Greetings again, Chess.com members, for my blog post for April! It has been an eventful month for me, beginning with the St. Louis Invitational from April 9-13.Situated in one of the leading clubs in the country, I could not refuse the chance to make my first GM norm.
Luckily for me, the pairings were kind. I was seeded first in the pairing number and was accorded 5 whites and 4 blacks, a slight and noticeable advantage in a round robin setting. Nonetheless, it was up to me to take advantage of my white pieces and convert wins. The average rating of the tournament turned out to be 2478, with 6/9 required for a GM norm. My first round game was against Giorgi Margvelashvili, and it was a great start to the tournament:
This starting win against the top seed gave me great confidence moving forward. My next few games were all rather simplistic draws, although I almost succumbed to IM Mackenzie Molner as White in round 2 when I got a little too daring with my pawns. Nonetheless, moving into the 5th round, I was at +1 (2.5/4). I needed +2 in the last 5 games and was hoping to draw the 3 blacks and win the 2 whites. I then proceeded to lose to Angelo Young with Black, putting me at +0 with 4 rounds left. I needed 3.5/4 in 2 blacks and 2 whites. The norm looked over, especially because I was having great difficulties winning with Black.
However, this loss to Angelo really forced me to confront my play. I had hitherto employed a safe style of play, trying to draw with Black and win with White. That wasn't acceptable anymore. I HAD to win with Black. I made the monumental decision to pursue active and dynamic play beyond my usual norm, and that resolution was immediately tested against IM Leonid Gerzhoy. Given a choice of exchanging all the pieces and reaching a draw, I sacrificed two (!!) pawns with uncertain compensation. While the objective evaluation is in question, it flustered him enough that he blundered and I got a win. 2.5/3 to go, with Black against GM Ben Finegold next.
My game against Finegold returned to our usual Botvinnik duels, with him using a new variation that I had never seen before.
This win with Black really provided confidence and rekindled my norm dreams. The mountain climb now seemed possible... I needed 1.5/2 on the final day. I drew Marc Arnold in the first game (almost losing from overaggression in the process), setting the stage for a decisive game with Black against IM Michael Brooks in the last round.
My aggressive play brought through my second Black win in the most critical situation! The highlight of the game for me was the pyschological considerations behind my pawn sacrifice ...Nb2. It was the best way to maintain the pressure on the White position and was definitely not a move I would have looked at 5 or so games before.
By adapting my play to the changing situation, I managed to clutch the GM norm as it almost floated away, finally getting my first GM norm after numerous close tries. It was without a doubt one of the happiest moments in my life, and I also tied for first with IM Marc Arnold and GM Elshan Moriadabadi. I came away with this tournament with happy memories and hope for the future: hopefully, my next two GM norms aren't too far away!
Thank you all for reading, and good luck in your future chess endeavors!