Hocus Pocus: What’s Up Pittsburgh?

Just a few weeks after returning from my European Expedition, I’m back here in Pittsburgh for the summer. Since I haven’t been to any tournaments since the Reykjavik Open, I thought for today’s post I would compile a bunch of smaller chess anecdotes from the past week for you all. So … let’s see what happens!

Moving in

IMG_1026
Something tells me this is going to be a fun year….

For some of our older readers, perhaps you remember the hassle of finding a roommate and an apartment during college (or maybe after, I wouldn’t know about that yet…). All the roommate “interviews”, apartment visits, contracts and paperwork – it’s a lot! Luckily, right before I took off in February, fellow Chess^Summit author Beilin Li offered a room in his apartment, and that was that! I’m curious to see what this does for our chess, if anything at all. Needless to say, I think this is going to be a fun year! In just the first few days, we’ve already completed round 2 of the Chess^Summit Challenge, in which Beilin walloped me in bullet, 30-19… I attached the replay below, but seriously, viewer discretion is advised – the number of blunders was disgusting, and so was my ability to manage the clock…

 

Being in Pittsburgh for the summer for my internship is going to make things interesting for my tournament opportunities in the coming months. While I now live across the street from the Pittsburgh Chess Club, I can’t say for sure when my next major open will be. I’m hoping to make National Master before the year comes to a close, but a lot of that will depend on how many more rating points I get from the latter half of my Europe tour (still pending, though it could be as much as 60 rating points!), and how much I can play this summer. Either way, my first tournament game back in the US starts tomorrow night, and I’m pretty excited about seeing how far I’ve come.

IMG_1039.JPG
Getting ready for the first day of my intenrship!

Speaking of the Pittsburgh Chess Club, I bumped into a former expert, who after 20 years, was looking to get back into tournament play. After playing a practice game with him, my opponent asked for some advice on what to study from home to get back into shape.

Perhaps this is generalizing, but I think for players in this situation, keeping a 2000+ rating after such a hiatus will feel like having to break 2000 once again. Knowing that this is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my chess “career”, I have quite a few suggestions for getting over the edge – and surprisingly, none of them really require a vast knowledge of opening theory.

Looking back at my own games from before I broke 2000, I think the biggest adjustment was shifting the focus from looking for tactics to looking for positional and strategic resources. This is why I recommend studying pawn structures! Learning how to play with (and against) certain pawn structures can help you dictate various positions, and I would highly recommend Chess Structures: A Grandmaster Guide by Mauricio Flores Rios. IM John Bartholomew has a glowing review of the book on his Youtube Channel, which you can check here. Of course, this is just the start, but it’s certainly a good one!

Processing Results

Having down time here in Pittsburgh means really trying to understand what worked (and didn’t) in Europe. Of course, my 186 FIDE rating point gain is euphoric, but admiring that alone won’t help me become a stronger player.

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 13.31.27
One advantage of playing in Europe is that not every scholastic player has a vastly underrated FIDE rating – this was one of main factors that contributed to my meteoric gain

As I’m analyzing my games in finer detail, I’m learning a lot about how I lose games. With such a great sample of games, I can go a lot more in depth than I did a year ago when I was preparing for the US Junior Open in New Orleans. While I’m not interested in making my over-the-board weaknesses public, I decided to replicate this process on a game I lost last year at the Carolinas Classic, which coincidentally starts in a few weeks in Charlotte.

In this game, I had White against NM Karthik Ramachandran, a former US Junior Open Champion. Even though I lost, I think still to this date, it was my proudest defeat. I think often times with chess, we get so enamored with the result and computer evaluation that we often forget the quality at which a game was played. I really like this game because despite being lower rated, I kept on finding ways to create problems for my opponent – enough so to reach a complicated – but winning – position.

img_4647.jpg
6…Nh6?! was a surprise, but do you think my opponent expected 10. g4!? Here’s a photo from that second round game!
Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 13.49.55.png
Steincamp-Ramachandran, after 24. Rh3?!

This game taught me two things: 1) I needed to work on prophylaxis. As we saw, letting my opponent bring his knight to b4 let him back in the game. Even though I outplayed him once again later, this game may have tipped in my favor if I had taken this resource more seriously. Playing 24. Rh3?! proved to be an instructive point, as my opponent’s persistence started to pay off here.

2) Calculation and Endgames! Of course for our long-time readers, you’ll recall that around this time I was working on my Endgame Essentials series here on the site, which would pay off dividends in New Orleans just a few weeks after this game took place. Even though there were moments where I was clearly moving in the right direction by sacrificing pawns to create passers, there were questionable elements later in the game once time trouble became a factor. These are the kinds of things I look for in my losses (and some draws) for improving, and I would highly encourage this practice for our readers.

