The FM Title… Playing With Intensity

GM KaydenTroff

Finally!!!  After sitting at 2280--2296ish on my FIDE Rating, it finally went over 2300 after my last tournament which earned me the FIDE Master title!!  It was at the 1st Metropolitan International a 9-round tournament with some very strong GMs and IMs, including GM Michael Adams, GM Loek Van Wely, and GM Timur Gareyev. 

(For those that don’t understand what FIDE is, here is a quick little guide.  FIDE is the International Chess Association.  So your FIDE Rating is your International Rating.  International Master (IM) and Grand Master (GM) are actually International Titles.  The FM Title can be earned two different ways:  1. Get your FIDE Rating above 2300 or 2. Some international events give it to you if you win them.)

The tournament was exciting because it seemed like a good opportunity for Norms with so many high rated players.  Going into this tournament, my goals were to either secure my FM Title or get my second IM Norm (or both), and my other goal was to play every game with intensity, which I am going to talk about throughout the blog.

I had been to 2 of the Metropolitan tournaments before, and even though the other two were round robins, I still was a little bit more comfortable with everything because I knew some of the people there.  The two team stars were there, IM Danny Rensch and GM-Elect David Pruess (David wasn’t playing though because he was broadcasting) and it was a lot of fun to talk to them.  I am also friends with Ankit Gupta and Michael Belcher who were running the tournaments and had fun talking and making jokes with them.  Then a few other of my friends were there. 

The whole entire trip started on August 12 because I went to the Metropolitan Chess Camp which was being taught by GM Michael Adams, GM Loek Van Wely, and GM Melik Khachiyan (my coach).  It went from August 12-16.  It was fun to be able to learn from 2 Super GMs.  Some of the lectures were really good and the puzzles were very hard.  We also went over some of our own games that we had played recently and got some tips on how we could’ve improved.  Then we played some training games and went over those also.  Other than that, we just had a lot of fun playing Bughouse and Blitz during lunch.  Then one day we played a time-odds tournament which was a lot of fun!  The best part was that Melik was playing in it along with several of the assistants.  I had been jokingly taunting him that I was going to play him and beat him!  In the last round we were paired with each other and I jokingly said, “Yeah you are totally going down!”  and we both started laughing.  I was Black and we got into a drawish position except I was slightly better, and then he made a mistake… let’s just say I won’t be letting him forget that game which I won!  Then on the 16th they selected a few of the Campers to go and play GM Michael Adams in the Simul he was giving and I was one they picked.  It was exciting to play a Super GM; we went into a Classical Scheveningen and I ended up in a slightly better position and he offered me a draw.  I thought I was slightly better, but not winning and to decline a draw from a Super GM when I don’t see the clear win is just disrespectful so I accepted.  I was excited, but there is definitely a difference between a Simul and an actual rated long game.  But it is still cool! 

I am just going to go through and give some of the highlights and games from the tournament that might help me to explain my “Rules of Less Intensity; things that you want to avoid”.

The tournament started with the Opening Ceremony at 4:30PM and the first round starting at 7:30PM.  I was very interested in what the pairings were going to be since going off of the pre-registration list it looked like I was going to play #1 seed GM Michael Adams in the first round.  It would be really great for my IM Norm chance to have a Super GM in there.  But I don’t think that if I did end up playing him I would ever have thought “Oh yeah, I can take him.”  This brings me to rule number one of “Playing with Less Intensity”: not playing as intently when you know it is “okay” to lose usually because the player is higher rated or more experienced than you.   My mom and I had a long talk before the tournament started.  She is like my “make sure my physical, mental, and emotion things are all in check” coach.  She told me that she has noticed that when I play a game that I know I have to win, I play much differently and with much more intensity than when I give myself the “it doesn’t matter if I lose” out.  I am expected to lose anyway so why does it matter.   A rule of “playing with less intensity” that I sometimes can have a problem with.  Well after the Opening Ceremony/Dinner we went down to the playing hall to see if the pairings were up and it turned out I didn’t get Michael Adams.  I ended up the bottom of the top section instead of the top of the bottom section.   I was playing Jonathan Soo Hoo who unfortunately didn’t have a FIDE Rating which hurt my chances for an IM Norm and FM.  I just needed to go in there and play my best and win.

