Don’t Get Discouraged!

Maybe I spoke too soon. After a triumphant performance at the Pennsylvania State Action, I collapsed just over a week later in the Pittsburgh Chess League when I made this faux pas:

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Naser–Steincamp, position after 43. f6

Thinking I could delay capturing on f6, I played 43…h4??, only fall prey to 44. f7! and the game ended shortly after, as the paralysis of my rooks made it impossible to stop White from queening. My stroll along euphoria lane had come to an end, as this game was easily one of the worst I’ve played in all of 2017. Luckily for me, my teammates bailed me out, and Pitt won by a final tally of 3-1.

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Watching Pitt at Heinz Field. This has not been the season to H2P…

So how to pick up the pieces from here? I had only 48 hours until my next rated game, and I needed to play well for my Pittsburgh Chess Club return. The next morning, I woke up, pulled myself out of bed and went for a four mile run through Oakland. I need to be fit again. After a quick shower, I pushed myself tactically. I need to be sharp again. After pushing past 2600 on chess.com’s tactics trainer, I was feeling good. Okay, I can do this.

To recover from an inexplicable loss, I just needed some perspective. These things happen – don’t freak out! Relax, focus, and identify what you can do to improve. My goals for the upcoming week? Simple:

  1. Sleep better. Well, if you’re a college student (or grad), you know how easy it is to stay up late and binge watch videos on Youtube and Netflix. This needed to change. I decided I would only stay up late to do schoolwork, but otherwise, I needed my sleep.
  2. Eat healthier. More veggies and fruits in my cooking. I guess I should’ve been listening to my mom all along…
  3. Work out more. Working out builds endurance, which means more energy for long chess games. Also, its a great way to destress, so there’s that too.
  4. Train smarter. This is the big one. My studying to this point was all over the place. I needed to direct my studies more effectively. A balance between calculation, opening studies, and looking over top level games – with a strong emphasis on calculation. This should keep me in form for a while.

Things are going to be fine! With my plan set, I was ready to play again. Which Isaac was going to show up?

Return to the Robert Smith Memorial

It’s fitting that my return to the Pittsburgh Chess Club was the very same as my first major tournament in Pittsburgh: the Robert Smith Memorial. In that edition of the tournament, I played for first in the final round against my soon-to-be trainer Franklin Chen and lost to score 4/6. As a result of that game, Franklin earned the National Master title, and I claimed my share of second place – my best finish to date at the Pittsburgh Chess Club.

Hoping to put together a strong opening night performance, I managed to weave a 16 move miniature with Black:

My opponent deviated with 16. Ba3 and resigned after 16…Nxa2 as the position proved too much. But what if 17. Bd2? … here’s where all that tactical training comes in!

Somewhat amusingly, this game still took over two and a half hours despite its brevity. I guess some combination of ambitious opening play from White and a higher than usual level of caution will do that! I felt pretty good about this game, but there are still five tough rounds ahead. With nine players rated over 2000 competing, a bloodbath seems quite likely. Back to training!

Back to Rapid: Endgame Success and Opening Blunders

The G/15 State Chess Championships proved to be a mixed bag of results for me. I had some good moments like this one:

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Gao–Steincamp, Black to Move

My main strategy for this tournament was to win in the endgame against lower rated players. I scored a perfect 3/3 when employing this strategy, and here I played 1…g5! (I was able to recreate this position from memory, so I don’t know the move number) making sure to stop f2-f4 so I can play a well-timed …c5-c4 to create a queenside passed pawn. With a passive position, White couldn’t do much, and I simplified down to a dream endgame for Black.

Other moments? Not so great… Take this position from my “clash” in the French with local National Master Nabil Feliachi:

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Steincamp–Feliachi, position after 11. Ke2
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Stuck in an opposite colored bishop endgame in the fifth round

Here I realized I had missed the incredible 11…Bb5!! almost immediately. Nabil missed this, but luckily for him, my position was so miserable that it was impossible to mount a serious comeback. Turns out that experimenting with 1 e4 in rapid with no theoretical knowledge is an easy way to lose with White… While this opening was particularly painful for me, I figured I might as well attach it so you all can learn from my awful mistake. Ouch – don’t do this in tournaments!

Ultimately, my tournament really came down to a rematch with Chess^Summit author Beilin Li. That round was insane – as all my games with Beilin are. In a tense, roughly equal but dynamic game we both found creative ways to steal the initiative which resulted in a pawn race with two extremely weak kings. In what felt like a coin-toss game, Beilin prevailed to tie up our non-blitz head-to-head record at 2.5 apiece. Luckily for Chess^Summit, Beilin recorded the game, so you’ll get your chance to relive our rapid game later this week!

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Is it that time of year? I guess there’s still Thanksgiving…

After the loss to Beilin, I won my last round with some minor piece endgame technique, and pushed my score to 4.5/7, which was enough to tie for 7th place. It’s kind of hard to know how to assess a performance like this. I got paired down a lot throughout the tournament, so if anything, it was just a great warm-up for my upcoming Robert Smith Memorial match-up.

It’s going to take a lot to overcome the jaw-dropping rating drop I had from my Pittsburgh Chess League slip-up last week. But I’m confident in my training and the work I’m doing towards my chess, and that’s all that matters. Sometimes the US Men’s National Team loses to Trinidad and Tobago, Appalachian State beats Michigan, and I lose to a significantly lower rated player. It’s part of sports. True strength is being able to get up the next day and pick yourself up. I’m ready to fight, and I’m ready to finish 2017 on a strong note.

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