World Open, Rounds 8 and 9

Jul 8, 2015, 7:19 PM |

Tournament play takes a lot of time and energy, so it is good to play toward a goal, like winning a prize or achieving a title (or, for us mere mortals, category) norm. In the World Open, prizes are huge, but with so many players, it is very difficult to win them. My realistic goal was to win a Category 1 norm, and that was still possible going into the last day. However, given that my opponents' average rating was in the low 1800s, I needed 4.5/7 for a norm, which means I needed to win both of my last two games. That is important for understanding some of my decisions.

In the penultimate round, I had a large advantage in the opening, but finding the winning path was not easy. That train had already passed when I spent half an hour thinking about my 10th move. Perhaps that long thought was useful, as I avoided some tempting but unsound tactical shots, but it turns out that the only path to advantage was simply to castle and finish development. While that would allow black to castle as well, he would have difficulty untangling his queenside. The way I played, the game soon became a dead draw. I tried desperately to unbalance the position; I should have lost, but after some mutual errors, reached a Q+2P vs. Q+P ending. It was, however, still a draw because I could not hide from checks.

Thus I knew before the last game that my goal was out of reach. Since I was playing for nothing now, I decided I would take some risks and try to make the game interesting. Not an easy task against the London System (aptly nicknamed the Boring Opening)! By move 15, I lost patience and decided rather on a whim to sacrifice a pawn with ...e4?! I figured I would have enough counterplay against white's weakened queenside pawns, but in fact black has no compensation if white plays correctly. However, little by little, I was catching up, and on move 28, my young opponent offered a draw.

I knew his last move was bad and, if anyone was going to play for a win, it would be me. But I didn't have the motivation for another long game, so I agreed to a draw after just a couple of minutes' thought. Had I realized how large my advantage had suddenly become, I might have played on, but what for? I had no real stake in the outcome, and the game had no potential of affecting any prizes, not even indirectly.

So... not a success for me, but not really a failure either. I underperfomed my rating only slightly, and am still above 1900. That seems to be an accurate measure of my strength right now. While I would like to be stronger, 1900 seemed like a distant goal merely half a year ago.