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Journey to NM - Alabama State Championship
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Journey to NM - Alabama State Championship

Lightning
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Hello there, welcome to the Lightning Reports! Surprise, surprise, I played otb again, nearly 2 weeks ago. It was Alabama's state championship, and I really wanted to win. "This is my year" is what I told myself. And I believed it. I thought I had a legit chance to win the state championship this year. I trusted my prep and I had confidence in myself to play well and win. Where this newfound confidence came from, I do not know, but it definitely helped in this event. I was serious about winning the state championship. I even changed my approach to the tournament in that I tried to eat and sleep more. So, how did it go? Keep reading and find out lol


DAY ONE


For whatever reason, Alabama likes having the first round on Friday night, 3 rounds on Saturday, and then 2 rounds on Sunday. Weird, but ok, sure, I'll play Friday night.

The tournament was 2 hours away from me, so I left 3 hours before the first round. And I still managed to show up late. When I eventually made it to the tournament, I saw that I was paired with an 1850, who was previously above 1900, and has a somewhat unpredictable playing style. This is our 4th game. He embarrassed me the first time we played, swindled a draw the second time we played, and gave me a real fight back in March with the Denker nomination on the line. This isn't an ideal first round matchup at all, but I was ready to play. 

Heh well, I'm not exactly thrilled with my play, but that was a nice save at least. I'll take it. A win is a win, and that's what I need if I want to win this tournament.


DAY TWO


The pairings were posted online, which is highly convenient. So I knew in advance that I would be playing a 2000-rated NM who has been getting back into chess after a decently long break. I had just played 4 rapid games with him at a chess club a few days prior, which meant he knew my main lines. Whoops. So I just had to throw him off with a different line I hadn't played against him. Seems legit. 

Ahhh not my best game. I blundered early with 7... f6 and was fortunate he missed 9. Nb5. Otherwise, it was a nice game for me, and I was quite happy with my 2/2 score. 


Heading into round 3 with a 2/2 score, I knew I'd get a tough opponent. And of course, I am paired with Aaron Decord, a 2054-rated USCF CM who is at least equal to/stronger than me. I am, of course, quite unhappy with this. But on the bright side, the pairings showed favor upon me, for once. For the first time since 2018, I get to play white against Aaron. I had played black against him, I think, in 9 straight games (regular, quick, and blitz). The fact that I somehow get to play white against him is a good sign for me. Did that stop me from doing my best to lose? Absolutely not. 

Heh yeah, so, I did not deserve to win that. Not at all. I took chances, I was worse nearly the whole time, and somehow it all worked out in the end. It seems like I always have a game like this. Honestly, the typical Lightning tournament features one game where I have to slowly outplay an 1800, one swindle, one really good game, and then the choke in the last round. At least I'm consistent.


At 3/3, I'm feeling great so far. Even though I haven't exactly played all that well, I've managed to make my way up to board 1. The winner of this next game will be the heavy favorite to become Alabama State Champion. This is important. I had prepared for this for a while. I knew if I wanted to win the event I would have to beat NM Scott Varagona, who has won, I believe, 10 Alabama state championships, more than anyone. With 1st place on the line, let's see the game. 

Ahhh it seems my luck has finally run out. That's gg. At the time, and I think I said this to my opponent after the game, I couldn't even be upset about the loss. I felt like it was a pretty good game and that I had defended well. I just missed a couple of easy draws in the time scramble, and he very wisely found and played 59. Kf3, clinching victory for him. In retrospect, I'm quite upset that I missed a couple of easy draws, but that's just how it is. I've had more than my fair share of luck against him. It was his turn to win. But I'll be ready whenever we meet again...


DAY THREE


This is it. The final 2 rounds were scheduled for day three. It would take a miracle for me to come back and win the event now, as I need Scott to lose at least once. But there's still a chance, and a chance is all I need. The conditions for round 5 were similar to round 3. I was playing a 2056-rated USCF CM who was recently 2100. Not exactly ideal. But I found a weakness in his openings, took a chance, and hoped for the best.

I have never, ever played 3. f3 there. Such an interesting move it is. I tried it because I knew we would reach the position we had after 8. c3, and I knew there was a decent chance he would play Be7 which, amazingly, is losing after 9. g4! This was just what I needed after that late-night round 4 loss. A quick win in round 5 and plenty of time to rest for a critical round 6 game.


With 4/5, and a 3/3 score against experts, I've had a really nice tournament so far. But it can get better. I found out an hour before round 6 that, to my immense surprise, Scott lost in round 5! Suddenly, if I win my final game, I will at least tie for first place and become state champion for the first time! I was shocked that I had a legit shot at this. But. The thing is. I'm playing black against the 2235-rated NM who just beat Scott. He has 4.5/5 points, so I have to win this game to win the tournament. Tough, but doable. Now, with the state championship on the line, here is my game against NM Alexander Rutten.

Sigh. That hurts. That really hurts. It wasn't so much the fact that I lost, but the fact that I was thoroughly embarrassed, with the state championship on the line. The game barely lasted an hour! I made one dumb move and my position was falling apart. I felt pretty embarrassed to lose like that so quickly... but it's fine. He played extremely accurately and soundly punished me for daring to play 19... g5. I deserved to lose just for playing that. But gosh, isn't it crazy how one bad move can lose you the game, just like that? Lol

Also, Scott Varagona won his final game, finishing 5/6 and taking 2nd place behind Alexander Rutten. Rutten, being from Georgia, could not take the title of "Alabama State Chess Champion." So, Scott picked up his 11th Alabama state championship title. Congratulations to him!


FINAL THOUGHTS


As upsetting as it was to blow it in the last round for the 87th time this year, I still had a pretty solid event overall. I'm quite happy with my 3/3 score against experts here (2 of which should probably be 2100), but I'm not thrilled with my 0/2 score against 2200-rated NMs. I'm never going to become an NM if I keep losing to NMs. A good start would be taking easy draws. Playing Ke5 in the position shown below would have been smart. Easy draw.

Finding and taking easy draws. Something I need to work on. Another thing I need to work on, still? Not choking in the last round! I don't know what my problem is, but I just keep losing in the last round otb. At state, at the Denker, at the US Open. If it's an important game in the last round, I seemingly forget how to play chess at a critical moment and lose. I thought my issue was endurance, but I wasn't honestly tired during my round 6 game. I simply blundered for no reason. I'm not exactly sure how to fix that, but I hope to figure it out soon, because moves like 19...g5 shown in the diagram below, are unacceptable. 

Just hxg6 and my position fell apart. Can't make moves like that against NMs. 
When playing NMs, I've got to figure out how to not push too hard for the win, how to take easy draws, and how to not make dumb mistakes. These issues are fixable, and I'm working on them. Hopefully, positive results will come. 

Oh and, for anyone wondering about my rating, I gained a modest 11 points, going from 2127 to 2138. And I finished in a tie for 4th place and was tied for 2nd among Alabamians. That's decent, but next year... next year will be my year. Alabama State Chess Champion 2023? 


THE "GOOD JOB, YOU MADE IT TO THE END" PART OF THE BLOG


Good job, you made it to the end. Thanks for reading! I truly hope you enjoyed your time here. My next blog will be out by the end of the month as the long-awaited part 3 to my Questioning NCPs series will be posted within weeks, so keep an eye out for that.

That’s all I’ve got for you for now. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll cyall in the comments!

Welcome to the Lightning Reports! I post tournament recaps, previews and reviews for big tournaments, and I also started the Questioning Non-Chess Players thing. Good stuff, yep.