A Rude Awakening At The Toronto Open 2023

A Rude Awakening At The Toronto Open 2023

| 44

St. Casimir’s Parish Hall. Sept 2, 2023. A scrawny middle-aged woman slips effortlessly through the building’s door, unseen. She is here on a mission, to compete in the Toronto Open 2023, U1900. Will she lose ALL of her games, like last time, and win the last place? Or is there still some hope in this lady? The woman has been chasing after or was chased by her kids all summer long and comes totally unprepared.

The tournament details:

When: Sept. 2 - Sept. 4 2023.

Rounds at 10:00 and 4:00 daily

Time control: 90 min. + 30 sec.

As of recently, our woman has been highly interested in Steven Kotler’s work on high performance with aging. According to his research, and contrary to popular belief, one’s performance can in fact get better with age! We’re talking about people beyond their 40s!

Since last December’s tournament, however, the woman got swept away into creative writing and running the whole stay-home-mom + homeschooling show. She didn’t play a single classical game but managed to study some of the 100 Classical Masterpieces from and meet up with her chess buddies for some rapid games, on occasion. 

So, Kotler’s work sounds promising and the woman is all hyped up! And if the research findings are correct, at some point, she will play better than she did in her late teens when her rating peaked at 2000+.

But so far, her rating’s been steadily decreasing ever since she got into competitive chess last year, after nearly 2 decades of hiatus.

So, let’s see how she performs this time! Her name is Olya, by the way.

DAY 1 – The warmup

Round 1

The tournament began with an uneventful game. The two opponents developed their pieces, then exchanged and agreed to a draw. But, it was an excellent warm-up for the out-of-practice woman. She was just happy that she did not blunder.

Round 2

In this game, the woman got a bit mixed up with her openings and made a strange move 6 …Nh5. She thought she could exchange her knight for the bishop  6. …Nh5. 7.Bg4 f6 8. Bh4 g5 etc. but quickly realized that white just takes 9 Ng5 … What a goofy! After that, she regretted wasting two tempos and so, the rest of the game the poor woman spent defending her position without any initiative. Still, she emerged with a draw, happy that she was unbreakable!

The reason her opponent has zero rating is because, as he explained, he's from Quebec. The woman didn't understand the explanation and was too tired to inquire further. 

Alright, not a bad start. The woman was quickly getting her confidence back and believed that tomorrow she will play better!

DAY 2 – So close to winning

Round 3

The next game was a tough fight. The woman played her English opening very well and emerged with a pretty decisive advantage. After winning the pawn in the endgame, however, the woman carelessly rushed her 31. Be4 move and went downhill from there. After this move, she thought she was losing and went into the defensive - her second mistake, not looking for counterattack. She still had the initiative had she played 32. b6. Miraculously, the game ended in a draw. It was an excellent fight!

Round 4

This is the woman’s favourite game of this tournament. She played very well and obtained a massive advantage from the start. She gave careful consideration to each move and was very diligent until the very end when running low on time, she made a mistake. And all her decisive advantage evaporated into a draw. Unbelievable!

It was another very tough fight, though. While moving forward with the attack, the woman kept dodging bullets because her opponent always had threats, no matter how bogus. The game exhausted and puzzled her so much (how did she not win this??) that her mind kept going over and over the game while she drove home. Not a good idea. People honked at the woman twice until she regained her senses. Chess is not worth endangering the driving.

On the radio, Mariah Carey was risking her life “to feel [her] body next to yours.” Seriously? Click. Silence. Much better …

By the time the woman got home, she couldn’t decide what she wanted more: eat, shower, satisfy her burning curiosity with the game analysis, use her magic touch to help daddy put their second restless daughter to bed, or … sleep. Cross-eyed and fatigued, the woman dropped on her bed and passed out.

DAY 3 – The Denouement

Round 5

Another interesting game in the sense that all along it was draw’ish. Then, one careless move, 34. …Qc6, instead of Qd6, and the woman's position turned into a cemetery of the living dead. The pieces, like zombies, tried to hold on to each other, but it was hopeless.

Do I need to describe how the woman felt after this game? Just look at her:

The look after losing game 5

Enough said!

