Tournament Experiments

The K-12 Grade levels tournament is concluding as I type these words. Kids from all over the country flew to Orlando for the festival.

Many of the players prepared days, weeks or even months for the tournament, and as the popularity of chess increases, the number of local events has also increased.

In this post, I will discuss my views on tournament experimentation.

In major chess hubs like New York and California, there are multiple scholastic tournaments per week.

For the causal players, I’d suggest participate once per month, and as the student’s interest increases or decreases, the number of tournaments should be adjusted accordingly.

For the more ambitious group who are trying to reach USCF 1000 within 3-6 months and then 2000 before end of the elementary school, playing in 1 or even 2 tournaments a week to prepare for national events is not unheard of.

How should we use the local tournaments to prepare for the big events (nationals, or big open tourneys such as World Open)?

Chess improvement is a marathon, and every strong player has gone thru periods of ups and downs. However, the stronger players knows how to use small tournaments effectively to prepare for bigger ones.

They have their eyes on the prize.

At local tournaments, it’d be good to test out playing up a section, or at another to try out new openings. Since the goal is to make adjustments and getting ready for the big events.

Thru the experiments, they will find what they are comfortable with, and prepare further arsenals both from chess as well as psychological point of view.

The experiments in low-stake environment (local tourneys) does not have to be successful all the time, it is more important to learn more about oneself.

Once the big event comes along, they will be ready to use the tools they’ve crafted from prior training instead of improvise on the go.


Now the grade level is wrapping up, the next scholastic tournament season will be in the spring.

Start plan out what experiments you’d like to try out in local tournaments to help you get the maximum energy for the big tourney!

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Why Tournament Matters

Have you traded stock with paper money before?

Most of the time, this is an exercise used in High School or College finance classes, and it’s an opportunity for the students to learn about financial literacy.

I’ve done that.

When I traded stock with paper money, I did not check the daily ups and downs of stock trend for months.

During a good market (2009, right after the 2008 crash), when I returned to check results nonchalantly six months later, paper money have risen over 20%. I wish I could turn the time back and put in some real money instead.

Now fast forward to the first time I put $100 of real money into the stock market. The market had ups and downs as usual, however, this time my psychology changed completely.

I was checking stock tickers over 10 times a day on my phone, and everytime there’s a $1-2 of movement in price, I wondered whether I made the right decision to buy and when should I sell.

What does this story has anything to do with chess tournaments?

The title of this post tells you.

Playing in rated chess tournament versus casual games is like trading stock with real versus paper money.

The difference is in a player’s psychology.  To truly improve in chess, you have to go thru the trials of tribulation in facing tough times from tournament games.

Whenever I talk to parents of new students, we discuss how to improve in chess (topic for another time) and when should a student start playing in tournaments.

My recommendation: once basic chess skills are developed and the student has played 1-2 unrated tournament to get a feel of the environment, it’s time to get into the action of rated games.

Sometimes I hear parents say I want my child to work more at home and be ready to play in tournaments where we know s/he will have a good showing.

I politely disagree.

Chess tournaments are not like school tests.

School teachers often give students study guide after study guide.  If the student is well versed in all the practice questions, s/he is ready for the test and getting an A or 100 is no problem.

In chess tournaments, doesn’t matter how prepared you’re, you may face any of the following circumstances

-Other player’s strength; Stronger than their rating indicates

It’s often hard to gauge exactly how strong is your opponent. They can come from a different country or state, or they took time out from chess and only came back recently.

-You’re own emotional response to meaningful games

The way you feel in a casual game is not the same as a meaningful game. The stock analogy earlier in the article covers this point. The oh-no moments will be much more painful than a skittle room’s game.

-Tournament Surroundings

There are tensions in the tournament room. In any given moment, the room is quiet, you can hear chess pieces move but nothing more. The nerves and the tension become less intimidating for the more experienced players.

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You can only get better in tournament chess by experiencing more.

And remember, you’ll never be 100% ready.

Treat chess tournaments as job interview instead of school test, there is no guarantee, but the best practice to improve your odds of success is to experience more and learn from these experiences.

Ten Tournaments to Follow/Play This Summer- A Pretty Obvious Selection by Vanessa

In order of occurrence, not personal preference.

1. Norway Chess: June 6-17

Obviously, you can’t play this tournament this summer. You can have a lot of fun watching it, though!

Altibox Norway Chess 2017 is nearly over, but has certainly featured a few cool surprises along the way that must be noted.

The fun event kicked off with a blitz tournament, won convincingly by Magnus Carlsen. He could not keep that level of success throughout the tournament, though.

With an impressive two wins, GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian lead the tournament so far. This could change over the next few days, but as the leaders are one point ahead of their competitors, it may be difficult for GMs Karjakin, Kramnik, Giri, and So to catch up.

As for another surprise worth mentioning: there is no doubt that it is always widely spread news when someone beats the World Champ and GM Levon Aronian gets to boast about his win over World Champion Magnus Carlsen this tournament. Magnus has yet to beat someone- not a particularly strong showing on his part.

The finish should be quite exciting and as the players emerge from the rest day, they will hopefully bring more fighting chess! You can check out more information about the tourney on their official website and watch commentary on Chess24.

2. National Open: June 14-18

This is always one of the biggest chess festivals of the year. The $100,000 prize fund is always tempting, but what is most exciting is perhaps the numerous side events including simuls, lectures, book signings, and raffles, as well as cool prizes, such as The Freddie award, given to a U14 player who played the most exceptional game in the tournament.

Held in Las Vegas, a great location for adults, there is even a poker tournament to play as a side event. With eight sections, it is worth playing or at least watching the titled players face off in the open section. They will be broadcasting a few games on their website.

3. New York International: June 21-25

Last year, one of our writers, David Brodsky, earned his first IM norm at the event. This is a relatively small tournament compared to the others, but it is one to watch out for because there are usually IM or GM norms earned at it. Always with a strong turnout, the tournament is going into its 10th year.

