Scoring the Winning Goal

| 7 | Other

Slowly, I savored my "organic" burger with cheddar and avocado slices. Although my surroundings were bursting with life, all that I could focus on was the dramatic last round. In a sense, the thought of playing the last chess game was therapeutic, as if I were the protagonist in a denouement of a film and would be playing a role by going through the motion of making the moves on the chessboard.

"It's going to be an exciting match," I conjectured, nodding towards the TV, where the US vs. Portugal soccer game was being shown. But I wasn't too interested in the World Cup at that moment; the more that the time passed, the more that my emotions were coming to a climax about chess. I was about to play for my final International Master norm, and although the burger was enjoyable, I was hungry for something else.

I'd already made the move for five days from my apartment on 19th Street to the Estonian House in midtown Manhattan. The "7th New York International," held during beautiful June weather, was housed in what seemed like a luxurious palace from the 19th century.

My goal for this tournament was just to enjoy the games; I'd welcome more, but not hope for it. Originally, I started slowly. In the first round, I was paired with Jorge Lopez from Colombia. After a Rossolimo opening, we reached the following critical position:

I was happy to start off well. The next round I had a setback with Darwin Yang from Dallas. After reaching a decent position as Black, I erred:

Now, it was the evening round, and I was discouraged but had to move on. I was paired against Aravind Kumar, a twelve-year old, soft-spoken player from New Jersey - he was stuck in traffic and arrived slightly late to the game. After a promising opening, we reached the following position:

After the game, I breathed a sigh of relief. The next round, I was paired with Michael Mulyar from Colorado, who seemed tactful and likeable. We reached the following position after a Queen's Indian defense:

I was satisfied with the result, although it was a tense but brief game. The night round, I was paired with Andrey Gorovets from Belarus. We simmered down into the following position after an erratic start:

This loss was especially devastating, because I had an edge the whole game. But unlike sports such as soccer, one mistake can ruin the entire previous effort, and all anyone sees is the final score. Chess is an emotional game, and I also felt under the weather because I was recovering from having my four wisdom teeth extracted days before the tournament.

The next morning, I was paired with Christopher Wu from New Jersey. I had played this now sixteen year old when we were both younger, so it was a bit of an uncanny déjà vu to sit across from him again. This time he was much more strong and experienced, and I could sense that he wanted to win.

In the seventh round, I was playing someone who was my age and from my city, Andrew Ryba. After my passive opening, we were both content to take a draw to free up the evening.


Playing for the final norm. Photo Credit: Jerry Graham


The last day had finally arrived. Practically, I was out of the running for a norm. The only hypothetical was to score two out of two against an average FIDE rating of 2530, but this situation was improbable, because the tournament was a Swiss. Not only would I have to win both games, but it was also exteremely unlikely that I would even get paired against an opponent rated high enough.

I felt resigned to my fate that sunny morning as I, sporting a navy blue t-shirt and gray athletic shorts, trudged my way to the tournament. As destiny would have it, though, I got paired against the only GM with the same score as me - Oliver Barbosa from the Philippines. Suddenly, all of my energy was restored, and I was ready to prove myself. It was game time!

The theatrics were not over though; there was still one more defender to get past. The pairings would probably work out, but I was ambivalent about the result. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the busy New York City streets, I clung onto my inner tranquility with all of my might.

Eventually, I was paired with the stoic Alexander Bagrationi from Ukraine. As magic hour approached, we shook hands and started the clocks: 

And, with this victory, I garnered my final IM norm! I'd like to thank the Marshall Chess Club once again - in particular, Frank Brady and Marcus Fenner - for organizing a great tournament at an extraordinary location. 

As much as this performance is thrilling though, earning the final norm is really just the icing on the cake. When I had received my first IM norm at the Pan-American Youth Championships, Chess Life had reported that the royal game was my favorite activity because, like American soccer this year, one can prove that determination alone can succeed. Fittingly, I validated this theory on the final day of the New York International.


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