My most recent tournament was a rollar-coaster I will never forget. I have had more than one memorable tournament over the past 6 years I have played tournament chess. I have had everything from brillant victories to shocking blunders. I have seen my chess evolve over time. Not just in terms of increasing skill, but also changes in spirit and style.
I remember back in 2011, at my first team tournament, I played a higher rated opponent in the last round. I needed a draw to win 2nd-board prize, so I kept offering him draws throughout the game. I established a winning position later in the game and he offered a draw. I took it, securing a board prize. Nowadays, I would be angry at myself if I took a draw in a better position. I actually hate draws. I seek to beat every player I face, no matter their rating. I am a fighter, and this has gotten me in trouble in some games. For example, at my last tournament, I fought for a win in a worse position and ended up losing - when I had several opportunities throughout the game to take a draw.
Being a fighter, means I not only play for the win in every game, but when I am worse, I defend like a beast. At my college chess club this past half year, I have had to face a tough new player from Sri Lanka. He consistently gets an advantage against me out of the opening - however, I have managed to save and win all of the games we have played - except for the very first. Defending worse positions is now second nature to me. When I know I am worse - I sit back and defend precisely, waiting for my opponent to make mistakes. They almost always do.
The SD Teams has an odd start time of 1pm for Round 1. I got to the tournament hall early, along with my 3 other team members. Once again I was playing first board. In the first round, we were seeded against a weaker team. I had to play Jill Likens in the first round - our 4th tournament battle versus each other. She beat me in our first game (https://www.chess.com/blog/derriklarone/the-worst-tournament-of-my-life-game-one), however I struck back with crushing wins in the subsequent two battles. Now came game number four and a chance for her to level the score.
Game One: Caro Craziness
I had the white pieces against Jill, and I decided to play 1.e4! She played the Caro-Kann. I knew all up the moves up until move 7 - then I was out of any opening knowledge. I played very precisely thoughout the game - calculating well and making the correct decisions:
After the game, I asked her why she sacrified her rook. She replied that she thought her knights were getting good squares. Even so, material is material. For me, the game was near perfect. The only blemish was move 14, where I could have easily taken the pawn. I loved my idea of 21.Rhg1!!, giving up a pawn but trying to trade off rooks to shepard the other h-pawn to touchdown. My team won the match 4-0.
Game Two: Deja Vu
My second game also featured a bad exchange sacrifice. However, this time I was the offender:
I don't have much to say about this loss. I played the sacrifice without calculating, believing it to be crushing. I was wrong. I also played the opening too fast - making inaccuracies. I would need a stellar performance the next day to make up for this horrible game. My team lost our match overall, only managing one draw out of the four games!
After a solid night of sleep and a good breakfast, I was ready to battle. Following the business meeting, I looked at the pairings and found out that I was playing International Master Sandor Kustar! It was the 4th time we have faced each other at the SD Teams. All three previous games I lost. Two were very one sided but one game in 2013 (https://www.chess.com/blog/derriklarone/i-no-longer-bow-to-the-fearsome-reputation-of-international-masters-team-tournament-2013) gave me confidence that I could one day beat him.
Game Three: "Anybody Can Be Beat!"
Most people would not be excited to face someone 458 USCF points higher rated. I saw the game as a huge opportunity, especially since I had the white pieces. It was one of the most intense games I have ever played. It was a rollar coaster ride filled with bad opening play, stellar defensive moves, mistakes, and one moment where my heart raced so fast it actually skipped a beat:
33.Bh6!!! sealed the deal! By far, it is one of the most beautiful moves I have ever played. The move and my following technique in the imbalanced ending gave me my first win against an international master! The game was a brutual four hours. The huge win proved that anyone can be beaten. The win felt rewarding - I didn't quite have the reaction that Bart Scott did when the Jets upset the Patriots in the 2011 playoffs but I couldn't resist posting the video:
I knew I could play better chess than I showed the day before. My favorite quote from the above video rings true: "Anybody can be beat!"
Overall, my team won the match 3.5/4.
Game Four: Shaky End
In my last round I played Gary Wallace. In this matchup, I had the black pieces. I played a Sicilian Najdorf and quickly got a more pleasant position. He didn't seem to really know what to do in the opening. However, I made mistakes, missing strong moves here and there. I got a pawn up endgame and then began to drift:
I missed several strong moves throughout the game but I can't complain with a win. Move 25 was critical. He had to stop me from breaking on the queenside with a6-a5. Instead he allowed it and consequently lost a pawn. I may have drifted in the endgame but it was always more pleasant for me. A pawn is a pawn after all. After my horrible loss the previous day, it was nice to finish out the tournament with two wins. Of course, one of those wins wasn't just any win.
My team members also won their games - meaning we won the match 4-0! Our team ended up getting clear 2nd place.
Each tournament is a learning experience. The tournament proved that my chess has gotten stronger. I also learned to appreciate just what a tough fighter and defender I am. Earlier I talked about style. Many people have commented that I have a aggressive, tactical style. This view is a little over simplistic. I do love attacking games but I am also comfortable in positions I must defend - which is one big reason I beat IM Kustar. My current goal is to become a NM by the end of 2018 but if I am able to play more than 5-6 tournament a year (which is about how many I play) I know I can reach even higher.