Journey to NM - Falcon Invitational
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Journey to NM - Falcon Invitational

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Hello there. Welcome to the Lightning Reports! Today we return to my Journey to NM series. If you are new here, I have set a goal for myself to become a National Master before I graduate highschool on May 21st. This has been my goal for years, and now I have less than a month to do it.

The last time I played otb, I went from 2136 to 2104 as I did more coaching than playing during that event. 2 days ago, I competed in the Falcon Invitational, a tournament for Alabama's top players. It's an incredible opportunity to gain some rating points and to play Alabama's strongest players, who hadn't really played much recently.  I worked hard preparing for this event - I couldn't blow it this time. I had to make progress. I had to get some points. So, let's see how it went.


Oh yes, what good fortune. I get to play the top seed in the event! This is perfect for me, an excellent opportunity to get some rating points! NM Matthew Puckett is Alabama's highest-rated player who actually still plays otb. I wouldn't say he is our best player, as I believe that is NM Scott Varagona, but Matthew is the top seed here. I knew it'd be a tough game. I had played him twice before, losing both times. And he plays the Sicilian, which I usually beat in otb games. Regardless, I was confident I could hold my own and at least get a draw.

Let's goooo. I was so lucky to not lose that. I mean, I went for an exchange sacrifice which I should not have done, and then I somehow got it back. That shouldn't happen, but it did, and I'll take it. Better to be lucky than good, ya know?


I got a nice, short break in between rounds 1 and 2. A free pizza lunch was generously provided, so I had a slice of pizza before the second game. Only one slice though, because I don't really eat much at tournaments.

All too soon the pairings were out. I was paired with Jonathan Rasberry, a fellow USCF CM who is also the president of the Alabama Chess Federation. Cool stuff, right? Yeah. I wasn't nervous for this game, honestly. He hadn't played otb in nearly a year. I thought maybe he'd be rusty. Then again, he also drew an NM in the first round. I couldn't act like this wouldn't be hard. I knew it'd be tough. We are close in rating, after all, as he is 2092. But I knew I could not afford to lose this game. If I'm gonna get to 2200, I can't lose games like this. So, did that stop me from trying to lose? Nah, not at all. I was worse by like move 8 lol

Yeah, so, not great. Not great at all. In fact, I thought I was very lucky to not lose that one. If he plays the middlegame a bit more accurately, especially by playing 15...a6, I'm probably screwed. But fortunately for me, we just traded some stuff off and I ended up with a better position. Lucky me. Again, better to be lucky than good!


Alright, so I'm now at 1.5/2 and in clear second place. Only one player has 2/2, NM Scott Varagona. Normally, I would be terrified by the idea of having to play Scott. In my opinion, he is Alabama's best current player, even though the ratings may tell you otherwise. That being said... I prepared a line just for him, and I was fairly confident in the line I prepped. I liked my chances to not only draw but maybe even win. With first place on the line, let's see what happened.

I, uh.... I don't know. I was shocked, really. Scott Varagona, blunder his queen? The mere thought of that happening seems silly. But no, that actually happened. I'm not sure how, but I'll take it. Forks are really important, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong. Before the fork though... I am actually quite happy with my play in this game. An inaccuracy with Nd2+ was not so good, but it was fine. I was quite happy with this game, quite happy with my prep. And I'm almost never happy with a game I played! Anyways, yeah, I'll take it. I hope I never have to play Scott again, cause I can't imagine he will easily forget this. And I'm content with my 1-1-4 record against him 🤣


Alright, this is it. If I win this last game, I win the event. Heck, even a draw gets me a tie for first! But I don't really care about winning the event, no. I care about the rating points. If I win this last game, my rating goes up to around 2170, which would be huge for me since I'm trying to get to NM in a month. If I lose, I still go up to like 2130. I don't remember what a draw was, but you get the idea. This is a big game for me. So of course, I'm paired with a guy who I have never beaten before. As my dad decided to tell me later... this guy has my number -_-

Yeah. Well. I got nothing. I dunno. It was a good effort, sure. But for such an important game... I just wish I could have played a bit better. Instead, I blew it, and as a result, I lost the tournament lead in the last round of the event for what seemed like the 80th time, and I lost out on about 40 rating points. 40. Remember, a win put me at like 2170. Instead, I'll have to settle for less, as my new rating is 2129. Not bad. It's progress. But ughhh what might have been. I don't deny being frustrated that I blew it, such an amazing opportunity. I don't deny how sad it was for me to blow it. But it's fine. It's fine. Totally. Even though I have no clue how I'm going to get to 2200 by May 21st now... I'm gonna try. And trying is half the battle.

Thanks for reading, guys. It's appreciated. It's been nice to be able to share my journey here as I can't really talk to people about this IRL. It's been nice writing about my Journey to NM, and hopefully, we can end this series in about a month! Anyways, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. My next post will be sometime in May as I get back to my Questioning NCP's series, and if I can find a place to play otb in May then there will be another J2NM post in May as well. So yeah, be on the lookout for that. And for now, that's all I've got. I'll cyall in the comment!