Winning The Baltimore Open U2100

Having recently fallen back into the <2100 club, I decided to give the money sections one last try at the Baltimore Open last weekend, in case I wasn’t doomed to being embarrassed by 1800-rated kids!

I played in the fast schedule (Rounds 1-2 G/45+inc/30, Rounds 3-5 40/90 SD/30 inc/30) and went 4.5/5 for clear first. Overall the accommodations were pretty good and it made for a good U.S. Amateur Team East warmup. It was also an interesting throwback to my 1900 days, but I have learned a lot since then and it showed in a lot of the critical moments. The clearest example was the losing ending I defended in Round 3 (seemingly forever while down an hour of time) that I don’t think I would have contested as seriously 2-3 years ago. More than any other group I’ve observed, 1800-2100 sections seem to favor who avoids blundering in the wrong moments (and not necessarily the least). I still don’t get it.

Sidenote: so many kids! I was told there would be lots of old people (I think those were the 2000s who dropped off the map in Rounds 3-4), but only one of my opponents was age 16+.

Here are the games:

Round 1: Li – Chong

In Round 1, I won a (very) clean pawn early but time trouble made matters much more interesting than it should have. My opponent actually had a draw at one point, but alas he was low on time too and missed it. Most of the game was pretty squarely in my corner – too bad my technique leaves so much to be desired!

Round 2: Power – Li

The second round was even more embarrassing as I was apparently -7 (Stockfish) at one point. Some of these Caro-Kann lines are the stuff of nightmares and a good example of not blindly regurgitating thematic opening ideas. Even though I was down a few minutes to 20-30 throughout some dangerous positions, I managed to escape. Again, if you get a dire-looking position in the middlegame, don’t worry about your mistakes and keep a level head – my opponent had the win in his sights, but got too impatient at the critical moment.

Round 3: Li – Shoykhet

Unfortunately, my good luck had to come to an end… or did it? In the span of one game, I showed I still don’t understand the Closed Sicilian, then got a won position, then found myself in a lost ending with no time left. Somehow I survived time control at move 40 and then dug myself to equality in 25 moves, ending the day tied with five others at 2.5/3.

Round 4: Gorti – Li

Day 2 ended up a lot smoother because the end was near(er) and I didn’t mess up! I was paired against Atmika Gorti (FM Akshita’s sister), who despite being one of the lowest players was also undefeated. I got to execute the “normal” plans in a very familiar opening – structurally favorable Exchange Caro-Kann – so there weren’t too many surprises.

Round 5: Zhao – Li

Going into the last round, three of us had 3.5/4, including my opponent from Round 3. As the highest rated of the three, I faced off against my last co-leader. In the end, both of them just self-destructed — I was lucky to get a simple, positionally superior position in another familiar opening (Caro-Kann Panov), and my opponent just didn’t get any chances to unravel. On Board 2, Mr. Shoykhet – who had played a great tournament – played a bad opening and was lost early – too bad. The player who wins these sections is often the one that’s able to keep a straight face the whole time!

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