"The Real Ones" Win a "Real" Team Championship

Jul 19, 2017, 2:24 PM |
This weekend I played in the SD Team Championship. I have played in every team championship since 2011 but my team has never won. I have won individual board prizes and the teams I have been on have gotten very close to winning a couple times but we always fall just short of victory. This year I felt good about our chances. With my chess improving and a strong lineup including a 2009, a 1700, and a 1553 - I knew that we would definitely have great shot at first place. Our team name, "The Real Ones," was inspired by a rap song with chess-themed lyrics.
Team Lineup for "The Real Ones" (in order of 1st-4th boards):
Myself - I came into the tournament as the 3rd highest rated player (with a rating of 2025) on board 1 but I have beaten both of the guys above me once before (IM Kustar and NM Truelson). The last three tournaments I had performed well - gaining 74 rating points to go from a 1951 to a 2025.
Kaveen - The second board on my team was a friend and fellow student at my university. He has not played in many chess tournaments lately but he is a very strong player who gives me a lot of difficulities when I face him in chess games at the university chess club. His rating was an impressive 2009.
Bruce - Bruce is a former faculty advisor for the chess club and has always been a solid chess player. His rating was 1700. He has been on almost every team I have been on and usually scored well. 
Kody (aka Kodfish) - Kody is another friend and a strong chess player whose rating continues to climb. In team competitions you are only as strong as your last board. The last board is your "anchor leg" who can really give your team a boost with victories. I felt confident that Kody would give us that boost.
Day One:
The night before the tournament I got some sleep (4 hours) and hit the road to Pierre. Before the round everything was a little crazy, attending to the two teams I was overseeing but everything got sorted out and we preceeded to face our first opponents.
Round 1: 
In the first round my team was matched up against the Bergans - a team comprised of family members. I was matched up against Jerry Bergan, rated 1557 and who I had met and played once before in a casual game. Despite the "easy" pairing, I knew I should not take the game lightly.
I thought the game might be a boring one after the opening but I managed to stir up an attack. It was fun to play the double piece sacrifice, of course!
The rest of my team also managed to win their games without too much trouble.
My friends and I then headed off to get some food before the final round of the day but we ran out of time and simply picked up a quick bit of fast food.
Round 2:
In my second round, I was so sure that I was likely going to be playing NM Truelson. Instead I got an even better pairing against IM Sandor Kustar of the "Badland Pawns." I had the white pieces. Last year I had the same color pieces and managed to beat him but I should have lost the game at some point. However, he missed the win and started to drift before dropping a piece. Despite last year's fantastic upset, I knew that this time he wasn't going to underestimate me. 

 This time I completely outplayed him throughout the game - but he showed that he is good at fighting back. The ability to fight back from losing positions is a trademark of strong players. I missed a complicated way to trap his queen early in the game but was able to reestablish a winning position. However, I used too much time and was down to around two minutes when I made the touch-move blunder. I automatically touched my knight and then realized that I would be forked - but there was nothing I could do....

On move 52, he sacrificed his knight (with check) to earn a draw but I threw in a check to his king, which was an illegal move! He instantly claimed a win, which puzzled both myself and the spectators. The tournament director came over and explained that since it was not blitz, the rules were different. Instead of losing, Terry added two minutes to Kustar's clock and we tossed out a few more moves before he offered me a draw and accepted.

The entire match was a nail-biter for both teams. On board 2, Kaveen faced Micheal Marmorstein and both players went after each other's kings. On board 3, Bruce and Mark Derby ended up getting a funky postion with Bruce having a queen vs. Mark's rook and two minors. On board 4, Kody won a pawn but Arthur Marmorstein created counterplay.

Kody ended up drawing, Bruce managed to use the maneuverability of the queen and his pawns to beat Mark, and Michael managed to somehow save his king from the attack and beat Kaveen. My game was the last one to finish and I was kicking myself for messing up the win. As a result of my blunder, the two teams ended up drawing the match and our first place aspiration were now in serious jeopardy.

Day Two

I got some sleep and some breakfast and prepared myself to play some decent chess.

Round 3:

In the third round, I was facing Nick Rasmussen. He is "only" rated 1516 but I knew from playing him in the past that he is very underrated. Indeed, it turned out to be a fun, tough battle:

Nick's troubles started when he gave me the bishop pair. After that, I was in control. He did a very good job of stirring up counterplay but as usual, I counterpunched instead of defending and brought home the full point.

