Having now played chess competitively for over 13 years, Isaac holds the title of Candidate Master with a rating well over 2100. As just a junior in high school, he coached his school team to win 1st place in the U1200 National High School Chess Championships in 2014. Now a second-year student at the University of Pittsburgh, Isaac is a prominent member of the Pitt chess team.
As it turned out, a two-week break was all I needed to put together a breakthrough performance. If you recall, my previous outing in Bad Wörishofen was marred by an inability to convert slightly better positions, and by the end of the event I was fighting the collective exhaustion of three back-to-back tournaments.
The First Saturday Tournament in Budapest had a much different narrative. Placed in the FM group, I got to compete in my first double round-robin against a field of mixed strength, ranging from 1700 to International Master level. Even though I managed to finish the ten game tournament undefeated, I think to say I outclassed most of the field would be a bit of a stretch. In many of the games, I often found myself in equal or slightly worse positions, but I found my time management and decision-making in critical moments to be the main contributors to my performance. That being said, I think even with an 8/10 final score, I will still have a lot to learn from this tournament.
While my tournament started with a relatively easy win, I had my first critical test in the second round against an experienced Hungarian International Master. Never having gotten a result against this level of competition before, my mentality going into the game was just to enjoy myself and play smart, but as the game wore on, it became clear I could do better than this. We reached this complicated endgame before the game petered out to a draw.
This draw gave me a lot of confidence throughout the rest of the tournament – not only in my second match-up with Black against the International Master, but against my lower rated opponents as well.
One aspect of chess I think I’ve improved the most at is getting a sense for when my opponents are going to make a mistake. Whether by reading their facial expressions or seeing their ability to manage their time, you can get a sense of how comfortable your opponent is. In this next game, after reading my opponent during the opening, I just slowly piled on threats and won quickly. Sometimes just playing natural moves is enough to create problems.
Across my next three games, I scored another two wins and secured an ugly draw against an FM to reach 5/6 before the second leg of my match-up with the International Master. While I typically would be a bit nervous with Black against a higher rated foe, I was confident in my chances to get a result thanks to our first game. In what turned out to be my biggest surprise of the tournament, I outplayed my IM opponent for most of the game before my clock forced me to regroup and equalize. Even though I was losing at one point, I think this is one of my proudest moments so far this trip.
Of course energy started to become a factor with just three games left. Even though I won my next game with relative ease, I struggled to draw a lower rated opponent in the ninth round, effectively knocking me out of any serious first place contention. While that was a little deflating, it set up for a fun, no pressure, final round match-up with an FM. While my opening play was a little sloppy, my endgame technique helped me find the way to victory and finish with a splendid 8/10 and 2nd place finish.
While I had never competed in a round-robin format before, I have to admit I had a lot of fun with it, and would highly recommend this kind of format for players looking to improve. If only we had more tournaments like this back in the US…
Where does this put me going into Reykjavik? With roughly a 60 FIDE rating point gain soon to come from this tournament, I will have jumped just shy of 200 rating points since landing in Europe just two months ago. More importantly, my USCF rating finally jumped back over 2100 with this tournament still pending, thus marking the end of a long stretch of sub par results. My only hope is I can keep this up in Iceland and make a serious push for National Master once I return stateside.
With only a few days before the big finale of my trip, I’m presently enjoying some time in Paris before I take off for Iceland. While nothing is certain yet, it would seem that I will be paired on one of the top 20 boards in the first round, so there’s a chance you all can watch my first game on chess24! I was hoping I could bring up my rating high enough to play Anish Giri in the first round, but regardless of who I play, I am looking forward to taking on the world’s best in one of the strongest tournaments on earth!
Since the conclusion of the Bad Wörishofen Open, I’ve had an adventurous two week break from over the board competition. Since leaving Germany, I visited Milan, Florence, Venice, Salzburg, and Vienna before stopping in Budapest, Hungary for my fourth tournament of the tour. This break gave me a much-needed opportunity to relax, but it also proved to be a great confidence booster once the April FIDE rating supplement came in, as my rating had jumped 127 points in just three tournaments to cross 2000!
Even better news was that after trading some e-mails with fellow Chess^Summit author David Brodsky, I decided to get my European tournaments USCF rated, and I’ve already seen a 30-point jump with two tournaments pending. Of course, ratings aren’t everything, but after having been “stuck” for so long at sub-2100, it is nice to see some positive trajectory.
