Three days after Okoboji, I flew to Philadelphia, PA for the 5th annual Philadelphia Open. It was snowing when I left Minnesota on April 20, but Philly proved to be nice and balmy (one day it even reached 80+ degrees!). I had a good experience at this tournament last year, so I was eager to return.
The Philly Open is a typical 9-round American swiss. Two rounds a day at 40/2, SD/1, plenty of underrated kids, a small contingent of foreign IMs/GMs, and not enough prize money to go around. Playing for 10-12 hours a day is not uncommon at these tournaments, and things can become a grind very quickly. Though it was announced that IM/GM norms would likely not be possible, the tournament ended up reaching the required number of foreign players. Game on!
I started off hot, scoring 2.5/3. My first-round opponent held a small edge into the middlegame, but unraveled in time pressure:
With White against GM Nick De Firmian in round 2, I emerged from the opening with a nice position. However, 24.b4?! was a bit too optimistic and allowed Nick to seize the initiative with a pawn sacrifice (25...e4!). I had to play carefully and found a nice maneuver to defend (29.Qd1 and 30.Qe1). After some mutually inaccurate play in time trouble, the position became dynamically balanced and quickly ended in a perpetual.
I won an interesting rook endgame against John Veech in round 3:
In round 4 I was White against my friend, IM Lev Milman. Playing your friends is oftentimes inevitable at these tournaments, but things can get complicated when your friend is also your roommate! Lev was out getting breakfast when I saw the pairings, so I texted him that we were playing. I also told him that I wasn't going to prepare (this just seemed unfair). I ended up offering him a draw on move 8, which he accepted. Afterwards we talked about how a win by one of us would ruin the other's tourney, so a draw seemed like a fair result. As an aside, Lev left his glasses at the hotel after the tournament and asked me to retrieve them. If he had beaten me in this game I probably would have smashed them instead of bringing them back to Minnesota with me (just kidding, Lev!). Because of this draw, I had time to rest and relax before round 5 on Friday night. I was paired with FM Conrad Holt, a very talented player who should be receiving his IM title soon. I surprised him with a Benko Gambit and he unexpectedly returned the pawn plus interested (he later said he miscalculated):
The result was disappointing because I simply missed 22...Ra2+ 23.Kh3 Qa4, which defends against any back rank threats and keeps an eye on e4. Black should be winning after this continuation. I also spent a ton of time trying to make 21...Rxa1 22.Qxd7! Raa8 work for Black, but in reality White has plenty of play after 23.Qxe7 (Qf6 is the threat). After 22...Qc4?, Holt got to execute his main threat and I'm forced to go for the perpetual. The US Chess Scoop people interviewed me immediately after this game (when I was still oblivious to what I missed!) Check it out:
Despite this setback, I felt good on Saturday morning and played a nice game against NM Alex Barnett:
I now had 4.5/6 and was paired against GM Tamasz Gelashvili on board 2. At 2596, Gelashvili was the highest rated player in the tournament and seemed to be in good form. I was happy with the opening (he played an offbeat line against the Slav) and thought I had basically equalized before move 20. However, Gelashvili kept setting me small problems (GMs are good at this...who knew!?) and I had to defend a bishop + knight vs. two bishops positions where White held an annoying edge. We both got into time pressure, though mine was worse. With 4 seconds left to make my last 2 moves, we reached this position:
I flagged on the 40th move. I was very angry with myself, especially when I saw that after 40...Nc7 41.Rd7 Nxa6 42.Bc4 I have 42...Be7!, after which Black is fine and can even be better in some lines. I'm sure I would have found this move if I had an extra few seconds, but with 4 seconds plus a 5-second increment I just didn't leave myself enough time. As it turns out 41.Rd7? would have been a mistake while 41.Bf3! puts Black under considerable pressure. Still, it was inexcusable to flag and I'm going to make a serious effort to remedy my time trouble problems going forward.
The final day saw me play rather listless draws against FMs Victor Shen and Daniel Yeager. Against Shen I thought I was just winning after 22...Rf8 because of 23.Bxc4 Bxc4 24.Bxa5 followed by 25.Nxc4. Unfortunately, Black has the spectacular resource 25...Be2!, completely turning the tables. In the post mortem Shen said he didn't even see 23.Bxc4...frustrating! After wasting a ton of time trying to make the move work (there's nothing), I retreated my queen and the game was drawn. White can try to keep things going in the final position with 26.Rb1, but Black is no longer really worse.
Against Yeager, I blundered badly in the opening (10...h6? instead of the normal 10...Bf6). I was playing quickly and thought the two moves would simply transpose...not so! After 10...h6, Black is basically strategically lost because ...f5 is necessary to defend against Bc2 and Qd3. The resulting weakness on e6 is a huge headache. Luckily, Yeager seemed happy with a draw and allowed me to make several key exchanges that eased my defensive task. He offered a draw in the final position, though objectively he can play for a win without any risk.
Thus, I finished out of the money at 5.5/9. I ran out of gas towards the end of the tournament and my play in the last three rounds was less than stellar. Still, I felt ok with my overall performance and even managed to gain a few rating points. I faltered at some critical moments (i.e. against Holt and Gelashvili), but I also scored heavily against the lower masters. As I mentioned, these tournaments are exhausting (I caught a cold on the final day) and playing all day/sleeping for 5-6 hours isn't really conducive to high-quality chess. However, there are still a lot of things to take away from such an event, and I know I'll be working hard on my time pressure and calculation over the next few months. I'll probably be playing either the Chicago Open in May or the New York International in June. Stay tuned!