The Marshall Chess Club, where it will be held, does not release the entry list for it, but I can let Chess^Summit readers in on a secret:

GM Yaro Zherebukh, who played at the U.S. Championships this year and is the current Marshall Chess Club Champion, will be vying for that first prize.

4. World Open: June 29-July 4

I feel like all American chess players play in the World Open at one point in their life. Of course I’m exaggerating, but it’s a tournament many players play in, partly because a lot of their friends play in it and partly because the prize pool is enormous. The first prize for the open section is a cool $20,000, so many titled players are drawn in. So far, GM Le Quang Liem is the top seed, but with such a strong field, anyone could win it.

For those of us who are non-GMs, the tournament is still fun and can yield great results. There are also a few side events around the tournament, such as a Women’s Championship, to get the fun started. Lectures by three different GMs are scheduled. I’ll be preparing for this tournament myself, so be sure to say hello to me if you recognize me! It will be my first time playing and reporting on the tournament for ChessBase.

5 & 6. U.S. Junior & U.S. Girl’s Junior Championships: July 7-18

As qualifiers for the U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship, the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girl’s Junior Championships are two significant tournaments for young chess players in the United States. The winner of each tournament has the honor of playing in the U.S. Champs. Last year, they were won by GM Jeffery Xiong and WIM Emily Nguyen.

The fields this year are as strong as ever, and I feel that GM Xiong is a favorite to win the U.S. Junior Championship again. After all, he won the World Junior Championship and is one of the top 15 players in the country.

Top seed Carissa Yip is my favorite to win the U.S. Girl’s Junior Championship (Sorry to all my other friends who are playing- I’m rooting for everybody nonetheless). Winning the tournament would qualify her for her third consecutive U.S. Women’s Championship. However, she has extremely tough opponents who will not let her wrest that coveted spot so easily.

7. Match of the Millennials: July 26-29

This is a newly introduced tournament supported by The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, the Kasparov Chess Foundation, the USCF, FIDE, and FIDE Trainers’ Commission. Four players U17, two players U14, and two girls U14 will make up a team and the American team will face off against a team of young players from around the world. Although there is not too much information about this tournament, a press release can still be found on ChessBase. Despite the lack of news, the coming-together of these five organizations is sure to bring an exciting tournament. The American players are definitely the future of American chess and the players from all over the world can prove their worth against them. The kids playing in this tournament are the children to watch for years to come.

8. Sinquefield Cup: July 31-August 12

Not much explanation is needed for this event, as it has consistently been one of the greatest tournaments to watch every year (but you can find more information on their official website anyway). 

*Update, 6/14/2017: The players for the tournament are not fully confirmed- I had conducted my research using information from the GCT website, which was not updated to display the confirmed players. *
I figure anyone can win it, as it has been a different winner every year (2013: Fabiano Caruana, 2014: Magnus Carlsen, 2015: Levon Aronian, 2016: Wesley So). However, I hope there is a fresh, new winner this year to make it more exciting. The field is always a bit different, so there are always new possibilities!

9. St. Louis Rapid & Blitz: August 13-19

This one is super special to watch out for due to a couple of reasons: Isaac will be reporting from this event and it is new to the Grand Chess Tour! I apologize for leaving out the Paris and Leuven legs of the Grand Chess Tour, but because I could only choose 10 events for a Top 10 list, I wanted to go with a new tournament.

*Update, 6/14/2017: The players for the tournament are not fully confirmed- I had conducted my research using information from the GCT website, which was not updated to display the confirmed players. *

 I am hoping for some diversity in the new field, as the Grand Chess Tour decided to add more wildcards into their tour. It remains to be seen if their wildcards could possibly win it all!

For more information, see their official website.

10. U.S. Masters Chess Championship/North Carolina Open: August 23-27

Many GMs like to play in the U.S. Masters tournament held in North Carolina. The likes of GMs Sam Sevian, Niclas Huschenbeth, and Ruifeng Li will be playing, and I am sure many more grandmasters will register as the tournament draws closer. Norms can be earned and for this championship, titles are even required. Five games will be broadcasted every round, with a special $150 sponsorship enabling the organizers to add more boards.

The North Carolina Open and North Carolina Open Scholastic Section also happen in conjunction with the U.S. Masters, drawing in many lower rated players. The open section is FIDE rated, which is good for the players who may not want to play in the much stronger U.S. Masters field. With four sections and lower class prizes in each section (ex: U1400 section has U1200 prizes), there are even more prizes to win. The top two boards will also have their games broadcasted.

What tournaments are you playing in this summer/following?

Creating Your Own Luck

Well, if I was looking for a Cinderella story to make it over 2100 this past weekend, I certainly didn’t find it. This year’s edition of the Pennsylvania State Championships pushed me to the limit – testing my stamina, resilience, and my composure in ways that I have never been tested before. Upon the tournament’s conclusion, I had convinced myself that the 3/5 result I produced simply derived from bad luck.

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Deep into my first round… where did my advantage go? Photo Credit: Franklin Chen

With a little over a day to rethink my results, I have to admit, there were a lot of elements working against me, but I also created my own luck in the latter half of the tournament, which saved me from having an even worse result.

What do I mean by bad luck? Until the last round (when it was already too late), I was never able to put together any serious momentum. In the first round, I got paired down against an ambitious youngster. Even though I got an edge out of the opening, I hyperextended and quickly lost my advantage. While I missed a chance late in the game to win, my opponent didn’t make any mistakes and was able to hold the endgame to a draw. Not an ideal start, but a comeback is manageable, right?

With only thirty minutes between the rounds to catch my breath, I learned that I would play defending State Champion and fellow Chess^Summit author Grant Xu for the first ever Chess^Summit v Chess^Summit tournament match up. Grant had taken a half point bye in the first round and was ready to play, surprising me out of the opening and catching me off guard.

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While I didn’t have the best weekend, Grant was able to successfully defend his state title, winning each of his four games and reaching a rating of 2396!

