Tim Just's Winter Open XXXII
Over the weekend, I played in Tim Just's Winter Open. Branded as the longest running tournament in the Chicagoland area, the Winter Open was the first major tournament I played in, and so it marks a year of chess since my return. It's been a good year--I have a rating that's not too shabby, have some great friends who play, met plenty of good people, and really enjoy learning what I have learned.
The tournament itself was in the same Embassy Suites ballroom with the same lousy weather outside. They actually filled the room this year: 70+ boards between two sections, not including the 1-day scholastic tournament. GMs Vladimir Georgiev and Fidel Corrales Jiminez were both in attendance, along with IM Ashwyn Jayaram. I found the experience to be much more enjoyable this time around, since I knew a good number of the people from tournaments at ChessIQ . I also met a few more people, including two of my opponents (Eli Friedman & Stephen Leung, the former of whom I played quite a bit of blitz with).
If only my performance matched how I felt about the whole experience. I played 5 games (G90|30), and went 3/5. Unfortunatly, due to the nature of the Swiss System and the Reserve section, all my victories were scored against players sub-1200, while my losses were against stronger players. This resulted in my dropping 9 Elo points, putting my rating at 1556. It's the first time I think I've lost points since I gained a real rating, and it sucks, but there's nothing to do but pick myself up and keep playing.
My first two games were nothing special. In the first, I had the black pieces against Eli Friedman, and played the Sicillian. Eli played that line that people play all the time online: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6. 3. Bc4, and I quickly equalized. I was better for the rest of the game, eventually getting a monster passed pawn and winning handily.
My second game is even less interesting, and one that I'm not particularly proud of. I had the white pieces in a Ruy Lopez that black misplayed quite badly. When he played an early ...f5, I was set to punish it, though I did so in a very unsound way. My knight sac on h7 looked terrifying, and it scared him into submission, but it was in fact completely unsound. Still, fortune favors the bold, and when he couldn't find a refutation, I blew up his kingside and won handily.
FM Albert Chow, who happened to be there, actually took a look at this game while I was talking to his friend (who I think is organizing a tournament at some point). He certianly didn't mince words in critizing my play, which I think was completely justified. He's a nice guy though, and he agrees with me that Logical Chess by Irving Chernev is one of the best chess books ever written. So there's that.
Game Three I faced S.E. Henderson, one of the regulars at ChessIQ, and usually sitting two boards away from me. He played 1. c4, which I had actually never seen in a rated game before. I busted out my new classical dutch theory, and we got an incredibly sharp game where we both missed wins. Eventually, everything came off and we had a R+4 pawns vs. R+3 pawn endgame. I had the draw in hand, but I misevaluated my position, and traded rooks at the worst possible moment. I could argue that I was tired after a full day of chess, but honestly, I just need to be better at endgames. Still, I was pleased with it, and I found it very instructive.
Game Four took place first thing Sunday morning. I had the white pieces in a classical French. I found some interesting ideas, but made myself worse by playing g4 too early. Still, even though I was worse (and we both missed a potent combination), I found a way to get counterplay and really press on my time advantage. My pieces basically exploded out from the bind black had me in, and I won convincingly. Without a doubt, this was my favorite game of the tournament, and one of the most exciting I've played in a while.
For both games on Sunday, I managed to not see the ratings of my opponents until after the game. I was sure that Stephen was at least 1500, if not better, but he still had his provisional rating, and was rated 1186! Hopefully, he'll get that fixed soon, but he must have had a good tournament, because according to the USCF, he's now 1303 with 4 games to go.
My last game I was playing for prize money, a position I haven't really been in before. With a win, I would have taken sixth place and won the $225 U1600 prize. Things looked like they were going great for me too: I was at least equal, if not better by move 8 thanks to my opening prep, and then I promptly traded into a dull, lifeless endgame which I had only the tiniest of advantages in. While I wasn't worse, I was in a bad place mentally, and I played a very poor endgame, letting white activate his pieces and attack my king, while I blocked in one bishop and hung a pawn.
A very disappointing loss, but there are some positives here. Not including my poor tactical abillity, this game showcases everything I need to work on to improve my chess: better transitions, better endgame play, and having a firmer grip on my psychology.
As it's the new year, I might as well make some chess resolutions.
1) Tactics, tactics, tactics. Without a doubt, combinations and calculation is the weakest part of my game. All of my best wins have been in slow, positional games where tactical possibilites were non-existant. I want to get better at those, and hopefully be able to boast ~2000 TT rating by this time next year.
2) Psychology. I was all over the place in this tournament, and a lot of it had to do with who the other guy was. While that is certainly unavoidable, I need to find a way to get more in the zone the way I was in games 1, 3, and 4, and stay there. I also feel like I'm more timid than I should be, and that should be something I can fix.
3) Play more OTB! Moving to NYC will make that easier, I think, and will make it so I don't have to play only with the DHLC to get that experience. I intend to keep doing it though, particularly when I don't have time for a tournament, since playing at long time controls is an important thing to keep practicing.
Anyway, here's to a great year for chess--I hope next year is just as fun!