New Openings, New Struggles

Being in a low-stakes chess environment (for example, after becoming a master) is a good time to try out some new things. Unfortunately, I took this a little too far at the Pennsylvania State Action (G/30), where I lost to a slew of lower rated players in strange, unfamiliar openings, easily making it my worst tournament of the last few years. While it is not wrong to wade in uncharted waters, there is a wide range of unfamiliar that requires some reasonable judgment. All I can say is, when you find yourself in a close game against someone several hundred points lower, you only have yourself to blame for playing 1…a6.

A better idea is to start with smaller changes, which in my case (since I don’t study openings very heavily) means slight deviations in lines I otherwise play very often. Nevertheless, there are some difficulties to be expected along the way, like when I tried (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3) 3…a6 against rapidly improving 10-year old expert Evan Park. Although this looks like Black is just fooling around, this is in fact a useful waiting move, as White is tempted into the choices of:

  • 4. exd5 (a harmless Exchange Caro-Kann)
  • 4. e5 (an Advanced Caro-Kann where White has already committed to Nc3, making …c5 more attractive)
  • 4. Nf3 (what Evan played)

4. Nf3 was followed by 4…Bg4 and soon Be2, Bxf3, Nf6, e4-e5, etc. where Black has sort of a French Defense without the problematic light-squared bishop. Note that …a6 can be useful to Black in some lines (at worst it’s harmless since the position is relatively closed), unlike my try of 2…a6 against Isaac in a Sicilian. While I got a nice position for Black, I was unfamiliar with the plans and overlooked a tricky tactic around move 15, making the rest of the game a huge uphill task.

Games against lower-rated players are also good opportunities to try out new openings as long as they aren’t joke openings like I played a few times, but for example, some Open Sicilians I’m not so familiar with, like against a local 1609 in the first round of the ongoing Robert Smith Memorial. A much higher-rated player should still be able to outplay an opponent based on “normal” skill.

After my recent quick chess troubles, I was looking forward to start over at the Pennsylvania G/15. Unfortunately, things didn’t seem to be heading my way as Evan Park outplayed me from an equal ending in my favorite Classical Caro-Kann. A critical matchup developed in a crazy Round 6 against none other than Isaac to even our head-to-head record. Unfortunately, it just so happens sometimes that the most exciting games are the ones where you can’t keep score properly… but here is the game, to the best of my efforts!

With that victory and a final-round draw against NM Eigen Wang in Round 7, my score of 5.5/7 was good enough for 2nd place. While it’s not a particularly high-stakes victory (quick rating points and some pocket cash), it does give me a boost going into the end of 2017. Like Isaac, despite some rough patches, I very much look forward to finishing the year strongly!

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