Though I somehow managed to equalize, I was too tired to complete the result and managed to blunder my way through the rest of the endgame, dropping my score to 0.5/2. This put me in a really tough tournament position, as I would need to win out to objectively have a “good” tournament.

At that moment, I felt like I had had some bad luck with the pairings, and went back to my dorm room to rest up for the last round of the night.

Sure, it wasn’t ideal to play Grant with so little time between rounds, and sure, my first round opponent wasn’t quite the game I was hoping to open with, but in reflection, given the positions I had, I think I had some opportunities to score better. Going into the last game, I took the right mentality, forgetting the first two games and telling myself that I was now playing in a three-round tournament. Now this was my chance to create my own luck.

I got paired against a 1500 that night, but still treated the game as if I were playing someone my level. The affair was rather one-sided, but there was an instructive moment during the game that I thought I ought to share.

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Steincamp–Boles, after 10…Kf8

In this position, it’s my turn, and I’m clearly better. Black has lost his right to castle and has a significant lack of space. Yet how should I press on as White? Black doesn’t have any structural weaknesses and actually has the idea …Be7-g4, attacking the d4 pawn and trying to pry open the dark squared diagonal for his a7 bishop. After some thought, I figured the right question to ask was where should I put my dark squared bishop? I think objectively the options are about equal, but my choice offered me long term attacking possibilities. Can you figure what I decided?

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My last round win, and the highlight of my tournament. Photo Credit: Pennsylvania State Chess Federation

Though this win wasn’t exactly the most challenging, it felt nice to get back into the habit of asking the right questions and making the most of good positions. To my discontent, I got paired down in the fourth round on Sunday morning, and once again got surprised by an opening sideline in which I promptly put myself in a worse position.

I could have been outplayed, but I found ways to keep the game going, eventually pushing the game to equality and even a slight edge for myself before forcing the three move repetition. While objectively a draw was a good result considering the way the game started, I couldn’t help but feel that had I known the theory better I could have outplayed my opponent and gotten a full point. This result meant my last round would be a consolation game, and breaking 2100 would have to wait again.

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Photo Credit: Beilin Li

While this was not what I wanted going into the tournament, I think this was the best situation for me at this time. Going into the last round, I felt no stress whatsoever, and having White with nothing to lose, I was more comfortable being creative over the board. This alleviation made me feel refreshed, and I produced one of the better games I’ve played since coming back to Pittsburgh.

This was a critical lesson for me, when I just focus on chess, when I just focus on making the best move every move, I can play a great game. Most of the tournament I felt distracted – either being bewildered by my early results, or feeling a need to make up for them later on. But when I was just worried about chess, removing all of the emotional stress of a long weekend of dissapointment, I can well. This is what I mean by creating my own luck.

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Grabbing some post-tournament dinner with Beilin and going over some games on the restaurant’s bulky chess board!

Not every tournament is going to be ideal, maybe it’s just bad pairings, or the TD makes the wrong decision, or you blow a won game in time trouble – this happens to everyone at some point. To be strong player, you have to put these moments behind you. It felt like most of this weekend I got hit with something new every game – an opening line I wasn’t prepared for (twice!), an underrated opponent, crazy pairings – all of these things were out of my control, but if I could have played as well as I did in the last round in each game, it would not have mattered and I could easily be 2100 again right now.

While it was dissapointing to have trained so hard for this event to only get one opponent rated over 2000, I plan to continue pushing myself for my next tournament in early November. By then I’ll have reached my 20th birthday, and perhaps a little bit of “luck” can rub off on me then 🙂 I guess we’ll just have to see in my next post!

Wake Up Washington!

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Mid-thought in my third round draw. I swear I’m not sleeping!

What makes for a good tournament performance? Rating gain? Total number of wins? Winning prizes? Well, for me, it was none of the above. Last week’s Washington International marked my final tournament before returning to Pittsburgh for the fall semester, and a return to one of my favorite tournament venues.

Just like last year, I entered the U2200 section hoping to find some sort of clarity going into the fall. Since the US Junior Open, I think it’s fair to say that I have had a particularly tough stretch between a poor showing at the World Open and some uninspired play at the Southern Open – only tallying two wins over my last eleven games. Of course, these past two months have also given me a lot of insight into my own weaknesses as a player, forcing me to work on a new opening repertoire, my calculation skills, and my overall endgame understanding.

After a few days on Sanibel Island following the Southern Open, I was ready to get back into tournament form!

To an extent, I do think putting so much emphasis on my preparation for the US Junior Open resulted in a bit of a backslide in my studies upon my return from New Orleans. I didn’t really grasp this in Philadelphia as I was preoccupied, getting torn apart in the Open section, but this became apparent to me when my performance in Orlando was punctuated with a very lucky win despite my poor form and inability to find any tactics that weekend. But naturally, I have greater aspirations than to obsess about a tournament I played in two months ago, and making master is certainly a good first step.

In the three weeks leading up to the Washington International, I completely changed how I attacked my studies. Every morning, I woke up at 6:30 to go running  to improve my endurance while beating the heat. After pushing my physical limits, I then tested myself mentally, doing tactical exercises for about two hours before working on my opening repertoire and then testing out some lines in online practice games. On most days, I was able to put in about five hours of preparation, though there was one day where I somehow had the stamina for ten! This wasn’t enough to fix all of the problems my game has had over the month prior, but it made up for a lot of poor preparation – think of it as a “spring cleaning”, if you will.

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Boards and sets! The Washington International is the most accommodating tournament I have ever played in – breakfast, mid-game coffee, provided boards and pieces – what more can you ask for?

So, as you can imagine, I entered Rockville the most prepared I could be, and easily the most confident I have been in a very long time. I knew it would be hard to replicate the success I had last year with a completely new opening repertoire, so my only goals were to focus on getting solid positions out of the opening and limit the number of unforced blunders in my play – both of which were places I had failed in my two prior events.

