Summer Roundup – Ups and Downs

Summer is when the chess tournament circuit comes alive in the US, and players congregate all over the country to take advantage of the increased tournament opportunities. My summer travels began in Wisconsin, where I played the inaugural edition of the Wisconsin Chess Festival. I wrote about my experience here for the US Chess website.

Thereafter, I returned to Saint Louis for the 2017 US Junior Championship. The end result was extremely disappointing for me. I had several winning positions which I didn’t convert, solely due to my ineffective time management. Have a look:

The last example was particularly painful because it was played in the penultimate round and, despite not converting the previous two positions, a win in this game would have led to a 3-way tie, considering how the final round played out. I strongly believe I would have prevailed in the rapid tie-break.

So instead of dominating the tournament and finishing clear 1st with a potential score of 7/9, I finished 3rd with 5.5/9. The fact that I was the only unbeaten player was overshadowed by my many missed opportunities and a third-rank finish. This was an extremely bitter pill to swallow but there was no time for self-pity as right after my last game concluded, I had to rush out the very same day to Ohio for the Dayton Masters, an IM/GM norm Round-Robin. Fatigue was evident, as I ended up performing quite poorly, scraping together 5/9, after an appalling 0.5/3 start.

August arrived, and I was more than ready to move on. I made my annual pilgrimage to Rockville for the Washington International, the only tournament I’ve played every year since 2013. I got off to a good start, winning my first 2 games against players in the rating range of 2200-2250. In Round 3 I faced GM Joshua Friedel, a very solid player. We had played 2 games in the past, with one win apiece, and so I was hoping to break the deadlock! I opened with 1.d4 and he opted for the QGD, an opening known to be synonymous with solidity. I played a quiet line and obtained an advantage after the opening, but he was able to neutralize it and the game seemed headed for a draw. Then suddenly, he made a serious mistake:

 

It was disappointing not to take advantage of his unexpected slip-up, but there was no point dwelling on it as I was paired against another strong GM, Oliver Barbosa, in the next round. Once again, I opened up with 1.d4 and Oliver responded with his usual Slav. Not wanting another tranquil game, I employed a rare sharp line and, expectedly, the resulting position became extremely complicated. I was able to take the upper hand and gain a serious advantage but gave it all away a few moves later after prematurely releasing the tension.  Further mutual inaccuracies followed, but the last error was committed by him and I was able to find a neat tactical solution:

I drew as Black in my 5th round game against IM Andrey Gorovets without any difficulties. Then in Round 6, I received my double-Black against GM Eugene Perelshteyn. This game started off rather strangely, as we both spent some time in a known theoretical position. My reason was that I didn’t expect him to play this line, and had to decide which variation to play over the board, whereas he simply forgot the theory! Still, he was able to find the best continuation, which involved a strategic pawn sacrifice. The resulting position was quite uncomfortable for me since even though I was a pawn up, my queenside pieces were all tied up. Practically, the position was much simpler to play for White. After playing accurately for some moves, I went astray and White seized the initiative. Fortunately, we were in mutual time trouble and the clock worked in my favor as Eugene slipped up, allowing me to turn the tables. But then, the clock worked against me:

Another missed opportunity, but I wasn’t too disappointed with this one considering I had been in a serious jam at one point. I was on 4.5/6 heading into the 7th round, due White, and feeling confident.

I was paired with German GM Niclas Huschenbuth in the 7th round, one of the top seeds of the event. We had played twice before and in both games, I had the upper hand but somehow managed only 0.5/2. Unfortunately, our 3rd encounter played out the same way as well.  I completely outplayed my opponent and had a crushing advantage. The only issue was that my Achilles Heel had bitten me again, as I had no time. Predictably, I totally bungled my advantage and when we reached the time control, I was only “much better,” and no longer “completely winning.” As a result of this unexpected and dramatic turn-around, I began searching for a way to force a draw, not wanting to risk the game spiraling out of control. But Niclas, probably sensing that the psychological initiative was in his favor, kept the game going with 42.Qf5?! and 43.Kg6?. Objectively the moves weren’t the best, but I had fallen into time trouble once more and had no chance of finding the refutations.

This was an extremely shocking loss. To lose from that position was truly unbelievable. Had I converted my advantage and won the game, I would have at least tied for 1st in the tournament.

It’s easy to unravel after such a debacle, but I decided to follow my rules and as a result secured an easy draw as Black against GM Mark Paragua in the penultimate round. This was extremely encouraging since it assured me that my quality of chess hadn’t suffered! In the final round, I was paired with 2600+ FIDE rated Russian GM Dmitry Gordievsky. I was able to efficiently exploit his opening inaccuracy and played a good game thereafter to close things out.

A pleasant conclusion to the tournament, although I wasn’t satisfied with the overall result. Still, this win somewhat assuaged the bad taste from the game with Niclas.

The good vibes were short-lived, however, as I was forced to withdraw from my next tournament, the US Masters, after bungling positions. A bitter way to end the Summer.

To conclude this posting, I’ll leave you with some puzzles from my games over the Summer. Solutions will be posted in a week. Enjoy!

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White to move and win.
Difficulty: Easy

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Find Black’s best defense.
Difficulty: Easy

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Find White’s quickest/efficient path to victory.
Difficulty: Hard

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