Michael Pastor was the young superstar of Philadelphia chess. Bright and chess-obsessed, Michael made master by his mid-teens, a feat quite less common than today. Not only that, but simultaneously I had been in one of my frequent "vacations" from chess while Michael was ascending, so he only knew me by name; Michael was not afraid of anyone, much less some rusty expert he had never seen play. I am not even sure he even respected that it was possible I could give him a good game (but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt - Mike was very smart but always friendly).
Besides eventually being invited to the US Junior Closed Championship (I believe Larry Christiansen dominated the year that Michael played, and Michael did poorly), Mike Pastor had one other big claim to fame: his well-researched article "Michael in Wonderland" had been reprinted in the world's most prestigious chess magazine, Schachmatny Bulletin! Michael had done research into how Fischer, down a tempo compared to a Sicilian Grand Prix Attack, had gotten a vicious attack against Anthony Saidy on the Black side of an English with an early pawn sacrifice, ...f5-f4. The fact that this sacrifice worked for Black but did not have a good reputation when played as White, a tempo ahead, seemed a paradox. Michael had done such a good job in investigating this apparent paradox that the Soviets felt his article worthy of reprint in their #1 chess magazine! Good stuff, Michael!
With all that in mind, things were not going so well at the start of the game when Michael, ala Kramnik years later, used 1.Nf3 against me to transpose into a line that he could handle better than I. It was partly with this game in mind that I advised, years later, "Learn the King's Indian Defense and the French Defense. You can never tell when an irregular opening will transpose into a position similar to those openings and it will be very helpful if you understand how to handle it." My students who have taken this suggestion have reported that it has been very useful advice .
My game with Mike was the first of two games on my 23rd birthday. I continued my mediocre play of the first two games until move 42 when I guess I finally shook off some of the rust...
Wow! What a turnaround. After being squeezed all game I come back with a roar and my second straight win over one of the highest rated players in the event. This game is presented as #23 in my book The Improving Annotator, the only game of the event to have the distinction of appearing in that work.
Whereas after the first game I was worried about finishing in last place, now I looked at the crosstable and was wondering how I (at 2-1) stood in relation to first! I no longer have the crosstable, so I can't tell you exactly, but I believe that no one was 3-0, so I was right in the race! Amazing. (PS: Michael, ever the good guy, contacted me a few years ago. I think I lost his email address so hopefully he will get back in touch again).
Up next was one of the "old guard", Lou Golder from our Germantown Chess Club. I had played Lou a few times, mostly when I was weaker, but now I felt I was at least as strong as he. Of course, just like I fear no one, I don't take anyone lightly. It only takes one bad move to lose a game... (to be continued).
Previous installments (Part 1 of 7) - (Part 2 of 7)