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!

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!

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!

 

Czech Mate! A Little Luck in Liberec

IMG_0377.JPG
Crossing the bridge into the old city in Prague

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!

IMG_0491.JPG
Who is this John Ahlborg guy?

John’s gotten a few Chess^Summit mentions in the past few months. His draw against GM Ray Robson to close out 2016 at the Pan American Intercollegiate Championships got covered by guest writer Thomas Riccardi last January, and a win of his against me at last year’s Pittsburgh Open found its way into one of my recent posts about English Opening theory.

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.

img_0488
Awaiting the start of Spící Krasavice, Liberec’s rendition of The Sleeping Beauty.

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!

img_0414
I didn’t have a single easy game in Liberec – even the 1200 I played in the first round put up a tenacious defense!

After my first game against a Czech youngster, it didn’t take long for me to realize how strong the field was, despite the overall lower average rating than the Dolomiten Bank Open. I like this first round game, because it shows what happens when you put less experienced players in positions where they have to make uncomfortable decisions.

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.

img_0436
A visit to the Science Museum with John!

My opponent missed her chance, but nonetheless, not a game to be disappointed in. The fireworks began in the third round when I pulled an upset against an FM from Scotland! After getting a fantastic position out of the opening, I managed to drop a rook(!) but still was able to find a way to get the win in the endgame. Starting 3/3 was a great feeling, but it had been quite an emotional roller coaster ride – usually I don’t play so carelessly…

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.

screen-shot-2017-03-06-at-12-20-40
Atabayeva-Steincamp, position after 26…Qb7

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.

IMG_0479.JPG
Stopping by the Liberec Botanical Gardens

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!

img_0489
Claiming my class prize at the award ceremony!

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!

img_0508
Visiting Saxon Palace grounds in Dresden, where I will be staying the next few days!

The featured photo is the John Lennon Wall, which I visited in Prague.