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20. Qf2 +/-, Steincamp – Imada

My first three games were extremely uneventful, though I managed to outplay my first round opponent from an equal endgame to secure a win. My score of 2/3 wasn’t a bad start, but my tournament really started in round 4, where my inability to play quickly cost me a beautiful position and the game. Even though I’m not particularly happy with how this game ended, I think it’s instructive and worth sharing here on Chess^Summit.

Ouch! Well, I guess that’s one way to lose to a lower rated opponent… Not quite what I was hoping for in my “back to form” tournament. One thing I’ve noticed about some of my tournaments pre-dating the US Junior Open was that if I had a closely contested game and lost, I generally would underperform in my next few games and it would kill my ability to have a consistent tournament performance. Knowing that my ability to rebound quickly from this loss would define how I did in this tournament, I played my best chess in each of my next two games as Black.

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18…Bf6, Boris – Steincamp

Pushed for what felt a “must-win” in round 5 to bounce back from a tough loss the night before, I opened with a move I hadn’t played since 2007! Typically, I bring blue Gatorade to each game, but when I feel like I need to win, I switch it out for “Darth Vader” juice (red). While superstitions are silly (I have others!), there was no messing around this Monday morning, and Caissa rewarded me with some creative play, and a great win to really start my scoring spree this tournament.

While I won this game with some nice technique, I was much prouder of myself for completely ignoring my opponent’s time trouble, and forcing myself to find the best move at my own pace, even once the endgame had been reached and it was clear the game was continuing for the sake of formality. I feel like my ability to handle such situations has come a long way since I blew a State Championship last February trying to push my opponent further into his own time trouble.

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9…Bd7, Nath–Steincamp

So I was back! Just a few hours later, I was back at the board again with the Black pieces. Any guesses as to how I responded to 1 e4 after that previous round? I was really confident in my play again and by move 13 I reached a completely winning position, and unlike my earlier loss, I once again forced myself to use my time more effectively to put the game away in style!

Now 4/6 with three rounds to go, I was feeling optimistic again about my chances to place in the event, but as luck would have it, things just did not work out. Paired against one of the strongest players in the field I managed secure equality, but quickly found myself distracted by some off-the-board behavior related to my opponent that I do not wish to discuss at this time. I had my own mistakes and know what I can take away from this game to become a stronger player, but unfortunately, this once again killed the momentum I had worked so hard to build. I did well to draw my last two rounds with Black, but on paper, 5/9 certainly didn’t seem to make up for that round 7 loss.

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Coaching at the first ever Virginia Scholastic Chess Association Intensive! A small group of kids, a lot of material to cover! Since I don’t know where my future will lead me, this might be the last scholastic event I run in Richmond for a while.

So we return to the opening question – what makes a good tournament? Dropping below 2100 for the first time certainly doesn’t sound like a good result, but when I look at the goals I set for myself going into Rockville and then compare these nine games to my previous eleven, only one word comes to mind: progress. In this tournament, despite playing with a new opening repertoire, there was only (arguably) one game where I left the opening slightly worse (my round 8 draw), and while I had my mistakes, it was still not nearly as many as I had at the Southern Open. Even though I was fully prepared for this tournament, I got hit with everything this section could offer me, and each of the lessons I learned will be valuable towards future improvement.

Good is a strong word in chess because it’s too general to really describe every aspect of a performance. At this year’s Washington International, I didn’t have the breakthrough tournament that I had the year prior, but I certainly had a very encouraging result. The way I played showed a lot of improvement, but in pulling together a solid showing, I also saw my play with White isn’t getting me enough, and that my ability to manage time trouble can still use some work.

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Cathy calling!

As I pack my bags for another term at Pitt this week, I’m excited about the prospect of being able to play more frequently in various local competitions. With the Pittsburgh Chess League, as well as the various Pennsylvania State Championships on University campus, I’m confident that I will not only have an opportunity to regain the points I’ve lost the last half of this summer, but soar beyond if I continue to attack my studies. Of course, I likely won’t have five hours a day anymore given my workload, but I hope I can make up for that with ambition and get back to the results I’m used to.

These past few tournaments have been a test, and the finish line is near. My only hope is I cross it sprinting.

Free Game Analysis: Attack of the West Windsor Warlord!

For the first time since the relaunch, I’m happy to bring back the Free Game Analysis section to Chess^Summit. As always, if you have an interesting game to share, please send us your PGNs at chess.summit@gmail.com, and we’ll try to cover it within the two-week cycle. We’ve had some fun submissions in the past, and today’s is certainly no exception! For today’s post, I’ll be using a ChessBase external link instead of sharing tons of diagrams of the game (don’t worry, you don’t need ChessBase to access it!). Let me know if you guys like this format more in the comments!

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Veenay was the Chess Club President at his New Jersey High School, and now hopes to break 1800 by the time he graduates Rutgers!

Remember that feeling when you first broke 1000? Well, recent high school graduate Veenay Komaragiri did that in style. Scoring 3/5 in the U1600 section of the recent Manhattan Open, Veenay didn’t just break 1000 – he skipped it, jumping from 945 to 1135!

Though college is often a deterrent from chess improvement for many, Veenay hopes to build off his summer success while he furthers his education at Rutgers University as either a Biology or Economics major. With his optimism and tactical foresight, I think he can be looking forward to a lot of future improvement. But why let me be the judge? Let’s take a look at two of the games he sent to Chess^Summit from his performance in Manhattan!

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 00.32.45Though his first win of the tournament was short, Veenay’s game offered a lot of opening improvements for both sides out of a Slav, but ultimately culminated into this position. Just as it seemed White had managed to get firm control over the center, Veenay found an excellent tactic here to show that Black was still alive and kicking with 13…Nxe4! and his higher rated opponent immediately fell apart!

