Playing With The Big Boys Now (And Girls)

GM KaydenTroff
Jan 12, 2011, 5:52 PM |

My coach Grandmaster Melik Khachiyan told me that the tournament I just played in (The Berkeley International) was my second real tournament—otherwise called norm invitational tournament (The 2010 Copper State International being the other one).  Welcome to chess at a new level!  I played nine titled players total.  This includes: four International Masters, one Women’s International Master, three National Masters, and one Fide Master.  I got 4.5 out of 10 which is not too bad considering the strength of the tournament.  So, for those interested, here is the whole tournament from the beginning.


As some of you might or might not have heard, I gave a simul the day before the tournament (on New Year’s Day).  I had come from the US Chess School in Glendale and flown by myself (that was a first) to San Francisco where David Pruess picked me up from the airport.  I got to spend New Year’s Eve with him.  That was pretty cool! We weren’t sure how many people were going to show up exactly to the simul, but we got around 10 players which I thought was a pretty good number.  We had it set up so that they would move when I got to their board, but if they weren’t ready they could pass as many times as they wanted and many of them did several times (which is why it was good that we didn’t get too many people, so it didn’t go on forever).  I had some good games, it lasted about 2½ hours and I won all of them… maybe they’ll get me next timeJ.


The schedule for the tournament there was 2 games each day for the first three days (which was pretty tiring), then 1 game a day for four days.  The time control was 90 minutes with a 30 second increment and after 40 move you got an additional ½ an hour.


First game, first day. I was prepared! I was playing IM Lev Milman, and I was planning on him playing 1.e4 (because I was Black).  Melik had told me that he would play e4, Sam had told me he would play e4, I studied and was all ready for him to play e4, and then he was cruel enough to play 1.d4 (Ugh…)!  I was okay, playing theory, but I made a mistake and took one of his pawns too early.  Which is bad except he didn’t punish me in the correct way.  I thought I was in trouble, but I actually wasn’t. I played it well, but missed my escape ticket… then I actually was in trouble.  He played it pretty well from then on and I ended up down a piece… I tried to get some counterplay, but it didn’t work and I lost.


Second game, first day.  I was playing IM Zhanibek Amanov. He played into a line I knew and I felt pretty good.  There came this point where I thought this one move was the correct move in the line, but I didn’t like it so I played something else… (I looked at it afterwards and that one move was the right move… ugh… should have played it…).  Well, it worked out for me anyway.  We got an interesting position and he sacrificed the exchange at one point; it was pretty tricky because we were both low on time.  It was like move 38 so I sacrificed the exchange back to make time control. It looked like a draw to me even though he was up a pawn.  He made me play it out for awhile, but that is how it ended up in the end, a draw.


Third game, second day.  I was playing another player about my age (one year older), NM Yian Liou.  I was prepared and played some line that I didn’t like very much.  I misplayed it a little bit and got down a pawn, but I did have some good counterplay. I got my pawn back and we got into an interesting (two Rooks and some Pawns for each side) endgame. He sacrificed a pawn to make one of his pawns really strong.  I think I could have held a draw, but I might have over-exaggerated and made a mistake… I still had some counterplay, but my time was low and I ended up losing.


Fourth game, second day.  I had the white pieces against WIM Lorena Zepeda, I wasn’t sure exactly what she was going to play, but I had a general idea.  I ended up getting a good position, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do.  I thought about it for a while then I saw a good sacrifice idea.  The only problem was that my plan worked if she moved the King backwards, but if she moved it forward I couldn’t see anything. So, I did the sacrifice and I just mixed up my original move order so she couldn’t move her King forward.  I was down a piece for a pawn, but my position was just so much better that I won.


Fifth game, third day.  This was the day I probably tired the most and all I can say is that I was glad it was 1 game a day after that.  I was playing NM Evan Sandberg and since he appeared to be a good friend of Yian Liou (and I was Black against them both) I decided to play something different than what I played against Yian Liou.  So I did and he played some weird line.  He said after the game that he got scared that I had prepared something against what he played and made something up.  I personally thought it was a bad decision to make up a line in a tournament game, but what do you (whoever you are that are reading this right now) think?  What he made up didn’t turn out well for him and I got a good position out of the opening as Black.  He tried to get some counterplay because he is a good player, but in the end I was up an exchange and three pawns… game over, I won.


Sixth game, third day.  I was playing IM Max Cornejo (2526 USCF) and I was completely ready.  I was expecting the main line in the Tarrasch and even though I do not play the Tarrasch, I felt like I had prepared well for it, but he played like the second main line and I wasn’t sure what to do.  I made a mistake and got a slightly worse position.  I was doing ok and then completely missed something and basically got into a losing position and well… lost (but only after I had made him fight for quite a while).


