Journey to NM - I'm Still Stuck
Yeah yeah I threw the thumbnail together in like 5 mins, bleh

Journey to NM - I'm Still Stuck

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Hello there, welcome to the Lightning Reports! 3 weeks ago I played in the 2023 Queen of Hearts tournament hoping to compete against some of Alabama's strongest players. Wait, 3 weeks ago? Why am I just now posting this, you wonder? Uh. I have a ton of excuses. Let's just go with I forgot. Oh, and I was busy doing other things. Yeah. Those are always good excuses. Anyway, let's get to the good stuff. 


  • I'm playing in a 1600+ section
  • I am the 3rd highest-rated player in the event, with two players rated 2090 right behind me
  • Time control is G/120;d5
  • 5 rounds
  • 2-day tournament
  • I won this tournament last year and would love to have a repeat performance


In round 1 I was paired vs Hrushikesan Barani, who I actually played 2 years ago in the first round of the 2021 Queen of Hearts. Funny how that happens. I mentioned it when I got to the board, because I'm weird and like to tell my opponents I've played them before. That's not really relevant, but whatever. Anyway, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the pairing - I remember being rather lucky to have beaten him in 2021, and I had no idea what he'd play. Cool. Into the unknown I go. 

Well. What a start to the tournament that was. Quite an exciting game. I didn't play all that well in the opening, but otherwise it was a pretty decent game for me. As a bonus, the game lasted for about 2 hours, which meant I got a long break before the next round. But on the downside... the game lasted for about 2 hours, which meant I got a long break before the next round. Lol it was a long 2 hours just waiting for the next round, wondering who I'd play next. But it's fine. I did some reading, reviewed some prep, and rested.


Alright, so far, so good. I avoided the dreaded round 1 upset loss. But... many others shockingly did not. 3 players above 2000 were upset in the first round by opponents several hundred points below them. Which concerned me quite a bit. If this was gonna be a tournament of upsets, I don't exactly like being one of the higher rated players here. Just play chess, I told myself. Just play chess. It's not like all those upsets could affect me...

Nevermind. I got paired with 1679-rated Saikarunya Kesireddy, who upset a 2000 in round 1. Seriously... lol 

That was actually a really good game. Fairly even throughout, then it got tactical, then I almost threw the game, and then somehow I saved it and got the win. It was pretty stressful at the time, as I thought I was gonna lose to someone 500-points below me (Oh my poor poor rating), but looking at it now, that was a great game. My opponent finished with 3.5/5 and jumped up to 1806, so congrats to him. Another thing is... my opponent was mimicking my movements throughout the game. If I looked one way, so would he. If I made a silly face (which I do unintentionally throughout my games), so would he. Whatever I did with my hands, he'd do the same. Get the idea? Lol it was kind of annoying, but I humored him. I may or may not have messed with him by making some silly faces intentionally and looking around the room randomly so he would too. If I'm looking silly anyway, I might as well have some fun with it! Maybe he would have won if he hadn't been messing around so much 👀


Heading into round 3, the final game of day 1, I'm sitting at 2/2 tied with 3 others. My first opponent was rated 1740. My second opponent was rated 1679. So the ratings are getting lower each time instead of higher like normal. But wait, it happens again! In round 3 I was paired with Mariette Meillon. And her rating is... 1552?? Cmon, man. It's actually crazy that my opponent's ratings get lower each round. This is why I gotta stop playing in these Alabama tournaments... lol I knew at this point I wasn't gaining many points even if I won all my games. Oh well, time to play for money I guess. Anyway, I knew better than to take my opponent lightly. Just play good chess, win the game, and set up a huge matchup in round 4. 

Alright, not the cleanest win, but I'll take it. I try not to think about what might have happened had she not chosen to sacrifice a bishop mid-game, cause I was definitely in a tough position. But alright, things worked out for me again, and I am now happily at 3/3 and currently projected to gain 5 points... nice. Big game tomorrow. Surely I'll get lots of sleep, right? Right?!


