Chesapeake Open, Part 2
(For the first two rounds, see Part 1.)
My third-round game was full of errors on both sides. I keep getting bad positions out of the Torre Attack; if I am to continue playing it, I need to understand it better. It started well: 7.h4!?, with which I came up at the board, is completely sound and black was correct do decline the sacrifice. But 8.Bxf3 is inaccurate and I have equality at best. 12.0-0-0 was a careless blunder, but I am perhaps more worried that, even after the game, I mistakenly thought I had had a significant advantage before it. Then, for a while, we both played reasonably well, but once the h-file was open, the play became very inaccurate on both sides. I am particularly unhappy that I played the inferior 30.Rh8 after 23 minutes of thought, and with only 3 reasonable candidate moves (including the even worse Bg6 and the correct Reh1). I was lucky that my opponent followed with 31...Rd7? and 32...Qf8?? He didn't have much time, but it is hard to talk about time trouble with a 30-second increment. But then I (having plenty of time) missed the immediate win 34.Qa7! and went for a better endgame instead. That didn't change much, as black put up no resistance, allowing my king to walk to the center and running with his king to the wrong side of the board.
If the game is a bit cringeworthy, enjoy some of Houdini's fireworks in the note to white's 24th move!
As much as I am humble about the third game, I am proud of the fourth. Nothing flashy, but I played well from the beginning to the end; even Houdini 3 could only come up with very minor improvements. Good timing - I played my best game against my highest-rated opponent. He didn't make a lot of mistakes, but I managed to punish them all. The maneuver Qd8-a5-h5 was not exactly a mistake, but it did put the queen under a constant threat of being trapped. 10...Bxg2 was perhaps not the best, but white is still only slightly better. The turning point was 12...c5, which ceded the d5 square to the white knight, enabling simultaneous threats of Nxe7 and Nf4. Finally, 21...Nxd2 loses, but even after 21...Kxg7 white would be much better.
In the last round, I got to play the only player with 4/4, a 10-year old kid with a published rating of only 1617. Given his performance in the tournament, I regarded his rating as meaningless - he is obviously much stronger. My suspicion was reinforced when he fearlessly played Nc3 against the French, and followed up with Bg5. OK, decision time. I've only recently taken up the French and have faced little other than 3.exd4 and 3.e5 in online blitz games. The few times I faced this line, I tried the McCutcheon (4...Bb4), with so-so results. I don't really know it, and playing a sharp line with little knowledge is dangerous. But if I play 4...Be7, I'll get into a solid, but a bit passive position with which I have almost no experience. So let's go sharp! 6.Bd2 - he knows it. So far, it seems we are both going for the jugular. 7.Bxc3 - hmmm, he got me out of the book first. I've only seen bxc3. Is this a mistake? Can I still play 7...Ne4? Can my knight be trapped after 8.Bb4? (No, yes, and no, but it took me 15 minutes to figure it out.) After 8.Qg4, it turns out that black's best move is 8...g3, and 8...0-0 is also OK, but I am beginning to worry about safety. Still, my initial plan was to retake 9...hxg5 and keep the position unbalanced, but then I worried again about the Ne4 being trapped. Should I spend a long time figuring this out? Probably not. And the next thing I know, he offers me a draw.
Should I take it? Kinda goes against my principles; the game has hardly begun. I can secure a clear first place and $800 with a win; in monetary terms, I have more to win than to lose - $325 with 4 points and $125 with 3.5 are guaranteed by this tournament's rules, though it's not so simple because an $800 prize would trigger tax liability. But how safe is my Cat 1 norm? Based on pre-tournament ratings, I had calculated I needed 4 points. I was pretty sure Jay's post-tournament rating would be a lot higher, so 3.5 would likely be enough. But I wasn't 100% sure. Anyway, am I justified playing for a win in this position? Not really... I can only wait for him to make a mistake, but he just won four games in a row. Plus, it's the fifth round and I am getting tired. OK, a draw it is!
Epilogue: It turns out Jay's published rating was both recent and based on many tournaments. He seems to have hit a plateau for the last year or so. Was this tournament his breakthrough and will his rating, now well over 1800, continue to rise? That remains to be seen. In any case, his rating improved so much that 3.5 points would clearly have been enough for me to get a Category 1 norm. (Norms, like ratings, are calculated based on opponents' post-tournament ratings.) So maybe I should have taken the risk and kept playing... but then again, the position was kind of dead and I must not have been in a bold enough mood as I already shied away from risk with drawish moves 8...Qg5 and 9...Nxg5. Perhaps I would have stayed playing for a few hours just to emerge with a draw anyway.
I cannot be anything but elated about my performance. Not only did I score 4/5 in a higher section, I also didn't do it by some lucky pairings: not one of my opponents scored below 50%. My post-tournament rating is 1854, the highest ever. Time to get some inspiration from the great Viktor Korchnoi, who reached his peak rating around my present age. Except, I hope this is not a peak for me, I hope to keep improving.