My US Open: Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Hello everyone. I recently competed in 2013 US Open held in Middleton, Wisconsin (although advertised in Madison). It was fun to play in such a large and competitive tournament so close to home (I am from Milwaukee). I met many strong players and analyzed with people I would otherwise have had no chance. My overall performance was less than mediocre, I feel, but I learned some very important things about myself as a chess player and as a person. This blog will aim to highlight some practical tips as well as suggest methods for advancing one's training habits and preparation for such large tournaments (the US Open is a 9 round event with all players, obviously, pooled into one group). For this event I played in the 4-day schedule, regretably, and so that meant that for the first 6 rounds my games would have a time control of G/60 with a 5-second delay, a time control I do not care much for. One of my main weaknesses is time management in chess and I have blundered away many a win or draw in time trouble.
Round 1 I was paired against a significantly lower-rated opponent (coming in at approximately 950) and so I mentally brushed him aside, which of course is something one should never do as a chess player. This affected my play at what could have been a crucial juncture in the opening/early middlegame, and I took far more risks than I normally would have against stronger opposition, but in the end my opponent ignored my strong play on the KS and fell prey to some tactics that quickly forced a winning position for white. I will not include the pgn because I do not think the game is so instructive.
In round 2 I was paired against a 2150 rated player and I was very excited for this round. I was slightly nervous but also quite confident and my confidence helped me to play the opening more or less precisely and I obtained a small advantage and an imbalanced middlegame where I had chances. I made a very unsound pawn sacrifice in the middlegame after being frustrated with the fact that I couldn't find any easy plan to get KS activity in an IQP position while I felt that my pawn was about to be undermined. I then got into an OCB ending down a pawn which was very holdable and which I was holding quite easily until time trouble reared its ugly head and I made a critical mistake and lost quickly (NB: It was mutual time pressure, where I was under 2 minutes in the last 10 moves of the game and my opponent was at around 5 minutes). The game is shown below.
I was, of course, very upset about such a loss when I had played a decent game up to that point. In round 3 I was paired against a 1400 player who was also at 1/2. It should be noted at this point that I had gotten about three hours of sleep the night before this first day of the tournament and had biked from downtown Madison to the hotel where the tournament was held. Therefore, the conditions for this match were such that I was both quite weary and overconfident/disrespectful of my opponent. Below you will see how such factors lead to utter disaster. This is perhaps one of my most embarrassing games of chess because I failed to respect my opponent and the game.
Round 4, I had a bye (because the round was scheduled for 10PM and I was already exhausted, and at this point demoralized). As I biked back to my friend's apartment in the dark I felt numb. I kept going over the position in my head, almost running a read light once on the way back. I seriously considered quitting chess at this point and I felt very much lost. Chess has been such a big part of my life for the last 2 years since I started playing, and I was simply shocked at how I had let my play in round 3 be affected by my perception of my opponent. I slept for 11 hours that night and told myself I would see if I felt the same way in the morning. It's amazing what sleep can do to change your mind sometimes.
Round 5 started at noon the next day. This time I took a taxi to the hotel to see if that would change my energy levels. I was paired against a 1700 and feeling much better than the previous day. I felt my head was clearer and I could actually focus on chess. And I promised to myself to never underestimate an opponent again. This round I vowed to play the board and to find what I believed to be the best moves in the position. I think I produced a very fine game that showed I was ready to compete and that I did not have it in me to give up this game. My round 5 game is reproduced below, with some analysis.
Round 6 had be paired with someone in the 1600-1700 range. Right before the game, my new friend Rudy said as he shot a piece of paper into a cup, "If I drain this shot, you're going to crush your next opponent." Being the stud that he is, he did indeed drain the shot and I went into the next round, with the white pieces, ready to kill my opponent on the board. While the position by move 15 proved that Rudy indeed had a magic touch, I used a lot of time trying to best exploit my winning position and ended up not only missing two very clear wins (one of which I had been calculating but then switched from at the last moment), but getting into ridiculous time pressure (less than 2 minutes to 20 minutes for my opponent). My opponent's opening bluders went unpunished and I was quite frustrated afterwards but told myself I would shake it off and get the next one. I was at 1.5/2 for the day already, albeit against weaker opponents, but at least I was sort of moving up. Below is my round 6 game.
