Kostya’s Unhinged Thoughts On Why He Crushed The Reykjavik Open

Two weeks ago I traveled to Iceland for the Reykjavik Open for the 2nd year in a row. I repeated this tournament for a few reasons: 1) The tournament was again stacked with grandmasters, including stars like Giri, Andreikin, Jobava, Shirov, Beliavsky, and so on and so forth, making it a great chance to play against amazing players. 2) Iceland is closer to the U.S. than the rest of Europe and is relatively inexpensive to fly to these days. So I had been looking forward to the trip for a little while, this would be my first official tournament as an IM, as FIDE confirmed my title just this past March.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect to do all that well. In the past few months I’ve been spending most of my time working, which included teaching after school chess classes, teaching private students, teaching group classes in person, teaching group classes online through Chess University, writing instructional articles for beginners, writing news articles about super-tournaments, recording videos on a variety of topics, and other various projects. What can I say, I’m busy!

The general notion among chess players is that teaching full-time kills your chess, especially if you’re working with beginners. I definitely agree with that perspective to a large extent, it’s very hard to do serious chess work on your own after a day of showing how the knight moves, and saying things like “control the center” over and over again. Apparently it takes more to beat a Grandmaster than just controlling the center.

But I anticipated this problem in advance and had some ideas in mind as to why I might be above the so-called “teaching curse”. For one, a few of my private students are in the 1500-2000 range, which means that in order to prepare lessons for them, I often have to review classic games that I’ve forgotten, or if I’m lucky, discover instructive gems that benefit my own chess. Additionally, I’m often analyzing with my students, and rarely turning on the engine, which (hopefully) keeps my analysis skills sharp. Lastly, I spend a lot of time watching chess commentary–leading up to the tournament I was watching Peter Leko’s commentary of the Grenke Chess Classic, which was filled with absolute chess gold.

And I’m dead serious, Leko’s commentary is worth re-watching in full. In addition to being really good at analysis, obviously, Leko also discusses every opening played in detail, his experience of preparing the lines himself, divulges which novelties he had studied before (that have since been played), and much, much more. He’s also able to more or less read the mind of every player in the hall, and explain exactly which lines they’re calculating, what they’re spending their time on, everything. Since there are lulls in the action, Leko also talks about much more than just the current chess position. Like his experiences of playing against almost every good player of the last 20 years — Carlsen, Kramnik, Aronian, Anand, Topalov, Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Morozevich, and I think even Kasparov and Karpov too. Leko talks about all the practical intricacies of what it’s like to be an elite player. How he approaches every part of the game. What it’s like to prepare for a motherf***ng World Championship Match! Sorry but I can’t get over how good it was.

So I wasn’t totally inactive going in, but it felt like it, and my expectations for the tournament were low. I thought that the rust would show and I would bungle a few games, but it wasn’t like that. I kind of crushed it, especially towards the end. I also came up with something interesting to do during the tournament, as the Chess^Summit audience should be fully aware of–I decided to record a post-mortem of every round, win or lose. This was risking to be real embarrassing in case I had a garbage tournament, but I thought it would be a really cool project and fairly unique in the chess YouTube world. Fortunately, Isaac was into the idea and the show was born! But the biggest point of going over each game afterwards was that I felt it would be really good for my chess, I can’t remember the last time I went over my games without Stockfish!

My start was fine, 3/5, three wins against lower rated players (though not without some adventures!) and two ultra-instructive losses to a couple of Grandmasters. In Round 3 I lost to GM Josh Friedel without any chances, and without understanding what I did wrong. That doesn’t happen too often to me! The post-mortem with Josh was invaluable, although as Susan Polgar pointed out on Twitter, it would have been cheaper just to pay him for a private lesson than to fly all the way out to Iceland to learn from him! Fair enough.

In Round 5 I got another lesson, this time against GM Helgi Dam Ziska of the Faroe Islands. We played a very offbeat Open Sicilian (I was Black, unfortunately) where he got the initiative from the opening. I provoked the classic ‘Nd5’ sacrifice and was duly punished.

So halfway through the tournament I hadn’t achieved anything special. But I won my next two games (playing down) with real ease. I mean really clean games. This gave me another crack at a GM, Magesh Panchanathan. This time I was super-solid with White and eventually drew after good defense in a slightly worse endgame.

In Round 9 I played a brilliancy! I defeated IM Gudmundur Kjartansson in a lovely King’s Indian Defense. I had amazing preparation for this game, and luckily my opponent walked right into it. I even had the gall to compare myself to Nakamura, but can you really blame me?

This setup a final round with much on the line, money, rating, and the pride of finishing the tournament strong. Without any pretense of winning, I sought to play a solid game against IM Burak Firat, whose 2503 FIDE rating was nothing to sneeze at. I was doing fine from the opening, maybe slightly uncomfortable, but that quickly turned once I realized that my opponent had pushed beyond the reasonable limits of his position, and was greatly overextending, especially on the clock too. So I seized my chance and converted a fine endgame. I know the sound is quite bad but the content is really instructive!

