Baltimore Open, Part 1
Four weeks after my best tournament performance ever, I played another tournament and again decided to play up a section, which this time meant under 2100. New challenge! I had not faced a 2000+ rated opponent in a tournament since 1999, and have not beaten one since 1991. Can I put up a decent fight at this level?
In a nutshell, yes. I proved that my last tournament wasn't a fluke. I didn't repeat the 2100 performance rating, but I did manage close to 2000, as a scored 50% against the field of that average rating. I gained another 24 rating points for my new all-time high. And I was better at some point in 4 of the 5 games. But this last fact also points to some persistent weaknesses in my game. I often achieve good positions early in the middlegame only to see that advantage dissipate later. And, to turn the glass half empty: I was also worse at some point in 4 of the 5 games.
My first game was a roller coaster ride. I had the initiative early on. As I haven't consulted the computer yet, I am not sure if I was actually better or just over-extended, but I was the attacking side. When white forced the exchange of queens, I thought the position looked rather equal, but then I made a big mistake, allowing 28.Rb6 and only then realizing that 28...Rf6 29.c5 would have been disastrous. But then I was lucky that my opponent badly misplayed the endgame. I am not sure what happened, but I suppose he overestimated the advantage he had. Simplifying to a R+5P vs. R+3P endgame was already a mistake, as my advanced pawn and his distant king meant that the best he could achieve (I think) was to trade all the queenside pawns. But he wanted neither that nor repeating the position with 40.Kd2 Rf3 41.Ke2, and so he lost.
My opponent withdrew and re-entered in the 2-day schedule, and ended up in 3rd place with 4 points. This was his only loss in the event.
My second-round opponent's story is similar to mine: he also returned to tournament chess a year ago after a long hiatus, but his hiatus was even longer than mine. Maybe that explains why he spent half of his time on the first seven (!) moves. He did manage to out-move-order me (had we followed the Gruenfeld move order, I would have delayed my queen's knight development to retain the possibility of Na3 if he plays dxc4), but I still had a much better position out of the opening. However, I spent over 20 minutes on my 18th move, weighing the appealing possibilities of Nd3 and b4, and the tricky Nc4 (which leads nowhere after 18...Qe6 or 18...Qd8, but he was down to 11 minutes, not counting the increment), and I somehow decided on the terrible rook exchange that cost me a pawn for dubious compensation.
The next game ended my 7-game undefeated streak, probably the longest I ever had. I tried to play aggressively, but miscalculated. There was nothing wrong with complicating a bit with 12...Rac8, but 15...Rxc3 (the idea was eliminating a defender, preventing Nc3-e2-f4) was simply unsound, as I was short a tempo for eliminating the rest of the defenders of h2.
There were several more moves in the game than the diagram below shows, but I couldn't get Chess.com's game editor to promote pawns?!? No big deal as I was obviously lost.
Well, so much for me trying to play like Tal. I was back to more prudent playing style for the rest of the tournament, perhaps unfortunately... but that's for Part 2.