The End Of One Road, Beginning of Another Part 1
It's been quite a while! I've wanted to write another blog for the last few months but one thing after another and I've never gotten to doing it. But here it is finally!
In my last blog, I talked about playing in the 2013 US Championships, which went really well for me and I scored my 1st Grand Master Norm. Things really were just on the up and up and I was feeling really good! I had gotten my IM title earlier that year, now had my 1st GM Norm, and since the beginning of August in 2012 had gone up about a 160-170 points on my USCF and FIDE ratings. With all those changes I also felt like I was playing better too, of course here and there caught some lucky breaks, but on average I felt better about the way played. Now, I would love to be able to say I cruised to GM from that point (from last time I wrote a blog), but unfortunately Chess is not that way (as many people can agree with!), and still I faced ups and downs. The next few months was just not as much fun as I thought they would be (still fun though, it is Chess after all!). This first part is going to be about the downs; the mistakes I made that I have either fixed or am working on and next talk about things I changed to improve.
This first tournament I played after the US Championships was the 2013 Chicago Open (yes, I am going back a ways), which I was pretty excited for. I was hoping to just continue what it was that happened in the last tournament just like I pushed the pause button, and I was ready to push play and continue, but it didn't go that way. I have found out (and wonder if others feel this way too) that the first round is one of the most important, even against lower rated players. Swinging back into that mode of a Chess tournament, you always want to set the stage with a good first round, and well... in this case I started off disappointing. I drew against a lower rated player with White, and even had a worse position for a time. Not terrible, eight rounds left and plenty of opportunities to succeed, but I think in the whole perspective of the coming rounds it makes it harder when in the first round I start disappointed and now I have to face the rest of the tournament. I did okay, in total, from rounds 2-7 with my last chance to finish strong and turn my tournament around in round 8 against GM Victor Mikhalevski (who I played the previous year, got a good position out of the opening but eventually lost). I was White, and honestly, looking for a win; if I could win this game and do well in my last game, my tournament would have turned out pretty good. The opening went well, I had good preparation and got a slight advantage plus a good advantage on the clock. It got complicated but I still had a slight edge until I made a mistake, after which I was slightly worse. It could have been okay, except I didn't switch gears. One thing that can just be hard about Chess is when the evaluation changes, from winning to losing, from drawn to pushing for a win, and vice-versa; many different circumstances in which the challenge is switching how you are thinking. When I'm losing my focus is trying to hold! I don't want lose! My attention is spent on figuring out how my opponent is planning on converting his advantage and stopping it. Well, if suddenly in a position I'm losing or clearly worse and my opponent makes a mistake and now I'm playing for the win, I'm not looking to hold my position--to stop my opponent from beating me--I'm figuring out how to beat him! My focus changes, or should change, but that is one of the difficulties of Chess. That was the problem I had in this game, I made a mistake and now when my focus should have changed from how to optimize my advantage to equalizing his advantage, I didn't, and because of it I made a couple more mistakes. These mistakes caused me to lose a Pawn and eventually the game. I finished the tournament with another draw losing about ten points on my rating. Not tragic, but not what I wanted. No one likes losing points... well from what I've heard...we all have different opinions.
Okay, only one tournament though. Find my mistakes, move on, and try to play better.
The next tournament was one I wanted to perform well in, the 2013 US Junior Championship. Let me clarify, I want to perform well in every tournament, I don't go into a tournament planning on doing poorly, but in this case when I say "peform well in" I say it looking more with sights set towards placing in one of the top places. I had played the previous two years and done okay, but this was the first year I was one of the higher rated players, and I felt a little bit more of that hope and expectation of maybe winning. The tournament format this year was a 10 player round robin, and the tournament was at the CCSCSL (Chess Club & Scholastic Center of St Louis), which always does a great job with the tournaments they host! Being a round robin I knew who I was playing--9 rounds, 9 other players--but at the Opening Ceremony is when they decided the pairings. The first round I was playing Luke Harmon-Vellotti (now an IM) as Black. He was someone I knew and respected as a good talent in the country.
