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

 

Who is GM Yaro Zherebukh?

Past Performances to Present

Ukrainian-born GM Yaro Zherebukh received much attention for winning the 2010 Cappelle-la-Grande Open ahead of 82 grandmasters and beating Pavel Eljanov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the 2011 World Cup. He largely disappeared from the headlines since then, focusing on his education at Texas Tech University, although he also played on their chess team and switched federations to play for the US in 2015.

Now pursuing a Masters in Applied Financial Economics at Saint Louis University and playing on SLU Chess Team’s Board 2, he is in the right city to reach more acclaim— St. Louis. The chess capital in the country boasts the beautiful Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis  and supports many chess activities and initiatives. His recent move has given him the chance to enter the chess spotlight again, starting from the U.S. Chess Championship.

Before the Games Began

GM Zherebukh was selected as the wildcard for the U.S. Chess Championship, as he was just shy of qualification by rating. The selection may have surprised many including the grandmaster himself.

“I thought it was a lot more likely that they would pick some young talents. I guess it was a coin toss, though, so I started preparing for the tournament in advance before I even got the decision, just in case.”

With a rating of 2605, he was the second-to-last seed (out of 12) of the tournament and not expected to perform exceptionally. Nonetheless, IM Greg Shahade gave him a little bit of a benefit of the doubt in his US Chess article with predictions for the championship, predicting that he was probably going to place around 9th.

GM Zherebukh admits to having glanced at Greg’s predictions, which I’m sure many American chess players and fans did. He commented, “I did read his article before the tournament. 9th place was reasonable, but I was hoping for better, of course.”

After all, 9th place would have put him out of the running for the World Cup, one of the most important tournaments in the world. There was the looming pressure of potentially qualifying for the whole championship, as this was a FIDE zonal tournament. The top 8 players would advance to the World Cup and he wanted to be part of that select group.

“My main motivation was to qualify to the World Cup because I wanted to prove to myself that my only World Cup wasn’t just an accident. I wanted to prove to myself that I could play some chess.”

The Mid-Tournament Shocks

Going into the rest day, GM Zherebukh was doing quite well and satisfied, claiming, “I felt happy I drew the world’s #2 and it called for celebration. I got to have a nice dinner, relax for the first time in three weeks. I played in the STL invitational, Final Four, then US Championship back to back, so I felt happy that I would not have to do chess for at least one day.”

Little did he know, more success was on the way. The grandmaster ended up shocking viewers after the one day break and most likely gained many fans throughout the U.S. Chess Championship.

As arguably the most surprising occurrence of the tournament, GM Yaro Zherebukh defeated GM Fabiano Caruana in the 7th round, which was the game that catapulted Yaro to tying for first place (temporarily). It was quite a dominating performance, and many admired the style of his win.

Zherebukh-Caruana, 1-0

FullSizeRender (1)
Scoresheet from the game!
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Nb8 10. d4 Nbd7 11. Nbd2 Bb7 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 Bf8 14. Ng3 g6 15. a4 c5 16. d5 c4 17. Bg5 h6 18. Be3 Nc5 19. Qd2 h5 20. Bg5 Bg7 21. Rf1 Qc7 22. Bh6 Bh8 23. Ng5 Nh7 24. Nh7 Kh7 25. Be3 Qe7 26. f4 ef4 27. Bf4 Kg8 28. Rf3 Bg7 29. Raf1 Nd7 30. Bh6 Bh6 31. Qh6 Qf8 32. Qd2 Ne5 33. Rf6 Rad8 34. Qg5 Qg7 35. Bd1 Bc8 36. Qh4 Kf8 37. Qf4 Qg8 38. Kh1 Re7 39. Bh5 ba4 40. Bd1 Qg7 41. Ba4 Qh7 42. Qg5 a5 43. Kg1 Qh8 44. R1f4 Qg7 45. Rh4 Nd3 46. Rh6 Ne5 47. Rf4 Bd7 48. Qh4 Kg8 49. Qe7 Re8 50. Qg5 Ba4 51. Rf6

IMG_0324
GM Zherebukh poses below his portrait at the club
After his stunning win, GM Zherebukh was tied for first place, remaining atop players like GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Ray Robson, some of the country’s Olympiad team members. I’m not sure anyone expected him to win the tournament from the beginning and even at that point, though. Of course, it was never his aim in the first place.

