#HardWorkPaysOff at the Canadian Open 2013
Self-confidence is very important. If you don’t think you can win, you will take cowardly decisions in the crucial moments, out of sheer respect for your opponent. You see the opportunity but also greater limitations than you should. I have always believed in what I do on the chessboard, even when I had no objective reason to. It is better to overestimate your prospects than underestimate them. - Magnus Carlsen
The more I try to improve my game, the more I realize how important it is to believe in oneself, more so than any other skill, talent or supposed predisposition towards chess. The moment I stopped saying "I want to succeed" and started telling myself "I WILL succeed", I could feel my playing strength jump 300 points.
Of course self confidence is not the only ingredient for success. To improve quickly, you'll need to add a heavy dose of targeted study, get rid of unhealthy habits, put a LOT of effort into analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, and constantly ask yourself why you lose games, what you need to do to become a better player, why some players are grandmasters and some aren't. To improve takes extreme focus, objectivity, and hard work. You need to live and breathe chess, and you need to ENJOY IT. If you're not enjoying it, try a new approach. Bored of memorizing opening variations? Pick up a book on the endgame. Bored of books? Watch a video. Bored of studying? Play some games. Bored of chess? Take a break and come back to it. Getting into a good study routine takes time and doesn't come naturally. It needs to be learned.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is they do not ask questions. They are not engaged in the process. They get lazy and forget to think. They try to memorize the words on the page instead of trying to see the bigger picture and trying to read more deeply into the moves. The latest improvement on move 21 of the Najdorf Sicilian variation you play will not help your results in the long term, but a deeper positional understanding will. And that can only come from thinking and asking questions.
Anyways, all this to say I've been performing very well lately and my play has improved considerably in the past few months.
Several weeks ago I finished 1st in the Hart House Closed Championship with a score of 7/7:
This tournament was a huge breakthrough for me, in terms of both my confidence level and my motivation. I was hoping to find some holes in my play that I could try to plug before the Canadian Open in Ottawa, but I played so well it was hard to know what to work on. I was never in a worse position in any of my games.
Following this I played the Aurora Summer Open: http://chess.ca/crosstable?tournament_check_number=201307011&key=130721. A friendly tournament, not FIDE rated, but very strong nevertheless. There I managed only 3 points from 5 games, and so I had a bit more to go on, although I only had a week left to seal the leaks before the Canadian Open started.
Finally it was time to head to Ottawa, and so I packed up my gym bag (my gf would be driving up the next day with more luggage), and embarked on the 5 hour journey, with Mario Moran-Venegas at the helm, and Bob Armstrong and IM Bindi Cheng riding with us.
In round 1 I was paired down against a young improving player from British Columbia named Robin Yu (cfc 1751). My friends and study partners Jon Yu and Degeng Du had a running joke that the players with their surnames in the tournament were their brothers and sisters and I caught myself believing them at one point LOL. The game was over quickly. I tricked him in the opening, with some very unorthodox (but objectively unsound) moves, and it was over by the middle game after some tactics.
Round 2 vs Chris Felix (cfc 1993) was a similar story. My opponent didn't make it through the opening complications, and missed the best defensive continuation.
Round 3 I played up against GM Elshan Moradiabadi (FIDE 2551), someone I had met a week before when he came to do a lecture at hart house. A very friendly and personable guy. It was a great honour to play him, and I was thrilled to make a draw as black. I'll admit he helped me out quite a bit by blundering in the opening, and he did well to save a lost position, but I can't say I felt outclassed in the game. What I noticed most was how energetically he played. It was almost like he was hovering over the board. The game ended after 125 moves with him trying to win a K + R vs K + N ending, and I admit I wasn't confident in my ability to hold that basic ending against a GM, so I don't blame him for pushing.
In round 4 I drew another titled player: an IM from Cuba, named Rodney Oscar Perez Garcia. Although the game was only 30 moves and some might call it a boring game, we both used up nearly all our time trying to sort out the nuances. I played well in the opening and forced him to play accurately, which he did, and then he turned the tables and gained a slight edge, which I managed to neutralize around move 25. On move 27 I offered a draw, and my astute opponent calmly reminded me of the 30 move draw rule that was in effect. After playing 3 more moves which simplified the position even moreso, we agreed to a draw. At this point I was very happy with the way my tournament was going!
In round 5 I played down again vs Rod Hill (cfc 1959). Unfortunately this pairing extinguished my already remote norm chances, but this was not my main goal going into the tournament so I wasn't overly disappointed. I managed to play well in the opening and imbalance the position quickly. I had the 2 bishops and I also had made it awkward for him to castle easily by forcing him to defend some weak pawns. He dropped a pawn unnecessarily although he had some compensation in that he controlled the only open file and it was difficult for me to contest it. I traded down into a knight endgame, and managed to convert it although not without difficulty. After this game I had 4/5 and I felt unstoppable.
Before round 6, I tweeted that I was playing "fellow Hart House woodpusher, Bindi Cheng". Of course I meant it in jest, but it also brings up an important point of respect vs intimidation. I've known Bindi for a long time and know him to be a very strong player. However, I've beaten him on several occasions so I know he's not perfect and that I have chances to win. Moreover, with my newfound confidence, I was playing for a win as black and in my mind I had convinced myself that I was PLAYING DOWN vs an IM. This may sound crazy, but it was this level of confidence that helped me outplay him. I should mention that I prepared at least 4 hours before each game, and that none of my opponent's played into my prep (except in round 8 when I lost to a 2100 rated player!). Bindi surprised me in the opening and I had used up most of my time by move 10. However I managed to outplay him in a slightly worse middlegame position and even won two pawns, although his compensation was obvious. The computer still liked my position, and if I had more time I may have found a better way to play for a win, but I traded down to an endgame up a pawn I knew I couldn't lose, and thought I could play for a win, but he told me after it was just dead drawn.
Round 7 was the major turning point in my tournament. I totally outplayed my opponent, IM Edward Porper, and reached a winning position. "I had the extra pawn AND the compensation". But then disaster struck. I missed one move, and first gave him counterplay, then winning chances. Then all of a sudden I was totally lost. I was in shock. I couldn't sleep that night, I was so angry at myself.
The next day, going into round 8, I had a terrible mindset. I still hadn't fully recovered from my shock the night before, and moreover I only had about 15 minutes to prepare, and I'd just had a fight with my girlfriend. Not the best combination. I was still confident I'd win, however, since I was playing down against Steve Demmery (cfc 2110) and I had been playing well all tournament. He played into my 15 minute opening prep, and I got an excellent position in the white side of a Pirc. However I let it slip and he didn't miss the chance to turn the tables. He played well and I did not, and he won without too much trouble. After the Porper game I was angry at myself, but after this game I was just depressed.
Round 9, I was paired against Mike Sun (cfc 2080). At this point, I just wanted to get the tournament over with. I blitzed out the opening, got an equal position on the black side of the Ruy Lopez with about a half hour time advantage. He got a bit scared of my initiative and went for a tricky move but he missed an important subtlety and dropped a piece. He played on a few more moves but eventually had to throw in the towel.
Overall I finished with 5.5/9. A good result but it could have been much better. I played with confidence and energy, but I lacked the experience and technique necessary to take home the full points. I was winning my games vs GM Moradiabadi, IM Cheng, IM Porper and probably Demmery as well, but I managed to score only 1/4 in these games.
I'll be spending the next few weeks analyzing my games in depth and figuring out what went right and what went wrong. I learned a TON from this tournament, and more importantly I have the confidence now to hold my own against titled players. Only a matter of time now before I reach my next milestone, whether it be the FM title, beating a GM or getting a norm.
My next tournament will likely be the Canadian Amateur in Kitchener in early August or the Mississauga Open in late August.
You can see all the results and some of the games here: https://sites.google.com/site/ottawachess2013/home/canadian-open-2013
Follow my twitter for updates on my results and progress: @GeordieDerraugh
Also, let me know if you have any comments or requests for this blog. Thanks for reading!