The Superbowl. The NCAA's Final Four. The NBA Finals. The Lithuanian Chess Championship Final.
Nah, I am kidding - no one apart from Lithuanians really cares about the Lithuanian Chess Championship :) But to me, qualifying for it meant as much as the above mentioned events mean to their participants. I've dreamed about it since I was a boy and tried to qualify many, many, MANY times - yet always unsuccessfuly. I was starting to think that I will never make it. In 2012 I finally managed to break the spell after a crazy last round game (more about it in this blog entry: http://www.chess.com/blog/TVEDAS/never-ease-up-or-a-guide-on-how-to-not-get-swindled) and did fairly well in the actual final - 5th place among 10 strong players and a place in the national squad for the Istambul Chess Olympiad. At the time, realistically speaking, it felt like a pinnacle of my chess "career".
Let me tell you about the Final. Usually it is a 10 or 12 player round-robin tournament, with multiple GMs and IMs playing. Strong opposition, norm opportunities, games broadcasted online, a good deal of attention - to us, Lithuanian chess players (especially younger ones), it truly means a lot. The fact that it is a round-robin tournament suits me pretty well. I really like RRs! After the lots are drawn and pairings are made, you know your opponents for each round of the tournament. No nasty Swiss-style surprises in the pairings! Somehow this knowledge always comforts me. It allows for some preparation and also for some planning ahead as far as the style of play goes.
Anyway, 2013 came rolling in. To my surprise I managed to play well in the National Championship Semifinal (a qualifying tournament for the final) and got in to the final with relative ease. Two years in a row, baby! That felt good :) I was coming off a pretty good showing in the National League (national team championship) in which I beat a couple of GMs and, to everyones surprise, our young team managed to get 2nd place, ahead of some higher rated teams. I was confident, I felt like I can do damage in the final if everything goes according to plan. As you know, though, things rarely go according to plan...
The 2013 Final had 12 players, among them 3 GM's, 3 IMs and an FM. First 3 places would gain a spot in the national team for the European Team Championhip. I set that as my goal prior to the tournament, but since I was the 8th seed, I didn't TRULY believe I can do it. I decided to play extremely aggresively against the lower rated players and try to score 4/4 against them - I figured that that was the only way for me to have some chances for the top 3, as long as I held my ground against the higher rated guys.
After the pairings came in I saw that I was playing one of the lower rated players with black in Round 1. I was very happy about the pairings - after all, that is much better than having to face a 2500+ for the start of the tournament! I felt like if I am able to win this game, it might be a trend setter for the entire tournament - which one of us does not like a 1/1 start? :) With all these happy thoughts in my head it came as no surprise that I played one of my worst games in recent memory. Here it is (with some light commentary) for your viewing pleasure:
Wow, what a stinker. All the hopes, all the pre-tournament strategies have went right out the window. I felt like I lost the entire tournament in this game. The thing that was the most upsetting was not the loss itself, but the fact that I did not really even put up a fight. If I could not do it against one of the lower rated guys, how could I expect to hold my ground against the big boys..?
Some years ago this defeat would have made me crumble. I have a history of being a guy who can lose plenty of games in a row on a bad streak, but also as someone who could beat some stronger guys when on a good streak. This DEFINITELY felt like a beginning of a bad streak.. But this time was different. I had a big difference-maker on my side - my fiancee ("only" a girlfriend at a time). Her amazing support allowed me to calm down and realize that there are still 10 games to go! How stupid would it be to not do my best in them? After all, I might never qualify to another final. Now, don't get me wrong - I always had my family's support, even after the worst losses. Families are kind of obliged to do that, right? :) But to have a person who was not a family member (yet) show the same amount of support when she could have said "you suck sir!" was somehow really important.
In Round 2 I was playing against a very young but very talented up-and-coming player with white pieces. I was not very confident after that Round 1 game and this guy always seemed really dangerous to me, so I was not extremely thrilled about my chances. I decided that I should not go in to a tactical melee in my current state of mind and opted for something a bit safer. This is how it went:
This game was exactly what I needed. A win versus a strong player is one thing, but a win versus a strong player without ever really being in danger of losing is a real confidence-builder. The combination in the end added some icing on the cake - I was very happy about finding d7. It is funny how quickly one's mental state can change..
After this win I was at 1 out of 2. Not the best result, given the fact that I already played two of the lower rated guys, but given the situation after Round 1 I was actually pleased with it. The real fight was still ahead though..
This is it for this entry. I did not include my actual result in the tournament on purpose so that you could follow my emotions as I felt them after each round without knowing the end result. I hope you don't go looking for the results online - the blog will lose some of it's feel if you do :) Don't forget to read the commentary of the games - it might be pretty light variation wise, but I think it has some instructive insights here and there. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope we will continue this journey together in Part 2!
Best of luck at the boards,
TVEDAS is out.