As I write this, I am currently playing in the April 2017 edition of the First Saturday Tournament in Budapest. Through three rounds I’ve managed a 2.5/3 score, which includes securing a draw against an International Master, a personal first against IM/GM level competition. While I have had my fair share of interesting positions so far, I want to save these games for my next post where I will discuss my tournament performance as a whole.
Chesswise, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but then again, so is travelling across Europe, and I’ve been trying to make the most of it when I’m not at the board. Now that I’ve been traveling through Europe for two months, I thought for today’s post, I’d share some thoughts and tips for any prospective chess travelers.
Know what you’re packing and what it means!
For this trip, I packed just one backpack for three months. Seem like too little? Sure, it may mean that you regularly need to do laundry, but it’s really easy to travel with, and saves a small fortune on flight baggage fees.
When I was reading about traveling to Europe, one concern that was frequently brought up was pickpocketing. Fortunately, I haven’t had any issues so far, and I’m guessing that’s partially because my one backpack makes me less of a target than a tourist with several bags. I got a lot of good tips on knowing what to pack from this site, and if you’re planning on traveling abroad, I highly recommend looking through it.
Don’t plan your trip down to the minute!
This is especially important if you plan on traveling for an extended period of time. Sometimes, being a tourist can get exhausting – so don’t underestimate taking a day off by going to the zoo, or watching a movie. With each new city I’ve visited, I usually don’t know what I want to see until I arrive and walk to my place for the night.
Seeing the city firsthand before having a set idea of what you want to do, can help you find what interests you, not necessarily what caters to thousands of tourists. I remember when I was in Liberec, John and I stumbled upon the Severoceske Museum, a local museum with a self-playing instrument exhibit. That is still the coolest museum I’ve seen all trip!
Food, food, and more food!
For me at least, food is a big part of this trip, as it means a chance to try new things. Of course, it’s easy to get carried away, let’s face it, eating out nearly every meal is expensive! How can you get a taste of Europe on a budget?
One thing worth noting, is that in many tourist heavy cities in Europe, price doesn’t mean better tasting food! In Milan, for example, I noticed that many of the restaurants were fairly expensive. But for just five(!) euros, I got to try a staple of the local food culture, Luini, a panzerotti take-out place that had been open since 1888!
So don’t laugh at food stands – I saved a lot in Venice and Vienna just getting through the day on small servings, while getting a taste of Europe. With Venice for example, many people think of seafood as a large part of Venetian cuisine. But in reality, before Venice became a tourist hotspot, many people who came to the island were fisherman or sailors and needed something quick to eat before going home from work. So fingerfoods like fried meatballs and small sandwiches are actually a bigger part of local culture than cuttlefish or bass. Knowing a little history behind a city can help you “live” like a local during your stay.
Traveling Thoughts and Recommendations:
Favorite City: Vienna
Sure, I have yet to visit Paris and Reykjavik, but Vienna sets a high bar! The city is modern, clean, yet surrounded by centuries of history.
If you’re visiting I would definitely recommend visiting the Schönbrunn Palace, but a simple day walking around Mariahilferstraße is just as fun. If you’re worried about a language barrier in Europe, Vienna is very friendly to English speakers!
Best View: Hohensalzburg Castle
Need I say more? Much of my time in Salzburg was spent getting ready for the First Saturday Tournament, but I took some time to visit the famous landmark. A nice tip for chess players, the oldest chess club in Austria is in Cafe Mozart, just a few minutes away from the castle.
Funniest Museum Display: Porcelain Museum
I found the Porcelain Museum while I was in Dresden. Thanks to some trading back in the 17th and 18th century, Dresden holds one of the largest porcelain displays in the world. August the Strong of Dresden even went so far as to call porcelain “white gold”, as he believed to have such a foreign and exotic collection to be a unique sign of power and wealth.
Anyways, tucked into the back of the museum, I found this little guy, who looks like me when I make a terrible blunder!
In my next post, I’ll talk about my overall performance here in Budapest from Paris, where I will be staying prior to my tournament finale in Reykjavik. If you have any questions about chess traveling, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @isaackaito! Until next time!
After twenty-seven hard fought games in Europe, I’m more than ready for my two week break in Italy and Austria before clocks start in Budapest for the First Saturday Tournament on April 1st. While I’m presently enjoying some time in Milan, what have I been up to since the conclusion of the Liberec Open?
Last week I completed the Bad Wörishofen Open in Germany, notching a 5/9 score in a reasonably competitve field. This was a tough tournament for me – I actually played the first two rounds feeling under the weather, and by the end of the tournament I was exhausted from the collective stress three back-to-back-to-back nine round tournaments gives you.