I was White and we went into a QID except he played it in an interesting way.  We got into this position which he played a strange move which at first I was concerned about, but then found a good idea to help improve my Knight.  It ended up getting a little complicated, and I ended up with a clear advantage probably winning.  Now that I am winning I could probably let down a little bit and not have to work quite as hard (which we all know that playing strong chess games is definitely work).  This brings me to rule number 2 of “Playing with Less Intensity”: letting down when you are in a winning position.  This rule does happen and is something to be careful of.  A recent example I feel is the Navara-Grischuk game round 5.2 in the World Cup.  Navara who was clearly winning and still had plenty of time, blundered the advantage, to end up drawing and then later was eliminated in tiebreaks.   An unfortunate end to Navara’s good tournament, but shows it can even happen at the top level.  Now I don’t know if he blundered because he was winning and stopped playing as intently, but it sure does seem like that was the case.  I, feeling like I was winning, saw two lines; a more complicated one that was probably winning and then another simpler line that looked winning also.  Playing with intensity does not mean that you always have to play the most complicated lines if the simpler line gets you to the same win in the end.  I chose the simpler line and ended up with a really good position, which I still had to play with intensity.  I wanted to win the game more quickly instead of getting into a Queen vs Rook and Knight endgame that could be annoying to win.  I ended up finding a good tactical line that was a clear no annoyingness win, which he didn’t go into, but I ended up winning soon after in a line that was also good for me.



Next game was against IM Mackenzie Molner.  Again pops up this rule of less intensity, “it doesn’t matter if I lose.”  He is 100 points higher than me (going by USCF) and well I am probably not expected to win.  I think though that nobody is perfect so I might as well go in and give it my best shot at winning.

We went into a Bg5 Najdorf and I was in prep for a while.  But then he played a move that actually (going by my database) hasn’t been played that much.  I kept playing my plan and we got into an interesting position.  I wasn’t sure what to do, but I started to put some pressure on his King.  He started to attack and I sacrificed a Pawn.  We traded some pieces and ended in an endgame where I had the two Bishops but he had the extra Pawn and he was probably better/winning.  It was very interesting especially since we were low on time, but I ended up getting some tricks and securing a draw.

Two good games and I had at this point 1.5/2 which is good.


The next game was against IM Zhanibek Amanov and I was White.  The Opening was very interesting it was a little bit like a Dutch Defense and Melik thought I played it well, except one move that wasn’t so great.   The position got interesting, but in the end he took advantage of my uncastled king and I lost. 

I still had a perfectly good performance so far still having IM Norm chance and FM chances, but unfortunately I was probably going to get a lower rated player which would probably put me out of Norm chances even if I won the game.

Next game was against Thomas Ulrich and I was Black.  The biggest problem is that I had no games to go by when I was trying to prep.  Now I don’t want to freak out because then I won’t play as well.  I have found that a lot of the time if I or someone else is nervous I/they don’t play as well.  Or in other words, don’t play as intense.  Rule number 3: nerves or doubt can sometimes determine the outcome of the game before it even starts.  Our saying is, “Confidence without Cockiness”.  There are a lot of things that can make someone nervous, like not knowing what your opponent is going to do, or when you are playing a lower rated player and are scared of losing, or maybe you know that a lot is at stake with this game and you really want to win and are nervous about losing.  Pretty much you’re nervous about losing.  One thing I try and do is to take a couple minutes before every game to just calm myself down and then just go in and play my best because if I am worried about losing I figure that will only increase my chance of what I am afraid of happening.  I went in and he played something I was decently comfortable with since I had prepared the line quite a bit for a game that was not too long ago.  We played into a g3 Grunfeld and I played my previous prep for a while.  But then I got stuck thinking about the correct move order.  I was concerned about a line in this one move order so I played the other one.  I looked at it and he had this move I didn’t like for me that I thought I remembered not being possible.  I decided that the other move order instead was correct, but he played a move that made it so that my move order inaccuracy just transposed.  He made a mistake soon after though and I found myself up a clear pawn after a long tactical variation.  It got a little complicated, but we got into an opposite-colored Bishops endgame that was winning for me, but he made a mistake and I ended up winning a lot quicker.

 My next opponent was IM Raja Panjwani and I was White.  The problem with this game was that the opening I had forgotten and had a hard time finding the file I had on it.  The sideline I played wasn’t the greatest, but my problem is I don’t think I truly understood the plans of the sideline and I slowly ended up losing.

Next I was playing another young talented player NM Michael William Brown.  This game I got some good prep on him which he went into, but then played strangely and I don’t think I quite followed up in the best way.  I ended up making some little complications and eventually got into a better endgame and, after we made time-control, I spent a long time and found a good line and ended up winning the game.  I was happy about that because a lot of people thought it looked like a draw.

One thing my mom and I talked about is the fact that I have a hard time in the third to last round.  I feel like this is another rule of less intensity… tired!!  A lot of people might give into being tired at any time in a tournament.  For me though it seemed like it was consistently my third to last round.  The reason for this I would say is to me it is close to the end of the tournament and it just seems like it isn’t as important as the last couple of rounds that I might also be tired for.  Usually the last two rounds I do well in because I know I need to win these or just generally do well in.  But this time I was going to try to just go in and break this not so great tradition of mine--playing badly in the third to last round.

