Road to GM: Isle of Man 2017
With the last-minute registration of GM Magnus Carlsen, the 2017 Isle of Man International cemented itself as the strongest open tournament in the world to my knowledge. The Chessbrahs and chess.com have been working together for a long time now, and it was only fitting to try to earn my final GM norm at their flagship event.
Eric decided to withdraw from playing the event and focus on streaming the remainder of the World Cup, manage the stream in the background, help out with the onsite commentary, and assist me where possible with preparation during the tournament.
We were late to reserve a hotel, but things worked out for the best when we found a spacious Airbnb apartment for rent very close to the tournament hall. The island itself is quite depressing – not a very eventful social scene and the average age of the island was almost in triple digits. Eric and I arrived a day ahead of time, and I believe I was in a good playing condition leading up to the event.
The tournament started with a random pairing in round one, a pairing which I didn’t make the most of against my 2362 rated opponent from India with the white pieces. After a draw in the first round and a 7-hour loss to GM Arkadij Naiditsch (2702) in the second round, things were not off to a good start. I played the Petroff for the first time and, despite getting an acceptable position, my inexperience showed, as I used a lot of time to make only decent moves. The endgame that we achieved after many hours of play was a Queen and pawn endgame which was indeed drawn, but required very precise play. After the tournament, Magnus told me that he thought my technique was pitiful… and I agreed!
This tournament had a longer time control than any tournament I’ve ever played before, and I was making use of every second. I think I had the longest average game time of any player in the tournament, boasting multiple 6.5 and 7-hour struggles.
After I finally got on the board with a win in round 3 against IM John Watson, I failed to convert a great positional sacrifice against my round 4 opponent. Since I consider myself to be a much better positional player than a tactical one, I’m quite disappointed with myself for this game. A very important half-point that I missed out on, as well as the chance to be paired up in the next round.
In round 5 I pushed for more than 7 hours against an 11-year-old from India rated 2372! Finally, I was given a chance to break through an extremely locked position and I did not waste my opportunity. This game was the most satisfying one I played all tournament, and it set me up for another good pairing against GM Gabriel Sargissian (2652) in round 6. One of the most critical moments of this game was when I played 33. Re2 instead of 33. Rc2! During the game I thought that only I could be better, but after a few inaccuracies by myself combined with good defense by my opponent, I quickly found myself to be the one fighting for a draw.
My rollercoaster tournament continued: I beat a good friend of mine, IM Eggleston, in round 7 and was paired up against GM Julio Granda Zuniga (2653) in the eighth round. We played a slow maneuvering game, which is definitely my style, but I realized at a certain point that my position looked beautiful but I had no idea what to do next. In chess, this is always a disconcerting feeling to have. He proceeded to outplay me in a time scramble and this meant that my GM norm chances were over.
I finished the tournament with a win against IM Kavutskiy in the final round, which meant that I gained about 3 ELO and performed 2505 – certainly not a bad performance but definitely not one deserving of a GM norm. If I want to score a GM norm it’s clear I have to score some points against the 2600+ players. In the Isle of Man tournament, I scored 3.5/4 against IM’s and 0/3 against GMs! Both an encouraging statistic and a discouraging one…
After the tournament, we hosted a fun after-party at our apartment where Caruana, Nakamura, and Carlsen - among other people - all attended in good spirits. They were all happy to play some blitz, bullet, and celebrate their strong performances in the event. On the way back to Canada, Eric and I also stopped for an overnight in Dublin, Ireland to see the city for the first time and visit some of our long-time subscribers. Good times were had.
The next norm tournament for me looks like it will be in November at the Saint Louis Chess Club, but nothing has been confirmed yet. I’m also looking ahead to the London Chess Classic, a strong tournament which I’ve surprisingly never played. I am definitely going to be making multiple attempts at my final GM norm before the end of 2017.