A Bitter Burnout, But an Overall Success

After his fabulous win against Fabi, GM Zherebukh started to falter, losing against GMs Akobian and Nakamura. Still, he held other opponents to draws.

“I just got burned out,” said Zherebukh on his last few games. “Still, it was the best tournament I’ve ever played and probably the strongest.”

IMG_0229
6th place!
I mean, who wouldn’t be satisfied with a win against GM Fabiano Caruana, a 14 point rating gain, 6th place, and a $10,000 prize as the 11th seed out of 12? He will no doubt have some fans watching his performance in the World Cup in September to see if he can pull off similar shocking feats. No matter the case, his triumphs at the 2017 U.S. Chess Championships will be discussed admiringly for years to come.

 

National Master: The Fun Never Ends

tarrasch-quote

From occasional Indiana scholastics to Pittsburgh regulars to big Philly tournaments, it’s hard to believe what has happened since I first sat at the board. Nearly 11 years later, I’ve won my 359th rated game, pushing me over 2200 USCF for the National Master title!*

* As always, a slight technicality. My rating is officially 2200 (having gone through the weekly rerate) but the National Master certificate takes a little longer.

Surprisingly, the key turned out to be a rapid, strong start to the 2017 season, rather than the slow and steady progress I had imagined. In particular, unusually strong performances at the Liberty Bell Open and the Pittsburgh Open proved critical to my run. More generally, I was better able to stay consistent over a longer stretch, as well as improve my performance against higher-rated players.

That streak set up the critical game, which I won on April 2 against a fellow expert at the last meeting of the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Chess League.

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 3.23.22 AM

In this topical Closed Sicilian position, White’s kingside is poised to support a strong attack, but until castling, the fragile f4-g3 chain demands some attention. In particular, 9. Nf3?! Nh5 is very awkward for White.

9. Nge2 Nh5?!

This natural-looking move, anticipating favorable trades on f4, runs into a surprising tactical refutation.

10. f5!

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 3.34.17 AM

10…gxf5

Black goes for the critical try, taking his chances with the loose knight on h5. The only plausible alternative was to admit the mistake with 10…Nf6, but after 11. g4, White has gained two free tempi for a big advantage.

11. exf5 Nd4 12. O-O!?

This might be a little flashier than necessary, but does guarantee White two pieces for a rook, minus a pawn or two. The simpler option was 12. g4, which might continue 12…Nxe2 13. Nxe2 Nf4 14. Bxf4 exf4 15. O-O Bxb2 16. Rb1 Be5 17. Nf4.

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 3.39.44 AM

Although this might be a bit more balanced, with more space and the stronger bishop I’d prefer White here.

12…Nxf5 13. Rxf5 Bxf5 14. g4

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 3.41.22 AM

14…Bxg4?

I was getting back a piece anyway, but in such an open position, Black should go out of the way to keep the bishop pair. After 14…Bg6 15. gxh5 Bxh5, White’s chances on the kingside are less clear.

15. hxg4 Nf6 16. Ng3 Qd7 17. Bf3

The computer prefers the immediate 17. Nf5, but this leaves open the possibility of g4-g5, and besides, there’s no need to rush in this position. That’s another consequence of Black’s erroneous trade at move 14 – White’s pieces are much better in the short and long term.

17…Kh8 18. g5

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 3.44.22 AM

18…Qh3?!

This loses more material by force, but it’s difficult to suggest moves for Black at this point; if the Nf6 moves, White simply moves in with Bg4-f5 and Qh5.

19. Bf2 Rg8

The point; if the Nf6 moves, then 20. Bg4 Qh4 21. Nge4 traps the queen.

