Hi Chess Friends,
I recently passed the 10 year mark since one of the formative moments of my chess career. Over memorial day weekend 2006 I somehow snuck my way into winning the Wisconsin State Championship. I was far from the strongest player in the tournament, but had a couple of lucky moments and won the title with only 4.5/6. This success, as only a 16 year old inspired me to focus on chess and eventually led to my current career as a coach and organizer of chess clubs.
Heading into the final day of the tournament, I had scored two wins and two draws against lower rated players, leaving me a half point off the lead. For round five I had black against the tournament's top seed, and my longtime chess coach, FM Alex Betaneli. He was the reigning state Champion, and had beaten me in all four of our previous tournament meetings. Sure enough, I gave him an opportunity to win material early in the game. See if you can find the tactic that both of us missed.
It probably helped my confidence that I didn't see that tactic during the game. Alex applied pressure, but after I survived the opening, I was never again in serious danger.
Our game was the longest of round five, and the final round began moments later. We were each given a 30 minute reprieve before the start of our final games. Despite this draw dropping him out of contention for first, Alex graciously went to lunch with me and helped calm my nerves before the final game. I was paired with Ashish Vaja, who was soon to claim the master title and was in sole first place at 4/5. He played the aggressive Blumenfeld gambit and we again reached a critical position early in the game.
This tactic neutralized black's compensation for the gambit pawn. Suddenly I was winning, and just had to keep my cool the rest of the way.
After the game I waited around to see the final standings. I ended up tying for first and taking the top place on tiebreaks. My favorite prize was getting to add my name to the traveling cup pictured above. Every Wisconsin Champion since 1923 has their name on the cup. Most notably, Arpad Elo is on there seven times. Yes, that Elo, the mathematician who invented the rating system we all use.
Afterwards, I celebrated by taking Alex to dinner to thank him for his years of coaching. The confidence I gained from the tournament helped me to continue my chess studies with renewed enthusiasm. Nowadays, when I look at this achievement from my childhood, I'm not overly impressed with the quality of my play, but can't help but be thankful about how this tournament helped to lead me to my chess career today.