The 53rd annual Baltimore Open took place last weekend and turned out pretty well for me. While I certainly had some lucky results, I played, to my mind, fairly well, and I even managed to net my second-highest rated win of my chess career in Round 3. My rating went from 1769 to 1811, which is the highest it has been. I will say I definitely have a lot of work to do if I am to keep improving, as there were a couple of my games in this tournament where my play was a bit dubious and I got away with it. But seeing as U2100 is easily the highest section I have ever played in for an open tournament, and seeing as I was playing a full section up, I do think 2.5/5 was a good score, and unlike the Eastern Open, my tactical play was decent, for the most part.
Round 1 was probably a lucky draw. What's funny about this game is that after the game I thought I had played quite well, and I analyzed this game with some friends afterwards and actually came to the same conclusion. The computer tells me that white had a large advantage for most of the game, including the final position where my opponent agreed to a draw. I will say that the computer analysis on this game is still a bit sketchy, as I point out in the comments on the game. I do believe I presented a tough defense over the board, but this was probably my second-worst game (behind Round 5). I do want to congratulate my opponent, whose rating rose to a new high of 2000 after the tournament, although he may have been a bit higher than that had he not agreed to a draw in the final position.
The above is a picture of me during the game.
That game was probably lucky, as it does seem that my plan with Bxf3 and Bxc5 was bad. However, I do believe I defended decently afterwards, and I may never know if the game should have been a draw or not. I was pleased with the result of the game after it was done, however, and I was very tired upon arriving at my house and got myself to bed rather quickly.
Round 2 was a bit of a different story, as it was my opponent who escaped with a draw in a worse position. I for the most part played pretty well, grabbing a space advantage and achieving a nice kingside attack. But I didn't see the knockout blow and ended up only drawing the game.
It was unfortunate that I didn't win the game, but it happens. Until Rxb6 I think I played quite well. My opponent's king march was very strange.
So after two rounds, I had 1/2, but not in the way it would seem I should, as I probably should have lost my first round and won my second. But my third round game, played against someone I have known for a while but whom I had never played until this tournament, was by far my best game, and it was the only win of the tournament. I netted a pawn from the opening against a near-expert opponent and held on for the win.
Unlike my first two games, where I wanted to see if white had missed any wins, I didn't spend too much time checking this one with a computer- but I will say that from what I saw, it was not able to offer any significant improvements on my play in the endgame, which was very nice to know. My only real error in this game was 15...Bf8?, which gives white a good deal of activity in exchange for his pawn, but he returned the favor with 17. Rad1? instead of 17. Ne4 which would come close to equalizing. After this point, I was winning the entire time, although I could have improved on 29...Bxd6?! with 29...Rd7! which would have won more material. My opponent told me after the game that he thought he might have missed a draw, but I can happily say that after further analysis, I believe this was not the case. I simply converted my opening advantage into a win.
My fourth round game was the least eventful of the bunch. After a fairly standard opening (I opened with 1. d4 this time; I play both now), I got into a worse position and there were some threats on my kingside. But I played solidly and my opponent found neither a win nor a lasting edge, and eventually the game petered out to a draw.
In my last game I was paired against an expert. This game should have been even quicker than it was because both sides missed a tactical shot (17. Nb5!) which should have left me down in material. However, I slowly got squashed on the kingside and resigned after 23 moves. The computer doesn't completely agree with this resignation, saying that white is a pawn better, but not crushing yet. In my defense, in the final position, I had 36 minutes after my opponent played 23. Kf2, and I thought for close to 25 of those minutes and I could not come up with a defense.
Overall, I am satisfied with the way I played in this tournament. Other than the near-disaster with 16...Rc7?? in the final game, I did not make any blunders in this tournament, and my tactics, while not at all perfect, were much better than the dreadful tactical performance I had at the Eastern Open (I have a blog of that also), as well as the poor effort of the previous weekend's Mid-Atlantic Scholastic Championships (where I managed to lose to a Class D player in one game). My positional play was mostly pretty good (with the exceptions of parts of game one and much of game five, where I came up with bizarre plans), as I played well in the endgame against Wilbert Brown and found good drawing techniques against Alex Jian. I do believe I played at an above-1800 level in this tournament, which is fine, but I could have done even better- had I found R2a6 in the second game, or Nf5 in the last game, maybe I would have had a plus score. I need to continue studying, especially tactics, to improve further.
I also want to say that this blog was an enormous pain to make. Chess.com is a pretty bad interface for a blog. I had almost finished entering two of the games when various things happened causing them to be accidentally deleted. On another occasion, I finished entering my game, but it was somehow inserted at the beginning of the blog, not further down in the blog where it belonged, and I couldn't move it, so I had to delete and restart that game post as well. This blog format should also be accessible on a mobile device, as my iPad is completely useless for posting a blog because it doesn't even let me create and edit a board. I think I will try to find a way to bring up these complaints with chess.com because I really do like posting my games and having others comment on them, but I hate stupid formatting and board entry glitches messing up my blog submission.
The final thing I will add before I end this blog is something that I have observed after playing in both this tournament and the U1900 section of the Eastern Open. I have noticed that there are a lot of chessplayers, mostly older, with ratings between 1700 and 2200, who have stayed around that rating for many years because of unenterprising play. A lot of these players play simple, safe openings from both sides, avoid tactics, wait for the opponents to make mistakes, and end up having a lot of draws in games where neither side made major errors. I think this style of chess is a common one, and I think that it is not conducive to chess improvement. Three draws against mostly higher-rated opponents is a fine result now, but to reach my goal of National Master, I must learn how to beat people. In one of my drawn games, I missed a win, and in another, I made two poor minor piece exchanges which committed me to playing for a draw in a position where I had previously had winning chances. I think there are a lot of people who never learn how to truly win games. Maybe they don't learn how to attack, or how to play open or double-edged positions, or maybe they don't have good enough tactical ability, but they end up stuck around 1800-2200 because of inability to win games. This is a generalization, but I must not allow myself to plateau at Class A or Expert level due to unambitious or innocuous play. I think some of my major problems in chess include the inability to attack well, the inability to play open or double-edged positions well, and some tactical deficiencies. I must work on improving these areas of my game immediately, because if I fail to do so while I am still young, I may find myself as an older player stuck in a rut and unable to improve because I never developed the necessary skills. Perhaps this is why youngsters are taught to play the open games, and perhaps this is why many world-class players grew up playing an aggressive, gambit-friendly style. Regardless, I think I need to sharpen up my game in order to reach the next step. I am open to comments about this, because perhaps my understanding of this aspect of chess improvement is wrong, but I think I have my work cut out for me if I am going to keep improving.
In any case, thank you to all who read my blog and looked at the games. There will likely be more in the future. Please comment on the games and on my thoughts on chess improvement below!