With only so much time to study, I’ve dedicated the remainder of my study time to looking at classics, particularly Jose Raul Capablanca. I’ve never put such an emphasis on studying classics, but after having made videos with Kostya in Iceland, I realized one of the biggest deficiencies I had compared to him was an ability to compare top level games to those of my own. While I’ve had some success applying my own games and lessons into my play, it’s about time I turn back the clock and learn from some of the greatest chess players who have ever walked the planet.

Blast from the Past

643958D6-729C-4C7C-8249-0A9BCC42A34F.JPG
Me at my first SuperNationals 12 years ago! I wonder who that guy on the right is?

Before last night, I think this article would have ended here – but let’s not forget that there was a pretty not-so-small tournament in Nashville this past weekend called SuperNationals!

While there were some pretty big names in the top section, I was following a much smaller subplot, the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School Class of 2017. Perhaps I’m a bit biased having been coach of many of the players in this graduating class, but upon the completion of this tournament, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this graduating class is the most accomplished high school chess team you’ve never heard of!

Back in 2014, when this class entered MLWGS as freshmen, I had the pleasure of coaching them as a junior, and watching them win the U1200 National High School Chess Championship in San Diego, California! In just one year, a school with absolutely no past chess tradition was on the map and a local scholastic superpower was born in Richmond.

893818_441064712695870_972357321476823602_o
The 2014 U1200 National High School Championship winning team (from left to right): Shreya Shetty (assistant coach), Bobby Grayson, Bryan Kaperick, Yang Zhang, Yaoquan Song (sitting), David Normansell, Jeffrey Song (sitting), Matthew Normansell, and myself

Of course, over the next few years, these players all had masive rating jumps – shooting up from sub-1000 ratings to as high as 1750! By the following year, the defending U1200 champs placed 5th in the U1600 section in Columbus, Ohio, another massive triumph for the class of ’17. While I would graduate that spring and leave north for the University of Pittsburgh, the team kept on getting results, as well as giving back to the local scholastic chess community.

IMG_2954
Jeffrey analyzing games at the 2015 Dragon Chess Camp

When I was coaching the team, we set up various chess camps and tournaments for younger scholastic players in Richmond, even managing to bring GM Sergey Erenburg to come out and run a few simultaneous exhibitions for us. Thanks to the dedicated work of the Class of 2017, these programs kept running after I graduated, and in many ways contributed to a “golden age” in chess in Richmond. For the first time in my chess-playing memory, there was chess culture in Richmond, and various elementary schools created chess clubs in the spirit of MLWGS.

It wasn’t always easy. In the weeks leading up to SuperNationals, there was great uncertainty if the team of seniors would be able allowed to compete, given that the tournament conflicted with the rigorous AP exam schedule, and available hotel rooms were already dwindling in single digits. But thank goodness they made it!

IMG_2156.JPG
Matthew Normansell, who has had games analyzed here on Chess^Summit, was crowned the K-12 U1900 National Champion!

Despite the team being split over several different fields (K-12 U1900, U1600, U1200, etc), the senior class finished with as loud of a statement as they started.

Even with only three players in the K-12 U1900 section, MLWGS flexed their muscles and took fifth – but the most surprising result was that of Matthew Normansell, as the senior notched an unbeaten 6/7 to claim a tie for first as joint- U1900 national champion!

As I called him last night to congratulate him on his biggest accomplishment to date, he was still in some disbelief. I guess sometimes with these things, they have to happen in order for you to believe they can happen. To Matthew and the rest of the MLWGS Chess Team, you guys should all be really proud of the work you’ve put in these last four years, and the accolades you have all received is a testament to the effort you have all put in. It’s been fun watching you all grow, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing where life takes you all, whether it is on the chess board or not! To any school adminstrators out there, let the efforts of this graduating class show you how having chess is an asset to your school. I have never seen as much accomplished in such a short period time, and it goes without saying that MLWGS Class of 2017’s efforts over the board was able to bring the Richmond community closer over just 64 squares. After all, much of my work with MLWGS led to the creation and inspired mission of Chess^Summit 😀

11709958_669837723151900_8872612648165150530_o
Yours truly with much of the MLWGS Chess Team!

And on that note, that’s all I’ve got for this week! When I’m back, I’ll be sharing some of my games from the Abrams Memorial here in Pittsburgh. Fingers crossed I can keep some positive trajectory!

Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn on the 2017 Reykjavik Open

As many of you all know, I recently returned from my three month trip in Europe. While I was often the only American in many of the tournaments I attended, the Reykjavik Open, my final stop, drew many from the states overseas. My coach, Grandmaster Eugene Perelshteyn, made his first pilgrimage to Iceland, and shares his thoughts on the tournament with us here on Chess^Summit.

Chess^Summit: Iceland is pretty far from the US. What made you decide to play in Iceland?

IMG_2758
Eugene made his way to Iceland before the start of the tournament to explore the countries many sites! He told me that he might have driven 1000 km in Iceland prior to the tournament!

Eugene Perelshteyn: I wanted to play in a strong tournament where it’s one game a day in a beautiful setting.  Given that Iceland is only five-hour flight from Boston, I figured it would be a good idea to play there!

CS: The Reykjavik Open is already prestigious as far as open tournaments go. Have you played in any other famous open tournaments?

EP: I don’t think any of the Open tournaments would match it. I’ve played many US Championships, this would probably be the closest comparison.

CS: What is Reykjavik like? Did you get to explore Iceland before the tournament?

EP: Yes, I rented a car and explored Iceland for a week before the tournament!  This is probably the best decision given how much natural beauty there is to see!

IMG_2717.JPG
CS: You got to play Anish Giri in just round 3 of the tournament. What was that like? Is he the strongest player you’ve ever played?

EP: I would say he’s the highest rated played that I’ve ever faced (rated 2775).  I was impressed by his opening knowledge.  He showed a completely new plan in a sideline that I felt I knew well.  But he’s already well-known for his openings, so it may not be that a big surprise.  However, his technique and quick decision-making was duly impressive as he didn’t give me any chances by converting an extra pawn.

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 10.01.12
Eugene was the main focus of the tournament’s third round. Look’s like he’s caught Jobava’s eye!

CS: You put together a strong 7/10 performance in Reykjavik. What are your thoughts on your play – positives/negatives?

EP: On a positive note, I didn’t expect to have all ten decisive games!  I managed to put together 7 wins.  However, my loss to a talented Indian girl from a good position was probably the low point of my tournament.  I have to say that she played well beyond her 2200+ rating!
My wins vs IM Piasetski and GM-elect Sarkar that both finished in mating attacks was a good recovery!

CS: While you had to play a lot of lower rated players, you also got to play Giri and Kamsky. How does a Grandmaster improve from these experiences? Is this different from how an amateur might respond from a critical game?

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 10.02.49
With only 7 minutes left on the clock, Eugene played 52. Ra8? and lost, but the tricky move 52. h5! holds the balance.

I definitely learned a thing or two from playing Giri!  My game vs Kamsky was evenly matched until I miscalculated and had to defend a rook and pawn endgame down a pawn.  Yet, while we both thought I was lost, I had a feeling there may be a draw.  And, indeed giving up the second pawn 52.h5 draws!  The lesson: never give up and keep looking for chances!

CS: Would you recommend the Reykjavik Open to American players? Do you think you would play in the event again?

Yes, I would definitely recommend it, especially if you’ve never been to Iceland.  The only thing I didn’t like about the tournament is allowing players U2000 in the open section.  While I understand that it gives amateurs a chance to face a titled player, I think it creates a strong rollercoaster-like conditions for everyone else where you play either 200-300 points up or down (end of interview).

IMG_1012
Some of the American team at the conclusion of Reykjavik

One game I was particularly impressed by was Eugene’s triumph over FM Victor Plotkin in the fourth round of the tournament. Looking to bounce back with Black after losing to the eventual tournament winner, Eugene put together an instructive game to crush the Alapin Sicilian. By slowly building the tension and keeping the nature of the position, he exploited White’s lack of a plan. In many of my own posts, I try to show how this is an effective idea against roughly 1800-1900 rated players, but Eugene did it perfectly against a titled player rated nearly 2250! Eugene was nice enough to share a video analysis with us, and if you like his videos, I would recommend you visit ChessOpeningsExplained for more!

Hope you enjoyed this Reykjavik Open tournament wrap-up! We have one more coming later this week by IM Kostya Kavutskiy, who put together an amazing 6th place finish in Iceland with a 7.5/10 finish. If you recall, Kostya and I put together analysis videos for each round, so I’m excited to see what he has to say about one of his best tournament performances to date!

I’m Back! A European Wrap Up

Sorry to be a little late with my post today! I decided to visit my alma mater Maggie L Walker Governor’s School (MLWGS) yesterday before moving back to Pittsburgh later this week. Of course, for those of you who are new to Chess^Summit or don’t know me as well, my chess “career” really kicked off when I coached the MLWGS team to win the U1200 National High School Chess Championships in San Diego, just three years ago. Much of the success I had there as a coach pushed me to create this site as a personal blog, and later expand Chess^Summit to what it is now 🙂

IMG_0997.JPG
I think some players in this photo don’t need any introduction!

