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Winning Doesn't Suck (My Games of the 2012 US National G/30 Championship)

What a difference a year makes.  Yesterday, I played in the 2012 US National G/30 Championship.

For those of you who read my blog (all 5 of you), you know that last year I played in the 2011 US National G/30 Championship and had a horrendous 0/5 performance.  This year would be much different.  I should point out that last year I played in the 1800+ section.  This year, they changed the sections so that I played in the 1600-1899 section.  So the competition was admittedly not rated as high as last year, but I'm not one to complain.  This year, I would end up scoring 4/5, tied for first place.  This is actually the first time I've ever won a chess tournament (not counting quad tournaments; this was actually only my 4th tournament, as most of my USCF games were Berkeley Chess Club games).

I had a few misgivings during the week before the tournament.  I'd already signed up in advance, but I was beginning to wonder if it was a good idea for me to play.  This would be my first OTB games since that 0/5 tournament last year.  I'd hardly practiced at all.  I hadn't even played any online blitz games in months.  I played about a dozen online blitz games the week before the tournament, and they did not go well.  To top it off, I lacked confidence in my d4 opening as white and was thinking about switching to e4 instead.  Without even practicing it.  I'd played d4 almost exclusively in my 48 previous USCF games with white, playing e4 perhaps 4 times (I think I was actually 3-1 in them).  Still, it was a big change.

But here I was in Pleasanton, getting ready for round 1.  This time they played the adults and kids all in the same big room, about 200 players in all.  The players included 6-time US Champion GM Walter Browne, playing in the 1900+ section (which he would tie for first with 4/5).  But I didn't get a chance to see any of his games, as I had my hands full with my own games, which used up most of the time control in each round.

In round 1, I was black against Peter Mertvago (1618).  This was kind of a crazy game.  I had a nice attack against his king, I thought, but couldn't find a way to break through.  Eventually I gave up on my attack, and had to thwart his attack on my king on the queenside.  At one point I thought he actually had me, but I defended, then saw him make some errors in time trouble that made it easy for me.

In round 2, I was white against Joseph Larsen (1661).  Joseph had the annoying habit of making his moves at light speed.  He seemed like he was bored that I was taking so long.  He reminded me of Rob Salaburu (see 2012 World Series of Poker) in that sense.  He actually stood up once, which is rare for a G/30 match.  We eventually got down to an endgame with 6 pawns a side, a knight for me and a bishop for him.  I felt good about it since his bishop was hemmed in, leaving my knight to hop around mostly at will.  With my time under 2 minutes, though, I couldn't find a way to break through and offered a draw.  He shortly accepted, since it was clear there was nothing he could do to open up the position.  After looking at the position afterwards, however, I realized I had definite winning chances.  In fact, the computer has me at +5.5 at the point I offered a draw.  All I needed to do was play b5.  So, a wasted opportunity, but with these time controls it's not always easy to play the endgame.  With normal time controls I don't offer the draw there, but I didn't want to risk running too low on time trying to find a win.

In round 3, I was black against Andrew Zhang Hong (1595, playing up).  He looked to be all of 11 years old.  Playing someone that young was actually kind of scary for me, as I know ratings at that age fluctuate wildly, so there was a good chance he was better than his rating.  Plus, he had already won his first two games.  This is the first time I've played a kid when I wasn't a kid myself.  He seemed distracted at times, looking at other games, or staring off into the distance.  He mounted an attack against my king, and I had to sweat a bit, but I defended it well enough.  I also noticed he made these mysterious king moves, back and forth.  The first time he did it, I thought - oh no, he knows something I don't.  But after he did it the second or third time, I realized he probably didn't have any idea what move to make, so he was just moving to see what I would do, or possibly try to get me into time trouble by making quick mindless moves himself.  Once his attack was over, I was able to win a pawn and then convert it into the win.  I was especially proud of myself for sacrificing my rook to promote my pawn to a queen.  After that he actually ran out of time (I had 41 seconds left), but I was far ahead anyway.

In round 4, I was black against Charandle Jordan (1814).  We played a really slow game, mostly because it was a crazy wide-open game.  At the time, I felt like I completely misplayed the opening, getting down two pawns immediately, but the computer says it wasn't that bad.  I found the right moves to stay afloat, and then fought back, harassing his king and queen, eventually winning a knight and two rooks before he ran out of time (I still had about 6 minutes left).

In round 5, I was white against Adam Bruce Morton (1894).  I knew that a draw would give me at least a share of first with 2 other players.  I also knew that my opponent needed to win to get a share of first (he had 3.0, I had 3.5).  So while I wouldn't necessarily settle for a draw, I told myself that I shouldn't mind playing symmetrical, quiet positions, trading pieces liberally.  And maybe he would press for a win and make a mistake in the process.  So, I was a little surprised that he seemed very willing to trade a lot of pieces off the board quickly.  In fact we played a very quick game, getting into the endgame after only about half the time control.  Along the way, he made a critical error, taking with a knight when he should have taken with a pawn, losing a pawn in the process.  In the endgame I was up a pawn, with only knights on the board, and I had better pawn structure as well.  I figured it should be fairly easy to convert it into a win.  Well, the computer agrees, but unfortunately I was unable to finish it.  I got up 2 pawns, but he was able to sacrifice his knight for one pawn and take the other with his king.  A lost opportunity, but this year my lost opportunities turned into draws instead of losses.

Here are the final results:

http://www.bayareachess.com/events/12/usg30results.php (scroll down to the 1600-1899 section).

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