While my posts have been a lot more analytical as of late, I wanted to spend today’s post talking about pregame routines, and how sometimes making the smallest changes mid-tournament can make a difference in your play.
To some extent, many chessplayers do something before a game to prepare ourselves mentally for the battle ahead – listen to music, go on a walk, take a nap. Or maybe it’s what you bring to the table – like a favorite chocolate bar or energy drink! This helps us get into the mindset of playing good chess. But what happens when you are having a bad tournament? Do you change your pregame habits, or do you take the risk of entering a cycle of inescapable tournament doom?
Sometimes a little change is nice. Last August, I brought up how changing out my flavor Gatorade from blue to “Darth Vader juice” (red) motivated me to play better in the Washington International – I won both games that day, with Black! A little silly, but in believing that a change in my approach to the game would make a difference in my over-the-board play, I came back re-energized half way through the tournament.
Admittedly, in the United States with the two rounds a day format, it can be difficult to find time to change your pregame habits, but in Europe the narrative changes a bit.
Thus was the case with the Bad Wörishofen Open. With one afternoon round each day, there was a lot of time between each round to prepare.
Despite a 1.5/2 start, my momentum had hit the fan after a loss to an International Master in the third round. I drew the next two games where I had held the advantage for much of each game, and then out of a combination of exhaustion and frustration, I played out of character in the sixth round, losing to drop to 2.5/6 with only three rounds to go, and tumbling 1.5 points behind the leader in my rating group.
This was a critical moment of the tournament for me. I had Black going into the seventh round, and another loss would see me having to struggle for a 50% score – not to mention, I was still tired and had been failing to convert good positions for most of the tournament. Something had to change.
At this point in the tournament, my coach made a bold recommendation: stop all opening preparation. This would spare me some energy going into each of the last three rounds, but more importantly, would force me to play principled moves should I get into any sort of unfamiliar opening territory. So great – energy saved? Check.
So that left the question, what to do in the meantime? Bad Wörishofen is a small town known for its thermal baths, but due to the awkward timing of the rounds as well as the limited (and busy) options for lunch, I was unable to visit prior to the rounds. Other than a walk through the German countryside, there wasn’t exactly much to do.
Luckily for me, there was one important I hadn’t answered before going into round 7: who is going to win March Madness? Every year since my hometown team, the VCU rams, made the Final Four in 2011, the college basketball tournament has been one of my favorite sporting events year round, and there was no way I was going to pass up on making a bracket this year.
So by approaching the game with a completely different mentality, I was able to eliminate all the stresses and maximize my energy. This result helped me push for one last comeback, as I scored 1.5/2 in the last two rounds to end 5/9 and tied for a first place class prize! What a photo finish!
This tournament taught me a lot. At many points I was getting great positions, but things just weren’t clicking – kind of the opposite of the Liberec Open where I was getting terrible positions but kept finding ways to win. To untie the knot, all it seemed to take was putting chess completely aside between games and relaxing.
With the Bad Wörishofen Open complete, I’m going through Italy (Milan, Florence, and Venice) as well as Austria (Salzburg and Vienna) before reaching Budapest for my first round robin tournament. In all likelihood, my next post will come out before I start competing in Hungary, so for my next post, I will be answering any questions you may have about my trip – What’s it like to play in Europe? What’s my favorite city so far? – or any other chess travel questions you may have. If you want to ask me a question, tweet me at @isaackaito or email us at email@example.com!
For the second major stay of my tour, I left Austria for the Czech Republic. The narrative leaving Lienz was one of optimism – I had scored 4.5/9 in my first European tournament after starting slow, and gained over 50 FIDE rating points. Beginner’s luck? I certainly hoped not…
I only had a few days to rest before the Liberec Open, and Vienna and Prague were on my itinerary. As you may recall from my last post, I professed my love for Vienna, so how did the Czech Republic compare?
As I hopped off my train in Prague, the first distinguishing feature I took note of was movement. Life in Prague is fast paced; the city is busy day and night, and its never too late to find a good goulash or get a drink. Thanks to a lower cost of living, Prague (and much of the Czech Republic) is a hotspot for tourists all over the world. English isn’t as commonly spoken in the Czech Republic, so John’s arrival the day before the Liberec Open was perfectly timed!
It also happens that John was one of the first chess players I met when I first arrived in Pittsburgh. We have travelled together twice for Pan Ams, and have played side-by-side several times for the University of Pittsburgh chess team. But Liberec, Czech Republic? This was new!
Unlike Lienz, Liberec has a population over 100,000, and is one of the biggest cities in the country. The city, like Lienz, is a destination for skiing, but also has plenty of museums and shops to explore. Though the directors of the Liberec Open didn’t plan any social events for players, John and I found plenty each day to keep us busy.