Going in to the game I had to expect it would be a tough game, but okay, I was the higher rated player I have to go in ready to fight. Well, remember that whole thing I mentioned after my first round in the Chicago Open, the first round sets the momentum and is really important... Yeah... Again first round, and it could have gone better! The opening was okay, as Black I was fine out of the opening, then somewhere in the middlegame I made a few incorrect decisions, really I think caused because I was caught up in the fact that the result of the game was important. At times I wouldn't consider an option as seriously as I normally would because it looked dangerous to me; I wasn't in the mood for dangerous, this was an important tournament to me and I wanted to do well, and if I mess up in a dangerous position then I lose, and if I lose it makes it harder to win the tournament, so I tried to turn away from "danger". Now, in an attempt to defend myself I will say I don't think I simply played horrible Chess, but getting caught up in my surroundings I think some decisions here and there were inaccurate and eventually he won a Pawn and with it the game.
Yes, I really wished that first round had gone differently, but this time I improved and really came back the next few rounds. Some tough games, but in the next 5 games I came up with 4/5, winning with White and drawing with Black. I would say the key game was the next one, round 7. I was playing against Sam Sevian (now an IM and GM-Elect) as Black. Honestly, for two people that live in different states we have played a lot (I looked on USCF and it says we have played ten times, which isn't counting three games we played against each other in Hungary (This is all games to date so several of those have been played since the 2013 US Junior). As of right now we are even, with 4 wins each and 5 draws)! Sevian is someone I definitely have a more personable respect for because we have played so much, but this was a very important game for both of us! The difference between winning and losing was the difference between playing for 1st place... and not. It is a difficult decision when deciding what to prepare because we have played so much that we know the openings we play against each other quite thoroughly.
He followed a line that he used when we played about a month and a half ago (at the US Championships), and he made an improvement over that game. It was tricky and truthfully I made a mistake in my preparation, I looked at this move where I threaten his Knight and only looked at one of his Knight moves and forgot to look at the other possibility. It really wasn't a good experience to sit there in prep only for him to play a move pretty quickly that looked perfectly reasonable. Now, I did something that is another thing to be careful about. I've done pretty good about avoiding this, and probably my best example of fixing this was in a game I played a few months ago, but sometimes when my opponents steps out of my preparation I get caught up thinking: "Wait a second, this wasn't something I analyzed, nor something the computer recommended, I should be able to punish this!" Well, sometimes this is very true, they made a mistake so punish it! Keep in mind though that you can't get "caught up" in this idea of punishing their "mistake". I have played many games where, it is true, their move isn't the best, but it isn't simply lost. For me, I try to find something brilliant, when playing normal good Chess is really what I need to do, and it will give me an advantage. It is a hard thing to try and balance, I am not sure there is really any rule deciding when to look for a brilliance or continuing to play normal good Chess, my suggestion and something I try to follow, is trust yourself. Do clear honest calculation, like you would do normally. Well, in this game I did a little bit of both, I tried to find something to punish this move because even though it looked reasonable, it wasn't what was in my preparation. So I looked for something a little more complicated, but also tried to calculate out the options to find the best move, like I said a little bit of both. It didn't really go my way. The move I decided to play looked like I was winning material which I saw he had some tricks, but still thought I'd be okay. Well, turns out he didn't fully remember the line, but he knew it wasn't good for Black, and so after he calculated for a while trying to calculate what the computer had in mind when it said it was bad for Black, I got hit with a strong idea, I had missed in my original calculation. After that my position was, I mean, technically lost. I tried to make it complicated as best as possible, but in the end I lost, and with it chances to win the tournament were basically gone. I didn't finish well and ended up in 5th place.
In my next couple tournaments I had two solid performances picking up some points, but it wasn't until the 2013 SPICE Cup Open that I felt I started to figure some things out, and started pushing forward to GM which is where I will pick up in my next blog so stay tuned!!
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed, and I look forward to continuing in part 2!