problems. Nxh7 and Nxf7 are both serious threats. Black can try 23… Ne5, but then after 24.Rxd8 Rxd8 25.Rxd8 Kxd8 26.f4!, black will end up a pawn down in this knight endgame. 22…Rad8? isn’t much better either because of 23.Rd6!, hitting the black a-pawn.

However, black has the strong idea of 22… Nb6! followed by Nd5. Black’s knight has a sturdy outpost, blocks the d-file, and I didn’t see where white’s advantage is.

Then I came up with another idea: invade on the g-file with 22.Rg1. Black can’t play 22… Rhg8?? Because of 23.Rxg8 Rxg8 24.Rxd7+! Kxd7 25.Nf6+, winning a piece. However, I soon saw that black can throw a wrench in the works by playing 22… Ne5!. Allowing a fork on f3 would be embarrassing! Seriously, how to react?

I came up with a third idea, 22.f4!?. The point is to continue with f5, destabilizing black’s pawn structure. I should do it with knights on the board; if I did that in a rook endgame, I’d just be giving black passed pawns! My point is that with knights, those heroic passed pawns can become weak liabilities.

My opponent reacted well with 22… Rhd8. If white continues with 23.f5, then black goes 23… Nf6!, forcing a rook endgame where he is 100% fine. Therefore, I went 23.Rhd1 Nb6 (23… Nf6?? is now impossible), 24.f5

Cao2

Black to move

Here there’s already some pressure on black. However, he should be fine after 24… Rxd4! 25.f6+ (25.Rxd4 exf5 is not promising for white), 25… Kd7 26.Rxd4+ Nd5. White doesn’t have anything concrete. Instead, my opponent erred with 24… exf5?. After 25.Nd6!, white has a serious edge. There are just too many tactical tricks in the air, and after 25… Ke6, I played the neat tactical trick 26.Nxb5! Rxd4 27.Nxd4+ Kf6 28.Rf1. The black f5-pawn is falling, and I went on to convert my extra pawn, though not without adventures…

Overall, I finished with 5/9. I gained a few FIDE points (3.6 to be exact), and my USCF went down a few decimal points. The tournament had its ups and downs… to sum it up, it wasn’t my greatest tournament, but it was far from the worst. I guess I’ll call it “mediocre”.

Congratulations to GM Oliver Barbosa, who won the tournament outright and to IM-elect Zhaozhi Li, who got his last IM Norm.

Anyway, if you want to play in strong tournament and eat your cookies, I may see you at Washington International next year!

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