So to wrap up, as I keep mentioning to everyone willing to listen, I don’t feel like I played so amazing. Yes, I scored 7.5/10 to earn 6th place and take down the Top U2400 prize and gain 43 rating points (which at my level is a ridiculous gain) in one of the biggest open tournaments year-round. True, all that is true. But if you look at my games, my biggest strength was staying objective and making good decisions (perhaps this was due to my low expectations of the tournament?) at the board. I rarely got over-optimistic and didn’t really blunder anything. Moreover, I didn’t blow any wins, as soon as the position was good for me, I was able to convert without blundering. Come to think of it, I must’ve been in a good mindset…

Well, I’ll ponder on how to repeat this success. Until next time!

Kostya & Isaac Finish Strong In Reykjavik

Well guys we did it, we finished the 2017 Reykjavik Open AND kept our promise to do a detailed post-mortem after each round. I ended up scoring the best performance of my career, finishing with 7.5/10 — good for Top U2400 and T-6th overall. Isaac stumbled in Round 8 but finished with two wins to close out his trip. I have to say I loved working on this project, it really made for a very engaging tournament experience. Full report coming soon (eventually). For now, here are our recaps from Round 8-10. (warning: only watch if you’re interested in getting better at chess).

In Round 9, unbeknownst to me, I ended up winning the brilliancy prize for a sterling piece of preparation in the King’s Indian. Isaac won a game that he was kind of ashamed of, but still pretty interesting. See for yourself:

In Round 10 I played White against an aggressive opponent and seized my chance to turn the game in my favor. Really nice rook endgame technique from me in this one, should raise your rook endgame ELO by at least 20-30 points! Isaac *accidentally* played 1.e4 and won in style.

That’s all from me for now! Please look forward to a full recap of the event coming as soon as I come to grips to my performance. A lot of things went well for me in this tournament, I should probably figure out what they were so that I can repeat the performance!

Kostya & Isaac Get Rekt In Round 5 Of Reykjavik Open

Hey guys, check out our recap of Round 5 of the 2017 Reykjavik Open! First I show what not to do in the Sicilian and how to lose in <25 moves to an effortless Nd5 sacrifice by GM Helgi Dam Ziska, the strongest player to come out of the Faroe Islands. Then Isaac shows a very practical rook endgame that will hopefully be instructive for y’all. Lots of dual commentary on this one, interesting stuff!

Kostya & Isaac: Reykjavik Open Rounds 2-4

Round 2 featured two wins by both Isaac and Kostya. First check out how Isaac dominates a Scotch opening while Kostya shows a masterclass on the f3-e4 structure in the Modern Benoni. Very instructive, you will learn about chess by watching this!

After our victories in Round 2, we were both humbled by our higher-rated opponents in Round 3. Isaac blew a promising position against IM Alina L’Ami, while Kostya gets ground down like a child by GM Joshua Friedel. Really instructive analysis on an important aspect of the game — the so-called ‘switch’!

In Round 4 we bounced back from the previous night’s disappointment to win both our games in style! Although, we both used different styles, as you’ll soon find out. Isaac had to outplay a draw-loving 1700 while Kostya had to retake the initiative after earning a lost position with White against a 2100. Enjoy!

Kostya’s Spontaneous Venture to the Isle of Man

This story starts in early September, just a few weeks before the 2016 Chess.Com Isle of Man International was to take place and much closer to the event start date than a typical ‘chess Eurotrip’ should begin to be planned. Previously I knew the IOM international was a strong tournament, now going into its 3rd edition, but assumed it would be too expensive to fly to some random island in the UK and play a tournament for 10 days and so I didn’t look into it much.

Then a beloved non-chess friend offhandedly mentioned that a round-trip flight to Dublin, Ireland was surprisingly cheap (starting at $400, plus some annoying baggage fees). Upon hearing this news I immediately looked up where the Isle of Man actually was (turns out, close to Dublin!) and started calculating as to whether the trip was feasible. I was aware that the tournament would be packed with GMs, including the U.S. Big 3 (Naka, Fabi, & Wesley) and would be an excellent opportunity to go for a norm. The final norm…

For those that don’t know me, hi, I’m FM Kostya, I have two IM norms and have been painfully close to that third one on more than one occasion. Here, read this and then this.

So while flying to Dublin and then to IOM and back seemed plausible, I didn’t want to do it alone. So I asked IM Keaton Kiewra if he would be interested in joining. Keaton is currently on his own quest for the GM title and having roomed with him in previous tournaments, I figured he may be down to join and a great travel companion. Well, he was down, a little skeptical at first about making such a trip on short notice, but eventually said “YOLO” and we started booking our trip.

