After barely missing a GM Norm at the Washington International, my play took a downward turn. September turned out to be full of freak blunders and missed opportunities (though not always for me), and by the end of the month, things really were getting wacky…
After that, I wanted to turn over a new leaf at Washington Chess Congress, the 9-round norm tournament where I magically got my GM Norm two years ago. I was hoping that all the junk was out of my system
My first round game against Charles Bouzoukis (2160 USCF, 2054 FIDE) was a quick and powerful win.
The excitement wasn’t only in the playroom alone. Things got eventful that night when an emergency alarm went off at 1:30 am! Trust me, that was about as fun as it sounds. On the way down to the lobby (from the 10th floor), we learned that it was a false alarm, but at that point, it was quicker to go down to the lobby and take an elevator back upstairs than to walk. The alarm was caused by contractors, who among other things covered the results board with a tarp, so I couldn’t even find out how others did 😦. Well I guess there’s a first for everything…
In round 2, I got black against Andrew Samuelson (2309 USCF, 2186 FIDE). Things went great for me when he blundered a pawn on move 13! After that, however, I didn’t play very accurately and let him stabilize—into a situation where I couldn’t really consolidate my extra pawn. After some inaccuracies from both sides, the game ended in a draw. I was kicking myself for not winning this one. Though this was naturally bad for norm chances, making a draw in the second round with black is not a big deal.
In round 3, I got black (again) against Arvind Jayaraman (2331 USCF, 2169 FIDE). We reached a fairly murky position out of the opening, and then this happened:
Black has two pawns for a piece, and I was naturally waiting for the right moment to take the exchange on d3. Black’s pawn on b3 looks nice at first, but it isn’t actually of that much use (pushing it will most likely result in its loss). Play is mainly in the center for the moment. A direct plan of action like 18… Bxd3 19.Qxd3 c4 20.Qd2 exd5 21.Nxd5 Bc5 with an unclear position was most appropriate. Instead, after a long think, I blundered horrendously with 18… Qc7??, missing 19.Bf4!. I was either losing an exchange or a key central pawn by playing 19… e5 (I chose the latter), and there was no coming back from this.
Rest in peace tournament 😥. After such a game, I needed a win to pull myself up, and I did the job against Ernest Colding (2229 USCF, 2035 FIDE). It was a crushing 24-move win for me.
The 1:30 am false emergency alarm was not the only first this tournament. During the 5th round, the lights started seriously misbehaving. One half of the room suddenly got much darker. And then the other half went darker. Then whatever light was left went out as well. We had to stop the clock 3 times before everything went back to normal. Yeah, that was… interesting.
Fortunately, my play was better and more consistent than the lights. I won with black against Evan Park (2165 USCF, 2065 FIDE). He had excellent opening preparation, but he let me get too much “noise” going in the early middlegame, and I crashed through.
I was back to 3.5/5, not a bad score. My norm chances were obviously dead, but chances for a trademark comeback were still there. In round 6, I got white against GM Jesse Kraai (2558 USCF, 2499 FIDE). My fairly loose play really wasn’t sound. I was fortunate to get to an equal endgame, which was soon drawn.
In round 7, I got black against IM Alex Ostrovskiy (2518 USCF, 2423 FIDE), and original play in the opening on my part really didn’t work out. I have no intention of repeating it…
White is clearly much better here. He has more space, better placed pieces, black’s knight on a6 is offside for the moment, etc. 16.Ne5! attacking the d7-pawn is the strongest move, but instead, he played 16.bxa5 bxa5 17.Ne5. The most logical move 17… Qe7, defending the d7-pawn, did not appeal to me because white could play 18.c5, where he could relocate his knight to d6/b6 via c4 and combine that with play on the b-file. True, black can get his knight to d5, but that’ll only be consolation…
Because of that, I went for activity with 17… Qf4. The reason why playing Ne5 before trading was a good idea is because b6 hangs in these variations, practically ruling out Qf4 ideas. Objectively speaking, it’s not good for black, but in this position nothing is. The game continued 18.Qe3 c5 19.Nxd7 Qxe3 20.fxe3 Rxf1+ 21.Rxf1 cxd4 22.exd4 Rd8
After a forced sequence from moves 19-22, I’m winning my pawn back on d4. Obviously I’m not out of the woods here, but I managed to scrape out with a draw after 23.Ne5 Rxd4 24.Nc6 (24.Rb1! was stronger) 24… Rd7 25.Nxa5, where my activity was enough to keep white’s pawns at bay.
Phew! In round 8, I drew with white against GM Vladimir Belous (2627 USCF, 2530 FIDE). I may have had a few chances for an advantage, but I didn’t think very highly of my position and steered the game towards a draw. In the last round, I made a quick draw with black against IM Michael Mulyar (2472 USCF, 2384 FIDE), which concluded my 4-game drawing streak—this hadn’t been my plan, but from a rating perspective, it was a reasonable result, which did help to limit the damage.
This wasn’t what I was hoping for, but it wasn’t too bad either. I’m not quite sure what to make of my play as a whole, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’ll be back! Without malfunctioning lights, alarms, or brains. Wish me luck.