The rest of my team also preformed phenomenally. They all won fairly smoothly and finished before I did.

My friends and I then took off to go eat at a resturant before the final round.

Round 4:

The food at the resturant was wonderful but we ended up getting stuck there as they took a long time to process our payments. Therefore we ended up getting back to the tournament hall ten minutes after the round had started.

We found ourselves facing Terry's team. I knew we were favorites on paper but I also knew things would not be so easy. I also was planning to keep an eye on the match between the team leading the pack, led by NM Truelson ("The Heat") vs. Derby's team ("Badland Pawns"). If the "Badland Pawns" won we had a chance at first place on tiebreaks but it would be very close. I planned to keep a particular eye on the matchup between Nels and Kustar. If Nels won, his team would have a big chance of winning the event ahead of us. Also, he was the only first board with a perfect score, so a win would cost me a board prize.

Thankfully I had white pieces vs. Terry and since I was late I played at a quick pace:

Both of us played sloppy chess. I played 11.Bf4? without thinking and began to kick myself when I realized how bad of a move it was. However, Terry then proceeded to make two very bad moves (he made the moves very quickly) and I was winning!

The game lasted less than an hour and the game was one of the first to finish. I spent the next couple hours watching the games of my fellow teammates and the games of the other critical match between "The Heat" and the "Badland Pawns."

Things started to look bad for my team. Kaveen had a worse position on board two, Bruce was a piece up against Jill but then lost a rook, and Kody was only equal against David. I started to become nervous for my team. Kustar was also worse against Nels. Nels gained a dream Queen+Bishop battery on the long diagonal against IM Kustar's king. With such a crushing attack, I thought that Nels would surely notch a win against the higher rated master.

Indeed, Bruce ended up resigning - still scoring an impressive 3 points out of 4 games on 3rd board. Kaveen's opponent decided to trade down and allow Kaveen a beautiful outpost for his knight. Kody's opponent started giving him pawns and then an entire piece!

Kody's opponent resigned and then Kaveen offered his opponent a draw to seal the match victory - which his opponent surprisingly took.

At that point I stopped watching the other big match. I checked the games occasionally but did not watch them as intensively as I had. Showing the same resourcefulness he did in our game, Kustar managed to turn the game versus Nels into a winning rook endgame! Nels had 3 seconds left on his clock when he decided to resign. Michael Marmorstein lost his game but Arthur Marmorstein and Mark both won their games to help their team win the match and causing a tie for first place between our two teams!

However, the tiebreaks were on our side! We had accumulated a mere half-game more in points then they did. The margin of victory was razor thin - the change in the outcome of a single game by either team could have changed the result. Every other tiebreaker was also in the "Badland Pawns" favor. Due to Kustar's effort in turning a defeat into victory, we both earned a board prize for first board. Kody also earned a board prize for his efforts.

The other team with members from my chess club earned a trophy for being the top performing team under 1400. Overall, it was a very successful tournament for our chess club!

Personal Reflections:

I always like to end my blog posts on tournament games with a reflection on the status of my chess. Last year, I described myself as a fighter. I would get into bad positions out of the opening and fight back. I had to take advantage of every mistake to earn a win. However, in my past couple of tournaments I have played well, usually never getting into any trouble. At this tournament I was never worse in any of my games except for one moment against Kustar when he could have played 20...c4. I am also coming up with my own ideas in games (e.g. Ng4-h6-f5 in the Bergan game and Rb5-b3 in the Kustar game). The reason my opponents have struggled in the past couple tournaments to gain an advantage against me is because I have changed my chess approach. In the past, I would see a move I liked and play it, while crossing my fingers and hoping my opponent would play a certain move in reply. Now instead of trying to convince myself that a move I like works, I try to convince myself that it doesn't work. I put myself in the shoes of my opponent. That change in my approach paid dividends in this tournament.

In closing, I have posted a short video I recalled watching, which I feel highlights just how slim the margin of victory was for "The Real Ones." It was likely the closest margin of victory in the history of SD team chess. The ending of this basketball game is analogous to the paper-thin victory that "The Real Ones" earned: