I spent the back end of my winter break last week playing in the Eastern Open alongside Isaac! If I was to describe the tournament in a single phrase, I would definitely say it was a roller coaster. I began the tournament by playing GM Alexsander Lenderman on the top board. We were locked in an equal battle for the majority of the game, but one slip-up at the end near time control proved fatal for me. Had I just avoided that one mistake, the game would have probably ended in a draw; one mistake is all it takes sometimes! Either way, I was not too fazed, as I was rather pleased with the way I had played. I followed up that game with a win as White before drawing twice against consecutive lower rated players. In my fifth round, I found myself playing against the lowest seed in the section, who had been playing extremely well based on his pre-tournament seeding. I managed to win a pawn but had to play into a passive position in order to keep it; in hindsight, I probably should have avoided passivity altogether. In the end, I blundered two pieces for a rook and wound up losing. Those few games in the middle definitely marked the low point in the tournament. Fortunately, I was able to regain something with a win over a mid-2000 rated player as White in round 6. The tournament culminated in being paired with FM Ralph Zimmer, an opponent of mine similar to what FM Gabe Petesch has been for Isaac.
Despite being “only” 2300, he has been one of those opponents that I have never been able to figure out. Perhaps it is his rather obscure opening choices in the Trompowsky and the Scandinavian, or maybe the fact that he plays relatively quickly yet always seems to find good moves. Before this encounter, I had already lost to him five (!) times over the board. And, to cap it off, I had lost to him twice in the blitz tournament that was held prior to the main event. So, it was safe to say that I was not overly enthusiastic about having to play him once more, especially in a tournament where I was already performing quite poorly. That said, I spent the next twenty minutes I had by preparing something to play. Since I was playing something different as black since the last time I played him, I had to “restart” my preparation, and I wasn’t exactly fond of going back and repeating lines that I had played before.
Towards the end of that 20-minute period, I found a rather interesting and exotic-looking line that I felt fairly comfortable playing, but it wasn’t the computer’s top choice. I still decided to go for it if it came up, and I was able to look at a few variations before having to leave for the game. Let’s see how the game went.
In some ways, this game was a heartbreaker, sure. However, I’m still content that I was able to play well against my opponent for essentially the first time. This happened for a couple reasons:
- Active play – I still believe that playing actively is the best way to play against higher rated players. Playing passively and “for a draw” will only result in being ground down in the long run. In this game, I chose moves such as g4 over gxh4 and Nxf6 instead of Bxf6 in order to keep the initiative and my pieces active.
- Focused opening prep – I tried to find a line that was obscure but still fit with my style of play. A common mistake that players make in opening prep is to pay too much attention to the engine. It’s fine to have an engine to make sure you’re not making blunders, but other than that, it doesn’t tell you much. It’s more important to choose moves based on what positions you feel comfortable playing with.
So, in the end, I should have won this game. However, I’m not overly disappointed with a draw, either. It’s still a step in the right direction. Hopefully, by showing this game, I was able to offer something instructive. And, with that, thanks for reading, and, as always, see you next time! Happy New Year to everyone once again!