How Do You Make A Chess Comeback?

How Do You Make A Chess Comeback?

| 21 | Chess Players

Don’t call it a comeback; I’ve been here for years.       

In October I played in Millionaire Chess, my first international tournament in nearly two years. 

It wasn’t a triumphant return like LL Cool J. I didn’t make tears rain down like a monsoon, and I didn’t make the big bucks in Millionaire Monday. 

I did, however, come away with strong results and thoughts about how infrequent players like myself can return to the board from time to time. 

Photo by David Llada.

After graduating college in 2011, I dedicated a year to chess and earned the IM title. I was convinced I would be constantly playing afterward that year but work, moving to the West Coast, and other life excuses got in the way. 

The long absence led my friend WIM/FM Alisa Melekhina to ask, “didn’t you quit chess?”  Thankfully not. I finished 4/8, beat a GM who previously had a 3-0 record against me, and gained some rating points.

Alisa Melekhina

I also learned that in staging a comeback, preparation alone is not enough.  

Don’t be afraid to play different opening lines. This may seem counterintuitive since a long absence from playing makes it harder to prepare a new line. While true, playing the same lines repeatedly leads to stagnation. 

Varying opening lines is both exciting and helps progress a player’s understanding of the game. 

In the third round of the tournament, I was playing White against the talented 15-year-old Sanjay Ghatti. In the spirit of trying new openings, I noticed he consistently played the same line repeatedly of the Caro-Kann. 

I hadn't played 1. e4 in a tournament game since I was 10 years old, so I took a chance. I prepared an interesting sideline, and it led to an easy victory!

Keep calm. Players often find themselves in difficult positions. When you haven’t played in a while, this problem is exacerbated. 

In round four, I played a solid opening, but then strayed against experienced GM Ivanov. When the tides started turning against me, I stayed calm, played defensively and used his time pressure to my advantage. 

I snatched a win with resourceful play, even though I had fallen to Ivanov in our previous three encounters.

Double-check your moves. Carefully. After beating GM Ivanov, I drew against GM Conrad Holt. 

I was feeling confident, everything was going according to plan. I had 3.5/5 and was on pace to make Millionaire Monday. Even better, I got my second White pairing in a row, this time against GM Gil Popilski. 

If I made even half a point in the game, I had excellent chances at some serious money. 

Terrible things start happening in chess when you get too confident. And I was reminded of that in the worst of ways. Against GM Popilski, I played an interesting line of the Gruenfeld and was faced with a decision of whether to trade queens or try to keep them on the board.

I didn’t check my lines closely enough and found myself back in the hotel room shortly thereafter…

Rebound well from losses. Unfortunately, I followed up on my blunder to GM Popilski with a tough loss to GM Kayden Troff. Having lost two in a row, I was frustrated, but there were still two games left. 

After missing chess for two years, I needed to get back on track. In the eighth round, I was playing strong FM Igor Schneider, who I have known for many years -- and he has beaten me numerous times. 

I played a quiet opening and then saw an opportunity to seize a queenside initiative. This game broke my way and I was able to finish the tournament on a high note. 

After my long absence, Millionaire Chess was a great way to get back in the game. 

With these lessons in mind, I look forward to playing in my next tournament. To my future opponents: in the wise words of LL Cool J, I’m gonna knock you out.  

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