My Road to Grandmaster
Everyone who plays chess knows what a journey it can be, especially to progress. Goals are not achieved overnight. More often, it is consistent hard work for an extended period of time that is the difference-maker. From playing chess since I was a young kid, I should know this about as well as anyone, but my trek to try and attain the Grandmaster Title has been a perfect example of this long process. I'm excited to share with you that a big piece of my journey is finally over. I recently achieved my third GM norm at the NY International, in NYC, June 19-23. Today, my FIDE rating crossed the magical 2500 marker (barely, at 2501, but I’m not complaining!) that is the minimum requirement for the Grandmaster Title.
It took me 3 years from the time I achieved my first GM norm until the time I achieved my last. There is nothing out of the ordinary about the amount of time it took me to get the 3 in total, I guess, but it felt like an eternity. The first GM norm was completely unexpected. At the time I did not have any title. It was 2010, and I was at the tournament hoping to get my last IM norm and was surprised to have found myself with the IM norm clinched after round 6 of the 9-round tournament. I went on the score 1.5 out of 3 in my last 3 games to get the GM norm, too. At that time, I was about to go into my last year of college and I was focused on just attaining IM, and then once school was done, I could think further about my long-term chess endeavors. I honestly never even considered getting a GM norm as a possibility - and the very next month, I went on to score my second GM norm in a tournament in Arizona hosted by none other than Chess.com’s own IM Danny Rensch. I moved up into the Round Robin section of the tournament when a player dropped out at the last second. I lost my first game to GM Alex Lenderman, but went 6 out of 8 in the remaining games to score the norm.
At that point in my life, I was expecting the last norm to come as naturally as the first two did. I couldn’t help it. However, at the end of the summer, I also got mono and became very sick. It was a total roller coaster of up and down emotions; I went from feeling on top of the world to feeling miserable for several months. I also had to shift focus towards school, taking 20 credits my final semester to graduate at NYU.
But the final GM norm and title were always on my mind. I couldn’t shake the desire to get the last norm, and once I finally graduated, my chess seemed no better off. I was struggling to string together the kind of the results I had experienced the summer before, and it was hard to adjust. Once school ended, I felt like I should be able to focus on playing and studying chess again, and that the magic would happen, just like that. Needless to say, it wasn’t happening.
I tried to study as much as I could. I think around this time, I began putting a lot of pressure on myself to get the title. Even though this was an individual goal, it was impossible not to notice many of my peers who were making it to the title faster or who were making great progress while I seemed to be standing still. The kind of carefree attitude that had helped me get the first two norms felt hard to reestablish. Pressure was sinking in. I noticed it each time someone would bring up the possibility of playing for the norm. The next year or so, I was playing tournaments off and on in 2012. But looking back at it now, I was doing something very wrong. I was going into each tournament with the attitude that I was here for one thing and for one thing only: to try and get the norm. That any other result would be a failure of some sort. This seems ridiculous to me now.
Then, at the start of 2013, things took a very positive turn. I married my wife, Amanda, who is also a chessplayer. A few weeks afterwards, I was invited to a tournament where the norm was initially thought to be 6.5 points, but due to a last minute dropout/replacement, the norm increased to 7.0 points out of 9 rounds. This kind of score is so tough to get in a Round Robin setting - or any other tournament for that matter! When I got to the event, I actually felt relieved in a strange way. I felt that the pressure was off now that the norm was such a difficult score – and all of a sudden, I got to just play chess again. I went on to have a good tournament and tie for first with 6/9, going undefeated with 6 draws and 3 wins. Just playing without expectation made a big difference, and if there was one piece of advice I could give any chess player aiming for a big goal, I think that would be it.
With the distraction of high expectations gone, I spent the last few months before the NY International studying hard and trying to make sure that when I play, I have the right mindset. I think it really helped. I tried to focus only on the things that I could control. This meant how well I'm prepared for the tournament (how much studying I've done), trying to have as much energy as possible for when I play, and not fixating on a single result because anytime that happens, I am at least on some level not concentrating on the actual game. I went into the National Open in Las Vegas, a 6-round event with no norm opportunities, and finished 4.5/6, losing only to GM Tamaz Gelashvili and finding a few nice wins against GM Conrad Holt and GM Alex Lenderman.
I was riding a nice wave into the NY International, and my loss to Tamaz was my only loss in 2013 so far. I was focused on just playing my best each and every single game. I started the event 4.5/5, beating GM Vladimir Dobrov, and then drew my final four games against one FM and three GMs. The final draw clinched my third norm, and with my rating boost, the GM title should become official at the next FIDE meeting.
I feel great to have finally taken care of business, and I want to thank my peers and the chess community for the support I’ve received throughout this process. Thank you all!