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 00.40.13After picking up two quick wins, Veenay really met his test in the fourth round where he was a 500+ rating point underdog! Outclassed in the opening, Veenay had one chance to reach an equal endgame in this position but faltered with 13…Rfe8?!, and soon lost the thread of the game. However, with his never say die attitude, the Warlord from West Windsor managed to keep the Cinderella story going, finding a tactic late in the game to pull off his best career win – what a turnaround!

So what advice can I offer Veenay as he starts on his journey to become a strong tournament player?

1. When your opponent makes a move, always ask “What can my opponent do?” This is one of the most elementary forms of prophylaxis but is extremely effective when developing a thought process and playing at a higher level. I think too much of beginner level chess focuses on “I do this, he does that” and not enough on thinking about the bigger picture. While your first game was great, several of your problems in the second derived from not asking this very question. This one question alone is so powerful, I still use it in my games. Here’s one case where I failed to use it and it probably cost me the game!

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Steincamp – Ramachandran, 2016

My opponent just played 20… Rde8, and it seems like a harmless move, Black just wants to play on the e-file perhaps? But what does Black want to do? As it turns out, his knight on f7 is extremely poor, and will go to d8, then c6, and from there will have the option to play itself to d4 or b4 – a much better position! A few moves down the road, we reached a position like this:Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 00.54.11

The position is extremely complicated thanks to the activity of the Black knight. While I still managed to reach a good position after this, it gave me one more opportunity to go wrong, and I actually lost the game in the end. So what did I do wrong? I needed to insert a2-a3 before this knight ever reached b4, again asking Black to solve the problems in his position. After protecting the b2 pawn, I could have reached a position like this one:

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A slightly better position for White as I have breaks on both the kingside on the queenside. Black meanwhile has a weak f5 pawn and must find ways to generate counter play. If I had stopped at 20…Rde8 and recognized this plan, who knows? Maybe I would have been the one to win this game! There’s a certain magical aspect to prophylaxis in that we can see it applied in games of every level – whether it’s preventing a mate threat, stopping an attack, or in this case taking away an outpost.

2. When developing a piece, always consider what future value it brings to the position. I noticed you like to reach various Slav set-ups where you also have a kingside fianchetto, and I think rather than booking up on theory, force yourself to compare the various options you have to place your pieces. As we saw in the second game,

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Jones – Komaragiri, 2016

the bishop on g7 was poorly placed on this diagonal, and would have been much better suited on the e7 square for future use. Of course, conceptual understandings like this take many games to develop, but while you are still improving this is the best time to work on this skill. If you want to see how I break down unfamiliar openings and choose my development, check out my post from the World Open! Despite personally having a rough tournament, I think you could learn a lot from the two games I shared on the site!

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Veenay speaking at his High School graduation earlier this summer.

3. Lastly, always stay positive! You seem really enthusiastic about getting better, and that’s probably the most important attribute when it comes to improving and getting results. As Paul told us last week, it doesn’t matter when you start playing chess, as long as you put in the work, it’s never too late to become an expert! He offered a lot of advice and personal anecdotes about improving despite only learning how to play in college, and I think you’ll find it very relatable!

Best of luck improving on your chess while studying at Rutgers – it was a lot of fun going over your games, and even I learned a few things along the way! Here’s to continued success in your near future!

Making the Most of a Tough Week in Philly

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This cover of Chess Life, sent to me by my coach after the tournament concluded perhaps best described my performance relative to the amount of progress I have made in recent months.

I think I could have also tried the title The Quest to Break 2000 Backwards or Philly Phailures, but I hardly think that this is an appropriate way to describe my first tournament back since the US Junior Open. As I mentioned in my last post, I pushed myself to play in the top section of the World Open, pitting me against the toughest level of competition I had ever encountered over the board. Across the six games I played (I had three half point byes), I had the longest in tournament losing streak of my career (five – six if you include the final round of the US Junior Open!), and in a majority of the games, I was simply outclassed by my opponents on both sides of the board. To put things simply, by my own personal historic standards, this year’s World Open could have very well been one of the worst tournaments of my career.

But I would like to think that this is a shallow understanding of my overall performance. Sure, I had my failures this tournament, but what my stay in Philadelphia showed me is that there is an entire realm of chess I had never seen before and that in the eyes of a Grandmaster, I am once again a beginner. But this is okay – learning something new means finding something you have never seen before, and this performance is another step in the age-old process of becoming a better chess player. What do I mean?

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Three of our Chess^Summit authors participated in this year’s World Open – Beilin, Alice, and myself. Vishal was unable to attend but he was here in spirit!

After completely collapsing in the first four games of this tournament, I got a call from my coach in which he told me the opening repertoire I had counted on since breaking 2000 would no longer cut it at this level competition, and I would need to improve and find better openings to get more competitive positions. Bam! A new weakness had been discovered in my play, and despite my progress, that problem started with move one (well, metaphorically). I can probably make master without fixing my repertoire, but seeing as my ambitions are much higher than this, I will be revamping my openings with the hopes of returning to the World Open next year with a much more competent result. I have no idea what this means for my current goal in the short-term, but I’d like to think that if I can persevere, I can still achieve great things despite my not-so-young age…

Persevere. That’s a strong word – and the biggest positive I can hope to take away from my experience in Philadelphia. Around the time my coach called, my parents, who have always been supportive of my chess, offered to let me withdraw and pick me up early from what was quickly turning into a miserable result. Somewhat stubbornly (perhaps the same trait that makes me a chess player), I declined with two games left to go. My confidence had taken a serious blow after quickly reaching lost positions in each of my first two games, and after two more humbling defeats, I was quickly realizing that as a positional player, it was somewhat foolish to think I could have fared well against a level of competition that understood my very strength better than me. For my last two games, I decided to focus on two aspects of my game that I previously stated I wanted to work on the most: calculation and mental fortitude.

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Trying to relax between rounds. Just like how Iceland was finding out it had a long way to go before competing with teams like France, I too was having my own humbling experience

Sure, I was reaching worse positions out of the opening, but I knew the only way I could have any chance was to be strong and focus on making the best moves I could every move. At this point I was very aware of the real possibility of losing all of my games, as well as falling far below 2100 – though as I’ve mentioned rating no longer matters to me if I’m improving. For today’s post, I want to share my last two games, as they play into a greater story going into my last round.