20. Bg2 Qh4 21. gxf6 Bxf6 22. Qf3, Black resigned.

Screen Shot 2017-04-08 at 3.46.09 AM

White now has a whopping three pieces for the rook. While Black has three pawns to compensate, White’s powerful knights, bishop pair, and the unfortunate position of Black’s queen make them largely irrelevant.

So Black resigned, and with the win, I squeaked past 2200 for the first time.


I must admit that the actual moment didn’t feel so exciting, because it was largely a natural consequence of my progress in early 2017. Since I broke 2100 (almost exactly a year before this game) and began thinking seriously about the NM title, I’ve realized that being rated 2200 instead of 2190 or even 2150 would not make me a drastically different player. That said, after several missed opportunities on high-profile occasions (e.g. last rounds of the US Amateur Team East and Pittsburgh Open), it was nice to be back in a familiar place to simply play chess without all the distractions. And as someone with more of a “one game at a time” mentality, it’s amazing to truly look back for the first time and see how far I’ve come.

A more interesting question is what I’ll be pursuing in the future. I don’t have a clear answer for this, as it’s no secret that progressing beyond 2200 is much more difficult and less intuitive compared to lower levels; even by amateur standards, I am far from a perfect player! Nevertheless, National Master is probably the single most iconic achievement in American amateur chess, partially because of the rather steep path to FIDE titles, the natural next steps (even the FIDE Master title is roughly equivalent to 2400 USCF, well above my likely capabilities in the near future!). As a student with a busy non-chess life ahead of me, the prospect of anything resembling full-time chess (e.g. eventual Grandmaster title) seems rather unlikely.

Nevertheless, given how much I love the game, National Master is by no means the end of my chess pursuits, and I have every intention of continuing as circumstances allow. I believe it’s time to make progress on some more specific goals that have taken a backseat to pursuing NM but are nonetheless important for the future.

  • Develop a strong opening repertoire. This wasn’t a critical component of my rise to NM, but now that I’ve earned the title, I have no excuse for putting this off. Reliable opening strategy (especially as Black) has been a long time coming, and consistently reaching solid and familiar positions will help me learn more from other phases of the game.
  • Progress deeper into the 2200s USCF. This largely indicates “fitting in” with the master crowd, and will likely involve improving my consistency over tough but lower-rated players (experts) and holding my own against higher-rated players (even IMs!). At least, I don’t want to be that guy who barely broke 2200 once and dropped back to 2100 within a year 🙂
  • Improve my FIDE rating. Through all this excitement, my FIDE rating was left more than 300 points behind, at 1889. Granted, this is largely due to having played in only 2 FIDE events, but the point stands. Goals #2 and #3 mean I’ll probably be a little more selective about tournaments in the future.
  • Knock off a few firsts. Gaining the right five points can make one oddly confident, but this goal has more to do with drawing an International Master for the first time in February. Perhaps it’s time to toy with the idea of defeating a IM/GM (or similar) once in a while?!

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone who has played a part in this journey, from my friends at college and back home, to the many members of the chess community who’ve made my chess experience richer. That starts with those closest to me, my family, for being there from the beginning – even my sister, who has always refused to play me without queen-and-rook(s) odds.

Another well-deserved shoutout is for a great player and friend, Isaac Steincamp, for training with me, splitting room costs at tournaments, bringing me onto Chess^Summit, and more. Isaac is clearly on the rise in Europe, so you can probably expect to read some good news from him soon. And of course, thanks to my fellow Chess^Summit contributors for your work: I continue to learn not only from my experiences, but from yours as well!

I’d also like to thank Bernard Parham II, who coached me for a few of my scholastic years (and remains my only coach to date). As one of the chief practitioners of the Matrix System and openings like 1. e4 e5 2. Qh5?!, he is perhaps one of the stranger faces of Indiana chess. Admittedly, I’m still amazed that it works for him (he’s a strong Class A player), but it’s impossible to deny his approach is innovative, and he did coach me from 600 to 1300. Even years later, it’s hard to find players with his enthusiasm for exposing the interesting side of chess, which was important for keeping me in the game as a 10-year old kid.

