A Tale of Two Masters and Three Young Frenchman

Oct 22, 2015, 1:19 AM |

     Its been a long time (almost a year) since I have posted a blog on one of my tournament experiences. I will no longer deprive everyone. Several months ago, in April, I participated in a chess tourament in Iowa, the Okoboji Open. My blog is a bit late (6 months :) - life has been busy). In my opinion, the Okoboji Open is one of the premier "small" open tournaments in the Midwest. I have attended the tournament the past two years (2013 and 2014) and always enjoyed it, even though I never did that well. This year's attendance was lower than previous years, but the field was super strong, with a GM even participating.

I had no pre-tournament aspirations like I normally do. College had kept me busy and I stopped playing and studying chess (with the exception of chess club once a week). The two days preceding the tournament I studied chess for a couple hours, so I wouldn't be completely rusty. At my last couple tournaments, I was inspired to play insane openings. This time I decided to play more solid openings like the Queen's Gambit Declined. I glanced at a few lines - but didn't put a huge amount of time into memorizing anything.

Round 1: My 2nd Master

My first opponent was a master rated at around 2200. I do not fear higher rated players, but have blown a lot of games against masters so I geared up for a fight. I got the impression before the game that he thought he was going to win.

The opening was a sharp QGD and before long I had sacrificed an exchange to trap his queen. Soon I was simply a piece up. However things became complicated when I made a positional blunder, letting him get counterplay.

I was glad to pick up my second win against a master -proving that my first win against a master was no fluke. It was nerve racking near the end, as I had blown many winning games against higer rated players in the exact same fashion, but this time I didn't collapse.

Round 2: Every Good Thing Must Come to an End

This game was played against a young player ranked in the 1900s. I had the white pieces and he played the French defense, the one defense I didn't feel confident playing against. Therefore I decided I wanted to take advantage of his youth and played the Exchange variation. My inexperience in this line showed and I came out of the opening a bit worse. However my opponent was tired (apparently he didn't get much sleep the night before) and offered a draw on move 21.

It was a bit shocking that my opponent offered a draw since he is clearly better in the final position. He can easily play against the backward e-pawn and the e4-square. He saw some ghosts (Ne5 stuff) and was tired, so that is why he offered it.

I was a bit sad to draw this game. Amazingly enough, this was my first draw since July 2012! This is the type of game were I would normally press for a win and lose. I have had many games like this so when he offered the draw I realized it would be the smart thing to accept it, even though it would end my glorious streak.

Round 3: Defensive Clinic

 In round 3, I faced another master level player. In the previous round he had lost, so I knew he was out for blood.

I played the opening quite wimply, allowing him to get an easy advantage. Around Move 15, I really started to sweat realizing I was in danger of losing. I simply had missed Qa3 when I played c5. However, instead of increasing the pressure, he allowed me to trade queens. After that I put on a defensive clinic...

I was glad to hold the draw against a strong master but was digusted with myself for my horrible opening play. For awhile, I thought I was going to pay for my opening transgressions but somehow he couldn't win and I defended very well considering my rating. Around Move 31, he put his head his head in his hands and looked totally devastated. I think he realized he had blown the win. However after the game he was in good spirits as we dicussed the interesting battle. He ended up winning his last two games to finish second!

Round 4: Mess of Mistakes

After getting a good night's sleep and breakfast, I was ready to do battle again. I had the white pieces against another young chess player rated 2100.

Again my young opponent played the French. I had looked briefly for another line against the French before the round. I remembered a Magnus Carlsen game and flicked through it - deciding that I should give his opening choice a try next time I faced a French. 

The game became quickly messy with both of us making several misktakes in the opening. The closest I got to winning was move 24, where I should have definetely played Bh6! which would have netted me at least a pawn.

A very poorly played game by both sides. I was very disappointed to lose. I thought I had played some really good moves. It turns out all the really moves I thought were really sly (18.Re2, 19.Nh1, 25.Bc1) were simply horrible. Once again, my tournament ending positively or negatively hinged on my last game.

Round 5: Shocking Blunder

In Round 5, I had to face a player rated 1980. Again I had the white pieces.

I was very annoyed when my opponent played the French! Don't these kids realize that the French always surrender?? :)

Indeed, my opponent was no Napoleon and this time I played a decent game. I took control of the game from the start and found a few annoying moves. Then he just blundered a piece!

I was shocked someone rated so highly blundered a simple fork. Usually, I would be the one to make such a mistake.
     I was disappointed by my play at the tournament. When I turned in my scoresheet to the tournament director Hank, he congratulated me on a fine tournament. I shook his hand but quickly diagreed. My opening play in Round 2 and 3 was absolute trash (I was lucky to get 2 draws instead of 2 losses) and Round 4 was a messy game I had good chances to win. However, I beat a master and cleaned up in Round 5, so maybe I shouldn't be too self-depreciating.
I hold the same attitude that I see in US Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura. During the U.S. Championship this year, in the post-game interviews he would beat himself up for his poor play and mistakes, even though he had won. I believe you have to have this "perfectionist" attitude in order to improve your game and rise higher.
I still can't believe I had to play against the French 3 times!
I did recieve a small cash prize and my rating shot from 1857 to 1934 - not a small leap!.
Next year, everybody at Okoboji should watch out. I have a strong feeling I will play even better than I did this year.