Seventh game, fourth day.  One game a day finally!!!  It was nice to kind of relax, but still get some good prep in.  I was playing IM Alfonso Almeida and he played right into what I had prepared.  We got a really interesting position and I saw this interesting move.  I played it, sacrificing a piece for two pawns and I think it was okay. But then I got a little carried away with the sacrifice thing and sacrificed another piece which wasn’t good. I think I would have been okay and still had a good position, but he had some trick stopping it.  I went into a losing endgame where he played it well and I lost.


Eight game, fifth day.  I was playing Todd Rumph and I had prepared what Loek Van Wely had played against him since that had seemed to work well J.  I was pretty confident and he played right into what I had prepared.  Then he played this move I didn’t like and I played moves that seemed logical and got a great position.  I ended up getting up a pawn with more pawns coming.  I started an attack which worked out pretty well and he resigned.  Afterwards, I learned he was the house player and had done better in the tournament than I thought at first.  Happy I didn’t know that because I might not have been quite as confidentJ.


Ninth game, sixth day.  I was prepared and ready to play FM Shivkumar Shivaji.  I saw what he played and I had a good plan.  I stuck with that plan, but he didn’t stick with what he was supposed to play… he played something else. What is it with these players not sticking with what they are supposed to play?? There was a slight distraction when the lights went off during the round because of like an earthquake or something.  We had to move into another room for better light (doesn’t Mother Nature know we’re playing a chess tournament?).   I knew I had a good position, maybe a slight advantage in the middle game.  We had gotten past 40 moves and he offered me a draw.  I declined it because I thought I was better.  We got into an interesting endgame and I made a mistake while we were both low on time (we were down to 2:00 minutes and both living off our 30 second increment for at least an hour or more). Unfortunately I lost… but I was hoping for some prize because I think we were the longest game in the whole tournament (120 moves and like 5½+ hours).  This was the point I really wish (even though I thought I was better) I had taken the draw.  This brings up an interesting question: when do you take a draw?  This player was higher rated than me and some people told me that I was brave to not take the draw when he offered it. I know players that will take a draw when they might be slightly better because they know it will be a long fight to get the win.   At the time he offered the draw, I felt like I could get the win. I don’t mind a hard fight and it definitely was, but in the end I lost.


Final game, final day!  I knew I had to get this win, even though I was Black (again!). I spent a good amount of time preparing and was just ready to win!  I was playing Berislav Santic and it looked like he played a weird line (at least to me).  I got a good position, but wasn’t exactly sure what to do so I played more of a waiting move which was an inaccuracy.  He played this move I really had not thought he could play (it was okay just a little tricky).  I found a little trick though and ended up going up two pieces and a Rook for a Queen.  He was going to get a Passed Pawn though.  He made a move I didn’t like and after a few moves I had a simple win.  All I had to do was push a Pawn and protect my King yet I turned off my brain for just a minute… and dropped a piece for a pawn.  I think I was still slightly better because of my piece placement, but it seemed like he trades off one of the Rooks and it is a simple draw.  But he didn’t trade off one of the Rooks which gave me chances.  I got my Rooks into good positions and got one of his Pawns.  I did trade off one of the Rooks though.  I won another of his pawns later and it looked like I was going to win with my two Passed Pawns.  It was a tight game that I thought I was going to win, but he still had some play, until he blundered.  I simply moved my King up and he resigned.  He was either getting mated or giving me his Queen.


It was a good tournament.  I learned some good lesson, and truthfully for my second real tournament I thought I did well. I would like to thank the organizers of the tournament; they did a great job! Especially to Arun Sharma who put a lot of time and money into this tournament!!  You can see all the games and results from the tournament here: .  And congratulations to all those who got norms, but especially for me, congratulations to my coach (and friend) GM Elect Sam Shankland and my friend, IM Elect Daniel Naroditsky!!  Way to go!!!!  It was great to be there to see them both get their final norms!


I left the day after Christmas for the US Chess School and then went directly from there to the Berkeley International.  I was away from home for over two weeks playing some serious chess!!  Both were GREAT experiences!!  I am really glad I got to do both things, but it was also nice to come home again!


Due to popular DEMAND, here are three of my games from the tournament.  If you want to see the rest of them, you will have to click on the link above.  Also, my Dad put together a short video clip of "Playing With the Big Boys Now" on my website.  Go to to check out this cool video.