It’s an amazing feeling to finally cross 2200, and I’m excited to see where I can take it from here!

CHESSanity: A Unique Class Tournament

*A quick update on my plans to cover the US Championships: My flight was canceled and I have no idea when I will make it to St. Louis. Chess^Summit still puts its support behind one of our writers, Jennifer Yu, for the tournament. However, we may be unable to report d8irectly from the US Champs in St. Louis*


Photos courtesy of Winston Wang

We have all grown up ascending through class sections in tournaments: U1000, U1200, U1400, U1600, U1800, U2000, U2200, and finally, Open. I recently discovered a newly imagined tournament section structure. The rating restrictions were 2100+ scholastic, 2200+ adults, 2050 girls- basically anyone who would typically play an U2000-Open section. Obviously, this tournament proved to be relatively exclusive with the strong rating necessary in order to play.

CHESSanity, a non-profit founded by National Masters Warren and Wesley Wang, hosted this tournament, its first Weekend Open on April 1st and 2nd. Held in Edison, NJ, it was accessible to many strong Tri-State Area and Northeastern players. The premise behind the creation was that there were not many “strong”, “quality” tournaments in the area and 2000+ rated players often find themselves playing lower rateds in their section, which can be problematic toward development and strong games to learn from. I found this concept to be intriguing and most likely never popularly done before.

IMG_0203
NM Warren Wang

To organize and afford the tournament, NM Wesley Wang had to give up playing in the World Youth and the Pan American Youth tournaments. These are two of the most important tournaments for many young American players and his sacrifice, therefore, was not lost on the chess community. IM John Burke, for example, pledged his support by agreeing to play all the tournaments and six players committed to the first 5 tournaments- Wesley Wang, Christopher Yu-Shuo Shen, Eddy Tian, Alan Zhang, Winston Ni, and Evelyn Zhu. 28 players played in the tournament (including 1 GM and 3 IMs). I consider this to be a resounding success- sometimes I don’t even see that many players at the Marshall Chess Club’s weekend tournaments!

What makes the tournament even more notable is that it will soon be FIDE rated. FIDE tournaments are often hard to find in the United States, so many players are forced to travel abroad in order to rack up those FIDE points. Because this tournament can boast such a standing, I have no doubt that strong players will be attracted to the future tournaments.

IMG_0205

There will be more tournaments coming up, namely the second installment on June 3rd and 4th. The hope is that there will be enough enrollment to start organizing every month from September 2017 forward. You can find out more about CHESSanity and their Weekend Opens at www.chessanity.org.

Choosing a Coach

Whenever I’m at a tournament, I find myself being asked “Do you think who and who is a good coach? What about this other person?” Usually, I answer with what I know – which is something along the lines of “Yeah, I’ve heard good things about them!” (and I do mean it, I rarely hear negative comments about coaches).

I’ve had four coaches over my chess career thus far – and I can honestly say that each one of them has helped me in one way or another, whether it be furthering my interest in chess, helping me develop my opening repertoire, or even just helping me to understand, embrace, and broaden my playing style. Every coach has something they can add to your play. Honestly, every person you come into contact with in the chess world can help add to your play – whenever I teach, even at the most beginner levels, it forces myself to try and think about chess in a different way, to re-emphasize the basics of chess in my mind and keeping it fresh.

Coach Article
Fabiano Caruana and Bruce Pandolfini – then and now (a great example of an amazing student-coach dynamic!)

So in such circumstances, how are we supposed to choose a coach? Obviously, it’s different for every player, but I’ve found that finding a coach with a similar playing style as you (usually this means positional vs. tactical player) helps in that the coach will be able to cater your openings to your playing style as they will have a lot of experience in these types of games. Now, of course, it is also important to keep in mind that openings are not all that one needs to care about. Make sure that the coach is also well-rounded in terms of their understanding of endgames and BOTH positional and tactical play. If you’re really intent on understanding and knowing a coach beforehand, there is also always the possibility of looking up their games and seeing how well you understand and agree with their play. And of course, there’s always hearsay!

