This week, I’ll be taking a quick break from the Opening Overhaul series to cover a topic that appeared in my most recent tournament last weekend, and I feel it is important enough to write about it now.
The Continental Class Championships were held from June 15-17 in Falls Church, VA. Fellow Chess^Summit author Isaac was there, too, and he played in the Open Section. I decided to play in the Expert (U2200) Section because it was my first tournament in a while and I figured I would perform better overall in my own section. I went into the tournament as the fourth seed in the 3-day section, so I felt that I would have at least two rounds of playing down before the pairings would become a little more muddled. Indeed, that’s how the games played out, as we will see.
In the first round, I was paired with an opponent I had beat before with White, but I didn’t particularly enjoy the opening in that game. Thus, prior to this round, I prepared for that same line; such is my luck, as he played something completely different, and I was back to playing a normal game.
Kobla – Al-Hariri, Continental Class Championships, 2018
A standard Italian game out of the opening, there was mostly maneuvering. By the time the middlegame came around, there were two distinct focus points on the board. One of those was the pawn fixture on b5 and the tension between the a and b pawns for White and Black, respectively. The second focus point was the tension in the center after Black got in d5. Black arguably won both battles there, but I was able to keep the pressure along the central files. Eventually Black tried to trade material in a fancy way but it was ultimately flawed, and I won a piece. The conversion was a bit shaky, but in the end, I was able to win the first game of the tournament, which is always nice.
In the second game, the middlegame was somewhat rough as my f6 plan became a failed experiment, but I got somewhat lucky by being able to get in d6 and d5, after which a trade of pawns and minor pieces opened up my position a bit and I was able to do some maneuvering to transfer my bad light-squared bishop to the kingside where it would be of use. At that point, I was able to capitalize, and after White’s queen ventured a bit too far into my position, I was able to gain a few tempi by attacking the queen, allowing me to gain the initiative. That initiative carried through to the end when I was able to win material and eventually the game.
The 2-0 start was the best I could ask for considering I hadn’t played in a long time and hadn’t even looked at chess, and it also confirmed that playing in my own section was the right decision. Still, there were games left to play. In the third round, I was paired up against a high 2100 who had merged in from the 2-day section. I had no idea what he played so I went in with general preparation.
I went for the quick draw for a couple of reasons. For one, I figured that I should just take the points I get since I was playing a higher rated player. I also figured that I didn’t want to risk it since it was my first tournament in some time, but I feel like that was the wrong mindset to have because I had already played two games and for the most part that rust would have been gone. And, obviously this isn’t the mainline of the Sveshnikov for Black so I could have continued with the declining move Bd3, but in all honesty, I had forgotten the correct way to decline the draw, and that was another reason I took the draw. In hindsight, if I had known the correct line, however, I probably would have played on. Either way, this draw meant that I had 2.5/3 and just had to prepare for the next morning.
For the fourth round, I was paired against a good friend of mine in Alex Jian, someone I’ve played a number of times in the past. Many of our previous games have been in the Grunfeld, so for this game, I decided to prepare something one-off.
This game is definitely the one I want to spend the most time talking about. To start, my choice of preparation definitely threw my opponent off, as he prepared for something completely different as he told me afterward. With that upper hand, I was able to equalize early on and soon in the middlegame I was in the driver’s seat. I was able to increase the pressure as the middlegame went on, but there were a couple points where I could have cashed in that momentum into better endgames or otherwise better position overall, but I missed them or didn’t think highly enough of those opportunities. Even in the end, I was still better, but I offered a draw feeling like I had done what I could. In hindsight, I definitely should have pressed, as I could have in the third game as well. As a result, I finished this round with 3/4.
I took a bye in the last round as I actually went to a concert with my family that night to see U2!
But I digress. Overall, the lesson to be learned here is that, if given the opportunity, one should always go for wins, even if already at or near the top of the standings. As world-class players like Carlsen and Caruana have shown, it doesn’t hurt to press a little for wins when already winning a tournament because they can only help you. When in a better position, if something happens down the road and that advantage is lost, then it is what it is and one can settle for a draw. But, if that opportunity to go for a win exists, then go for it. Especially in my fourth round game, there were a number of instances where I could have either cashed in or just played on and seen what would have happened, and if I could have won, it would have been better for me. In the end, finishing with 3.5/5 gave me a tie for third, but considering that I started out 2/2, there was definitely room for improvement.
Next time, I’ll probably continue to play in my section with the hope of replicating the success I had in this tournament nevertheless. But, if there’s one thing I’ll do differently, I’ll definitely press for wins when I can.