The Michigan Fall International, Part 2

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Nov 14, 2013

I left you last week in Dearborn, Michigan, where I was playing in the Third Fall Festival, a strong international tournament. After five rounds I had 3.5 points, having faced three grandmasters. I had won in the second round as Black against the #3 player in the U.S., Timur Gareev. However, I had spoiled the next game by playing recklessly and losing against Carlos Matamoros. I didn't follow Tigran Petrosian's advice and make a draw after winning. (He also felt you should make a draw after losing - basically a draw anytime was good, in his opinion...) However, I managed to stabilize things, winning the next game against a woman grandmaster and drawing the fifth round with GM Alex Lenderman.

The next day I was paired with GM Mackenzie Molner (his grandmaster title had been approved just before the event). I knew that Molner was a very sharp and exact player with very good theoretical knowledge and preparation. A small surprise was in order:

After this complicated and dramatic game, I played another very adventurous game against GM Anton Kovalyov. I got the white pieces a second time in a row (the previous day I had played black twice in a row), and this time I went back to 1.e4. After only fourteen moves I was already down two pieces...

I was naturally very upset after this game. Here I played a game that looked like it came out of fantasy. Sacrifice of two pieces, queen sacrifices, underpromotions, and so on. And then I avoided a draw, reached a very easily-won endgame, and messed it up. It is not as if that ending was technically difficult in any way - I would certainly win it with just a little better attention and nerves.

Had I won this game, I would really only need half a point out of the last two games to make my last norm. It would be practically impossible to fail. But now I needed 1/2, starting with black against another young, ambitious 2600+ GM. It really looked like I was going to throw it away like I had in Arlington the week before.

There was one thing, however, which made it easier to sleep. In fact, it was probably better (for norm purposes, of course; not from the creative or prize angle) that I made a draw with Kovalyov rather than winning! Had I won I would have played Yuri Shulman, whose federation is U.S. That meant that if I was unlucky enough not to play a foreigner in the last round, I might not get the GM norm, regardless of my score. There were enough foreign players in the tournament as a whole that it should not matter whom I played, but some of those foreigners withdrew from the tournament or took byes, and recently FIDE has not been counting them for the foreigner requirement if they don't play the whole tournament. But since I drew, I ended up playing Alexander Ipatov, and that satisfied the foreigner requirement.

Alexander Ipatov

Clearly the goal was to hold - at least at first - and once again the Nimzo-Indian proved to be solid as a rock. It was not a very exciting game - I made a nervous mistake early on, giving my opponent a slight advantage. But despite that I never felt in any kind of danger, and eventually the game meandered towards a draw.

Clearly a rather dour defense, but it is not so easy to hold a draw standing slightly worse the whole game against a strong GM who really needs to use the white pieces near the end of the tournament.

Before the last round it was practically impossible to predict the pairings, because so many different people among the leaders of the tournament had already played each other. I saw there was a real danger that I could get paired with Shulman and get black again. Needing only a draw, the white pieces would be very nice, and playing black against somebody who is fighting for first place, knowing I only need a draw, would be a tough game. Fortunately for me there was a odd number of players with 5.5/8, so there was a chance I could get dropped to the next score group.

I was very nervous as I ate lunch. Finally I saw the pairings - I was paired with GM Mikheil Kekelidze. This was a great relief. Kekelidze had been in clear first place after six rounds, but then lost two games in a row, including a completely winning position against Matamoros in the previous round. He had a half point less than me, so he wasn't fighting for any real prize. Considering that I had the white pieces, and he had also been my roommate in the tournament in Arlington, I doubted that he would be particularly bloodthirsty. Indeed, his Petroff Defense was a tacit draw offer, and we quickly drew in the line with the queen exchange (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qe2 etc).

I think there are a couple of things which helped me to finally get my last norm. One of them I already mentioned in part 1 of this series - that I stopped playing the King's Indian in response to 1.d4, preferring instead the Nimzo-Indian. The King's Indian is a beautiful opening, but I have ruined many tournaments because of it. In fact letting go of this tragic but beautiful opening - if only temporarily - in favor of a more practical approach was a huge factor. In both the Fall Festival and the Continental Class (Arlington) I did not lose a game against 1.d4, and my performance rating in both tournaments as black against 1.d4 was around 2650.

The other major thing was that I had been working out in the weeks prior to these tournaments. I have often suffered low energy during tournaments, getting very tired near the end, and in general having a hard time calculating. I could calculate long lines but then I would get confused, forget what I had calculated, and basically my head was muddled. Of course I knew that the mind and body are connected, but I underestimated the difference that better fitness would make.

