My First Quebec Juniors
I remember my first Quebec Junior Chess Championships as if it were yesterday.
How do I remember it so vividly? Part of it is because I have a very respectable memory. Part of it is because the event was just a month ago.
I know what you’re thinking. How old am I? Twenty. Juniors is…? U20. The math doesn’t add up. Luckily the technicalities do! The age restriction requires you to be at most 19 on Jan. 1st 2016, which I did indeed meet. Of course, 2016 was my last year of eligibility.
But that aside, the more pressing question would be how come this was my first appearance at the Quebec Juniors. Haven’t I played in tournaments since 2006? There’s no easy way to answer that, but of course there were many factors, such as not having the confidence to play in these tournaments, or not fully committing to chess. In fact, after 3 years of inactivity from 2012-2015, I’ve played the first relatively complete season of chess in my career, playing in a few major Quebec tournaments as well as in a Junior Team League. Part of the reason for this burst of tournaments under short notice was precisely to gear up for the Juniors, because I can’t stay U20 forever. As they say, deadlines are the biggest motivations for a college student!
The timing of the tournament couldn’t have been better. It was during my exam schedule; I had 2 exams prior and 3 after the tournament. Luckily I had a 5 day break between exams 2 and 3; it was as if McGill wanted me to play in the Juniors. But if this timing was great, the timing of my comeback was phenomenal. I had just started my first year of University, full course load and a handful of extracurriculars. Admittedly, uni is far more difficult than high school or CEGEP and is more time consuming, yet I was even more determined to play.
Of course, playing during the school year has its downsides. My performance in chess definitely affects my mood in school and vice versa. And the wear and tear of stress is something I won’t get back. Luckily, both performances have been solid throughout the year so I haven’t had many emotional breakdowns.
But coming into the event I was not feeling great. My first two exams have been a mental letdown, so I hoped I could turn the tide at the Juniors. I was the 6th seed out of a 16 player field, so I knew that I could hang around and compete.
Day 1 did not give me confidence. Matched against a kid 400 points my junior, I played some sketchy moves and lost a pawn for absolutely no reason due to a hallucination.
The only thing I had going for me was the time advantage, which was the only reason why I came out of the game with a full point. Ironically, I played super fast because I didn’t want to stay late, but ended up being the second to last game to finish because of the (lack of) quality of my game. But at the end of the day, I managed to win and tomorrow was a new day.
On Saturday I had a rude wake-up call by learning that I was to face FM Olivier-Kenta Chiku-Ratté. Luckily I was able to get “insider info” on the Grunfeld sidelines that he has been known to play and even managed to get a good position out of the opening. But, as fast as I earned it I lost it with one unnecessary check.
It was literally one of those Fischer’s “Patzer sees check, patzer gives check” moments. Of course, that was only the beginning. Moves later I dropped an exchange after a tactical oversight. However, with some optimistic play and crazy time scrambles, I was able to liquidate into a theoretically drawn R vs Kn endgame. Unfortunately, I had another hallucination and blundered away the draw.
After 5 hours of gruelsome play and 112 moves, I had nothing to show for it.
As heartbreaking as it was, it was not the first time that I failed to defend a slightly worse endgame vs an FM. My endgames seriously need work!
Next round I faced a 12 year old 1900 whom I’ve beaten before. Even though I got nothing out of the opening, I managed to get into a promising endgame. However, he forced time trouble upon me and was able to get a draw after 94 moves.
So after 200 moves played and 9 hours of chess on Saturday, I only had ½ point out of 2 to show for it, for a total of 1.5/3. Objectively it’s not a bad score, but the way I got the score was mentally hard to handle and physically exhausting. So many quality chances to move up the standings and to gain rating, all squandered. The fact that they were close calls definitely hurts even more, as I was close but oh so far. It was definitely one of the toughest days of my tournament career.
I didn’t get much sleep that night, but at the same time I knew that all was not lost. A 3.5/5 could be good enough for third in this reduced field. All that remained was to get there!
For round 4, I played a young girl who was born in 2006. To think that she was born at the same time I played my first tournament is mind boggling. But of course she is a rising star, having earned a WCM title by winning the U8 girls event, though emphasis on the rising. My play wasn’t impressive; my opening experiment failed epically and relied on her positional shortcomings to equalize the position.