And above all else: it’s important to have personalities that click well and a healthy student-coach dynamic!

Harakiri and Comebacks in Charlotte

Last week I attended a norm invitational 10-player round robin held at the very nice  Charlotte Chess Center and Scholastic Academy (CCCSA) in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was my first time in Charlotte, and both the club and the City made a very good impression on me. The tournament consisted of 3 sections: A (GM Norm), B (IM Norm), and C (IM Norm). If you would like to find more about the participants, check out their bios.

I was seeded 5th out of 10 in the B group.   To achieve an IM norm, I needed to score 6.5 points out of 9.

Pairings were known two weeks ahead of time. I got 5 blacks and 4 whites and was to play the top 4 seeds in rounds 2-5 straight followed by the rest of the field. Were these good pairings? In retrospect, I don’t think so. Playing badly in those 4 games could knock me out of contention, and none of my other games were guaranteed to be wins, but I had worse pairings. My last invitational started with double black, playing 2 GMs and a soon-to-be IM in the first three rounds

As much as you pretend that you don’t care about the norm, well give it a try and see how well you can pull it off :).

My preparation was mainly for the early rounds. Yet, I had my minds on opponents to beat and opponents to survive, and that’s where my story of harakiri and comebacks starts.

Charlotte Round 1Before the first round…

In round 1, I was black against a local player, Tianqi “Steve” Wang. As Steve was the second lowest rated player in the tournament, this was a game I wanted to win, not only wanted to me it was a must. I was to play the 4 strongest opponents right after him, and I felt like my chances could get diminished right and there if I didn’t win. Well, I was wrong about the must win part but dead right about the aftermath of this game.

After a dubious opening from my opponent, I went on a little rampage trying to win, and ultimately ended up in this position. At this point I had had already turned down a draw offer.

Wang1

This position looks terrible for black, and it truly is. After 37.Bg4 and 38.Bf5+, black’s defenses will collapse. Instead my opponent played 37.Qxe5?? allowing 37… Rc6! 38.Re6 Rxe6 39.Qxe6 Qxc3. Black is not dead lost anymore! My opponent played 40.Kf2 and offered another draw.

Wang2

Objectively, it should be a draw, but objectivity took a backseat. Remember I was there to win! If I try some clever moves with the queen, then white will give perpetual check. But I can stop the checks with Qg7, right? The bishop endgame should be good for me with my c-pawn. No more draw!

I played 40… Qb2 41.Qf7+ Qg7?? (41… Kh8 42.Qf8+ would have led to a perpetual) 42.Qxg7+ Kxg7

Wang3

What’s the catch? My opponent played the simple move 43.Bf3!, and I realized I was busted. The pawn endgame is winning for white after 43… Bxf3 44.gxf3. I played 43… Bc2 44.b5! c3 45.b6 and not wanting to see the b-pawn queen, I resigned. Harakiri #1 was over

We’ve all had moments like this before, and it always feels so stupid and even more so at the beginning of an important tournament. I just gave away half a point, and that half point… Well, keep reading!

Round 2 was a fun slugfest against IM Roberto Martin del Campo that ended in a draw. I got a good position, but I tried a little too hard to run my opponent over. I almost lost the game. Nobody can say that I don’t try hard 😉

Round 3 was a boring draw. IM Vigorito offered a draw on move 16, and I decided to take it.

Charlotte Vigorito

The advantages of quick draws include more time to chat!

It was a boring draw, but at least I wasn’t losing at any point. At this point that was the best I had. I reached some stability. Next round, I wanted to exploit having the white pieces. I was facing John Ludwig who was one of the top seeds with a FIDE of 2397 and a USCF of 2470. We played once before at the 2016 US Cadet, and we drew with opposite colors. If I won this game, I would be at 50%, and I could get the tournament back on track.

Round 4 was the slugfest I had wanted… except that it went the wrong way for me. We both made some mistakes and soon reached the critical position.

