One Lucky Step Closer: Chicago Open 2014
It's been awhile since my last tournament (October of last year), and I expected going in to the Chicago Open this year to be completely out of form. My only "training" was in the week prior to the event, when I did a few hours of tactics training and some analysis at my University chess club. I hadn't looked at my opening prep in forever and I was worried that I would potentially get destroyed by many opponents. I was quite surprised, then, when by round 6 I was in 2nd place in my section! A story of outrageously good luck and better-than-expected chess playing was ahead of me.
The first two rounds of the three-day schedule had me playing G60, so that would almost certainly mean end of game time scrambles. In my first game I played some 1750 ish rated player, and it was clear from the opening that she was looking for a fight with a strange system against my Caro Kann. I played with quite a deal of greed and risk, but thought my calculations were fine throughout, except when I made the practical and (actual!) blunder of accepting a knight sacrifice that looked defendable with less than five minutes on the clock for both sides. I ended up getting lucky in the defense that my opponent missed the difficult, puzzle-like win and I returned some material to get a winning end game which I finally converted with 10 seconds on my clock. My round 1 game is reproduced below:
Round 2 I found myself playing on the white side of a classical Caro Kann. I essentially blundered my way out of opening theory before move 20 by trading queens on e4 after having played g4, which gives black a very good positions. I then "sacd" for nebulous compensation, missing the rerouting of the knight to f5, where it defends the kingside. I then defended a very miserable and likely just losing endgame with tenacious and stubborn resistance until in another mutual time scramble I was able to hold the draw. I was quite happy with my resourceful endgame play, and again quite delighted by my luck that my opponent could not put me away despite having an advantage. The game can be seen here:
Round 3 was the last round of the first day of the tournament when the time control switched to G120 + SD30. After this round I would be at a solid 2.5/3. I again got quite fortunate that my opponent was in a hurry to exploit his nice opening position against my Modern Benoni (which I think I mishandled) and blundered a pawn in the process. I calculated well to make sure tactically everything was in the clear and then proceeded to play a nice consolidating middlegame just up a pawn with the bishop pair and nice pieces. I limited my opponent's counterplay, but was too hasty in taking the queen's off. I allowed my opponent counterplay chances my locking the queenside and at one point he had an easy draw, but I gave him chances to go wrong, which he indeed took. After this point I think white should still hold the draw with correct defense in the technical rook and pawns endging, but white should suffer and if he doesn't know the defense he will (as in the game) lose.
Day 2 began with a white against a player that surprised me with an opening I spent about all of 10 minutes looking at in the small preparation for this tournament: The Scandinavian. I think he played somewhat dubiously, getting behind in development and giving me more of the center than I deserved. I had quite a large positional advantage and his king was still in the center (after O-O he faces no tactical problems against his king, but I still have strong pawns in the center and the bishop pair) when I rushed to exploit his QS in the wrong way allowing an immediate drawing tactic which I completely overlooked. I was quite upset when he found it, but I was shocked at what followed. My opponent, thinking he had a mating attack (!) even though this was completely unjustified based on his wretched development and hanging pieces, refused to repeat the position and instead ended up blunderin his queen! If you as of yet have not believed me when I say I had the best of luck possible in this tournament perhaps the following game will convince you!
In round 5 I played against one of the other top players in the section with the black pieces. It was another Caro Kann (the third as of this point in the tournament), and my opponent went for the Panov. At this point I was mentally growling at myself for not preparing against this sharp line. It had been almost a year since I looked at the 6.Bg5 lines which get quite sharp. I knew the Fischer endgames quite well still from memory, but alas my opponent indeed went for 6.Bg5. Apparently I played a theoretical line but was not comfortable with my position after ...g5 Be5 until I made the correct decision to play Qb6, getting the queens off the board. I thought my opponent should have reasonable play after he let me hold my pawn on d3 with my weak e7 pawn and QS dark squares, but my opponent could not find a decent, active plan. After taking large chunks of time (over 20 minutes each) for two consecutive moves my opponent just strayed completely and I put the position in short order with some nice clean play. The instructiveness of the game is sort of lost after my opponent refuses to take back on d3 either with the queen or with Ne1-xd3.
Round 6 was my first and only loss of the tournament to the current tournament leader at that time (he was at 5/5 and I was at 4.5/5). After he played very passively, I made my old common mistake of trying too hard to punish his play. The whole sequence with allowing Nf5 and then weakening the KS dark squares with g6 only to lose the dark square bishop just seemed atrocious to me and it felt like I had to play principled chess to punish it. Instead I was too impatient while taking an enormous amount of time to figure out my plans out of the opening. I eventually lost my initiative and he got a strong knight on e5, which was just better than my minor pieces. I had a horrible middlegame with little activity and got over an hour behind on the clock, which eventually resulted in an unforgivable blunder just before time control. I resigned in the endgame down an exchange. My luck had run out.
The final round I knew to make prize money I would have to win my game against another player with 4.5 points. I also secretly wanted to play against a specific person in the section that I had seen walking around the tournament hall all weekend and wanted to completely crush on the board. He was rated slightly higher than me at 1870 and played e4, which meant it was time for yet another Caro Kann. My tournament score with black in the Caro this time around would be 3/3 (!) and between whites and blacks it was 3.5/4. He also played an unusual set up, favored by Tal in his WCC match with Botvinnik, in the classical which is meant to be tricky but offers white not chances at a real advantage. I knew because he was a kid he would likely be good at tactics and play for sacs and tricks so my play was designed around removing these chances if possible. I missed the chance to follow the games of Tal-Botvinnik when instead of Bd6 I chose Nd5 which is ok, but the game could have been strange and messy if my young opponent had found the computer's idea of taking on d5 and playing Qh5, but likely I would defend, however awkwardly. Instead, as expected he played for cute but artificial threats and I won a nice game in under 25 moves thanks to some simple tactics.
All in all I am, and this might sound surprising, not too satisfied with my play as I missed many resources for my opponents in interesting positions and mismanagaed the crucial game of the tournament because of poor time decisions. I hope to be in better form in the future as I prepare for the World Open in July and I am already beginning to train more seriously. I'm happy with the money (500$) and rating points I picked up (1853->1931) for my 4th place finish on tiebreaks, and I am actually happy that it is unlikely i will play this section in the future as this is my second time playing in it. I look forward to harder competition ahead as I continue my road to 2000 (which will hopefully come to an end this year after almost 4 years of tournament play starting at 1150), and possibly to 2200+ down the road. Thanks for following my blog and stay tuned for more training materials and summer tournament updates!