Tournament Adventures: Columbia Open and Breaking 2300
It's been a while since I've been able to post. Fortunately, the reason is that I've simply been too busy playing chess This past weekend (August 15th-17th) I had the pleasure of playing in the Columbia Open run by the Columbia Chess Club (www.columbiachess.org). The tournament was very professionally and smoothly organized by Daniel Smith and Jordan Anderson with assistance from Lendel Robinson and Drew Plyler. The rounds were prompt, the venue was welcoming with great board space in the lobby, and the players were affable yet fiercely competitive. Huge thanks to the organizers for all the time and energy they contributed!
I was thrilled to win the open section with 5/5 including a somewhat fortunate win over IM Alexander Matros This was without a doubt my best tournament result ever. The tournament brought my unofficial rating up to 2302 from 2260 - breaking 2300 for the first time! Given the slog it was to eke my rating past 2200, I never expected to make 2300 so suddenly. What's more, the games themselves were a real pleasure. Each of my opponents came ready to fight, and there were interesting moments and ideas in all my games. Thanks to all for the exciting games! IM Alexander Matros and Life Master Klaus Pohl (already a US Senior Champion when I began competing!) finished in shared second place. The open section only contained 14 players, but all were between 2000 and 2500, so the games were never easy.
Congratulations also to Adam Shaw (a certain expert to be), Mia Lopez (1.5 points clear of the field!), and Rares Cristian on winning the U2000, 1600, and 1200 sections respectively! Crosstables, photos, top board games, and a report are available on the scchess.org homepage and will probably soon be posted at columbiachess.org.
I spent so much time analyszing my games while they were fresh in my mind that I didn't have time to fully analyze games from the other competitors, but all games from board 1 and 2 are available at scchess.org. My games were far from perfect, and my opponents twice missed winning continuations, but overall I was very happy with my play. I thought I found some interesting ideas, and in general, I was able to enjoy the fight without focusing on the result.
Game 1: CM Wayne Christiansen - NM Sam Copeland
This was my first game against Wayne. He tested me in the Dutch Defense, and I burned alot of time as I wasn't up on my theory, but the opening was objectively sound for me. I enjoyed our conversation and Wayne's insights after the game.
Game 2: NM Sam Copeland - Leo Rabulan
I had played Leo twice previously at the Columbia Chess Club. He is a very resourceful and determined player from the Phillipines, and he decided to play in a very sacrificial style against me. After an inaccurate opening, I was very happy with my middlegame play. I defended well and got a winning advantage, but I frittered much of it away before Leo went astray in time pressure.
Game 3: IM Alexander Matros - NM Sam Copeland
I think it is reasonable to say that this was an anticipated showdown for the tournament. IM Matros is currently far and away number one on the SC state rankings. After my move to SC, I rank a very distant second. IM Matros came into this game having ceded a draw to Wilfred Brown in a tough game in the previous round. He came ready for a fight and went straight for my throat in the opening. I made some errors in the opening, and IM Matros achieved a serious plus and could have even forced a win after an aggressive and foolish pawn grab from me. I understand the spectators were kicking dirt over my dead body at that point. After this, I started to play much better. I went into a slightly worse endgame, but I was able to achieve some activity. IM Matros rejected positional play and went straight for mate with rooks on the h file. However, this allowed me to introduce my own back rank mating threats. The position was extremely sharp at this point, and neither of us had any time left. Lots of spectators were watching the finale. IM Matros could have achieved a good position early after swinging rooks to the h file, but it was non-obvious and after some ensuing errors, my rooks were the ones to infiltrate and mate IM Matros was very generous in sharing his thoughts after what was surely a painful loss, and in general, he displayed the greatest sportsmanship and composure in the tournament. I hope to play many more interesting games with him in future.
Game 4: NM Sam Copeland - LM Klaus Pohl
Klaus Pohl was the first master I ever played (number 5 here - http://www.chess.com/blog/SamCopeland/whats-your-most-painful-blunder). He has retained a remarkable portion of his skill and aggression over the years; he comes to each game thoroughly ready for a fight. His play in the opening was aggressive and creative, and he really knocked me back on my heels. However, after some inaccuracies, I began to enjoy my position, and I was able to initiate sharp play with Bh4!? The position was still defensible, but it was not easy and mistakes were made. Klaus felt that he probably did not use his time well at this point.
Game 5: Edsel Pena - NM Sam Copeland
I had clinched first at this point, but I knew that a win would probably allow me to break 2300. Additionally, I felt good and wanted to continue playing interesting, fighting chess. Edsel also seemed particularly determined to defeat me so fireworks began pretty soon. I was happy with the outcome of the opening, but I overreacted when Edsel launched an attack with g4. I got my queen into trouble on the kingside. Edsel and I swapped some errors in which he missed some strong (and one winning) continuations, and I missed some opportunities to effectively extract my queen. I think Edsel believed he had finally trapped my queen, but I was able to free it and enter a position with three pawns for the piece and practical chances. I missed the most effective follow ups, and Edsel was able to activate his extra piece after which the game should have ended in a perpetual. However, Edsel seemed to be trying to push, and he allowed me to trade queens. In the resulting position, my outside passed pawns were simply too much for the knight.
I think my big takeaway from the games is that I still need to work on opening preparation so that I am not so behind on the clock after the opening. I also felt that I was a bit too optimistic in my games against Matros and Pena. I think that my optimism lead me to pursue some aggressive, but objectively bad continuations. Of course, that same optimism was a big help in key moments against Leo and IM Matros, so I don't want to reject it. I simply wish to find a more balanced and objective optimism Next up: US Masters!