My fifth game was both a blessing and a curse. Faced with the Veresov, my limited opening knowledge meant I had to calculate from move four, draining my time and causing an unforced error on move 19. While such a quick loss would be discouraging to many, I took it as a positive because I had succeeded to get out of the opening with no prior knowledge and reached an arguably better position. As I tried to describe to my dad, I was flying! Unfortunately, it was just a little too close to the sun… Here we go:

Arthur–Steincamp (World Open, 2016)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bg5 Bf5 4.f3

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Back in January when I played in the Boston Chess Congress, my 2300 rated opponent played 4. Bxf6, which was what I was expecting when I played 3…Bf5 at the time. Following my thought process from that game, I played the same move, the idea being that if White wants to take on f6, he better do it before I play …e7-e6. By playing 3…Bf5, I can play …e7-e6 without making a bad bishop. But now, six months later, it’s a different time and different opponent. With 4. f3 I was out of book, and my only weapon was my  brain. 4. f3 is the second most common move played in this position and has a concrete idea. White will take on f6 to make way for an e2-e4 central push, hoping to gain a lead in development as well as a structural advantage in turn for the bishop pair. At first, I liked 4…Nbd7, but quickly recognized the “fork trick” we all see as a child with 5. Nxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 and so forth. In our post-mortem, my opponent said this is a line (indeed! It is the most common move), but with no prior knowledge, such an attempt would not be practical. At this point, I realized how critical the d5 pawn was to my position, seeing as it was my only hold on the center. In an effort to be solid, I opted for 4…h6, a move Spassky chose back in 1981 at Linares and won a convincing game with as Black. Of course, I did not know this at the time, but if a great like Spassky played this move, then I must be on some sort of right track. My opponent played a move that has never been played at the Grandmaster level, but this is likely because the Veresov rarely finds its way into the top, if ever 5.Bxf6 exf6 6.e4 Be6 7.Bd3 c6

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I spent some more time here to calculate various …c7-c5 lines. I think here, it’s already important to see that 7…dxe4 8. exd4 Qxd4?? loses immediately to 9. Bb5+ and the queen is lost. This idea is important because many simplifications where the d-file opens will meet the same fate. For example, one of the first lines I saw 7… c5 8. dxc5 Bxc5? 9. exd5 Bxd5 10. Nxd5 Qxd5?? 11. Bb5+ and again we see the same pattern. Of course, I had found the improvement 8…d4 followed by capturing on c5, but this was all moot because White can take on d5 first and the same tactical problems persist. I took the more solid route, since 7…c6 ensures that with trades on d5, I will maintain the bishop pair, which is presently my only real advantage in the position. 8.Nge2 Bb4

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This move kicked off the rapid consumption of my time, as the decision to place this bishop here on b4 or d6 was an important one. My gut originally ruled out this move because this pin doesn’t last long, and spent a significant amount of time thinking about 8…Bd6 to stop Nf4 ideas. 9. exd5 cxd5 10. Nb5 0-0 should be equal, but I found a good resource for White with 8…Bd6 9. Qd2 and now the idea of Nf4 is a real idea and it is not quite clear why I’m going to give back the pair of bishops along with two structural weakness.

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If White executes this idea, my d-pawn becomes isolated and keeping the bishop pair become doubtful thanks to the pressure on d5 and the eventual threat on Nc3-b5.

After a while, I reconsidered the text move, and realized it asks White to do something about the pin (which is committal since now I can castle), but the real point is that if a2-a3 and b2-b4 my bishop will go to b6 and attack the dark squares since White doesn’t have this bishop anymore. Then the king will look bad on g1 and White will have to do something about the d4 pawn. I think I spent about 15 minutes here, but as the engine has informed me, this was the correct decision! Since this position has never occurred in a Grandmaster game, I’m curious how much my opponent knew in this position. In our post-mortem, he said that I even have to play this move, which suggests that he was aware of this position, or is simply a strong player – or perhaps both! 9.O-O O-O 10.Kh1 Re8

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After the game, my coach told me here that I have 10 moves that are absolutely appropriate to play in this position, which I guess suggest I spent too much time here trying to find the silver lining. However, up to this point in the tournament, I had failed to establish such a solid position by move 10 which makes this position a small victory for me personally. That being said, I think the insertion of this move was critical for the future course of the game. First, I am fully prepared for the e-file to open with my rook on e8, but I also give my bishop two options in case of retreat: a5, and the path I took during the game, f8. Though the bishop may seem misplaced on f8, it is a long range piece and is just active, while also providing my kingside with some form of defense. I spent some time here trying to develop my knight, but I concluded that if 10…Nd7 11. exd5 is well timed because now the position opens and now my knight seems misplaced. My opponent said this is what he would have played if my knight had moved at this point, regardless of d7 or a6. Having established full equality, my opponent decided to change the pace of the game with 11.Ng3, allowing me to play 11…dxe4 and break up White’s center.

