Last fall, I decided I was ready to get back into tournament chess. I had played some tournaments in the mid-2000's, but took a break for a while while I finished school, moved, married, and started a family. But after all those years, I was still excited about chess, so I decided to start taking lessons from Dan.
When I started, I had it in the back of my mind that I might want to do the World Open this summer. I had participated 3 times before, and had a lot of fun. I knew that it's a tough event, though, and that I'd have to be in top form.
I would say there were 4 main ways that I prepared:
- Rated games at the Arlington Chess Club. They have an awesome ladder event, where you get paired with someone near your rating, for a long game every week. It's a great way to always get a good fight where you're bound to learn something. Plus, the over-the-board practice was essential.
- Tactics. I started by drilling some simple tactics from a book. But the flashcard system I set up was a bit klunky. So I soon switched to http://chesstempo.com/. I practiced in 2 modes - blitz for easy problems, to practice pattern recognition, and standard to improve my ability to sit and calculate from a position for as long as it takes.
- For openings. I picked a couple of simple, solid systems. The colle system for white. The french against e4. And the leningrad dutch against d4/c4/Nf3. I didn't learn a lot of opening lines. Just the main lines and the ideas behind it. I almost spent some time completely re-tooling my opening repertoire, but decided (wisely) to invest that time in tactics instead.
- Then, of course, there were the lessons. A lot of our time was spent going over my games, so I could see where my mistakes were made. Dan thinks about thinking like nobody else I've ever talked to. So I learned a ton over the past 9 months, and fixed a lot of problems in my thinking process. I know that lessons like these don't fit within everyone's budget, but any opportunities you get to analyze with stronger players are golden.
Anyway, finally the big day came! For round 1, I was excited, and a little nervous. I got to the hotel in plenty of time, and got the lay of the land. We were subjected to 20 minutes of the TDs lecturing us on the various ways we weren't allowed to cheat. I was in the 7-day schedule, so there weren't all that many people around yet. Here's the game, with my comments:
Ok, not the prettiest game ever, but a win's a win, and it's a good way to start! On to round 2!
Well, what can I say? 1.5/2 isn't a bad score. Missing the win was extremely disappointing, but at least I hadn't had a worse position in either of my first two games, so it couldn't be all bad, right?
Well, it was about to get worse. Time for round 3:
Ugh, 1.5/3. Definitely not where I wanted to be. And from a position where I was just up a pawn! Oh well. Nothing to do but move on, right?
Wow. That game was over so fast, I still hit rush hour traffic on the way home. 1.5/4! This was definitely the low point of the tournament for me. All that time preparing, the exorbitant entry fee, and I was just going to have a terrible tournament. Very, very discouraging.
Fortunately, I also had a lesson with Dan that had been scheduled at this point. We talked about game 3 (I wasn't ready to talk about game 4 yet). And he just generally encouraged me to hang in there, and keep playing one move at a time.
The other big change at this point was that game 4 was on Thursday. I had Friday off work for the holiday, so I got to sleep in, relax a little, and not worry about work for the rest of the tournament. Looking back, I think that had a big impact on my games.
Ok, round 5
Whew. The ending of that one was complicated, but at least I came out on top! 2.5/5, could be worse, I suppose.
For the next couple of games, it felt like my opponents were sleep-walking a bit. I was winning material on simple combinations and just grinding out wins from there. My guess is that they figured they were out of the money, and just weren't trying very hard.
Here's round 6: