The November Autumn Invitational was a Round Robin (RR) held at the Saint Louis Chess Club from Nov 17-22. It was a 6-day event, and so had more meaning for me than a typical tournament since I needed a 6-day Grandmaster (GM) norm in order to become a GM. I already had more than required collection of 5-day norms. The average rating of the players in the GM section was 2441 FIDE, and so 6.5/9 was needed in order to earn a norm.
The player's list, in order of rating, was as follows:
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GM Kannapan Priyadharshan
IM Akshat Chandra
IM Cyril Ponizil
GM Ben Finegold
GM Ashwin Jayaram
IM Aman Hambleton
IM Tania Sachdev
IM Atulya Shetty
IM Nazi Paikidze
WGM Tatev Abrahamyan
In the first round, I was faced against Indian GM Ashwin. Things got off to a sloppy start, as he surprised me in the opening and played accurately thereafter to make a rather easy draw. I was annoyed at having wasted one of my White games, but also understood that sometimes there's not much you can do if your opponent displays good preparation and play. There was one moment which was alarming, however, in which my opponent and I suffered from a case of mutual blindness.
In the 5th round, I had a fighting draw against the Czech IM Cyril. On the surface, the endgame seemed slightly unpleasant for me, but for the most part, I was able to play accurately and avoid any potential pitfalls.
In round 6 I faced one of the "chessbrahs", IM Aman Hambleton with the White pieces. I knew Aman to be a tough opponent from our online games. We had drawn in our previous classical encounter, and so I was determined to do better this time! I decided to play 1.d4 once again, and as expected he repeated the Queens Gambit Accepted. I went for a different variation this time, and it was pretty cool to later learn that Karjakin had played the exact same thing, a few hours later, against Magnus in their WC match! Aman didn't seem to be familiar with this line and sunk into deep thought. He came up with a logical setup, but after one small mistake things became highly favorable for me. I may not have displayed the best technique, but it was good enough to get the win.
This put me at 5/6, which meant that I needed 1.5/3 from the last rounds or the equivalent of 3 draws. I decided to play solidly as Black in my next game against Indian IM Tania, but that strategy went out the window after she made an opening mistake which could have given me a potentially decisive advantage.
I was quite miffed to have missed this opportunity, especially after I went back home and saw that I had this refutation sitting in one of my opening analysis'. It's not every day your opponent messes up as White in the opening, and so one has to take advantage of it when it does happen!
The final two games were more tranquil, as I made quick draws with GM Kannapan and IM Nazi (2016 US Women's Champ!) to seal the deal. My quest was finally over - I had gotten my 6-day GM norm, and had become a GM in the US chess capital. It was a long wait after crossing 2500 rating over 1 1 /2 years ago and collecting more than enough 5-day norms. I was ecstatic at having finally made it official. But another part of me was eager to get back to work and focus on my next quest - becoming an elite "Super Grandmaster."
Thanks to the organizer Jonathan Schrantz and Chief Arbiter Mike Kummer, along with the Saint Louis Chess Club, for once again providing a wonderful opportunity for players to compete for norms in a professional environment.
My climb to Everest begins now.
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