So after getting about 4 hours of sleep (this is sadly very normal for me during tournaments), I return to the tournament the next day ready to play. Heading into round 4, only two players remain with perfect scores - Me, and NM Scott Varagona (2281). The winner of this game will likely win the tournament. Last time we played, we had a fantastic game in Alabama's state championship, which I believe ultimately decided who Alabama's state champion would be (Ahhhh if only I had drawn that game, who knows what would have happened - what if, what if...). I was happy to get a rematch of course, but he plays quite a strange line that has not been easy to prep for. I had something in mind, but things didn't quite work out like I thought they would... 

Well. That's uh. I'm not even sure. That was terrible. I didn't even feel devastated or anything like normal, it was such a slow, painful death that it felt like it was over way before it really was. My prep turned out to be rather poor, my evaluation after my prep went wrong was very poor, and my refusal to play solidly, instead opting for the more aggressive-looking move, was also extremely poor. My weaknesses continuously get exposed against these strong titled players... right now it sucks, but eventually I will be very thankful for losses like this. Gg, Scott. Next time... well, I'd say I'll be ready, but I think I said that last time, and then this happened. Uh. Next time I won't be ready? I don't know lol


Well. Here we go. The last round. As of now I'm projected to lose 2 points... bleh. Win this and I'll gain a couple. Lose this and I risk falling below 2100, which I really really don't want to do, I take great pride in the fact that I have maintained my 2100+ rating ever since I first reached 2100. There's also prize money on the line - win for money, cool Despite all that, I still lacked motivation for this game. My loss to Scott took over 4 hours, and I was somehow left with what was about a 30 minute break. Which is nowhere near enough time to recover from what I deemed to be a tournament-ending loss. I don't even have time to prep for this game like I normally would, because I need to eat lol

Anyway... I was paired with 1813-rated Sam Baskarraj, who started the tournament with a win over a 2100, and finished his round 4 game very quickly and has had plenty of time to rest. Not exactly ideal. But I'll try my best? Once again, I had to tell myself to just play chess. It's that simple. Just. Play. Chess. 

That might have been my favorite game of the tournament, honestly. No prep, no problem. I did whatever I wanted in the opening, made a somewhat strange decision with e6-Qe8-c6 just hoping he'd go for that Nb5 idea, and it worked out amazingly. And then once I was wide awake and motivated to play with passion (really I just need to stop beating up on myself for losses lol), my play was shockingly accurate in a very messy middlegame. 

Oh I'd also like to mention... remember my round 2 opponent? He visited our board a few times (he also likes imitating the person I was playing) and was distracting. My opponent and I couldn't help but laugh (and I couldn't help but mess with round 2 opponent as well), but this did happen in the most critical parts of the game. Did it affect the game? Perhaps for my opponent it did, I dunno. But not for me... dude I have 5 younger siblings who would all scream their heads off whenever I had a chess lesson and they were anywhere nearby - I can play through the distractions 😅 


Overall, I'm happy with this tournament. A little bitter that I once again fell short, but it's part of the journey. Another loss to an NM that further exposes my weaknesses? That will undoubtedly help me, long-term. For now, I am still stuck/ But this will help me. I'll have my breakthrough eventually. 

That last round win earned me clear second place and $300, so that's nice. Oh and I ended up gaining 5 points, somehow. So my current rating is now 2121. I played 4 exciting games vs lower-rated opponents, they were all enjoyable. My loss I must confess was not enjoyable, but again I'll learn from it. This time I can say, without any doubt, it was worth playing. 


Good job, you made it to the end. Somehow. See the image below if you wanna know what my upcoming blog schedule looks like.

I've got a few otb tournaments coming up - I should not have to play anyone below 1900 in any of them, so that's very ideal. In March, I said I would publish a 4th Questioning Non-Chess Players blog, so that's what I plan to do sometime next month. 

Thanks for reading, I appreciate it and I truly hope you enjoyed your time here. Cyall in the comments!