My First Master!

Oct 1, 2014, 4:30 PM |
Last weekend I went to my state's chess championship. It was quite the tournament. I had just recently started college and was coming off a fun exam week. So I hadn't really been studying chess all that much, just playing a lot of blitz online and at the college chess club. A lot of people were counting on me and betting that I would win. All my good friends at the chess club and some of my other friends that are non-chessplayer wanted me to win and seemed really excited. One dude at chess club told me that if I won, he would owe me two coffees! So I really felt compelled to win the thing.

Day One
I arrived at the tournament right on time and hungry for a fight. It turns out that last year's champ did not show but my nemisis, NM Nels Truelson, showed up. I was really hoping that I would eventually get a shot at him. After all, he had 4 wins and a draw on me at that point. I was eager to try to start leveling the score
Game One: One Quiet Move
My first game was against Jill Likens. Though lower rated, I knew I should not underestimate her. Last time we fought in a tourney she soundly beat me after I blundered in a difficult position.
I decided to open with 1.b3, an opening I had recently fell in love with. I went after the bishop pair after the opening and she made the mistake of lashing out with 11...h5?. I pushed her pieces back to bad squares and then played one little, quiet move. 15.e3!! This is probably the best move in that position. After 15.e3!! she quickly blundered and collapsed. It was surprisingly easy.

I was really happy with this game. I played absolutely flawlessly. 15.e3!! was a huge move. Titled players always find these little quiet moves that win them games, so I was very happy to find such a move.
Game Two: Illegal Move
After my first win, I texted my friends the good news. I was thrilled at how well I was playing but had no idea what the next game had in store for me.
I was given the black pieces against James Lenz in Round 2. I didn't have pleasant memories of our last battle. I collapsed in that game ( and it almost cost me first place.
This game was absolutely insane. I opening up with a sharp Modern/KID setup and played the "bluff" f5. I was giving up a pawn but I had a few tricks up my sleeve. However there was a bit of controversy when James accidently made an illegal move. We had to hash it out with the tournment director for several minutes until we got everything sorted out. James "believed" my bluff and gave up a piece, however from that point on I played one suboptimal move after the other. Eventually all those "not bad, but not great moves" caught up with me and, after losing a piece, I resigned.

This loss hit me like an ice bucket of water poured over my head. After the game, James beckoned me out into the hallway and apologized for the illegal move incident. He said he believed that it threw me out of my concentration. He berated me to learn from this game and not let incidents like this shake my focus. He said he couldn't believe that I took 40 minutes on one move when it wasn't that complicated.
I realized there was truth to this. I won't say that the illegal move was the only reason I lost the game but it certainly was a factor.
After the game I realized that there were two other huge factors why I lost the game, other than just the incident. For one thing, I thought too much about my moves. I remember a interview with Grandmaster Levon Aronian where he says the reason he lost a certain game was because he thought too much about his moves. He would see a good, natural move that he wanted to play but then he would think for a while, change his mind, and play an even worse move. I also realized that I had a completely related problem in which I didn't try to strive for simple, easy solutions. This led me to use up precious brain power looking at certain subleties between this and that move. I decided to adopt the Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS) methodology for my next three games. With this idea and the Aronian quote on my mind, I tried to mentally recover before the next game.

Game Three: Worth a Chuckle
My next game I played against Sigurd Rydland, who is a 1500 rated player. When I opened the game with 1.b3, he started to chuckle. He couldn't believe that I would play such an opening. Unfortunately for him, he soon fell into a strong bind and struggled to break out. Then on move 23 he blundered with Qe6 and quickly collapsed.

I tried to keep it real simple and not overthink things. I had plenty of time at the end of the game. I was happy with the games I had won, but was still kicking myself for that 2nd game.
I returned to the tournament room much later to see what had happened and was shocked to see that Nels had lost his game! This meant that if things went my way, I still had a chance to tie for first.

Day Two
After a good nights sleep and a leisurely breakfast, I returned to the tournament room to do battle. I found out that I would have to play Bruce Brandt. Bruce and I have played countless games at our local college chess club. I felt I had the psychological edge since I had won most of those games.

Game Four: Fast and Furious-Chess Game Edition
I decided to play a solid opening - the Philidor Defense. It looks passive but can really explode, if you are not careful. I played a beautiful game. I have no idea if my cxd4 and c5 plan was the best (my I should have prepped d5 instead?) but after Bruce played 14.Nf3?, I quickly lashed out with attacking move after attacking move until he resigned on move 22.
I only used about 20 minutes the entire game. My game was the first one done. I was quite happy with the game, especially the "sac" on e3. During and after the game, I was almost in a state of zen. I was really peaceful (despite my viciousness on the chess board) and I believed my calm, keep it simple attitude really helped me to win this game so easily.

Game Five: Beating Your Nemisis
I ate a nice big lunch before the last round. Lyle Hanson (the guy who beat Nels) was leading the pack by a point going into the round. Nels and I happened to bump into each other before the round and started discussing hypothetical scenarios of what could occur. We pretty much figured out who would be playing each other next round. After that we went over my last round game and then Nels showed me his game versus Lyle. Nels was winning the game until he messed up in time trouble.
A few minutes before the round we checked to see if the pairings were up. They were and we had figured correctly. I would be playing Nels with the white pieces. I was disappointed that I would not be playing Lyle but was exciting to get a shot at someone who has trounced me several times in tournament play.
I unleahed a little something I had planned against his Petroff. Soon, I won a pawn and was able to defend my position brilliantly. Nels used up tons of time looking for compensation and made the time control with less than a second to spare. By then I had picked up another pawn. My finishing technique was absolutely flawless.

Obviously, I was incredibly pleased to finish my tournament by beating such a strong player. I only used 52 minutes of my time compared to him using pretty much all of his two hours. What made the victory even sweeter was the fact that - except for a simple, safe desicion on move 22 - it was totally flawless. I didn't give him any chance to get back into the game after the opening.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be just a moral victory. Lyle drew his last opponent early and won by just a half point. I was on such a chess high after the game that it was hard for me to form my thoughts into words other then something to do with a chess game. This "high" continued for quite a while. I actually stayed up until two that night analysing my games!

Final Thoughts on the Tournament
Some of you may be confused about my wacky opening choices. Why did I choose such crazy openings? Well, I have become a tad bored with the same old chess openings and have sought to become way more creative. These are the openings that I would play against my Serbian blitzer friend. He basically took up the role of trainer and told me to stick with those openings. I took his advice as I had become very familiar with those openings over the last few weeks.

I wasn't happy with the outcome of the tourney but I am glad I finally beat my nemisis. It also happens to be my first win over a master! They say after you beat your first master, suddenly everyone is in danger of losing to you. I leave you with this final video:

I am not a Jets fan but sometimes when I face Nels I feel almost like a Rex Ryan-type underdog. We will meet again. Can't Wait!