So, here I am in Biel. Just 15 minutes ago, I was sitting in a chair watching Magnus, Maxime, and Fabiano's body language at the board.
But... back up a moment. Five days ago, I started my preparations for Biel in earnest. My program included 30 minutes a day on Tactics Trainer, and then a few other varying tasks. One was to work through some chess mentor; and I did a very interesting (but not very difficult for me) course by GM Davies on the London System; half of a rather difficult endgame course by GM Bojkov; and a few random problems.
Another piece of my preparation was to play through all the games from my last two tournaments. The reason was not to analyze and figure out my current strengths and weaknesses-- I was already quite aware of those. The purpose was to recapture the hunger for another chess tournament that I felt at the end of both events. I knew that hunger was a great feeling to have as you go into an event, though it's something you often feel after an event instead of before. So I played through those games to get re-inspired. I finished the last couple games this afternoon after arriving in Biel! And I think to some extent it worked.
The last bit of preparation I did was just talking myself through what my current chess goals are, reminding myself of what I want to work on here, recapping what my games from the last two tournaments were like. I won't go over any of that now, since it's pretty well covered in my previous blogs.
The train ride from Geneva to Biel pretty much followed straight along the Lake. Had I slept decently last night, I would surely have enjoyed the beautiful views immensely; train rides are wonderful things. But as it was, I was feeling absolutely wretched: head pains, stomach pains, nausea. With the shaking of the train, I forced myself to write down some philosophical and literary ideas I'd had over the past twenty four hours, and then I gave in and let my head rest where I could.
Arrived in Biel, I felt a bit better immediately. It felt like I had just passed from France to Germany, and somehow I felt a little bit more at home. The town of Biel is not as crowded as Geneva: there is more room on the streets, fewers cars, and it appears relatively safe to just wander out into a street with your eyes half-closed (that can be a very important factor for a travelling chess player!). All the street signs were in German, which was fun. There was a nice open square with fountains half-way through my walk, and then a canal to walk along for the second half. I felt very much like I'd arrived in my kind of town. The organizer's directions were spot on and soon I was in the lobby of the hotel.
The man at the front desk spoke to me in German, and it was lots of fun. I've had plenty of chance to practice French the past couple weeks, so a switch to German was most welcome. Little did I know the trouble I would soon have! Despite being able to read all the signs and ads on the street, and communicate with this man, I would soon come ear to ear with a language, which I had no hope of understanding: Swiss German. In several further encounters that afternoon, I could not make out a single word of what people were saying, and prefered for convenience to carry on conversations in French.
Up in my room, I was reunited with Sam Shankland, who I had not seen in a while, and this was a much-appreciated face to see! He was still sleeping as jet lag had kept him from sleeping the previous two nights. Pretty much the first thing I did was grab a pillow, kick off my shows, and fall down on the coach for a little down time. We chatted while we were both half-asleep, then showered and went out to check in at the playing site, and get lunch. Personal pizzas cost us $20 each (that's Switzerland, for those who don't know!! Be careful about coming here!). The organizers welcomed us, and gave us what I think will be some very welcome 10CHF vouchers for a few local restaurants. We will have to find them on the map this evening!
Our nice and large room, while exorbitantly expensive, also includes breakfast and a small kitchen. So between shopping and what I think are free restaurant money, we should at least be able to avoid bleeding any further funds on food.
After the rest, shower, food, and talking with Sam, I was feeling almost human, and we went to play our round. I was paired with a young Indonesian, whose spectacular result in a tournament a couple months ago had caught my eye, and gotten her a segment on "Pardon our Blunders." I was wary of her, not relaxing at all, as one sometimes does in the first round against a much lower rated opponent. After the game I was shocked to see that her rating is 2050 fide. What?? I was in such disbelief I checked on the FIDE website as I'm writing this blog, and yes, that is indeed her rating.
She played some moves which to me seemed slightly odd, but I strangely never managed to get such a great position. It was a type of position I have very very little experience with, so I had to figure most things out by calculating every move, and thus I got into time trouble. I was also torn by what felt like a need to run to the bathroom, which was a bit distracting as it always is. In this case I made the right decision and just hunkered down and finished the game, with less than a minute on my clock.
Since I was very tired and weak today, I only spent a few minutes after my game watching GM Pelletier- GM Carlsen and GM Caruana - GM Vachier-Lagrave. On future days, I definitely intend to spend some time watching them, and seeing what I can pick up about their board demeanor and strength, but not today. Still, I'd say that it was pretty amazing to see them sitting in the same room, with the same time control, the clock ticking away on them just as fast, and playing chess just the same as the rest of us mortals. Their games were at moves 22-25 as my game finished (my opponent played really fast, as if there was never anything to think about). I think Vachier could hold a slightly worse position against Caruana, and that Carlsen would probably convert a pawn up position against Pelletier who had slight compensation. Shirov and Morozevich had already drawn quickly.
I will try to post further updates on further rounds. If there's anything you'd like to know about Switzerland or Biel, let me know, and I'll try to find out. Don't ask me to interview Carlsen or Shirov for you, though: I'm too shy to do that!