Ludwig1

White to play

Things are getting sharp here. Black’s play on the queenside has gone pretty far, but white has some play on the kingside. There is no backing down from either side.

The critical variation was 23.fxg6. Black has two options 23… fxg6 runs into 24.Qxd6, where white now has a check on e6. 24… Bxb2 25.Qe6+ Kh8 runs into a nice shot 26.Nxc4! winning the game. Anyhow, black’s position looks a little too suspicious over there.

I was more concerned about 23… hxg6. The shot there would be 24.Nf5! with the idea that black gets mated after 24… gxf5 25.Rg1. However, after 24… Bxb2 25.Ne7+ Kg7

Ludwig2

White to play

I thought white had nothing better than a repetition with 26.Nf5+, and I wouldn’t go for one. Remember, I wanted to win this one too. In my calculations, I missed the move 26.Rg1!. White has multiple ideas, namely Nxg6 sacrifices. It turns out black is simply lost there.

Instead, I looked at different paths, trying to find something better than a draw. Naturally, what I found was worse. 23.Qg2? Ne5 24. Ng4 Nxg4 25.fxg4 Qc2!

Ludwig3

White to play

Now white is busted. 26.f6? fails due to 26… Bxf6 27.Rxf6 Qxc1+. If I trade queens, black’s queenside pawn(s) will run through. I tried to complicate matters with 26.Bf4, but after 26… Be5 27.Bh6 Rb8 white’s attack is not really there. Here’s how it ended.

Harakiri #2 completed.

1.0/4. Marvelous! Not. No more norm contention for me. That didn’t take long. My hypothetical maximum score was 6.0/9 which would happen if and only if I would win my remaining 5 games, but let’s be real…  At this point ending the tournament at 50% sounded like a success.

In round 5, I was facing the top seed, IM Zurab Javakhadze, with the black pieces. At that point he was 3.5/4. That’s another thing about round robins. In a Swiss, if you’re doing badly, you’ll play someone who is also doing badly. You’ll get some relief by being paired against an easier opponent. Instead, in round robins, your relief may come in a form of playing one of the top seeds or one of the leaders. I got both the leader and the strongest player. Thank you very much.

Charlotte JavakhadzeThe face of confidence… Photo courtesy of Charlotte Chess Center

I held on for most of the game. However, he got some chances. I was drifting a bit, and he could have played better. Eventually, we reached this position:

Javakhadze1

White to play

His thought process must have been similar to my first round position. I was a big target with a big sign on my back that read “I am having a horrible tournament. Beat me!”

After 50.fxg5 Nxg5 the position is simply a draw. So instead of essentially agreeing to a draw, IM Javakhadze went 50.f5?? which is suicide. His passer on f5 is blockaded and barely alive, and I have my own passer. White is putting his faith in his king run to b5, but it  won’t get so far. I went 50… Ne5 51.Bf1 (51.Ka4 Nxc4 is the problem for white). 51… Nf3 52.Ka4 Nd4. There may have been a more accurate way to play it, but in this version, I know I have at least a draw, and can play for a win with no risk at all. The white king cannot infiltrate to b5. Now, I have to pick up the f5-pawn and run my g-pawn down in an educated fashion. It requires some calculation, but it can be done. Here’s how it ended.

Harakiri #3 was completed. It wasn’t me this time, and it felt good! I was glad to know I’m not the only person who sometimes commits harakiri in drawn positions! This win gave me some boost. 2/5 wasn’t that bad. There was still time to turn this tournament around. You know from horrible to simply bad.

In round 6, I beat the bottom seed, Kapish Potula, without any major issues. It wasn’t a spectacular win, but a win is a win and a confidence boost.

After the round, we went for a walk in downtown Charlotte, and I still had to figure out what opening I was going to play against my next round opponent, FM Michael Kleinman!

Charlotte SignsWhich Charlotte am I in again??

Round 7 was a long, technical game with several glitches, but I came out on top with a win. I was better with black by move 15, got a winning position, and then proceeded to make my life significantly more difficult than necessary. He probably could have held a draw with best play, but it wasn’t easy.