With two down and one to go on the second day of competition, I still had tons of energy and was feeling confident with the black pieces against another 1600 player (for the fourth round in a row, a younger opponent). Somehow I manage to have better results in major tournaments with the black pieces. I think part of that may have to do with my repertoire, but it's more likely predominately psychological. I often overpress with white if I feel my opponent has made some early inaccuracies when the position does not call for such drastic measures. With more study and experience this will likely be remedied. For this game I had 2 hours for 40 moves and then an additional hour after that. My analysis of the round 7 game (and the first game of the merged schedules) is shown below.
Round 8 was on the following day, and it didn't start until 7 pm, which gave me plenty of time to look up my opponent. He was a ~2000 player from Canada. In the hours before the round I learned that he has played the Petrov before so I spent some time deciding on a line I thought was comfortable and that might hold some surprise for black. Instead, my opponent opted into the Scotch Gambit, but played a move I was far too critical of at the board. I overpressed and missed an easy defense for my opponent and was simply lost around move 12, but I decided to struggle on. I felt I had no choice, and I was determined to try to swindle my way to a draw, partly because I was frustrated with my opening blunder and partly because this guy was Canadian. And swindle I did.
I went into the final round with 4.5/8, a fine comeback from my 1.5/4 start on the first day. I was paired against a floored 2000 who was still playing at about that strength (this is based on some research into his results from the last year). I had black and I was ready to put some fire on the board. Around move 30 we were both in pretty heavy time trouble because the middlegame had been so complicated, but I was able to find the path to victory after my opponent missed his one chance to save the position. This is by far my best game and form of the whole tournament. It is a shame I couldn't have found it sooner. The game is reproduced below.
So it was a mixed bag, finishing 5.5/9. Grouped with my fantastic finish was the horrid round 3 loss, the missed win in round 5, and the botched opening in round 8. There are many holes in my play to investigate and I already have a plan on how to fix my gaping weaknesses and to continue on my path towards expert and beyond. The following are my plans for the rest of the year:
- Time Management! : I plan on playing more training games against stronger players (I have lots of friends in the 2000-2200 range both at my college and at my local chess club, and of course there's the internet) at time controls I have poor results in. This will include G/30 and G/60. I will mark down my time on my scoresheets as I have done in the past to see where I need to speed up in my play. I have a pretty good understanding of opening theory so I usually burn too much time in the middlegame calculated random lines. I will hopefully eradicate this problem.
- Calculation/Tactics! : This feeds immediately into the time trouble problem. If I speed up my ability to calculate (and the clarity of my tactical vision so that I don't have to repeat lines a third time) then I will quicken my pace in tournament games. A friend of mine also suggested some tactics books that will help fix some of the holes in my knowledge of motifs so that I can begin pushing myself for more advanced combinations. Among such books are Test Your Chess IQ, and Dvorestky's tactics book. I look forward through going through them shortly. Going through Bronstein's Zurich 1953 work as solitaire chess is also a tough exercise I look forward to. My own ideas include: Blindfold training, brute calculation puzzles like those shown by IM Rensch on chess.com, and online tactics puzzles as found here and elsewhere.
- Continue Endgame Training: I think I played endgames excellently relative to the other stages of the game in this tournament (And better than my opponents). Moreover, I felt I had understanding and was comfortable in the endgames that arose. I will continue to study endgames of Carlsen, Karpov, Alekhine, Capablance, and Rubinstein as I have done recently. There are many great video resources on Chess.com to help one get started in this area. I may tweak my repertoire with white to steer towards more endgames theoretically for practice and experience. I also recomnend to people looking for positional maneuvering and endgame technique the games of Bobby Fischer played in the Exhange Spanish. A quick search on chessgames.com will get you what you need.
- More Analysis: I will keep doing blog posts and reviewing my tournament games. I will also try to be more regular with inviting my opponents to post mortem analysis (which I will then write down after the fact). Doing analysis with stronger players can help you improve your thinking and tactical speed as well.
- Exercise: I've recently gotten quite tubby and am horribly out of shape. If I have any chance of going toe to toe with stronger players, I will need to be able to concentrate for up to 6-7 hours at the board. And that requires good stamina and blood flow. I'll be doing a lot of running and biking in the next few months.
- PROFESSIONALISM: This includes NEVER UNDERESTIMATING THE OPPONENT. I will attempt to dress in a more formal style as well in tournament games (I recently started wearing a nice shirt and tie to my club). It feels good, but you don't have to take my word for it.
That's all for now. Thanks for following and there will be another blog update soon about the championship from my local chess club which is currently ongoing. Until then, best of luck with your chess goals! :)