Several highlights included a self-playing piano exhibit at the Severočeské Muzeum, Laser Tag (who do you think won that 1 v 1 battle?), and visiting the Liberec Zoo. Of course, when we were too tired to do anything else, we could simply visit one of many cafes in the city and prepare for our upcoming round.
Before I delve into the detail of my tournament performance, I must confess that this was simply my luckiest tournament I have ever played in. Despite having five Blacks, I scored a strong 5.5/9 and look to gain a significant amount of FIDE rating points again – yet, that score doesn’t really tell the whole story.
After winning in my traditional slow style in the first round, the following eight games tested my tactical acumen and ability to make decisions quickly. I got results in several games where I was simply much worse, and much of that had to do with my ability to manage the clock and make practical decisions. Though my mental fortitude was rewarded this time around, I believe if I don’t improve from this performance, I will quickly be disappointed with my future results. Let’s have a look!
The following day, I got paired with Black against a WFM and member of Turkmenistan’s 2016 Olympiad team. After getting a great position out of the opening, I fumbled my advantage, and in time trouble, the game took a turn for the endgame. But my luck had just begun, and thanks to all the endgame study I did to write my Endgame Essentials series (here is my latest installment), I found a way to outplay my opponent and get the win.
The script quickly changed for the next two rounds. Dropping both, I found myself at 3/5 needing to stop the bleeding and get a result. My fourth round game wasn’t much of a contest, as it was only hours after my win against the FM and I was too exhausted to calculate anything. My fifth round game had reached an interesting position, but I missed a nice opportunity for me and fell into a worse ending and lost again. In one of his first Chess^Summit posts, Grant explained how important it is to avoid losing two games in a row and going into my 6th round game, it felt like there was a lot of momentum going against me, even though 3/5 against the level of competition I was playing was a very reasonable score. This number nearly became three against another Olympian and WFM from Turkmenistan but I managed to save this position and draw.
I have a lot more I want to share, so we’ll skip over this game, but saving this game this was the starting point of a lot of luck for me. My next game I had another Black and got into an even worse position, but I got the gift of my career and won, keeping me on a plus score at 4.5/7. Of course, I was well aware that I should have lost both of these games thanks to opening disasters, but I was reminded of how I broke 1900 before I worked with my current coach, GM Eugene Perelshteyn.
When I was rated roughly 1700-1800, I found myself getting into a lot of worse positions and having to outplay my opponents a lot. Even in my chess.com games, I would drop material all the time and force myself to play on (ever wonder why I love sacrificing the exchange now?). Forcing myself to get results when I had worse positions was the biggest reason I made 1900, though I can no longer get away with playing like this at the 2000 level. I talked about this a lot in one of my first YouTube videos, and this sixth sense I developed years back was extremely useful for me this tournament.
If you still aren’t convinced that Lady Luck was on my side, getting a win in the eighth round should show you otherwise. In a game that made my third round win look like a cake walk, we both had a lot of chances to win, and in my opponent’s time trouble, I escaped and came out on top. Sure, lucky is a word to use here, but as we all know, whoever makes the last mistake generally loses!
My over-the-board luck ended during the final round when I lost on the Black side of a King’s Indian. Funnily enough, I probably finished that opening better off than I had in the three rounds prior. As a last dose of luck, a bunch of results went my way, and I was able to win a class prize with a 5.5/9 score. Let’s just say I won’t be rated around 1800 FIDE for a while… John had a strong performance too, placing 9th with a score of 6.5/9!
What a tournament – and so much over-the-board drama! If only my brain and pieces could have gotten along better, maybe I could have played for more! My next tournament is in Bad Wörishofen, where I expect to play against the toughest field I’ve seen so far this trip. I’ll have to pick up my form a little, but either way, I’ll be sharing some key moments with you in just a couple of weeks!
The featured photo is the John Lennon Wall, which I visited in Prague.
Two weeks ago, I set foot in Europe for the very first time. Seven countries, five tournaments, three months, and a once in a lifetime trip.
I had a vague idea of what I was getting into, and it didn’t really occur to me that I would be roughly four thousand miles away from home until I woke up in my small hotel room in Munich and thought “well, what am I going to do today?”
Fast forward to the present, and after becoming familiar with the European metro and guarding myself with some very basic German phrases, I’ve started to get into the groove of being a full-time tourist. Thus far, I’ve visited Munich, Lienz, and Vienna, with most of my time thus far spent in Lienz for the Dolomiten Bank Open.