Seventh round, I was playing IM Salvijus Bercys with Black.  Salvijus is a very good player and one of the higher rated IMs.  When I was prepping, he passed right by me and noticed I was preparing, but didn’t know at the time that he was playing me.  He said after the game that once he saw he was playing me and knew I was preparing for him he decided to play something that he knew, but something other than what he usually plays. Ironically, I didn’t find out until after the game that what I was preparing for was not what he mainly played, and that he didn’t even play it anymore.  What he did play though I had never seen before and I was quickly out of what I knew.  I ended up finding a good way to play it.  The way I played (and I think we both agreed on this) was suspicious, but was hard to find something good against.  We played on for a while and after some pieces and Pawns got traded we ended up in a position that was about equalish and he offered me a draw.  I figured I don’t see an advantage for me so why risk not taking a draw and maybe making a mistake.  I accepted the draw and then we went over it.

My next opponent I was playing Takashi Kurosaki with Black.  I felt a little frustrated to play a lower rated player after drawing a high rated player because it pretty much completely killed my IM Norm chances.  We went into a Symmetrical English and I felt like I equalized pretty quickly.  We got into a position that I was trying to figure out how to break through and started to do so.  We got into a complicated position and I started calculating a line only to find out if I played that line, I was dropping a piece after it… then I realized wait if I go into that he doesn’t have to go into the line to wait to take the piece, he can take it right away…  Well luckily I didn’t drop the piece and made a move that I liked, that complicated it up a little bit.  After we got out of complications it was probably about equal, but we both were slightly low on time.  I ended up sacrificing a pawn for a little bit of an attack and chances at some tactics, and he ended up blundering a piece in time trouble.  After that I took the Pawn I had sacrificed and he resigned once I was about to take a few more.

Next game I was playing IM Levon Altounian with White.  At this point I was tied for first for the U2300 (because it was going by FIDE not USCF) and going for the FM title, but unfortunately IM Norm probably wasn’t going to happen even if I won.  I didn’t know this until afterwards, but if I had dropped out the last round I would have gone over 2300 on my FIDE and made FM, but if I lost (even though he was a strong IM) I would be barely below FM.  The game was an interesting Dutch Defense and I might not have fully known what I was doing, but I liked my position.  It got a little complicated in the middlegame and probably was equalish leaning towards him being better.  I felt though that I could probably hold on and maybe play for some advantage if he made a mistake.  I don’t think I found the best plan though, because he ended up starting to make it annoying for me and increase his advantage.  I got into a position that I figured was probably losing and looked for any sort of counterplay to have some chance.  I decided since I’m losing anyway to sacrifice a piece to get some attack and complications and he might make a mistake.  He didn’t take my sacrifice and went into an endgame that seemed clearly winning for him.  It turned out that even though I was down a Pawn because I had some little tricks I might be able to hold on.  And I actually went on to win my Pawn back, draw the game, earn the FM title, and win $500 for tying for 1st in the U2300!!!

It was a great tournament that ended successfully.  Getting the FM title was one of my goals from that tournament and I got that and even got $500 that was not my goal… but I’m not going to complain about itJ.

Thanks to the TDs and all my friends, it was a GREAT TIME!!!!  Congratulations to the prize winners especially the 1st place overall GM Michael Adams and to FM Michael Lee for earning an IM Norm!

Now instead of the “Rules of Less Intensity”, I’m going to list my “Rules of Intensity.”

1. Don’t feel nervous… easier said than done, but you just need to tell yourself that feeling nervous is probably  not going to help what you’re nervous about.  Generally this can be losing… losing the prize money you’re so close to, losing to a lower rated player, or just losing in general.  Don’t be nervous about losing, it happens to everybody.  Go in, play your absolute best, and if you lose you lose.

2. Just because your winning doesn’t mean it is time to relax!  In my opinion once you are winning that is the time to step it up a little bit and finish the game off.  If you relax you can sometimes blunder the advantage away to a draw or maybe even a loss.

3. When you are playing a high rated player this does not give you an excuse of “it doesn’t matter if I lose.”  High rated players make mistakes too so just go in, give it your best shot and maybe you might come out with a win.

4. Tiredness: we all know after playing 4-5 hour games you can get pretty tired, but no matter how tired you get you still need to try your best.  This can be very challenging!  I mean there are GMs out there that will tell you how hard it can be.  But you just need to try your very best to go in and give it all you have left and relax after the tournament is done.  Sugar can help with this!!  Candy or even sometimes sugar straight might be good if you’re tired.  Or try bananas, they are great for renewed energy just ask Joel Banawa, he will tell you!!

5.  Don’t give yourself excuses!  I’m not feeling well, I have a headache, or I’m just too tired.  As soon as you start the excuses, you give your brain a reason not to fight as hard or play as intense.

Now I can guarantee there are other things people might struggle with, but these are the ones I have seen the most and I myself sometimes struggle with.  But if you consistently have problems with something like this find out what it is and try your best to deal with it.

Now I feel like it has been a while since I have put a puzzle on one of my blogs so here are some:

For the first one I just want you to message me the answer/general idea (no using computers though on either of themJ).


This one is just going to be a regular puzzle format.