8 Lessons of Cairnhill Open
The prize winners of Cairnhill Blitz 2019

8 Lessons of Cairnhill Open

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Last weekend I took part in Cairnhill Open, a local tournament here in Singapore. In fact, there were two separate tournaments, 9-round rapid and 11-round blitz, so I played more chess than I usually do in a normal month  I did surprisingly well too, finishing 2nd-3rd in blitz and 3rd-4th in rapid. I decided to write down what worked for me and what didn't, as a kind of reflection on the tournament.

Without further ado, here goes 8 things that I learned at Cairnhill Open (originally there were 7 but I remembered one more and anyway 8 is a magic number in this part of the world )

1. How (not) to prepare for a tournament

The day before the tournament I was contacted by GM Timur Gareyev, the blindfold chess king. Timur is playing chess non-stop all over the world and is constantly on the move. That night he had a stopover in Singapore on his way from Australia to Europe, so I suggested that we have a dinner together. As it turned out, Timur is not the kind of person that would let a good plan stand in the way of even better experience, so instead of the dinner we went on a walking tour of Singapore...

Andrey, Timur and Singapore skyline

...ate durian at a street fruit stall...

A grandmaster, a durian and two mangos

...and played blitz by the poolside at midnight (no one was there to take the pictures, so you just have to trust me on that one )

Timur's flight took off at 3am, meaning that I had to sacrifice a few hours of my sleep. Waking up for the first round was tough. Somehow I managed not to mess up too much in the first rounds and after that I felt more energized than I should have, given the situation. I guess that inspiration still counts for something.

2. Waking up before it's too late

While we are still on this topic, let me show how I nearly lost my second game by sleepwalking through the opening. Fortunately, I was able to wake up before I blundered a piece, and not after!

Hitting the brakes instead of automatically playing 8...Qe5? was the only moment that I could be proud of in that game. Not that I played much better after this, but it was "good enough". Soon after the opening my opponent gave away an exchange, then a piece and the game was over before move 30. 

3. Burning time on the clock too early

In the 4th round I was playing with FM Lee Jun Wei. He has about the same rating as me but is twice younger, so a tense battle was to be expected. I was playing Black and as I found out later, I messed it up in the opening. I thought I knew what I was doing but in fact I was trying to make it work while being a tempo down compared to the official theory  

However, the position was complicated and at some point Jun Wei also started to slip. Unfortunately, at a critical moment I was simply too short on time to find the killer blow.

4. Why endgames matter

The game with Jun Wei did not stop at the previous diagram. A few moves later the following endgame arose:

I was certain that I was standing much better - "just look at that e4 square!" - but computer claims that it is balanced. Perhaps this also explains why I started to drift - it's one thing to stand pat and another to search for the advantage that's simply not there. Of course, another explanation is that my opponent simply plays better on increment 

Fortunately, I still managed to escape with a draw by finding a nice trick at the end of the game:

One extra check, plus the fact that my only remaining pawn controls one square - that's the difference between a loss and a draw! Aren't endgames cool?

5. Dangers of grabbing pawns

After the 4th round the rapid tournament was paused and after lunch most players moved to a blitz tournament. I was able to win a few nice games, including the following miniature, which illustrates the dangers of indiscriminate pawn-grabbing:

6. Knights are tricky

In the 5th round of the rapid I played my longest game of the tournament. I had an advantage out of the opening, then squandered it all, lost a pawn, then won it back with dividends. At that moment the material was reduced to just a few pieces and pawns, but I had an extra pawn and the knights were still on the board, so I kept on playing. The critical moment arrived when I set a little trap to my opponent...

Of course, objectively White never had anything to start with, but somehow it still felt like a missed opportunity. Knights are indeed tricky, and it goes for both opponents!

7. The difficulty of making good moves

In both blitz and rapid tournaments I had to play with Black pieces vs the #1 player, IM Tin Jingyao. Both times we repeated the opening line that we first debated four years ago. I think that I was getting a decent position every time, but it was only on the third attempt that I managed to get half a point from our encounters!

What can I say - this is why the stronger players have a higher rating! Getting a good position out of the opening is nice, but there is a middlegame and an endgame after that, and sooner or later the objective strength starts to tell. As Vasily Smyslov used to say, "I'll make 40 good moves, and if my opponent does the same, it will be a draw!"

8. Know your openings!

The last round of a tournament is the most exciting time (that is, if you played well in the previous rounds ) In the blitz tournament I was able to defeat GM Villamayor Buenaventura in the last round, thus securing a 2nd place. A day later I found myself in the same situation. A victory in the last round guaranteed me silver or even gold if Jingyao faltered. I was playing White against a lower-rated opponent. What more could one ask for, right? 

As it turned out, I did not really stand a chance in this game. My opponent played a Benko gambit and once again, I thought I knew the theory but I quickly realized that I was wrong...

In this case it was actually possible to put a price tag on not knowing your theory - the difference between winning and losing this game was $200. So studying theory pays off, after all!