The Perfect Tournament Mindset
Earlier this year, I decided to take part in one of the strongest chess competitions in my country, the 34th International Open Bulgarian Chess Championship “Georgi Tringov Memorial.” This was a tough tournament which happened to attract more than 260 participants despite the severe cold-- -20°F temperatures that were battering the winter landscape of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv.
Some of the most prominent Grandmasters taking part in the championship included the two Bulgarian top players, GM Ivan Cheparinov (2659) and GM Kiril Georgiev (2658). In addition, the tournament enjoyed the presence of many foreign players representing quite a few chess federations, including Greece, Italy, Georgia, Serbia, Moldova, Croatia, and The United States, to name a few.
Being my first tournament in the last six months, I was eager to play, though I hadn’t had the chance to practice a lot, being a full time chess coach known to many of you here at Chess.com. Nevertheless, my determination to give the best of me and succeed was stronger than any feelings of insecurity and lack of sufficient practical experience, which can often prove crucial to one’s tournament performance.
The tournament was a classical FIDE “marathon” event with nine rounds spread over more than a week's time, giving participants plenty of time to relax and prepare for their upcoming games both physically and spiritually. In the first three rounds, I was paired with lower-rated opponents and easily managed to score 3 out of 3 while sparing my energy for the tougher games that were to follow. In the next 6 rounds, I played 5 Grandmasters and one International Master, scoring 3 out 5 against the GMs and beating the International Master, which was more than enough to earn my third IM norm. What is even more remarkable was that before the 6th round I got a severe flu, but still managed to win 2.5 out of 3 against two GMs and an IM over the last two days of the tourney. Overall, with 7 out of 9, I managed to tie for 5th place and formally got the 7th place after the tie-breaks, placing only after the two top Bulgarian GMs and a few other foreign masters.
Certainly, it was a great tournament and I noticed that my positional vision was a bit different, a bit more rational, and I saw and evaluated positions in a better way than before. Still, what helped me the most against my strongest opponents was my ability to consistently improve my positions without leaving any weaknesses in it. My style was neither too passive, nor too active and thus, I was able to really hold some solid positions against the strongest GMs I met. I neither tried too hard to win, nor was too afraid of losing. Throughout the tournament, I made good use of my favorite opening systems, including the Torre, The Stonewall for black, and the Botvinnik System which all contributed to some exciting games, one of which I would like to share with you today.
Probably the most interesting and instructive game of mine in this competition was that against GM Vladimir Petkov, rated 2519 FIDE. In this game, I played white and managed to gradually outplay my opponent by maintaining harmonious position and perfect coordination between my pieces, which happened to be my opponent’s worst nightmare! Below, are my annotations of this game, the lessons of which can help many of you when playing against stronger opponents:
Authors: FM Valeri Lilov and Alex Karaivanov