GM Khachiyan Simul at the Evans Memorial
I arrived in Reno the day before the tournament. (I learned my lesson many years ago about flying on the day of the event, as I sat in foggy Chicago while my clock ran out.) This gave me the chance to participate in a simultaneous exhibition by GM Melikset Khachiyan.
There were 17 players in total; two young boys, fourteen men of various ages, and me. Two boards to my left was a master, the strongest player in the event. The rest of us varied from probably A to C class.
The grandmaster was wearing a suit jacket over blue jeans, and seemed relaxed before the event, chatting with the players and TD. The tension level went up perceptibly as he began playing. Soon it was almost as quiet and tense as a tournament hall, though later on as some players were beaten it became a little looser.
It's been decades since I played in a simul. I didn't know or had forgotten how long it takes to run out the moves of a book opening, and Khachiyan went straight for the single longest book line I know, the French Winawer Poisoned Pawn variation.
I had played only a single move out of book when he manuvered a knight toward a frightful square. I had about 2 minutes to think--the time that had seemed endless during the rote opening was now very short. I could let the knight come in, or sack my knight for two pawns and some strength in the center. I couldn't calculate the sack but everything else looked very bad, so I played it.
He stopped at my board, hesitated for two or three breaths, and did not take the knight.
The game became very complex; I had lots of threats but no actual attack, and perhaps the same was true of him. But as he knocked off other players, the time between moves got shorter and shorter. He told me afterwards that he saw that this was bothering me and made sure to walk fast. Eventually I dropped a key pawn and lost the endgame.
The master to my left got extra attention; Khachiyan actually pulled up a chair for a moment to look at that game. It was a Dutch, and Khachiyan almost seemed to invite an attack before plunging into the complications and emerging with a win.
In fact he won 16 games and drew one to an A player (too far away for me to see the game). To my right, Sridhar successfully fought off a wicked attack only to get mated in the endgame.
I have read that it's best to play solidly and positionally as the strong player in a simul, to reduce the risk of falling into unfavorable tactics. The Poisoned Pawn Winawer would not be the opening of choice for this strategy, and on the boards I could see, at least, Khachiyan embraced the complications.
As my game was the last to finish I got to speak with him briefly. He was very complimentary, mentioning that "when I realized you could take e5 [the knight sack] I thought I was in trouble." I went away with a warm glow that was to serve me well in the main tournament, even though I'd lost.
Here's the game: