Highlights, Lessons Learned & Misadventures from the World Open and DC Int'l
18 rounds of 5 hour games in 11 days. Crazy? Probably, but with such great tournaments just on the other side of the Potomac River (I'm based in DC), what chess enthusiast could resist?
The competition was strong, that's for sure. About 30 GMs in the World Open and 10 in the DC International (a much smaller tournament, so proportionally quite high). I didn't get the chance to play against any GMs, but I did get to play 3 IMs, and was happy to score 2.5/3 in those games, as well as an exciting win against an FM and some hard-fought draws. There was a bit of garbage chess, too, but hey, we're all human and what doesn't kill you tends to make you stronger (or induces vomit).
I try to make the analysis as useful as possible for the reader, trying to comprehensively break down the essential ideas rather than just providing computer-generated lines (a pet peeve of mine), so I hope you enjoy and get something out of it.
I enjoyed this first game, which is a good example of a game where I obtained the advantage, kept up the pressure, traded one advantage (two bishops) for another (material) for another (two connected passed pawns) for yet another (weaknesses and attack) and finished with accurate technique. Achieving this is especially important for me because finishing off winning games is an area in which I have struggled after re-entering the chess scene last year after taking about an 8 year break from the game. I'm back.
This next game is also one I am proud of where I defeated an IM by utilizing various elements of positional play: controlling key files, diagonals, and squares; blockading pawns; playing for a superior minor piece; and tying the opponent down by relentlessly attacking enemy weaknesses.
In the following game we have a scenario where my opponent's bishop was greatly restricted by both my pawns and his own. By finding accurate maneuvers, try to find a way to play against the bishop and ultimately win it. Hint: from a positional perspective, the first move is counter-intuitive, but it may be white's best chance to play for something in this nearly equal position. Finding ways to turn a potential draw into a full point can make all the difference in tournament play.
The next game was a tense battle against a strong 12 year old FM (the #1 under 14 female in the world!) who plays with near precision and will likely be one of America's next great stars. She put me under pressure, but I was able to tie down her expanding center, ultimately gaining the exchange. Then she fought back masterfully, gaining dangerous activity that forced me to ultimately give perpetual check. An all-around exciting battle.
The next game was a fascinating strategic battle where white has been trying to gain access to the d5 square for his knight. Finally, I am able to do so, and it becomes decisive almost immediately.
How does white seal the deal?
Now for some juicy misadventures. This game was against one of America's strongest young players, #16 of those under 18 in the US. While my attack was aesthetically dangerous, my opponent defended with precision, forcing me to burn more and more pawns in order to keep the fire going. He then extinguished it and cleaned up promptly. When your opponent plays well and wins, you gotta give them credit.
This game was very frustrating. I had developed such a dominating positional edge that it is nearly winning. Of course, as with the games above, precise technique is required. I let the clock run down and then allowed a winning position turn into a better position turn into an equal position to a lost position. Warning: don't try this at home!
Okay, I'll try to end this on a positive note against the other IM I beat, where I carried out a slightly speculative kingside attack. My oppponent is a young player from India who I had met once during my travels nearly a decade ago. His brother, who I encountered over the board at Budapest when he was 14 (he carried out a queenless mating attack against me!), is about to become an IM. It's fun to see "old" faces again. My opponent didn't have the greatest tournament, but that's part of chess and its vicissitudes; the rough times make us work harder and to enjoy the good times even more -- and hopefully to not drive ourselves insane in the process. That said, I wish Arjun many future successes.
Hope you enjoyed and found these games and lessons learned useful. I was happy to be able to hold my own against some strong players after some frustrating setbacks recently. It's a good reminder that the rating of your opponent doesn't matter. We are all human and we all make mistakes. No matter how strong your opponent is, though, if you play strong moves, the impact of your play will be felt just the same. Plus there is the psychological advantage of your opponent essentially placing themself in a must-win stance. You can just play your game. In many ways, chess is like shadow boxing. "It's you against you / The paradox that drives us on." -Survivor
[Photo courtesy of thejosevilson.com]