Road to My Peak #1: A Golden Opportunity

Road to My Peak #1: A Golden Opportunity

DanielGuel
DanielGuel
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Hi, chess fans! Welcome back to my blog. I am happy to say that after reaching my peak USCF rating last weekend, that this two-part series, "Road to My Peak" is accurate because it actually happened! 

Since I last wrote about a tournament, I signed up for and participated in the 2021 Texas Golden Open. The tournament was run by Blakeman chess, who runs quality tournaments in Texas and in Missouri. If you're in either of those areas (or even if not... 5 out of my 6 opponents were not from Texas according to their USCF profiles) looking for solid tournament opportunities, I would recommend looking into those tournaments, assuming you can make the commitment (they're generally 2-3 day tournaments, and the entry fee is high). 

Anyway, I saw this tournament as a golden opportunity (pun intended!), because out of the 44 players who registered for the Open section, I was the 6th LOWEST rated player, which means that I would get strong competition the majority (if not the duration) of the tournament. Meaning A) a chance to learn from competing with strong competition, and B) if I just win a game or two, my rating would increase! But I do actually have to perform...

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In round 1, I was paired with Sultan Chubakov (2161 USCF, 2103 FIDE). He's a younger player, from Kyrgystan I believe, living in California (assuming his USCF info is accurate). I was excited for the opportunity to play a strong player... I mean, I knew for weeks that I'd be paired up in the first round, but it's a different feeling walking into the playing hall for the first time, and sitting across someone a few classes higher than you in chess! 

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Key lessons learned:

  • Don't be lazy with calculations! I had the ability to see that 15. Rac1(?) lost a pawn, but I didn't take the time to calculate it out! 
  • However, when you do blunder a pawn, keep your head up, and look for counterplay! Once I got my Knight to d5, Rook to the 7th, my Bishops operating, being down a pawn barely mattered.
  • I think I forgot to mention in my annotations, but he offered draws when he was under pressure (don't remember exactly when, but around move 27-30 range). When you're pressuring your higher-rated opponent, keep pressing! Decline draws!!! It is tempting to take those free rating points, but who knows, maybe you will win, and even if you lose, it's a good opportunity to play on, and learn from the loss.

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Obviously, a good result, drawing a high 2100 player. I was disappointed because I thought I was winning at some point, but I never had a win, just pressure, and he defended well. My second-round game was to be against Barry Evans (2010 USCF, 1864 FIDE). I looked on his USCF profile that this was his first tournament in three years, however, his first round was a draw vs a 2250, so I didn't know what to expect. Just play the board, not the man!

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Key Lessons learned:

  • Even in a Queenless middlegame, piece coordination is critical. Black's lack of piece coordination kind of cost him.
  • Be objective about trades! Specifically 27... Bxg3. The trade was not necessary, as the Bishop was just better than the Knight!
  • It's important to be accurate in endgames! After 34... b5, missing the capture with Ra2 could have been costly. 

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So that concluded the Friday rounds. On Saturday morning, I was paired on board 5 (the highest I could ever dream of playing in that stacked open field) against NM Kirk Ghazarian (2317 USCF, 2181 FIDE). He told me he reads my blogs! Honestly, going into this game, I was sure I was going to lose, BUT, it gave me a good opportunity to simply play my best, and if I avoid silly blunders, it'll be a game, but the chips will fall where they may! (OK, can I admit that it's a saying I just hear sometimes? It's a poker term, right?). Anyway...

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Key lesson learned:

  • OK, this is gonna be one big bullet point, because it fascinated me. A 2300 does not need to beat a 1700 in a tournament by crushing them in 20 moves or gaining a clear advantage early on. Yes, that'll happen sometimes. However, my opponent had a significantly greater understanding of the opening than I did, made little improvements in the position, and transitioned into an endgame that favored him (and on top of that, I was under time pressure). I didn't make any major mistakes until the very end. Sometimes, you just need to "outclass your opponent" to win.

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OK, on to round 4, against NM Ryan Amburgy (2209 USCF, 2037 FIDE). I researched in my hotel room before the game that he played the Jobava London, which I have zero theoretical knowledge of. As we'll see this round and next round, preparing an opening you don't know right before a game is counterproductive...

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Key lesson learned:

  • Uhh, just be sure to think about your opening prep for yourself, and play the best moves. That's about it once I lost that pawn, there was no turning back...

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That concluded Saturday's games. There was one more round to go, but I chose to take a bye the final game of Saturday, to even out my schedule. On Sunday morning, I was paired with NM Eric Hon (2203 USCF, 1974 FIDE). Similar story as to round 5, but different... uhh, "method of losing". I researched that he plays the Benko Gambit (which then I had little theoretical knowledge, but I have improved that since!), and I just played the half-accepted, and it was kind of "whatever" from there. I made a horrible mistake (both on the board, and psychologically) on move 14

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Key lesson learned:

  • Don't do what I did on move 14

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The final round was nigh! I was paired with Dhruv Karthik (1945 USCF, 1585 FIDE). I finally got to play a non-master!  I wanted to end with a win (thanks, captain obvious), however, even though he would be my lowest-rated opponent, 1945 is not an easy rating to beat, or let alone draw. Unfortunately, I made a mistake on move 13 which set me back, though the game was kind of interesting...

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Key lessons learned:

  • OK, move 13, check for tactics... but also, if I play a move with an idea (12... cxd4 to open the c5 square), I kinda need to... um... follow up on that idea? 
  • It's simply hard to defend an attack, even if there's not a forced mate. 21... Bxb2 kind of let him in, he had way more productive attackers than I had defenders.

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So, what were my thoughts after the tournament? To be completely honest, I got to play three masters, two experts, and a super-solid A-player, and I felt like I botched it, because of silly mistakes. I don't mind losing, but I felt like the games with Ryan and Eric were somewhat duds, meaning I just made a costly mistake early on and didn't learn much. My game with Dhruv was similar, but it was more interesting, and I thought I lost with more dignity then than the other two.

But I guess looking on the positive side, my games vs Sultan, Barry, and Kirk I felt like were well-played games against higher-rated opposition. I am a firm believer (and who isn't?) that you get better by playing tournament games against stronger players. The opportunities can be hard to come by (especially during COVID), I just wish I gave more effort throughout the tournament. 

But the good news is that we do have another good tournament to report! I'm going to need some time to myself studying for final exams, and analyze/annotate the games. I expect a post out over the weekend, so keep an eye.

Thank you all for reading, feel free to comment, and I'll see you soon!