I decided rather than to recap my personal performance in Reykjavik, I would share my thoughts on my trip, and my best played game of my European tour. One thing I really learned about chess this trip was how important trends are within a tournament. Building momentum in a nine or ten round event can help push you to play better chess in subsequent rounds.

This is different than five round weekend tournaments in the US where it can really be difficult to recover from a loss on the scoreboard. In Europe, if you don’t recover from a loss, the negative trend can really take its toll over a week long tournament – that’s simply a function of there being more games. Fortunately for me, I was able to get ‘statement’ wins in critical moments, catapulting me to a +186 FIDE rating point gain over three months! Simply relaxing and focusing on playing smarter (and not better) can go a long ways…

IMG_1009.JPG
It wasn’t my intention to look like I was photo-bombing… with Kostya Kavutskiy and Fiona Steil-Antoni at the closing ceremony

Anyways, here is my wrap-up video for my trip! It’s been a memorable three months, and I have a lot of people to thank for making it possible. I hope you guys had fun trying to keep up with my play!

For those of you guys wanting to see my games from Reykjavik, you can see in-depth video analysis of each of my ten games in Kostya’s posts here on Chess^Summit. Admittedly, 5/10 was not the score I wanted, but I’m happy with the way I got there. Playing 1.e4 in that critical last round game took real nerves – but thanks to same pre-game preparation with my co-author Beilin Li, I was really confident and I think it showed. I highly encourage you all to try watching some of the recaps (I know they are long), but I learned a lot simply by being part of the video, and Kostya’s analysis really shows the difference between a player of my strength and someone of his caliber – truly impressive.

IMG_1012
Members of the US team (from left to right): Justin Sarkar, myself, Eugene Perelshteyn, Alan Savage, Akshita Gorti, Josh Friedel, Tatev Abrahamyan, Alejandro Ramirez, and Kostya Kavutskiy

Kostya & Isaac in Reykjavik! Quick Tour and Round 6 Games

Hi everyone! Only a few days left here in Europe, but here is a quick tour of the Reykjavik Open tournament hall. We subtely snuck in a clip of Anish Giri in here…

The tournament is nearing its end, I’ve got a 3/7 score, while Kostya tallied a win in Round 7 to reach 5/7, just a half point behind the tournament’s top seed! Here is a quick recap from Round 6!

Magyar Mayhem: Undefeated in Budapest

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.

IMG_0815.JPG
Trying Hungarian food in the Inner City

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.

IMG_0865.jpg
Late night view of the Danube

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.

20170407_142619.jpg
Ready to play! Moments before my 7th round encounter with the IM! Photo Credit: Laszlo Nagy

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…

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 09.14.14.png
2238: the highest performance rating I’ve had so far this trip!

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!

IMG_0874

 

From Italy to Hungary

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!

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 09.59.29.png
That blip at the Liberty Bell Open last February doesn’t seem so bad now…
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.

IMG_0788.JPG
Stopping by the Spring Fair in Budapest to get a taste of the Hungarian cuisine
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.

Traveling Tips:

Know what you’re packing and what it means!

IMG_0072
That grey bag on the desk? Yup, that’s all I brought!
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!

IMG_0647
Stumbled upon the Piazza on a walk through Florence – can’t beat that view!
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!

IMG_0615
Panzerotti from Luini in Milan
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

IMG_0337.JPGSure, 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

IMG_0742.JPG

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

IMG_0542I 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 chess.summit@gmail.com or tweet me @isaackaito! Until next time!

 

 

 

Mix it Up! The Bad Wörishofen Turnaround

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?

IMG_0561.JPG
A glimpse into the tournament hall before the start of round 1!
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.

IMG_0592.JPG
A board set up outside near the tournament hall… notice anything funny?
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.

IMG_0567.JPG
Outside of the small shopping area, Bad Wörishofen didn’t exactly offer much in terms of off-board entertainment…
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.

IMG_0626
Yours truly, trying to get unlost in Milan!
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.

IMG_0628.JPG
Arrival at Milan Central Station
So while my opponent was (as he showed me post-game) preparing some deep Sicilian lines for me, I was looking at stats and putting together my Final Four (feeling pretty good about Michigan getting in … let’s ignore I picked Duke to win it all). What happened in the game? I played 1…e5 and produced one of the best games I’ve played this trip.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 23.22.33.png
Feel free to ask me any questions about my trip so far on Twitter!
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 chess.summit@gmail.com!