I had never played in the Masters series of tournaments, partly because of the rather high entry fee and partly because I prefer multi-day events. But my success at the November Quads encouraged me, and this restart of the series had a lower entry fee, so I decided to give it a try. The lower section was U2000, which seemed to promise reasonable pairings. In theory I can claim to have once been over 2000 and thus eligible for the top section, though I can't prove it as USCF's records don't go back that far... but in this millennium I'm not an Expert, so better to play in Challengers.
When the pairings were made I was playing the youngest Velea sister. But then someone noticed that Ignacio Perez, who was signed up for the event, wasn't there yet. A longish wait and a few phone calls later Ignacio appeared, and I found that I was playing the middle Velea sister instead. (Since the TD will not pair them with each other and they were 30% of the players in my section, this isn't as odd as it seems.)
I won this game on my opponent's tactical error rather than any great finesse of my own, but it was nice to see the fork-combo again. After the game I discussed it with Anne-Marie Velea, who said that we'd play each other in round 3 for the win. When we came back for the pairings, though, we found we'd be playing in round 2.
Surprisingly, while I've played Stephanie and Sophie multiple times, this was my first game versus Anne-Marie, who while untitled is the most dangerous of the three. She's known as an aggressive tactical player, much like her sisters but with more polished skills.
After the game we analyzed it a little--Anne-Marie wanted to know if the N+P vs 2P endgame was drawn from the start. Her father, who seems to be quite a strong player himself, thought that it was. I don't actually know; without the erroneous ...h6 she might still have been winning.
I was a little disappointed not to play Sophie Velea, just to complete a clean sweep. Instead I was paired with Travis Elisara, who had commented before the tournament that he was looking forward to playing me due to my "spicy" style. I guess he got what he was looking for:
My first game versus Bird's Opening! Alas, the approach that many opponents have used to rupture my Dutch worked just as well with colors reversed. (Though I thought much more highly of Black's central attack before I saw how Stockfish would have handled the White pieces...but then, it's important to remember that we don't have to be able to play Stockfish, only each other.)
With 2.5/3 I tied for first with Samuel Deng, who beat Anne-Marie in round 3 but had previously only drawn Sophie. (30% of the players, remember?) The $160 prize was the first real money I've won this year, despite a couple of very good results (Washington Open, Evans Memorial).
Lessons from this tournament:
It is better to play solidly and give the lower-rated player a chance to make a mistake than to overpress and get in trouble. My sacrifice against Anne-Marie was a clear example of trying to make something happen by wanting it, rather than earning it. Even if I hadn't miscalculated, I knew that she could decline and I'd get nothing. And the position was sharp enough that the chance of a miscalculation was high, as indeed happened.
If the position is bad but not resignable, it's important to keep alert. Losing the b-pawn vs. Anne-Marie was a very sloppy move. But at least I managed to get it together and grab the opportunity when she gave it to me at the end.
And a repeat of the lesson from last tournament, though this time my opponent was the one in the hot seat: Don't panic when your Dutch center implodes! Travis actually had countermeasures, but didn't spend long enough to find them.
My next tournament is the Winter Classic after Christmas: nine rounds (though I will only play 7 due to a family event) against wickedly tough opposition. I hope the two tied-first results indicate some readiness. At least I am a 1900 player again (by a couple of points), which is good for morale.