Even when I won a pawn, I gave her the chance to win it back with interest, which she was unable so find in time trouble. You could say that I dodged a bullet.
In round 5 I faced another girl, this time the more accomplished and older WCM Ouellet. Still, she is only 13, but has had a peak national rating of 2100 and has experience playing in International events. In fact she will be representing Canada at the Women’s Olympiad team this year in Baku. Pretty impressive for the young teenager.
Of course, I tried not to focus on her laurels but rather on the game.
Something went horribly wrong for her in the opening, but I had trouble delivering the killer blow so the game lasted 30 or so more moves. Here is a my personal annotation of the game I did for the Chess and Math Association.
After my game, I was forced to stay. Not because I had detention or anything, but because I might be in contention for a prize. I was tied with the young Qiu Yu Huang with 3.5/5; FM Zong Yang Yu had 4/5 and can win second or third place. The key matchup was between Olivier and CM Hong Rui Zhu. With a perfect score coming into the last round, the former needed a draw to claim the title, whereas the latter, with 3/4 needed absolutely to win in order to have a shot at the title. But alas, after an hour of speculating, a draw concluded, determining the top two spots, and the three contestants for third.
So as of now, I am tied for third place. How was the prize money to be split? It wasn’t. An Armageddon playoff was needed to decide who is going to lift that third trophy, and who is going to get the money. For three people, it was basically a race to two consecutive wins. The top seed faces the lowest seed, and the winner plays the middle seed. If the middle seed wins, he plays the loser of the first game. If the loser wins, then we are back at square one. Of course, the Armageddon was 6-5, with Black needing a draw to win. I had previously never beaten any of the two contestants in tournament play, but in blitz anything can happen.
Of the three contestants, I was the lowest seed; Hong Rui was the 3rd and Qiu Yu was the 5th. Therefore, I was featured in the first Armageddon. One of my first victories was the coin toss. I elected to play black against the Candidate Master.
He put me under serious pressure with his pet Ne2 Anti-Sicilian. However, I stuck around and freed myself from his squeeze. I even made the game very tactical.
This manoeuvre cleaned the initial time advantage that he had and I was able to win on time. A bit dirty indeed, but trust me, it was very hard to not hang all those pieces! Now, I was one win away from third place.
In my way was 11 year old Qiu Yu. His name in english is pronounced Q U. He is one of the few players that I’ve played twice against, and the only one who’s beaten me twice. He had the psychological edge, but I felt that my luck was about to change.
For the colour draw, he got to decide the colours since I won the previous coin toss. And he elected to play white. Already a good sign for me since in my two losses vs him, he played Black.
We played the first few moves likes machines. Nonetheless, I was sure something was wrong with his opening. Qiu Yu combined a Maroczy bind with Queenside castling, something rarely seen. However, I was late in exploiting this fact and actually came out with a worse position.
Talk about pawns galore!
At this moment, experience definitely helped me. I’m not saying that I played more games than him, but rather the maturity that comes with being 20 years old. Although I was a bit annoyed that I was worse out of the opening, I never panicked; I had been on the losing end of tiebreaks before that I just let slip. I did my best not to change my rhythm and pretended that nothing had happened. Besides, although I’m objectively worse, the bishop pair can cause practical problems.
And before I knew it, he blinked. The best thing to do after having an edge is to slow down and consolidate. He did the exact opposite. Maybe he was a bit excited, but move by move his edge slipped and I was soon better. When his passers started to finally roll, it was far too late, as he was met with this rude mating attack.
I ended my junior career with a flourish: a beautiful checkmate, a trophy and a $200 chess bursary.
This second runner up triumph meant a lot to me. It was the light at the end of the tunnel, which had no end in sight just 24 hours ago. It was a justification that my potential compromise of my GPA was worth it. More importantly, it was a statement that I still have the ability to compete at a decent level. Nonetheless, one man’s triumph is another man (boy)’s heartbreak. My opponent was reduced to tears after that brutal mate but I know that he’ll be only stronger in his future Junior appearances.
So at the end of the day, I can say that I lost to the Champ, redeemed myself and got extra confidence to ace my remaining exams. I can therefore leave my junior career in peace.
PC: Richard Berube
Haven't taken one of these pics in ages so I do look awkward when holding the trophy :P