I had a frightfully poor tournament at the SPICE Cup Open held in St. Louis, MO, October 16-21. I dropped 25 USCF points and about 20 FIDE points in a tough field (12 GMs, 12 IMs out of 42-players); easily my worst tournament in many, many years.
In the spirit of Halloween, allow me to share my horror story with you!
I won my first round against FM Hans Jung without issue:
Accepting the pawn with 8...cxb4?! is extremely dangerous in this line of the Symmetrical English. Black made it to an opposite-colored bishop ending, but the two-pawn deficit was too much to overcome.
Next, I faced the eventual tournament winner (with 7/9!) and former Wunderkind, GM Ray Robson:
Ray is prepped to the hilt in most every opening, but I thought the Kan might catch him offguard. In reply he chose an unusual continuation with Nb1-d2, and I achieved a completely reasonable position. The position after 14.Rhf1 is instructive: what should Black do? The Kan is renowned for its flexibility, and Black often has great freedom to chose his setup. I decided to castle queenside, but this is a mistake, as Ray's next -15.Bd4! - leaves Black struggling to deal with 16.e5 or 16.g5. Castling short or even a flexible move like 14...Nfd7!? was more promising, preserving all of Black's options. After 14...0-0-0? 15.Bd4! e5 Ray faltered slightly with 16.Bxc5 (I was far more worried about 16.Be5; simply 16.exd5 is also strong), when Black is only a bit worse. A sign of my poor play to come was 27...Rxe5??, blundering the game away completely (I missed that 28.Na5 attacks c6 as well as b7!). After 27...Nc4! there is everything to play for.
Oh well. A loss with Black against a 2600 isn't unexpected, and I came back with a nice endgame grind in round three against FM Kostya Kavutskiy:
The rook ending after 34.Ra8 should be drawn of course, but it is far from trivial for Black to defend. White can slowly improve his position, and I also have a good plan of a2-a4-a5 followed by Ra8-b8-b6.
Fast forward to the very end:
A close call!
Unfortunately, my tournament quickly went south after this:
Darwin is a really fantastic young player.I committed a single big strategic mistake with the over-optimistic 22.g4? (22.Rd1=), after which he scarcely gave me a chance. He had a solid tournament and was in contention for a GM-norm right to the end.
Round five was a solid draw with IM Justin Sarkar:
Not much to say about this one. White had some annoying pressure in the queenless middlegame, but I manage to equalize. "Tablas".
In round six I fell victim to another Wunderkind, Chess.com blogger FM Kayden Troff! Observe:
Simply put, 18.Nf5!! rocked me. The idea is to open the e-file: 18...exf5 19.Nd6+ Bxd6 (19...Ke7 20.Bg5+, 19...Kd7 20.Nxf7) 20.exd6, picking up the rook on c7. Kayden played this move very quickly, and it's almost totally decisive. In his words, "If you know what you're looking, it's not so tough!". Man, to be 14 and knocking off IMs/GMs left and right... Kayden was another youngster who had an incredible tournament (he was within a whisker of a GM-norm), and he will be a top medal hopeful for the US at the World Youth Chess Championship.
I was determined to make a stand the next day, but alas - another defeat:
Ostrovskiy played a new-ish pawn sacrifice that the engine appears to love: 6...Nc6!? 7.Qxb7 Bd7! and White has to treat with 8.Qb3 in view of the threat of 7...Rb8 and 8...Nb4. Black had full compensation for the pawn, but I got some advantage in the middlegame. The later part of the game baffled me, as I had an extra pawn plus the bishop pair and Black was offering to exchange queens (28...Qb3; 30...Qb2!). Unbelievably, White should probably start thinking about a draw at that point. I kept pushing forward, but he won my a-pawn and effectively neutralized my c-pawn. Another loss.
Ok, by now the tournament was a write-off, but I still wanted to finish strong. I won in round eight against Matt Helfst, a Chess.com employee:
I played NM Spencer Finegold (son of GM Ben Finegold) in the last round, and my sloppy play was still evident:
In my calculations I was looking forward to pressing the heavy piece ending with an extra pawn after 25.Qxf6, but upon reaching the position after 24...Qxa2 I realized that he has a remarkable resource in 25...Qd2!.
Thus, I had to play 25.h3 Qb2 26.Rd2, after which we agreed to a draw.
A bad tournament, but in a way, I'm glad. My opponents exposed deficiencies in my play and openings, and I know where I have to work harder. It's also apparent to me that I can't succeed in a tournament like this with insufficient preparation.
In December, I'm headed to England for the London Chess Classic. I'll be watching the big boys like Carlsen, Anand, Aronian, Kramnik, Nakamura, etc., but I'm particularly excited to compete in the corresponding FIDE Open. Hope I can make the proper adjustments and rebound in that event.