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Without a knight on f6, I had to make sure that I wasn’t opening myself to any kingside attacks, but the aggressive 12. fxe4?! Qxd4 13. Nf5 Bxf5 14. Rxf5 failed to impress, as White is down a pawn and has an imaginary attack. This move put me below 50 minutes to make move forty, as I had to find an effective way to meet 12.Bxe4 as d4-d5 is threatened. Quickly I saw that if White succeeded to trade his d-pawn for my c6 pawn, my lack of development would leave me in a worse endgame, as well as tactical problems on b7. So I had to find my next move as well, 12…Qa5 =+

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At this point, I’d like to believe that I have solved all of my opening problems, sans the knight on b8, while also asking White questions of my own. On top of threatening to win a pawn on c3, I’m preparing to play …f6-f5 to attack the bishop and open the f6 square for my knight. I also had some strategic ideas here of doubling the c-pawn in the case of 13. Qd3, and then using the c4 square with a …Nd7-b6-c4 maneuver with some serious queenside pressure. This move also acts as prophylaxis, stopping d4-d5 because tactically I can play …Re8-d8 and win material. At this point in the game, I was already somewhat confident that I could finally get the position I had yearned for all tournament, but my clock was already of some concern… With some engine analysis, both sides are playing well thus far, as we are both selecting one of the computer’s best move with each turn, keeping the game around equality. 13.Nce2 Bf8

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Because 13…f5 would have been met with 14. c3, I decided now would be the best time to relocate the bishop, seeing as it no longer has a purpose on b4. This move revives the threat of …f6-f5, followed by quick development from Black. I thought White’s best plan was to slowly build the position with 14. c3 (as played in the game) but followed calmly with b2-b3, and eventually c3-c4, which would once again establish a strong center. As the game showed, trying to expand on the queenside favored me as it created some weak squares like c4. 14.c3 f5 15.b4?! Qa6!

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A critical find, highlighting the positional importance of 10…Re8. The f5 pawn is not hanging because after 16. Bxf5? Bxf5 17. Nxf5, the knight on e2 does not have enough defenders and White loses a piece. By provoking this move, I’ve also managed to create a big positional weakness in White’s camp, the c4 square. An example line to prove this would be 16. Bd3 Bc4 17. Bxc4 Qxc4, and in addition to White’s weak light squares, Black now has the added idea of bringing a rook to e3, as well as …g7-g6 to protect f5 and play …Nd7-f6. My position isn’t winning, but it plays itself, unlike White’s. I believe White chose the best move in 16.d5 given the complications, and my lack of time at this point (around 30 minutes for 14 moves!).

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One of the reasons this move is so strong is because if my rook were to leave my back rank, White can play Qd1-d8 in some lines forever freezing my mobility. For example, 16…fxe4 17. dxe6 Rxe6 18. Qd8! is strong, and Black’s win of material is irrelevant after 18…exf3 19. Rxf3 Rxe2 20. Nxe2 Qxe2 because now I only have one piece that can move, while White can quickly activate his rooks and win the game.

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Position after variation 20…Qxe2. Black has no moves!

In this position, I thought it was important to keep enough pieces on the board, as that will be the only way to take full advantage of the weak c4 square and establish counterplay. I decided on the more practical 16…cxd5 because now I can bring my knight to c6 and finally complete development. I haven’t suffered because of this lack of activity, but there’s no reason to delay this any further. 17.Bd3 Qd6 18.Bxf5 Nc6 19.f4 g6??

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And a perfectly good position slides out of reach. Needing to play at roughly a minute a move until move forty, I cracked under pressure here, thinking I could hold tactically, giving myself enough time to bring my bishop to g7. My opponent, a friend of Grandmaster Joel Benjamin and famous coach in New York, said after the game that every move should have two good reasons to make it – one is simply not enough! In this case, he was more than right. While I probably should have seen the ensuing tactic, my position is already falling apart after the trade takes place on e6. In reality, my position would have been a lot more optimistic if I played my other candidate move 19…Rac8 or had found various endgame positions after 19…Bxf5. Of course I can’t say I would have won, after all, there is a price to pay for not knowing openings! 20.Bxe6 fxe6 21.Qd3 Ne7 22.Ne4

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The oversight – not only am I worse, I can actually resign here because the bishop cannot help me hold the crippling position since all my pawns are on light squares. I would go on to play a few more moves, but that was more inertia than me actually thinking I had a chance. Of course in severe time trouble, it’s easy to miss “Maurice Ashley moves” like these, but in the future, I will have to do better to ensure a better result.

I played really well for 95% of this game, but as we all know, chess is cruel and every move counts. While it’s no fun to have a lost game on the 22nd move, I was proud of my ability to be accurate in the opening and be resourceful in unfamiliar territory. But my work with the Veresov wasn’t done yet. I had two half-point byes prior to my last round game, but my final opponent had seen this game and thought he could replicate my time trouble with a different take on the Veresov.

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With my roommates for the weekend and long time friends, Jeffrey and Matthew. We all had our own tough experiences at the World Open, but that didn’t stop us from having fun!

I guess psychologically he had hoped this would be enough to give a final punch to a player who in his eyes was extremely weak (how else could you see a 0/5 player?). I’m not really a fan of this strategy, as it’s not like I had forgotten why I set my structure the way I did, but also I don’t think the Veresov was in my final opponent’s repertoire. Personally, I don’t like to prepare completely new openings unless I know enough about what my opponent plays over the board – just ask Chess^Summit colleague Beilin Li! So now with over 24 hours of rest heading into my last game, I was determined to play to the best of my ability and save myself from a disappointing showing. I had already decided to withdraw from the Philadelphia International, since my coach and I decided it would be best to go home and fix my opening problems rather than have these lessons retaught. Luckily for me, I was able to conquer my last round curse quite convincingly.

Wettasinha–Steincamp (World Open, 2016)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4 Bf5 4.f3 e6

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With the bishop on f4 and not g5, my position is a lot more flexible, allowing me to play this move since e2-e4 is currently not possible. Because of this, I had already envisioned my plan for the middlegame, which meant I could play quicker and respond to my opponent’s threats when needed. My plan is to play …c7-c5 (now possible thanks to my e6 pawn), develop my knight to c6, and then see what my opponent does to make more positional decisions. 5.g4 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.e3 c5

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If you’ve read my posts prior to the Chess^Summit relaunch, you’ll see that I’m often a big believer in opening principles. While my opponent has gained space on the kingside, his king will have to make some critical decisions, while I have yet to make any positional commitments. As promised I’ve continued with my plan, and carrying it out has taken minimal time. White now decided to trade off light squared bishops which certainly doesn’t hurt my position. 8.Bd3 Bxd3 9.Qxd3 a6