At various times I have performed at a very high level - for instance in the fall of 2008 my performance rating was almost 2800 over the course of four tournaments (24 games). I knew that I had enough chess knowledge to play very well. Such peaks and - on the other hand - disastrous results were clearly the result of psychology. Thus for a long time I haven't been studying chess very much, or hardly at all in fact. It was always more important to get my life and psychology in order. Nevertheless, it wasn't until recently that I began to fully realize how important physical exercise was, and I quickly saw good things begin to happen as a result.

Exercising made a huge difference - my mind was clearer and I did not get tired at the end of the tournament. And, what was also important, it helped with confidence and getting rid of depression. I never quite understood how something like exercise could help with a mental - almost philosophical - thing such as confidence. But in fact when your mind sees your body working stronger, it sees the whole being as more powerful. This helped me to ignore the fact that almost all of my competitors in the chess world have a far more promising background and life circumstances than I have.

I would like to thank the organizer of the Third Annual Fall Festival, Alan Kaufman, for running an excellent tournament with great playing conditions. He has clearly put a lot of work into bringing high-level chess to Michigan. Also I would like to thank the head arbiter Sisara Amarasinghe for submitting my norm in time for the next FIDE meeting and keeping me updated about the status over the past few weeks. I can highly recommend the Fall Festival for anyone who wants to play in a strong, well-organized tournament.



  • 3 years ago



    Every time one of your articles was published here, I was hoping to read that you finally got your latest norm.
    Good job!
  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago


    Congratulations GM Smith

  • 3 years ago


    I think you should write a chess book about your career, mixing your chess knowledge with your talent for narrative stories. Something like this articles, it really absorbs the reader and at the same time he acquires chess knowledge. Great stuff Mr. Smith!!

  • 3 years ago


    Congratulations, GM Smith!!!  This result makes me feel ``my heart is filled with sunshine'' as Tal once said...

    So happy you persisted.

  • 3 years ago


    Congratulations, GM Smith!!  I've been following your career for a while, and I am so happy for you!!

  • 3 years ago


    Well done mate!

  • 3 years ago


    Amazing story GM Smith! hope to win the Noble Prize in literature! Wink

  • 3 years ago


    Congrats again! You are a fighter.

  • 3 years ago


    I believe I played Dr. Sisira's son in Minnesota - (where he lives) - and got crushed - he's been instrumental in getting FIDE rated events to the Chess Castle in Minnesota - man, I miss that live chess :) - congrats!

  • 3 years ago


    Congratulations again! Keep up with the exercising too. We're not much more than animals; we've evolved to run, jump, swim, lift, strike. After too much sitting every day, both the body and the mind will decay.

  • 3 years ago


    I believe his opponent in the fourth round was: LISANDRA TERESA ORDAZ VALDES

  • 3 years ago


    Very happy for you Bryan. One small quibble, your "woman grandmaster" (paragraph one) deserves a name, like all your other opponents. It sounds just a tiny bit dismissive as written.

    Again, congratulations!

  • 3 years ago


    congratulation for the title of course, for those interesting games, and also for this really interesting article : some good games explained in depht plus the insider insight about this kind of tournament  / competitive situations.

    everything is awesome, thank you!

  • 3 years ago


    Woo hoo for you! 

  • 3 years ago


    Is the Kings indian not a good opening? Or is there another reason ditching it makes u score better? Nice article btw!

  • 3 years ago


    Congratulations! It's great to hear that the tournament organizers undertook their job with the necessary due diligence.

  • 3 years ago


    We were waiting for that !

  • 3 years ago


    Congratulations! I really hope you will be writing a book soon. Your articles are probably the best I have read on this site — many of them would be interesting even if you took out the chess!

  • 3 years ago


    Congratulations! I'm reading Your articles avidly, and consider them as a great lesson about dealing with a slump. I'm looking forward to see Your games after getting the title.

    As for crucial decision of not playing King's Indian - I still feel nostalgic seeing my once-belowed Pirc Defense played on the board next to me, but letting it go has been instrumental to making my first candidate master norm. On the other hand, experience gained playing tough, demanding and risky stuff paid off in more "normal" positions enormously. I often think "this is not real pressure", "this is not yet really desperate", "my kingside is not yet wrecked compared to good old days of disasters and comebacks" etc. I sincerely hope, that King's Indian, even if not played, will be the same kind of shadow companion to You. But please uncorck it once in a while as a GM, so that a humble kibitzer will have some explosive stuff to watch :)

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