We decided to spend a few days in Dublin to get used to the time difference and also because we wanted to take the opportunity to do some sightseeing. This turned out to be a great decision, as Keaton and I share a mutual love for trying new cuisine, and Irish food did. not. disappoint. It started with a huge Irish breakfast, followed by several feasts throughout our brief stint in Dublin. We also tried Guinness beer, which rumor has it actually tastes better in Dublin, due to the water (?), and again we were not disappointed. It was much better than any Guinness I’ve ever had, smooth and dark and overall delicious. A local friend also suggested this speakeasy in the heart of Dublin which served some gorgeous cocktails:

cocktailThe so-called “Dirty Wizard”

OK so now it was time to go to the Isle of Man and actually play some chess. Based on my rating, I was slated to play against someone in the top 8-15 or so, and as it turned out, I got paired with GM Alexei Shirov. Yep, former number two in the world/world championship candidate/overall tactical genius Shirov. A player I followed when I was growing up and always amazed by. I went into the first round ready to fight and fully expecting him to play 1.e4 and checkmate me. Well to my surprise he trotted out 1.d4, traded queens in the opening and quickly played a technical gem.

kostya-vs-shirovKostya sticking to his beloved King’s Indian vs. Alexei Shirov (Photo: Mike Klein)

In Round 2 I defeated an FM whose FIDE rating had dropped below 2100, so a tough fight regardless of the rating difference. Then in Round 3 I was paired up again, this time against GM Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan, who outplayed me in a sharp Nimzo and won with Black. In Round 4 I played another sub-2100 player, tricked him in the King’s Indian and won a smooth game. Round 5 gave me another crack at a strong player, IM Martin Zumsande from Germany. I focused on playing solid with White and we drew close to move 40.

So, I broke the cycle! It felt good to gain a positive result against a higher rated opponent, even if it was just a simple draw, and it meant that I would play up again the next round, raising my rating average for norm purposes. In Round 6 I was paired with GM Tiger Hillarp Persson, a well-known figure in the chess world whose sharp and dynamic style has scored him many beautiful wins. I played the King’s Indian once again and after a tough battle ended up losing, though not without my chances. In the post-mortem Tiger was exceptionally friendly and generous with his advice, and even said that I had “great King’s Indian instincts”, which I immediately blushed at and could only respond with “Wow, that’s high praise :)”.

kostya-keatonWith IM Keaton Kiewra in Dublin, trying our 1st (or was it 2nd…maybe 3rd?) pint of Guinness

Despite the loss my mood was quite decent–there was still everything to play for with three rounds to go, not to mention my good mood after speaking with Tiger about our game. In Round 7 I was paired against WIM Dharia Parnali, who held me to a draw in the first round of the Cannes Chess Festival earlier this year. This time the game had an opposite progression. She outplayed me in the opening, equalized easily with Black and even started playing for the win at some point–but in a tricky R+B vs. R+N ending I managed to seize the initiative and win the game. Despite my bad play in the opening, I was happy to stay tough and find my chances in the endgame.

Back to an even score, in Round 8 I played up again, facing IM Antony Bellaiche from France. I did some quick norm math and realized that a win in this round would give me theoretical chances based on who I played in the final round. So I prepared my favorite King’s Indian for a few hours and pumped myself up before the game (by listening to Eminem, of course). What followed was a far-from-perfect but fascinating struggle where I managed to come out on top. I was especially happy upon seeing that from move 30 until the end of the game I found the absolute “only-moves” to decide matters in my favor.

kostya-at-iomThe final round–Kostya gets pretty nervous during chess games. (Photo: Mike Klein)

Now with 4.5/8 my well-versed norm calculating skills dictated that in the last round, to achieve a 2450 performance I would need just a draw if I played someone rated 2583 or higher, whereas only a win would suffice if their rating was 2582 or lower. And then it was as if the pairing was handed down from destiny itself: White against GM Babu Lalith, 2586 FIDE. Now Lalith is a strong player no doubt, but he could have just as easily been rated 2582 for this event, and if so I would need to beat him if I wanted to earn my last norm. So I felt it was kind of divine providence that all I needed was a draw, with White! How hard could it be?

Well a disappointing finish, but what are you gonna do, not play chess? We all know that’s not an option 🙂 . Ending with 4.5/9 really ain’t bad, I gained about 16 points and had a wonderful time in Europe, trying so much amazing food and really enjoying the “one-round-a-day” culture, where you get ample time to prepare and rest after each round! A week after this event ended I played in the 2016 Spice Cup, my recap of which will soon be posted on US Chess. Until next time!

Kostya Kavutskiy is a professional chess player, coach, and author currently residing in Mountain View, CA. His first book, Modernized: The Open Sicilian was published in February 2015. For more of Kostya, check out his official Twitter and blog.