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Making sure that I can recapture on c5 without allowing the nasty Qd3-b5+, winning a minor piece. Funny story here. The following morning as I was confirming my room cancellation and preparing to leave for Richmond, I ran into my opponent, who proceeded to tell me that this move was a blunder because he can play his king to f2, and because of the weak b6 square, I’m as he put it “simply lost”. I was extremely skeptical of this, but figured there was likely some sort of engine work behind this and brought it up with my coach on the train ride home. With further analysis, lost is not only a strong word, it’s completely incorrect. My opponent’s idea of playing Ke1-f2 and then opening the e-file is dangerous, and if anything is just unclear. I had no such hunch during the game, as a solid position held by principles typically prevails against one that does not. I guess it was the typical chess player hubris that exists after losing. Sure this Ke1-f2 improvement is much better than 10.O-O-O?, but it does not punish hundreds of years of conventional thinking. 10…Nc6 11.Nge2

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With plenty of experience in race positions out of various openings, I was already optimistic about my winning chances – and not without good reason. During this point in the game, I remembered a quote from GM Greg Serper a few years ago at Castle Chess Camp where he said that Soviet players used to joke that the extra “O” in queenside castling notation also is recorded on the final result as a loss for that side. Using the last round win I had in New York as a base example, I knew that to have more success in a race position, I needed to find forcing moves and find the most accurate move order. Every move my opponent spends defending is a move he can’t attack the kingside. 11…Qa5 threatening …Nc6-b4 12.Kb1 c4 13.Qd2 b5

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So far every move has been forcing, and now …b5-b4 threatens to trap the knight. My thought with this move order was that if 11…c5 12. Qd2 Qa5, White has a little bit more flexibility (though not much) to choose a move here since he hasn’t played Kc1-b1 yet. By getting him to play the standard prophylactic move, the c3 knight has no safe squares. That opening time advantage my opponent was hoping for? Instead of only having 20 minutes until the 40th move, I’ve only used twenty. I started to calculate a lot more from here, but that’s because I had a slight suspicion that my game would never make it that far if played accurately. 14.Nc1 Bb4

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As my coach would later point out, 14…b4 should also work, but during the game, I thought this got rather messy. I liked this move because it provokes the mistake made in the game, 15.a3? but the point was that should 15. N1e2 Be7! be played, now the threat on the c3 knight is revived, and White must choose between 16. Nc1 or 16. a3, meaning I win a tempo or create a serious weakening of the queenside. I wanted to be able to connect my rooks before going all in, so that a kingside assault would be even less effective from White. I briefly considered sacrificing on a3, but not having access to b8 meant that this attack was more hopeful than concrete, so I reverted to my original plan 15…Be7 16.Qh2?

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At this point in the game, I was instantly reminded phrase I find myself saying often to 1500 rated players: Tricks are for kids! This case is no different. White’s one move threat (Bf4-c7 trapping the queen on a5) is easy to see but now makes it much harder to play a move like g4-g5, as the queen would be left exposed on an open h-file. This move gives me time to play …Ra8-a7! which means I can put my rook on b7 in the future, making sacrifices on a3 a very real possibility. Once White plays this move, there’s no going back, and it was at this precise moment I knew I could win, maybe even by force. 16…Ra7 17.Bd6 trying to stop …b5-b4 pushes Rb7 18.N1a2 further reinforcement of b4 Kd7! -+

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With the trade of dark square bishops, not only do I trade off White’s best piece, I can bring my h-rook into the game and use the b8 square! White doesn’t have any attractive options here, as moving the bishop back to g3 means crashing through with …b5-b4, and going to c5 only delays problems as I can consider trading on c5 then pushing the b-pawn, or playing …Rh8-b8 and winning. 19.Bxe7 Kxe7 20.e4 b4 21.axb4 Nxb4 22.e5

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When I saw this move, it felt like my opponent was resigning by getting rid of his only true dynamic resource. Without any counterplay, I had a hunch that this game had only a few precise moves left before I win. I entertained myself a little by considering leaving this knight here and just winning on the queenside, but with the way the weekend had gone (and let’s face it, the way conventional players play), I continued to deprive White of any counterplay. 22…Nd7 23.Nc1 Rhb8

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I was considering 23…Nd3, and it should be promising too, but it’s a much stronger threat now with two rooks on the b-file. My opponent’s move loses immediately, but what else can he do?

24.Rd2 Nc6 Threatening the c3 knight, and then …c4-c3, winning a rook. 25.N1a2 Rxb2+ 26.Ka1 Qa3 0-1

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 13.39.04Once again, the simplest solution is the best solution, as the impulsive move, 26…Nb4 hangs b2, and 26…Rxa2+ 27. Nxa2 Nb4 28. f3 might even be winning for White. My opponent resigned as …Rxa2+ and …Qb2# are coming, and I have the added threat of …Nb4 should he find anything to stop it (there isn’t). So finally a win in the last round – something that I wish had come earlier, but I rightly had to suffer in order to earn.

My experience at the World Open gave me a new found respect for chess. Here I was, some Candidate Master from Virginia thinking I could simply pull a few upsets and have yet another impressive result. While my various preparation helped me in critical moments in each of my rounds, this result shows me that there is a long ways to go until I can play with these guys, and I’m sure once I fix my repertoire, there will be some other problem that needs to be ironed out – this is chess.

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After a tough week, there is only one direction – onward!

On my train ride home, I received an email, and before I knew what it was, I realized it was the ratings report from the USCF. While I have vowed to not look at my rating, I think this slip up shows that there is always a sign of hope when we persevere. With a significant drop, my rating is exactly 2100, which offers me two lessons. First, never stop fighting! Even on our worse days, we will be rewarded in the most obscure ways. While a number shouldn’t have to tell you that, it’s certainly nice to know that the system “rewards” perseverance. The second lesson? Read the email subject line – that stuff’s there for a reason! Thanks for reading this far if you’ve made it here – this is easily the longest post I’ve ever written. Until next time!