Charlotte KleinmanThe start of a looong game… Photo courtesy of Charlotte Chess Center

I had won my last 3 games, and my rating was back in plus! Back in business!

Round 8 was a short and violent game against WIM Ewa Harazinska who was still in contention for a WGM norm. She needed to win both her games of the last day which was a tough bar. Here’s where things got spicy:

Harazinska1

White to play

12.d5 looks like a fairly normal move here, but my opponent played 12.Ng5??!!? which didn’t surprise me. I was fascinated by the consequences, but I correctly deduced they were good for black. I replied 12… Bxg2 13.Nxe6 Qe7 14.c5 (14.Nxf8 Bb7)

Harazinska2

Black to move

Now, white is thinking of grabbing both of black’s rooks! Time to pull that LSB out of there! But where? Black should stay on the long diagonal due to the abundance of mating ideas. I played 14… Bb7!. The other move I was considering was 14… Bc6, but it isn’t so effective because white can play d5 in some variations and gain a tempo on the bishop. It doesn’t seem so important, but it actually is. The game went 15.Nxc7+ (15.Nd8+ Kh8 16.Nxb7 was possible, but everything about that knight on b7 looks wrong. How is it going to get out??) Kh8 16.cxd6 Qxe2

Harazinska3

White to play

White is up a stump. 17.Nxa8 runs into 17… Bxd4!, where white is on the verge of getting mated. She decided to block my bishop out with 17.d5 (I told you, the tempo thing would come in handy!), but I replied 17… Na6! (17… Nd7! with the same idea was also good). Now, white can’t take the rook with 18.Nxa8 because of 18… Nc5!, where white can’t protect the rook anymore. Therefore, white is down a piece for two pawns, and black has the compensation. I won a few moves later.

4 out of 4. Here we go! Gosh, when was the last time I won four games in a row? At a scholastic tournament!?

In round 9, my opponent, Richard Francisco, was off-form, and he didn’t play too well. Had he been on-form, he probably would have exploited some of my mistakes and made a draw, but that was not to be. I won again!

5 wins in a row! From 1.0/4 to 6.0/9, half a point behind the norm. If I only got to replay the first game…

If only. Had I taken the draw that game, things may have been different. I might have had different attitudes going into my games. Maybe forgetting about the norm was better for my play: no insanity, no trying extremely hard to press for a win. Also, my opponents may have played differently against me and against each other. If only…

It would be nice to have Isaac update my bio to IM-elect, but let’s face it my FIDE rating is more than a touch away from 2400. Instead of that I learned something more important. I can do it. I can turn around a horrible tournament and make it into a great one. I can still play reasonable chess when things don’t go my way. And if I can do it once, I can do it again, though I hope I won’t have another opportunity any time soon.

I also learned that you cannot go into round robin thinking you HAVE to beat Player XYZ. You never know who will have a great tournament and whose form will be off. After all, both of my losses went to IM norm winners. In retrospect, a draw with either one of them would be a good result.

Also, preparation does not always mean success and is not necessary in large amounts. Over-preparing can make you feel tired, and it can make you feel stupid when your opponent plays something different than expected. Towards the end of the tournament, I decreased the amount of preparation I did. I didn’t entirely stop like Isaac did, but I did enough to get a general idea what I was going to do. It’s better to warm up your brain with some tactics than to prepare extensively for something your opponent may not even play.

Most importantly, a drawn position is a drawn position. By all means keep playing if you are NOT putting yourself into a significant danger. If the risks are too great, then agree to the draw even if it feels like a defeat. Trust me, losing the game will make you feel much worse.

Charlotte Crosstable 2The final crosstable, courtesy of Charlotte Chess Center

Big congrats to John Ludwig and Steve Wang for scoring 6.5/9 and getting an IM Norm and also to Gauri Shankar who got an IM Norm in the A Group. Also a big thank you to the Charlotte Chess Center for inviting me and running a well-organized tournament with excellent conditions.

Note to self: committing harakiri in round 1 of a tournament does not help improve my norm chances.

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!