Round 6

The woman’s opponent was Sean Liu, the boy she played in the second round of the Canadian Open 2022 (which she won). Sean now looked visibly taller and was smiling at the woman. “How did your rating go DOWN so much?” was the first thing he asked her. “How did your rating go UP so much?” was what the woman wanted to reply. Instead, she mumbled something about her 20-year break from serious chess, being an adult with many responsibilities, etc … I don’t think Sean understood what she was saying. I mean, he didn’t even exist in this world, when the woman quit her chess. “Oh, so you’ve been now playing [competitive] chess for only a year?” he inquired. “Since you’ve been born, yes,” she didn’t say.

Ah, Sean – you’re fun! And honestly, your chess progress is amazing!

Sean offered the woman a draw and she gladly accepted it. She didn’t see how to continue the game, and at that point, exhausted, she just wanted to go home to her kids. It would be their first day of school the following day and she wanted to make sure she was there to soothe their worries and anxiety. It would have been awful to miss such a moment.

And with that 5th draw (and one loss), the woman happily concluded the tournament and headed home.

Random interesting fact: Ever since the woman got back into competitive chess, several people have asked her the same question: “Are you a student?” The woman would suddenly feel young, smile, and say “no.” (If only they knew how old she is!). But in this tournament, no one asked her this question. What a shame! Because this time, the woman would have shouted: “Yes! YES – I’m a student! I’m going back to school this fall to study creative writing at the University of Toronto! Life is so beautiful!!”

Oh, well …

The Take Aways

How did she not win any games? This was like a slap in the face! It still makes no sense! 

The woman concluded that after the pandemic everyone is now grossly under-rated. While she – ohhh, poor woman, she is grossly over-rated. She just hasn’t played in enough tournaments since her retirement from chess to bring her rating all the way down. How low will it fall?

And so the woman told herself:

1.        “Listen Olya - you’re not special! Did you really think that after all these years, you will return to chess and play at the 2000 level? Did you really think a miracle would happen and you would just pick up the slack where you left it off? Well, when it comes to chess, there are no miracles. Only hard work and some imagination.” What a reality check!

Back home though, she witnesses two miracles every day. Marveling at her children, she sometimes asks them: “Where did you come from so beautiful and perfect?” To which, they are always quick to respond: “Your tummy!” Well, if her tummy can create such amazing human beings, it must definitely be a miracle! So miracles exist! … Yeah, yeah, it’s basic biology, I know, but isn’t biology a miracle in itself?

Oops, I digress …

2.       She also told herself: “You’re going to keep falling and crumbling to pieces at these tournaments. And that’s OK. Because one day, and yes it will happen, one day you will rise from the ashes and transform into a better and stronger player. That, I’m confident of! Enjoy the ride!”

And with these words, the woman felt a massive(!) relief. She let go of all unrealistic expectations of herself (yes, again!), and was able to enjoy this tournament IMMENSELY! She will continue looking at Steven Kotler’s work and is determined to yet reach her peak performance!


The woman's diary extract:What I LOVED the most in this tournament was the thought process that went into each game. Like a pilot, I enjoyed navigating through various positions, even though I struggled to find sensible plans in several games. Hence, so many draws. But I was driven by curiosity! So driven, I approached each game burning with passion! I wanted to figure it all out and even if I couldn’t, I knew I would go home and soon dive deep into the game analysis and be enlightened! I love that feeling, I love learning, I love moving forward. And I can’t wait to analyze all my games in detail and grow my knowledge.

I also REALLY enjoyed the much-needed quiet time I got at this tournament! It’s been a heck of a busy summer with the kids and I had no downtime to myself whatsoever! So sitting there, at the board, thinking, uninterrupted for hours on end, was pure bliss! No one asked me to make them a popsicle, no one came to me crying because someone “stole” their crayon, no one asked me to take them to Mastermind or a candy store, and for the millionth time, I didn’t have to explain why excessive consumerism is a bad idea!

But, of course, I missed my kids and I love them (and John) more than anything!

I love this life, with all the challenges that it brings and I’m so excited to see how this year unfolds and how far, or hollow, I will go in chess!”


Side-Note on Friend Requests: Hi guys, I’ve been getting a ton of email notifications with new friend requests, here on, but when I log in I only see like one or two! I’ve contacted IT with this issue but so far they cannot resolve it. I am sorry if I can’t accept your request, it’s not my fault! 

Former Canadian Girls Chess Champion (1999 tied for 1st, 2001 1st place)

Busy mom of two

Blogger and chess addict happy.png