Just a city of roughly 12,000 people, Lienz is surrounded by the Alps and is not too far off from the Italian border. Known for its nearby ski resorts, the quaint Austrian city finds itself open to tourists year-round from Europe and across the world.
Of course, I wasn’t here to ski, but rather to compete in the Dolomiten Bank Open, one of the premier chess tournaments in Austria. While relatively unknown in the US, the tournament brought players from across the globe: Singapore, Australia, India, Norway, and (with my participation) the United States, to name a few. Even Russian Grandmaster Evgeny Romanov and Magnus Carlsen’s former coach Simen Agdestein tried their hand in what proved to be a tough open section!
Aside from all the packing and planning my accommodations, much of my preparation for this trip was on the chessboard. As you may recall, my last tournament in Philadelphia didn’t exactly inspire confidence, and I was a little worried about how I would fare against European competition. Before I left, I made some decisions about how I would approach tournament play.
1) Don’t get too carried away with prep. Unlike tournaments in the US, most major European events are one game a day, meaning that every game is just one database search away from a comfortable opening position.
While getting a good feel for your opponent’s repertoire is a good idea, trying to put together targeted preparation for an opponent you don’t know isn’t impractical (for players rated 2000-2200). In my tournament, three of my nine opponents played a completely new opening or move order, rendering some of my preparation useless. In short, spend an hour reviewing some lines, but then spend the rest of the day exploring the city!
2) Don’t worry about ratings – at all! After the Liberty Bell Open, I decided to not apply to get my European tournaments USCF rated. I was a little worried with how shaky my play was in Philadelphia, and I thought if I had a bad tournament in Europe, the stress to perform could ruin my trip. My FIDE rating started at 1882, so international titles are really out of question. As I’ve said a few times here on Chess^Summit, when in doubt, just play chess!
… of course, in deciding to not make this “tour” USCF rated, I passed on a roughly 35-40 point gain (after the FIDE to USCF rating conversion), which would have been my greatest gain in a single tournament since August of 2015. We’ll see how this pans out by the end of my trip, but at the end of the day, there’s no deadline to make master!
3) Don’t be afraid to try new things! With ratings out of the way, tournaments here also give me a chance to play new openings, as well as practice some old ones. I had five whites this tournament, but I chose not to play my favorite opening, the English, at all! Barring a single game against fellow Chess^Summit co-author Beilin Li, I had played the English with every game as White dating back to 2014. In what proved to me to be my biggest surprise of the tournament, I scored an unbeaten 4/5 against stronger opponents from the White side of the board.
So how did I do?
In my first European tournament, I put together a solid 4.5/9 in a strong open section. My FIDE rating looks to gain upwards of 50 points, and I’m a lot more confident in my play with less than a week to go before the Liberec Open. I still think there are areas of my game that need to improve, but when comparing this tournament to past outings like the Liberty Bell Open or the World Open, I’m very pleased with my progress. Here are some of my over the board highlights!
It wasn’t clear I would get an even score until the end of the tournament. Thanks to some jet lag and poor calculation early in the tournament, I started 2/6 and was in need of some points. Luckily, I was able to finish the last three rounds 2.5/3, thanks in part to a quick win in round 7. Black just played 10…Ba6, what’s the easiest way for me to attack Black?
I would say I thought the most on this move, and then the rest of the game finished relatively quickly. This was a great win, especially since I tend to win more positional games than tactical ones. I think winning this game the way I did gave me a lot of confidence in the last two games.
After putting together a weird draw in the eighth round, I sat at 3.5/8 with one chance with White to get an even score. While it’s a known cliché to draw the last round, I really wanted to win, and I pushed myself.
Luckily for me, I was rewarded and after dominating the whole game with White, I managed to put away my opponent with a nice move here. Can you find it?
King safety once again proves to be the key theme! With this nice zugzwang idea, I clinched my third win of the tournament and finished 4.5/9!
With a few days to rest before my next tournament, I’m visiting Vienna and Prague on my way to Liberec, Czech Republic.
Though I have yet to see Prague, I have to say Vienna is a must-see city. While the city has grown to meet 21st century demands, its maintained its historical foundation and culture. Though I’ll only have two full days here, there’s so many things to do – visit the Schönbrunn Palace, go to the Museums Quartier, or simply just walk the streets near Stephensplatz. Hopefully when I spend a day here in March on my way to Budapest, the gardens across the city will be greener!
My next post will be on March 7th, where I will be writing from Dresden after having finished the Liberec Open alongside Pitt teammate John Ahlborg! Until next time!