To win at World Open, avoid strong opponents

dretch
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In this year's World Open I faced surprisingly weak opposition compared to past years. When I played in the Open section in 2010 and 2011, I faced boatloads of grandmasters (7 and 6 respectively). This time, I didn't play any GMs until round 7! And against the three GMs I played I didn't win more than one game...very strange how it was enough to tie for first.

I started off poorly with a loss in round 2, to Taibur Rahman from Bangladesh. As a result , during the next four rounds I played against three players who were under 2300. I won those 3 games, as well as drawing IM Farai Mandizha. I'm going to skip over this part and talk about the last 3 rounds (in which I did play strong opponents). 

In round 7 I was white against Sam Shankland in a seesaw of a game. I got an advantage from the opening, then lost it, then regained the advantage, then had a worse endgame, then a better endgame...in general, whoever was worse defended well, and whoever had the advantage played inaccurately. At the end there were some forced wins that I could have played, but I had only a few seconds to find them; the game ended in a draw. Before then, the last major turning point was on move 52. Although black had an extra pawn, there weren't real winning chances by then because the black king was too exposed. It would have been best to accept a draw by repetition, but then the excessively optimistic move 52..c5? led to a position with equal material where only white could win, due to the safer king. But Shankland overcame the mistake with tough defense for the rest of the game. 



With 5/7 I was within a half-point of the leaders. In round 8 I was black againsnt Zviad Izoria. After Izoria played the unusual 9. Bb1, I decided to repeat the moves from a game that I had previously played. Sometimes I feel that in the opening, rapidly playing a move of unknown quality can be as effective as playing a move that you have actually studied. A few moves later, I was having doubts about repeating moves that I came up with when I was rated 2100. It seemed like maybe I was going to get mated. However, the computer thinks I am fine throughout the game.

Turns out I did not even remember the old game correctly, and deviated on the 10th move. Luckily the 10th move that I imagined I remembered turned out to be better than the actual one, which gives white the strong possibility of exf6.  Anyway, I managed to win the game, heading into an 8-way tie for first. 



 

In the final round, the top four boards were populated with players who had 6/8. I was due white, but received an unpleasant surprise: another black, against Yuniesky Quesada. I checked his previous games for a couple of minutes and saw that he was mostly going for main lines, so I had hopes for a double-edged Winawer. But in the game, he steered for drawish positions starting with the 4th move by playing an exchange French. 

Here is the funny part: with my 15th move I offered a draw, as it seemed clear that I had equalized at that point. I was OK with the game ending quickly since I kept falling asleep. But while he was thinking, I looked at the position and noticed that it might actually be slightly more comfortable for me.  I was secretly hoping he wouldn't accept the draw. He didn't. Then on move 17, he offered a draw! Of course I refused, and was happy with my amusing psychological trick. A few moves later I was able to occupy the 2nd rank, but by that point there were too few pieces left to have serious winning chances.



You might look at the game and think the players must not have tried that hard to win since it was only 40 moves, but it was actually the last one remaining of the top boards. The other three were all drawn before this one. It was surprising since there would have been a huge monetary differential between clear first and an umpteen-way tie for second. As it was, two more guys a half-point behind won their games and joined the pack, bringing the total tie for first to 10 players. As you might have guessed, I had the lowest tiebreak score of them all. 

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